Turkana Route III – 1,000km offroad

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 31To know how much fuel, water and food we had to take, we had read several reports of travelers who had done the Turkana route. Travel reports that in the first place describe the adventures on the road. The information about the state of the ‘road’ was quite interesting to say the least. Long stretches of deep sand, a great number of river crossings, paths with loose stones and fields with sharp lava rocks as big as footballs. An additional factor was the weather. It could either be very hot, what makes driving even more difficult, or very wet, which would make the route impassable. Although the travel report also describe how incredibly beautiful the route was, in Omorate I was mainly thinking about the challenges that awaited us.

At the hotel where we stayed, we meet a motorcycle rider from Barcelona. A year earlier he left from Omorate to ride the Turkana route on his Yamaha Ténéré. Only 30km outside Omorate he had fallen in the deep sand and broken his leg in two places. It had taken three days and two different planes before he was taken from Omorate to a hospital in Addis Ababa and another year before he could walk normally again. He was now back to patch up his bike and try it again. Impressed by his story, I wonder:  What are we getting ourselves into?

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroadTense and a little nervous I crawl into our warm tent that night. We did not use the outer tent to have a little bit of wind through the tent, but it did not seem to help. Sweaty and a little sick, I try to sleep. Half an hour later I run across the courtyard of the hotel in my underwear, I cannot keep the last enjera of Ethiopia inside. Miserable.

After a sleepless night, we pack up early the next morning. We can put our duffels in the back of Pims car, just as  the groceries we do that morning. After we have changed our Ethiopian money, we drive in convoy to the customs office. Half an hour later we have stamps in our passports and our Carnets de Passages. We leave Omorate.

Just outside Omorate we turn right, onto a sandy path. It is just wide enough for one car, you can not really call it a road. In some parts the sand is very deep. We are less than two kilometres on our way when my bike swerves all over the place. I can barely keep it upright. This starts well. Peter comes running with a tire pressure gauge and together we let some air out of the tires. With the softer tires riding is much easier in the loose sand. Standing on my motorcycle and hanging on my handlebars to keep my front wheel up, it goes pretty good. In sections where the sand is deeper, I remember the offroad Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 46course that we followed with Toine van Dijk. It is as if he is riding next to me: “Gas, gas, hit the gas Leonie! And shift now!” It feels unnatural, because when my motorbike starts swabbing I would prefer braking and putting my feet on the ground, but that is only more difficult. So speed it is!

With ever kilometre we ride, it is going better and my confidence is going up. We are not going fast (no faster than 40km per hour), but we are making sufficient progress. Before I know it, we even drove through several dry riverbeds. Even that appears to go just fine, especially on these light motorbikes. I am so glad we left our big Hondas (Africa Twin and Transalp) at home!) In some riverbeds we have to drive through really deep sand. It reminds me of the deep, loose sand you would find at the beach just below the dunes. With my feet on the ground, I strum in first gear through the track in the sand. Not really ‘Dakar-material’, but that is how I keep my bike upright and my stuff and especially myself in good shape.

Peter and I drive in front, Jan and Margriet behind us and behind them is Pim. This way we are less affected by the dust their cars throw up and they can better keep an eye on us. The sand is much less of a problem for the cars. The only risk is that they get stuck in the deep river, they will not topple over. In the deep stretches of sand where I ’walk’, Jan waits behind me to drive through the sand at high speed as soon as I am at the other side. It looks impressive.

There are multiple tracks through the sand and sometimes it is quite hard to find the right one. We use ‘ Tracks4Africa ‘ on our GPS, which shows routes that were previously ridden by others. Together with Jan, who sees the route on his iPad, and Pim, who has a newer version of Tracks4Africa, we manage to find the right paths.

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 51We sway over the track on the dry savannah. We pass several small settlements, where a few huts form a little village. In several villages we encounter a barrier that is lowered over the path. We stop and are quickly “encircled” by a large group of interested people. We are just as interested in them, as they are in us. They look beautiful with traditional clothes, jewellery and impressive weapons. After we tell them where we are going, the gate opens and we are allowed through. We pass through a number of villages where we are stopped before a barrier or a rope. In the fourth village we seem to be at the border with Kenya. There are two police officers in uniform and once we stop we are greeted with a cheery; “Jambo, Mzungu!”, Swahili for “Hello, white man.” Now we know for sure, this is the border with Kenya!

There is no customs office and we cannot get a stamp in our passports here. That will be of later concern. After a brief chat, one of the agents opens the barrier: “Karibu Kenya” (Welcome to Kenya!). On dusty dirt roads we drive further south. For the first time we can now see Lake Turkana. The path leads us through a village with small huts where freshly caught fish is dried. Mid-afternoon we arrive in Illeret, the first slightly larger village in Kenya. Here we have to register with the Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 44police. We are welcomed by Victor, who takes our passports and shows us where we can get a ’cold’ soda while he takes our details. The warm Sprite tastes good after the efforts of that day. Again, we cannot get a stamp in our passports here. Stamps, we must eventually get in Nairobi.

If everything is noted, we leave Illeret and drive to the entrance of Sibiloi National Park. We will not drive through the park, but along the park boundary. As we drive to the east, away from the lake, the trail slowly changes structure. We no longer driving on sand, but across large round stones. The road winds up and down. At the end of the afternoon we find a flat plateau that overlooks Sibiloi National Park, a great place to camp. With the shovel of Jan we clear a piece of land as big as the groundsheet of our tent. At dusk we cook some pasta and make a sauce of tomatoes, onions, garlic and some spicy herbs. It tastes great! Satisfied we look back on a successful first day. Driving through the deep sand went better than I expected and the motorbikes did super good. A little more confident and a lot less tension we crawl into our tent early that night.Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 41

Halfway through the night I am again standing outside in my underwear. This time not because of the food, but to cover the tent with the flysheet because of the rain. And not just rain, but a downpour with crackling thunder. The worst heat is now out of the air, so sleeping is a little easier now. We will see tomorrow what the rain has done to the road. The alarm goes early next morning. After a breakfast of dry bread with jam and a cup of tea, we pack everything again. Breaking down the tent, packing the bags and putting on our suits, takes quite a lot longer than the time Jan and Margriet need to prepare their Land Cruiser for departure. Pim is also a lot faster with collapsing his roof tent. It might have some advantages to travel by car.

The route takes us along the park. The road is not really deteriorated by the rain and the river crossings are still (or again) dry. Peter rides in front of me and is more or less our ’spotter’. He is clearly a lot better in riding offroad, because he can also enjoy the scenery. While I try to manoeuvre my bike on the paths with my tongue out of my mouth, I hear over the intercom about all the birds and animals he sees. He is a good spotter and also sees the first ‘wild animals’; a group Topi antelope. Around the national park is Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 39no fence and the animals naturally are not bothered by the park boundaries. From a distance we look at each other. Only when we turn off our motorbikes to make some pictures, they run away.

Further south we reach the announced fields with lava stones. Stones as big as tennis balls, but later stones as big as footballs. On part of the route, the path is cleared from the largest stones, but on other parts we need to go across the stones. Very difficult, especially where the road goes down sharply to a dry riverbed to then goes up again steeply. The stones are loose and shoot away from under our wheels. We must pay attention and cannot stop just anywhere. If the stones are large, the holes between them are big too and in between there is no place to put your feet. Keep riding!
That morning we have put some air in the tires again to prevent a flat tire when hitting the sharp rocks. Although we try to avoid the biggest rocks, we sometimes bounce over them quit hard. We stop several times to check the tires. The bikes are doing great, even the steep slopes are no problem. Again we talk to each about how happy we are that we travel on these light Hondas.

We are on our way to Loyangalani and along the way we pass a sign that says “107.5 km”. We do not drive fast and can only go 15km per Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 37hours in some parts. Taking into account much needed breaks and the slow speed, it will take at least four to five hours before we will be in Loyangalani. But it is still early, so who knows, we may just make it. A campsite with a shower and a drink would be fantastic.

The motorbikes bounce over the stones and our arms vibrate. It is very tiring and after a while I start to feel it in my arms and my back. On parts where we can stand still, we stop frequently to rest, to shake our arms and to have a drink. We stop for a mid-morning coffee break, and not long after that again for lunch. I empty my Camelbak twice. And in the difficult moments when we are panting, Margiet comes with a tray of liquorice(!). What a treat!

The closer we get to the lake, the more sandy roads and dry riverbeds we encounter. The heat and fatigue begin to take their toll. At the end of the afternoon we must stop more regularly to catch our breath and drink. Especially in the areas with deep sand, when my motorcycle swerves in all directions, it is really tough. Out of breath, I put my feet on the ground to stretch out on my tank bag panting. At one point, when Peter is out of reach of the intercom, Jan has overtaken me, and I can only see deep sand, I want to give up. I ask Pim to stay behind me, so he can help if I fall and I then plow on through the deep sand towards Peter. The fear of falling sometimes paralyzes me and makes me brake where I should accelerate. Strange if you consider that up until that time I did not fall on the ground even once.

Turkana IIIOnce with Peter, Jan and Margriet -who were waiting for us on a hill- Peter again gets out the tire gauge. We let some air out of the tires to make the ride through the sand easier. We just have to be careful of the stones that are still sticking out of the sand, because with the soft tires the chance of a puncture are larger. We drive to the lake through the deep sand. On my bike, I see that it is only 15km to Loyangalani. I really want to go there, not only to drink a cold Coke myself, but also so to allow the others to have a shower and a cold drink. But I can not. Every 100 meters my bike swerves the dirt track and I can only just keep it upright. I am dead tired and need to stop. A difficult  decision as it is clear that the others, including Peter, could have continued for another 15km.

We find a flat piece of sand overlooking the lake. It is still light and while Peter puts up the tent, I start cooking. Again pasta with tomatoes, onions, garlic and spicy herbs. But this time accompanied by a delicious coleslaw salad made by Margriet. It tastes good! Once the cooking equipment is cleaned, we crawl into our tent. No idea what time it is, but it is dark and I am tired.

Our liners and pillows are wet with sweat when we wake up the next morning. It is very hot and did not become any cooler that night. We walk to the lake with a towel and some soap to freshen up. First we look for crocodiles or their tracks, because the lake is full of them. The coast seems clear. We wash ourselves and then trudge back to the tent. Next to our tent are two Turkana watching those crazy five Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 33’mzungus’. One of them speaks good English. We talk about our trip, their village and the weapons they carry. In this area there are fights between different tribes regularly, but the men assure us that the weapons are just to protect them against wild animals like hyenas. The men want a ride and can get in with Pim to come to Loyangalani.

We get back on the road for the last 15km to Loyangalani, through deep sand and crossing several dry riverbeds. We drive on a vast plain whit small gullies that run from the hills to the lake. The gullies are dry now, but the sides have recently been carved out by the water and are very straight. With the bikes this is fine, but for the cars this is more difficult. They hit the ground with the back of their car each time they want to drive our of the gullies again. We take our time to take some pictures and make some movies.

After 15km there is still no trace of Loyangalani. A glance at the map shows us that we still have to travel at least 50km before we get there. As we drive on, more and more stones are on the path. We slowly ride into the hills with lava stones. From the hills we have a great view over the lake. The lake has a beautiful jade green color and contrasts beautiful against the threatening dark sky. We stop frequently, especially to take pictures. By lunchtime we arrive in Loyangalani. A small village, but after being in the middle of nowhere for what felt like eternity, it comes across as a busy city.

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 29We find a spot on Palm Shade Camp, which has a toilet and a shower which even has water! What a luxury! Just as we want to set up the tent, it starts to rain very hard. The green grass turns into a little swamp. When it is dry, I leave to the village with Pim to do some shopping, while Peter is engaged in the tent. In the street are a dozen small shops where you can get everything you want. In the local grocery store they have lots of things; from matches to floss and from rat poison to spears. And we are lucky because a truck with new stock has just arrived, so we can buy fresh fruit and bread. But we do not cook that night, because we enjoy a delicious three-course meal that is prepared by the cook at the campsite. Soup, curry with rice, fruit and even a cold beer! What a feast.

With new energy we get back on the bikes the next morning. Again we have to wait and see what the rain has done to the road. The manager of the camp site advises us to come back to the campsite when we come across a flowing river and to not cross it. This is to prevent that we get stuck between two rivers. He gives us his phone number and presses us hard to call him in case we encounter any problems along the way. We drive out of the village. As far as the eye can see, we see fields with loose lava rocks. There seems to be a sort of trail over the stones where other cars and trucks have driven. But you cannot call it a ’road’, even though a nice yellow line is drawn on our map.

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 21In the beginning we drive on a flat area with stunning views over the lake. After that we slowly drive into the hills and that is were the trouble begins. The stones are loose and very slippery as a result of the rain. They shoot away under our wheels. As during the previous days, we can not just stop anywhere and we must be very focused on the steep sections to manoeuvre the motorbike over the stones. At some point, I suddenly lie on the ground with my bike next to me. The rear tire had skidded on some loose stones. It did not hurt and the engine was still working, but I did have to find some new energy to get on the bike again.

There are huge trenches in the road in places where the water came from the mountains, flowing into the lake. On the way down, the water carried stones and left deep holes in the ‘road’. Like us, the cars have a hard time on this piece. Several times Jan and Pim have to get out of the car to explore the road before they can drive on. Three times Peter rides both our bikes through a difficult piece, once even by walking alongside the bike. While I am at the top of a long slope gathering courage to drive down, I hear cursing over the intercom and I see Peter bouncing off his motorcycle. Luckily he is OK, just a bruised elbow, a bent brake leaver and a torn strap on one of the bags. Over the intercom I hear him say: “Stay up there, I will ride your bike down.” Hero! He comes up and drives my bikes down without any problems (slightly slower than the first time though).

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 24We are not even 10km our of Loyangalani, but are both already very tired. It takes a few miles before we finally leave this rotten piece behind us and drive away from the lake into the hills. It is steep and in some parts the corners are made of concrete, which makes it a lot easier to ride up. At the other side of the hills, we ride onto a sandy dirt road. Not that deep white sand we had before, but dark brown or even red sand that has become really hard from the rain. The average speed goes up and even though it starts raining hard at some point, this is going great. We can relax a bit and let the difficult miles of that morning behind us. For the first time I can even look around are enjoy the scenery. Though I still only see animals after Peter has clearly said; “At your 11 o’clock: two deer.”

We drive on the dirt road until we arrive in South Hoor in the afternoon, a little earlier than expected. South Horr is a Samburu village along a wide river where we find a spot on a beautiful campsite. Once the tent had been pitched and our gear is hanging on a line to dry, we walk around the village, look at the Samburu huts and trudge through the now dry riverbed. At the end of the afternoon, we move the chairs together, Jan and Margriet take out snacks and we experience the exciting moments of the morning again.

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 14The next morning we continue our way on the hard sandy paths from South Horr to Baragoi. We leave the hills and riding onto a huge savannah. It is beautiful, just like you would know Africa from the BBC documentaries. An area where you would expect giraffes or elephants at any moment. Incredibly beautiful! We take our time to take pictures, to drink coffee and to have lunch. A few hours later we arrive In Baragoi, we do some shopping and then drive on towards Maralal. We find a spot on the Yare Camel Camp. It is our last night as “Dutch Turkana Team”. Jan and Margriet have to go home unexpectedly and will from take the shortest route to Nairobi from Maralal. We exchange contact details, pictures and films, and wave them goodbye the next morning. Together with Pim we prepare ourselves for the last part of the route, from Maralal to Lake Baringo.

Although we expected that the offroad bit would be over after Maralal, this was not true. We follow a poorly maintained dirt road full of potholes through small villages where not tourists have been for a long time. We drive along a National Park and see our first zebras! Just before Lake Baringo we turn right onto a sandy track. The road is wide at first, but becomes more and more narrow as we continue. The rain has left deep trenches, deep enough to make your motorbike disappear. And as often, the sting in the tail. The final (long) kilometres towards the lake are on a ‘road’ through the hills with loose rocks, deep holes and steep sides. Only at the end of the day we see the first glimpse of Lake Baringo on the horizon. Once in the valley, my heart jumps when we finally ride onto an asphalt road in Loruk!

Turkana Route III - 1000km offroad 13From Woyto in Ethiopia we have then driven 956km offroad. Nearly 1,000 km through a beautiful area, with special people and spectacular scenery. A route that sometimes drove me to despair, but  of which I am very happy (and proud) that we took it. The preparations we had made ​​were good, but maybe a bit too much in hindsight. Although there was no fuel station for a long time, we could have obtained fuel anywhere. The same goes for food and water. Perhaps they did not have chocolate paste or snickers, but definitely enough food to finish the route well-fed.
This being said, we were very glad we had extra fuel, water and food with us and had found a companion who was willing to take all this for us. But above all we were happy with the moral support and the company of Jan, Margriet and Pim. Thanks again, also for the liquorice!

Click here to view the pictures to this post.

Distance travelled to Lake Baringo: 13,590km (8,444miles)

PS Jan makes great little movies of the trips Margriet and Jan make. He also made ​​two great movie about the Turkana Route. Click on the links below to view the videos.

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| Leonie | AFRICA, Ethiopia, Kenya

10 Reacties (Comments) - Turkana Route III – 1,000km offroad

  1. Celine en Leon

    Gaaf! Goed muziekje ook onder de video, heel toepasselijk :) xxx

  2. Joke en Janleen

    Hoi, Leonie en Peter,

    wat een genot om jullie op deze manier te mogen volgen.
    Het ziet er allemaal erg mooi en avontuurlijk uit.
    Lastig om dit echt voor te stellen vanuit het nu bijna herfstachtige Nederland.
    Nog heel veel plezier en we blijven jullie volgen.
    Gr Joke en Janleen

  3. Ireen

    Het ontzettende bikkel!!

    Wat gaaf om je verhalen (af en toe met dicht geknepen billen) te mogen lezen. Wat een avontuur.

    Geniet van alles wat je meemaakt!! En ik lees graag weer met je mee!

    Lieve groeten van Ireen

  4. Martin

    Prachtig! ‘Suske en Wiske en het pittige parcours’. :-)
    Groeten Martin

  5. Jan en Anna

    O, jongens wat moet dat een ongelooflijk zware reis voor jullie geweest zijn. Ik heb diep respect voor jullie. En helemaal voor jou Leonie. En wat fijn dat jullie zulke fijne reisgenoten hebben getroffen. Ik ben blij te lezen dat jullie ondanks de moeite die de tocht kost toch ook nog kunnen genieten van de omgeving. Bedankt voor dit mooie verslag met filmpjes en prachtige foto’s. Een hele goede reis verder en vooral genieten. Liefs, Anna

  6. astrid

    Lieve Peter en Leonie, wat een verhaal weer en wat zijn jullie geweldig goeie motorrijders!!! Ik voelde helemaal met je mee Leonie en wat zal en mag jij je trots voelen! Genietze van deze mooie reis en op naar het volgende verhaal!! Dikke zoenen erik en astrid. Xxx

  7. Herman Schutte

    Weer een prachtig verslag, bedankt.

  8. Ben en Anja

    Ongelooflijk. De filmpjes laten ons naast je verslag goed zien wat er komt kijken off. road van A naar B. Geweldig Leonie wat heb je een doorzettingsvermogen. Veel succes verder.

  9. Maud

    Wat ben jij een held, Leonie!! Respect voor hoe jullie je samen door de lastige stukjes heen worstelen. Dikke kus, m

  10. Lill

    Wow, how exciting and nervewrecking it sounds to have driven the route…! Fantastic