#OnetouchLive – The Big North : Exploring Marsabit
The light from the starry skies above faded as the sun pieced the morning clouds, illuminating the beauty of Marsabit’s Abdul Camp. Thick fog engulfed us. And as the smoke from the campfire breakfast danced with the fog, we packed our cameras and set out to explore Marsabit National Park.
It was the rainy season and skies above had shed their weight overnight. This made the uphill road to Lake Paradise very muddy and tricky to drive on. We swung and twisted, Silvester’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive being pushed to the limit as it’s 2-litre engine grunted to break us free from mud and gravity.
It was a drive through hell to get to Paradise.
Along the way, we stopped to take in the beauty that hid in the forest’s thick undergrowth. We were told elephants descend to the lower altitudes during the rainy season as they don’t have symmetrical AWD to tackle the muddy slopes. This gave us the confidence to step out of the car and explore.
Mt Marsabit is a volcano that rises 1,700m above the surrounding arid areas, acting as a barrier for moisture-filled winds that travel from the Indian Ocean, above flat lands in Somalia and northern Kenya.
On finding a towering Mt Marsabit, the winds form clouds that form rain that form a tropical rainforest that is surrounded by deserts. In the rainy season, the craters fill with water and that’s how we have Lake Paradise.
We later descended to Marsabit town for an Ethiopian-inspired lunch and some car repairs. Silvester’s right front stone guard had come off due to the mud that we’d had to manoeuvre through. We got that fixed and drove a few kilometres south of Marsabit to take in the sunset.
The following morning, we started the journey back to Nairobi, with a planned overnight in Melako.
As expected, we made several stops to take in the beauty that surrounded us.
Sebastian shooting Mt Moile.
Jumping over mountains is easier than climbing them.
At Merille, we were met by rangers from Melako Community Conservancy whom Rufo from NRT Trading had put us in touch with. We parked Silvester, got into a Landcruiser and headed to explore the semi arid rangelands of Melako.
Our first stop was a Rendille Manyatta where we got to shoot some portraits.
Melako is a Community Conservancy, meaning that the Rendille who call the area home get to fully benefit from the tourism, conservation and commercial activities that take place in the vast expanse. You can read more about Melako here.
One morning in July 2010, the rangers at Melako awoke to the cries of a 2-day old lesser kudu that had been abandoned by it’s mother, about 80 metres from Lchoro Camp, during a severe drought. They adopted the orphan and named her Nkuo.
The rangers hand-raised Nkuo, becoming her sole care givers. Seven years later, Nkuo considers Lchoro Camp home and has become very used to humans that she was okay with us petting her.
In the evenings, Nkuo roams the conservancy, returning to Lchoro at first light. These nightly escapades have resulted in her mothering 7 offspring, it’s youngest born in June 2017.
Under those trees in the middle of the photo above is Lchoro Camp, where we pitched our tents for the night.
Skies above Lchoro Camp.
After breakfast was downed, we broke camp, bade farewell to Nkuo and set our sights on Sera Community Conservancy, attracted by it’s rhino sanctuary.
We got out of Silvester and noticed there was a growing oil pool underneath.
A closer examination revealed a stone had slit the sump, sending transmission oil out of the engine.
This wasn’t a leak. The oil was pouring… fast!
There was nothing we could do to stop it.
We were stuck.
In a rhino sanctuary.
50kms from the nearest town.
With poor phone network.
What were we to do?
We got into a Sera Community Conservancy Landcruiser and under the leadership of their expert tracker, got down to what brought us here. We drove for a couple of kilometres on paths that bushes were slowly reclaiming, thorns leaving indelible marks on the sides of the ‘cruiser, the tracker occasionally consulting his radio and aerial to direct the driver in which direction we should go.
At one elevated point in the sanctuary, the tracker climbed on top of the ‘cruiser, listened to the signal that his radio was emitting, and pointed to the direction we should proceed. On foot!
We reluctantly left the safety of the ‘cruiser, and were ordered to walk stealthily… silently… in single file… keeping a distance of a few metres between us. If we chanced upon a rhino and it attacked, we were to seek refuge behind the nearest bush. And the bushes weren’t many.
What had we gotten ourselves into? Tracking black rhinos is stuff that white people do! When we heard we were visiting a rhino sanctuary, me I thought we’d go somewhere I’d see rhinos behind an enclosure of sorts, and pet them through a fence. But here I was, walking in the footsteps of a tracker armed with nothing but an aerial in one hand, radio in the other, desperately looking for the nearest bush to hide behind incase a rhino was tracking me and not vice versa.
My silent thoughts were interrupted by the unexpected sounds of heavy feet pounding the dry ground as a rhino that none of us had seen emerged from some bushes not far from where we were. It must have seen how frightened we were and run away. Response from the startled tracker: “That’s not the one we were looking for.” Dude! A two-ton two-horn-wielding prehistoric creature just run past us, trampling bushes that are supposed to be our shelter and all you can say is, “That’s the wrong one”!? Is there a wrong lion nearby? Should we be headed back to the ‘cruiser? I have a wife and daughter looking forward to seeing me this evening you know…
We continued tracking the ‘right rhino’ and after a few heart beating minutes, we spotted it, hiding behind bushes, and I behind the tracker.
Though it was scary, it was a thrilling experience that I’d like to do again. It’s the kind of stuff you see on NatGeo and starring in this episode of Stuff White People Do felt very good.
On the way back to where we’d left Silvester, we spotted a heard of elephants, with a mother very protective of her young.
As the sun set and with Silvester grounded, we knew there was no way we’d get back to Nairobi as planned. We weighed our options, which was just one – sleep in a town called Sereolipi.
More about being stuck in Sereolipi in the next post.