This a guest post from Mwangi Kirubi of Clicking with a Purpose.
I’ll always be grateful to God my Father for blessing me with the gift of photography because through it, I’ve been able to visit places that I might have only dreamt of if I had a regular desk job. In 2014 alone, I’ve been to more new places in Kenya than in my entire life combined, the latest on the list being Lake Natron.
Very little has been written about the journey to Lake Natron from Nairobi. Google Maps doesn’t even know of a route! I spent a lot of time on the internet looking for clues into routes, nature of roads and accessibility as we planned for this Onetouch expedition. From the scraps of information I got, it was clear one needed a Landcruiser, Land Rover or serious off road vehicle to get to Natron from Magadi. So I talked to friends who have similar vehicles and a week to departure, we were good to go. Then shooting assignments came along and both friends dropped out of the plan, leaving me staring cancellation in the face.
We were to depart on a Monday morning and that Sunday, I felt really down because I didn’t see how we would make it to Natron. Maybe Magadi, but Natron… we would have to plan for another day. I’d been to Magadi before so I wasn’t eager to journey there again. Natron was it for me. I’d heard of the beauty that lay there but hearing wasn’t enough. I was eager to see and experience it for myself. I heard God ask me to trust Him with getting to Lake Natron. ‘But with what car?’ ‘Don’t you have a Forester?’ ‘But what about the clearance?’ ‘Stop giving excuses. You want to go there, don’t you?’ ‘Yes I do.’ ‘Then go!’
I took Him at His word and on Monday morning, I met up with Murimi, Migwa and Kitots. After packing the Forester with supplies for our overnight expedition, we hit Magadi Road heading towards Lake Natron.
Magadi Road was in quite a state. We hardly crossed 50kph most of the way from Kona Baridi as we weaved about avoiding potholes. Few cars ply this road so the pothole dodging was a bit easier.
Just after Oltepesi, we branched left towards Olorgesailie Museum, a site that is very significant to archaeologists for the many hand tools that have been found here. Wikipedia does a better job at explaining its importance.
After about an hour at the museum, we were back winding down the road to Magadi and stopped at the scenic valley just before Esonorua town.
We got to Magadi at about 4pm and asked the guards manning the barrier on the road leading into town what route we were to use to get to Lake Natron. They looked at our car and discouraged us, telling us the road is very rough once you leave the comforts of Magadi.
Temperatures in Magadi are 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on a cool day and this wasn’t one of them. In town, we stopped at a place where we could get some cold drinks to cool off and rehydrate. That is where we met Kilel, a resident of Magadi and a guide to all things Magadi and Natron. We made space for him in the car and started heading out towards Natron.
Our first stop was the hot springs on the southern side of Lake Magadi.
After shooting away, we decided to camp in the open then head on to Natron, which was about 20km away, the following morning.
We were up before sunrise Tuesday morning, waiting for the sun to crack past the Ol Donyo Nyokie horizon.
After breakfast, we continued our journey to Natron. We navigated our way through the wilderness on tracks that had been made difficult to drive on by the trucks and lorries that plied the route carrying supplies to the villages and cattle to the market in Shompole.
We got a lot of information about the area from Kilel. He said very few Kenyans (read nyeuthis) go to Natron. Most only get to Magadi and head back to Nairobi, afraid of the unfamiliarity that lay ahead. He also confirmed that Landcruisers and Land Rovers are the smallest cars that made the journey. That statement made this dusty journey we were on even more significant: here we were, being tossed about on the road to Natron, the first of a new breed of nyeuthis who wanted to see and experience for themselves the beauty that Lake Natron held, in a car that was the first of its kind to venture this far. A Maasai herder from Tanzania confirmed this when we stopped to ask him for directions, as the route to Natron had changed since a bridge on the main road had been rendered unsafe to drive over due to years of neglect. We continued on, kicking up clouds of dust along the way. This was fine dust that crept into the car, leaving us coughing and squinting to see the road ahead.
Past Shompole, we had to drive dead slow over land filled with jagged rocks, squeezing between thorny bushes, with River Ewaso Ngiro constantly to our right. When we couldn’t drive further, we parked the car and lugged our cameras about two kilometres, wading in the Ewaso Ngiro delta, headed for the shores of Lake Natron.
When we got to Lake Natron, we were welcomed by a beauty that was too good for our feeble cameras to capture. We had Mt Shompole to our left, Nguruman Escarpment to our right, and out in the central horizon, past the Tanzanian shores of Lake Natron, Ol Donyo Lengai, kissing the clouds above with its pointed peak. For several minutes, I couldn’t click. I just stood there in silence, wowed at God’s Majesty and the awesomeness of His creation. All I could say is, ‘Thank You for allowing me to see this.’
After enjoying a lunch of fresh nyama choma (barbecue meat) in Shompole, we made the journey back to Nairobi, dusty smiles on our faces, holding dear to our hearts the memories of Lake Natron and the journey there. And as we stopped at Kiserian to get a burst exhaust pipe fixed from the damage suffered on the road to Natron, we agreed we should return very soon.
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