The penultimate day in Kenya

Sunday, 10.11.2013

We wake up and all gather in the hallway of the same floor to make breakfast on the concrete railing. Today for breakfast we have muesli with or without yogurt for each taste. Shortly after having breakfast we start to pack to wait for the driver and move on, but soon we learn that the driver will be delayed due to arisen car problems. After a while the driver is here and were are able leave the most terrible hostel so far. We all rummaged the car to try to find my disappeared mobile phone. It still was not found. I was left for the first time without a phone, probably it fell out at some stopping place. I last used it in a shop. It’s a shame for the pictures that were on the phone. We start to pack everything in the car and soon are ready to leave Voi to go to Amboseli National Park at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

The road is well paved and we can move quickly, so we can make it in a good time to Amboseli National Park. Soon comes the time for lunch and it was agreed with the driver to stop where there are no people around. Soon we turned to a less important road, drove a bit forward and found a good place for lunch. We take out the gas stoves and start to cook lunch. We boil water for tea, coffee and instant soup and for dessert we have a pineapple. No matter how desolate terrain it may seem to you, always some person will appear if you stay for a longer time. Two kids appeared. Me and Agnese went to give them pencils and a little later Anders treated them with some pineapple. We wash the dishes and pack things. Ilgonis meanwhile has found some stone. We get in the car and the next stop is Amboseli National Park.

The road was not paved to the gate and, as usual, was like a washing board, wet, and as normally the driver is looking for a better place to drive, and soon he slid into a ditch, and once again we tilted even though on the whole we have experienced sliding into a ditch in around 45-degree angle for several times. Every time it seemed that now it will be on the side as well. Fortunately the Safari version of Toyota Land Cruiser is not so easy to turn over. At least how it proved to us :D With us being in the car, the driver is trying to get out of the ditch and soon became stuck, and we decided to get out and push the car out. The locals walked past and also hurried to help. The car drove to and fro pretty much in the same place along the ditch, until it began to reverse and we pushed, then finally it began to move smoothly and went well; it drove in the reverse for some time, trying to get out, and where it was smoother there it finally turned out on the road. He drove to us, and we got in and continued way to the gate, which was already quite close.

We drove up to the gate, and there, as usually, merchants surround the car and want you to buy a souvenir from them. While some went to the cashier to pay for the ticket, vendors are trying to sell the goods with all their effort. They did not quite care that you have already shopped, but that you should buy from them. They called from high to lower prices, but when somebody is showing interest, then calling again higher prices.

Finally we have sorted out the ticket issue, then we were let inside the park where the annoying vendors did not go. We raised the roof and were able to begin to look around the last park. We have little time to darkness, and also the park is being closed, but we can also continue to look around tomorrow. Part of the road from Kilimanjaro mountain only the bottom could be seen, because the top was surrounded by clouds, and when we arrived in the park, then finally it was possible to see also the white peak among the white clouds that looked almost merged. While we drove around and looked at the animals, the clouds gradually depart from the mountain, and it was more and more visible, till it could be seen completely. Meanwhile, everyone admired the animals that could be seen around. A lot of zebras, when one arrives, they show their bums, that is, moving further away from us. Lots of elephant families. In short, the park is very versatile thanks to Mount Kilimanjaro, which regularly provides the necessary climate to the park . This park is worth paying a lot for and, more important, seeing :)

In the meantime I more admired the Kilimanjaro mountain. Me and Anders were wondering long ago about which mountain to climb – Mount Kilimanjaro or Mount Kenya. Choice fell on Mount Kenya as it came cheaper, although in reality did not work out much cheaper, but very shortly we were able to stay as one needs to pay for each day (that refers to both the mountains). There are certain days for which one needs to pay, then for each following day they are collecting much more and then wondering why many don’t get at all to the top, because there is such a thing as altitude sickness, to which one needs to devote one’s time, which in the Himalayas one can calmly and without hurry do. Yes, Africa’s highest mountains cost a lot.. Those we went to conquer two together before the arrival of the other members, because we wanted to be in Kenya for longer, but unfortunately, many could not afford to devote so much time/money.

But for us to conquer Mount Kenya also was not easy. I reached the tip of the easy-to-reach third highest mountain when we started to go at night, in time to see the sunrise, which was on the other side of the mountain, but unfortunately Anders’s state of health did not allow it and he really did not want to risk it. I with difficulty at that time got to the top by running behind a guide. This is an adventure, for which, looking at Kilimanjaro, I basked in the nostalgia, although it was almost 3-4 weeks ago. What for myself could have not end so well, but in collaboration with Anders, we jointly got back.
Looking at the Kilimanjaro mountain and thinking that it could be managed within 10 days is quite foolish, unless you are in a perfect health and can overcome the altitude sickness, or you have recently climbed as high a mountain, or eat pills, which is not the best option. For the joy, as a minimum, you pay $500. So taught settlers the locals about monetary system … But it does not deter me to conquer it in the future :)

While continuing to watch Kilimanjaro and wallowing in memories of mountain climbing, the sun begins to set and also the time is approaching six. Time to go to the exit and to find an accommodation. Leaving through the gate the planned accommodation is rather nearby in order to be able to continue viewing the park in the morning. While searching for the previously selected night accommodation we do not quite find any signs to it, but instead decide to find out how much actually costs the one close by. Talking to the guard, we found out the price and maybe also bargained a bit. We decided to stay here. He pointed us a parking space and showed what is located where. There are toilets, a shower – with hot water, which is heated with firewood, tents, tent houses, houses and a pool! Ināra and Vitolds went to find out how much a tent house actually costs and concluded that they will take it. Others decided to sleep in tents.

We pack out the car because bags already must be packed so that tomorrow we can go to the airport; and the driver will go to visit a friend. Camp arranging, raising a tent, cooking dinner, shower, everything that everybody wants to do, takes place. Of course we did not do without star and Moon watching, as the weather is favorable. Ilgonis used the field glass and a tripod and we looked at the Moon and the stars. Later Ilgonis with a camera and a tripod went around to take pictures of stars. At night Kilimanjaro mountain also looked majestic and perfectly cloudless.

While Ilgonis took pictures with a slow shutter speed, I remembered, how I with friends a long time ago wrote words with lights and mentioned that we need to make a caption. We decided that we will be making a group photo with caption and the camp in the background. Initially, we tested in all ways how long is required and how I succeed with mirror writing and light brightness. When this was ready, everyone came together and are having a rehearsal and looking how I do with the writing and the others – how with still standing. I decided to illuminate myself to be seen in the picture, and as a result I look like a ghost :D Errors happen with letters. Let’s make the last picture and I write Afika! Well let’s do the last one again and all is the way it should be :)

We can eat dinner, act in parallel and chatter. The driver also returns from visiting and we give him dinner as well. Later the majority went to Ināra and Vitolds to see how the tent house looks like. It was quite wide with two beds and with its own toilet and maybe also shower. Ilgonis already went to sleep because it was late. We ate chocolate, fruits at their place and chatted. Later we start to go to sleep ourselves or whatever everyone was doing. I chatted with Anders at the tent and we went to bed. The day was great.


Saturday, 9.11.2013

The first event of the day was a breakfast around eight in the morning, to which all came at different times, depending on what time who got up, as the idea is to leave immediately after breakfast, so the bags need to be packed. Agnese’s original plan had failed, that is, suddenly there were no snorkeling goers anymore. For this she was obviously not happy. Breakfast is served gradually, starting with tea, then the sausage with egg. After breakfast, we’re collecting our belongings together and are planning to go to the beach, but there is no car. We’re waiting, waiting, the driver is getting contacted, it turns out there are problems. Well fine, we leave the belongings with the hotel administrator, the precious things – computers, cameras – are stored separately, and go for a walk around the city.

The first goal is a bureau de change because almost all of our shillings are over. On the way we see something like gates designed as crossed elephant tusks in Moi Avenue. Such gates are for each traffic lane. Next we find a money exchange point and just in time, because a short yet pretty strong rain arrives. We decide to look around the old town, and as soon as the car will be ready, to go to the beach. While walking around the old town, Fort Jesus, which is located on Mombasa port, cannot be overlooked of course. To be honest, the fort would require a reconstruction, because right now it is in a pretty bad state. The architecture of Old Town is different from the rest of Mombasa, you can just have a kind of a feel of antiquity.

Of course, like in a popular tourist place all kinds of souvenir shops are in abundance. We also get a guide, he is a local, who, in exchange for that we will have lunch in his family’s restaurant, undertake to show us round the old town. We see a port where one can spot some ships and fishing boats, we go to the fish market, which was empty in the afternoon, however. Here one must come in the morning. Well and then the lunch in “Rozina House Restaurant”, which was kind of our most expensive meal on this trip. Lunch was also very good.

Given that the car at that time was still not ready, we decided to take a matatu and go to Nyali Beach. Beach in Kenyan style, there is nothing superfluous. On the other hand, it is possible to ride a camel. At first, however, I did not get it, why all the locals cling along the very waterfront and are minimally going deeper into the ocean, but the answer could soon be felt by foot. Whether they had any sea urchins or anything else – as the warm waters are known to be rich in terms of coastal fauna species – but beyond a certain limit one could not wade into the ocean without risking impaling feet. While a part of the group was bathing, to the other part that is sitting in the shade under the palm trees a few locals arrive and offer coconuts. The offer is accepted and soon they bring a sack of coconuts, which also get opened on the spot. Coconut water tastes like the local Latvian birch juice, in my opinion, just as tasteless.

Then the time is over and we have to leave, the driver has collected our belongings from the hotel and we drive away from Mombasa. Along the way, we pop into the local Akamba wood-carving workshop, where a diversity of animal figurines and bowls get made from wood. Masters work in low wooden huts, each doing his job as on an assembly line, just there is none such. But the same principle, one carves a shape, another one paints or does something else. Of course as in all manufacturing processes there are also some faulty ones, which they try to sell to us on the spot. There is also a gift shop where one can buy all kinds of products without bargaining. So there we all shop. Then out of Mombasa and on to Voi, where the next overnight stay is intended.

We arrive in Voi late in the evening, as usual. The hotel, where we stay, is a three-storey building with a hole in the middle; the hole is surrounded by narrow hallways and rooms with completely incomprehensible numbering. There are two beds in the rooms, a shower and a toilet. Given that we arrived late, everyone is tired, so pretty quickly, without any special cooking or looking for dinner, we go to bed. The day is over.

Naro Moru – Nairobi – Mombasa. The long transfer

Friday, 8.11.2013

Technical data. The approximate length of the road:
176 km Naro Muru-Nairobi
136 km to the turn to Amboseli lake at Emali (but that’s for another day)
363 km to Mombasa
TOTAL approx. 675 km

Although this route is doable with a car that does not require special technical strength for rattling over potholes and off-road, it took us a long time, that is we started at 6:30am and arrived in Mombasa around 10:00pm. Mostly to blame are the lorries raging on the road, which we must overtake, and in this country it happens extremely impressive – past various sides of the cars. Because, it turns out, once you have an off-road car, why not overtake along a ditch? Although, dear reader, be assured, it can be done with any car. Don’t believe? Come to Kenya!

Parts of the day and details for stitching the events together:
• There is a craving for tomatoes. Thus we are buying them. With confidence in the face we are going to conquer the lowest prices among the tomato mountains on the roadside. We let ourselves away for 100 shillings in exchange for a good sized bucket full of tempting tomatoes. Part of the day we are over the Moon of the awaited moment only to conclude during the lunch that Kenyans are by far unable to match the tomato growing skill of Latvians. That’s because the tomatoes are wearily sweet rather than delicious as it should have been for Kenyan sun cured knobs. Our driver Karioki gets one more reason to visit Latvia while listening to our stories – to taste normal, delicious tomatoes.

• There is even bigger craving for pineapple. Thus we are buying them. In the tangle of roads of Nairobi suburbs Karioki brings us to heaps of pineapple. The men products grabbed in hands encircle us to find out that Latvians are hagglers, and we buy two large pineapples for 150 shillings. They smell great. They taste even better.

• In a small village not far from Nairobi we stop at a souvenir stall CurioShop. Damn expensive. Later, Agnese will take us to a craftsmen village near Mombasa, where everything is much, much, much cheaper. But that’s another day.

• In the Tsavo village of Voi the driver decides to change the oil. Meanwhile, we are behaving exactly as is required of us – bellies forward emptying a jug of cold beer. As always, a bottle of Tusker is 200 shillings. The attendant, like most of his colleagues in the country, works great, wonderful, brilliant. How can he be transported as a model to Latvia?

• Finally we realize (but actually Karioki advises) that pikipiki (motorcycles) who gather in flocks in many places, are in fact taxis.

• While approaching Mombasa, we are taking shots with baobabs along the roadside. Baobabs are standing, we are clicking.

• At sunset storm clouds are growing in the sky. Both dark blue-black and mud yellow, with the crepuscular rays and with a rainbow. Clouds are raining, we are clicking.

• When it darkens we arrive to a traffic super-jam into Mombasa. It turns out that Kenyans want to weigh every lorry that is departing from Mombasa, and so they also do it. Lorries lined up in tens of kilometers long lines, also are trying to drive on the opposite lane, so we have to take the vacant lane in the ditch. Our driver is trying to get back on the asphalt with a jump which skids and turns our car a lot. Further on we are driving wisely and are afraid.

• However, Mombasa suburbs cease to amaze. A heavy car traffic jam has developed, a tangle, which consists of five lanes in one direction, it swallows us, we get stuck. In resolving the situation the entire crowd living in the next few kilometers is involved. By knocks on the car roof and hood, we get informed in the system of a complex code, and we are driving forward, a little back, then more backwards, a little bit forward, to the side, and otherwise for about an hour.

• We have found our hotel “Josleejim”. It’s a pity the entertainment with cockroaches is absent, but there is a guard, who promises and promises and promises to bring mosquito nets, and finally arrives at midnight to wake us up and say that he does not have them.

• We fall asleep each with our own dream for the next day of entertainment in the city and on the beach. Life outside the window is in full swing throughout the night. It is always “cool” here.


Thursday, 7.11.2013, the other part of the group.

The trouble started when we were bringing our bags out to the car and Karioki asked me if we weren’t coming back in the evening. I said no, we are going to Nairobi after picking up the hikers from the mountain. “I cannot drive at night, it’s very tiring. Also it’s not allowed. I can drive 6 to 6.” We decided to pack the car and go. We weren’t able to reach the other group members by phone so we had to decide what to do later.

Pffffrrrt! Not a flat tyre again! The rear right one as usual. It took 1,5 hours at least to change and get a new tube in Nyeri. At the park gate I got in contact with Agnese and it was decided we would not leave for Narobi in the evening. Inside the park gate the going was slow. First some opposing traffic halted our progress then the road conditions went from bad to worse. It was raining and the tracks were muddy. We happened on a wild pig but it hid in the bushes and then ran away. We saw buffaloes, birds and baboons but not much else. The forest was beautiful though and I realized this is the kind of place where you need time. You won’t see many animals but when you do it’s more rewarding than on the open savanna where you can just drive from one animal to the next.

We had some difficulties on the slippery roads. In one steep ascent we got stuck and I honestly didn’t think it was possible to climb that hill. At another place the left side of the car plunged down into soft ground and I had to climb out the window to be able to help pushing. We all had red clay on our feet and legs at the end of the day. We came out of the park well late and without having seen any of the waterfalls in the park. We didn’t have time to go through the higher parts of the park either. It then turned out that we had to go back to the park headquarters and then to our gate of entry to try and sign out the safaricard. This led to us picking up the hikers at 7, two hours late. They were in a good mood though, just a bit tired.

Up the swampy Mt Kenya (Naro Moru route)

Thursday, 7.11.2013

The weather for today didn’t look very optimistic last night. Later in the night heavy rain started, so I was almost sure we are not going up Mt Kenya today even though me, Ilva and Artis had agreed on leaving around 6:30am. Yet in the morning it turned out that Artis is up and ready for the hike whatever the weather and Ilva started to get ready as well. For a couple of minutes I thought it’s not too wise to do this, but since those two were going to go anyway – with or without me, I made up my mind and started to get ready as well. It actually looked promising – wasn’t raining and the sky wasn’t completely covered either.

The road for cars goes up to Meteorological Station which is 3000m high, around 10km past the park gates. Yesterday the driver had assured us that he’s driven there before and would be able to go up there even in these rainy conditions. We hoped that after we’ve been dropped off at met station, we could get to the nice panorama place at around 4000m high, but if we don’t manage that, at least should get above the tree/bush zone somewhere around 3400m.

Got to the gate, paid for ourselves and 1000Ksh for the car entrance. About 2km further along the road the car got stuck when going up the 2nd hill after the park gates and we decided to walk. It had taken some time to get up the first small hill already after getting stuck there as well, and it didn’t look too hopeful if we were going with such a speed and getting stuck on every uphill. The driver said he was going slowly and without run-ups because he didn’t want to end up with one wheel in the much deeper mud on the side of the road in these slippery conditions. But such a speed was not enough to bring us to the top of the hill. It was also almost the time when the driver was expected to collect the others for bringing them to Aberdare National park for animals and waterfalls.

And so we started to walk. It started drizzling not long after that and my rain-poncho turned out to have started to disintegrate. Luckily Ilva had a waterproof jacket and gave me hers. After walking for some half-an-hour or more we heard a truck coming. Some park staff people were going up to Met station and they took us kindly with them in the truck bed. Such a luck! :) We found places to sit (e.g. on the spare tyre) and were holding fast. Their driver was really good and was driving quite energetically to get up the hills. But even with this swift speed his vehicle needed some extra accelerating to be able to go up a couple of steeper places. I cannot imagine our car/driver being able to go there. Also I’m not sure I would be able to drive up there myself with one of the originally booked cars (Toyota Rav4), at least in these conditions, even though those cars would have been smaller and thus lighter.

The hike for the first 1km or so till the Signal station was not bad as the trail was paved yet steep. After that the so called vertical bog started. It wouldn’t have been too bad in dry conditions, but it was all wet, a small stream was coming down the trail and it kept on raining. If anyone of us didn’t have wet feet before we got our lucky ride, they definitely got completely wet here.

The higher we got, the worse the trail became. The stream was coming down in different sections and it was hard to tell which was the real path. It was probably not that important as we were basically trying to step on some patches of grass where it was less water underneath (most of time). Starting from our ride up all we could see was fog when trying to look further away. Up here, where the trees had got scarcer we could see a bit further, however, there was still nothing more than some different section of fog in the distance visible. We noticed here that the trail was actually marked with some high enough white posts. Seeing the next post from the current one in these foggy and rainy conditions was, however, not possible, so we tried to keep on the ridge where the trail was supposed to go. Anders had given us the mountain map and Rudolfs his GPS and I also had a GPS in my phone, but I didn’t want to soak the map by looking into it all the time and it was warmer if I kept the hands inside the rain-poncho anyway.

We were higher than the tree zone now. I realized that I won’t get any scenery at all, so was not determined to go further, but Artis and Ilva wanted to stretch themselves a little more. I gave them the GPS so that they wouldn’t need to wait on me. For a moment it became a little lighter and I continued hoping that something will clear up a bit, but no such luck. The drizzle kept on, it was also rather windy up here and cold therefore with all the moisture in my clothes, so I soon decided to turn back having reached 3600m. Going down was much faster, but it was also much easier to slip. Walking poles would have been useful.

Back at met station I changed some clothes to dry ones and waited for Ilva and Artis. They came soon having reached 3700m. It was still raining and we now had the 10km ahead of us since there was no way our car could pick us up from here. It was also rather early – 2pm – we had planned our time well. Anders sent a message that they’d like to spend 1h more in the park as they reached it very late, and thus pick us up at 6pm. The weather became better and about the half way to the gates sun started to shine and dried us up to some extent. Artis was picking mushrooms (lat. Lepiota) and me and Ilva helped him to spot them. Artis and Ilva went to explore a sound of water rumble, but the waterfall was not found.

At 5pm sharp we were at the gate. Anders had messaged me that they are having some problems getting out of their park and thus reaching us at 6pm, so after a short rest we started to walk the next 10km towards the hotel. There were many deer along the road, but they were not interested in someone trying to photograph them. Artis considered the buffaloes more friendly when they looked at him and his camera with interest from a short distance. I didn’t consider them as friendly as him and walked on.

A couple of hours later and more than a half way till our hotel we were finally picked up. Since it was decided to not go to Nairobi tonight as the driver didn’t want to drive in darkness, we stayed in the hotel and arranged to start driving at 6am tomorrow.

Conclusion1: Even though it was not wise to go up in these conditions, we enjoyed to spend some time outside the car for once.
Conclusion2: It is possible to go from Met station to Picnic stones (path crossroads at around 4000m) and come back in one day if the weather is fine.

To Lake Bogoria and further

Wednesday, 6.11.2013
At six in the morning in Nakuru we were woken up by a Muslim morning prayer, which began with a melodic chanting for an hour, then it moved to a prayer till his voice had got completely hoarse. Quick breakfast, grocery shopping in a Europe-ish supermarket and once again road, road ……

After an hour of driving we crossed the equator for the nth time. We tried to stand at the same time both in the northern and the southern hemispheres. My feet were a few centimeters too short to do it, but I tried to stretch the legs very much and managed fifty-fifty. I was saved by taking photos at a globe, as realizing that I have a weakness, souvenir sellers surrounded me and I would have broken. During the photo time I gathered all my soul’s forces to not buy everything I liked. Other members of our group are strong since birth and did not-exaggerate with shopping, except Ilgonis who bought three African drums, but it is probably his unrealised dream of childhood.

Further the road leads to Lake Bogoria. Plain landscape – hills overgrown with shrubs, in places there are cactuses. Local houses once again are poor. There are also houses of corrugated tin. I do not like them – they clash with the surrounding landscape. There are also cactus hedges, even quite high, nobody will get through them. Again the architectural masterpieces of the old friends, termites.

Lake Bogoria did not excite me too much. Yes, there were both the greater and the lesser flamingos, there was the African black stork. All the joy was suppressed for me by the bird corpses lying around the lake. Excitement was caused by the hot springs and the possibility to cook the eggs we have taken with us. One needs to know how to cook eggs here, as the strong bubbling of the springs can bring them to the gods the springs.

There was a plan to see at the Thomson’s water fall in the village of Nyahururu, height of which is 170 meters. Unfortunately, one hour can change everything. We arrived in pitch black darkness; the waterfall could only be sensed by ears and skin. Still we should drive of 100 km to the arranged accommodation.

We searched for the accommodation for a long time and thoroughly- nothing. Then we captured a talkative person, who took us to the another site since the-old was closed down. As Agnese had strong documents, which showed that the old site was booked and deposit paid, we got some great 2 and 4 person rooms in the new place for a very good price. Later it turned out that the 4 person room has two beds for four men.

We could order a dinner in the motel. Me and Vitolds 4.8LVL for both ate each two sausages with cabbage salad and ugali, drank beer. Great! This was followed by a fantastic night – a cool fresh air, good beds and warm, warm blankets.

Crossing the equator – the coldest place in Kenya

Tuesday, 5.11.2013
Today we have a long trip from point A (Marich Pass) to point B (Nakuru). It is interesting to watch how nature, climate and people’s occupation changes along the way. When we pass mountains, agricultural area begins. We see a lot of people on the roadside making and selling charcoal, gathering wood and maize, splitting stones and even welding steel doors. Here we buy bananas, mangoes and passion fruits.

Our car moves uphill very slowly because of damaged fuel filter. In Kitale mechanics successfully replace it and now we drive faster. Roads are also changed, instead of permanent holes now we have more or less comfortable ride. Except those crazy road bumps! In the afternoon we finally make stop for the lunch.

Soon we pass Eldoret that is quite busy town. We are constantly moving uphill reaching 2800 meters height and temperature drops from 24 degrees Celsius in the afternoon to quite chilling sensation when darkness comes. We use GPS to locate equator line. We cross it and enter southern hemisphere again. Unfortunately we cannot stop at that place. This is strange, equator is the coldest place in Africa we have met so far.

Finally we reach Nakuru that is quite big city but very noisy and crowded. We stay overnight in very modest place Care Guest House with prostitutes staying outside. Noise on streets continues all night. Most of our group go for dinner to eat meat and nibble bones.

Going back south

Monday, 4.11.2013
We have squeezed out (agreed on) 15 minutes of additional sleep from Agnese. The news arrive that a Russian eclipse observer has outpaced all. He had gone 50km in the direction of Sudan and seen the full eclipse phase. We are a little bit envious. Many enthusiasts have arrived for the solar eclipse. We meet a traditionally obese American lady from Dakota. A meter thick layer of snow has fallen in Dakota. Here in Lodwar though, the temperature is 35 degrees Celsium.

After breakfast the first activity is restocking of food. We are looking for a shopping center with a sweet name of Kilimanjaro supermarket. Moving through the bumpy streets of Lodwar we find a humble one-storey building with this vibrant title. Having bought the products we head out. In the streets of Lodwar one can see both modern people dressed in jeans and ones dressed in the traditional tribal costumes. Colorful ethnic palette.

Past the window a semi-desert with few trees is sliding. It seems a person can not live here. But suddenly, in this abstract environment appears a figure, dressed in a cloak, thin legs with a stick and seat under his arm, going somewhere in a direction known only by him. The existence of humans is shown by goat herds. Goats are the main means of living for the people here. They give milk, blood and sometimes meat. How many goats are needed for a family to survive, remains a mystery. The number of goats is a measure of a family’s wealth. Ilgonis reads pieces from the Kulik’s books on Kenya. How to control a donkey. To stop the donkey it should be pulled by the tail, to accelerate should be hit under the tail with prickles. But what are the camels doing here? I did not see that anyone using them. Maybe they are wild?

The people living in this desert earn some money by gathering stones for building and burning charcoal for grill and selling them to city dwellers. For the most part, these desert people live in small huts of branches. In places here called cities, probably the government, builds more serious houses with tin roofs. Will these desert people feel good in those?
One stretch of road is considered to be dangerous. So a guard with a machine gun joins our company for 2000 shillings again.

Our driver has become quite energetic. The car runs jumping on the scary road potholes. Once in the end, we see our suitcases hanging in twines. A little more and they would have been lost. We have come to the accommodation unusually early. Marich pass field studies centre. We have decided for comfort and are renting double rooms. Since there is plenty of time until the darkness we are going on an excursion. We are accompanied by great horde of children and are giving them souvenirs – pencils. The local village. House size around 6 square meters. Arrangement is poor, without a chimney. Only the small children are sleeping with their parents. Big kids get their own house built. We are talking about the local weddings, beer from sausage tree fruits, poligyny (several wives).

Past our accommodation a fast river is flowing. During the day we noticed women rinsing something in the river. This is gold apparently. We try out swimming in the river. The kids are very pleased that such a stout uncle as me goes swimming. River is shallow and the water is rapid. A very refreshing feeling. A beautiful sunset on the river. Dinner and then off to sleep in our beds.

Part 2: The Eclipse

Sunday, 3.11.2013, continued:
On the way to the eclipse place of course there were quite many local villages, but less than in regions to the south. The quality of life also was significantly lower than elsewhere, mostly just small cottages with tin roofs or their traditional clay huts with thatched roofs. For us as tourists it is an interesting view, but it is understandable why people are so happy that oil has been found in this region. This is one of the least developed regions of Kenya, with a low standard of living and a high degree of uncertainty caused by the nearby Sudan. At the same time, because of the relatively small industrial impact here it is possible to observe the local tribal culture and traditions more pronounced.

For the solar eclipse observation already a sizeable group of watchers had arrived at the moment we turned up. Approximate arrival time – a bit past three in the afternoon. Partial eclipse phase started only at four and seventeen minutes, so before it there was some time during which Ilgonis set up a telescope to project a solar image on a sheet of white paper, and all of us had a lunch. Nothing grand, just a couple of sandwiches with cheese and cabbage leaves, but at that point nobody really needed anything more than that.

Everyone was waiting for the solar eclipse, the great goal of this trip. During this time we also became acquainted with our neighbors – the other eclipse watchers who had come here. There were both local Kenyan and nearest African countries’ representatives as well as distant travelers like us, for example some eclipse hunters from Russia. It quickly emerged that everyone has the same problem, namely the lack of glasses that would be suitable for observing the eclipse, as well as our joint team t-shirts caused genuine interest. In general, this is an idea for people who want to profit to make a stall in the eclipse observation sites, where to sell T-shirts, glasses and other souvenirs. I think that many would be willing to pay much more than usually in this situation.

At the start of the partial eclipse phase all gathered around the telescope, and soon we were joined by a number of locals, including our driver, who somehow somewhere managed to get the eclipse glasses. Telescope projected an upside-down image of the sun; gradually a dark notch could be seen appearing in the sun, which with time grew even bigger and bigger. Of course, everyone photographed, as well as they knew to do it. Given that I did not know how, I got a short lecture on eclipse photography from Ilgonis. The whole main trick lies in a minimum short exposure. Vitolds worked as the team’s main photographer, who also got pretty good pictures. Turned out that American scientists’ tent s close by, where with the use of powerful hardware they carry out a study of the sun, which is only possible during the eclipse. However, I no longer remember what exactly. Of course such events are accompanied by journalists; they would not miss anything, not even an eclipse the middle of nowhere in Africa. So Ilgonis as a real astronomer was also interviewed for some Chinese television channel.

As we approached the moment of total phase, which was to start around 5:20 PM, the clouds began to gather. Ilgonis had warned that during the eclipse the sky will dim and the wind will rise, but this time with the wind came clouds that began to threaten the opportunity to see the total phase of the eclipse. About five minutes before the total phase clouds went in front of the sun and covered it. Such a situation remained until about five minutes after the total phase, which was about 15 seconds long. In other words, we did not see the total solar eclipse. Admittedly sky darkened for a moment, but the total phase was too short, so the night did not fall as it happened during the solar eclipse in China, at least as claimed by Agnese. We observed the partial phase of the eclipse for a while and went back to the accommodation in Lodwar. Much of the eclipse viewers began to leave already shortly after the total phase. The partial phase would end only around six thirty , it is after sunset , so I think it was wise to not wait for the end, but to go back, because the road was not brilliant and ride in the dark would be daunting. However, still a certain part of the road had to be driven during the darkness.

The solar eclipse did not leave any special impression on me, maybe because I did not see it, or simply because it is not my field of interest. I do not know about the other members of the group, it seemed, however, that everyone is disappointed with the failure to observe the magical moment when the day shifts to night and the solar corona is visible.

First thing that was done after arriving in the accommodation was making dinner, because, of course, everyone was starving abominably. The exception, as always, was Vilks, because he has his own schedule, which states that nothing after 7pm. At the end of the dinner, we were joined by Russian eclipse hunters who stayed at the same property as we did. They hoped to find someone who had been able to observe the eclipse, as even though they had tried to get out of the cloud area, they had not managed, and the moment of the totality was absent. Everyone was tired from the long day and soon went to bed. Agnese and Anders still exchanged travel stories with the Russian group, united together by a common characteristic, that is, traveling to countries where the eclipse occurs.

Part 1: Turkana republic

Sunday, 3.11.2013
Sunday, it’s been a week since we left Latvia for our trip to watch solar eclipse in Kenya. Today the set wake-up time was 7 AM since we were in no hurry to get to the next destination that was Kolokol near lake Turkana or Lake Rudolf as it was called before. Obviously we departed only after two hours as that’s our normal pace in mornings. Usually when we have a strict plan we can be ready in about 1.5 hours, but today we haven’t got such so we take our time.

Staying here at Lodwar is really nice because we have normal beds and I don’t have any more to wake up several times per night to get back blood circulation in the hand on which I was sleeping. Sleeping in tents has some advantages like being close to nature and being cheap but also sleeping is a bit uncomfortable. Well may be I just should sleep more in tents and this feeling comes from my lack of experience.

So at first we went to Eliye Springs which were located near the Lake Turkana. Eclipse started only at 4 PM so we had some free time to spend. Eliye springs was an excellent place for that. Agnese told us that Eliye springs was once a famous resort but it wasn’t so popular anymore. Roads north from Lodwar were much better than roads till now. Of course there were lot of holes but still we were driving much faster, oh, and there were no speed bumps. Eliye springs is located approximately 60 km from the main road.

To drive to the very resort was rather complicated since there were dunes starting in the proximity of the lake, so the car started to stuck and everyone had to leave the car to get it lighter. The temperature n shadow based on Ilgoni’s thermometer was around + 38 C, not sure how precise was his device, but the day was definitely extremely hot. Also the sun was strong and bright. This was actually the first day when I decided to use the sunscreen as already in the morning one could feel that the day will be hot. And, taking into account that it was planned to walk outside the car, I realized that if I don’t put the sunscreen on, there is a big possibility to get sun-burned. Usually I don’t use anything like that.

There were quite many people in the resort, music was playing, one could immediately see that many tourists have come, of course, to see the eclipse. For me the most surprising thing was an outdoors swimming pool as I didn’t expect to see anything like that in a perishing resort and at first I didn’t find it sensible at all. Later I understood as the water in the lake was very warm, too warm to cool down. When I went into the lake it felt like we could spend there the whole day, but of course, it gets boring after a while, so we went out one by one after a while. The time which was intended to be spent in this resort was only one hour, but I think it was excellently spent as the swim in the lake refreshed us from the horrible heath.

When considering the water of Lake Turkana, it is a bit brownish, but clean after all. If one drives his fingers through the water it seems that the water is a bit soapy. We discussed already when going to the lake that it is most likely caused by the carbonates in the water. When discussing it with Anders, we decided that it’s a sweet-water lake because we couldn’t feel any salt in mouth if swallowing some water and also the water of the lake is used for drinking.

Near the resort, as everywhere in Kenya, there were armed guards with machine guns. But it is a common thing here, so nobody is paying attention to it anymore. Of course, there were local articles as souvenirs under offer – all kinds of wicker baskets and other things that are very liked by older people.

After visiting the resort we went back to the main road to go to the eclipse place. It took an hour from the resort to the main road. The next object to visit in our plan was Namoratunga stones which supposedly have had an astronomical significance. But for me much interesting was the diversity of the sceneries and nature which could be observed while driving rather than a couple of humble stone blocks. The stones were located on the right side of the road, around 20m from the road. It was easy to spot them – they are rather big and cylindrical, dark stones, but yes, in my opinion nothing interesting, not really worth to stop for.

However, the scenery was extremely interesting. For Kenya characteristic mountains in the background, acacias around, all kinds of small thorny bushes, dried river beds. On the roadside one can see camels, donkeys, goats grazing and different small birds. Camels is another surprise of this trip for me as I was sure that all the camels are domesticated, but here one could see rather many of these animals, not looked after by anyone. Of course, I might be mistaken since also for goats it is not often easy to spot the goatherd, however most likely they belong to someone, but it seemed to me that these are animals living in wild. It did not seem that the camels were too interesting for locals. I am not sure about the donkeys whether the ones observed could be classified as wild animals or not as I didn’t see any people.

…to be continued…