The journey from Nairobi to Ngurunit is as fascinating as the destination: One is an international capital, while the other is a little-known village in the massifs of the Ndoto Mountains. It gets even better the farther we drive from the city.
The swamp at Suguta Marmar is lush after the rains. According to one version of folklore narrated by Nyamalo Lekada, a Samburu elder, in the beginning, God created man, elephant, snake and cow. The man killed the elephant because it drank the water from the swamp. God got angry. “You will kill me next,” God said to the man and left him.
However, God decided to give the man a second chance. He propped up a ladder from the earth to the sky for the man to go and apologise, but man refused. In the meantime, God gave the cows to other families. Enraged, man cut the ladder – and that point happened to be at Suguta Marmar.
It’s dark driving past Suguta Marmar. A thousand and one eyes light the darkness. Caught in the light of the car, stripes flash by. It’s a herd of zebra and we stop to watch black and white stripes stream across the rain-drenched road.
Buffaloes chomp on the rain-soaked grass and graceful giraffes watch us. These are the reticulated giraffe, the really rare species of the northern drylands.
Checking in at Ngari Hills Eco-Lodge on the Karisia Hills that straddle Maralal with its huge amazing forests, yellow neon street lights line the tarmac roads below.
Only a year ago, there was none of this.
Past Maralal, we’re off to the Ndoto Mountains via Baragoi. It’s a distance of 200 kilometres but untarmacked, the road less travelled takes more than five hours.
The short rains have transformed the drylands. Cedar trees stand regal around Porro, with wisps of the old man’s beard, a lichen, on the branches. The land plunges along the road into one of the most dramatic views of the Great Rift Valley, a canvas of
steep walls and massifs. Far in the faint horizon the white salts of the Suguta Valley shimmer, the valley is known for being the hottest place in Kenya.
Desert flowers bloom, spreading an unusual pallet of colour in an otherwise dry landscape. A clutch of Somali ostritch with grey-purple legs and necks – male and female – twirl and display their feathers in a mating ritual.
A sharp bend in the road opens the expanse of the El Barta plains that were once patrolled by the colonial askaris on horseback (El Barta translates into horses). In the plains of El Barta, we stop at Baragoi for tea at a hotel.
There’s a patch of green trees in the coarse grass of the plains. An enormous owl flies out noiselessly over the bridge to perch on another tree. It starts to rain and the Ndoto range and Mount Nyiro come into view.
Water begins to fill the dry sand luggas and a lorry transporting rations to the far-flung villages gets stuck.
Branching off from the road that continues to Turkana, the soils turn dry, for the rains haven’t started yet. A gigantic spotted hyena dashes across the road as the sun slinks behind the Ndoto Mountains, lighting the range in an ethereal glow.
Camels wander through the scrub and Gunther’s dikdik adapted to extreme hot climes scamper across the road as do the squirrels. In the eventide, the desert creatures become active. Red-billed hornbills and go-away-birds flit from tree to tree. Elephant
dung on the road reveals that there are some around. The sheer rock face of Mount Poi means we’re closer to home.
Six kilometres to Ngurunit, a beat-up Landrover comes to a halt at a point called Network. Its passengers jump out, carrying mobile phones and suddenly a cacophony of voices breaks the silence. The Milky Way sets the sky ablaze.
Until 1974, Ngurunit was a watering point for the pastoral people. Now it’s a village in the Ndoto Mountains that are fascinating to explore.
PLACES TO STAY
In Ngurunit: Salato Women’s Camp run by the local Samburu women who also weave baskets under the brand name Nomadic Baskets. You can drive via Samburu to Merille (tarmac) and then branch off to Ndoto Mountains and onto Lake Turkana. Or drive
via Maralal (It’s 500 kilometres). Contact [email protected] or www.nomadicbaskets.com
In Maralal: Ngari Hill Guesthouse: It’s got beautiful luxury suites, tented suites, a dormitory and campsite. (www.ngarihill.com)
To get to Maralal from Nairobi, you can take a Nuclear matatu for Sh1, 000, check in at Ngari Hill Guesthouse and trek up the Karisia Hills – You don’t need a car for that. However, to explore further, you’ll need a good four-wheel drive and plenty of water
to enjoy the little-known northern lands.