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CYCLING THE TURKANA LAKE VILLAGES – WEST SIDE FROM ETHIOPIA

CYCLING THE TURKANA LAKE VILLAGES – WEST SIDE FROM ETHIOPIA

I decided to write this post to help other travellers that may be interested in cycling this part of Kenya. I cycled from Cairo to Cape Town and I chose to cross Kenya entering the unofficial border of the Turkana lake because I like remote places and less travel itineraries. I could find very few information online when I prepared my trip, so I hope it will be helpfull.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, leaving a message via facebook/instagram, link in the home page.

Cycling around Turkana villages has been for me a very challenging experience as I’m not an expert cyclist and not really in shape. I had to push my bicycle quite a lot and the sun is really strong here… I struggled a bit, but I don’t regret it. The people are great, and cycling in this remote area is highly rewarding. The villages you cross and the people you meet make it a wonderful experience!

Sandy paths of Turkana roads

CLIMATE

This area is the driest part of Kenya, and even during the rainy season, it rains very few. It’s dry and dusty everywhere you look. Riverbeds are empty. And it’s hot… very hot… About 35 degrees celsuis during the day, a bit cooler at night because of the wind.

ROAD CONDITION

No road here, just a sandy path and when it’s not sandy, it’s bumpy, rocky, full of gravel, or also a bit of everything at the time. Interesting, eh? But it’s also the reason why travellers don’t come here, even if it’s getting every time more popular among cyclists and motorbikers.
I was going at 10km/h on average, I’m not used yet to sandy roads and I had to push about 10 times a day, not for long distance, a few hundred meters the longest.
Just watch after the Ethiopian border, there’s no road signs, just a gravel/sandy paths and at the begining it splits, one of them goes to South Soudan. Just keep an eye on the map just in case you’re going too far on the wrong way…
The good news is that the road is flat! Until Kalokol from where the road is a bit uphill going to Lodwar.

Sandy roads

BORDER CROSSING AND VISA REQUIREMENTS

This border is not official.

On the Ethiopian side, I have to clear customs and get the exit stamp in the village of Omorate! That means 26km before the border.
The immigration office is located at the entrance of the village, after the main crossroad, on the left, you’ll see the flag, before arriving in the center of the town. There, they will stamp your passport wih the exit stamp and you also clear customs.
Once I’m done, I can leave to the border, which is about 26km from Omorate (the closer village is called Namuruputh but you don’t pass there). You cross the Omo river by the bridge and the road is sealed and in good shape until the border, but there’s no traffic… You’ll see a few villages of small and poor houses. A few children ask me for water on the way. As you come closer to the border, the countryside changes and becomes more desertic.

village close to Omorate
village close to Omorate
Lonely tree close to Kenyan border

After struggeling against headwind, I arrive at the “border”, which is a dusty, lonely and half destroyed house in the middle of nowhere, where a soldier check my passport. After this control… a vast area of nothing, just desert, no trees, no village, no cars, no signs… just NOTHING… and a few paths where you have to guess the direction to arrive in the right country. Here is the border between South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, and they still disagree on the location of the border lines between each other. If you take the wrong way, you could arrive in Juba! So I check maps.me regularly until I’m on the right way!

on my way to Kenyan border. The building in the distance is the Ethiopian border post I’ve just passed
no man’s land border between Ethiopia and Kenya

Then, a few kilometers forward, I can see a few tents in the distance. I guess I’m in Kenya now. 3 men already walk towards me. I’m a bit scared as I have no visa and this is not an “official” border so I’m not actually sure I’m able to cycle here. I heard from other cyclists that there’s no problem but who knows… Anyway, I have no visa to go back to Ethiopia so they have to let me in!

As I approach, the men greet me in a very friendly way! They obviously ask me a few questions and also ask for my passport and then bring me to their camp. I have to wait for a while and they send me to the “main” police station, 500m away to speak with the boss and register.
When I arrive there it’s already dark. The police officer is also very nice and ask me about the details of my trip and my passport. He doesn’t even ask me for the visa. He only warns me about security issues as a woman alone in certain parts of the country (Lokichar to Kitale) and seems to be very impressed about my decision to cycle alone as a woman.
As it’s already dark, they offer me a shelter for the night, food, shower and drinking water!

1st village Kenyan side but still Ethiopian people living here
1st village in Kenya – Ethiopian village
sunset as I cross into Kenya

VISA FOR KENYA

I was thinking to request the visa online but it never works when I tried in Ethiopia, I guess the connection was never strong enough (?).
So I entered without visa as I knew some cyclists in front of me who’d just passed without problem.
I’m a bit nervous, I should have requested it at the kenyan embassy in Addis. I have no problem passing the border and the police officers say nothing. They advice me to go to Eldoret where I can get the visa, or Nairobi.
In Eldoret, it’s easier than I thought. The immigration office is located in Oloo st, behind the big Sirikwa hotel, close to the old railway station (after the railways), close to the city center. It is called locally “Works office”. You can find it on maps.me as “immigration office”. Here you pay 50 usd and they put the visa sticker in your passport and stamp it with the entry stamp. The date is the one you are in Eldoret but they write the real date of entry manually. No problem, it’s legal and they sometimes see foreigners here. This office is closed saturdays and sundays and opens from 8h to 17h.

WATER

People from the villages have access to water but it’s dirty and they often have to walk for kilometers. NGO have been building boreholes in almost every villages but it’s not safe for drinking unless you filter it properly.
Bring a lot of water and refill or buy whenever it’s possible. At the border (police station), at the catholic mission on the way or in local shops in bigger villages (Lowareng’ak, Nachukui, Katiko, Kalokol).

children at the well, Lodwar
Village life, at the well – Turkana

FOOD

Food is not available everywhere in this area. You stop in a village, ask for food and people will often answer “hakuna chakula” (no food!), even ugali, the basic dish of Kenya, nor rice nor fish…
Food is available in bigger villages like Lowareng’ak, Nachukui, Katiko and in the few catholic missions along the way. If you eat a lot, it’s not a bad idea to pack some food, biscuits, etc. as limited stock is available in the villages. If you have cooking equipment, you also find pasta in some shops.
The villages are close to the lake but apart from dry fish, they have no fresh fish and don’t use the water from the lake neither because it’s too salty.
They also have no fridge, and no electricity during the day. Solar panels are installed and provide light in most villages. That means you can buy only hot coca or hot water…

shop in Lowareng’ak
Shop in Turkana villages

WILD CAMPING AND ACCOMODATION

I didn’t wild camp because I had a few big wounds due to huge mosquitoe bites that got infected in Ethiopia so I prefered to stay in a place where I could have easy access to water to shower, clean and desinfect the bites. But it’s actually possible to camp in the border area and after the border, you can hide in the bush between villages, even if there are often people or children walking from a village to another and looking after animals.
I stayed at the police station the 1st night in Todenyang, in catholic missions (Nariokotome and Kataboi) even if the first mission was a bit too “money oriented” and didn’t let me camp but pay for a room. But I could find water for drinking, showering, and food.
Otherwise, the villages are quite close to each other, so it’s always possible to ask for a shelter somewhere or camp in a village. People will definitely be very surprised but make no problem.

Camping in the Turkana village of Kataboi
At Kataboi mission

PEOPLE AND SECURITY

Turkana villages are often a place of tensions between tribes. It’s a very dry area where natural resources are limited. I have been told that people have guns and sometimes use them to shoot between each other when a problem arises.
Well, I didn’t see anybody with guns (like in Ethiopia for exemple), and even if they have, I don’t think they would never used them against cyclist or travellers! People have been very friendly and nice to me. I didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable.
Forget about agressive children, here they are not begging, they are only curious as they don’t often see “mzungu” (white people) stopping or cycling (only NGO workers). They speak good english as well as Turkana. They learn Swahili and English at school, Turkana with their parents. Most of the children go to school, but not all of them, girls especially used to stop to help at home. They are also very educated. They greet you as you pass “hello”, sometimes they ask for water, food or for a little “help” but never in a bad way nor aggressive.

WEDDING IN TURKANA
Turkana village

Turkana woman

TIPS AND ADVICES

– pack water, and food or snacks! After Omorate, the 1st big town you’ll pass will be Kalokol, with a market and good supply, before arriving the city of Lodwar

– wear long sleeves at night and mosquitoe repellent, there’s a lot of mosquitoes. Also small and annoying lake flies in some area but these are not biting.

– try to find some kenyans shillings before you arrive, I was lucky to find a local businessman in Omorate, Ethiopia, who changed my last birrs in kenyan currency. Otherwise you can pay with small notes of dollars but it’s not accepted everywhere in the villages

– protect yourself against the sun and heat

– don’t only cycle, but spend some time stopping in villages to speak with people, I usually stopped the hottest hours of the day around lunch time and don’t forget: you’re in Kenya, they speak english! I really enjoyed it and even got invited to a Turkana wedding!!!

– most of the villages are a few hundred meters from the Lake, it’s usually very sandy to get to the shore of the lake, but it’s nice to see the sunrise on the lake, the easier is in Kalokol, a few km from town on an easy path.

– don’t take picture without asking, children usually make no problem

– avoid the catholic mission in Nariakotome, money oriented and not especially nice people, stop at Kataboi mission instead, the father/brothers are very nice and didn’t ask me for money, I just left a donation

The itinerary of my cycle trip on the lake, but you can easily do it in less time:

28th November 2017.
Omorate Ethiopia – Todenyang “border post/police station” 40km
Good road until the Ethiopian border. After, it’s a kind of no man’s land, dirt and sandy road with no road signs.
Strong headwind
Last agressive children just after the ethiopian border post
Bring food as few villages and no shops or restaurant along this road
Night at the police station at the “border” of Todenyang (free camping), Kenyan side

the no man’s land border

29th November 2017
Todenyang “border post/police station” – Lowareng’ak – Nariokotome 58km
Dirt and bumpy path, sand, gravel, stones. A lot of sand before arriving at Lowareng’ak.
Food available in Lowareng’ak, one restaurant and shops with hot sodas and water (no fridge), snacks
A few shops along the way in villages after Lowareng’ak but limited stock (hot sodas and sometimes biscuits)
Clean water and food available at the mission
Night at the Spanish mission (1500 kes for bed and breakfast – no camping permitted (? for me at least) )

view on Turkana lake
truck as public transportation

30th November 2017
Nariokotome – Kataboi 57km
Dirt and bumpy path, sand, gravel
Food and drinks available at Nachukui and Katiko, other smaller villages has only hot sodas and limited stocks
If you stay at the mission, they will offer you food and water, and you live a donation
This day, some men invited me at a wedding close to the village of Nachukui, as I was having a tea. I walked about 3km in the sand with my heavy bike to arrive at the place where the wedding was taking place. It’s a 7 day celebration where family and friends are dancing and enjoying time together.
Night at the mission in Kataboi (donation – 1000 kes for dinner, camping and breakfast)

Turkana women – wedding
turkana wedding dances
Turkana men – wedding

children in Turkana

1st December 2017
Kataboi – Kalokol 30km
Dirt and bumpy path, sand, gravel, sandy (empty) river bed to cross before arriving Kalokol
A few villages with shops but limited stocks
Night at Turkana Guest House Kalokol (bed for 500 kes)

selfie mode Turkana
Not the only one to push…
Turkana GH in Kalokol
Kalokol
Kalokol market

2nd December 2017
Kalokol – Lodwar 73km
The road gets better here, with “rest” of asfalt in some areas, a few km are even sealed. No sand but still a bit bumpy
No villages nor shops on the way, buy everything in Kalokol before you leave
Camping in Nawoitorong Lodge, Lodwar (camping for 400 kes)

Beautiful sunrise on Turkana lake – Kalokol
birds at sunrise on Turkana lake shores in Kalokol
countryside on the way to Lodwar
Road between Kalokol and Lodwar
Lodwar corcovado

SOMALILAND IS NOT SOMALIA!!!

10 TIPS FOR FINANCING A LONG DISTANCE BIKE TRIP