Winnie’s journal

17 August 2010

Our guide and leader Amanda (daughter of Jasper Evans and owner of the camels) drove from her home to join us at the walk start. Those 90 miles took her 8 ½ hours to drive… and quite the teeth and bone-rattling ride these roads can be! On the first night before the walk start, we camped at Lake Baringo. Beautiful setting, with an “askari” (watchman) outside our site, on the look-out for roaming hippos and crocodiles coming ashore. We had dinner at a tiny café called the “Thirsty Goat”, which we deemed a pretty good nickname for Michael.

Walk, day one:

We awoke at 4:30 a.m. and started to pack up and load the camels, with the hope of starting to walk by 6:30, to beat some of the hot sun. We are deep within Pokot tribe country now. The people have been quite friendly and very curious of our group—with the occasional fright such foreigners tend to inspire, and even a few children crying at the very sight of us. Many of these villagers have not seen “wzungu” (foreigners) before, and our strange apparel, language, and collection of gadgets is all very striking and bizarre. Frequently at our rest stops and campsites, we attract a host of local villagers; some will walk beside us for miles, or just sit in our camp, staring and completely transfixed and agog. We are most definitely the new “reality TV” here, and quite the strange oddity.

Day two:

On our 2nd day, a small local dog found us during one of our rest breaks; she was very friendly, affectionate, and seemed perfectly comfortable with us. She had a very tight wire bound around her neck which was biting into the skin; once we removed the wire and gave her a friendly pat, she seemed totally smitten with us. Despite multiple attempts to shoo her away and send her back ‘home’ (wherever that may have been, if she had one), she continued to walk with us… and walk and walk, on and on.

The next morning we even tried paying a local tribesman some shillings to try and bring her back those many hours to where she had first joined us. She had other plans however, as she chewed through 2 sets of leash ropes, tried to bite the man, and simply refused to go back… and reappeared down along the trail to join us hours later, determined to be ‘ours’. She had proven herself to be a “proper walker”, so we finally conceded and let her stay. Our Kenyan camel guides named her “Safari” (“journey” in Swahili).

Unfortunately, Safari was in heat and thus attracted many male companions, with one particularly ‘attached’ to her (in many ways!), and this dog now also refuses to leave. We keep trying to find a good home for both dogs along the way, where they can be fed and nurtured—either that or Amanda will have herself 2 more dogs, or MCC a pet (or two)! The male dog is much more typical for a Kenyan

dog: clearly not used to being treated as a pet, and accustomed to scrounging for any food he could find. He was quickly named “Mwizi” (“thief” in Swahili), as he would often escape with small morsels of food (and sometimes not so small) in a flash.

Day three:

The countryside is remarkably beautiful: green and lush, with incredible vistas and bird songs resounding. The air is crisp despite the heat, and all of the sounds somehow seem to resonate. The inclines have been challenging; steep ups and downs, with loose rocks and scree underfoot. The footing is very unstable, and doing this for hours is exhausting, and the heat stifling at times.

Lots of walking in and along ‘luggas’ (river beds) today; upon one crossing, we spotted a baby monitor lizard. He was lying absolutely still, but following our every movement closely with his eyes.

A local Pokot chief met us along the trail and later stopped by our campsite and visited for many hours. He was quite an eloquent spokesman, and spoke of the challenges his tribe faced, and the paucity of services available to his people. He wanted to know more about us, and when we went around the circle for introductions, Dave Corrigan introduced himself as a lawyer. The chief responded with a knowing smile and said, “ah… so you are one who diverts the truth”! (Dave probably got tired of us referring back to that along the trip, although we quite enjoyed it…)

Day four:

Deep within the bush, an older Pokot gentleman initially greeted us enthusiastically along the trail, but then complained that we should pay for the passage through “his” land. (Definitely no land titles out here, but certainly the land was more his than ours!) He easily settled for a small bit of tobacco snuff as payment, but we were later told that he was also somewhat perturbed because one of the walkers had apparently unknowingly declined the offering of his young daughter…

A few hours later, we found a lovely campsite at a mission atop a steep hill,

with an amazing view of the rolling green foothills surrounding us.

Day five:

Tough day: when we were ready to call it quits for the day by mid afternoon, there was no suitable camping spot to be found, but only continuous rocks and steep footing. We had to keep moving on and on to find an appropriate spot for both ourselves and the camels to settle. By day’s end, we had completed 20 miles…77 miles thus far along our journey.

Dave C. began to recite the “seven plagues”; we had already encountered way too much rain and mud with subsequent wet campsites and gear, relentless inclines on rocky footing, hot/hot/hot temperatures, and even some vomiting and diarrhea… four down, and three to go. We wonder what will present itself next…

More visitors to our campsite tonight, curious about us all, who also seemed intrigued with the loads that the camels were carrying. Amanda mentioned that on a recent camel safari, they had encountered some locals who seemed confused and perplexed by these camel loads. They asked Amanda and John why the camels carried so much. When they were told that they were carrying all of the walkers’ gear, they responded with, “well, then what do you have your women for?”!! Michael calls camels the “ultimate all terrain vehicle”—a pretty accurate description!

Day six:

Walking towards the Kerio River, with more challenging footing, and crossing after crossing through the water. After first trying to carefully step from rock to rock to avoid getting wet, we eventually just gave in and trudged along with soaked socks and shoes. With the unsteady footing on the rocks, the wet shoes, socks and mud, at 15 miles we were happy to reach the river at last. There were incredibly aromatic gardenia bushes along the way with both yellow and white blossoms intermixed, which were lovely.

Amanda found the perfect campsite as always, nestled underneath magnificent tamarind and fig trees. We were warned to be watchful for both crocs in the river that night, and scorpions in the camp… but encountered neither (not to say they weren’t there, but we didn’t see any!).

Josh played his African drum for us that night as well as for the camel crew; they all joined in singing and dancing, and we were all pretty enthralled.

Day seven:

Followed a road most of the day—21 miles to camp, and we are really beat. There were occasional vehicles along the road, all jam-packed with passengers; a motorbike (called a “piki piki”) passed us by with four people all piled onto one bike! Another motorbike was driving pretty fast and crazily, and screamed past Michael so closely that part of the passenger’s gear whacked him hard on his thigh. We remain totally incredulous of Amanda: she walks further than we do each day, and manages the tough terrain most of the way in flip flop sandals; she is constantly doubling back to check on both walkers and camels, and in exploration of new trails and campsites. She also gets up earlier each day to prepare our food and pack the gear, and goes to bed long after we do, after cleaning up and caring for the camels, etc.

She is truly “Amazing Amanda”, as Michael calls her, and so like her father Jasper. Soft-spoken and quiet, but tough as nails, and with a great wit and humor. Watching her stroll along so casually (and beating our pace by a long shot as she glides easily by) is remarkable, particularly as we are non-so gracefully trudging and stumbling on!

Day eight:

The vistas are amazingly gorgeous—a series of velvety rolls of lush, green foothills. The landscape is classically Kenyan, with acacias silhouetted against the expansive and beckoning African skies. Acacias, beautiful as they are, have a much less romantic side: their thorns are painfully sharp, tough, long, and vicious, easily piercing foot wear, and constantly poking into and scraping arms and legs, and catching/tearing clothing along the way.

Another familiar and common bush all along the trails here is the “ngoja kidogo” plant, which translates as the “wait a minute” bush. These are pretty well named, as they grab onto your hair, skin, and clothes with even the most gentle brush past them. They immediately attach and attack, painfully gouging you; the more you try to escape, the more entangled you become. The best escape is to stop and slowly try to reverse oneself, carefully removing one spiny thorn at a time without becoming further entrapped.

The dress of the Pokot is quite bright and decorative. The men often wear small felt caps, with plumes of feathers and occasionally with combs or small mirrors sticking out at all angles; one even had a bright green holiday tinsel wrapped around his hat band. Their earrings are also very distinctive: the young warriors wear large, hooped rings, whereas the married men wear longer and dangly ones. The women often have beautifully intricate beaded collar-type necklaces, with no particular symbolism other than simply “for the beauty”, as they say.

A parade of children followed us along the trail for a bit; we felt like the pied piper. Later that night at camp, Michael broke out into a Christmas song in a deep baritone. Several women shrank away frightened when he ended the song with a hearty “ho-ho-ho”. The villagers continued to congregate wherever we stopped however, as if they were lining up for a show (apparently precisely what we are)!

Day nine:

We picked up the pace a bit today, to try and cover extra mileage; again with lots of ups and downs; the highest elevation reached today was 4,300 feet. In the early afternoon, the skies opened and we were all quickly drenched—and were soon walking (more often slipping and skating) along through the mud.

Tonight Pokot dancers came into our camp and gave us quite the show. The camel guys all joined in, and we had a great dancing and celebratory crowd. The timing was perfect, as soon after all most of the visitors and entertainers left, the rains returned throughout the night. This has surely been the wettest of our walks thus far: from almost daily rainfall to water crossings, and slopping along in mud. Such a sharp contrast from our 1st Proper Walk in 2002, when we were begging for moisture of any sort, with no rain, dried up water holes, unrelenting heat, and very sparse shade.

Mwizi (the male dog) has quickly become quite friendly, and is now very affectionate and playful… still the thief, but we have become quite fond of both Mwizi and Safari.

Day ten:

Everyone seems pretty upbeat today in the morning; we know this is our last day. However, ready as we are to be finished walking, there is some sense of reluctance… not wanting to be done experiencing this journey. We have a long and winding trail up over some foothills, but the walking is slow, as the bushes and acacias along the trail have to be slashed back with machetes to allow enough passage for the camels and all of the gear. It feels like one of the longer and more grueling days of trekking, but in fact we cover only 12 miles before reaching the final campsite.

John (Amanda’s husband) joined us later in camp in his Land Cruiser, having carted along cold beers and water to greet us (!), as well as provisions for their famous “fat man’s breakfast” the next morning. Not to break tradition, it rained again that night, but not before we got to enjoy Michael playing the harmonica around the fire, with Josh accompanying him on his traditional Kenyan drum… Sitting in my tent, relishing memories of the last 10 days and listening to that was very soothing and sweet.

The walk is now over, and I feel lucky to be able to return back to Makindu for an additional 10 days… to spend time with the kids and their families, and just enjoy being with them all again. The trek was arduous enough for us at times, but still hardly compares to the struggles and challenges that these children face daily… to us, this was simply an “adventure”; for them it is their everyday life.

Postscript 1, day eleven, driving back:

The adventure apparently wasn’t yet over, as the rains had caused the rivers to flood. All of these roads are just gravel and dirt, and with no functional bridges across the streams and rivers (the few bridges we did see had never been finished and didn’t extend all the way across, and instead ended in mid-air). At the first river crossing, we had to wait some time for the waters to recede enough to power across in the Land Cruiser, where we could meet the two cars we had hired to drive us back to Nairobi. Later on in the drive we encountered yet another river crossing, with the waters up to above waist level as well as a fast current… that was quite the joy ride across!

Postscript 2:

Many thanks to all those who have supported us in this fundraising walk; although our walk is over, the journey for the Makindu kids goes on! Asante sana!!