A visit to Lake Baringo

I visited this lake while in high school. But as old memories go, I had only one recollection if it. Being in the lake, after a short boat ride and the boat people telling our class teacher to increase the agreed upon money so that they could take us further. Little did they know that our class teacher was not the sort of person to be pranked with like that. They got told off very unceremoniously, and I remember nothing else from that trip. Not even the views.

So it was a welcome surprise to spend my birthday weekend chasing after Lake Baringo and it’s twin sister, Lake Bogoria. But for the sake of giving honor where it’s due, I’ll write about the two lakes in two separate blogs. Plus, they differ so much that I don’t know why we mention them together. We also visited them on two different days.

Anyway, we started our journey at around 5am. This was to avoid Nairobi’s morning traffic and to also get to Baringo County early enough. Going to a new place requires some allowance to get lost or for any emergency that might come up along the way.

Getting up early was a really good decision on our part. By 9am we were in Nakuru looking for breakfast. We found a Java and overfed ourselves. In hindsight, a full Java breakfast can be shared between two not so hungry people minus the tea or coffee.

From Nakuru we took the road to Baringo. Google Maps came in handy here. Past the outskirts of Nakuru, the vehicles greatly reduce in numbers. So even though the road isn’t the best, one can actually speed considerably.

That was until we spotted a “You are now at the Equator” sign besides the road. That was such a welcome surprise. That in a place called Mogotia, the world’s equator cuts across.

We stopped and there is like a small tourist hub formed around it. Curio shops and women selling handcrafted things plus soapstones and other things that a tourist could be interested in.

We got one woman who offered to show us a small experiment about the equator at Ksh 200. Which we thought was a fair tip. So she took some water, put it in a bowl plus a small stick. And turns out that above the equator, in the direction we were going to, things move in a clockwise direction. From the stick in the bowl, to the dust storms in the air, to bean stalks on plants. They all wind around in a clockwise direction.

At the Equator itself, the stick didn’t move in any direction. It simply floated around in no particular direction. And then we moved to the other side of the equator, the one we were from, and things now move in an anticlockwise manner. From the stick in the bowl, to the dust storms in the air, to people’s hairs on the head, to plant stalks that wind around things.

That was interesting! After those few minutes, we were back on the road. And by around 11, we were at a Petrol station that marked the way for us. If we intended to go to Lake Baringo, we would go ahead straight, but if we intended to go to Lake Bogoria, we would take a turn there. The shell petrol station also had a surprisingly reasonably priced supermarket. I’m used to those supermarkets in petrol stations overpricing their things sometimes by twice the usual price.

In our original plan, we had not anticipated to get to Baringo County this early. So we had planned to maybe visit Lake Bogoria as it was the closest to our hotel when we got here in the afternoon. But the day was still young, and here we were, still in the morning, in Baringo County. So we flipped our plans and decided to visit Lake Baringo first, so that we could get it out of the way and the next day, visit Lake Bogoria leisurely.

And that was the best thing we did! So turns out that Lake Baringo has a tarmac road right up to its shores. This makes it extremely convenient for absolutely anyone with any sort of means of transport. So next time instead of stopping at Naivasha, take the leap to Lake Baringo instead.

Along the way I spotted Ilchamus museum that I’ll come to later. And near the lake we picked someone who would later be our boat guide. There is a KWS snake park near the shores of the lake, but we just wanted to experience the lake first so we opted out of that.

Where we parked, we found these young men offering to look after the car for a small fee. I found that a little on the extortion side given that the place had absolutely no one who would come from another place to vandalize people’s property except them. But young men have to eat so we went along with it.

The Boat had different prices depending on what kind of tour you wanted. I found them to be a bit on the higher side given that their tours began at Ksh 2000 for like half of the lake’s sites without much room for negotiation. I think this is where going with a larger group is always cheaper or more affordable as you can divide the prices among more people. But we certainly had not come all the way to see half the things, so we opted for the full tour.

Later, over an hour later, seated quietly in that lake, I would think to myself, there are some things in this life that are priceless. And one of those things, is right here. The views that Lake Baringo offers are out of this world! Simply magnificent. Like whatever you do, make sure that in this lifetime, you visit Lake Baringo and take a full boat ride.

And so our tour began with spotting crocodiles along the shores. Like less than 10 meters away from people bathing and washing clothes. Apparently they don’t bite or harm the locals, they eat fish instead. Wonders of the world, ama?

Next we went to Soi Safari Lodge, or what is left of it rather. Lake Baringo just as with the other lakes in Rift Valley has had it’s waters rise more than is usual. Sometimes spreading several kilometers. Which made people speculate that if all Rift Valley lakes continue to rise that much, Lake Baringo, a freshwater lake and lake Bogoria, a salt water lake shall mix. After all, there were only 17 kilometers between them before the rise. And both have spread several kilometers towards each other since then.

And some of these things always seem so far away from us, things like climate change or geographical occurrences. Until you see people’s lives that have been upended and millions of shillings of property destroyed in a lake’s shores.

The destroyed Soi Hotel is followed by Leakey’s homestead. One of the Leakey’s from the famous Leakey family had settled here on this lake’s shores. Our boat passed over where his offices used to be. Completely washed away and only the foundation visible underwater. Next we passed by where the local high school used to be. Underwater as well. So the government had to build another whole high school afresh. And the destruction can be seen all along the shores of Lake Baringo, structures left bare. Dispensaries destroyed. A whole community’s amenities underwater.

From the ghosts of haunted houses, the lake offers these beautiful trees underwater. I’m a sucker for trees submerged in water. They always seem like the begining of a horror movie in the wild.

And then the views of the mountains surrounding the lake begin in earnest. Layer after layer of a range of mountains. Not even a good camera can capture the beauty that your eyes see when you look all around you. Beauty that is unmatched. Nature showing off immensely on just how stunning it can be.

With our breaths taken away, we continue for some minutes to this island, where we are received by three local men. Our guide must have called beforehand. They welcome us to show us around to the hot springs.

And it is here that we hear about the Njemps. A people that are a mix of the Maasai and the Samburu. Their language is also a mix of the two. They look like a cousin of both. Like not fully Maasai but one can tell that they are closely related.

They used to stay on the mainland. Around Lake Baringo if you may, but the Pokot community, their neighbors on the other side, pushed them into the lake with their various attacks. So they now occupy this one island in the middle of Lake Baringo. Around 3500 of them. They even have a primary school that students from the other islands take a boat to get there.

The rising water has also submerged some parts of some of the islands in the lake. So you find like the primary school was on the other end of the community Island, but water divided up the island near the end, meaning students have to take boats in an area where they walked.

Anyway back to the Njemps, not even moving to the middle of a lake saved them from the Pokot. One of those fine days they took boats and attacked the island. Killing all the goats they saw with a knife and then went back. This story was so weird that we would have wanted to talk to the Pokot community as well and find out if this was retaliation for something or just good old hatred and superiority.

The three guys gave us the history of the place and took us to the hot springs. Before the lake rose, the hot springs used to jet into the air, but now you can spot them in the lake and they make this unmistakable bubbling sound. They sat us over this steam that they claimed had healing powers. And for the next few minutes, we had our lungs refreshed with this steaming air. They also gave us some clay mask that can be used on the face and if you wish, sons rough stones for the legs.

The network on that island is almost non-existent, so maybe carry cash to give to the locals after the tour rather than mpesa, as we tried and failed. We had to promise to send them some money later, which we did.

We continued with our tour. There is an island owned by some white man who has built a hotel that’s around 900$ US dollars a night. And can only be accessed by air. Moi, the former president owns another island. And another one is owned by this man with five wives and tens of children. He had fat cows as well and visible homesteads all along his island. On the other side of his island, he has leased to around four different people who are making or constructing hotels. So in the future, local people might have a variety of places to stay in inside the lake. One had a visible swimming pool, so maybe that one is done already.

After that island were more views. So lake Baringo is surrounded by Laikipia on one side, Pokot on the other side. Actually the tarmac road I was telling you about that takes one right into Lake Baringo’s shores, ends up in the famous Kapedo. Though this side does not have bandits.

The tour also includes a stop over at one of the local establishments there for a drink or just to chill at the lake. It was around 3.30 at this point, the sun had been taking a hit on us since the time we got on the boat, so we opted to just go back. But what influenced this decision more, was the fact that we really were too stunned by this lake’s beauty to want to do anything else. You know those times when you see the most amazing sunset and you don’t feel like doing anything else? That was us at that point.

So we went back, and began our journey back to our hotel, that we thought was nearer to Lake Bogoria. Below are more pictures of this stunning lake. And next up is our experience with Lake Bogoria.

The community lost dispensaries, schools and hotels due to the rising waters of Lake Baringo
We found this closed, unfortunately.

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