Lodwar Day #1 - Warnings of Danger!
Jan 24, 2005
Looking at a map, this route to Ethiopia seemed to be an epic adventure. But I was having doubts on the bus up here. I had to ask myself, "Was this really any more of an adventure when I ventured off the beaten path in Myanmar or Laos?"
At 7am, there's a knock on my door that seems to echo these thoughts. Josphat, the guy who escorted me to dinner last night, wakes me up to tell me that a truck is leaving for Lokitaung. That'll get me 80% of the way to the border. I tell him that I'm not yet ready to leave, and go back to sleep.
Much later in the morning, I wake up again and head out into the town in search of the two friends I met in Nairobi. Tim and Deidre both work for the Catholic diocese so the big church around the corner seemed to be the place to start.
It gave me my first look at the town of Lodwar. Last night I caught the smell of the Burningman playa. Today I got my first real look at the sandy streets of Lodwar. Lake Turkana has been receding for centuries so Lodwar, like Burningman, is built upon a dry lakebed. Though this desert is full of brown, half-dead looking shrubs and in town there are actually some trees.
I poked my around the church and found a guy who works there. He told me that my friends work at the diocese headquarters on the outskirts of town. He gave me a ride out there, which was fortunate because it was getting damn hot. At the diocese I'm told that neither of my friends are in town. I can't say that I blame them. If I lived in a place as hot and dusty as Lodwar I'd probably be out of town as much as possible too.
I couldn't find my friends, but Tony, the diocese's chancellor, a jovial Irish guy of about 50 years invites me for a cup of tea. I tell him my plan. "Impossible", he tells me. "You're Mad! You'll be killed". Earlier in the morning I was wondering if the trip might be too easy to be exciting. Now I'm wondering if the journey might actually be difficult and dangerous, and that I might be in over my head.
But, I'm not discouraged that easily. My friends from Nairobi suggested that I talk to a Kenyan guy named Peter. He works for the diocese as their transportation manager. And, if there's anyone who should know about traveling around the Turkana region it's him. He also owns the hotel/bar that I was supposed to stay at. I went in search of his office for a second opinion.
Peter and I hung out in his office and discussed my plans. Then he made a single phone call and told me that there's no problem. It's safe and I can get a car to take me all the way to Omorate, the first town in Ethiopia. Some Ethiopians took exactly the same trip a few weeks ago. They paid 10,000 Ksh ($130) and I can probably get a similar price. That is an entirely different picture than the chancellor just gave me. I trust Peter's view over that of the chancellor as the average person horribly over-exaggerates danger.
But, paying my way out of a difficulty is not my style. Neither is traveling as a package tourist in a private truck. I'd much rather travel slowly and get to meet the local people. That is what makes travel interesting.
I ask Peter if there are any alternative ways to Ethiopia. There are trucks up to Lokitaung, but he tells me that finding a ride past there might be impossible. Also, the road up to Lokitaung is safe, but after it's wild lawless country and safety cannot be guaranteed. There is only about 20 miles between Lokitaung and the border, but he doesn't know of a way through it without a private vehicle.
Once again, I'm considering renting a camel and hiring an armed guard. I ask Peter about camels, but he doesn't think that I'll find any.
I head back to the center of town for lunch. Lunch was one of those surreal moments that you occasionally have while traveling. Eating spaghetti in an Islamic restaurant in the far northwestern corner of Kenya. Tribal people are walking around outside wearing beads. Suddenly, I realized that a Woody Allen movie was on the TV. Which one of these doesn't go with the others?
Then it's back to my hotel for a post lunch siesta. During the day, there is no electricity in Lodwar, so the fan wasn't working. I lay in bed, dripping in sweat, but that was okay. I decided that I had to toughen up and get accustomed to the heat before proceeding further north and so I thought of it as training.
After the nap, I hung out with the staff of the hotel. They found the pictures in my guidebooks fascinating. Then I showed them the one page in the guidebook dedicated to Lodwar. Their hotel was not mentioned, but a competitor's hotel was described as "a bit dusty" which left the cleaning staff laughing for hours.
I joined Peter for dinner at his hotel - the name of the hotel turns out to be Miami, not Majestic. No wonder I couldn't find it. There I met an American priest who is the headmaster of a secondary school. I tell him where I'm headed and his view mirrors that of the chancellor. He tells me that I'll be killed, but this time the warning is accompanied with graphic images: "These bandits will spray your vehicle with bullets before robbing you."
I sat with Peter and over dinner asked him about the danger. "No problem", he tells me again.
In the 26 years that he's been here no one has been killed. I'm confused. The overcautious foreigners must be exaggerating. But Peter can't be quite right either -Turkana tribesmen fight the Ethiopian tribesmen and kill each other all the time. This much I know. Certainly someone is being killed. I wondered if he meant that no white people have been killed, or if no NGO workers have been killed? I couldn't seem to get a clear answer from him.
Tomorrow, I'll have to try to get more details.
The trip from Nairobi to Addis Ababa was interesting enough that I wrote it up as a daily log. If you'd like to read it from the beginning click here: [ Leaving Nairobi ]
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
This is getting exciting!
sid and fern - Apr 24, 2005
this is better then reading a novel
Charles Mogeni - Sept 28, 2006
I am from Kenya too. Spent my childhood in Nanyuki town about 250Km from Nairobi.Later on I went to Western Kenya for my junior and senior High school then Nairobi for my vacational school. Right now I reside in the USA and still have no idea what Lodwar and Turkana looks like. One thing I know from having conversations from friends-Turkana area has transport problems and relatted safety issues and its hotter than other places in Kenya. I am planning to visit Turkana when I go for my vacation to get a real taste of it.
It is a very interesting region.
Have you seen the movie, "The Contant Gardener". It's not the same as going there, but it will also give you a bit of a feeling for Turkana.
And please be careful - it is a bit dangerous.