Fund-raising  walk around Lake Turkana (Lake Rudolph) in northern Kenya and  Ethiopia

                                                          by John Hare

I completed this walk/ride with domestic dromedary camels  between March 1st and April 24th of this year. We made a successful completion  of the 460-mile circuit and raised valuable funds and awareness for our  projects relating to the preservation of the wild Bactrian camel. A very big  THANK YOU to all members who very generously sponsored me during the walk and  who, as a result, made the expedition possible. Here is a note that I have  written about the journey:

 "On March 1st 2006, Josh Perret  (Jasper' Evan's grandson), Ivan Jensen (Josh's friend) eighteen camels, six  herdsmen and myself walked/rode around Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. The  first time, as far as we are aware, that camels have been taken right around,  that harsh, forbidding but spectacular lake. The average temperature during  the six-week, 460-mile camel walk/ride was 43 degrees in the shade. This  journey was undertaken to raise funds for the Wild Camel Protection Foundation  in its efforts to save the wild Bactrian camel in China and Mongolia from  extinction. In that respect, the expedition was very successful. Also many  generous WCPF donors and friends in Kenya contributed towards the cost of the  expedition.

To walk completely around Lake Turkana the Omo River has to  be crossed. This river, which flows out of Ethiopia, branches into numerous  tributaries before it reaches the lake. In the rains the current is strong and  the swift-flowing river brings with it fertile silt which provides the  fiercely independent Dassenach tribe productive soil for farming. And what  farms they are.

We had come up the eastern side of the lake where the  effects of the drought that has gripped the Horn of Africa were clearly seen.  Hollow-eyed, hungry people sat and stared at us as our camels passed through  what remained of their domestic flocks. The topi antelope, indigenous to this  area had suffered and died in large numbers. Their carcasses were scattered  among the skeletons of starved sheep and goats.

But once we had entered  the Omo Delta the change was dramatic. Round-bellied, plump, naked   urchins sat on platforms made of sorghum stalks and pulled at strings, which  rattled tin cans to frighten away birds from preying on ears of corn bursting  with grain. ‘It’s a second crop’, I was told. ‘The first was harvested  before the end of  November.’  Two crops in four months, not bad  going.

Tiny cattle, the size of the Irish Dexter breed, were herded  around the farms. The sheep and goats were fat and healthy, the Dassenach  themselves were sleek and oiled, exuding rude health. No wonder they were eyed  by their hungry neighbours to the east and west who were itching to let their  AK47s off the leash. This tribal animosity and suspicion had ensured that two  of our Turkana camel boys would not accompany us through the delta. They were  to be ferried across the northern end of the lake where we would pick them up  after we had made the Omo crossing.

A key to the crossing and to  getting in and out of Ethiopia was an extraordinary Dutchman called  Halwejyn. He had spent so much time in the Omo delta, luring rich tourists  into Dassenach country to part with $1000 plus a day for the sight of an  unspoilt part of Africa that he now styled himself, the King of the Omo. Tall,  brisk, fiftyish and bursting with energy, Halwejyn was of the Dutch flower  power generation who once he had abandoned his hippy lifestyle had fallen in  love with Africa had spent a life time seeking out those parts of the  continent that were still relatively unspoilt. The Omo Delta is all of that,  but my guess is that it won’t be for long. Missions, money, and AK’s will  soon, in their respective ways, change all that.

But for the moment,  the Dassenach remain picturesque with their colourful head caps fashioned from  mud and their womenfolk dressed in animal skins. But how to get the camels  across? The rains had broken and the river as running hard. We attempted to  wade them across after Josh and Ivan had assiduously sought out a viable  route. No such luck. The delta mud gave under the weight of the camels and as  they threshed about to free themselves they sunk deeper and deeper in the  black sludge. It took a hundred Dassenach with ropes to eventually get three  that were stuck in the mud to the top of the steep riverbank.

Then one  old Dassenachian suggested that they had, from time to time, pinched a camel  from the Turkana and demonstrated how camels could be successfully trussed up  to enable them to be roped to the side of a boat. Halwejyn sprang into action  and commandeered a steel-built government boat. Then he weighed in with an  outboard motor and soon we were ferrying the first camels across the Omo.  ‘Beware the crocs,’ we had been warned but as far as I am aware we didn’t see  one. Maybe the multitude of helpers and the general frenetic activity scared  them off. When half the herd of eighteen camels were over, the remaining nine  were showing signs that they were anxious to join their chums on the western  bank.
Click on photo to enlarge

The effort to get them into the water and trussed up to the side of the  boat became easier and the time for each crossing correspondingly shorter. By  the time the last camel was left, he could not wait to get into the  water.

Was it the tsetse fly that caused two of the camels to go  temporarily blind a few days later? We were not sure but the tsetse seemed  to be high on the possible culprit's list. The relief in getting all  eighteen camels across safely was palpable. Amazingly, on the whole these  wonderful creatures seemed not to suffer from trauma or stress and like so  many other characteristics of the camel, took this novelty in their stride.  Considering that the width of the river was equal to nearly two football  pitches it was a great achievement.

Later when we  advanced over the little crossed Loriyo plateau the camels again showed  their great worth. The plateau is strewn with larva and the descent, which  we made off a beaten track, showed just how amazingly versatile and astute and  long-suffering a camel, can be. The brittle larva flows from Teleki’s volcano  were somewhat of an anti-climax after the Omo and Loriyo  crossings.

There was much else of interest on this extraordinary camel  journey. Josh caught a 80-pound Nile Perch from the shore, which kept us in  food for days. We had an encounter with armed Turkana bent on plundering a  neighbouring tribe. Just for a moment the thought occurred to them that our  camels might be a useful acquisition but a good meal calmed restive trigger  fingers. The tall shade trees in the Turkwell River Delta set us in close  quarters with other potentially turbulent Turkana tribesmen but the highlight  of this enjoyable, and for the wild Bactrian camel and the WCPF, very  rewarding trip, was the Omo River crossing."