Lake Turkana Adventure part 2

Last week we left Rene at the Koobi Fora Museum with not enough fuel to get to Ethiopia on the planned route …

Last week we left Rene at the Koobi Fora Museum with not enough fuel to get to Ethiopia on the planned route …

Missed part 1? Fear thee not, just click here.


As the daylight drops away, my head-torch lights up my journal and I write down what my limited options are for getting fuel. I can ask the park to radio the next supply run or wait and hope that another visitor eventually shows up with extra fuel to sell. The problem with that of course is that we haven’t seen another vehicle since leaving the last town three days ago.

Useless fact #1 – Nile Perch are common in Lake Turkana … and these are not that big!

I figure that the first option is best so I walk to the staff quarters
to ask the manager for information about the supply truck’s schedule.
He can’t tell me exactly so we try a few more ideas.

“Why not ask the next boat arrival to bring some?” he suggests.

“Good idea, when is the next boat?”

“It’s on the water now. Should be arriving any minute …”

Hmhhh, there goes that idea. But then a light goes on in my head.

“Doesn’t the boat use petrol?”

“Yes. And the pump for the lake water to the tanks … and the museum’s Land Cruiser.”


The locals are very happy that Rene has gas …

“So there is actually petrol here?”

“Yes, it’s brought over in 200-litre barrels on the boat and kept up on the hill.”

Why he didn’t offer this before I don’t know, but I keep my comments to myself. I ask again if it is possible to buy just a little bit for the motorcycle. Only 10 liters? And I don’t need a receipt …

“I guess I can help you with that,” he says.

I take my good news back to Guy and Marleen, but they have bad news for me. They have just returned from a short recon drive on the road north that we had planned to take out of the park. It’s under a sea of water! There is only one option left – head back south – the way we just came – and take the main miserable bike-breaking highway north.

We have gotten so close – less than a day away were it not for the rain! Now we have a torturous two-day drive back to the bad highway, from where we’ll head north again for another day just to get to the border with Ethiopia.



Dotted line is the low route. Alt route loops north-easterly.

The next morning I go to the museum office to buy another 10 liters of fuel and see if they have any ideas regarding an alternate route.

I am told that the low road north is always impassable after rain, but there is another option – a westerly road that is higher up than the first and so maybe drier. Why not? If it gets too muddy we can always turn around and head to the main highway as planned.

So it’s back up the sandy track, past the prickly Acacia bushes and back into open bush.

The road north is indeed dry and we make good time over the 60 km to the border of the park. Thirty km later we are in the small village of Ileret, just south of the Ethiopian border.

There is still the issue of the maybe/maybe-not swollen river just over the border that could call a halt to our plans in a second, but we’ll be in Ethiopia, and before the day is out! That’s three days earlier than what we expected last night, and we are all agreed that we would rather wait on the side of a rushing river for three days than drive back. So we turn towards Ileret.

The road to Ileret is an African dream: rolling double track, just banked enough to carry a nice amount of speed through corners, with bushes and trees well back from the edge, and the occasional antelope or zebra nervously trotting off when the bike approaches.


The perfect African road.

As we zero in on Ileret, the terrain around us slowly loses its rock base and patches of refreshing green become more common. The air becomes less dusty, and soon whole fields of green are common.

At the police station in Ileret we are informed that the rain has only come lightly here, and the road to the border is good! This includes the river crossing at the border, which in our minds had grown into a swollen raging monster, ready to swallow motorcycle, rider, and accompanying Belgians. Now it looks like we won’t even get our tires wet!

With broad smiles we leave the last town in Kenya for Ethiopia and into the barren lands between these two countries, inhabited by tribes who couldn’t care less whose flag flies above them.



Useless fact #2 – The Mursi tribe like their I-Pods and AK47s (and lower lip plates).

Tensions are always a bit higher in border areas, but here it is because of cattle rustling. It’s a common problem, each country blaming the other, and it has gotten to the point where the tribesmen tote AK-47 assault rifles.

After successfully navigating through the maze of tracks that headed north, we end up at a tin shack police post at the Ethiopian border. We’ve made it, although our celebrations are soon tempered as we are met by a group of ne’r-do-wells, all with half-shut, blood-shot eyes.

The first man tells us that we have to go north to the town of Omerate to get the immigration office stamp in our passports. We know this to be the case from other travelers, and we are about to head off when a man with a beach towel around his waist, wearing a t-shirt and carrying a small transistor radio, walks slowly over.


Something wasn’t right about Rene’s passport.

He is introduced as “the boss,” and insists on seeing our passports. You don’t want to give your passport to just anyone out here so I have a photocopy with the details of my insurance written in pen on the back, which I promptly hand over.

“We have a problem, me and you,” he says.

“What’s that?”

“This passport, it’s not real.”

I turn the paper over to show him the photocopied side and he grunts and walks over to ask the same of Guy and Marleen.

After seeing their passports, he returns to me and explains that Ethiopian law insists on a guard escorting us to the immigration offices in Omerate, for “security reasons.” This is starting to stink of a scam so we politely explain that there is no room in the truck or on the motorcycle for the guard.


“The Boss”

The boss smiles: “How are we going to then work this out?” He isn’t going to be easily brushed off.

I suggest that they radio the immigration office and tell them we are on the way. He doesn’t like this so I suggest that we can radio him when we arrive. That is not an option either and he wonders aloud how we can solve the situation.

Before he can blatantly demand a bribe … or rather a “special payment,” I tell him to talk to Guy. Guy and Marleen have been travelling for the better part of 13 years, and have been through more dodgy border posts than most travelers, so I figure if anyone can get us away from this guy in a diplomatic and timely manner, they can.

But soon, Guy is screaming at the guy that there is no way this law is true and we are leaving now. “The boss” screams back that we cannot leave and the situation leaps from bad to worse. So much for diplomacy.

On the GS, I look at Marleen, who says one word before leaping back into the Toyota. “Go!”


Rene and Guy (post escape from Ethiopian border compound).

I hit the starter and hit the gas. The Toyota pulls in behind me and the crowd scatters as we made a break for it in a cloud of dust. It’s then that I realize I have no idea where I am going. Tracks leave the dusty compound in every direction, and a glance at the GPS has me heading due west.


The Toyota pulls up beside me.

“Is this the way?” Marleen shouts over the noise of the vehicles.

“I don’t think so!” I shout back.

We slow and turn 90 degrees to the right. There is a pole stuck into the ground 50 meters away, next to an open gate. Guy spins the Toyota toward it, hoping that the gate is the start of the track north.


The AK is standard equipment.
photo: Robbo 

I glance to my right and see the boss chasing us, towel flapping wildly and radio still in hand. Somebody else with an obviously heavy AK-47 is trying to beat us to the pole, running and trying to put the strap of the gun on his shoulder at the same time.

Thankfully he hasn’t thought to actually use the AK, and we make it to the makeshift gate well before them. Guy is driving the Toyota hard and it is bucking through every stream crossing but I’m not about to let them get far ahead of me and stay right behind them, riding flat out, blind in the Toyota’s dust. We are now a good distance away from our blood-shot friends and well and truly into Ethiopia.



Kids would run after us, and after getting a good look, run away faster than they came, screaming and laughing.

The immigration official at Omerate proves to be very helpful and starts to put the warmth of the Ethiopian people back into my thoughts after our rather eventful border crossing.

Riding in a large town after being in the bush for so long is a challenge. Oncoming traffic is difficult not only because we are used to having the whole track to ourselves, but also because for the first time in Africa, they are driving on the right hand side of the road!

Our first night in Ethiopia is spent camped in the parking lot of a small hotel. We are glad to just sit in the shade and enjoy the fact that we have made it, laughing at our adventurous border crossing and how our information about the “big river” has caused us so much grief in the last two weeks but in reality we have barely gotten our tires wet!


“There was only a trickle when we crossed”

The next day we cross one of the rivers that might have been our river of misinformation, but it is nowhere near where we thought it would be, with just a trickle of water in it.

Upon reflection, our trip was perfectly timed, not that we had anything to do with how the weather has cooperated. We settle into a small campsite in the Omo Valley and sit content to do nothing but laundry, wash and fix equipment, and laugh about the road south.


  1. Rene-So good to hear that you are having a great time on your trip but please make sure you make it back to canada. I’m sure you have many storys to tell you friends and family. Good to see you never got shot at!. Love your pictures and storys. My friends and I have been keeping close eye on your web site.Take Care and maybe we will meet again-Last time at Calgary Bike Show.

  2. Im from Kenya and just got back from there recently. Ive riden all around Kenya. No kokes, a freind of mine was shot in the leg on his way to Ethopia a few years ago while on his bike so anything is possible.

  3. I’m not sure that they knew about the Ak47 when the bolt out of there started. I’m not sure that I’d stop at that point either ….

  4. making a “run for the border” when there are people around with AK47’s is just plain stupid in my view.
    It would have been easy for them to just shoot these people and throw them in a gutter and claim they were spies. Or make up almost any story!
    There’s bravado, and then there’s stupidity! These actions fall in the latter category in my opinion.

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