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Travel Tuesday – Lake Natron & camping by the River | Mutua Matheka

Travel Tuesday – Lake Natron & camping by the River

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Every so often in ones life, one does some epic stuff (at least in their opinion) and the best thing is to tell one else about it.

Remember my trip to Lake Magadi, I blogged it 2 weeks ago. The main destination was actually lake Natron. For those who may not know, Lake Natron is actually in Tanzania but very near the Kenyan border so it’s very easy to access from the Kenyan side. I use the term “easy” loosely here. See, after Magadi you have to drive to Shompole which is a small maasai town in the distance. One thing I would say right now is if you can, get a guide in Magadi. This means having space for one more in your car. Believe me, a guide will save you a lot of money as we were to find out in Shompole. Our friends who had been there earlier used a guide and we couldn’t reach him in time which left us just charting our own path. It cost us more than it was supposed to.

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So anyway, the road is murram and rocks at some points all the way from Magadi to Shompole. Some parts are ridiculous amounts of dust and “Luanda” my Landie took a whole amount of that dust in. Perks of driving a ’94 car. A trick we fund was to drive really slow on the dust patches which reduced the amount of dust by a whole lot. We got to Shompole a little late considering the plan was to have lunch there. No place still had food so we thought to look for a goat and have it roasted for us. Luckily we are in Maasai land which meant that goats would be abundant. And these are goats that roam around eating wild stuff which means they are yummy. Not like the goats that spend their days in garbage pits stuffing themselves with plastic bags and your leftover fries in Nairobi. This was the real deal. We spoke to a guy at the shopping centre who said a goat would cost around 2,000 ksh. This was gonna be awesome. He even got us someone to buy one from and we went to look for his herd which wasn’t back home from grazing. When we found his herd, we negotiated for a nice grey goat which was gonna cost us 5,000ksh. Shocking because we’d been told 2,000 before. We finally got it for 4,000 and he was gonna slaughter it and roast it for us to come eat later in the evening.

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Steve was a serious dust victim by the time we got to Shompole. Look at Luanda’s boot. Everything was covered in dust. Everything.

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The hill that defined Shompole in the background. This is where we came to “pick” our dinner.

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That done, we went to try see the lake before dinner. Peter heard that there are lions that roam the areas and he decided to hire his own Maasai special security for the night. A chap called Joseph. he was also gonna be our guide around this area. What we didn’t know is that there was no actual road beyond here. It is more like a grazing path they use which goes along the river Ewaso Nyiro. But since this was the way, we drove along the river trying to find our way to lake Natron. In about 30 min the sun was going down fast and it became apparent that we would have to catch the sunset along the river and not in lake Natron. We found a nice flat area near the river and decided that would be our campsite for the night too. That decided, it was a mad rush to catch the sunset before it went down on us. The sunset was glorious indeed and soon it was dark and we had to make our way into the town centre for our dinner of roast goat.

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Unloading at our claimed “camp site”

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We drove back along the river bed into the town and found our shed where we’d eat. After washing our hands in what looked to some like cocoa or soup because of how brown it was, we proceded to dig in. This is after we ignored each others stares that were asking “did we seriously wash our hands in that water?” Nothing can explain how good the meat was though. Wow. The maasai do know how to roast their meat perfectly, not too done or too rare. A perfect balance that leaves it very juicy. Soon, all that was left is a rack of ribs and we decided this would make some good breakfast.

Back at camp (when we found it), we go to shooting and what not. The sky was so clear that us city boys were just too preoccupied with it to do anything else. The plan was to sleep under the starry skies without tents (for the few adventurous ones at least) but the mosquitoes in Shompole were vicious. Partly from being near the river and it being hot, they just kept attacking. Shooting had to be done while on the move. My legs were so sad that I didn’t have any trousers. The buggers feasted on me like I was a juicy piece of steak to them. Next time I have to remember some insect repellant.

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In the morning we got the grill going (grill here being hole in the ground) and got some choma sausages getting grilled for breakfast. We had a quick breakfast (plus the rack of ribs from last night) and set down in readiness to go to Lake Natron. Some Maasai men were around the camp and they said that this was community land and we needed to pay something for the community to use the land. First of all, this was ridiculous. Secondly, what use was our guide Joseph if he can’t tell us about “hidden charges” like these to get us ready. We told the men that if they would write us official receipts we would pay. Everyone had to pay 200 for the “camp site” that didn’t exist till we decided it was our campsite yesterday night. So anyway, after agreeing that with them, we took a route that took us into the hills first (Joseph suggested this route). Here we found a man who said we had to pay to use that road because it had been made by the church. We were so mad at this point because our guide from Shompole couldn’t even negotiate for us or get us our of situations like these. He wanted 500 per car. The whole idea of being forced to pay for the road annoyed us so much that we said we’d rather turn back and use another side of the hill.

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Breakfast prep

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Soon we were at the very end part of the river where the cars couldn’t go any further because the river met the hill blocking access. We decided to park here and walk the rest of the way. We walked about 2km and climbed a hill to get a better view of the Lake. Bear in mind that lake natron is a really huge lake and we couldn’t see the end. We just stopped at the delta and decided to shoot there because it looked so cool. Also, to get further into the Lake basin would take far too much time.

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The view was totally worth the trouble. I like to sit and take in views like these. They don’t happen everyday.

We started back secretly hoping that the campsite men would have forgotten but alas. We found them by the road at the town, amazingly, he had receipts and we paid him and got a receipt for the fees he claimed. We paid Joseph for his services “not!!” of getting us charged more and more and left Shompole behind us aiming to have late lunch at Magadi before heading back to Nairobi.

What I learnt from this trip.

  • Always carry lots of water and spare money in case of charges that come up like these.
  • Carry a cooler box to put stuff like ham for sandwiches, choma sausages etc. Don’t open this cooler a lot if you want the stuff within to be cool the next day.
  • Carry matches, lighter fluid and charcoal if you can.
  • Carry insect repellant *note to self* and pants. Just in case.
  • Expect anything. Be ready to camp by rivers (basically anywhere that is flat is good to go) doesn’t have to be a campsite with running water. You can shower when you get back home :).
  • Don’t eat all your food on day 1 when you still have another day. We finished our breakfast juice the night before. tsk tsk.

I hope you enjoyed the trip with me. Have a fantastic day ahead guys.

  • Laetitiah Magara


  • Kevin Tosh

    wow..how i wish i could have been part of the team…

    • Thank you man. These places are accessible to anyone, get a group of friends and just go.

  • Lake Natron or the North Pole? That starry image is the one!

    • Thanks man. I’m gonna perfect that night shot and do it right next time. This place is epic

  • Maureen

    Poor Steve, why did you put him in the boot? Fantastic post and thanks for the tips.

    • Hahaha. But Maureen, Steve wasn’t in the boot. He was in the back seat. We all looked like him by the time we got to Shompole. Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Brian Siambi™

    EEEEEPPPIIIIICCCCC Baba minislinger wish I came 🙁 🙁 🙁

    • Hahaha. Thanks man. Next time usihate hizi vitu hivo tu.

  • Jez James

    Noted very true I think their is a problem with the altitudes of the Maasai’s of the Lake Natron – Shompole Area on the Kenyan side they have become extortionists I had the same experience a while back. Especially the area from Shompole Town To the lake Natron a long the road.

    But on the flip side I like your photos they are great too bad you did not get to see the real Lake Natron.

    Please do also note the area I suspect you were camping by the river has hippos next time be careful.

  • Eli Langat

    Hi Mutua, How is the route from Magadi to Lake Natron, I want to do a Bike ride from Magadi to Lake Natron, any recommendations for such a trip?

    • Hey Eli.
      So the trip is treacherous. Especially from Magadi to Shompole. Rough and rocky. Mosly murram. The Landrover and Forrester did well but there’s a dust patch that is fine deep dust to look out for. When you get to Shompole there’s no clear road so we drove along the river. I’d say be ready in case you need to do repairs on your bike or go as a group. Natron is beautiful though. Great trip.