What you need to know:
- Our arrival at Lake Natron was hailed by the huge physique of Ol Doinyo Lengai aka the ‘Mountain of God’ which is the only active sodium carbonate volcano in the world! and the pinkish-white soda crust at the shores
Group travel is always relatively cheaper, more fun and convenient. At least for me, it is. But, it also has its disadvantages like having to wait for the convenient time for every member which can be frustrating. That’s what made us start our road trip at 3pm instead of noon. The plan was to drive from Nairobi to Lake Natron with a one night stop at Olekiramatian conservancy.
We arrived at Lake Magadi border at around 5.30pm, checked in then proceeded to our next destination which was Olekiramatian Conservancy through Professor Wangari Mathai Park. A point to note is that you need to make prior arrangement with your host to talk to the guards at the Magadi barrier for them to allow you to pass seamlessly.
What followed was a long deserted drive through dried out rivers on a brown, dusty, bumpy non-existent road. The trip is best done by a fully fueled four-wheel drive vehicle. Occasionally, giraffes, antelopes and gazelles would cross our path as we drove through the wilderness.
Two hours later, we had not arrived to our final destination which our guide Corporal Ezekiel Ole Kitesho had told us was just 44 Kilometers away. We were literally in the middle of nowhere with no signs of human existence and even Google Maps could not find our location or direct us anywhere else. Our only option was to continue driving until we found a nearby small village and asked for directions.
Apparently, we had taken a wrong turn about 30 kilometers away and that’s how we ended up getting lost. So, we started our journey back almost to the beginning and luckily enough we found a motorbike guy who directed us to the right destination. We arrived at around 10pm. Entry fees to Olekiramatian Conservancy is Sh1,500 per person while camping fees is Sh500 per person per night with your own gear. The Conservancy is a community initiative developed by the local Maasai community to protect their wildlife, heritage and their traditional lifestyle. We had made arrangements with the host to prepare dinner for us at an extra cost and also provide security which is charged separately.
Early the next day, we started a new journey to Lake Natron through the privately owned Shompole Conservancy whereby we also had to pay Sh1,000 per person as entry fees and Sh300 per vehicle. Despite the heat, the drive was much more therapeutic with the dramatic landscapes of Loita Hills, Nguruman Escarpment and the random encounter of wild animals on the way.
Our arrival at Lake Natron was hailed by the huge physique of Ol Doinyo Lengai aka the ‘Mountain of God’ which is the only active sodium carbonate volcano in the world! and the pinkish-white soda crust at the shores.
At a distance, we could also see a huge number of flamingoes which we later came to find out are known as the “Lesser Flamingoes”. 75 percent of the world’s population are hatched at this lake! Lake Natron is the most important breeding site in the whole world for this kind of Flamingoes. The Lesser Flamingoes have a special tough skin and scales on their legs to prevent burns making them the only ones that can withstand the lake’s high temperatures.
Is it true that this lake turns animals into stones? I asked. The guide told us that since the water that comes into the lake from Ewaso Ng'iro River which is the main tributary does not have an outlet; it evaporates leaving behind salty crusts that contain deadly bacteria that damages the liver and the nervous system of the animals that drink it. It does not really turn them into stones but it can suck out the moisture out of dead bodies and calcify them. These bacteria also produce the reddish pigment which makes the lake’s salt crust red. He also informed us that the water in the Lake sometimes turns red because of the algae that thrive in its hyper saline environment and the red hint can even be seen from space!
Natron is the salt that is left behind after high levels of evaporation take place and that’s how the lake got its name.
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