Through some of the harshest locations on the continent, former Commando and security professional Dylan Evans leads expeditions to the unguided, less travelled spaces that make Africa so exciting and so romantic to many.
“Who termed the C113 a road?”
“Who took the time and effort to gazette this 132km stretch of unloved, rutted, torturous dirt that runs between Lokori and Chemalingot?”
“Why did Land Rover design windscreen wipers that would be too small for a Robin Reliant?”
“How long can it continue to rain before we consider constructing the Ark?”
These are the questions that ran through my mind as we rattled south having failed in our attempt to cross the Suguta Valley during the torrential long rains that hit Kenya this year. We passed through Kapedo at last light whilst under a curfew implemented following the murder of two AP officers two nights prior. The settlement was flooded. By my calculations, we had another 30km until the tarmac but would need to navigate this with a faulty clutch, necessitating an action called ‘double de-clutching’ previously unknown to me and learned in desperation at the top of a mud bank. Less than 5km from the blacktop which would have taken us to safety, cold beers and warm beds, my Land Rover was suddenly swept by a flooding lugga perhaps never to be seen again had it not been for some quick action, underwater aerobics and remarkable good fortune. We recovered, albeit without a clutch and with a sputtering engine. We were now also stranded on the wrong side of the Kinyang River with no hope of salvation until the flood subsided and a replacement vehicle arrived in the morning.
“Better bed down for the night. Best to maintain a lookout for the armed Pokot known to be in the area”.
These are the places in-between. The unguided, less travelled spaces that make Africa so exciting and so romantic to many.
On this particular expedition, our journey began in Nairobi. We departed early on a Sunday morning and arrived unscathed in Kitale before the equatorial sun set apace. The colonial government first duped soldiers to settle in Kitale after the First World War. At the time, it was nothing more than a patch of grassland with a reputation as the home of malaria and blackwater fever, more than 100 miles from the nearest railhead. Fortunately the farmers and District Commissioner had their priorities in order and Kitale Club was started in 1924 – four years before the first Church and 12 years before the first hospital. Kitale now has more than 100,000 inhabitants, great amenities and acts as a perfect launch point to the north.
We left Kitale Club at first light after a breakfast of bananas and instant Tanzanian coffee, a personal bugbear of mine considering we were in the Kenyan highlands famed for its tea and coffee. Heading north, we passed through green, fertile farmland. Shortly after, the Cherang’any Hills and Kapcherop Forest come into view to the east, and to the west, a mist covered Mt Elgon. The indigenous people of Mt Elgon have had a far less gentle history than the slopes of the mountain that is the centre point of their homeland. The Sabaot tribe is one of the nine sub-tribes of the Kalenjin. Referred to by other Kalenjin as “Kapkugo”, these Nilotic, originally pastoralist people have inhabited the slopes of the mountain since before the Nandi, Maasai and Samburu migrated to the area. Many Sabaots were displaced from the arable areas of Trans-Nzoia district when the British colonial government appropriated their land for settler farms in the 1920s and 30s.
Onwards, Turkana is a tremendously harsh and unforgiving place. It is almost waterless and sparsely inhabited by the Turkana, a nomadic people who have been shaped by the harshness of their environment over millennia. Within Turkana we were required to reconnoitre and cross the Suguta Valley, part of the dried- up lake bed that was once one with Lake Turkana. Flanked on the east and west by steep lava escarpments with very little wind and minimal water from the Suguta River running north to Lake LoGipi, this valley is the hottest and probably most challenging physical feature in Kenya.
Once across the Suguta Valley we were to pass into Samburu County and then through the much easier physical terrain consisting of long stretches of flat, arid and sparsely populated scrubland. Further on, the section to the east of the Tana River is even more logistically forgiving but the proximity of the Somali border brings unique, well-documented challenges.
This was one of the many expeditions that my occupation has given me the good fortune of leading. Our work isn’t tourism, it is risk. From conservation organisations, corporates, NGOs and individuals, we aim to assist people in going about their activities in a safe and successful manner. With global populations continuing to rise, the demand for space will invariably increase. As such, people are visiting and working in increasingly remote and complex environments.
To me, Africa is at her most beautiful when at her rawest. From the Golis Mountains that separate the feuding Somaliland and Puntland on the coast of the Gulf of Aden to the Nubian Pyramids in present-day Sudan, this continent offers much more beyond the package holiday of a lifetime to the Maasai Mara or Diani Beach, as marvellous as those places are.
As the world gets smaller, we have to go further to find these unseen places. Many of them are considered dangerous or inaccessible. I however firmly believe that with the right measures in place, anywhere is obtainable. That said, to do so safely, people must first fully understand the complexities of the terrain, both human and physical.
Technology is advancing faster than most of us can keep up with, which plays a key role in safety. Through cost-effective smartphone applications like Salama Fikira’s BreatheEasy, we can actively and passively track movements, send emergency signals to loved ones and keep ourselves updated with reliable information on our surroundings at all times. In the modern world, this is as important in the remote areas as it is in the metropolitan.