On our way to Lake Magadi, about a 3 hour drive outside Nairobi, we are passing through the beautiful landscape, seeing giraffes in the distance and people herding cattle wrapped in bright red cloth. Kenya, even 1 hour from Nairobi, is so different. I couldn’t help but think of Ghana. The capital cities in both countries are lush and green, while the countryside is dry and brown. We pass a sign advertising plots of land to be developed. A gigantic red arrow points to where the bore hole is. Something about the idea of a land development company similar to one at home operating in the seemingly middle of nowhere, highlighting distance to the bore hole as the main selling feature makes me laugh. Such a paradox; but so vital. Without water, there can be no life.
We wonder why the road is paved. It doesn’t seem to fit among the starved livestock and huts. As we near Lake Magadi, the ground is sectioned off, reminiscent of the countryside at home, except here the land is brown and pink. Yes, pink. We wonder why and eventually pass a set of train tracks. In this area, we are told, salt and soda is produced. This explains the train tracks and the paved road.
According to my handy Lonely Planet guidebook, Lake Magadi is the southernmost of Kenya’s Rift Valley lakes and is the most mineral rich of the soda lakes. It is the encrustation of the minerals that support the surrounding wildlife. The mineral-rich water evaporates rapidly at 38*C leaving the mineral layer. From these encrusted minerals, salt and soda is extracted. It was quite interesting to pass through a town with a swimming pool and high-rise apartments in the middle of nowhere, but I suppose the factory workers have to live somewhere.
We continue on our way, the roof of our vehicle now lifted up so we can stand in the car and see out the top under the shade of the roof lifted above us. Driving through a currently dried up river bed, we round the corner and see flocks of flamingos standing in shallow water. Very pretty. We are told they stay were the salt water is. Exiting the vehicle, camera in hand, I discover my joy of the day: walking on the salty shore is just like walking on crunchy snow. The type of snow you try to stay above but every once in a while you fall through. Now I know where to go if I am ever homesick, especially if I miss Canada’s winter.
After scaring the flamingos to the far side of the water, we continue our drive and eventually arrive at Lake Magadi’s hot springs. I must be honest, this was nothing at all like what I was expecting. I thought we’d have to trek up somewhere and then would happen across the hot springs, but it looked like a little pond. Not too impressive, but then I stand in it. Eek!!! My feet are burning red for the rest of the day. Some of the locals wash their clothing with the deep-cleansing salt in this volcanic heated water. Apparently it does wonders, but the wonders don’t end there. The hot springs are also known for the healing powers. While we, and students from a Kenyan university, could only wade in ankle-deep water, we all stared, completely flabbergasted, at a man who went neck-deep in the scorching water.
While this was a good time, I couldn’t help wonder that any body of water, under this intense sun, without shade would also be this hot, even if it wasn’t volcanically heated water. As soon as I had stepped off out of our vehicle, I had been immersed in such a heat that I was immediately tired and left with very little energy. So glad I brought my hat! I guess the beauty of this place is different for everyone; that this water is heated from inside the earth and the sun.
I make many footprints in the white salt covered ground surrounding the lake, like any other child would, before we head to an archeological site on the way back to Nairobi.
Olorgasailie Prehistoric Site is at the bottom of the Rift Valley. While it is interesting to hear about the change in land formations and to discover what chalk is make of, I am disappointed by the lack of unique findings, the methods (or lack of) of artifact preservation, and the overwhelming sites of flints after flints. All I can think is that I am predisposed to finding this most interesting, having taken some anthropology classes at spent a quarter of the year studying archeology; however the sites, primarily of flints, quickly became repetitive. I wonder what the others think. Perhaps one of the saddest things was that the elephant bones (modern and prehistoric) are taken care of where they lie and when they eventually break, crazy glue is brought in. Must this be the case when there are so many archaeologists still working in the area? Perhaps they could invest in a more solid shelter or updated preservation techniques to protect the artifacts where they lie. On a side note, they also told us to pull a spike off the thorn trees and smell: so fresh!