Journey to Lake Natron and Back
by John Fuhring
Chapter 17
On the East Shore of Lake Natron.
Camp 6 & 7 of the expedition.

     After untacking the horses and tying them to their picket rope, we make our way to the tents and then to the area in front of the bonfire where all the "sundowner" fixin's were.  Technically it was too late for a "sundowner" because the sun had already set some time ago, but we made up for it by having some "moondowners" which was appropriate that night because we had a beautiful view of a crescent moon above and right in line with the bright planet Venus.  Being a new moon, it was right behind the sun and we watched it as it set in the west over Lake Natron while enjoying our moondowners and supper.

A waxing moon and Venus.

     At supper that evening all of the day's adventures were hardly given a moment of thought and if spoken of by others, it was in a language I didn't understand.  As usual, it was pitch black out when we ate by lantern light and fire light.  We all sat facing the west overlooking Lake Natron and the new moon shining in a black velvet sky.  It was so dark out there that the moon was the only distant thing we could see above a dim outline of the western mountain ridges.  Naturally there wasn't a glow from a house or a town anywhere.  Then, to our great surprise, way, way off on the other shore and nearly opposite of us, we saw the headlight of a vehicle of some sort moving around.  Seeing that light made me wonder who they were and what they were doing way out in the middle of nowhere.  I'm sure they thought the same at seeing our big camp fire.

     Speaking of a dark night, as dark as the nights were, I was surprised and disappointed that the sky wasn't any brighter than it was.  Venus, the stars and the Magellanic Clouds weren't all that bright.

     At some point Tom announced that we were back on schedule and the plan now was for us to stay here at this camp for another day.  I don't know how the others took the news, but I was very pleased.  I was out of clean clothes and had been counting on doing laundry in the hot springs and besides, I wanted to rest up and wanted to see the horses rested too.  Yes, I was happy to hear we'd be staying over.

First sunrise at Hot Springs Camp.
2 degrees, 31.499 minutes South Latitude
35 degrees, 2.720 minutes East Longitude
1996 Feet above Sea Level

     Hot Springs Camp's latitude is almost exactly 2 1/2 degrees from the equator and our elevation was only a little over 2,000 feet above sea level.  That geographical combination of location meant that we'd be exposed to the fierce tropical sun and we should expect it to be hot.  We were also on the border of a large body of very stagnant water and we should expect insects in the form of biting flies.  Some of them might be carrying Malaria.  I also expected to encounter those damned tsetse flies, some of which carry African Sleeping Sickness.

     Unlike our former camp south of the lake, there wasn't much wind up here and yes, it did get hot and yes, there were insects out.  Neither the heat nor the insects were as bad as I expected though - and no, not one, tsetse fly.  It's true that out there I got "eaten alive" by mosquitos, but it was by tiny "noseeums" in the early morning and early evening hours.  During the middle part of the day and with the screen doors zipped shut at night, we didn't seem to have an overwhelmingly large problems with mosquitos.  Still, I itched and I had more welts on me than at any other time I've been in Africa and I knew that my exposure to Malaria was probably at its maximum here.

     For Malaria protection I had again chosen to take Doxycycline.  There is a brand new wonder drug out, Malarone, that is supposed to be as effective as Larium with absolutely none of its nasty side effects.  Terry was taking it and I had considered getting some before leaving.  However, none of my local drug stores had it and they indicated that it would be very expensive.  Doxycycline is incredibly cheap and readily available, I tolerate it well and besides its antibiotic properties might protect me from other nasty bugs, and it's considered an effective Malaria prophylactic.

     While I'm on the subject, let me say this, malarial prophylactics is good but is by no means perfect - you can still get malaria no matter what you are taking.  The wisest way to lessen your chance of getting malaria is to avoid exposure to infected mosquitos in the first place.  Out there in the bush we couldn't help but be out at dusk and dawn when the insects are the most active, but I wore long sleeved shirts and long pants at those times and I used insect repellent to limit my exposure.  I still got bit up, but probably not nearly as badly as I would have been if I had not been wearing protective clothes.

     There are other factors that affects a person's exposure to Malaria.  You have to be fed on by the Anopheles mosquito and one that fed, 10-15 days earlier, on another person infected with malaria.  Also, if you aren't within a mile or so of a group of infected people (like a village), the chances any mosquito would be infectious is very low.  There were certainly no villages way out there and only the lone Masaai warrior (or two)  passing through the region on his way somewhere.  Even if I had not been taking anything for Malaria, I was probably very safe since the mosquitoes out there were probably not Anopheles (they breed mainly in fresh, not hypersaline water) and even if they were Anopheles mosquitoes, it would be very unlikely they would be infectious.  Knock on wood - I haven't had as much as a chill since I've been home.


Mt. Lengai, a hot spring creek and Lake Natron

     Breakfast was as good as ever.  I ordered my eggs "over easy" and splashed on a liberal amount of Tobasco Sauce.  The eggs and bacon were so good that way, I couldn't understand why nobody else would try it.  After sampling many of the good things at breakfast, I had a nice sit in one of the chairs shown above.

     It was going to be a warm day, but it was a great feeling to know we would have nothing to do all day but enjoy the rest and the lovely scenery.  For those who wanted, there was a hot spring pool to splash in and for me there was the opportunity to do some much needed laundry.

    As a comfortable refuge from the sun, Tom and the native staff started to assemble the big tent.  I hate watching people work and love to help, so I pitched in too.  I was probably in the way more than helped, but it was entertaining.  The ground under the tent was covered by tall grass which in turn covered dozens and dozens of rough volcanic rocks that varied from cobbles to good sized stones.  To provide a safe floor so we could move around without tripping and have a surface to place the chairs, we began to gather the stones and toss them outside the tent's perimeter.  Getting the tent up and the stones cleared was hard work, but made for a nice shelter afterwards and it was certainly worth the trouble.  If they would have brought a "Weed Wacker" or something to cut down the tall grass, it would have been better yet. 

The shade tent


Life under the "Big Top"
Pictures by Dr. Kolblinger.

     After we had spent some time relaxing, some put on swimming clothes and went down to the hot springs pools. I put on my trunks too, but my plan was to go down below the pools to where the hot water was running fast and clear in a stony creek bed.  I had a lot of washing to do and I wanted to get it out of the way so the clothes would have a chance to dry before evening.  I borrowed a metal bucket, grabbed my bag of laundry, my small bottle of dishwashing detergent and headed for the creek.  When I arrived I met Annabelle doing her wash and lent her a few capfuls of detergent.

     I had more laundry to do and it took longer than I had expected.  I washed out a lot of underwear, a lot of socks, a heavily soiled pair of riding pants (loaded with oil from the saddle) and a smelly shirt.  Then I thought, oh what the heck and took off the shirt I was wearing and washed that too along with my safari hat.  As mentioned earlier, I could feel how slippery the spring water made my skin feel so I knew it was loaded with natural washing soda.  When I was done I was impressed with how clean everything got by just hand washing it.  I put my wet shirt back on and now every article I owned was as clean as could be, but soaking wet.  I hung the wet laundry up in a thorn tree near the tent.  Looked funny, but it worked.

     As mentioned, the washing took longer than I had anticipated and I was out in the sun longer than I should have been.  I got sunburned in places.  Oh Lengai, do I hate to get sunburned.  I am as white as a sheet under my clothes.  I don't tan, I burn.  Most of my ancestors come from either Ireland or the coast of the Baltic Sea where the sun has not shined brightly for hundreds of generations.  My genetic endowment is such that I have almost no natural protection from the sun's ultraviolet light and it doesn't take much for me to be miserably overexposed.  Such was the case now and that old familiar heat and pain was beginning.  I was wondering to myself how I would be able to wear my clothes and boots over my burning skin the next day.

     That afternoon, while sitting under the "big top," I mentioned my condition to Dr. Kolblinger to see if he had any advice.  He told me something that I had never considered.  First he advised me to apply sunblocking lotion.  I told him that it was way too late for that, I was already exposed and was starting to feel the burning.  He explained that even after exposure, the lotion helps reduce an INFLAMMATION reaction that occurs in the skin layers damaged by the UV rays.  It had never dawned on me that sunburn was actually an inflammation reaction, but it made perfect sense.  There was the increased blood flow as evidenced by the redness, there was the pain and tenderness - it made sense.  So what is involved in inflammation?  Neutrophyls and histamines and such things - right?  I had some flu tablets containing the anti-inflammatory drug Ibuprofen and powerful antihistamine drugs too so I took a couple.  I also took his advice and applied the sunblocking lotion.
     It didn't take an hour before the burning feeling and the heat on the surface of my skin noticeably quieted down.   To my great, great satisfaction, the pain and heat I felt the next day when I put my clothes and boots on was hardly noticeable.  By no means do I recommend getting a sunburn and I shall continue to avoid exposure, but I recommend the above treatment if you should be so unlucky as to get an unexpected sunburn.


John's wash day at Lake Natron
Thorn trees make wonderful clothes lines.

     After traveling all the way to those hot springs, I never took the plunge myself.  I was going to go in after doing my wash, but by that time I discovered I was sunburned and felt that I had had more than enough exposure.  Anyway, thanks to Dr. Kolblinger, here are some pictures of
one of the pools and "Manon Des Sources" (A.K.A., mon cher, Florence) to add to its beauty.

Florence getting ready to take a splash.

A beautiful little hot spring pool.
Photos by Dr. Kolblinger.

     It was hot here and a bit humid and we did have those itchy, biting insects, still this was a delightful place and I wish we could have stayed for another day or two.  At the end of the day we were treated to another beautiful sunset and this time we could enjoy "sundowners" at their proper time and in their proper setting.

 Another beautiful sunset at Lake Natron

As the sun got lower and lower, the colors became more vivid.

I just wish these pictures could do justice to the site of the sun going down over the lake.

     Sundowners were followed by another excellent dinner.  Dinner was followed by sitting around the bonfire and finally it was time to get some sleep.  This was the warmest we had been on this trip and sleeping in the tents was a bit stuffy so it was a little hard for me to fall and stay asleep that night.
Our last sunrise at Lake Natron.
The joruney north and home begins today.

     The next day dawned clear and I was up to see the sun break over the northern flank of Mt. Gelai.  I knew that we were already past the half way point of the trip, but except for the journey in the lake, some of the hardest traveling was yet to come.  This day I left my digital camera in my daypack in the the Land Rover.  I assumed that we'd be traveling in the lake again and I didn't want my precious digital camera ruined if my horse went down and dunked me in.

 Go to Chapter 18

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