Journey to Lake Natron and Back
by John Fuhring

Chapter 21
"I've never been lost in my life, but
I have been terribly confused at times."

Louis Slater (my Uncle Lou)

          This day, the next to the last day of riding, began mostly overcast.  The overcast weather was fine with me because that would mean that it wouldn't be so hot under the African sun.  We headed southeast from camp and soon we crossed the road that leads to a village on the northeast slope of Mt. Kitumbeine.   It was about here that we crossed the path we had originally taken on our way out to Lake Natron.  I hate seeing the same old things over again so I was hoping we wouldn't take same path back as the one we had come in on and as it turned out, we didn't.

     The trail we took was considerably east of our inward bound trail and through some very thick thorn tree forests.  These thorn trees were a completely different species from the trees we had become accustomed to.  Their branches were very gnarled and they were covered with large, thick thorns.  They were completely lacking in those horrible mini-thorns and, for all their ferocious appearance, not as bad to brush up against.  They were also almost completely lacking in foliage and I was wondering if some disease had killed them and if what we were seeing were actually dead trees.  Whatever the case was, the trees formed a thick tangle and that necessitated a lot of maneuvering and changing directions to try to find a path through them.  We made very poor time as we were only at a walk and had to do a lot of back tracking.  At the time I was wondering why we didn't head west or maybe a little south toward our old trail and get out of this stuff.

     Instead of changing our general direction, we kept heading to the southeast until we got into some rugged and stony ground.  Around noon I think we were lost and we started heading due east for a while to find a way over some very steep terrine.  At one point, we got off the horses and Tom found a way down through a small canyon.  The hard ground was hard on the horses' feet and that slowed us down too.  Finally we headed almost due south and rode that way for a few miles.  It was way past noon by now and I was beginning to wonder if we were going to find our rendezvous with the Land Rover.  The horses seemed tired and thirsty too.

     Amazingly, Lisa's dead reckoning started working again and around 2 PM we found the Land Rover.  We had come into lunch camp so late that I expected we would stop just long enough to eat, feed and water the horses and then hit the trail again.  Wrong!  Lisa told us that the next camp wasn't all that far away and we didn't need to hurry (that turned out wrong).  According to my GPS, we were only a few miles from our first camp (Camp 1) and I assumed we'd be camping there again or at some spot nearby.  Wrong again!
     The natural surroundings of  Lunch Camp 11 wasn't all that interesting, I was concerned about the lateness of the hour and somehow I never got around to taking any pictures.  To tell the truth, I am not exactly sure where our lunch camp was because I didn't record the location properly in my GPS unit.  Extrapolating our position from the map and from some poorly labeled data in my GPS, I believe we had lunch at or near  2 degrees  48.658 minutes South,  36 degrees  20.801 minutes East (if that isn't the exact spot, it was very close by).


A thick tangle of gnarled thorn trees blocked our way a great deal of the time
and we had to take a very crooked path.

Finally we came to some rocks and had to find a path through them before we could stop for lunch.

     After lunch we mounted our sore horses and got a late start toward what was supposed to be a near-by camp.  Geographically it may have been nearby, but in terms of practical travel and through faulty navigation, it wasn't nearby at all.

     If you will look at the regional map you will notice that lunch camp 11 was only 4 or 5 miles from our earlier Camp 1 and less than 8 miles from the actual location of Camp 11 we needed to make for.  Of course, these distances are "as the crow flys" and take no account for the circuitous route we were riding.  Thanks to my GPS, I knew exactly where old Camp 1 was, but Lisa and Tom were very silent about where Camp 11 was to be found beyond saying that it wasn't exactly at Camp 1.
     As we rode along in the afternoon, I was getting nervous about the lateness and the fact that the cloudiness would make the darkness come on that much sooner.  I kept checking distance and direction with my GPS and I could see that we weren't heading for Camp 1, but were wandering all over the compass.  Oh lord, we were lost and by this time I could definitely hear Danish being spoken.

Sun was going while we were still on the move and far from our lost camp.

     We were still riding along when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds as it was setting over Mt. Kitumbeine.  I wanted to stop my horse and take a picture, but the damn thing wouldn't hold still and the more I wanted it to stand, the more upset it became.  The poor thing was hungry, tired, sore and thirsty and it was past it's time for food and rest.  It's a good thing we weren't riding mules, because mules are smart enough to know when they've had enough and stubborn enough to quit on you.  Anyway, the best I could do was to point the camera to the rear and snap a couple of blurry pictures while on the move.

     As mentioned earlier, the day had been socked in with clouds and I knew that night would be soon and dark, dark, dark.  I noticed that we were changing direction all over the place - we even headed north for a while.  I didn't need to hear Danish to know that we were lost.  Finally I mentioned to Tom that we were only a couple of kilometers from our old Camp 1 and we were now heading directly for it.  That information wasn't of much use because it wasn't Camp 1 we needed to make for.  I asked in what direction and how far from Camp 1 our new camp was, but either Tom didn't know or didn't want to say.

     We passed Camp 1 and I recognized the hillside a couple hundred yards away in the gathering darkness .  We still had several miles of riding to do and way off in the distance we briefly caught sight of what we supposed to be a light from the Land Rover that we supposed was out looking for us out on a road somewhere.  It was really getting dark now (almost 7 PM) and there were holes out there that our horses kept stepping into.  I was rather sure that we would have to stop soon, dismount, bunch the horses together and wait out the night with the bridles tucked under our arms.  On cavalry reenactments I've done similar things and knew it would be no big deal if we all stuck together.  We'd get through the night safely and it was warm out there.  I don't think anybody had anything to make a fire with, but we really didn't need one.

     Just as it was getting too dark to ride another yard, to my amazement, the clouds started to break up and a very bright moon, a little past half full, started peeking through.  With that light, we could actually see where we were going and so we kept on.  By now we had struck a dirt road and I assumed our camp was located somewhere along it.  I could tell that even Lisa didn't know how far down this road we'd have travel because she charged everybody to keep a sharp lookout for lights.

     The longer we rode, the more the clouds broke up and the brighter it got.  If we and the horses weren't so tired and hungry and if this had been planned as a moonlight ride, it would have been a wonderful addition to the trip.  Actually much of my anxiety and indignant feelings melted away and I couldn't help but be affected by the romantic aspects of this night ride.  Nevertheless, we were so damn lucky that the weather cleared at just the exact moment of our greatest peril.  It was not through any good planning or navigation that we were out there at that dark hour.  It wasn't good planning that we were still riding those poor jaded, hungry and sore horses long past a time they should have been picketed.  No it wasn't good planning or navigation, it was sheer dumb luck that turned this potential disaster into a lovely night ride.  So it is many times in Africa, sheer audacity, adaptation and good luck gets people through the worst situations.  Of course, it only takes getting killed once to ruin your whole day.

     At long last, way far away and up on a hillside there was an unmistakable twinkle of a kerosene lantern.  We kept on the road and somehow the camp still seemed maddeningly far away.  After a long time we could see a square pattern to the lights and knew that camp couldn't be far off.  The road we were on seemed to take a turn to the left and not directly to camp, so we took off across country directly toward the camp.  We had to be careful because there were deep holes the horses could step into.  My night vision isn't too bad, the light from the moon was bright and I kept a sharp lookout as I rode along mostly out in front.  My horse never stepped into one of those holes, but I saw others do so.  Finally we made it into camp and just as I passed through to the picket like I read my watch by a lantern.  It was 8:32 PM.  It was almost two full hours after the last light of day that we finally made camp.
     Like so many things about this trip, I didn't know if I should be happy to be safely in camp or mad that some serious mistakes had put us in camp so late and had nearly stranded us out in the African wild.  There is a certain elation that comes with escaping from a bad situation, but there's also a feeling that things should have and could have been done better.  Speaking strictly for myself, coming late into camp like we did took all the fun out of the evening.  I was tired and hungry, it was late and all I wanted to do was eat and sleep.  I didn't bother with a shower since it was so late and I knew we'd be back at the Farm the next night (or so I hoped).


Morning at Camp 11
3 degrees, 0.079 minutes South Latitude
36 degrees, 30.542 minutes East Longitude
4301 Feet above Sea Level

Getting ready for breakfast and a final day of riding.


Although not as beautiful as the mantis of the day before
this huge scarab beetle was a most impressive creature.
This living, moving insect was better than anything I've ever
seen in a collection.

     The clouds had moved back in by dawn and the sunrise wasn't worth photographing.  As on the previous day, I contented myself with taking a few pictures of the camp at morning.  I was visited by this huge scarab beetle near my tent.  Beetles of this sort (only much smaller) are quite common out at the stables where I keep my horses.  We call them dung beetles and many of them have beautiful colors on their carapaces.

     I have read that the Ancient Egyptians considered those beetles sacred because they represented to them aspects of their belief in immorality.  As in the story of Isis and Osiris, the dung beetle "dies" and is buried (in shit) only to reemerge reborn out of corruption.  A very pretty story, but full of cruel and gross tails of murder, dismemberment and revenge.  Actually, this story of these two gods and their loving son, Horus (who Pharaoh was the living embodiment of), are nicer than most "Old Testament" stories and just as believable.  As a tail of family piety, few civilizations that I know of have any thing better.

     Anyway, this particular beetle wasn't so colorful as the ones back home, but it was many, many times bigger.  I am so impressed with how beautiful the Natural World is that it can produce and maintain such wonderfully strange creatures so alien to our own line of vertebrate animals.  How terrible it is that our own species causes so much extinction through willful (politically motivated) ignorance, greed and stupidity.

     At breakfast Jan told us how he kept watch all night with a large bore hunting rifle in hand.  It seems that there was a mother lion nearby that was out to teach her young cubs how to hunt.  Jan wanted to make sure they didn't become interested in our horses (or us?), but they seemed intent on stalking a nearby heard of zebras.  The lions got to the outskirts of camp and Jan showed us some of their paw prints in the dirt.  Paw prints are nice, but getting up in the night to see lions at night would have been worth missing a little sleep for.

     We were returning to the Farm today and I, for one, was glad of it.  The original description of this Lake Natron Expedition that appeared on the internet warned us that we might have to spend an extra day on the trail and I had planned for it.  The flight I had booked didn't leave Nairobi right away, so I could stay out there at least a couple of days longer.  Not so with Bernadette, Stefan and Camillo, they needed to get back to the Farm on time so they could catch their flights.  Bernard and Florence, like me, weren't that pressed for time either.  I started to wonder what in hell I was going to do once I got back to the Farm to burn up that extra time I had budgeted for.  By now, I was feeling pretty grumpy and mad about things (it would get worse as this last day wore on) and I didn't want to stay at the Farm for several days once we got back.  I didn't know what to do, so the best thing I've found to do when I don't know what to do is to do nothing and just let things unfold as they will.

     After breakfast I noticed that one of the horses was taken off the picket line and allowed to stand all by itself right in front of the tents.  It was standing rather strangely like it had "tied up" (had azoturia) or maybe had colic.  The horse seemed to be very reluctant to move and just stood there.  I was very curious about it and wanted to examine it by palpitating it (feeling its muscles, feet and limbs) and listen to its gut sounds, but it was not my horse and not my business so I left it alone.  The sick horse turned out to be Lisa's and it looked like she'd have to ride back in the Land Rover.  I couldn't help but wonder how that poor horse would get back to the Farm in the condition it appeared to be in and if it would be eaten by lions if we abandoned it.

     We didn't get a very early start because of Lisa's horse, but at last the poor thing got going and we began our final day's journey.

 Go to Chapter 22

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