Are you in need of speed and or thrilling adventure in absolute wilderness with stunning landscape? My 4-day road trip to Marsabit and Shaba National Reserve in Northern Kenya provided that and much more. Many tried to discourage me from this trip given the areas notorious banditry activity in the past. I am glad I did not listen and I am sure you will see why.
Where is Marsabit and Shaba?
Marsabit is some 600km from Nairobi City, see Google map below. From Nairobi you can choose to drive around Mt. Kenya via Laikipia or via Meru towns. Whichever you use the difference in distance is minimal. I chose to drive via Meru because I knew the road was in great condition. However if you choose to use this one, you need to be sober to safely navigate the infamous hairpin turns and deep valleys. You can’t escape these between Embu and Meru towns so don’t be tempted to catch one in Embu.
This road trip gives you a fantastic cross-section of Kenya’s ecological zones. From Nairobi you climb in the eastern highlands where both subsistence and commercial (tea, rice and Miraa) farming takes place. From Meru you descend into arid and near desert lands inhabited by pastoralists. You are spoilt for choice on which nature reserve or park to visit. Some are jointly owned by private companies and local communities, while others are under government jurisdiction. So why did I choose to Shaba?
My life-long fascination of Joy Adamson & hence Shaba
My interest in Shaba started with a hobby I held dear in my teenage years. Reading newspapers! So when in 1980 the world-famous naturalist, Joy Adamson, was murdered I did not miss that story. The article said Joy was killed by her teenage employee in the remote Shaba Nature Reserve. It told a fascinating story of how she and her husband George raised a lion, Elsa, and later successfully released it into the wild – the first such feat in the world. Joy’s book on Elsa catapulted her into world fame in the 60’s and later was enacted into an award-winning movie, Born Free.
Little did I know then that Joy’s story had sired what would be my life-long fascination with nature and its conservation. Thanks Dad for your constant supply of the Daily Nation Newspaper – that and radio opened my eyes to the world! In my twenties I was surprised to find that many beautiful paintings hanging at the National Museums of Kenya were done by Joy. They document our indigenous plants and traditional attire of different tribes. What an incredible contribution to our heritage! Since then I have always wanted to visit Joy’s world and so this road trip was a dream come true!
5 reasons for you to visit Marsabit & Shaba
This road trip offers a basket-load of reasons why you would enjoy the long drive to Marsabit. Below are some that stuck in my mind. It was difficult to rank them as each is a first in its own right. Each makes me want to go back over again. The choice is yours.
No 1: the best road in Kenya, come enjoy your machine
If you have a new machine that you want to test for speed, this is the best road for you! At Isiolo town you enter into a motorists paradise. Perfectly done tarmac on flat landscape, little if at all any vehicles, no sight of pedestrians. Do watch out for those on all-fours – I am sure you would not like a sticky encounter with the resilient and fearless owners. This set up may change in the near future when this road project is completed to reach Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. It is expected to open up trade between the two countries and ignite socio-economic development of the area.
No 2: stunning landscapes
All along the drive and inside the reserve are dramatic landscapes such as the Bodich mountain, below. This mountain is right behind the Ewaso Nyiro River that runs along the boundary between Isiolo and Samburu Counties. By the way, when you think of Shaba do the names Robert Redford, Meryl Steep, Sydney Pollack ring a bell? How about the movie Out of Africa or the reality show Survivor series? Mmmh…some homework.
No.3: rarely seen plains wildlife
If you live in Kenya you will be forgiven for asking, ‘Flo, really?’ You wonder why one would drive all the way to Shaba to see the same old zebras and giraffes?’ But before I answer, let me also ask you ‘how many species (significantly different types) of giraffe and zebra are found in Kenya?’ If you said at least three, you are right!
I was ecstatic to see for the first time, the Reticulated giraffe, Grevy’s zebra and the gerenuk, pictures above and below.
Why is gerenuk also called giraffe gazelle? Mmmmh? See caption below.
No.4: absolute wilderness and sense of adventure
Except for a British army truck and a Kenyan anti-poaching vehicle, there were no other man-made moving objects in sight during the 3 hour, 20km drive. The absence of other visitors was most welcome despite not enjoying ‘security in numbers!’ The army vehicle was full of young trainees and headed for one of the star hotels. I figured they were not there to keep safety. It was good to know the area was patrolled though I was not sure how I could reach the team if the need arose. Good that it didn’t.
Almost every where I looked there was some animal grazing in the golden grasses, foraging in the mangled bushes or wandering in the riverine forests. My first encounter was the elephants below. If you have read my other blogs you know how mortified I am by the fear I suffer when I anticipate these beasts in the wild. Is this fear necessary or I am just paranoid? Later on, I came across fresh elephant dung on a narrow path and waited in abated breath to locate the owner. Luckily for me it was some meters off the road, just far enough not to disturb its peace.
No.5: cherish our national heritage
Every time I spend time in a park or reserve, I can’t help appreciating the government’s and other agencies’ efforts to preserve our natural treasures. I wonder what would have happened to our wildlife if there were no measures put in place to protect them for posterity. Once again I feel obliged to support this effort in whichever way possible. One easy way is to pay gate fees and leave as little foot print as possible by for example not littering or driving outside earmarked trails.
The road trip – is it affordable?
The cost of road trips such as this one are determined by my choice of accommodation and the mode of transport. Like all my trips I don’t book accommodation in advance. This is partly because I may find I need to spend the night in a place I had not anticipated. Also because in most places I will find clean and modest hotels or guest houses. Silvia Inn Hotel in Marsabit was one such place. Just round the corner I enjoyed juicy roast meat at Pale Pale Pub and Restaurant. At Isiolo I was directed to Kithe Lodge for a similar meal though I did not venture into their accommodation facility.
I spent about KES 10,000 on 3-day accommodation with breakfast and KES 15,000 on vehicle service and fuel. Do take note that if you are on a budget, it’s advisable to take with you snacks and water when you visit Shaba. However, there are two star rated hotels inside the reserve, the Sarova Shaba Game Lodge and Joy Adamson’s Tented Camp.
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