Words from Kenya

A Night by the shores of the Jade Sea

The Night Sky over the Jade Sea

The land on the eastern side of Lake Turkana is stark and dramatically beautiful. It was formed by the earth shattering forces of plate tectonics and volcanic eruptions; think Iceland but with 40C degree temperatures. It’s the kind of landscape where every new rise, or bend, in the rough black rock road produces an awe inspired ‘wow’ from travellers. Much of the volcanic material looks as if it were erupted just yesterday, in such an arid environment there isn’t much plant life to cover or erode it. In fact some of it is pretty recent, the last eruption was on Central Island in 1975, and as you drive through the landscape it is easy to imagine some of the fresh looking scoria cones (small volcanoes) spluttering into life.

Eventually, as the bone jarring journey nears its end, you will crest a final rise and see Lake Turkana (also known as the Jade Sea) spread hugely before you. It is an extraordinary lake; the world’s largest permanent desert lake and also the world’s largest alkaline lake, it is 290km long and 32km at its widest point. But none of this information really prepares you for it, especially if you first meet the lake in one of its ‘jade’ phases. Then the water of the lake is an astonishing blue green, a colour that looks entirely fake in photographs, especially when set against the back drop of the black and rust red volcanic shoreline. Jade is just one of the lake’s looks though, the colour of the lake changes with the light and location, sometimes deep blue, sometimes blinding to white, sometimes even pink.

At its widest point it is difficult to see the land on the other side and the lake truly feel like a sea. The wind, waves and light, even the presence of sea gulls, make it seem far more maritime than desert lake. You need to fight the urge to rush into the breaking waves for a swim though. The lake is infested with crocodiles, some a huge 6m long. I know safe places to swim on the western shores of the lake but I have yet to find any on the east that I feel truly comfortable with.

Most travellers will find themselves staying in Loyangalani when visiting the area. It is an easy going little town, basic, mostly traditional and with a mix of tribes, though Turkana predominate. It is used to visitors, being the only place of any significance on this side of the lake, but it certainly isn’t bursting with them, you could easily be the only outsiders in town. There are several places to stay, none posh, but reasonable given the location. Other adventurers may choose to camp along the spectacular shores of the lake, but I offer a word of caution, the closer you are to the lake the more flies there are as soon as the sun sets. The amount of mosquitoes fluctuates with the season and location but lake flies are a year round annoyance. Take your cue from the local villages, none, you will notice, are built right on the shores of the lake.

That said getting a good clear view of the lake from your camp (at a bug safe distance) is well worth it. Watch as the sun sets across the lake, the sky dramatically reflected across its surface in an ever changing wash of yellow, orange and red. As the sun disappears behind the distant western shore the lake turns all the shades of blue and eventually fades to black, the sky slips the same way but from the orange end of the spectrum.

On my last visit there was no moon but Venus was so large and bright it seemed to cast shadows. The stars, in this clear atmosphere with no light pollution, are fairy tale bright. The outline of the hills on the opposite shore was just visible. The lake was black but the sky was a deep dark blue. Scattered across this deep blue, the bright stars, and Venus (looking like a small moon), made a picture that looked like a fantasy painting. It was so beautiful that all thoughts of preparing supper or settling in for the night were forgotten; we sat in awed silence for two hours and watched as this unreal night sky swung gradually to the horizon. Eventually, when Venus set and the sky noticeably darkened, we ate a hurried supper and crawled under our mosquito nets. I fell asleep listening to the drone of lake flies that had found us even here.


  1. Greetings Emma from Canada’s west west coast (BC). I found your beautifully worded essay via Twitter on #LewaWildlife which I follow. Also #OlPejeta and several other Kenya/TZ sites. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to visit the Jade Sea myself as I was growing up in Kenya, my parents did (more than once). It was Lake Rudolph then, named after an Austrian prince. (My daughter in Vancouver had a school-friend, name of Teleki, whose great grandfather turned out to be the Hungarian Count F__Teleki who discovered Lake Rudolph in 18—. Ms Sophi Teleki now lives in Europe & we’ve lost touch; she was amazed when I’d asked about her family name, years ago!). My mother abs. loved camping up there at Loyangalani, visiting the El Molo, fishing out on the lake for giant Nile Perch (now the scourge, alas, of Lake Victoria (documentary “Darwin’s Nightmare”, another story but the perch were exported from Turkana). That was way back in the 1960’s! I have several friends who’ve been up there, as residents not tourists. As a 12yr old I was taken on safari through the NFD, Kaisut Desert, up to Marsabit – a great adventure still remember! Are you a freelancer living in E.Africa? If you have a minute would love to hear from you! You write superbly. Best regards, a still-nostalgic ex Kenyan, Joanna (email above)

Speak Your Mind