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On the northern frontier of Kenya arid spheres lay one of the most spectacular wilderness thrills. With its harsh surrounding, you will be forgiven to think the ecosystem is misplaced and its attraction far fetched by unknown phenomena. But you are mistaken; the real thrill is true, authentic and natural. I am talking about Lake Paradise and the greater Marsabit national reserve and off course not forgetting the ancient Marsabit town.
Mount Marsabit is famous for the dreamy waters of Lake Paradise which are located on its peak, for the foothills of rugged grandeur that fan out from its volcanic craters, and for the cloud forests which shelter both greater kudu and an ancient dynasty of elephants famous for their huge tusks.
Marsabit town and its sanctuaries lie atop a mountain rising sheer from the desert floor to a height of about 1707 meters. The mountain is a natural phenomenon, born out of volcanic fire and shaped by mist where its great massive ranges and undulating peaks have created its own ambient climate. Every evening, about midnight, the hot air rising from the desert floor cools and forms clinging fingers of mist, which grasp the mountain slopes, rarely releasing their grip until the late part of the morning.
On the road south from Mount Marsabit to the rocky plains the area is home to Sociable Weaver birds, which can be identified by their neater, tidier nests; Sparrow Weavers, with their “scruffier” nests; and white-bellied turacos. The area also unfolds indescribable natural phenomenon while passing through extraordinary Strangler figs in the mountain-top forest. This displays a stark contrast to the dusty track below which is lined by low, flat-topped acacias.
Many species of raptors inhabit the shaggy cliffs and the treetops around Lake Paradise and Sokorte Guda, a cliff lined bowl, which forms a natural amphitheatre in which Marsabit’s elephants parade to drink in the late afternoon. Large herds of buffalo and other ungulates join this display. Other species found on the mountain include the shy greater kudu and other antelope as well as lions and leopards.
Although the lower slopes are scorched and dry, above them is a richly forested wonderland of crater lakes and swamps, towering cliffs and giant trees, with an astounding display of wildlife. Here bird and beast dart between the tall stands of juniper and podocarpus in a scene much as wildlife filmmakers Osa and Martin Johnson recorded when they made their home at Lake Paradise, one of the crater lakes, in the 1920’s.
For an estimated 63 years, Marsabit National Park and Reserve was the home of Ahmed, patriarch of the forest, guarded from hunters seeking his mighty tusks, by a presidential decree. A model of Ahmed now stands in the National Museum in Nairobi while his scions wander the forest under the watchful eyes of the Marsabit Reserve’s rangers.
Lower down the mountain, below the forest line, groups of Borana people drive their camels to water at the singing wells. Three or four men form a human ladder down these deep shafts and with camel-hide buckets work in swift relay to bring water to the troughs above. The songs they sing while undertaking this work have earned the wells their name.
Marsabit Town is a staging post for the journey to Moyale and onwards to Ethiopia and also the beginning of an adventure, which intrepid travelers make when they cross the inhospitable Chalbi Desert to reach Lake Turkana. This shimmering and seemingly endless expanse of sand stretches for 300 kilometers to the shore of the lake of which it were once part. Even today, perhaps once in every decade, in one of the torrential downpours, which occur during a rare rainy season, it will again come into flood to form a vast but shallow lake.
From Nairobi, the reserve is reached via Nanyuki and lsiolo a distance of 620 km. The road is paved up to lsiolo leaving a distance of 270 km of very bad road that is only motorable by 4 wheel-drive vehicles during the dry season. The reserve is 2 1/2 hrs by air from Nairobi and is adequately served by a tarmac airstrip located about one kilometer from Marsabit town centre.
There is no doubt that lake paradise and the surrounding enclosures of Marsabit national reserve will soon be proclaimed world wonders that every soul will aspire to experience.