Journey To The Center of the Earth Lake

Well, it took a lot of doing. A lot of doing, a lot of hustling, a lot of pleading, a lot of arguing with drivers and touts and conductors. A fair bit of swearing under our breath in several East African languages. But we finally – FINALLY – at long last made it to our intended holiday destination: Lake Turkana. By late morning, we’d hired a boat from a local fisherman and set off towards Central Island.

Satellite photograph courtesy of Rutgers

While I have your attention, here are a few fun things to know: Lake Turkana is a UNESCO world heritage site of intense ecological importance. Covering over 6,400 square kilometers, it is the world’s largest desert lake and third-largest salt lake. At its deepest point, it’s over 350 feet to the bottom. Its hot, rocky shores are a haven to a spectacular abundance of carpet vipers and various scorpion species, while the lake itself is thought to house the world’s largest Nile crocodile population. The plains immediately surrounding the lake possess an anthropological value virtually beyond measure: several of the oldest hominid fossils on the planet, including Turkana Boy and ”The Flat-Faced Man of Kenya” were found there.

However, while Lake Turkana was also the site of death for both Justin and Tess Quayle, they were killed on the East side, not the West (where we were), so any laying of wreaths or other means of memorialization would have to wait for another trip.

Not pictured: the enormous, obsidian, repulsively beautiful Nile crocodile that slid into the water as I was fumbling ineptly with my camera.

The ride was supposed to take “40 or 45 minutes,” but in the typical fashion, it was more like an hour and fifteen minutes there, an hour and forty minutes back. The waves were higher than you’d expect on a lake, but we chatted merrily amongst ourselves as we slowly made our way ‘round an enormous sandbank and caught our first view of Central Island.

Not pictured: smoke monsters. (WE HAVE TO GO BACK, KATE.)

Lake Turkana has several islands, with Central Island being perhaps the grandest. It was once a volcano – still is, I suppose, as it “emits vapors” on occasion – and therefor has *three* lakes on it, representing its valleys and flows. One lake has its own island at the center, which, when you think about it (on an island! In a lake! On another island! In another lake!) is so delightfully mind-blowing that you’re less likely to drown or be eaten by a crocodile than to have your head explode like an overripe watermelon at the sheer meta-ness of your situation.

We didn’t make it to the central island on Central Island, but were more than thrilled with the other two lakes.

Our rugged band of intrepid wayfarers standing next to the stunningly beautiful Tilapia Lake.

The second of the two we visited was formed from the actual cone of the volcano – but what had once been filled with roiling magma was now an idyllic emerald paradise, full of snowy-white flamingos.

Seen here as slender swirls of white on the surface of the water. Those are separate segments of one enormous flock.

I forgot to pack an extra pair of sunglasses (and my original pair got smashed in my bag during the Bus Ride of Doom), but I DID have my WAMC-NPR pledge drive hat. Winning.

Given our transportation difficulties, we had to cut short our “island time” in order to make it to town safely before nightfall. Too soon we were back in the boat, numbed to silence by well-earned exhaustion and the overwhelming beauty of what we’d just seen.