Written by: Rachel from Bountiful Safaris
Marsabit National Park is a remote montane paradise located in Kenya’s desert northern frontier. The park skirts the massive extinct volcano known as Mount Marsabit. Its name loosely translated means ‘Place of Cold‘. Marsabit Mountain is a natural phenomenon, born out of volcanic fire and shaped by mist.
The mountain’s great mass has created its own ambient ecosystem. Rising like a mirage above the surrounding burning desert, Marsabit is a cool, green, forested realm often swathed in mist. Every evening at around midnight, the hot air rising from the desert floor cools and forms clinging fingers of mist which grasp the mountain, rarely releasing their grip until the late part of the morning.
I visited Marsabit National Park while on a trip to northern Kenya courtesy of Bountiful Safaris. We set off from our base in Marsabit town – an outpost of urban civilisation in the vast desert of northern Kenya. We had spent two nights in the town after a gruelling road trip from Nairobi (a story for another day). I was up pretty early, 4.30am to be precise. It was actually pretty cold in the morning and full of mist. Carry a warm sweater or in my case a shuka (a traditional Maasai cloth wrapped around the body to keep warm) if you plan on having early morning excursions in Marsabit.
We drove into the park using Ahmed Gate, presumably named after the famous elephant Ahmed. I first met Ahmed (or rather a cast) back when I was six years old during a school trip to the National Museum. Ahmed lived in the national park and was known as ‘The King of Marsabit’. In 1970, in order to protect him from poachers, Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, placed Ahmed under his protection by presidential decree, an unparalleled occurrence in the history of the country making him the only elephant to be declared a living monument. Ahmed, who boasted some of the biggest tusks ever recorded, died at age 55, and his body was preserved and is now on display in Nairobi National Museum.
We headed to the lodge. By now my shuka was gone, it was already getting hot. Suddenly we came across a beautiful spot – the forest opened to a vast green, boggy meadow. I was told later that the clearing used to be a lake. Sadly all you can see now is Nile cabbage on its surface – an invasive weed species.
We arrived at the lodge dirty and tired to a warm and welcoming staff. The place was fairly basic, and we happened to be the only guests there. The service was good, and the food was tasty and filling. It was time to resume our excursion, next destination – Lake Paradise.
After a rough ride along the dusty roads in the park, we came over a rise, the forest opened – and there lay Lake Paradise, another green, boggy meadow that looked like a map of the world with the patches of Nile cabbage making up the continents. Regrettably this crater lake was also infested by the Nile cabbage.
There are several theories as to why the Lakes in Marsabit National Park are degenerating. Some point to the many boreholes dug around the area which divert underground water sources and the unabated deforestation that goes on in the park. Let’s hope the authorities will do something about it.
After taking pictures from the view point, our driver drove us down to the lake’s shore where I spotted Grevy’s zebras (which are endemic to northern Kenya), a troop of baboons and antelopes. The park is a haven for a wide selection of species such as lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and not forgetting the massive forest elephants of Marsabit. Therefore you should always be accompanied of an armed ranger when walking in the park.
Other than the park, the Marsabit region is home to a fascinating array of Kenyan nomadic tribes such as the Rendille, Samburu, Borana and the Gabbra who on occasion bring their animals in from the desert to water them in the mountain springs.
We only spent a day and night in the park before proceeding with our journey. I would love to go back one day and take more time to soak up the place. For those who love seclusion Marsabit is a park I would recommend considering it is way off the beaten track, and barely sees tourists.