Published On: Tue, Dec 27th, 2016

One Long and Very Hot Journey Through The Valley to Lake Magadi

For the day’s day trip, we headed south to Lake Magadi.

Lake Magadi is the southernmost lake in the Kenyan Rift Valley, lying in a catchment of faulted volcanic rocks, north of Tanzania’s Lake Natron. During the dry season, it is 80% covered by soda and is well known for its wading birds, including flamingos.

Lake Magadi is a saline, alkaline lake, approximately 38.6 square miles (100 square kilometers) in size. The lake is an example of a “saline pan.” The lake water, which is a dense sodium carbonate brine, precipitates vast quantities of the mineral trona (sodium sesquicarbonate). In places, the salt is up to 40 m thick. The lake is recharged mainly by saline hot springs (temperatures up to 187°F (86°C)) that discharge into alkaline “lagoons” around the lake margins, there being little surface runoff in this arid region. Most hot springs lie along the northwestern and southern shorelines of the lake.

During the rainy season, a thin layer of brine covers much of the saline pan, but this evaporates rapidly leaving a vast expanse of white salt that cracks to produce large polygons. A single species of fish, a cichlid Alcolapia grahami, inhabits the hot, highly alkaline waters of this lake basin and is commonly seen in some of the hot spring pools around the shoreline, where the water temperature is less than 113°F (45 °C).

I want to say it’s not far from Nairobi, but because of the very narrow and quite bumpy road there, it took us, what felt like, the entire day. It’s not the couple of hours only, the heat is oppressive! And since we were riding with the windows down — a/c isn’t commonly used, and we didn’t use it — there was a constant blast of warm air bringing lots of dust in the already sauna-like temperatures inside the car.

Looking at the landscape we were driving through, well, there’s not much out there. The land is rocky, barren, and just plain hot. Beautiful, but hot. I can’t reiterate enough how hot it was.

We made one stop on the way, an area where the Maasai were selling trinkets, and a view of the valley below that is impossible to capture in a photo.

Though you don’t see many, there are people who live out in this extreme landscape.  You’d see them from time to, a lot of Maasai in their traditional dress, some looking for a ride.  Unfortunately, we were a packed car, with the kids in the boot [That’s the trunk in American English].

Whenever I take a picture like this one of Memusi School, way off the beaten path, I wonder if it’s the only one of it online.

There’s really not much else to say about the journey to Lake Magadi.  The landscape really is beautiful.  You drive through a few small villages, see some homes and homesteads off the road, and enough hills to make you wonder how many people reside out there.

There are tanker trucks delivering drinking water to the water towers you pass every so often.  Getting by them, though, is the challenge for visitors.

And with massive power towers stringing electrical wiring through the valley, perhaps there’s some more development coming.  I can see how, for anyone who can handle the heat, this would be a picturesque place to build a getaway home or a resort attracting intrepid adventurists.

They’d just better install some central air.  The heat is simply overwhelming for those of us used to climate control.

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About the Author

David Gaines

- David Gaines is a Washington, DC, resident transplanted from North Carolina whose dream career was a newspaper writer but settled for the recruiting industry and simply blogging about whatever thoughts crosses his mind.


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