19-Oct-2012 -- When my wife and I received a brochure for a two-week East Africa safari in October 2012 we both were excited to join. The friends who we knew who had "gone on safari" had loved Africa and they exclaimed it was a "trip of a lifetime". So as I became familiar with the areas that we were going to visit I checked the degree confluences near our itinerary. All of the Confluences in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania had been visited; all except one: 1S 35E.
I studied up on the area from the Internet. I got maps from the Cornell library. I concluded that a visit would be possible if approved by the tour company and if I got some fellow travelers to join in. The safari trip was arranged by the University of Southern California Alumni Association's Trojan Travel program. The tour was operated by AHI Travel (Alumni Travel International). As I left for the trip on 3 October 2012 the prospects for this all-day excursion were "iffy". Once in Africa, I patiently awaited the end of the trip when we would be at the Masai Mara Game Reserve, the closest we would be to the Confluence.
I worked with our local tour leader, Maurice Oyamo, the AHI representative Joannie Herbst, and Linda Ball from USC Trojan Travel. Five others chose to join me: Steve Ball, Doug Fero, Bob Sclabassi, Maurice, and our driver, Steve.
We set out at 6:30 a.m. from the Masai Mara Sopa Lodge with box lunches and plenty of sunscreen and beer. It was a crystal clear day and the view over the plains was incredible. As is typical, the whole trip was on unpaved, often very rocky dirt roads. We drove through the Game Reserve with a stop to view a herd of over forty elephants led by a large bull elephant, numerous babies and every size in between, all in single file. It was truly a sight to behold and a good omen for our trek ahead. Immediately after we left the elephants, we came upon a pack of hyenas right near the road near a cluster of bushes. It was the largest pack of hyenas we had seen on our trip thus far. Continuing on our trek, we ran across some hippos, gazelles, topi, ostriches, and cape buffalo, and lest I forget, wildebeests, as far as the eye could see. We exited the Game Reserve at the Talek gate and proceeded past Aitong on Route C13 to the Mara River crossing. We drove up the escarpment that makes up the western edge of the Rift Valley; the view from the top was absolutely spectacular. Now leaving safari country and travelling through the Trans Mara, we entered a region of rural small farms and Masai villages. We passed Lolgorien and headed north to Kilgoris.
Before leaving for the trip, I had studied the satellite and terrain maps of the Confluence on Google Maps. What appeared to be the best path would be to leave Kilgoris on another dirt road that would skirt some low hills to the North and bring us within about 5 kilometers of the Confluence. From the satellite view, it looked like we could follow some tracks south and then veer off to the East next to a cultivated field. The Confluence would be in an open field near some trees. Using Google Maps, I saved the coordinates along this path on a Garmin eTrex 20 as waypoints. Indeed, we used the downloaded East Africa Map set on the GPS to follow the unpaved roads and to guide us to the spot where we went "off-road". Mind you, at one point, we had 27 kilometers to go and two plus hours later, we began to approach our destination.
We turned off the dirt road and went south between cultivated fields and past the Oronkai Primary School. We were following a "cart track," which appeared to mainly be used by Masai herding cattle and the occasional motorcycle. Our driver Steve became a bit wary, but did not show it. People we passed looked amused at our presence. No motor vehicles besides small motorcycles were seen. The terrain changed to open land and pastures dotted with trees. When the cart track was difficult to follow, the "bread crumbs" on the GPS kept us on course.
Eventually, the waypoints led us off the cart track and we drove past a cultivated corn field to a meadow and the Confluence! As predicted, it was an open field with a cluster of trees nearby. I had overlooked on Google Maps a small cluster of Masai tribal dwellings just 170 meters to the East.
As we reached the true Confluence and began to celebrate, a group of school children, some Masai elders, and a herd of cattle all simultaneously approached our group. Steve Ball tried to take the childrens’ picture, but all scattered except two brave boys. Once he had taken their picture, he gestured the two boys over to see their picture on the back of his camera. Much excitement and laughter ensued as the two boys had never seen a camera before and seeing their picture to them was amazing. Once the excitement began, curiosity got the better of the other children and they all wanted their picture taken too. It was an incredible experience.
Doug recalled this encounter: The highlight of my confluence adventure was meeting two small boys approximately 4 or 5 years old. They were accompanying their grandfather bringing the cattle back to the village from the watering hole. I approached the boys and tried to shake their hands. To my surprise, they ran away. I heard their grandfather speak to them in Swahili and then the boys approached me with their heads bowed. I reached down and touched their heads. I asked Maurice our guide what happened and he told me that their grandfather had told them to show me respect. He also shared with me that I was the first white person they had ever met. I will never forget this experience and the impact we had on those two boys.
Maurice explained the significance of this location to the local elders in Swahili but they (and the school children and the cows) did not understand. He eventually told them that we thought it was a beautiful place to have lunch and this appeased them.
It was 12:30, so we spread out under a tree for lunch and refreshments. The Confluence was temporarily marked by an obelisk of Tusker beer bottles. The requisite photos were taken. A huge sense of satisfaction was felt by all. During our return, we stopped at the Olonara Lodge to view the hippos in the Mara River and have another Tusker beer. Again, we traveled through tens of thousands of wildebeests, some giraffe, impalas, gazelles, and a multitude of other birds and animals. At nightfall, we reached the Sopa Lodge.
I am not sure why this Confluence had escaped a "first visit" until our’s. The actual region is very hospitable and the journey was actually easier than many confluence visits. I would venture my observation that this visit was extensively planned in detail before travelling "in country". My companions and the guide and driver were another essential for success. My thanks go out to all who helped me.