Magadi town is not very far from Nairobi. It is, in fact, only about 110 KM from the city. But the terrible road to this otherwise great place makes the roughly two-hour drive feel like an unending nightmare. Do not get discouraged by this though. The spectacular countryside scenery makes up for the rough ride. In fact, make a few stop-overs for much-deserved photo opportunities.
This is especially the case with the stretch from Ole Polos, the eatery famous for its fresh nyama choma, to the legendary Olorgesailie archaeological site. The site was first discovered by a British geologist, John Walter Gregory in 1919 and later excavated by the Leakeys in 1943.
The town lies on the eastern shore of Lake Magadi and is home to the Magadi Soda Company, now owned by Tata India. This factory produces soda ash, which has a range of industrial uses.
Magadi has been making the headlines lately with its new sensation – the hot springs of Lake Magadi. Scores of tourists flock to this place ripe with volcanic activity to take hot baths in the natural Jacuzzis formed by Mother Nature here. Local Maasai tour guides have emerged overnight to offer their expert advice at a fee, usually about KES 500.00 per trip per car.
I usually never use tour guides. I prefer to take a journey of discovery instead. This trip, however, proved a navigation nightmare and the services of a local guide saved the day. Take it from me, if it is your first time to Lake Magadi, you definitely will need a guide! Otherwise, you will end up very lost or very stuck in the seemingly innocent salty quicksands.
Apparently, this is not the first time Magadi is causing ripples. It was a filming location for the final scenes of Fernando Meirelles’ film The Constant Gardener. The blockbuster is based on the book of the same name by John le Carré. The book, though, mentions Lake Turkana, instead of Lake Magadi.
Flamingos here are also plentiful although not as many as in Lake Nakuru. Every year they descend on the shores of the soda lake to nest on elevated mud mounds on the lake’s edge. Vast natural salt flats completely surround the lake and they keep the flamingos safe from any potential predators.
The water from the hot springs is highly salty and tastes really terrible. Locals say it has medicinal properties which treat a number of skin problems. There is no evidence of what the science behind the water’s curative abilities is. I nevertheless went ahead to immerse myself in it with the hope I might leave this place with a baby face!
Beware of the green algae that have conquered the rocks here. It can be dangerously slippery. Local guides have cleared the algae in some areas, providing a safe passage to the natural Jacuzzi, so keep to those paths. Do not venture into the jacuzzi on an empty belly. Apparently, the hydrotherapy session leaves you quite drained and woozy! The area around the hot springs is also growing as an ideal location for campers to pitch a tent and spend a night or two.
It amazed me to see fish thriving in the near-boiling water. The Maasai locals reckon it might be the popular ‘Omena’ found in Lake Victoria. How it survives in such high temperatures here is a wonder.
The trip proved quite refreshing until we got to the same treacherous road on our way home. By now it was dark and visibility was poor. It beats me why they would not just fix this road. Magadi has lots of tourist potential but access could be a problem with that sort of road.