By Mikey Carr-Hartley
Renowned paleontologist Louise Leakey is opening the doors of her research institute in the Turkana Basin to tourists in 2016 and I recently had the pleasure of guiding the first group of tourists invited into the Leakey's research centre.
This is a true experiential trip as there are no hotels in this impoverished corner of Kenya. Guests can stay at one of the TBI’s two field centres — Turkwel on the lake’s western side or Ileret on the east, and, for a couple of days, one of the world’s foremost paleontologists will guide them exclusively around the world’s finest repository of fossils.
This trip offers our guests a journey back through time — as even reaching the institute to begin the journey is an adventure. The basin is far from Kenya’s usual tourist routes, and driving from Nairobi would take days, so my guests and I flew up in a chartered helicopter from Solio Lodge (a 300km journey) over some of the most spectacular scenery you will ever see.
As the sun crept over Mt Kenya, our helicopter lifted off the lush green lawns of Solio, soaring over the acacia trees past the rocky crags, ice and glaciers of Mt Kenya. From the glaciers of Mt Kenya to the shores of the Jade Sea, a myriad of topographical changes take place similar to crossing the entire western USA in a morning. The variety is huge from The Painted Valley similar to Arizona, the Hudu Valley similar to Cappadocia in Turkey, the Salt flats at Lake Logipe, the sand dunes similar to those found in California near the Mexican boarder, the lava fields in New Mexico as well as the flat Laikipia plateau teeming with wildlife, and the Mathews range with cycad trees some over 2000 years old, and cedar trees dripping with orchids.
On arrival at the remote sun-scorched plains where the Turkana Basin Institute is based, this desert land is so barren one has to use a lot of imagination to comprehend how three or four million years ago there were reeds or marshy grasslands at this site. Soon the team has us hunting for fossils near mysterious stone circles where, 10,000 years ago, early humans buried their leaders. We find fragments of turtle shell, a crocodile vertebrae, fish bones and oyster shells.
The Turkana Basin Institute or TBI, with Dr. Louise Leakey is a fascinating experience. The wealth of fossil deposits in the area, coupled with some of the best-known paleontologists makes this a fascinating learning experience. In the middle of the desert Dr. Richard Leakey together with Stony Brook University have created a research facility to enable archeologists and paleontologists from all around the world to have access to the expanse of different fossil sites around Lake Turkana, which has some of the oldest known Hominine fossils found to date, couple with stone tools, dinosaurs and many species of ungulates, crocs and fish.
For a full account of this trip, please read Martin Fletcher's piece in the Financial Times. Please click here to view.
To view all of the images taken by the group on this trip, please click here.