Ferguson’s Gulf might just be Turkana’s best-kept secret. The gulf provides a passageway to Long’ech beach, the only vantage point to get unobstructed views of the mighty Lake Turkana while enjoying a perfect beach setting with swimmable crystal clear waters surrounded by a glittering white sandy expanse.
But getting here is no mean task, especially if you are travelling by road. The seemingly endless but immensely satisfying odyssey involves a cocktail of transport modes ranging from buses, station wagons, motorbikes, speed boats and then more motorbikes.
There are two route options – the eastern route traverses through the countryside of Samburu county, via either the towns of Baragoi or Laisamis to end at Loyangalani township on the eastern shores of the lake. The western route takes you through Kitale and onwards to Lodwar from where you can opt to access the lake through Eliye Springs or Kalokol further down. Either way, this is not a day’s journey.
Kalokol is the more prefered of the two for obvious reasons. Unofficially known as the fish capital of the north, Everyone here, it seems, is involved in one way or the other with fish. You will see a sailing boat here or a traditional raft there and occasionally you could also spot a canoe with an outboard engine – nearly all busy with fish!
Although Tilapia is common, a catch of the amazingly large and rare Nile Perch popularly known as Idgi among the local Turkana people provides a thrilling crescendo to a visit to the Ferguson’s Gulf. Tigerfish are also common.
The Norwegians, through the Norwegian International Development Agency (NORAD) back in 1965, saw the fishing potential of this place and helped set up the infrastructure for commercial fishing. Of the 47 species of fish found in Lake Turkana, 7 being endemic, they settled for the Nile Tilapia, a fish that breeds in the shallows of Ferguson’s Gulf by the ton.
Local fishermen were given fishing nets and boats and taught the best modern way to fish. The Turkana Fishermen’s Cooperative was established. A research vessel, transported all the way from Norway to Mombasa, was hauled overland to Ferguson’s Gulf. An all-weather road, connecting the main highways of Kenya with Lodwar was put up.
By the early 80s, NORAD had set up a KES 30 million fish processing factory for the Cooperative. As many as 20,000 fishermen were employed, including a large component of migrants from the shores of Lake Victoria. It was then that trouble started.
Freezing fish fillets required far more expense in diesel-generated electricity than they could fetch in revenue. More clean water was required than was available since the brackish waters of Lake Turkana could not be used.
When the drought that was already causing massive hunger in Ethiopia finally arrived, there seemed to be no hope for the fish project. The Omo river fed by the now failed rains reduced its input dramatically. The river is one of the 2 major tributaries of Lake Turkana.
Ferguson’s Gulf shallows promptly dried up, the shore receded 2 KM away and the fish moved to deeper waters or moved elsewhere to better breeding grounds. By 1986 the processing plant had shut down completely and has never reopened since. Today, it is just a tourist attraction.
But fish is not the only attraction the Ferguson’s Gulf is known for. The place teems with an abundance of birdlife, some even from abroad. In the months of March and April, birds from Europe stop here on their way north.
During springtime, black-tailed godwits and spotted redshanks can be seen only here in Kenya. The place is also known for its large flamingo population. You can also expect to see crocodiles and hippos.
If you still have time, you can visit the mysterious Namoratunga site. The site is made up of 19 pillars of stone that, on first sight, resemble sacks of charcoal. The Turkana attach a spiritual significance to Namoratunga even though no one, even the Turkana themselves, knows what its original purpose may have been.