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The Turkana Bus - Journeys to the Jade Sea

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I'm definitely planning to visit desert rose/Turkana in combination with Sarara next May. I'm looking forward to going on camel safari,some of the most breathtaking scenery on the planet,and of course some great game viewing at Sarara Camp. I know very well my safari will be quite enhanced by learning about both Samburu and Turkana culture and history

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The Turkana Bus – Journeys to the Jade Sea   (I should mention that this is a composite report that covers my time driving the Turkana Bus rather than a TR of one specific trip)   Early in 1981, I

Heading back to Nairobi   Once we left Loiyangalani to drive south we would drive back through South Horr and Baragoi then, instead of going as far as Maralal, we would veer south eastwards through

We were busy every day. On the days when we were not travelling, there were excursions to make and the trucks always needed attention. By and large the passengers we had were fabulous and a real cro

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Robert Barnstone

I worked for the Safari Camp services as well in 1981 and built those long drop toilets at turkana, and managed Kurungu. It was a great time. While i was there one of my first tasks was to build the camp at Loiyangalani near the Oasis lodge. One of the drivers, I can't recall his name now but he was close to the Samburu and could speak with them, dropped me and Mgu off up there with few shovels bags of concrete and plumbing supplies and we dug two long drop toilets and roofed the concrete block building and set up a bush kitchen. I scraped my leg and it got infected and luckily the mission had an infirmary dosed the cut with penicillin powder and that fixed me up. Later, back at Kurungu camp I lived like a king, your mother had found the most amazing cook who served me and the tourists brilliant meals. It was a difficult time then, and one day I found an official who had the only home guard in South Horr shot through the throat dead in in the back of his land cruiser. Then they armed 16 Homgards and things settled a bit until a local chief and his family were murdered by the Gorakos. I had met a medical student at Misses Roaches place when I was down in Nairobi picking up supplies to build the airstrip just out side of the valley. We came back together to Kurungu and found ourselves retrieving wounded warriors form the bush and sewing them up. Of course most of the time it was just paradise and we just watched the grey Vervet monkeys move like a wave through the camp and above in the fig trees. At some point the police sent sixty soldiers to chase down the Gorakkos I think it was after the Priest and the poor children from Tomb were ambushed, I was asked by the father at the local mission to go to pick up the burnt rover and collect the bodies. We took new wheels and chained it to the Hobbit and with the father in the landrover we made it back to a small village.




Robert Barnstone


Edited by Robert Barnstone
I worked there in 81
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Tom Kellie

~ @@Robert Barnstone


Thank you for joining Safaritalk and sharing you experience.

Those of us who never knew Africa then, let alone Samburu, are in your debt.

The description of the Vervet monkey wave is especially evocative to me.

Thank you!

Tom K.

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I worked for Dick Hedges in 1976/7. The Turkana Bus that I used to drive was the older model Bedford, it had a machine gun hatch in the cab roof. It was converted from petrol to Diesel. On my first trip there was a loud bang when we hit a bump in the track. I stopped to check underneath and oil was flowing from the alloy housing for the oil filter which had made contact with the front axle. This cost us a few hours while I repaired the unit with areldite. When back in Langata I told Dick what happened adding that a new part should be ordered. That's when he told me that it happens all the time and there was a whole box of these alloy housings in the truck. After that, I was more gentle on the rough and it didn't happen again.


More to come

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Robert Barnstone



Hi, Robert here, I was looking at the pictures or the Turkana bus and I found myself in the pictures.  In one I am in the middle breaking firewood It was my first trip up and then another toward the end of my stay as manager of Kurungu Camp 1980-81 These warriors below Balaunna and Gododoc,  would take me for hikes into the mountains for days at a time. though I did a lot in terms of keeping the camp up and building the new airstrip threre were times when I would venture out.   When the trucks came, once every two weeks, we would take to tourists off the staffs hands, and hike up to the waterfalls above our camp. Thats me with a beard sitting on the rocks.  At that time we had an innocence, the people had and innocence,  at night the Samburu danced and chanted, the hyena chattered and  I played Traffic and 4 way street on a cassette deck hooked up to a six volt car battery.  people were in my camp all the time.   Not often, but once on a while I would go out and dance with the tribe, to them it was funny to see me there, trying to dance, with the woman we would stand in lines facing eachotehr and shake our necks thrustin g forward and back fast and crouching at the same time.    I was Robert so they all knew me ... but it was  a gas to learn their dances. On a trip back to Nairobi to gather supplies  I met  an english girl who had been a 3rd year medical student in London, She came bock with me to Kurungu at a very turbulent time.   The garakos, a group of bandits who had taken over one of Idi Amins armories and with stolen guns began steeling cattle and killing.   At the clearing in front of  my patio looking to the river the warriors sat on one side the elders on the other, debating how to go to battle with the bandits.  I had the opportunity to speak and offered our help.   In the coming days we went up  to the back of the ridges where the  to collect warriors in pursuit  of the Garakos that had been wounded.  Once we got them back to kurungu camp  we threw them up on the dinning table.  I watched as she sewed up the wounds.  In the beginning we had one home guard,,he was killed and ended up in my drive with a bullet through his neck.    It was very sad he used to spend a lot of time at the camp, as many people did, we encouraged a familiarity  with the folks around us, one of the drivers knew samburu and was close to families in the Bohma. Most of the time things were peaceful there   At one point the priest in Tomb was killed along with two children.   The burnt landrover had blocked the road to tomb and the priest of the south Horr mission asked me to clean up the mess and put new wheels on that we brought  with us from the mission.  The landscape was covered in lava boulders that cover all the landscape like black marbles of all sizes stuck inot a whiped cream landscape sculpted and barren.   The Priest was an officer in the Italian army before becoming a father for the church he had a stern reputation and there was no food at the time, The Garakos were hoping to gain favor with the locals and after killing the priest they went to the mission in Tuum and broke broke into the food stores and let people take what they wanted .      We towed the  vehicle back to a little village across a deep gully.  unhooked the skeleton of the landrover, got in and asked the folks to push the car into the ally just in front of me to the left and so I got in and the car started to roll backwards, though there were fifty people there when the car started to move everybody let go and then the car just kept going.  one guy tried to throw a rock under the wheel, but it just bounced over it and kept going.  So I am rolling backward down a hill with no fucking breaks, everything is burnt, no hand break and just booking toward a very bad situation, a deep ravine was down the road a couple of hundred meters that had a bridge over it.  At one moment I saw an opportunity to cut to my right over an side cut embankment in the road that landed me in a farmers field.  The whole village meanwhile was running  after me and all came up to the farmers field and every body was laughing and caring on everyone chipped in and  and we safely got the car back to the ally to park it. I left Kenya that summer to get back to school get a few tools to digest my time with a tribe.  I still have not digested it, mostly because nobody else know about it,  so to see these pictures of the turkana bus means an enormous amount to me.  Thanks for posting them and maybe someday I will finally go through my slides and find some more pictures of that time.   In the worst of times I had to get the military police to come up and chase the garakos away.  They send 60 police in military trucks fully armed, in the evenings the oficers would come by, one showed me where a bullet hit the side of his machine gun,  Paul ( a turkana orphan)  the cabin boy and bar tender served the warm Carlsberg  beer, and we talked,  I went to bed with the sound of gunshot, not sleeping but thinking. over the next couple of months their campaign was back a forth throughout  the valley  and the surroundings.   



Robert Barnstone




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Game Warden

I edited out your home address contacts and email details @Robert Barnstone.


Thanks, Matt.

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On 12/23/2014 at 8:17 AM, Soukous said:

I bump into Adam and his wife occasionally, they have been running safaris in Botswana for many years now and every time I visit Kenya I think I will bump into one of the old crew but it hasn't happened yet.


@Robert Barnstonewow, you're trawling through some old posts. 

I caught up with Adam Hedges in Maun in Dec 2019 for a beer. He's very happy, prosperous, and doing well. 

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Robert Barnstone

Thats great to hear, the whole thing was so wonderfully mad starting with the day that Dick and Memsab drove to Kenya in an ambulance form London, I was so impressed with the family and then all the crazy tours; camel and horseback, the Turkana bus and balloon safaris and flying safaris visionary in a radical safari rough ride,  I still have one of the brochures that says "f you want comfort don't take this safari ....  It was nuts everybody knew it and was on board, and we a gas!



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