Adventures send travellers to the ends of the earth, but it comes with a dose of thrill. And it is this thrill that Mara Nomads, a community of travellers, lives by as they explore uncharted territories.
When you think of Suguta and Kapedo valleys, what most likely comes to mind is the valleys of the shadow of death.
However, for Mara Nomads, these are among the places in Kenya that remain unexplored and have a great potential of becoming tourist attractions and big revenue earners.
Where they go, the roads are narrow and, in some cases, there are none at all.
Their escapades are testaments of Kenya’s most alluring landscapes from rolling deserts to majestic mountains, and lush valleys to hidden serene lakes and towering sand dunes.
Simply said, they are on an eternal mission to discover Kenya’s treasure troves of beauty, hidden in plain sight.
As their name suggests, they wander into the wilderness in search of memorable experiences and many times they find them. For they are nomads.
Mara Nomads started in 2019 as tour operators, an idea founded by Rutto Tarus and Victor Onyango, both lawyers and seasoned travel enthusiasts.
In March 2020, they had taken a group to Diani for a vacation when the government announced the first Covid-19 case and subsequently, travel and social restrictions were put in place effectively paralysing their business as their company was heavily reliant on people.
But once a traveller, always a traveller, Mr Rutto, Mr Onyango and two other partners—Khadija Adan and Broline Ogombe—joined hands and lit a new fire.
The four had a vision to make it cheaper, more epic, more memorable and easier to travel.
They started organising road trips and expeditions. And now this group of travellers and thrill seekers identify as The Mara Nation.
The big idea is to encourage travel enthusiasts to go to places not everybody wants to go to and to always travel on one's whims.
Their first expedition was in December 2021. Thirty-two Nomads, including a 36-month-old baby, joined the trip.
This far, they have done more than 20 trips around the country. They plan the trips, some take up to a year to plan.
The travellers come from diverse groups in terms of numbers, age, relations and purpose. Some travel solo while others are in groups of up to four in a vehicle.
Others are out there to explore while others are looking to catch a break from their daily lives.
“For us, we travel as a family,” says Dr Kiprotich Bii, a frequent traveller who travels with his wife and two children (aged between one and six).
“We travel to experience Kenya's unknown side. We love adventure and after discovering The Nomads Nation on YouTube, we signed up and we have done three trips this far,” he says.
Travelling as a family with children is challenging, you must plan more, and pack more.
“But if this is an investment, we have reaped the maximum benefit. We are in this for a long ride, pun fully intended,” Dr Bii says.
The travelling group spends long periods planning.
First, they identify a destination, research it and map out the route with the best possible travel experience.
They then send representatives to conduct reconnaissance and establish contacts with local administrators and guides.
A travel calendar is then created which is released at the start of the year. They have two travel calendars, one for self-driving travellers and another one for special overland track travellers.
“Most of the Mara Nomads trips are well planned and distributed across the year and, therefore, it's easy to pick options that suit your work/lifestyle schedule, with this consideration you can maintain all aspects of your lifestyle.
I would consider adventure as a major lifestyle and hence Mara Nomads has made our best lifestyle more venturesome,” says Mary Njoroge, a regular traveller, who has been on four trips so far travelling with her husband.
For the close to two years that they have travelled to less-beaten paths, they have not experienced a security scare that would make them rethink their mission.
“On these trips, we have experienced some of the friendliest communities in the country. Even in places we had doubts about, our trips have been without any conflicts with anyone,” says Mr Rutto.
Such long trips require large-scale accommodation. How do the Nomads plan around that?
“Most of us have our own tents and camping essentials. This reduces the cost of travel and betters our experiences since places like Suguta, Kapedo or even Sibiloi have very few hotels. For instance, Lake Bogoria Spa, and Lion's Bluff all have camping sites for travellers,” he says.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) also offers camping facilities in national parks.
“The most we have paid per person per night for camping is Sh2,000. Sometimes we pay as little as Sh200 per person per night at KWS facilities,” he says.
To wade off fatigue, they structure each trip such that they have intermittent breaks.
“Each vehicle has a walkie-talkie where we banter to keep us awake and notify drivers about terrain conditions,” Mr Rutto says.
Ms Njoroge adds that “we also take rest for a day or two before resuming work”.
For the most comfortable travel experience, The Mara Nomads encourage that the vehicles are fitted and kitted against a checklist they have— fridges or coolers, extra fuel and water tanks and cookers.
They encourage cooking on-site or carrying packed canned foods.
The cost of fully kitting a vehicle depends on vehicle type and size, accessories brands and could be anything between Sh50,000 to hundreds of thousands.
Subsequent costs are significantly reduced. For a standard trip of say 1000km, a traveller can spend about Sh50,000.
“This is inclusive of food, camping fees and the cost of fuel for between three to seven days,” says Mr Rutto.
Another important item on the checklist is the general health of the travellers. The Nomads have to get a clean bill of health from doctors as most of the destinations may not have pharmacies.
As with any journey, car breakdowns are inevitable and even though they don’t travel with mechanics, most travellers have learned from this network how to fix minor car problems.
Case in point when they went to Suguta and a vehicle in their fleet overturned. Their journey stopped momentarily to put the affected vehicle back on its feet—or wheels if you may.
There were no injuries reported but the vehicle couldn't be repaired on site. They towed it back to what Mr Rutto calls, “civilisation”.
Their longest journey yet was in December 2022. They did 2,300km from Nairobi circumnavigating Lake Turkana from its eastern shores to its western shores.
They followed the shores of Lake Turkana from its east via Maralal, Loiyangalani crossed over to Southern Ethiopia at Selicho, to Omorate Town, then pitched camp at Turmi in the Omo Valley, got back to Kenya via Kibish drove down to Lokitaung then Eliye Springs and back to Nairobi.
They were 32 in total and travelled in 18 vehicles.
The Nomads have this saying, "no place is too remote to get to". They take that seriously and they live by it as a code. They also call themselves "the home of the impossible".