Off the Grid in a Soulful Place

“That area is unsafe, the roads are terrible, the people are dangerous,

and you should not go.”

When I hear these comments, it draws my interest to a place, one that was most likely sparked by an image I viewed that made my heart pound with curiosity and possibility. These were the comments I heard often when I first wished to explore the Omo Valley about 15 years ago and, most recently, in the past four years, as I continue to explore Northern Kenya. Yet, it is in these remote, off the grid places where I feel my soul come alive.

Chalbi Desert, Northern Kenya

The pristine landscape throughout the area is spectacular. Driving through the acacia tree forest, across the chalbi desert, and out in vast open spaces, where life is being lived as it was hundreds of years ago, is surreal.

It is in these moments, driving in my Land Rover, where I can think quietly, uninterrupted, with all the unavoidable chaos in today’s modern world, truly be in the moment, and most humbly be thankful that I still have the opportunity to explore one of the last great frontiers.

Not only does the landscape change when crossing into Northern Kenya, but the cattle of the tribes’ livestock become replaced with camels. On my first journey into this region, I felt like I had crossed the board into Northern Africa. It was almost unbelievable that I could still be in Kenya.

Camels coming across the Chalbi Desert in Northern Kenya

This past November, during the generosity campaign, we came upon the nomadic camel train of the Rendille. The drought in the north has been severe, and the men had taken the livestock of the village to graze around Lake Turkana. They had word the rains had finally come, and they were returning to their villages after being away for several months.

 

The first glance of Lake Turkana, known as the Jade Sea, always takes my breath away, whether by land or air. There are no commercial flights into this area, only small plane charter or dirt roads. Petrol is trucked in, and your tanks are refilled by a Jerry can with a hose.

The top of the lake crosses into Ethiopia and is fed by the Omo River. Hundreds of years ago, the tribes came from Northern Africa and settled from Southern Ethiopia through Kenya and into Northern Tanzania. The beauty of these tribes, their way of life, ancient traditions, and soulfulness grabbed me from the moment my feet touched African soil fourteen years ago. After spending many years with the Tribes of the Omo, it was most natural I wanted to continue the journey by following these exotic tribes into Northern Kenya.

What pulls me in the most is the rawness of the place, the elders clinging to their ancient dress and tradition, the villages scattered along the shores with traditional huts, and the bareness of the harsh environment that is also strikingly beautiful. One would be hard-pressed to find a place untouched by the western world, clothing, newer structures, and modern products, but that differs vastly from the effects of mass tourism suddenly gaining easier access to these special places and pouring in.

Photograph of a Turkana Tribe man

Walking is still the main source of transportation; early in the morning and at dusk, I love seeing the silhouettes of people up along the ridges, reminding me of how simple life has remained. Though much physically harder than our modern lives, there is a tranquility and unity that seems to vanish in the race to a generic society.

Fishing is one of the main sources of food and income to the El Molo and Turkana, who still practice the ancient ways of fishing with wooden log boats, hand carved wood paddles, nets, and baskets. I love watching the men head out to fish at daybreak. In the evening, the women gather water while the children swim in the lake. Here, people still live day-to-day; they are not focused on worrying about retirement twenty years from now.

Fisherman walking down to Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya Fisherman pulling his boat into Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya fisherman returning form a day of fishing on Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya Turkana woman carrying water, Northern Kenya El Polo fishing in Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya Elmolo fishing in Lake Turkana, Northern Kenya

This is one of those places where I am always sad to leave. As I write this, an excitement stirs deep within, knowing I will return soon. I believe compelling imagery and stories can help shape the view of the world. I also believe one person can make a difference when they have experienced something extraordinary, which is why I am thrilled that, after a few years in the planning, I can bring a small group on a tribal expedition through Northern Kenya next year. They can share their images and stories from their own personal experience.

There are places you connect with, even if others give you hundreds of reasons you shouldn’t go. If I had listened to the warnings of all those who have never been to Africa or to the remote regions I have traveled, I may never have gone to Africa, which would erase everything ever posted on this site.

An adventure, by definition, is an exciting or unusual experience that is often bold, usually a risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome. Traveling off the grid is usually full of challenges and not associated with luxury, but it is these experiences, where things go wrong and the unexpected happens, that create life-long memories and the stories we will share over and over again from our rocking chairs.

As Helen Keller stated, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

12 Responses to “Off the Grid in a Soulful Place”

  1. kohlene

    There truly is no other place like the African continent. Do you have a boo out yet Piper? Of course I want one.

    Reply
    • Piper

      Africa is definitely a very special and unique experience and one that I wish everyone could have. It really is life changing. I am thinking of a book…….it is a big commitment….maybe soon.

      Reply
  2. Diana

    Hey Piper – really enjoyed this article and of course, your pictures. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  3. Glenda Jones

    Great article, well written. I loved the photos–making me homesick for the Kenya I love. That’s what your article did, it showed your love of the people, their culture and the calmness it brings which is lost to us. Continue to enjoy. Our paths will cross again as we both wander the beautiful lands of East Africa. Stay blessed and safe, always.

    Reply
    • Piper

      I believe the highest compliment a photographer can receive is to know there images and story emotionally touched their viewer. Thank you! It would be great to cross paths again.

      Reply
    • Piper

      Thank you David. I don’t get much time for sharing all the great stories, but I am hoping to be able to share more in the near future.

      Reply
  4. Leslye Kohl

    Piper, Thank you for this! The photos are fabulous, and I so enjoyed seeing them! I love the way you write. I can hear you talking when I read your commentary. I have fabulous photos from my trip to OMO with you!
    And I know I was lucky to be there with you to have the opportunity to get them! Take care. XoxoLeslye

    Reply
    • Piper

      Thank you Leslie, when I am complimented on my writing I always have to chuckle because it was always my worst subject. It takes me a long time, which is why I don’t post as often as I would like, but I love sharing the stories. I am glad you enjoyed it.

      Reply
  5. Lynn Bowers

    I can feel your passion in your words and photos. Nicely done. What a wonderful opportunity to witness, thank your for sharing.

    Reply
    • Piper

      Thank you Lynn, it was an incredible adventure and amazing there are still some of these truly wild places left in our fast changing world.

      Reply

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