Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 2 - Lothagam

Hello everybody!

This week was dominated by a camping trip to Lothagam. Lothagam is a Miocene formation (basically, a big pile of very old rocks) about an hour and a half away from TBI. We went there on Thursday, camped overnight, and went back on Friday. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday were mostly lecture days, so we could make sense of what we were about to see.
But I should start at the begining!
The lorry whips up large clouds of dust as is puffs through the dessert on sandy roads. We pass straw huts, herds of goat and camel, and the omnipresent local kids running towards the truck and waving. Sometimes when we hit an especially big bump I'm launched for a moment into the air above me seat. My iPod is on full blast to compete with the diesel engine I'm sitting next to and I need to wipe the screen off every few minutes from the dust. We pass a village that is receiving aid from the Chinese government. Every person in the town is sitting on the ground as men carrying assault rifles distribute sacks of maize.
Camels look goofy when they run
At one point we reach an impasse. Some villagers had stuck a palm tree log in the middle of the road, and were demanding we pay a fine to pass. We backtrack to negotiate with the chief in the village, and eventually make it through. Never had to do that before!
Lothagam looks like a group of small mountains from a distance.
Lothagam from the lorry
The area has dried up lacustrine  deposites (river beds) weaving through it, with mountains both to the East and West. The only real shade for miles are the palm trees that we park under.

As soon as we stepped out of the Lorry, we go to the mountain on the Eastern side. After some hiking on rocks formations that looked like they  belonged on Mars, we got over the ridge to see miles and miles (excuse me, kilometers and kilometers) of unbroken sand.
On our way down to examine a fault line, we encountered a Hyene footprint!
When we made it back, we waited out the hottest parts of the day in the shade, and went out again in the afternoon. To pass the time, I had tea and biscuits. Hot tea is surprisingly good when it's over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (sorry again, over 38 degrees Celsius). The next hike was to the West. The professor showed us ancient buriel markers, which are basically piles of rock called kerns. A few shards of pottery could be found lying on the ground, as well as tiny fragments of bone.
The only shade

After a delicious dinner, we fell asleep under the stars. We didn't use tents, but put bed rolls on the ground and set up mosquito nets over them. It was pretty amazing looking at the night sky through the white tint of my mosquito net, while we took turns trying to tell amusing stories.
The next morning we set out on the long hike. This time we traveled south, almost the entire length of Lothagam. It was about ten kilometers there and back, or about four and a half hours. The morning weather is comfortable, but by the time it's 9 am it starts to get hot, and by 11 it's burning. The only things I was carrying were my camera, a GPS device, and two water bottles. Hiking through ancient rock formations, I try and force my mind to pay attention to geology and not the heat.

Dehydration can creep up on you. The heat evaporates your sweat nearly instantenously, and so you can easily loose track of how much water your losing.
The only place sweat remained was the front of my hat, pressed against my forhead. My lips became extremely chaped, and whatever moisture remained on them caused the ambient dust to stick. The sleeves of my white shirt were quickly dirtied by continually whiping my mouth.
The hardest part was stoping myself from drinking my water too fast. It's so tempting to just chug it down, but it's much better for you if you sip it bit by bit. And by mid day, your water feels hot enough to make tea with. While a lot of the rocks are uneven, it's the sand that tires you out. After a while, it feels as though the sand is swallowing your feet with every step.

After seeing fossilized hippo bones, giraffe imprints in a rock, lots of sedimentary strata, a watering hole with orange water (ew!), and rock piles used by the locals to slaughter goats we were told to find our way back (with a GPS and a compass it isn't too hard). By the end of it, I was indescribably thirsty. I was so thirsty, that I couldn't even remember what it was like not to be. Looking at my GPS and seeing four and half kilometers to go, and then seeing the 500 mL of water I had gave me a keen appreciation for the value of water.

But we all made it back alive!
The next day we took our geology final in the morning, which marked the official end of 1/5th of our time here. Our next unit is ecology. So I finally get to learn about all of the bugs around here!
Today (Sunday) we took a trip into Lodwar, which is the nearest town.

It felt like we were on display, as the local children gather around us and talk amongst themselves while giggling and pointing. Somehow, the only english that most of them know is "how are you?", which they repeat like a religious chant whenever we're in sight. I bought potato chips and hot sauce at the local store. Somehow, I've been craving potato chips and Coke, two things I rarely have in the states.

Me and Francis, our guide standing over one of those kerns
 And so ends another exciting week!


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