An internationally recognized Ramsar wetlands site since 2002, Lake Baringo remains a peaceful oasis in the dry-thorn country, rich in birdlife and with a captivating character entirely its own. The waters are heavily silted with the red topsoil of the region, and they run through a whole range of colours every day from yellow to coral to purple, according to the sun’s position and the state of the sky. On the lakeshore are villages inhabited by the Il Chamus (Njemps) people, who live by an unusual mixture of fishing and livestock-herding, breaking the taboo on the eating of fish, which is the norm among pastoralists. Speaking a dialect of Maa – the Maasai language – these fishermen paddle out in half-submerged dinghies made from the spongy and buoyant saplings of the fibrous ambatch tree that grows in profusion around the lake.
Lake Baringo is fresh water (Naivasha being the only other non-saline Rift Valley lake), so its fish support a wide variety of birds and there are also sizeable populations of crocodiles and hippos. Though you rarely see much more than ears and snout by day, hippos come ashore after dark to graze; on a moonlit night their presence can be unnervingly obvious, though even in pitch darkness they’re too noisy to be ignored. Although it used to be commonly understood that Baringo crocodiles were too small to pose a danger to swimmers, what constitutes a dangerous size in a Nile crocodile is perhaps a reckless debate. A regular local swimmer was badly mauled in 2008 so swimming is certainly highly inadvisable.