The rugged paradise of Baringo

Published on 05/03/2009
By Charles Otieno

The heat was almost unbearable, the stony landscape rugged with shrubs and withering grass. Despite this, the drive to the shores of Lake Baringo was smooth. In fact, the moment we left the hustle and bustle of Nairobi and hit the road towards Kenya’s happy valley, all the pent-up emotions and stress disappeared.

Panoramic views of Soi Safari Lodge. Notice the artistic use of stone and wood (all readily available on site) in the architecture.

Waiter reaches for writer’s favourite drink.

Seating on the back seat, I sampled the sights and sounds of expansive wide open spaces. We drove past Naivasha towards Nakuru and enjoyed watching herds of majestic zebras grazing on the roadside while monkeys and baboons scavenged on the motorists. In this part of the world, primates don’t worry about the human-animal conflict.

Our first stop was Bontana Hotel, Nakuru, where we were welcomed by our amiable host, Sarah Tomno, the general manager of the hotel and Soi Safari Lodge.

“Welcome to Bontana and I hope you will enjoy our hospitality,” she said as she ushered us into the hotel. And we really enjoyed ourselves. After a sumptuous meal washed down with fresh fruit juices, we headed for Lake Baringo. We wanted to get there before darkness fell. We drove past the plush Kabarak (former President Moi’s hood) and on to the rocky Mogotio with our guide Ruto nicknamed ‘more goats’. Wahome Mutahi, the late humourist, loved to call this town ‘the goat market headquarters’. From Mogotio, the landscape was rocky with the majestic Tugen Hills forming the horizon.

It took us almost three hours from Nairobi to get to the expansive Soi Safari Lodge located on the western shores of Lake Baringo in the Rift Valley (southwest Kenya). The Lodge is one of the most beautiful lodges in the Great Rift Valley. It is built with the latest technology and design with a tinge of local touch. The lodge looks cool and is an ideal getaway from home. And the compound is spacious with trees lining up the front of the lodge. On the back is an Olympic size swimming pool for those who love such exercises. Its surroundings are a bushy acacia at the lakeshore and a rocky, dry and sparsely populated environment. Guests at the lodge will definitely enjoy the spectacular view of Lake Baringo.

Cool ambiance

A jovial manager at the Lodge, Stephen Murigi, welcomed us with cool fruit juices while we waited to be escorted to our rooms to freshen up. We sat in the comfy brown and black leather seats at the reception area. After chatting with the hotel staff for 10 minutes, we checked into our rooms. The rooms are spacious and air-conditioned. The Lodge has 46 standard rooms, two executive suites and two deluxe en-suites. All have hot showers and balconies.

In the evening, we walked back to the dining hall for our dinner. The four course meal was delicious. After dinner, we hit the fully fledged bar and partook shots of Famous Grouse while admiring the murals on the walls. English Premier League and other sports fan can catch the action on flat screens in the lobby. The ambiance in the resort is cool.

Later, after having one to many, we retired to bed. Those who were as tired as me slept like babies. We woke up at 6am the next morning to admire the sun rise over the hills. The rays hit the lake with splendour. I got the uncanny feeling that I could stretch my hands and touch the majestic Laikipia escarpment across the lake at sunrise. There are seven beautiful and enchanting islands that rise above the water like imposing giants. And that’s not all.

Countless crocodiles

The are other attractions to occupy your day while at the Lodge, including field excursions and boat rides to the geysers and hot springs. Our tour guide was Augustine Onyango and he educated us about the beautiful landscape. Onyango has been guiding tourists for 20 years both here and abroad. He informed us that the spas can be used to treat skin ailments; and that the hot springs can boil an egg in five minutes.

On the shores of the lake are various species of trees that the locals use to make boats. It is said that there are 200 trees with medicinal value on the islands. We took a boat ride to the seven islands on the lake, which are inhabited by the Njemps. It is said they are descendants of the Maasai and Samburu and are the 43rd tribe in Kenya. However, unlike the Maasai, the Njemps are fishermen. We visited them on the Bamalok and Kokwa islands and learned about their traditions and way of life. We also watched families of black and brown hippos. Our guide informed us there are 305 hippos in the lake. Close to the shores are countless crocodiles.

The lake also boasts fish eagles that Onyango has been feeding for close to 10 years. It was a spectacle watching them feed. The speed and precision with which they picked fish was breathtaking. Apart from the fish beagles, the region boasts 450 species of birds. Unlike most lakes in the Rift Valley, Lake Baringo has brown water due to siltation and underground outlets. The water has fluoride and most residents have brown teeth as a result.

Cattle crossing

It was fascinating to see the island’s cattle swim for three hours across the lake to the cattle market in Marigat. When a cow refused to swim, its calf would be thrown into the shallow end of the lake and the rest would quickly follow. The owner would then remove the calf while the rest swam to the mainland. This spectacle takes place twice a month and only during the market days.

Other captivating activities on the lake include fishing, rowing, water skiing and visits to Devil’s Island by boat and the reptile park.

We spent the whole day at the lake and its islands. Later, we headed back to the hotel, freshened up then enjoyed a nature walk.

Romantic getaway

The Lodge’s conducive and attractive compound is partially patched with rocks to portray its originality. To the East of the lake is the Laikipia escarpment while to the west rises the dramatic Tugen hills. If you are not an outdoor person, the hotel offers entertainment in the form of traditional dancers and disco music for the young at heart.

The lodge is ideal for couples on a romantic getaway, business retreats and conferences (the halls are large enough to sit 1,000 people). The road to the lodge is also smooth and safe. No incidences of carjacking have been reported on the route. The staff is also friendly.

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