LAKE BARINGO CLUB, WHERE I WAS CHILLING WITH THE BIRDS
Leaving the hustle and bustle of Kenyas capital city Nairobi behind is the desire of many of its residents, while the proper wagenis of course in any case spend little time there, perhaps a day or two at most on arrival and departure again, while in between heading out into the Kenyan countryside for their safari.
Nairobians are spoiled for choice where they can go for a weekend or for a vacation, and while other destinations are closer in June of this the year I wrote about the Lake Naivasha Country Club which is just over 100 kilometres from the city Lake Baringo is some three hundred kilometres from the capital but anytime worth the 5 hour drive. UNESCO had officially declared Kenyas Rift Valley lakes as World Heritage Sites earlier in the year, recognizing the countrys conservation efforts to preserve biodiversity and protect crucially important water sources, and from Lake Naivasha over Lake Elementaita to Lake Nakuru and on to Lake Bogoria and finally Lake Baringo all of them are now enjoying their new and higher status.
(Morning impressions as the sun rises above the Tugen Hills and illuminates Lake Baringo)
My route chosen took me into the hills above the city, by European elevation standards mountains really, as we drove via Limuru through coffee plantations, along the golf course and posh residences to the top of the Great African Rift Valley. There, spectacular views extend from horizon to horizon, and no matter how often one has passed the viewing points, a stop is quite mandatory, as are picture taking, capturing the mood of the day, the different cloud formations and the key attractions, the Longonot Earth Station, one of Kenyas international communications backbones and Mt. Longonot itself, an extinct volcano which is now a national park under Kenya Wildlife Services and an attraction in its own right.
(The Great African Rift Valley, as seen from one of the viewing points with Mt. Longonot in clear sight)
The drive had soon left Lake Naivasha behind and we were passing Lake Elementaita and the Soysambu Conservancy established there, and just off the highway the Kariandusi National Monument site, a place visited by far too few who zap by in their cars looking for the big things when small so often is beautiful.
On the road went, via Gilgil to Nakuru where one turns off to the right at the second roundabout in the direction of Kabarnet, Marigat and of course to Lake Baringo, where I was headed.
(Reaching at the end of the day, I got to the right place on good tarmac roads with sufficient signage)
My destination for the next couple of nights was the Lake Baringo Club, right at the lakeshores and a short distance off the main road, where only days earlier the Prime Minister of Kenya had commissioned a new road project, aimed to construct a tarmac highway to Lodwar and the border to Ethiopia, with a branch off into the Southern Sudan. A better road means more traffic and more traffic means more business for the lake side resort, something needed since, inexplicably, the old circuit road from Samburu via Archers Post, Wamba, often with a stop at Maralal, has seen traffic decline in past years, cutting out some of the most scenic drives across Kenyas wilderness areas.
(One of the many resident fish eagles, which can be seen along the lake shores)
New owners and managers Sun Africa Hotels have already left a mark on the Lake Baringo Club as it presented itself to me and they are set to have the property rise and shine at the same levels as the Keekorok Safari Lodge and the Lake Naivasha Country Club, both now as fine a property as one can wish for.
Some of the older TripAdvisor commentaries talked of staff not being bothered, inedible food and other shortcomings, and it was a most pleasant surprise to be welcomed by staff members at the entrance gate already with a cheerful Jambo Bwana, an experience repeated time and again, especially from Ms. Caroline Onkware who transferred recently from the Lake Naivasha Country Club to run the front office at the Lake Baringo Club and welcomed me cheerfully as a long lost friend. This continued from check in till departure , especially the broad smiles of Assistant Manager Mr. Jacob Lugadiru popping up everywhere, when the staff lined up to wish me Safari Njema and Kwaheri Ya Kuonana after failing to persuade me to stay a few more days.
But there are more stories to be told, so back to the Lake Baringo Club, my three night stay over a long weekend and how things to do were plenty, leaving me spoiled for choice.
Having left Nairobi at late lunch time, and endured the horrendous traffic which is worse on Fridays it seems, my Sun Africa Hotels driver delivered me safely to the Lake Baringo Club just around 7 pm, as the sun was setting and myriads of insects started their night time concert, joined in no time by the frogs from the lake. A cool towel was offered at the reception to wipe off sweat and dust and then followed by a chilled fruit juice. My reservation details had been transferred on to the check in form and all it took was to sign it, get my key and be whisked to my cottage, located at the furthest end of the property, guaranteeing peace, quiet, time for contemplation and time to write this story without the constant coming and going of neighbours.
I had not been to Baringo for over 20 years and the last time the water in the lake was very low after a long drought and way out from the lodge, so I was surprised to see the water having risen to near record levels, not seen since the early 1960s, when according to a former neighbour, who came by to see the place one afternoon, the water in fact was almost three feet higher than today, later confirmed by an old fisherman mzee who told me the same thing in a mixture of Kiswahili and English. It is generally expected that the water levels will progressively reduce again and draw back from where they presently are, as close as between 30 to 150 feet to the buildings of the lodge, something quite unprecedented since the Lake Baringo Club was first opened in the late 60s. At that time the hotel was taking over from a tented camp which had been put up a few years earlier before it was taken down to make way for what is now the main building, bar and dining, later to be followed by rooms 1 8, which are no longer in use today and are due to be demolished soon.
(Risen lake levels, as a result of prolonged heavy rains this year, are expected to return to normal very soon)
So, along the way to my suite, hippos snorted from the close by water and a croc hastily rushed back into the lake when the askari shone his torch on it, him knowing that the beast was there and the beast knowing that only a swift retreat was to save it from being chased with stick and stones. It was probably the same croc which was ambushing me the second night but its hissing sound gave its location away and it stayed put, mouth wide open as if considering if I was the sort of supper it had in mind, before then rushing back into the water after I swung my stick around making equally hissing sounds.
(Not a problem for Crocodile Wolfie)
The cottage was prepared for the night already, the bed turned down and a full mosquito net, covering the bed around all corners, fully deployed. Flowers on the table and a selection of chilled fruits, clearly only put just before I got to the room myself by the attentive housekeeping staff, were complemented by a selection of tea bags, freshly ground coffee, the aroma of which filled the room no sooner as I had lifted the lid from the container and of course a choice of sugar, sweetener and even tea spices. I had a cup of tea brewing as I unpacked the few things I brought, to hang them out in the simple but adequate wardrobe space, before heading for a quick shower, hot water there in an instant.
(Flowers and wine await the valued guests)
By the time I was changed and heading back to the main building for supper, an askari was waiting outside for me with a torchlight, to safely guide me to the dining, a proper precaution it turned out on the third night when a hippo had come on land and had to be avoided.
A couple of other guests, a Kenyan family amongst them, had already sat down for supper which was in table d hote format, a set menu with soup, salad, three choices of a main course, fish, meat and vegetarian and desert of course.
The food was well prepared, well presented and tasted good, putting to rest the negative TripAdvisor comments of past years, which recommended to eat out, not an option nor a question for this author it turned out. Coffee or tea is part of every meal, be it lunch or dinner, so no need to spend extra money for a cuppa.
(Lake Baringo Clubs main building where all the meals are served)
And when sleep came calling on the first night, slumber came equally swift on a good bed and with comfy pillows, lasting until the birds started stirring up in the trees above the cottage, ready to begin their morning concert. I was not sure when I woke up if I had indeed heard hippos snorting and fighting outside, if it was a dream or reality, but what did it matter. A night at the lakeshores, close up and personal, with warm temperatures and a soft breeze sweeping across my room, I had not slept like this in many a moon.
Other guests too commented on that like I slept like a baby, attributed surely to the scents of flowers, the taste of the lake in the air and the soothing noises of the night.
My other two nights were equally restful and going back to the city was suddenly a notion no longer so welcome, but with Christmas just a few days away, there really was no choice but to pack and go when Monday morning finally, and far too soon, came calling.
Until then though I had two more days to spend at the Lake Baringo Club, which I used to explore the lake shores from the water by boat, slightly shaken by a hippo suddenly crashing to the surface quite too near the boat for comfort, splashing water and snorting threats to us invaders, prompting the boatman to rev up the engine and drive out of that chaps house. Bird walks followed, mornings and late afternoons, to see some of the incredible variety of birds, now numbering over 460 identified species I was told. Terry Stevenson, now a recognized international birding expert, was in his early days based for some time at the Lake Baringo Club as resident ornithologist, where besides doing his guided bird walks he also wrote the first of his books, aptly titled The Birds of Lake Baringo, published in late 1980. Hillary Garland, another resident ornithologist in those days, in turn identified all the trees within the grounds of the Lake Baringo Club, 36 in total at the time of compiling her research into a pamphlet, and an eye opener for most on the level of biodiversity found at this part of the country.
(This pair of Jacksons Hornbill beauties are regular guests at the Lake Baringo Club restaurant where they wait to be fed with morsels of food, crusts of bread or bits of fruits)
In between there was of course time to take a couple of refreshing dives into the crystal clear waters of the swimming pool, take some naps which otherwise is quite out of question for this author, further evidence of the effects the Lake Baringo Club has on its guests, offering relaxation galore. Here you come to watch birds, or not, and for those who choose or not they can just laze about in the gardens under the tall acacia trees, enjoy the sun beds around the pool or sit in the lounge or on the terrace and read a book, really leaving the challenges and burdens of everyday life behind them for a few days at least while at the Lake Baringo Club.
(Just chilling guests enjoy the tranquility of Lake Baringo Club, which is quite infectious)
Going for boat rides, or a spot of fishing is also possible, as is a visit to a nearby Njemps village, the tribe living around the lake shores and on the islands.
(Lake Baringo Club has their own boats and guides to take guests out on the lake to fish, watch birds or see the Njemps fishermen at work)
When you find yourself still sitting at the lunch table on the terrace, watching out over the lake and then being told tea is served, you realise time has raced away unnoticed and the meal on offer has moved seamlessly from lunch time to tea time. It is then you begin to appreciate that no hurry in Africa has taken on a new dimension. No wonder all the other guests came as couples, something truly recommended by the look of things to enjoy this level of seemingly timeless progression from hour to hour, from day to day and from night to night.
The variety of food on the menu, always served as table d hote instead of buffets, was kept up with not one repeat over the three days I stayed and though there was no pepper mill the service staff did one better, getting me freshly crushed black pepper, faithfully delivered to my table at every meal once they had noticed my preference.
Travelers from East Africa have many options where to go, in their own countries or across the borders in the other member states of the East African Community, and for those coming to Kenya on business, there is often the question where to perhaps spend a weekend, or a few days. Lake Baringo is surely a prime choice, not just for those in search of birds, insects, reptiles, flowers, trees and plants but especially for those in need to get away for a bit, relax, recharge ones batteries and refresh body and mind before the return to the daily grind. Some places might be nearer to the capital but frankly few are as relaxing, as quiet and as tranquil as the Lake Baringo Club.
Said Mrs. Jane Bosire, who had stayed for the weekend with her husband and two children: I so love this place, it is so tranquil and peaceful, I love hearing the birds or just watch the water on the lake. If I could I would take this place with me because it is so unlike Nairobi. No phones, no TV, no hassle at all. Just relaxing. I dont want to go back to Nairobi and wish we could stay longer. That was a sentiment heard from all guests who were leaving the Lake Baringo Club and for a reason. For sure this is not a place to stay just one night, perhaps three but better 5 or more to really have the places tranquility and peace leave its mark on the visitors.
More information on this lakeside resort can be found via www.sunafricahotels.com where reservations and bookings can also be made on line.