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Mountain Lodges

HANS-GEORG MICHNA

Indian Restaurants, Chimpanzees and Mountain Lodges in Kenya (1999)

Copyright © 1999-2016 Hans-Georg Michna.


Nairobi Restaurants

I'll try to report about my recent visit to Kenya. I had been to Kenya many times and lived there for several years, so arriving in Kenya was, as usual, like coming home.

I had to stay in Nairobi for almost the whole first week due to some bureaucratic nuisance in connection with the pilot license, but that was cleared up eventually. During the time I found a new Indian restaurant, the Minar, in the Yaya Centre in Argwings Kodhek Road. When heading West, out of the city, turn off from Valley Road into Argwings Kodhek Road and find Yaya Centre less than one km from the turnoff on the left side. It is easy to find.

The Safeer in the Ambassador Hotel does no longer exist, so it is good to have an alternative. I think the Safeer was better, but the Minar is quite allright and offers a larger choice of foods and more variation like pili pili kidogo sana.

I also went to the Pagoda Chinese restaurant one night and found it almost empty. The head waiter told me that they have few customers at night, because people shun the dark city and prefer to go to places in the outskirts. The Pagoda, like most other city restaurants, survives on business lunches and is allegedly full during the lunch break. So if you want a quiet, almost empty restaurant, drive into the city at night and take your pick.

Travelling North

I left Nairobi and headed straight to Baringo to meet some people. The odd story was that some months ago a bunch of robbers went to the Lake Baringo Country Club and took everything they could find from the lodge and its guests. They didn't repeat the stunt while I was there, but I can see why tourism in Kenya has gone down. Most tourists don't like such stories.

Baringo hasn't seen any rain for a long time. Some experiments are going on with private, fenced fields to which the goats and cattle are denied access until the grass is high enough. I got to see some of them, and the result of the experiment is very surprising. Amid the barren, desert-lile landscape you suddenly see areas with green trees and high grass.

However, the cattle are already beginning to die from starvation, so people were discussing what to do, and the decisions can be shortsighted in such a situation.

I then continued via Loruk, Tangulbey and Churo, then turned back south towards Rumuruti, because I wanted to find the chimpanzees. From Tangulbey to Churo I took a group of women (Pokot, I think) as hitch-hikers. This trip was unforgettable, because two things happened. First a very heavy rain set in that continued to stress my windshield wipers and defog fan for almost the whole distance to Churo, and the women sang in the car, quite beautifully, mostly christian songs they usually sing in church. It seemed that the rain was very welcome, as was my jeep that took them home quickly and for free. I'm grateful to those women.

I turned south at Mugie and tried to race towards Rumuruti, as the sun was already going down and I would barely make it to Rumuruti before sunset. But the road is not very good, and I was already on the lookout for some place to camp. I had an address of a farm that I wanted to reach, and in the last sunrays and the beginning dusk I drove through Rumuruti and turned east towards the farm ranges.

I found the farm and asked for a place to stay, and I was offered everything I needed, a good dinner, a room and a breakfast with milk fresh from the cow the next morning. (I'm no longer used to milk with a fat content that high, but it definitely tasted good, like a mixture of milk and cream.) When I tried to pay for the service, no payment was accepted.

The farm itself was a surprise. It is huge, and beside the endless cattle range land there is also a river with dense riverine forest and all kinds of wild animals including, for example, elephants and lions. Yet the people on the farm don't intend to invite tourists. They appear to consider the wildlife a nuisance.

Chimpanzees in Kenya

Early the next morning I was on the road again, looking for Sweetwaters Farm, the former hunting range of Adnan Khashoggi, one of the most famous weapons dealers of our time. I think he is still alive. The last I heard of him was that he was caught and taken into custody in America.

Coming from the north, I had to drive all the way past Sweetwaters before finding an entrance (Serat Gate, in the northeast corner). The farm is now like a national reserve, with an entrance fee (around 900 KSh for residents) demanded at the gate. In the southeast corner is the gate facing towards Nanyuki (Rongai Gate), and near it is the Sweetwaters Tented Camp in which I stayed. In the southwest is the Ol Pejeta ranch house, Khashoggi's former dwelling, which can be rented as a whole or by suite and is expensive. The 3 km airfield (fit for a Hercules or a Boeing 737), beginning at the house, has been shortened to some 800 m. The lodges are all managed by Lonrho.

I visited the chimpanzee sanctuary. It is located at the southern exit of the river on both sides of the river and sealed off with a high, electric fence, with the entrance being on the eastern side. The chimpanzees are fed, because the area, though relatively big, does not fully support the demands of free ranging chimpanzees. Thus it is easy to watch them or take photographs at the feeding place. There is a wooden tower from which you can look down over the fence into the area.

A group of 6 healthy, relatively young chimpanzees inhabit the part on the other side of the river. I saw two of them mate, among other activities. The ones on the near side were not so lucky. One of them had been kept in a small cage. He couldn't even walk when he arrived at Sweetwaters and has never fully recovered. Only one of the males on this side actually mates.

All these chimpanzees have been released from captivity, and some people keep working with them, trying to rehabilitate them. Jane Goodall comes visit twice a year to check up and give advice.

You will find four Sweetwaters GPS waypoints (airfield, camp, bridge, chimpanzee sanctuary) in the EastAfrica files on michna.com/gps.

Although I wanted to see Sweetwaters again (I had once stumbled into the house just after Khashoggi had been captured and shot a roll of film in the house when it was still unchanged), and the chimpanzees in particular, I'm not sure whether I should recommend it to a first time visitor to Kenya. The range, while having a variety of animals, is still not as attractive as other nature reserves. One herd of elephants was still extremely shy and ran away from my car in a distance of half a kilometer. It seems they are still suffering from the fear of being hunted and don't lose their memories very quickly. The chimpanzee sanctuary reminds me a bit too much of a zoo. Who likes the sight of high electric fences reminiscent of those in Jurassic Park and chimpanzees sitting at the fence begging for food? Make up your own mind.

Three Mountain Lodges

I continued my trip to check several mountain lodges. The first I saw was Mt. Kenya Safari Club. The place was fully booked, seems to be quite attractive to some people, and I had never been in there. I continued to the Mountain Lodge on the southwestern slope of Mt. Kenya and spent one night there.

Mountain Lodge is different from Treetops and The Ark, because you can drive up there and don't have to go through a base station. The lodge has recently been bought from African Tours and Hotels and is now owned and operated by Serena Lodges. But it has not been fully converted and does not quite live up to the usual Serena standard yet. The non-resident rate of some $200 per night per person independent of season seems outrageous, and indeed the lodge was almost empty.

The lodge has its strengths though. One is that all rooms have very large windows facing the water hole and salt lick. I really enjoyed being able to lie in bed and still watch the elephants at the waterhole while falling asleep.

In the waterhole there is an artificial island with non-edible, sharp grass on it, shaped like the continent of Africa, including Madagascar. The southern tip has been trampled out of shape by buffalos, which, I think, is just as well, as the idea struck me as rather odd and childish. Apparently somebody thought that the greatest the tourist could take home is a photograph of animals roaming around a tiny Africa.

I spent the next night at Treetops, currently owned by Block Hotels, which I also had never seen before. The base camp is the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, and like The Ark, a bus takes people up to the lodge in the afternoon, with a second bus going later, before dark.

Treetops is part of the history of Kenya. It is not as far into the Aberdare National Park as The Ark, and one of the problems is lots of fences, such that it is difficult to take a photograph from the lodge without having some kind of fence on it. One reason for those fences is an attempt to protect some bush and tree areas near the water hole.

Nonetheless a whole lot of elephants visited the water hole that night, and at Treetops the elephants are so close to the lodge terrace that you can almost scratch their heads when you lean over. This is one of the nice points of Treetops. You are very close to the action and can observe and take photographs in a way that is not possible in any other place in Kenya.

I visited The Ark also, later in my trip, and my recommendation for a newcomer who wants to visit one of these mountain lodges would be The Ark, with the two other lodges a close second, because The Ark is slightly better managed, has better food and gives you breakfast at the lodge rather than leaving at sunrise and having your breakfast down in the base camp like at Treetops.

Again you will find GPS waypoints for the base camps and the Mountain Lodge in the files mentioned above.

Let me stop here now. Perhaps I will get to writing more about my later visits to Lake Naivasha, Nakuru, Baringo, Samburu, Amboseli and Maasai Mara and the things I learned there, but I can't promise anything. So little time ... I had some incredible encounters with wild animals as well, not only lodges. Haven't even found the time yet to take the films to the lab.

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Copyright © 1999-2016 Hans-Georg Michna.


Private homepage – Hans-Georg Michna

Kenya travel reports: 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013-Goma, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016

Kenya Safari Travel Plan, Kenya 1980-2000 photos

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