February 25, 2011 – Dry and rocky land mark the two-hour drive from Lewa Downs to the Il Ngwesi community group ranch, also referred to as 16,650 hectares worth of stunning scenery.
As the dusty roads wind, the wispy grass looks a dark ashy grey, with streaks of silver that stand proudly in the scorching heat, defying death. The acacia trees that awash the savannah have stumps that look as if they have been dipped in rich pastels; crisp, orange, yellow, brown and green.
Its only when you feel the heat and dust are starting to get to you is when you see it – The Il Ngwesi Lodge – taken from the name of the community, Il Ngwesi, which means people of the wildlife.
This lodge is a community-owned and run affair. It offers basic amenities in the most professional manner, such that it does not tamper with the beauty in the savannah plains and Mukogodo escarpment that completely surround it.
Hidden among bushes and trees, Il Ngwesi lodge blends in rather than stands out, embracing any busy body and forcing them to chill, and take in aspects of nature that they never really see.
As I looked for something to stand out, I noticed that all the furniture is made from natural tree stumps, raw and uncultured. The beams criss-cross the inside of Il Ngwesi’s six cottages in the form of a door-way, a four-poster bed, a balcony railing, chairs and tables. In between the wooden logs sometimes is a wall of mud, made the traditional maasai way with red ochre painted on it.
Even though traditionally it is the woman’s work to fix the walls of their bomas when they start to crack, these walls are maintained by the men in the community.
Only one side of the cottage is walled, to protect you from other guests walking along the paths, the rest of the cottage has no doors or windows and faces the escarpment, which acts as a barrier between the lodge and the Mukogodo forest.
The loos and showers are also completely open and modern, with piped water for flushing and hot water courtesy of the lodge’s several solar panels; also responsible for generating electricity used at the facility.
I was in cottage number 5, which together with cottage one have a movable bed that you can drag onto your veranda to sleep under the stars. Unlike Nairobi, the stars at Il Ngwesi are all over the night sky and shine super bright.
Somewhere in the middle of the night the moon shows up, glowing smack at the centre of your mosquito net as you look up; preening, demanding your attention.
Though the nights can be chilly, all you need is a sweater and you are good to go. And when the sun comes up usually, the moon is not ready to leave. As the sun rises it tantalises – slowly lighting the grand hills of the escarpment, from its very tip till the plains down below – inch by inch. The trees dance off the dew very quickly, as if to pay homage to the sun god – and a new day begins.
There are armed guards on hand to walk to you a bush breakfast if you so wish, and although dressed in red and white garb with beads and earrings dangling, the maasai workers at the lodge make a mean cheese omelette.
At Sh17,100 full board per person, all inclusive, this quiet romantic setting is perfect for honeymooners. You can stand on the balcony as naked as Adam and Eve and watch the herds of elephant walk by beneath you. At night when the lions roar and the winds howl, you feel exhilarated but safe.
There is no ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign. Instead, a spear in your room should be placed diagonally across the entrance and this will deter the housekeeping crew. Sweet!
The eco-lodge is about 16 years old and now caters for the livelihoods of nearly 7,000 community members. Proceeds from the lodge and their other businesses are used to give university bursaries to bright students, fund mobile clinics, and buy land for the community outside the ranch, among other things.
James Ole Kanyagi, the lead tour guide and in charge of customer care at the lodge, says he has also travelled to Great Britain and the US, to give talks on eco-lodges and community ranches.
He has lived in Il Ngwesi all his life. The manager, Ochen Mayani meanwhile started as a watchman. He studied food production and hotel management while shooting up the ladder. His education funded by proceeds from the lodge.
In his 5 years of managing the lodge to date, the most high profile guest he had was William (of Wales) the Prince, and his peeps. Was the Prince scouting for an engagement venue perhaps?