March 8, 2011 – Shompole Tour Guide Charles Koike speaks reasonable English, colourful Swahili directly translated from his native Maasai tongue and has an uncompromising contempt for Fisis (Hyenas).
It was plainly laced in the tone of his voice when he spoke of the Fisis, and he looked just about ready to chase them out of our path during this game drive. After more than three hours of exploration, apart from the Hill called Shompole, which he showed us and explained that it was named after the red ochre they got from it; I did not hear much else of what Koike said.
His keen eye for animals and his understanding for the natural systems in the Shompole Conservancy however made up for that by far.
Charles, which you can call him if you forget or are unsure about his surname, is not afraid to go deep into the ‘bush’ to show us a lion or two. His courage is brazen and oblivious to the adrenalin and silence inspired in us as we stumble upon bushes that could easily metamorphise into a den of lions.
The game-drive however, several Zebras, Gnus, Giraffes, Elephant dung and lion prides later, was a perfect ending to a hot afternoon. At 41 degrees Celsius, the white walls, thatched roofs and pools of water at the Shompole Lodge were nothing short of a God-send.
Smiling men in white kanzus offered us juice and mildly scented wet towels at the door or entrance, when we arrived, before our bags were separated and we were led to rooms big enough to fit entire houses into.
In room 3, a narrow staircase of sand eased into wide white smooth cement floors and pretty rock formations on walls with an odd plant here and there. I had a bed that could fit four people, side tables, and a wooden rack for my luggage. In a stone step in front of the bed there was a lamu-bed style chaise lounge with ungarnished wood, white mattress and white cushions facing a coffee table where you can either work or eat. Two feet from the table is the ‘boundary’ of the room, where instead of a wall or window you would find shrubs, trees and real life air.
From the coffee table, there were steps leading up to the ‘bedroom’ or ‘bathroom’ area on the right or steps on the left leading down to a mini-pool – something common to every room in Shompole. Yes every room.
To complete this work of art by designer Anthony Russell (also founder of Shompole) are two basic wooden chairs at a cosy table – should you want to have dinner with your mate. Next to it are stairs leading up to a massive open loo. You can fit a shower in there if you had to, but the space is occupied instead by a gecko or two.
The whole room seems as if it were placed right over a cliff, so the hyenas and baboons you can hear during the day and night would have a tough time trying to get in. Each room is different at Shompole and so you are advised to make friends so you can just check out the other rooms. Ok, I did.
Activities include walks, game drives, a visit to the cultural village and a sundowner at Lake Natron, in full view of the flamingos.
Shompole is more like a series of cleverly designed houses that a lodge. There is the main lodge which has six rooms, there is Shompole house, which has two rooms and two pools separated by a wooden plank. Little Shompole has three sections in it, and is slightly more luxurious than the kawaida lodge. And lastly, the new kid on the block, Shompole 360, which has a panoramic view of the whole area.
If you haven’t been there yet, Jennifer Lopez, Bill Gates and many others have seen it before you. You can catch up with just Sh29,000 per night – full board. When you see the place, you will wonder why you weren’t charged more for it.
For that amount you are guaranteed that your rooms will be yours exclusively, but you might get the odd Genet or Dik Dik paying you a surprise visit – mostly in the evening. They are harmless though, and will not steal your belongings.
Shompole Lodge lies in the Shompole Conservancy which is about 35,000 acres and where it’s easy to spot the big five there, excluding the rhino. The Maasai community in the vicinity has a joint population of 10,000. They get 30% of the proceeds made from the lodge and conservancy, which goes to improve their infrastructure and raise their standards of living.
“The money is used to build roads, clinics, schools and the lodge also compensates farmers whose livestock are attacked by wildlife,” says Daniel, one of the managers.
Koike adds: “Nowadays people don’t hunt for the animals that kill their cows or goats. Instead they complain to the lodge, the manager verifies if the claim is true and you can get upto Sh20,000 for a cow. We are happy. People are educated, even the girls, and they look for their own jobs too.”
Guests at Shompole are also given the option of donating to the community during their visit. You can access Shompole either by road or by air, the latter being much faster as usual.