The six cottages are all named after famous explorers or colonists of Africa and are nestled into the hillside and dotted amongst the flower beds that make up a typical English Cotswold garden. The garden is full of flowers that I don’t know the names of, is overgrown, in need of a really good weed and thinning out. There are hundreds of steps and the landscaping up to the pool house is unfinished and we are walking on bare, dark red soil. All the landscaping is done by hand, no backhoes or small bobcats that could do the job in a coupe of days. Instead it has taken almost six weeks to actually lay it all out and line the flower bed areas with rocks. I have no doubt it will be beautiful when it is finished.
The cottages all have tin roofs with thatch on the top which is in need of replacement. There have been a few leaks when it rained, and some parts have been blown off in the strong wind that whips up the ravine. The cottages are made out of concrete so the walls and floors are quite cold. There are flushing toilets (oh what luxury) but the luxury is lost when you see the tin bucket in the shower with which to catch the first cold water, until the solar powered hot water comes through. The beds are all old colonial style beds, which are quite high off the ground and each one is different with different colored quilts. Bath and hand towels grace the racks in the bathroom, and although they are advertised as white, with the color of the water that comes out of the bore hole, they have gradually taken on a lovely shade of beige. Hot water bottles are placed in the beds during the evening to take off the chill at night. I’ve hunted high and low for one of those, but only found three with holes in them, so alas, no hot water bottles for us. Whilst the cottages are quaint, unique and serviceable, they lack the finer points of ‘luxury’ that I have come to expect of a 5 star lodging. It may be difficult to keep sheets and towels white due to the water, but they all look in need of replacement. One of my duties here is to see that the housekeeping is up to par, so I’ve had the girls de-cobweb the roof areas, and vacuum all the lamp shades. The dust is incessant and the wind just scatters it everywhere. Surprisingly there are few bugs here. The odd spider and beetle, but I’ve not come across many gross creepy crawlies, for which I am very grateful.
Each cottage has its own character. One is quite secluded, being off to one side with a lovely veranda overlooking the ridge. There is one bedroom with a large queen bed, with the high pointed thatch ceiling towering above. The cobwebs here are quite thick and we did have to try to evict a large spider for a guest. We lost it somewhere higher up, but we didn’t tell the guest that!. The bathroom has a flushing loo and a large hot shower along with the customary tin bucket. Another is a semi detached cottage with two rooms, usually booked together for a family. We had a leak in the sink in this one which took three attempts to fix, the first solution being to put a bucket underneath, the second to stick twigs from the garden inside the pipe to hold it and then tape was used to hold it together! Finally Marcel found a wrench and persuaded the manager to get a new washer and it was as good as new. It only took a whole week to fix! Another cottage sits directly in the middle of the gardens with a lovely lawn in front looking directly over the ravine to the conservancy on the opposite side. This cottage has two large double beds, but they are so high off the ground we usually have to search out a step stool for the guests to climb into bed. The quirkiest is the thatched house which had the main kitchen at the very bottom, which has now moved (another story), then around the front, steps lead up to the first floor living room and dining room. Once inside, there is a set of wooden stairs around the wall to the bedroom, which sits in the thatched roof. This is very high and guests have had insects and bugs fall into their bed on occasion. It is impossible to debug as it is so high and no brush long enough. A bath awaits you in the main bedroom with a hand shower. This proves to be quite troublesome when trying to shower. Not only is the bath in front of a window so you have to close the curtain, there is no wall to attach the shower. No shower curtain either, so if you stand and shower the water splashes everywhere or in order to contain the water you have to become a contortionist and somehow lower yourself into the bath and shower, usually sitting on the ‘bits’ you need to wash. Of course you could just fill the bath, but that just might deplete the hot water for the rest of the day. The toilet is situated behind a half wall, behind the bed and also in a window, again requiring that the curtains be closed. Not a room for those who are wanting their privacy in the privvy! It also defeats the object of the four large windows and the gorgeous views as all curtains have to be closed to be able to get privacy from the outside. There is also an outdoor bathroom. Out the front door and descending a short pathway, you arrive at another round thatched building with a wooden door. Inside is a tree trunk, a flushing loo, another tree trunk holding a large bucket for washing hands and further towards the back a shower. There is a half wall around one side for some privacy, but it certainly can be described as the ‘loo with the view’. While showering you may be lucky to see elephants or giraffes across the ravine! Marcel and I used this shower when we had no hot water and it actually was very nice. We just had to put a chair under the door knob in case anyone came to use the loo, but I guess that didn’t really matter as all they had to do was poke their head around to the side of the door to see us in all our glory!
One last cottage, further from the others, is a two bedroomed self-contained house with living room and a kitchen, where families can self-cater. During our time here, this has been rented for a full year with tenants coming and going at will. It has a lovely veranda and overlooks some beautiful countryside. It also serves as an emergency bathroom or shower, or even bedroom when the hot water goes out or the young volunteers want to ‘party’. Marcel and I turn a blind eye to this as we refuse to babysit 18 year olds, but we are waiting for the day when they leave their ‘empties’ or forget to clean up after themselves and the ‘tenant’ comes by.
In addition, the five bedroomed Main House sits atop the hill where spectacular views of Mount Kenya can be enjoyed throughout the day, with its snowy peaks peeping through the cloud in the early morning or shining like diamonds in the evening sun. This house has two wings. One has two bedrooms which are the owner’s quarters, and the other has three bedrooms all with baths with one having a sitting room. Balconies are in each bedroom and a sweeping patio connects the two wings, with large windows behind which is the dining and sitting room. A small kitchen is also tucked in the back. The house can be rented as a three bed, or a five bed with either full board or self-catering. It’s a lovely property, but again full of the owners’ artifacts and nick-nacks. The outdoor area is large, with a fire pit, but the landscaping has been neglected and the wooden furniture not maintained. In fact a guest broke the picnic bench due to the dry old wood. A beautiful property but it requires constant maintenance which unfortunately is lacking.
THE PARTY HOUSE:
The Party House is situated further down the hill, 46 steps to be precise, from the cottages. We climb them frequently throughout the day! Now that the kitchen has moved to the pool area it is even further for the food to travel in the evenings, and when we first came all the food was plated in the kitchen, put on trays and the waiters would hot foot it down the steps, with only paraffin lamps to light the way, and duly serve the food at the dining table. Of course, the food was almost cold by this time, so now we have changed the layout to ‘family style buffet’ so the food can be put in large dishes and kept warmer, even though it still has to make the long journey. It truly is a ‘Moveable Feast’ every night! Needless to say, we have lost weight in the few weeks we have been here. There is a large welcoming fireplace in this building with soft comfy sofas, an extensive library where guests are encouraged to borrow books and invest some time in reading about the surrounding areas, the history of Africa, and arts and crafts of the tribal people. The coffee tables are full of books, ornaments and always fresh flowers from the garden. Beautiful, but alas, where can guests put their drinks? I’ve tried to re-arrange items to make the place functional for guests, but the owner comes down and puts everything back in its place.
A full bar can be accessed here with a wide range of gins being available. Pre-covid, the dinner guests would all sit around a large table to chat and eat and get to know one another, but at this time, we have to offer separate seating, which can be a challenge when all cottages are occupied. Every day we are instructing the waiters to carry the heavy tables 100 yards from the pool house, down the 46 steps to the dining room, and then the next morning taking them back to the pool area, where we have breakfasts and lunch. There are not enough tables to accommodate a full house in both areas, and in fact not enough cruet sets, wine glasses or bar equipment. Every day these items have to be transferred back and forth to each of the bars and dining areas. The house is decorated with artifacts which have been collected from around the world by the owners, and it feels like a bit of a museum. A telescope allows guests to check out the night sky on the large deck, which overlooks a green lawn below. The lawn butts up to the river which you can hear bubbling away, giving sustenance to those animals who are in need of water and on many occasions we see large bull elephants make their way down towards the water only to be greeted by an electrical fence, which if they touch, treats us to a big Arrrummph!. A large fig tree supports a cozy swing, and picnic tables can be utilized for lunch or afternoon tea, which we try to discourage, due to another 40 extra steps to navigate from the kitchen. Through a narrow opening in the trees you will find a tent! This serves as the massage parlor, where several types of massages are available to guests, on plein aire, alongside the stream. Joy is the masseuse and receives raving reviews, so I’ll be booking my spot as soon as the guests have left!
THE POOL HOUSE:
This is the newest addition to the property. It is a beautiful building built in the style of Coastal Kenya. The infinity pool is very tranquil, but very cold; solar power not yet in stalled. A large sweeping bar faces the conservancy where elephants and giraffes can be seen during ‘sundowners’. There is a sunken area with a large fireplace and a wooden deck beyond. Steps lead down below the infinity pool to a lawn area and several rooms underneath serve as food preparation rooms and dishwashing room. The kitchen is behind the bar area with a hatch for easy serving. A small gift shop and a couple of offices are situated near the main entrance, and off to one side of the bar, a set of stairs take you to a terrace along the roofline. Here you can stargaze, and see more spectacular views of Mount Kenya. Further along the terrace the view is, once again, of the conservancy opposite and this is definitely the best place to view the wildlife when it decides to grace us with its presence. It is a great area, alas there is no lighting here, so no meals can be served at night. We did attempt to serve a couple of small groups, and it actually worked well, but we had to scrape every nook and cranny to find candles, and the Askari (nightwatchmen) had to utilize every paraffin lamp they had. There is not enough liquor or wine to fully stock both bars, so again, bottles have to be transported down the steps when we serve dinner. The kitchen is smaller than the older one but there is a preparation room and a dishwashing room down the steps, underneath the pool area. The only trouble with this is that everything has to be carried out through the dining area; dirty plates going down to be washed, trash going out to the compost heap, food and ingredients coming up from the prep room, all out in the open for guests to see. I’m not sure who designed the whole building but it is the most dysfunctional restaurant operation I have ever seen. The bar is large, made of beautiful teak, and can seat about 12 people. Unfortunately, the owner insists that people sit on the inside of the bar so they can see the view. However, this does not work well for the barman who is trying to serve drinks, and she does not like the ‘working’ area of the bar to be untidy, but won’t allow a trash bin, or ‘tools’ required to mix cocktails to be on view….I’m at a loss as to why this would be the case. Where are the barmen supposed to work? Despite all these obstacle, the two barmen perform really well and they serve and produce cocktails and drinks with a smile. Personally, I get very frustrated at the whole thing and just instruct them to pour me a very liberal gin and tonic!
There is also a large stable area that house 15 horses, three donkeys that are used for transporting heavy items, two cows which are used for milk, and one calf with another on the way. There is a riding arena and also a large garden area where all the vegetables and herbs are grown for the kitchen. There are also beehives and a forgery and workshop where furniture for the common areas is made. Out of the 15 horses only 5 are fit for riding, others being old, lame or sick. The vegetable garden is a delight, but needs more work and I think there is a lot of produce that is not picked in time and they certainly do not freeze or pickle any of it. Something Marcel is going to help them with when we are not busy with guests. The food is good, but not exceptional. We are working on giving them new ideas and they are very eager to learn and try new recipes. Considering the equipment the chefs have to work with, they produce some lovely meals.
The whole lodge area has a calming, tranquil atmosphere, where you can really feel close to nature, from the numerous birds flitting around the garden, to the elephants and zebras roaming around on the hills. It is easy to see why people come for a long weekend to unwind. However, behind the scenes it can be chaotic, not through incompetence, but through lack of organization, lack of equipment and lack of thought with regard to logistics and efficiency of processes, and always at the whim of the owner!
Despite all the quirks and dysfunctionality of much of the operation, the staff, who are wonderful, always smiling, singing or laughing, we are enjoying our time here. Always up for a challenge, always looking for an adventure!
More to come!
Click on Photo Below to be taken to a Larger Gallery.