The Rift Valley is best seen in Kenya, so says the hotel guide. For this part of the trip, bookings were made at Lake Elmenteita Serena Lodge. It is a “hut/tent” style of lodge, designed to be the ultimate form of African “glamping”. Located on the conservancy of Baron Delamare, purchased in 1845, the hotel chain, Serena (owned by a famous Indian), opened its first lodging in 2011.
The lake is one of many in Kenya running north to south along the Great Rift Valley, dividing Kenya from Tanzania. It is an alkaline lake, high in acid as it is a deposit lake with no outlet to move the water but it is rich in algae and mineral. Therefore, few hippos are spotted there as they are fresh water animals.
The drive from Nairobi to the lake is about 2 hours on a good day and almost 3 with traffic. The road was told to me that it is much better than it has been in years, though 1 (sometimes 2) lane can be tight and slow if you’re behind a petrol car going slowly due to the weight of the oil. Sometimes, you’ll pass bikers with heavy loads on their backs or matatu caravan stopping and picking up passengers along the highway.
Matatus are private vans in Kenya. They remind me of the Chinatown buses. In the older days, matatus used to be packed thickly with passengers and heavy load tied above the caravan. Often, there were many accidents where the caravan would tip over a ravine or sorts, killing everyone on board. There are now more safety security around the matatus but someone should really look into the black petrol emissions of these vans.
Upon arriving at Lake Elmenteita, you have to get through a secure gated fence, greeted by rangers with AK-101. It is an alarming sight until you find out about poachers shooting rangers, despite the fact that it is a conservation land. I think it’s worst when you find out that it’s the Baron Delamare’s own great grand nephew who is supposed to protect the land but is shooting the rangers. Though the rangers themselves aren’t as squeaky clean as they hunt and eat zebras off the land.
The guns are also used against wild animals on the land.
Winding through unpaved roads, rocks and rubbles scraping the underbelly of the Outlander, the Serena Lodge is below a small hill, with more rangers greeting you. At first glance, the lodge looks like a building with triangle-like roofs. It is only when you enter further do you realize the various “rooms” are actually tented. The reception greets you with a bottle of wine (non-alcoholic for non-lush) as you fill out some form and then taken to your lodge.
It is literally a luxury camp, boasting a huge king size bed enveloped in a mosquitos net, a bathroom with 2 shower head: rainfall shower head and a regular shower head. The water pressure is amazing. There is even a backdoor seating that faces the lake but thick trees and bushes block most of the view. It is indeed, a very glamorous “camping” experience.
The first day was recovery from the ride or maybe I was still experiencing jetlag. Bookings were made for additional activity, including lake-side breakfast, game hunting, and nature walk. There is also horse back riding, night game hunting, dinner by the lake, and sunset drinks, all with additional costs.
Converted to dollars, these shilling activities do cost up.
Lunch and dinner were quite a feast. All meals and drinks are included in the booking. The service at the lodge is exceptional. I felt like I was being treated at a Swiss hotel. They are all attentive, jovial, and ready to be at your service. I was pleasantly surprised.
Weather is oddly cold and hot. The humidity in the valley makes it hot but when the wind picks up, it gets immediately chilly. The local staff says it’s better when it rains, for it takes out the cold wind.
Perusing the property, an electric fence guards you from entering the “wild” zone. It is also to protect the residents from poachers, thieves, and possibly hungry animals. There is a viewing deck at the east end overlooking the lake, where you can see flamingoes and pelicans and even waterbucks in the distant.
If you chance to do the lakeside breakfast, you’ll get a private breakfast, served personally with a chef nearby and a server and a ranger or 2 nearby. The breakfast is beyond the electric gate. The table is mere feet away from the water. A black-necked stilt came by a few times.
When the booking was first made, I didn’t convert the price in my head until afterwards and thought, “omg, i can’t believe I just booked a $60 breakfast!” But now I can understand the price. The meal was almost “anything you can eat” so long as you booked the meal the night before. Champagne was also complimentary.
To make it a “better deal” (than it already was), I had asked if the ranger could walk us closer to the flamingoes. Indeed, they did! They walked us by the lake, telling a little bit about the surrounding nature, some of its history. They could even name many of the birds and animals around us. Apparently, during breakfast, a water buffalo had been eying nearby. And during the walk, in the thick brown acacia trees, a male waterbuck stared at us. I would never have seen them!
After the morning walk, we got on a game drive tour. If you have a car, you get a guide to take you for free, otherwise you can book with a driver at the lodge, which is extra costs.
It was a late start, about 10AM, thus many animals were seeking shelter from the sun. It does get very hot in the valley. It was about 2 hours of searching for animals but there were still many good shots of waterbucks (there was a baby waterbucks, which I called Bambi), elands, impalas, gazelles, zebras, water buffalos, pelicans, eagles, flamingos (there are 2 types. The greater of the flamingos have a distinct “S” shape neck and are taller while the lesser is more of a pink swan and also smaller). Flamingos were not as pink as there were less algae at the time of the year and also many of them were in the breeding season and their nests located further in the islands towards the hill, which the locals call “Delamare’s nose” (it is shaped like a man’s profile resting). There were some distant spotting a monkey and several blacksmith birds (they make the sound of a blacksmith hammering).
After the heated drive, I rested in the infinity pool. Almost all of Kenya does not have heated pool. It was freezing but much needed after the afternoon sun beating down on us.
Unfortunately, the high sun did not last long as 4pm arrived with heavy wind and rain. I wasn’t sure if staying in the glamping tents was a good idea but the storm came and went without much damage. The rain was a good for a lulling sleep until dinner, which of course, was wonderful. I definitely am sure I gained weight, despite doing my travel workouts.
Since only 2 days were booked, the lodging ended on Christmas Eve. On the drive back to Nairobi, there was a lot of traffic heading towards the Rift Valley. Many people were vacationing at the many different lodges and national parks around the area.
During the drive away and back to Nairobi, I was reminded of the poverty of the land. You come from a city with skyscrapers and decked out malls and luxury hotels and lodges and suddenly, you’re struck by how people live in make-shifts home out of junk, tarp, and some cement. The side of the roads are littered by people selling rhubarbs and fruits, wools and junk. You’ll even pass this “flea market” where bags of clothes laid out like body bags and people were rummaging through it. Is this were all our “un-bought clothes” go to? Are past seasoned clothes from the likes of Zara and H&M among the pile?
There also seemed to be a joke among people when one passes by several police officers that the police are “looking for Christmas bonus.” Not just officers but even the workers.
The sad thing is there’s a sign at one of the toll stating “You are now entering a corruption-free zone. Please do not give money to beggars.”
So the whole time driving from Nairobi, was I in the corruption zone? Or was I entering a corruption zone? Or was the toll area the only “corruption-free” zone?
Despite the glamour and awe of Lake Elmenteita Serena Lodge and the Rift Valley conservation, driving through Kenya made me feel guilty that I could afford this lifestyle, that I was swept into a mirage of sorts while the locals barely have enough to survive. Was I a bad person for enjoying luxury? Was I bad for not helping the unfortunate? Or is this the way of the world where the unfortunate must scrape their way out?
But the only way to see is that I am here to enjoy my life that I had the karma to be born into, worked hard for, and strove to make better. The most I can do is to help with local donations and make the world more aware of the poverty and corruption that co-exist.