The moon shines through the round glass window and bathes me in silver light. Looking up at the clear equatorial sky feels surreal, like being in a planetarium with stars and planets shining through a display.
But I am in a stone bungalow tucked away in the heart of Laikipia.
Before I know it, the sun is rising and we are on our way for an early morning game drive. We find herds of impala and zebra by a waterhole. There are also reticulated giraffe and a family of elephants from the bull to the calves nearby. The previous day many of these animals sauntered close to the fence, lining the main road to give us a free preview of the wildlife at El Karama Eco Lodge, arguably the best kept secret in Laikipia.
“El Karama means a treasured possession or an answered prayer,” says Sophie Grant later as she shows us around the cattle ranch where livestock co-exist with wildlife. It is an appropriate name given that the lay of land with its valleys and hills covered by an assortment of trees and grass. The main lounge also serves as the dining area and overlooks River Ewaso Nyiro — the lifeblood of the northern dry lands.
In the open-faced lounge built with local stone and thatched roof everything appears to be some form of art; from the cushions on the custom-made sofas, hand-painted with images of local beetles to the mistress’ paintings on canvas that grace the walls. Sophie’s mother-in-law, Lavinia Grant, in her seventies, is the artist behind the different creations.
The Ewaso eco-system stretches across Maralal to Mount Kenya and covers 40,000 square kilometers. The migration of thousands of elephants through it helps in rejuvenating the land, by turning the forest into grasslands where browsers can thrive. With time (up to a century) the forest regenerates in time for the elephants to return and the cycle continues.
The wild dogs are nowhere to be seen on our game drives but the endemic Laikipia hartebeest, Silver-back jackals, dikidiks and various birds, abound.
In line with being an eco-lodge everything at El Karama is done with the environment in mind.
“The lodge has been a labour of love for my husband and our team,” says Sophie. “Many of the staff were involved in every stage of the building and continue to be a part of it as we consolidate the infrastructure over time. Our central ethos is to build and operate using organic materials as much as possible and with as little negative impact on the environment. Our six cottages are built using fallen wood including Acacia nilotica and yellow fever, working with the unique curves and waves that need minimal cutting and shaping to exude character.”
To counteract Laikipia’s hot days is the eco swimming pool. The lodge uses 100 per cent solar electricity to power not only the pool’s pump, but for everything else including lighting and charging points and powering heavier duty appliances like fridges and freezers. That is not all. In the water-stressed area, rain is harvested using a combination of water capture and water storage.
In addition, all the grey water is moved through a natural underground filtering system using stones and reeds before it re-enters the eco-system. Drinking water is harvested off the roofs, boiled and filtered to make it safe for drinking. The glasses are cut from wine bottles by local fundi and empty wine bottles from the bar are reused as water bottles thus doing away with plastic. Guests are asked to take their empty plastic bottles with them.
“The heart of our attitude is to use what we have,” Sophie concludes. It all comes down to managing waste with a minimum negative impact on the environment and not treating the earth as a dumpsite.
It is an easy one-hour drive from Nayuki to El Karama ranch where the lodge is situated. There is a small airstrip in Nanyuki.
El Karama offers accommodation for up to 20 people in either bandas or cottages, some of which are ideal for families with children.
There is also a self-catering option. Those who want to experience the great outdoors can stay at the simple riverside campsite.
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