Old colonial lodge gets new lease of life in Maralal

Maralal Safari Lodge chalets.

Maralal Safari Lodge chalets.

It’s a busy place: the traffic just keeps coming in. But it’s not the kind of traffic one can get bored of.

The zebras that Maralal is famous for come to the water hole, drink, step into the water, bring their new-born foals and then wander away into the sanctuary. Warthogs and elands graze nearby.

The entire afternoon, there could be more than 200 animals coming to this water hole that is the magnet of Maralal Safari Lodge.

The lodge is synonymous with Maralal town that lies east of Loroghi Plateau.

It’s a busy market town for the locals. Other than that, the town without a single tarmac road charms visitors with its zebras wandering around the suburbs and its many attractions like the magical mist forests of Kirisia Hills and the deep valley at Malasso.

“Until two months ago, there was not a single wild animal coming to the water hole,” remarks Humperdinck Jackman (he claims to be the only one in the world with that name. His mother, a ballerina, named him after one of the characters in a fairy tale that she performed in).

Jack (as people call him) arrived in his Land Rover in Maralal having driven from England and decided to set up home here.

Gentle walk uphill

The area was overgrazed and the old lodge on the edge of the forest was completely derelict after seven years of closure.

“This is one of the oldest surviving safari lodges of the colonial era in northern Kenya with its original brass hinges,” enthuses Jack.

A seasoned traveler and a former sailing boat captain who has been through 66 countries, he was captivated by the old cedar styled lodge with its Swiss-log chalets built by the Royal Engineers and opened in 1962.

It took weeks to refurbish and replace the lights and every piece of wiring to open on New Year’s Eve.

“We have zorillas and aardvarks coming out at night, as well as colobus monkeys, genets and leopards. My dream is to see the elephants migrating through the sanctuary (crossing between Mathews Range and Kirisia Hills),” continues Jack, adding that the last migration happened in 2001.

Bringing back the big animals means they have to feel safe. In response to that, Jack and his colleagues set up Africality – a charity to employ wildlife rangers to safeguard and secure the passage for them.

The night is freezing but there’s a flaming log fire in our log cabin and the night passes.

After breakfast with the zebras and monkeys, Gabriel Lemalasie guides us up Nomotio Hill walking past the chalets and the old forest trees decked with lichen. It’s a gentle walk uphill with Maralal town coming into view.

“Nomotio means pots in Samburu. We think the name comes from the blacksmiths who worked in this area, making spears and pots.”

We step past the aardvark dens and trees with so many medicinal uses, climb up the many rock kopjes cracked by the blazing sun and stop at a leopard lair under the kopjes. A raptor soars in the blue sky.

Hellgate Leatoro, the eland specialist and one of the sanctuary rangers, stops us and points to an eland with its foal.

“The foal was born early morning on a farm and the mother left as people began to wake up. Two Samburu schoolboys found the foal and brought it to us,” narrates Lemalasie.

For Lemalasie this is a success story because a few months ago, this would not have happened.

By now, we’re on the summit of the hill with a 360-degree view. In front of us are the Kirisia Hills and further back, the faint blue stretch of the Mathews Range. The plains below stretch to Laikipia and beyond.

“My dream is to see the elephants, giraffes and lions return to the sanctuary,” remarks Lemalasie.



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