The pearl of Gilgil

Posted On 28th December 2016

Jevanjee gardens will be our meeting point (present yesterday) and just like I have become accustomed to, driver Mwangi will be on time. To pass time as he waits, he will dust his already spotless vehicle. I will be co-ordinating my team of wanderlusts remotely and I bet that Kishi and Adi will arrive first. Of timings, Stellar and David, I reckon, will be last to arrive and Morris will somewhat break his stride and make it among the top five. Moving on, Williams will be first to question and drive conversation around the secret destination they signed up for is. It will not be a secret any longer now that all will have had eureka moments reading the sides of the touring cruiser emblazoned with Kika Lodge and immediately proceed to surf its aptness.

I will catch up with the gang on the Nairobi-Nakuru highway and after catching up banter, talk will digress to why I opted for a getaway that is bound to be chilly at this time of the year and if she (Kika Lodge) is up to scratch for the Sh8, 500 per single rate, and importantly if she stocks individual nuts and bolts (read choice drinks). I will ask them to trust my judgement and expectedly they will get me worked up with a rendition of how I lost ‘chairmanship’ on a previous expedition. In a jolly and a rather noisy mood, we will arrive at the lodge perched on a hill to a warm reception from its sales manager Judy. 

Our exact location coordinates are 0° 13' 0" South, 36° 16' 0" East; west of the Gilgil River, which flows south to feed Lake Naivasha. More than anything else, our location is synonymous with the term white highlands and the infamy of the Happy Valley set who settled here lived during the 1920s - 1940s. Relics of this age remain even as this town takes up what is a more affable character. The town hosts two major barracks, the Gilgil barracks (located about 1 km from the Gilgil town centre on the old Gilgil - Nakuru road) and the Kenyatta Barracks (located about 2 km along the main Gilgil-Nyahururu road). According to Wikipedia, the latter barracks is also known as Westcom or Western Command. The Gilgil barracks is home to the 5th Kenya Rifles (Kenya Army Infantry) also known as "the fighting five", while the Kenyatta Barracks is home to Kenya's only airborne battalion, the 20 Para and also home to the 66 Artillery brigade, the 76 Armoured Recce Battalion and the 1st Mortar Battalion. Closer to the lodge is Pembroke House, one of the oldest prep schools in the country. The institution is named after Pembroke College, Cambridge, attended by its founding Headmaster, Harold Turner who worked briefly with the East African Standard, the front runner of this fine publication before later establishing the school in 1927. The school has been a charitable trust since 1959, meaning that all income is re-invested into the improvement of education standards.

Last night, just like I did a few weeks back on my recce visit, I stepped out of my tented cottage in my bathrobes through the zippable canvas flaps for a whiff of Gilgil’s night air. Three shiny lights to the left skirted by one dim one, where the farm house with three horses grazed by day, shine. To the right, a building from which mugithi tunes belted from slash the foggy night. Lungs full, I walk back into the tent with wood floor finishing and tuck into a warm hug of the tinted mahogany bed. Hot water bottles and an electric heater numb out the cold and before I ebb away, I cannot help but adore the workmanship and practicability of this structure. Unlike regular tents, the canvas is stretched tight to become one with the cream-coloured stone walls that make for the bathroom section of the en suite bathrooms finished by mazeras a stone floor that boasts both a shower and a bath. The same applies to the front section that consents to panoramic views of the expanse through the seven safari-green shadow netted ‘windows’ or on the raised viewing decks further on. Catching the warm sunrise is a must do if only you can detach yourself from the innocent embrace of the duvet.  

At brunch, served at the homey club house’s dining area, we are discussing among other things this article, how last night was a riot, and activities/ places of interest in the vicinity. We only had a night here and because everyone overslept, any visit has to be made on our way back to the capital. Head Barman Alex sure kept our glasses full and Chef Harrison was clearly showing off at the grill.
As we depart, David teases to feature the expedition’s party scene images in a gossip blog-expletives are hurled.

The archery range and climbing walls are under construction and no one is up for horseback riding. A trip out to Nakuru Is off our route back while there is not polo match at Manyatta Club. The community run Kigio Wildlife Conservancy near Gilgil town is a major contender where we hope for glimpses of the endangered colobus monkeys and Rothschild's giraffes as is a round of golf at the pocket-friendly nine-hole Gilgil Golf Club. Oddly enough, Gilgil War Cemetery signposted from the centre of the town containing 224 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, one First World War burial, and 31 non-war graves features in this list. 

Since the sun is out, however, a jaunt to Lake Elementaita to savour its beautiful soda shoreline that is often fringed in rainbow shades, thanks to hundreds of brilliant flamingos (when the water level’s low), breeding pelicans and more than 400 other bird species wins the day. Of particular interest will be the western side of the lake where the team will revel in improvised pedicures in the shallow, barely big enough to soak both feet, volcanic pools. From here, the Kariandusi archaeological site signposted off the A104 highway and set two kilometres to the East Side of Lake Elementaita will also be possible. It was here in the 1920s that Dr Leakey, a renowned palaeontologist, concluded was a factory site of the Acheulian period after numerous collections of specimens were found lying in the Kariandusi riverbed. Two excavation sites are preserved and two galleries display a brief history of early human life.