Memories of pink and white salt lakes
Memories of pink and white salt lakes
It has been three years since I was in sun-hugging Magadi where the memories of its pink and white salt lakes still serenade me on down days. I was back only this time going a little further. My destination was the Olkiramatian Group Ranch located in the North West part of the Magadi division of Kajiado district.
It covers an area of 21,612 hectares and is reportedly the most profitable of the 16 Kenyan group ranches. It borders Oldonyio Nyokie group ranch to the north and Magadi soda company concession area. To the south Olkiramatian is bordered by the Shompole group ranch and to the west by the Nguruman escarpment. Its life source is the Southern Ewaso Ng'iro (Brown River) that forms an important source of water for both livestock and wildlife especially in the dry season.
I highly recommended that one organise for a transfers from a reliable agent or self-drive in an off-roader to the ranch. While public transport is irregularly available, only to Magadi, it is only suited for the strictly no frills adventurer.The journey should take approximately five hours from Nairobi. I also recommend a three-night long visit if one is to fully sample the magic of the eco-system. In my case, I booked two nights at the boutique Lentorre Lodge, the only lodge on in the Olkiramatian-Shompole area.
I had a taxi cart me to Magadi town through Kiserian town. From Kiserian, we carried on straight down the Magadi Road towards Corner Baridi where we stopped for Nyama Choma lunch whilst taking in the Ngong Hills. After the weighty meal, we were back on the road for approximately 80 kilometres until we reached Magadi town.
At Magadi town we signed the mandatory visitor’s book at the security barrier before crossing some soda pans dotted with flamingos. When the Magadi factory came into view, we bore left onto a tarmacked road that led us to our last pit-stop; the Magadi Club House where my host, general manager and head guide of Lentorre, Peter Kiyaa waited.
I have to mention that meeting Kiiya, a legend in his own right, is a big deal. For starters he is one of the 18 guides to be awarded the gold rating by Kenya Professional Safari Guides Association, an examining body whose aim is to improve the quality of Driver Guides for the Kenya tourist industry. Peter was also the long-time chair of the Il Ngwesi Community Conservation Trust – a world renowned community wildlife conservation trust and remains an elder of the Council of Elders of the Northern Rangelands Trust. It is in his able hands that I was escorted to Lentorre on a journey that doubled up as a game drive.
Formerly known as Sampu Camp, Lentorre is a gem built on a spur overlooking a vast untouched wilderness with thriving umbrella thorn trees and the colourful toothbrush trees. It comprises of four units with double or twin bed configurations and two family units. Each stand-alone unit embraces the surrounding bush opening up to the warm African breeze with an un-spoilt view of the wilderness looking down to the ever changing shades of Mt Shompole.
No two rooms are the same, each having been built into the local topography to preserve the existing acacia forest that surrounds the lodge. There exists a similarity though-each room has its own dedicated plunge pool and the most luxurious of en-suite bathrooms. Hot and cold water feed power showers and luxurious mosaic bathtubs open directly into the bush. Behind the lodge runs the perennial spring of Lentorre, after which the lodge is named, which provides year round sustenance for the diverse wildlife that inhabits the Olkiramatian Conservancy.
This are the true hosts of Lentorre, however, on whose territory I occupied for a brief moment. Apart from the private game drives-we did not run into any competing tour vehicles-it was refreshing seeing different wildlife around camp. I even dared sit in Lentorre’s blind down by the waterhole holding my breath for one or more of the 65 resident lions, including the current King of Lentorre: Lendapp (“he of the big feet” in Maa), to quench their thirst or a solitary leopard to make my heart flutter appearing out of nowhere to lap at the cool water.
It was not always like this, at least in the recent past. At the turn of the century, according to Kiiya, the Olkiramatian lands were devoid of major carnivores, the sounds of the night but a memory. Realising that a part of their heritage could be lost forever the Maasai elders determined to divide their land to ensure that their community development would not be at the cost of their wildlife. A community conservation project was born.
For centuries the Maasai had lived a nomadic lifestyle moving with the rains to find fresh pasture for their cattle in tune with the movement of the wildlife. Knowing that such movement had worked for centuries the Olkiramatian Maasai re-initiated their traditional nomadic lifestyle migrating from one side of the Ewaso Nyiro River (which forms the boundary of the conservation area) to the other in tune with the bi-annual rains.
A buffer zone was setup along the core conservation area providing a break between the community and the core conservancy. The community movement keeps the grasslands along the Ewaso Nyiro River open and provides the game (and the now numerous predators) with sufficient room to migrate in tune with the community, reducing the usual human wildlife conflict associated with community conservation areas.
The model has proved to be one of the few truly successful community conservation initiatives in Kenya leading to a lion density second only to the Maasai Mara. Olkiramatian conservancy is well advanced because her game scouts are equipped with radio communication and land cruisers for patrols.
Renowned Kenyan cinematographer Anna Campbell has produced a short film on the success of the model – Shall We Dance. Due to the efforts of the Olkiramatian Maasai the conservation area is reputed to be the only place in Kenya which has had a consistently growing lion population from the turn of the century.
Top activities to do in Lentorre
Because the area has little not no light pollution, star gazing is very highly rated in the area. During the full moon, there is definitely no need for a light to be on in camp! For those who are interested, Lentorre can organise a professional telescope and an astronomer to be in camp and to set up in the evenings in camp or out in the bush, and give talks about the sky above.
· Fly camping
Given the amount of areas to see, and the fact that you are in an area exclusively, the option to fly camp out in the bush is there for guests. Options vary from a fly camp close to the Lodge that the group can be split, or an excursion to Lake Magadi to sleep on the banks of the lake and wake up to the sunrise and photograph Flamingo, to a fly camp along the river with a bonfire with the very same crew taking care of you at the Lodge.
Using choppers to explore the area is a fantastic way to spend a day, with scenic flights through the Loita hills and waterfalls, Lake Natron with a champagne sundowner, a hot springs visit, and back to the lodge for a shower.
· The Waterhole?
As an arid area, fresh water is a sought after commodity in most areas, and very much so in Olkirimatian. Lentorre have maintained a waterhole in front of the bar/ dinner area of the lodge for a few years now and the results have been fantastic with the waterhole being visited almost daily by large troops of Baboons, Impala, Giraffe, Zebra, Lion, Leopard, Spotted Hyena, and most recently, Elephant as well as they get used to feeling safe in the area. The waterhole also attract on occasion some animals that are seldom seen on safari such as Porcupine, Aardwolf and Striped Hyena.
By the numbers:
Olkiramatian Group Ranch size: 21,612 hectares
Shompole Group Ranch size: 62,700 hectares
Nguruman Escarpment along which Shompole Conservancy is located: Escarpment. 50 kilometres long and elongated in N-W direction. Its northern edge approximately 120 km southwest of Nairobi, while the southern edge is near the Tanzanian border, at the north-western corner of Lake Natron.
Number of resident lions in the two ranches: 65