Sunday, 9 September 2012

Naro Moru: A Weekend Out In The Wild

Lately, I have been on the lookout for interesting places to go to and interesting activities one can take part  in not-so-far-away from Nairobi, the capital. So when I heard about the third edition of Party In The Wild at Naro Moru River Lodge, my interest was piqued.

This is the third edition of the event. Early in the year, in April, I was invited by a friend to PITW II, the second edition. The event was hosted at Laikipia Place, a simple yet beautiful camp-site located at the banks of a river, somewhere on the way to Mt. Kenya. I liked the people and the place enough to register and pay for the third edition.
Picturesque - Naro Moru River Lodge

Unlike PITW II that lasted one night and two days, PITW III is set to last for  two nights and three days. It is also more expensive. For an all-round experience, including transportation, meals and camping, PIT III would have set you back a cool Kshs. 12,000/- Though pricy, I am determined to be part of it.

Why, you may ask? First, this event is unique. It offers an opportunity to experience something different in a nice and beautiful setting. Secondly, it provides new and fresh content for my blog. I am determined to nurture it and to see it (the blog) grow.

Wild ones

My quest for content this time round takes us to the little sleepy market town of Naro Moru that offers its name to the the beautiful lodge where we will be pitching tent, for the weekend. By 'we', I am referring to a bus-load of us who have taken the two and a half  hour trip from Nairobi.

Wild Ones - The girls show off their tees
The Wild Ones- that's us. There are more than a dozen of us. Don't be deceived by the name.This is a mature crowd, and most of the people here are professionals who are just out to have a good time. For most, this is the first time attending this event. Then there are a handful of us who were there for the previous edition.

For the party that first evening, we are a little too overdressed. The reason we are dressed warmly is because we are out, at a very high altitude (6,505 feet, to be precise),  right under the clear sky and the stars.

This particular party has all the makings of a great party. The music is good and the crowd is great. What makes it different though is the unique concept of the whole event, dubbed Party In The Wild (PITW). It combines travel, camping and entertainment.

Wild Ones - The guys show off their tees
The setting is such that you can experience the thrill of camping under the stars while at the same time listening and dancing to good music, straight from the DJ's decks. Imagine dancing to your best dancehall jam one moment, and the next moment, having to retire to your tent, only a few metres away from the 'dancefloor'.

The event is the brainchild of Richie Sobayeni, a young banker who is who is deeply in love with Nanyuki, his hometown. He came up with the idea in an effort to try and promote the town for its amazing weather, scenary and local tourist attractions.

Based on the uniqueness of the idea, I would bet my money that this event will some day make it to must-attend events in Nanyuki's (and by extension Nairobi's) social calendar. It is my hope that that will be sooner rather than later.

Visible through the morning mist
It is about 8.00 am on Saturday morning. The party on Friday evening was awesome. I am woken up by conversation and laughter from outside the tent. I listen to the conversation and someone cracks a joke. There is more laughter. I chuckle and unzip my sleeping bag. It takes a few more minutes however before I finally unzip my tent and I am out of the tent.

My beloved tent
Beautiful Mt. Kenya
The sight that welcomes me is beautiful. Standing outside my tent, I can make out the silhouette of the majestic Mt. Kenya that is barely visible through the morning mist. I savour the sight for a moment. As I turn I can see the source of the laughter.  Marie and Kenny who look bubbly and energetic at this time of the mornin, and a third person, are standing and chatting next to the ashes - all that is left from the bonfire yesterday night.

I walk towards this group and on the way, I can see the carnage from the previous night. There are bottles and cans of liqueur everywhere. The 'dancefloor', the grass on the ground in front of the deejaying unit, is not green anymore. All the dancing the previous night has taken a toll on it, turning it brown.
The aftermath - An empty bottle of Jack Daniels

Other than the four of us, everyone else seems to be sound asleep. The tents, whose fabric is shaking lightly in the wind, betrays little about the activities of the previous night. The music having died down in the wee hours of the morning, has somewhat turned the ambiance of this place around.

Apart from the chatter from the trio, it is quiet.  You can hear the howl of the wind and birds chirping. The weather is warm and the sky is clear. This is a beautiful morning and there is something about nature, about this place, that is soothing to the soul. It is surreal.

It takes a while before there is visible activity in the campsite as people wake up and head for the wash rooms for a shower. After a warm shower, I have breakfast comprising a sausage, an egg, toast and coffee. I then lie down to bask in the rays of the sun as we wait to head out into Nanyuki.

Day out in Nanyuki

It is just past 11.30 am when we leave the campsite. Our next destination is Sportsmans' Arms Hotel in Nanyuki town, which is just about 27 kilometres away. According to the organisers, we are going to have a pool- party. I have carried my swimming trunks and my goggles and I am excited about the prospects of swimming and basking under the sun.

This is my  second visit to Sportsman's Arms Hotel. It is a decent, fairly priced three-star hotel and it is one of the nicer and affordable hotels in Nanyuki. It has been recently expanded and has a nice swimming pool that I particularly like because it is 'fast.' This time round however, for some reason, the water is not too clear. Nonetheless, I enjoy my swim immensely.

The Sportsman's Arms Hotel swimming pool - a fast pool
By the time we make it back to the campsite,  I am exhausted. On the way back, I fall asleep in the car. I am still sleepy when we arrive. Since there is a party this evening as well, my intention is to take a quick nap, freshen up and have dinner in time for the party. I grab my mattress from my tent and place it at a nice spot under the sun and lie down.

Soon however, Dan, an acquaintance I met at PITW II, joins me and before we know it, my little quiet spot has turned out to be the gathering point for Wild Ones who are enjoying their tipple and a little good-natured chat. Soon, there is music blaring from the speakers and for the second time in as many nights, the party continues well into the night.

largely private affair

After a long evening, I wake up on Sunday morning feeling surprisingly rested. Last evening, I got to talk to  my fellow Wild Ones and I got to know a few people a little better.  I had an interesting evening and just before I went to the tent, I had a quiet time lying by the bonfire, starring at the stars.

If there is something that I have learnt travelling in groups over the years, it is this: while the organisers may do their best to plan your experience, whether on not you actually derive satisfaction out of it is a different affair.

Simply put, happiness, in this case satisfaction, is a largely private affair. It is not a team effort. Prior to departure, I had therefore taken the liberty to do my groundwork and research about Naro Moru Country Lodge.

From the hotel's website, it looks like an old, yet decent place. Though a popular tourist spot, I got the feeling that it is not your typical tourist trap. It has character to it, what with the well-tended lawns, the rustic cabins and a swimming pool (albeit a tiny one) with a great view.

I had also taken a peek at guests comments from TripAdvisor, the popular travel site. According to one review, the lodge offers mountain bikes for hire. Given the opportunity, after my last experience in the Mara (See Cycling Safari Across the Mara) I am determined to give cycling a shot while there.

After breakfast, I walk to the lodge which is about 500 metres away from the campsite, with the intention of hiring a bike for a couple of hours. While in Nairobi, I once  tried to hire a bicycle and it was a daunting task. When I eventually found one, the asking price was Kshs. 4,000/- per day. As a result, going into this, I have no illusions about the cost.

Thankfully, the price is affordable. The asking price is Kshs. 500 per hour, which translates to Kshs. 1,500/- for the three hours I would like to have the bicycle. Being a typical Kenyan, I negotiate for a discount and the gentleman in charge is happy to extend a Kshs. 300/- discount. I find this to be a good deal.

Big Attraction

I don't have a guide and there is no standard cycling route to follow. At first, I follow the familiar route to the camp-site  But just before the road branches into the campsite, it splits. The signage along the route indicates that there are cottages ahead. I follow this route.

A few minutes later, I get there. The cottages have interesting names such as Gorges, Hinde and Honel. A little disappointed with how short the route is, I continue further on and a few metres later, after manoeuvring through the curves in the bushy thicket, I come face to face with River Naro Moru, for the first time.

Stocked with trout three or four times a year, the river is a big attraction for trout fishing enthusiasts.With it's source at the Lewis Glacier on Mt. Kenya, the river is cold, as I will discover later when my bicycle gets stuck in the river and I have to wade across it, ankle deep.

Having come to the end of the path, and with nowhere else to go, I turn back and cycle slowly the same way I came, in the opposite direction. At the lodge, I had been told that I am allowed to cycle out of the property so I take this opportunity to ride into town where I hope to explore the town and restock my stock of Tusker.

On both accounts, I am disappointed. The town is slow and sleepy, with very little to offer. Not even my beloved Tusker is available. So I settle for a cold coke which is very refreshing at this time of the morning. As I cycle back, I see a railway track. Curious and in search of a little adventure, I follow the track.

Natural, laid-back and charming
As it turns out, cycling along the track and later along a weather-beaten back-routes will give me an intimate interaction with this quiet town that will make me fall in love with this place. If you love scenic views and wide open spaces, you will certainly love Naro Moru.

She is a natural, at once laid-back and charming, beautiful and enchanting. Her beauty is in her soul: the cold winding river, the well manicured lawns at the lodge and the quiet trails that are perfect for a stroll or a leisurely ride on a mountain bike. This is for me is the perfect get-away.

Hours later, after cycling endlessly, getting stuck in the river and having to remove my shoes to make it across, and after having seen a very beautiful scenery, I feel I have had enough. I don't fancy the prospects of having to pay an extra coin so I rush back to the lodge. I am there 10 minutes before my time is up.

At the lodge, I chat with Winnie the receptionist. She is friendly and is kind enough to give me brochures of the property. From there, I head to the Point Lenana Bar where over a glass of Guinness mixed with coke, I indulge Kwendo, the barman. He is a friendly fellow from Western Kenya who is keen to engage me in politics from that part of the world.

Great ambiance

The prices at the bar are not exorbitant. The beer costs Kshs. 250 (I am not too sure. It must be the effect of cycling in the sun) while the soda cost Kshs. 70. Even though I am the only person there, the ambiance is great. I get the feeling that it must be a lot better when there are people in the evening and when a fire is lit at the fireplace.

There are shirts hung along the rafters, all around the bar. On the shirts, the former wearers have scribbled their names as well as the year when they climbed the mountain, testament to the sweat, effort and sacrifice it took to scale one of Africa's tallest mountains.

A short tour around the lodge reveals a property  that is dated, yet one whose warmth hospitality can be felt even after so many years. The hotel was constructed in in 1949. It's founder, Sir Rufus Klarwill is also credited with coming up with the Naro Moru Route, one of the most scenic Mt. Kenya routes.

I look at my watch and realise that time has gone pretty fast. By now, the rest of the team that had been scheduled to go down to the riverbank, must be back to the campsite. Sure enough, when I get there, people are cooling off under the sun, as we prepare to have our lunch and travel back to Nairobi

Frankly speaking, after a weekend out in Naro Moru, I am not too eager to come back to the city. Who would ever have thought that coming home would be such a bad thing? A few hours later, as we say goodbye to Naro Moru, I am sad to leave but happy in the knowledge that one day soon, I will go back again to the place I fell in love with.

Do you know any interesting and unique event in Kenya, or just a place that is inspiring? Do share you story, I would be happy to be  a part of it and to share your story...
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