Personal Finance

‘I turned my home into a hotel’

finance-pic1

Pikidi Gardens Hotel in Sakwa, Bondo. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • The main house is very spacious with three bedrooms, two lounges, a dining area, kitchen, and rooftop terrace, perfect for catching the sunrise.
  • Rural areas have been changing. There has been a lot of real estate growth.
  • Building a hotel in Sakwa, about six to eight hours from Nairobi by road, would have sounded like a far-fetched investment idea, a few years ago.

About 40 minutes from Bondo town, I am ushered into this beautiful home in Sakwa, right on the shores of Lake Victoria. Pikidi Gardens, near Liunda Beach, was once a family home but Dorothy Achieng’ turned it into a hotel, although that was not exactly the game plan.

“When we bought this land around 2015, it was for building our family home,” says Dorothy.

“As we did the construction and got to have a feel of living here, we thought the location was too beautiful to only keep it to our family of five. We started constructing the main house in February 2017 and moved by August 2018. At that time, it was habitable but not finished,” she adds.

In designing the house, Dorothy did not have to shop around for an architect since there were three in the family.

“After visiting the site, seeing its beautiful view of the lake, we asked all the architects in the family to come up with a sketch design that would also take into account the environmental challenges like the heat {because Bondo is known to be a hot region},” explains Dorothy.

Two architects came up with sketches. Her first-born son, Ted, was in his final year of university at the time, and his idea won. His architectural plan was airy and there was cross-ventilation everywhere in the house design.

“I had an office and we polished the plan there, then we got approvals from the county government and I brought it to site and had to ‘babysit’ the project till the end, and we have the house now,” she says.

Nestled in a bush

Designing and constructing the house, she says, was very easy because the builders followed the plan. Landscaping however was not easy because the land was nothing but thick bush.

“You could not even walk to the water because it was so bushy. To get the landscape to a point where you could even have terraces that lead to the lake was an uphill task. I had to work directly with the fundis every day, laying every stone, step, planter...everything. It was exciting but really tedious,” she says.

For building materials, they brought in terracotta tiles from CTM in Nairobi, and the exterior rubble stone walls were from the site itself and the nearby village. They asked villagers to collect what they had in their farms, and when the pile was big enough to transport, the family bought it.

The main house is very spacious with three bedrooms, two lounges, a dining area, kitchen, and rooftop terrace, perfect for catching the sunrise over their signature wet fry tilapia with ghee, brown ugali, and traditionally-prepared vegetables.

finance-pic2

Living room at Pikidi Gardens. PHOTO | POOL

“We first set up a campsite and we have tents. Right now, we have 12 tents that can accommodate 24 people,” she says.

One year ago, just before she opened her home to staying guests, she built three more detached units; two cottage rooms, and a family cottage which can house up to five people.

“My family is still based in Nairobi, and I’m the one who’s been on the ground to ensure that everything runs smoothly. I’ve been here permanently since the pandemic, and they {family members} come to visit,” she says.

New face in rural areas

Rural areas have been changing. There has been a lot of real estate growth— beautiful homes and apartment blocks where there used to be mud-and-grass thatched houses and small bungalows. In the rural areas, the main draw to the homestays is the unspoiled greenery which is increasingly becoming scarce in cities as trees are cleared to pave way for more and more construction.

In Sakwa, the incredible sunsets over the lake, a plethora of birds that fill the air with songs at dawn, and water which guests can even go swimming or fishing in, is a plus.

Building a hotel in Sakwa, about six to eight hours from Nairobi by road, would have sounded like a far-fetched investment idea, a few years ago.

“We started as a home so it works for us either way,” says Dorothy.

“After deciding to turn it into a hotel, we knew it would take a lot of marketing. What encourages us is that we get a lot of referrals and repeat customers. People get curious when they see it online. They think, ‘this place can’t be in Sakwa’...so they come to confirm that it exists and that we’ve actually built this in the middle of nowhere,” she says, adding that most of her guests are previous residents of Sakwa who now live in Nairobi and come to Pikidi when they are on holiday. Others have been from Rift Valley, especially Eldoret and Kericho.

Dorothy also organises excursions to Ndede Island, a small fishing village. The hotel charges range from Sh3,000 to Sh20,000 per night.

In Luo, the hotel’s name, Pikidi means water and rocks, which speaks to the beautiful topography of the area.

The decor in the house is distinctly African, and the family has plans to turn it into a little museum. In the living room, there are fishermen’s oars, brooms, calabashes as wall art, a nyatiti musical instrument propped under a window, traditional drums, and more items distinct to this part of Kenya.

She turned the home into a hotel one and half years ago but bookings were very low during the pandemic and still are. To keep her staff of seven workers busy, she engages them in other activities such as farming.

“A soon as people know there are such places in rural areas, then more can come and experience the wild beauty of our little spot by the lake,” Dorothy says.