Unlikely culinary treat in MagadiThursday April 13 2023
How far would you travel for a good meal? The BDLife recently wafted 90 kilometres southwest of Nairobi into the southern Great Rift Valley famous for being the host of the pre-historic site of Olorgesailie and the trona-rich Lake Magadi following the promise of a praiseworthy meal.
To be totally honest, I was not too excited about the unforgiving sun. This random weekend outing, however, ticked some good boxes with intimations of not only a change of scenery but also dangled a lacing of adventure and good company.
As it would turn out, the rains turned the hills that clad the winding Magadi Road from Kiserian into a rich green ensuring that the drive down was rather pleasurable save for the discriminating humidity.
Kiserian has the last official pump so woe unto you if you choose to go past this town without enough fuel or any other convenient supplies for that matter.
The destination was Kwenia, accessed 14 kilometres after taking the left turn off the tarmac at the Kamukuru signpost. Mounds of piled rock marked with white paint will lead you right to camp and while most vehicle moulds will carry you there, I recommend a raised set of wheels coupled with an early start to avoid any need for speeding. One unlucky hatchback that attempted to pace a convoy of big boys learned the hard way and ended up soaking the sand with its dusky guts.
Ammodump Kwenia Camp is named after Kwenia, a place marked by massive cliffs and intimidating valleys. I heard one person say it means a place of laughter in Maa language but I suggest you confirm that assertion with your Maasai contacts.
What I am certain though is that the first bit ‘Ammodump’ is reflective of the fact that this outdoor activity haven runs an archery and shooting range open to the public. Should you be unlucky enough to miss any game en route, the first human faces you are likely to encounter are those of the guards manning the two barriers to camp.
You are also most likely to be welcomed by radio-rocking, incongruously fair-skinned, elements considered, Maureen Wangeci, who runs the establishment or Diana Muthoni and Joan Ng’endo at the reception. Together with at least 30 other staff, they help keep this camp in the middle of nowhere hospitable.
The fairly young trees that dot the grounds give away the age of this hospitality enterprise that broke ground in 2018 and launched as the Covid pandemic raged. The gift from the heavens has veiled all signs of drought. The bougainvillea at the heart of the compound has flowered and birds sing incessantly. Even angry wind gusts that I am told sweep the valley hard in the evenings are still.
Accommodation with a view of the undulating landscape is ‘glamping’ in comfortable tents niftily kept cool by makuti (reeds) thatching. A lot of work has gone into the ablution block even as Wangeci points out ongoing works to bring on ensuite shelters to cater to elderly guests that have been calling for convenience.
In the pipeline is a swimming pool that everyone agrees will be a welcome relief given the soaring temperature the area records. The woven makuti covers most of the other structures that include a gym, observation deck, as well as the central mess that comes with an aviary where six African Grey parrots compete for guests’ attention.
“The next time you visit, our main dining area will also be complete,” Wangeci says.
Speaking of dining, I had packed a bento (the Japanese iteration of a single-portion take-out or home-packed meal) for my lunch so resident Chef Rao only first got to impress at dinner. And impress he did with the meanest biryani I have savoured in a long time.
Wangeci said the meal experience is core to the operation as her husband’s only condition if he was to partner in the Kwenia dream was a worthy food experience. To make this happen, Chef Rao packed his spices and left Pakistan for Kenya.
Flavoursome food rich in seasoning, thus was a constant with the other highlight being the chicken korma paired with naan bread served on the second night of my stay. In case you are wondering, korma, originally spelt Quorema or kurma, is a classic North-Indian dish with a mild taste and rich yellow colour that was a favourite of the Moghul emperors. It consists of meat or vegetables braised with yoghurt, ginger, coconut milk, whole black cardamom, and coriander.
To keep up with the no-fattening programme, visitors to the camp are encouraged to explore their surroundings on foot or a bicycle. You can also wander or engage in agro-tourism at the expansive farm that's part of the establishment at the foot of Kwenia cliff that grows a variety of fruit and vegetables including okra, watermelon, and pumpkin. Bet you did not know of the seasonal lake that is Kwenia.
Those keen on an adrenaline rush can test their mettle on the range. While this is a must-do, acquaint yourself with the rules beforehand to avoid a wasted trip. Booze and bullets, for instance, don’t mix.
It is a birds’ paradise here and you will encounter different species happily chirping away in their colours and sounds. The unlikely stars, however, are the undertakers of Amboseli and Mara ecosystems and falcons who breed and nest on the precarious Kwenia Cliff, approximately 140 metres high.
Long-distance travellers Amur Falcons are also a regular act at Kwenia – as is the endangered Steppe Eagle from Russia. The Amur Falcon breed in China in the Amur Valley and flies four days and four nights continuously over the Indian Ocean.
Of concern is the Ruppell's Vulture that was formerly distributed throughout Kenya in healthy numbers doing the important job of cleaning up rotting carcasses and ridding our landscapes of certain diseases and, let's face it, some pretty disgusting smells is listed as Critically Endangered.
Current studies show that there are declines in both the range and numbers of various vulture species as a result of compound threats, including poisoning and change in land-use practices. Considering the size of the Kwenia colony, the site may act as an important stronghold for Ruppell's Vultures in Southern Kenya and Northern Tanzania.
It is for this reason that the community at Kwenia has established a community wildlife sanctuary of 12,600 hectares along the 15-kilometre stretch of cliff habitat favoured by breeding vultures and falcons with a plan to increase its size in the future.
While you might miss their presence as they forage for carrion during the day, you are, however, assured of their presence thanks to the white plaster uric acid-rich droppings splattered on the cliff walls.
Be sure to catch them as they set out in the morning taking advantage of the energy-saving thermals - currents of warm air - to help them glide almost effortlessly for long periods, alternating between soaring and slow flapping of their wings or when they return to perch at dusk.
I came out wondering why anyone would want to live in what is a seemingly barren country but as the end of my trip neared, I found it hard to leave its simple bounty.
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