Lifestyle

Discovering scenic Maralal

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(Left) Gazelles at the Maralal Wildlife Sanctuary and (right) tourists on a guided nature walk at the Maralal Safari Lodge and Wildlife Sanctuary in Samburu County. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU

Summary

  • The temperatures here can stretch to repressive highs during the day and unbearable lows at night, but one gets swift reprieve, thanks to the scenic view of the wild game and the cool breeze from the hilly terrain as you get into Maralal.

My four-day excursion to the little-hyped part of Kenya after a long and bouncy drive from Nairobi gets us to Maralal town, the gateway of Kenya’s north and the headquarters of Samburu County.

This northern town nestles in the heart of the Great Rift Valley 150 kilometres north of Nyahururu. The town can be accessed from Isiolo and southwest of Lake Baringo. There is a commuter bus transport daily from either direction.

The tarmac ends at Rumuruti where we make a stopover, to sample the delicacies this small town in Laikipia has to offer. The wet-fry goat meat prepared with ugali is most definitely something to sample.

Our four-wheel drive vehicle then takes on the dusty road, ushering us into this corner region nestled at the northern edge of the Mt Kenya moorlands.

The temperatures here can stretch to repressive highs during the day and unbearable lows at night, but one gets swift reprieve, thanks to the scenic view of the wild game and the cool breeze from the hilly terrain as you get into Maralal.

It is at Cheers Restaurant where we finally end our six hour-long journey. The rooms cost Sh3,500 only and an additional Sh1,000 for breakfast with free Internet connection.

The dusty and bumpy ride is soon forgotten, replaced by extremely beautiful landscape and wide assortment of wildlife. The locals are dressed in spectacular Samburu traditional attire.

Despite its extreme temperatures and raggedness, Maralal gives visitors a chance to experience a pragmatic approach to life in an area that remains fundamentally unspoilt since Independence.

It is at Kenyatta House, in what is known as the Runda of Maralal, the leafy suburbs of Samburu, that Independence was negotiated.

The curator of the gazetted national monument, John Rigano, tells us this is where President Uhuru Kenyatta was conceived before the late President Jomo Kenyatta moved to Gatundu with his young wife Mama Ngina and their two daughters.

This remarkable monument on a 28-acre piece of land in Maralal is a breathtaking backdrop consisting of a three-bedroomed bungalow.
Rigano says over 300 local and international tourists visit the site every month to catch a glimpse of the 56- year-old house.

“Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was confined here for one-and-a-half years after his arrest in Kapenguria. He lived here with his young family when the negotiations for Independence from the British rulers were being made. Mzee authored his book while facing Mount Kenya through that window there, hence the book title,” says Rigano as he points to the window.

Following the realisation that this area has an inimitable culture, wildlife, scenic escarpment, and remarkable tourist attraction sites, a number of registered wildlife conservation facilities have since sprung up, making your visit even more worthwhile.

You can tour the Africality Maralal Safari Lodge, two kilometres west of the town. Humperdinck Jackman exercises his life’s wish of preserving and promoting Kenya’s rich natural heritage through conservation of endangered wildlife species that are mostly hunted for trophies and poached for herbal medicine. If you have not encountered the zorillas, bush backs and elands, this is the place.

Built during Kenya’s colonial period, the culture preserved here is simply breathtaking. The lodge has an animal orphanage within it and it is the place to meet the wild cats face-to-face, not to mention the rhinos and elephants.

“Guests can enjoy the intimacy of wildlife right under their noses coupled with the chance to connect with nature,” says Jackman.

The facility has 14 luxurious Swiss-style cottages with log fireplaces to beat the evening cold as visitors enjoy game viewing. It is also popular as a team-building getaway as it has a conference hall catering for up to 500 people.

The excitement of watching over 41 desert camels taking on each other in a 21 kilometre amateur and 42 kilometre professional races at the camel derby was simply out of this world.

The International Camel Derby literally brings the otherwise sleepy town to life annually, with this year’s event two weeks ago attracting over 200 international participants from the US, Europe, Germany, South Africa, Japan, and thousands of locals.

For the locals, this is the most awaited event of the year. School children on holiday enjoy castle games, merry-go-round, face painting, quad bike rides and of course camel rides.

An hour’s drive away from Maralal town, lies yet another treasure, Malaso Conservancy perched 6,600 feet high with the backdrop of a valley below. We are met by the Moran tour guide, Joseph Lekesike, at the Malaso viewpoint, who tells us about other attractions such as Suguta valley about 100 kilometres away and Lake Turkana.

For those who are fascinated by vultures and birdwatchers, this is the place for you with an entrance fee of Sh300 and Sh500 for campers. It boasts of over 5,000 bird species. It is also at this conservancy that you will see the rare black leopard among other wild game.

Deep in the escarpment is a twin rock tower, where birds live in rock layers according to age. Few people know about this far-flung area of Kenya and the treasures within, but it’s definitely a place to visit as it becomes more accessible with more modern facilities coming up.

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