‘Soda water’ Meru villagers scoop for body nourishment

A villager scoops natural muonyo water bubbling from the ground. [Photo: Courtesy]

Imagine fetching free soda from a bubbling brook in the wilderness? Well, the closest you’ll ever come to such a dream is perhaps in Meru County.

Tucked in the lush farmlands surrounding Tharu Market, about two hundred metres off the Ndagene-Nkubu highway in Meru County, is a spring that produces a refreshing drink that has nourished locals for years. It is called muonyo.

The water spurts out of a mound of rocks, in a swishy, burbling sound. It froths and swirls at the source, before flowing to a little man-made pond where animals can have a drink.

It eventually flows downstream, cutting through a valley of dense green foliage. On one side of the springs of muonyo we see tea plantations straggling up steep hills.

“The water has been coming out of the stones for years,” Silas Kaburu, 53, a resident of the region said. “We found it here, and our forefathers also found it here.”

The source of the spring is in fact a small incision on the rocks, just big enough to accommodate a mug.

Visitors use mugs to scoop the water. The water is crystal clear, and it gushes out of the ground in a froth that fizzles out in seconds.

Muonyo water comes with a distinct mineral taste and earthy aroma.  If you scoop a mug of the water, the result is likely a gassy feel in your gut, followed by a throaty belch - similar to what you experience after taking a soda.

“We use the water for drinking, for feeding our animals, and for cooking,” Kaburu went on.

“We cook all manner of foods, from porridge to arrowroots. Arrowroots, when boiled in muonyo, turn a pleasant, deep red colour, with a pleasant taste and aroma.”

At the rocks, a light brown trail forms at the bottom of the stream.

This, as Kaburu observed, is suggestive of heavy mineral presence in the water.

Livestock farmers particularly value this trait of the water, he added, and animals gulp the water with profound relish.

The place is gradually attracting the attention of domestic tourists, who come from far and wide to sample the drink, noted Kaburu.

What was previously a trickle of curious visitors has grown into a constant flow of enthusiasts, many returning multiple times to sample the drink.

Visitors from as far as Nanyuki and Nairobi are now common.

They come with their cars and ship off the water in jerry cans.

Some have even come to fetch the water for sale, touring its health benefits, Kaburu narrated.

One may freely access the springs of muonyo. The springs are in the middle of public land.

A swamp surrounds the rocky parch where the waters of muonyo spring.

Within the swamp is a carpet of dark green grass, known as nyaanku in the Meru tongue, dotted with small bushes.

There are several springs of muonyo within the swamp, but humans generally fetch their drink from one particular brook.

The rest of the springs, which are just a stone-throw apart, are usually reserved for animals, Kaburu said.

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Soda water Meru