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African glamour amidst modernity?

By - Jeckonia Otieno | September 21st 2012

By Jeckonia Otieno

Away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi and the rapidly expanding Thika town is Fourteen Falls Lodge. The getaway, which is sandwiched between the Thika-Garissa Road and the Chania River is at best kept traditional and unadulterated by so much sophistication; therein lies its beauty.

Apart from the signboard along the road to announce the presence of the place, everything about the whole area is ordinary — just another village in the proximity of a town. The road to the lodge is dusty and winds with a number of shortcuts. From the ridge opposite the site blows a breeze during the day to reduce the effects of a hot sunny day as the cluster of shrubs mark the area around.

Around are a couple of residential homes very modern in appearance. But the moment you reach Fourteen Falls Lodge, the traditional touch strikes. Right from the reception area to the houses, everything seems to be cultural and simple. The well-manicured lawn with the grass spread all around and the lined flowers with scattered trees offer spacious seating for the visitors who would want to while away their time at the compound. But this is just a tip of what lies here.

Grass-thatched houses

The reception is a grass-thatched round house modelled after the traditional Agikuyu huts. The windows are, however, made of glass and metallic frames. Inside there is a small reception area, which adds to the beauty in simplicity. ?The chairs at the reception are made of wood; also the reception desk set at the reception is made of irregular wood to keep in sync the wild African touch. The tables and armchairs are uniquely crafted using wood. The roof is made of some bamboo cuttings.

The swimming pool also lies in the reception area and uniquely designed in the open just beside one of the huts that make up the lodge. It is the most exotic visible installation in the compound but does not take away the African touch and the glamour that lies within.

From the reception lawn, rugged paths full of stones lead out to other parts of the retreat centre. The first stop is at the accommodation area where there are huts  built and named after the nine daughters of Mumbi and Gikuyu, the clans that founded the Agikuyu community according to the community’s myth of origin.

All the nine cottages are made of mud walls but reinforced by cement due to the nature of the soil used to make the walls. The black cotton soil is not strong enough to sustain the test of time. The cottages have roofs that are made of non-corrugated rusty iron sheets.

Each of the cottages has a veranda with wooden seats and a table from where visitors can enjoy their drinks or meals. The roofs from the inside are made of papyrus but shielded by metal or grass on the outside. This brings a cooling effect to the inside.

This is testament to the fact that local materials can be put into good use to boost the tourism sector without striving or spending too much to make a place look extra-ordinary. Two of the cottages are one-bedroom while the others are just single rooms but with all amenities like washrooms on the inside.

On clear mornings at Fourteen Falls Lodge, the mighty Mt Kenya, the second highest in Africa is visible from the compound. Residents of one set of the abodes can actually view it as they take their breakfast seated on verandas. Andrew Maina who runs the lodge says he had the idea to keep it as traditional as possible with no television but went against the idea because he felt visitors should have access to information.

Venturing into the gardens offers more than the cottages. First the gardens are bushy with numerous kinds of trees. The ‘loliondo’ tree is one of the species that make part of the vegetation. Also in the wild are different African fruit trees like mulina wa ariithi loosely translated as the millet of the shepherds,?shrub producing tiny fruits that are sharply sour to the taste but loved by those who venture into the bushes especially those who look after herds of cattle.

The eucalyptus trees make the air fresh with the pungent aroma as one heads towards the river. The tracks wind through the bushes in no particular order always ending in openings and clearings where picnics can be held.  The sound of the birds chirping and small animals running around the bushes brings out a more wild touch to the area as a visitor edges closer to the bank. The lush green grass and the entangled twigs epitomise a thick forest.

Sweet smell of a river

One smells the river before actually seeing it. The smell of the river hangs heavily in the atmosphere and makes it enviable — a far cry from the ever-contaminated air within towns?

The brown waters meander its way down the channel as monkeys jump from one twig to the other. Maina says the animals fear people because of the beatings they receive from the farmers around.

?Overhanging the bank of the river is a fig tree, which has a traditional jetty made from wood from which the river below can be viewed. The waters of Chania downstream have crocodiles, which Maina says were not there initially. In fact one of the crocodiles found its way to the fishpond where it has depleted all the fish stock yet it still is an attraction because of its timidity. However caution when approaching the pond is necessary.

?Visitors can venture near the river but should be careful not to do so very early in the morning or very late in the evening because of the hippos that roam during the night and go back in the morning. There are bridges made of wood over the pond and also highpoints made of wood. The lodge offers a playground where visitors can play soccer and beach volleyball despite there being no beach. The place is filled with sand.

?Fourteen Falls might be hinged on simplicity but this does not make it simple because the village touch is just awesome.

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