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Lake Baringo: The lake with bronze waters

By Thorn Mulli | Published Mon, November 28th 2016 at 19:47, Updated November 28th 2016 at 19:50 GMT +3
An eagle hunts for fish in Lake Baringo. (Photo: Thorn Mulli)

The waves crash and bubble against a rocky cliff just metres away from your cottage. It is pitch dark outside, a stark contrast to a few hours ago when the full moon shone heavenly light onto the makuti-thatched  club house that has an attractive soil brown-stone finish, which is held up by cured dead wood.

You rest easy thanks to the calming breeze blowing in from Lake Baringo, a welcome oasis in what a sojourner might have otherwise considered God-forsaken land. Sweltering heat, which I reckon is the reason why locals are a shade darker, is the least of this region's worries. It has that in plenty. Life in the form of water is more urgent as rain rarely visits. But it is the same with most gems, hidden deep within hard-to-crack rocks but with beauty that radiates above the surface. Baringo is one such gem.

Baringo is the traditional home of the Ilchamus, also known as the Njemps tribe, a unique people who are the only pastoral, cattle-herding tribe who also fish. Among other pastoral tribes such as the Maasai, eating fish is a taboo. As a matter of fact, the name Baringo is derived from the word mparingo which means 'lake' in the language of the Njemps who live in the areas south and south-east of the lake.

The lake, after which the county is named, occupies a surface area of about 130km2 of the county's total 11,015km2 land mass. It is one of the two fresh-water lakes in the Rift Valley, the other being Lake Naivasha, and has no visible outlet. It has nine islands, the largest of which is called Olkokwe, which means 'meeting place' in Ilchamus.

You have to brave a four hour-long journey to access this gem unless you have access to an aircraft. It has been three years since I visited Baringo, a shunned section on the Kenyan tourism circuit due to its distance from the capital. As is the current case with most remote parts of the country, infrastructure has greatly improved.

Marigat now bustles with life with mama mboga displaying healthy groceries and at least six modern modern petrol stations showing good progress. The barriers set by the county council are now gone and both domestic and foreign investors are betting their monies on the resource that gives the region its name. There is varied accommodation around Lake Baringo ranging from basic to high-end. This writer was staying at Tumbili Cliff Lodge, one of the lesser known options but arguably one of the finest.

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Four things set this boutique lodge apart from its peers: Its privileged position on the banks of Lake Baringo, five metres above the level of the lake, which ensures a unique view of the breath-taking bronze-watered lake and its islands; its sizeable swimming pool; artistic architecture highlighted by the rustic cottages with round beds and wooden commodes; and its star attraction, a high quality professional observatory!

The lake is now well-stocked with fish and attracts many cormorants, fish eagles as well as other water birds. Bird watching during a boat excursion is a must-do activity that this writer relished. It was still breath-taking watching the majestic fish eagles launch from their perch to fish.

Apart from the birds, the lake is also home to hippopotamuses and crocodiles. It is also well-populated with crocodiles and hippos. Dr Richard Leakey's Snake Park and the Lake Baringo Reptile Park, both located on the lake shore, are major tourist attractions here.