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Quaint sanctuary on the slopes of Mt Kenya

By Thorn Mulli | Published Tue, May 16th 2017 at 16:39, Updated May 16th 2017 at 16:46 GMT +3
Sandai Farmstay and Cottages in Mweiga, Nyeri. (Photo: Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard)

Growing up in the Taita highlands, my naive friends and I often wondered what would lead any sane soul to leave the luxury of the city for bush life. It amazed us how foreigners drawn from the world’s major cities seemed at ease in our village yet we all wanted to escape its simplicity. Our heroes were annual returnees who dazzled in their city clothes and lingo. Well, years later, most of us had our wishes come true with job postings in Mombasa and Nairobi.

Cities, with their innumerable entertainment options, are fun places to live if you can afford the lifestyle. Unfortunately, the charm wears off fast. You are either stuck at your desk or in traffic. When you eventually make it to the pub, you realise that that the dance floor was long replaced by bar stools. That is when nostalgia sets and you long for the hikes through green meadows and forests.

 Last weekend, the travel bug led me to a county that boasts a rich heritage and great pride in Kenya’s independence struggle. In 1902, Kikuyu Chief Wangombe Wa Ihura fell to the ruthless Colonel  Richard Meinertzhagen after a spirited resistance movement. The colonel was also the executioner of Orkoiyot Koitalel Arap Samoei, the Nandi leader.

To enforce their influence, the British put up a post close to Mt Kenya on a little hill the Kikuyu called Kia-Nyiri. It is on this hill that the current Nyeri County is built around. Located in Central Kenya, it borders Kirinyaga and Meru to the east, Laikipia to the north, Nyandarua to the west and Murang’a to the south. Nyeri town is a government administration centre marked by vibrant small business activities.

Few relics of the colonial days; Nyeri Golf Club, The White Rhino Hotel, Outspan Hotel, and the Aberdare Country Club still stand. Away from the town, modernity has taken root with small farmer holdings now hosting brick houses, a far cry from the pre-colonial round huts. Thankfully, a few spaces that are a reflection of the past still exist. 

The Mweiga gem

Straddled between the Aberdare ranges and Mt Kenya at the nearby Mweiga Township is Sandai Farm, set on 100 acres. The farm overlooks a conservancy that sweeps into the horizon. The farm that offers homestay and cottages facilities is run by Petra Allmendingers, a Kenyan of German origin.

Coming from the city on an overcast Saturday morning, we took the Nyahururu road for approximately 4.5 kilometres from Mweiga town before branching off right onto the dirt road and following stand-out tyre signage to the farm set some seven kilometres in.  On hand to receive us was Petra and her four dogs Roxy, Daisy, Lucas and Charlie. If you are not a dog person, worry not because despite their bulk, I have never seen such affectionate creatures. We were in time for lunch that consisted of fresh coconut hors d'oeuvres and homemade pizza accompanied by some garden salad.

Meals for guests staying at the four guest-houses are served at the titanic farm house that doubles up as Petra’s home. Simplicity and practicability is the overall theme of the getaway. Electricity is supplied through a generator and solar panels. The house is child friendly as Petra’s children were raised in this house. I couldn’t help but notice children’s play area tucked into a corner of the living. There is also a bar and souvenir shop on the right wing of the three-part farmhouse. Petra’s quarters occupy the left wing as does her office and meditation room. Should you require enhanced privacy, five self-catering cottages should do the trick.

Kenyan-style round huts Azizi and Zawadi can host up to six persons as can the Aberdare facing self-catering Chui and Makena cottages. A large self-catering cottage christened Punda Milia is ideal for large travelling parties; its five bedrooms can sleep up to 10 persons. The blue themed Makena was my favourite.

Prices range from Sh6, 600 per person booked full board or self-catering from Sh7, 000. If you are the no-frills adventurer, then the campsite costing Sh500 per person per night hidden among trees and bushes not far from the main house is ideal. The campsite has a pit latrine and two showers. There is also a large fireplace and space for tents, tipis and vehicles.

After lunch, the resident naturalist took us on a walk around the farm dotted with rare Sandalwood tree before we returned for a sundowner session and hearty dinner. Game lovers are likely to bump into the resident leopard and several species of hoofed wildlife. Birdwatchers will love Sandai for its three very rare birds; the creeper, the African grass owl, and the little rock thrush.

The neighbouring conservancy boasts striped hyenas, Chandlers reed buck, the three horned chameleon, Narina trojan, white back diving duck and the fin foot. If you would like to nurture you artistic side, you can sign up for the painting and jewellery making classes on offer. You can also opt for the meditation sessions. I had a fun time riding the farm's beautiful horses as I explored the expansive farm. Definitely a place you should visit.

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