AS LAKE BARINGO CONTINUES TO RISE THE WATERS DROWN LODGES AND CAMPS
(Posted 02nd October 2013)
(Under water – a picture of a lake side lodge now half submerged by the seemingly relentless march of the Lake Baringo waters)
A monumental calamity has befallen several of the lake shore camps and safari lodges on Lake Baringo, where rising water levels have now literally drowned these places in a rising tide, which has exceeded any high water marks in living memory recorded by man.
Lake Baringo has for long been a secret tip for birdwatchers and seekers of weekend or midweek hideaways alike, who are ready to take the four plus hour drive to cover the 300 kilometre distance from Nairobi via Nakuru along a largely tarmacked road to find solitude or rare endemic or migratory birds.
In my ‘old days’ in Kenya, Lake Baringo Club was then owned and managed by Kenya’s leading hospitality company Block Hotels and it was back in the 1970’s that I learned a bit about the history of the area. The lodge was originally the site of a tented camp until in the late 60’s the owners set up 8 guest rooms next to the main building, in which they reportedly lived at the time. From the initial 8 rooms the lodge, later renamed into Lake Baringo Club, eventually grew in several stages to as many as 50 rooms, including a suite, reflecting the growing popularity among tourists who were thrilled by the knowledge of then resident bird guide Terry Stevenson and later on Hillary Garland. Terry, in his young years a world record chasing bird watcher, eventually published his booklet ‘The Birds of Lake Baringo’ which on publication in late 1980 contained 445 recorded species, found at the club, along the shores and of course at the massive cliffs and the thickets on their bottom which form the backdrop behind the lodge.
Hillary in turn produced a booklet documenting the 36 species of trees and shrubs found in the extensive grounds of the Lake Baringo Club and both publications were soon a must read for visitors to Lake Baringo.
(Sunrise over the distant Tugen Hills which overlook Lake Baringo – the swollen lake waters clearly visible in a photo taken later that day from a different location)
Back in the 60’s the water levels had also risen but never did reach the buildings of the Lake Baringo Club, nor did they even distantly approach a neighbouring plot where later on the ‘Robert’s Camp’ was put up. My hope in late 2011 though, during my last visit, that water levels would eventually recede, proved wrong as first the Robert’s Camp and then houses of neighbours and finally the Lake Baringo Club had to be closed as the water chased the occupants away, claiming more and more acreage along the lake shores, now almost reaching the main road.
For Sun Africa Hotels, which at the time had just spent a significant amount of money to restore the club to its former glory, after acquiring it from the remnants of the former Block Hotels, it was a blow, as it was to others with properties along the lake shores, and while the Island Camp continues to operate, their erstwhile boat landing sites have followed the rising waters to find mooring on changing spots.
Sun Africa had at the time of my visit just completed the bulk of their work at the sister property Lake Naivasha Country Club and were set to lift the Lake Baringo Club too to 5 star levels, when the tide struck.
From first hand information it was learned that the buildings, stripped down of furniture and fittings before the water engulfed the lodge, will have to be knocked down and a completely new construction take place, as and when, and no one knows for certain when that will be, the waters go down to ‘normal’ pre-flood levels. Neighbouring properties too are considered a write off and will need rebuilding from scratch, leaving available accommodation in short supply for aficionados of our feathered friends, all of which enjoy their new habitat.
Opinions vary widely over the reasons for the risen waters, some say it was the massive rains which hit this part of Kenya in recent years and other suggested that seismic shifts may have caused the lake floor to rise, or prevent outflow of water, causing the lake levels to swell to unprecedented heights.
Either way, Lake Baringo and neighbouring Lake Bogoria remain a treasure chest of birds for visitors who continue to come to the area from around the world, but just no longer can stay in some of the properties they may have read up on and expected to find in operation.
‘Nature is something we cannot fight, all we can do is work around it. On one hand it is good that the lakes in the Rift Valley are getting more water but the negative fallout like at Baringo is of course bad. Some nice places are flooded now and accommodation is in short supply. We still sell the area for bird watching but this has been a setback. I pity the owners because unless they had relevant insurance they might have to write off a lot of their investments and it could be years before the water goes down again. And even though Baringo is not a national park like Bogoria, it is still a very valuable tourism resource’ quipped a regular source yesterday when asking for an expert opinion about the calamity which has befallen the affected lodges and camps. Lake Baringo is apart from Lake Naivasha the only fresh water non alkaline lake in the Rift Valley region of Kenya and together with Nakuru, Bogoria and Elementaita part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nature fighting back? For certain is nature’s gain mankind’s loss in this case.