A Weekend Escape to Kisumu and the Lake

Simba Colt called it The Acacia Escape. Last weekend they transported sixteen media people in six of their smart cars from Nairobi to Kisumu. The objectives were to mark the first anniversary of their Acacia Premier Hotel and to sample what Kisumu has to offer visitors.

But I made my own and lonely way along the Nakuru-Kericho route that I hadn’t driven for years. I tapped into nostalgia a little by checking on a couple of my old favourite stopping places.

After a sunrise start on the Friday, I called for a breakfast-time coffee at the Midland Hotel, conveniently located on the road that bypasses Nakuru’s town centre. It is a survivor of the colonial days, and the new construction going on there I assume means that it wants to stay alive and kicking.

This is more than can be said for the Tea Hotel in Kericho, which I reached for a late coffee-time cup of tea. It used to be such an elegant place, with spacious rooms and a wide terrace overlooking a formal garden and with a long view to the green slopes of tea plantations. The garden is very fine; the cup of tea was refreshing – but the hotel is badly in need of a refit.

So I was in the Acacia Hotel for a welcome lunch at its most striking feature: the Aqua Pool Bar and Grill, which splendidly overlooks the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria. I wrote a review of the Acacia on the occasion of its official opening, so I won’t repeat all that I said then.

But I will echo the notion I used to have: that Kisumu needed a hotel that combined the best features of the three existing ones.

The old Kisumu Hotel, with its long veranda and wicker chairs, had the history; the Sunset, right by the lake, had the setting; the Imperial, though in the busy middle of town, had a quality of furnishings and service. Well, the Acacia doesn’t have the history; but it does have a view of the lake – and it certainly has achieved a higher standard of décor, amenities and service.

The Acacia is deliberately modern. With its open and airy spaces, its light colours on the walls, its wooden and uncarpeted floors – it has a style that is suited to the tropical warmth of Kisumu. It has well-appointed rooms, a restaurant, a coffee lounge, a well-equipped gym, a swimming pool – and, of course, the Aqua Pool Bar and Grill.

The Acacia appeals to business people, and it is going about its own business in a business-like way. Right now its average occupancy rate is up in the mid-sixties, which, as Kenyans say, is very OK.

But we left the Acacia comforts on the Saturday morning for a sight-seeing trip. We went out on the Maseno road beyond the airport and then round the north shore of Winam Gulf towards Bondo. The area is littered with massive boulders, as if some giants had played a ferocious game with them. We were making for the most spectacular pile, the one called Kit Mikayi.

The name means ‘the rock of the first wife’. This is where the first wife of Mzee Ngeso is supposed to have rested on the Luos’ journey south from Sudan. It has become a place of pilgrimage and religious worship, especially in times of trouble. Also, there are medicinal trees growing, and many women go there for cures and meditation.

We all then took a couple of boats to Ndere Island – ‘the meeting place’. It was gazetted in 1986 as the Ndere Island National Reserve. No-one lives there, except many animals and even more birds. As we walked up to the picnic site we disturbed four waterbuck, who flashed their bottoms for us – those antelopes that look as if they have sat on a freshly painted white lavatory seat.

We lingered too long, admiring the views. There are the Homa Hills to the south, Mageta Island to the east – and the KWS ranger told us that on a clear day you can even see as far as Kampala. Kevine’s photographing drone of Thoroughbred Films must have seen right across the lake, as it soared high above us and competed with the fish eagles.

Our trip finished late afternoon with a high tea of fish and ugali at the Dunga Hill restaurant. In the company of the young media guys I began to feel, if not old, then certainly old-fashioned. I have never witnessed such a concentrated tweeting and whatsapping on mobile phones. I seemed to be the only one of the group using a notebook and pen.

It was a great weekend. Simba Colt has good reason to celebrate its Acacia Premier Hotel in Kisumu. And the trip was a salutary reminder that there is a lot to see and enjoy in Nyanza.

Published in Kenya’s Sunday Nation