Simple lodge that won the heart of richest man
By Cyrus Kinyungu- East African Standard
When Bill Gates came to Kenya last week, he chose to stay at a little known private conservancy eco-lodge.
The little-known Shompole Lodge where the Bill Gates family spent their holiday. The Microsoft Corporation founder and richest man on earth, with a fortune estimated at $46.5 billion , fell in love with the simplicity of the private Shompole Lodge in Kajiado District.
The lodge has privacy of the client as its best selling point.
It is only 30 minutes flight away from Nairobi and about 20 and 40 kilometres from Lake Natron and Lake Magadi respectively .
Accompanying Gates and family in the little known conservancy, whose name means the place of red ochre, were Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and Hollywood movie star Dan Aykroyd, of the Bruce brothers fame.
Allen features in Forbes Magazine as the seventh richest person in the world, with a fortune of about $21 billion.
The visitors’ tour operators, Royal African Safaris, made sure that their visit would be a blend of holiday and charity work.
They not only relaxed and enjoyed their holiday — entertained by Maasai dancers — but also helped put up a dam at the conservancy.
They also brought the western entertainment to the local community. A music band of five people was flown from Los Angeles to perform in the dry wilderness of Shompole plains as wild animals watched from a distance.
The visitors donated Sh800,000 to help the over 3,500 local people to construct a dam for their livestock.
The dam will help reduce human/wildlife conflict, which often arise whenever the local herdsmen enter the wildlife territory in search of water for their domestic animals.
The rich and mighty mingled freely with the poor in a rare encounter that saw the fusion of western music and Maasai dances.
The guests made merry as they feasted on goat meat and beef. Dozens of goats and three bulls had been slaughtered earlier in the day by the hosts.
The Microsoft founder watches a performance with Jackson Kaai, a community liaison manager, during a party for the tourists. At about five o’clock on Thursday evening, about seven helicopters hovered in the air and landed in the Shompole plains, where the guests were to enjoy part of their Kenyan holiday.
As hundreds of wildebeests, warthogs and other wild animals raised dust as they fled from the helicopters’ noise, the world’s richest man and his entourage disembarked. They were welcomed with Maasai dance and song.
Curious about why such rich people would choose a little known lodge in the wilderness for their holiday, The Standard visited the lodge on a fact-finding mission.
Peter and Juliana Silvester, from Royal African Safaris, said their clients have always liked the lodge.
According to Juliana, the lodge was the last place Gates and company stayed while on their two-week stay in Kenya. They had been to South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania before winding their African tour in Kenya, at Shompole conservancy.
The eco-tourism lodge is constructed on a hilly location in the 44,000 acre Shompole conservancy.
It is located on the edge of the Nguruman escarpment, overlooking Loita Hills and the Great Rift Valley.
The conservancy is in a land owned by the local community, who joined hands with the Art of Ventures Company to put up the lodge. The conservancy is surrounded by 160,000 acres of the Shompole group ranch.
The lodge’s architectural design blends naturally with the topography and the environment — thus camouflaging it in the rocks and shrubs on the hill. Only when one is very close to the hills can one realise that there are structures there. The buildings are made of inexpensive locally available materials and are designed in a way that would ensure visitors’ comfort in the area’s hot weather.
They have a natural cooling effect. They are thatched with reeds, which are readily available in the many swamps in the conservancy and its neighbourhood.
"It is only the cement that was brought from Nairobi during the construction of this lodge," says the lodge manager, Anthony Russel.
Fig wood timber and poles were also used. Its unique open rooms are designed to give the interiors an African outlook.
Pools of water, perhaps intended to bring a cooling effect inside the room, are spread in every corner of the white painted rooms.
The giant beds, spread with snow-white beddings, have springs of water flowing from a slanting white painted wall.
The smooth flowing water creates a soothing effect on the guests as they enjoy the warm breeze from the plains. Just outside the room is a swimming pool.
A guide at the hotel narrates the rare encounter with the world’s richest man The rooms are furnished with expertly curved furniture made from polished fig tree. This gives them the simplicity of the local lifestyle. Parts of the house’s floor are spread with the polished fig tree off cuts.
The ground is raised in such a way that animals cannot enter the open rooms at night.
For a bath, the guest has to turn on a tap, which has local designs, to get the waterfall shower. The wide bathrooms have no doors. They make the guests feel that they are bathing under a real waterfall.
The rooms have unrestricted view of the plains below, where guests can view animals as they converge at a watering hole near the lodge.
The only enclosures in the rooms are clear mosquito nets that cover the nine-by-nine feet bed.
And it is in one of these rooms where the richest man on earth spent his holiday when he was in Kenya.
The lodge, though little known locally, has acquired great fame in the western world.
It has won many local and international awards, which have perhaps attracted the attention of the tour operators.
The eco-lodges are recognised for their commitment to conservation with an added value to cultural tourism.
The lodge manager, who co-owns the lodge with the Shompole Group Ranch, says the hotel has 16 beds configured into doubles.
"We intend to keep the lodge as small as possible," said Russel. "If you become big you lose privacy."
He says the lodge is so private that guests in the other rooms do not know who else is in the lodge.
For now, he says, the plan is only to build six more rooms. "That’s our ceiling," Russel says.
The conservancy boasts of wild animals such as lions, cheetahs, buffalos, giraffes, caracals, genet cats, waterbucks, and warthogs.
Some of these animals can be seen from the comfort of the rooms.
For more Details on the Lodge visit our Aricle Shompole Lodge.