Christmas on Rusinga Island
There was no need to decorate a tree or roast a turkey this Christmas; both our sons were away. My wife suggested that we should explore a part of Kenya we had never visited – Rusinga Island on Lake Victoria and the nearby Ruma National Park.
On our Google search for accommodation on the island, the Wayando Beach Eco Lodge looked promising. It proved to be an excellent choice.
But, first, there was the drive. Our satnav lady estimated it would take six hours; it took us eight. She hadn’t reckoned on the mindless driving down the Escarpment to Mai Mahiu. Every time there was a gap in the oncoming traffic, drivers started to overtake.
At one point there were four lanes going down. Inevitably, there was a gridlock. It happened twice, and that’s where we lost most of the two hours. Then it was on to Narok, through Sotik, Kisii and Homa Bay to Mbita and its splendid causeway to Rusinga Island.
The lodge is on the north shoreline, only four kilometres from the causeway. It has five imaginatively decorated and self-contained rondavels. They have electricity, composting sawdust toilets and showers. We were warned that the shower water in our banda was cold, but there are separate hot showers a short walk away across the grass.
The lawn is dotted with fruit trees; some of them slung with hammocks. It leads down to the lake and a dramatic view of the small Ngodhe Island. Always, it seems, there are lateen sail fishing boats drifting by.
The owner, Linda Okatch Mungayaka, is from the US. Her husband was one of the wave of young Kenyans airlifted for scholarships there arranged by Tom Mboya. When Okatch was senselessly killed in some Kansas street violence, Linda decided to come to Kenya to make an African home for her two-year old son. That home is now the Eco Lodge, which she opened in 2011. The rondavel we were staying in is the one her son uses when he visits from the States.
Linda showed us round. She is rightly proud of the large kitchen garden she has created according to principles of permaculture. The soil is bulked up with mulch from fallen leaves, grass clippings and compost from the sawdust in the bucket toilets that are emptied every day.
There is a clever watering system, also – a pattern of small-scale dams and channels. All this feeds a wide variety of edible plants and vegetables, which means that much of the food served in the restaurant is home grown and fresh.
Linda is a very attentive cook. There is no fixed menu for the daily buffet, and she asks what her guests like. While we were there, the range of dishes included rice, ugali from sorghum, potato chips, Thai papaya salad, green salad with apples, banana pancakes, fried chicken, tilapia and Nile perch in various ways, chapatis with shredded carrots. The coffee was special, too — grown locally in Rongo.
There is a delightful dawn chorus of birds, because the garden is home for many species. A pair of hamerkops had built their layered nest in a tree right outside our banda. There were a number of raucous plantain-eaters, I had seen before only in Ugandan woodlands. The most striking bird was the black-headed gonolek, unmistakable with his scarlet belly. Every day, a line of pied kingfishers perched on the boundary wires and watched the waters of the lake.
The staff seem to have been with Linda from the beginning. Sam Okudo knows all the garden birds and plants. Blasto Okomo seems to know everything about the place – and about the whole of Rusinga Island. With Linda, they run a welcoming, restful and a fascinating lodge.
Half board is Sh5,900 per person. You can camp there, too. But for more information you can go to www.wayandoecolodge.com or ring 0723 773571.
John Fox is Chairman of iDC Email: ,ke