Enchanting dream house

Friday December 26 2008


The Samburu have a word for beautiful – it’s sandai, the word Petra Allmendinger chose for her dream house built on one of the best spots on earth, where one side looks out at the Aberdares and the other faces Mt Kenya, Kenya’s two amazing water towers and mountains.

Driving past Nyeri, the Cape Chestnuts are in full bloom of pinks in the old ancient forests of the Aberdares, a range named after the Royal Geographical Society president, Lord Aberdare by the colourful character Joseph Thomson, the first European explorer to traverse the Maasai region and camp on the mountain in 1883.

A few years later, in 1903, the infamous Meinertzhagen who took a no-nonsense approach to quelling any local uprisings against colonial rule, reported seeing a migration of hundreds of elephants crossing over from the Aberdares to Mt Kenya in 1903, a sight no longer seen.

The countryside past Mweiga is so beautifully full of green fields and the vales and peaks of the Aberdares on one side not to mention the granite carved pinnacles of Mt Kenya towering 17,058 feet into the sky that we miss the roadside sign to Sandai – a simple tyre stuck in the ground because it’s a favourite perching post for people.

Realising that we’ve driven too far when we see the sign to Solio, the largest private game sanctuary and the first to start the rhino rescue project in the country, we turn around to search for Sandai, our abode for the weekend specially chosen to do what we’ve been wanting to do for a long time, to scale the highest point of the famous Aberdares.

“It’s an easy climb,” says Bakari, the warden of the Aberdare National Park. “Two hours up and two down. That’s four hours.” In my case, being a slow slu, I double the time and think, hum…….that’s easy, the eternal optimist.

It’s late afternoon when we finally drive into Sandai through the local Kikuyu homesteads and the first impression of the house is how beautiful it sits on the wide-open space between the two mountains with its simple structure full of windows to watch the stunning outdoors.

‘Karibu Sandai,’ reads the wooden sign at the door on the verandah with Petra and her 10-year old daughter Tessa welcoming us through to what opens into a house full of character, charm and warmth.

“I come from a large family,” says Petra who came to Kenya more than two decades ago to work with a German development agency.

Posted to Isiolo to assist the local women’s groups with income-generating projects, she worked for many years building close companionship with the Samburu and other women’s groups.

“I always wanted a house of my own, but I never thought it would be in Africa,” she states simply talking about the house built with as much care to the environment as to emotions.

The house is built with mud bricks made on site to allow for it to breathe and from where one could watch the sunrise from one side as the moon later rises from the other. But, it was an extra bonus to have the mountains as a backdrop for the ethereal discs in the sky to announce what they have been doing for 4,600 million years – night and day.

The verandah leads inside into a spacious dining and living room sandwiched between the two double-layered storeys of the house for the bedrooms. There’s light and space spreading through the windows and arches to show off Petra’s touch as an artist and collector with an impeccable eye for design.

It’s simple elegance. All the furniture is homemade from local wood, the decorations a collection of all things African and antiques sourced from auctions.

Warm shades of vibrant and cool colours fill the walls where one is a double wall to have the notches so typical of the old Lamu houses at the coast.

I have to continue with the rest of the house later as Sammy Mugo is eager for the bird walk, but we have to leave that for another day because by the time we reach the far end of the rock-scape bordering the old forest, a magical moon in all its fullness begins its ascent from God’s mountain.

We toast to Africa and for the epic climb the following day to what the Maasai call, Ol Donyo La Satima or the Mountain of the young bull.


Soul of Sandai
It’s a simple but stunning homestay with four cottages which can accommodate 18 people.

It’s the perfect base for hiking to Ol Donyo La Satima, exploring the Aberdares or having a rhino-full day at Solio.

But if you simply want to just stay home there’s plenty to do from walks on the grounds with the elands and other antelopes to horse riding, yoga, reflexology (the eastern art of foot massage to stimulate the nerves) to cooking lessons or art lessons. Simply state your interests in good time.

Conservation is a high priority with everyone at Sandai. All the staff from the cooks to the driver are professional guides.

Petra and Sammy have tree-planting projects, water harvesting and of recent, rescuing owls. More on that and the hike to Satima in the next episode.

Do inquire about the rates at the time of booking. With no traffic, it’s an easy three-hour drive from Nairobi. Contact: Tel: +254 (0) 721656699, +254 (0) 733734619, +254 (0) 203523232. email: [email protected] http://www.africanfootprints.de