Above: The gorgeous verandah at Olurur House overlooking the Great Rift Valley. Image Rupi Mangat
Published Nation Satmag April 29, 2023
Olurur House is the grand setting to the open horizons of the Great Rift Valley, set atop Champagne Ridge where ancient humans roamed. At first sight, the house doesn’t show and then a few steps from the car-port, a mabati-tin roof shines under the endless afternoon sky. We’re looking at the house from atop, cleverly camouflaged within the cliff of the valley that’s the world’s longest crack.
Walking into the house from atop, it’s a show stopper. One entrance opens into the enormous bedroom with a roof- to-floor glass wall that opens into the verandah facing the great expanse of the rift’s floor dotted with the ancient volcanoes of Olorgesailie and Esakut, and outlined in the horizon with Magadi’s alkaline sheen and the long line of Nguruman escarpment. It’s surreal.
The steps lead to the level below that’s an open plan kitchen, living room and the verandah that boasts the same view – only now we’re closer to the edge of the cliff. My cluttered brain opens up, soaking all this in and James the caretaker announces that a hike into the valley is so doable.
Whiling away the afternoon heat on the verandah my mind wanders to the hump-shaped Olorgesailie that is one of the world’s first tool factories where our ancient ancestor, more precisely the Homo erectus began to fabricate stone tools a million-plus years ago and left a whole repository of hand axes and cleavers in situ.
“Olurur is that tree,” points John Bisley who for decades ran safaris to Turkana. It’s a lone tree, still green-leaved in a sun-scorched terrain that has left the grass brittle and robbed the succulents of all colour. But there are signs of rain in the sky. Once that happens, the same plains will transform into a miasmic bloom of wild flowers.
‘Olurur’ turns out to be the elephant toothbrush tree or the dental tree, the twigs used as miswaki for thousands of years in Asia and Africa. But the evergreen tree is perched at the edge of the steep buff hiding a cave at its base. At the time of the Stone age man at Olorgesailie, an extinct species of elephant Elephas recki, roamed the land. One was butched 990,000 years ago at the base where the research team from Smithsonian Institute found evidence of the butchery with more than 2300 stone artifacts surrounding the bones of the mega-herbivore.
The night sky opens to the constellations along the Milk Way with the Sky map pointing to Venus and Mercury. A bright unblinking orb rises from the horizon. Is it Mars? The Sky map doesn’t show anything. Our Mars gets bigger and bigger and suddenly blinks more lights. It’s an aircraft on descent to Nairobi’s international airport.
At the crack of dawn, with the mist rising, l’m with James and Joesph clambering down the steep stony path into the rift where the Maasai settled and have held initiation ceremonies to mark the passage of age groups. In the cool morn, all is quiet save for the morning bird song and the breeze sounding through the whistling thorns.
The cattle are no more when we reach the water trough at the bottom. The drought has taken its toll. Along the narrow path, there’s spoor of the eland that is Africa’s largest antelope and the dik dik, that is among Africa’s smallest.
James points to the cave at the bottom of the buff. It’s perfect leopard country with the hidden caves in the cliffs. ”Our neighbour caught one on her sensory camera prowling through her verandah one night,” tells Bisley. We’re happy to see the African hare, its large ears tinged gold with the rising sun.
At the very bottom of the valley, looking up, the house shows itself perched on the cliff. It’s now time to hike up the steep gradient and three hours later, we walk down into Olurur for a hearty brunch.
From Olurur House
It’s a leisuruly 2.5 hours drive via Corner Baridi. It’s ideal for a romantic hideout, or a small family. It has one bedroom. Carry only the food to cook and lots of water to drink.
Easily doable on a two night break: Mount Olorgesaili (40kms south) enroute to Magadi.
On a three night break, a drive to Lake Magadi (80kms south), the super alkaline lake that’s mined for trona.