January 30th, 2018
If you are not in the hospitality business it is almost impossible to appreciate not only the ramifications of running a lodge, but the detail of what is involved in putting one together. In this country there are a handful of particularly awesome people who have built, and are running, lodges in extremely remote areas, away from families and “civilisation” and who manage to make it look completely effortless. The dedication and effort, and sheer man-hours which go into the construction of these little gems has to be experienced to be believed. Our story is no different and it is a long long story – but I will spare you the details!
Believe it or not, despite feeling that we are a “new” establishment, we opened our doors to our first clients six years ago this month, fulfilling a plan that was discussed with many friends years before our idea actually came to fruition. Standing on the edge of the cliff and looking down into the stunning little oasis which is the present-day Emakoko, it was very clearly a risky and somewhat daunting project. We would never have guessed that we would be visited by international celebrities, and by Royalty but best of all, by people who come back to us over and over again
Yet here we are in January 2018 and we have not only survived (by the skin of our teeth!) some of the worst years that Kenyan tourism has ever endured but we are thriving and looking forward to the future. My husband’s unfaltering optimism and determination to make it work has been inspirational. Our families have supported us magnificently through thick and thin but most importantly, our staff have stayed with us through difficult times when often it must have seemed as if there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
I used to read countless articles about starting your own business and I must admit none of my reading prepared me for the reality. What I can say though is this; the grass is NEVER greener, despite what you might think and it IS going to be a tough old slog. Nothing will prepare you for the highs or the lows and the hits will keep on coming, BUT when it finally comes together and you find yourself succeeding, enjoy every moment because not many people get to that stage. Admittedly we are not there yet, but there is definitely a brighter horizon!
About one month before our opening we realised that not only were we running out of money, but we were also running out of time. We were advised that there was only one option left and that was to bring in ‘Kariuki’. Apparently this was the only man who could turn the tide. I met Mr. Kariuki a day later, perched halfway up the hill sipping tea and bellowing insults at people who were marching back and forth over the site hammering, carrying, mixing, brushing & painting. He was a rather portly, old and disagreeable fellow and as I walked past him he barely acknowledged me. Instead he shouted at someone (I think it may have been me!) to “get out of the way and hurry up”! It turned out that Kariuki’s job was to keep everyone working and before long the site almost resembled a disturbed ant-hill.
Nevertheless, he got the job done and 24 hours before opening we were pretty much on top of things. The night before our official opening day, he finally said Hello to me and remarked in Swahili that this was going to be a special place because he had been sitting under the ‘Migumo tree’ and had prayed to ‘Muungu’ (God) for The Emakoko to succeed. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the lodge or Kikuyu custom, Reception, Offices and the lounges are under a Migumo tree and this tree is a very sacred spiritual tree where Kikuyus pray in the absolute certainty that God is listening and will answer their prayers. Apparently!
That day we closed the site at around midnight, running off small generators throughout as the power had not been connected. Our amazing carpenter, Grant, Anthony and I sat exhausted in the darkness, drinking the remainder of what had been a 5-litre bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label neat, chain-smoking cigarettes and going through the programme for the opening day. Our first guests were coming off an Emirates flight and would be in the lodge at 5 in the evening and there was still a mountain of work to complete. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, but lay in my daughter’s cot (she was just nine months old) and listened to lions roaring in the valley. I wondered if our lodge would be a huge success or an epic failure
The following day work started at first light and by 9am we had made huge headway. Laying grass around the pool area, nailing down the last planks in the dining room, painting the walls and connecting all the lighting. It was an epic push from everyone, Patrick and Laurence (our barmen) were busily painting doors and walls, Yvonne and the girls were getting the rooms ready and our head chef Steve with his team were busy making bread. It was an incredible moment to see everyone pulling together like that, hungry to get The Emakoko all fired up before the late afternoon.
Just to add to everything a small army of our friends arrived with sandwiches for lunch and hands to help put everything together. Washing floors, painting walls, placing furniture running up and down the hill to get things from the laundry area and generally converting a mammoth building site into a full blown lodge. These people were amazing and without them I think the lodge would have remained a building site!!!
By 5pm, as the vehicle, filled with guests, crept down the precarious hill to the lodge we were ready. The builders and Mr. Kariuki retreated into the staff camp and our friendly helpers vanished off into the sunset. I recall Patrick, armed with a paint brush having put the finishing touches to a toilet door, sprinting into the back and then re-emerging, “Superman”-style, in his new uniform. Having worked together at that point for over six years at the time, he knew exactly what was expected of him, and without hesitation he was off to the bar to get scented flannels and welcome drinks, plastering an enormous smile on his face he walked to the end of the bridge to welcome our guests, as though we had been here for years.
And just like that, on the 30th January 2012, The Emakoko was born!