Built To Tumble

Built To Tumble

AlreadyFallingDown If you haven’t visited the spectacular Soroi Lodge in the Serengeti yet, you better do so soon, because I don’t think it’s going to be around for a very long time.

The story of Soroi Serengeti Lodge is the story of investment in African safari lodges virtually from the onset of safari travel in the 1960s.

It’s the story of small business trying to cash out quickly on trends, and then always, failing. Only now, as Africa develops its own safari traveler are things looking up … but not for the likes of Soroi Lodge.

Below is my detailed review of Soroi. I stayed there while guiding the Felsenthal Family at the beginning of July for two nights. On Thursday, I’ll generalize in this blog to what’s happening throughout Africa with its lodge investment, tell you which few investors are doing the right thing and why, and what warning signs we’re now getting for the mid-term for safari travel.
Set about half way between Serena Lodge and the Grumeti airstrip in the southern half of the western corridor, Soroi is one of the most beautiful middle-sized lodges I’ve ever stayed at. The design avoids the cliche of avant garde but is creatively modern with lots of angular twists and turns, multiple levels and daring concepts like putting a pool next to the bar and lounge.
trestle.soroiserengetilodgeSome of this is probably mandated by its limited space, the top of a 600′ high hill 25 kilometers off the nearest road, resulting in an absolutely fantastic and intimate view of the grande dame of African wildernesses.

The 25 thatched cottages and suites are connected by long and sometimes meandering walkways like trestles through outer space, views everywhere.

The bathrooms are about the same size as the bedrooms, which are adequate and heavily wooded, and the piece de resistance is that massive deck overlooking the Serengeti. I estimate the view from the deck stretches at least 35 miles over the Serengeti. There are no other lodges and only one track in this immense area, fulfilling every safari traveler’s dream of being alone in the remote beauty of Africa.
And that’s it folks.

Hardly two years old, this artistic masterpiece is already not working.

Much of the room finishings are breaking off. The thick lustrous wooden stain is already down to the bare wood in the bathroom and there is already significant corrosion on all the brass plated fixtures. The patio doors between the room and the deck no longer close well, leaving a gap for you know what … bugs. The screen meshes on the perfectly designed canvass windows are buckling and tearing.

There is no communication between the distant cottages or reception and management: no phones, no walkie talkies as is often customary. So there is no way to communicate danger, other than a pitifully small whistle attached your key chain, and yes there could be danger. I spotted lion and hyaena tracks regularly on the walk from my room.

There is a bouquet basket of teas and coffees, sugars and sweeteners framed by two lovely china cups on the rather small writing desk in your room, but no tea or coffee maker, and the only way to use them is to order hot water. Staff deliver hot water on demand, but there is no way to order it except to walk up to reception – might as well get it yourself.

And even that is complicated by the lodge edict that you can’t walk around at night by yourself. I learned from an askari who claimed to shoo the lions away every night. But there is no way to call for an askari at night … except your whistle.

And consider the beautiful and large four claw bathtub elegantly described in much of the lodge’s promotional literature. The briefing we got when arriving explained that there wasn’t enough hot water to fill the bath more than … maybe, once. So … don’t use.

Laundry is something that every African safari lodge and camp provides, albeit at various costs from free to outlandish. Soroi’s website and its information packet describes that two pieces of laundry are free and additional will be charged.

But at the briefing we were told there couldn’t be more than two pieces accepted, at any charge. And the complicated maize that management has thrown up to us weary warriors in need of a clean T-shirt included the fact that laundry is only accepted at night, for return the following night. This is exactly half-cycled from what is common virtually everywhere else, morning to that same evening, which further complicated anyone’s laundry plans particularly if they were only staying for two nights.

One of the six rooms my group was assigned didn’t have enough water to flush a toilet.

And my three drivers apologized to me the night after we arrived that they weren’t allowed any water to wash the vehicles.

So what do we have? We have a lodge that doesn’t have enough water, which has not been built to last, and which is declining fast. An investment with a quick R.O.I.

It’s a lovely sand castle, but the engineering won’t withstand the next strong wind.

This beautiful, very artistic but so temporal investment is the perfect example of why investment in African safari lodges is so tricky, and probably so misplaced.

For that, come back to this blog on Thursday.