Kakamega Forest

Posted on November 15, 2011


I have to admit to not  being too optimistic about the standard of Kenyan overnight bus travel, but I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Easy Coach bus that took us from Nairobi to the small town of Kakamega on a Friday night. The standard of the road, however, declined massively as the journey went on. Only 9,000km of Kenya’s 63,000km of roads are paved, and once we had passed Nakuru and were on the less-followed road to Kakamega, it was unpaved to the point of passenger concussion.

This is Africa. Arriving in Kakamega at just after 5am, we began to see why this road was less-followed than others, at least by tourists. The place was as non-descript an African town as it is possible to find, with little to recommend it (even Lonely Planet struggled). Motor-taxi drivers greeted us as if we were the first mzungus to arrive in town since the end of colonialism, begging us to let them take us to our desired destination. Unfortunately for them, for the moment at least our desired destination was the nearest open coffee shop for breakfast, swiftly followed by renting a room for half-an-hour in the local prostitutes’ hangout in order to grab a quick shower and prepare for the day.

After a quick stroll around the streets of Kakamega we came across the market, an interesting slice of Kenyan life where again we were treated as visiting aliens, asked to hold children and buy dry fish and various vegetables from almost identical market stalls. As in other markets I have visited on my travels, I was amazed at how thirty dried fish stalls, all set up in the same area, could make enough money to survive. Particularly as one lot of dried fish appeared exactly the same as the next lot (by which to say, foul). Worn out by the sun and the constant attention of locals, we retreated into a dingy backroom bar for some Tuskers, well-hidden from any passing policemen as by all accounts Kenya has a rule that you cannot drink on a Saturday until 5pm.

Our respective middle fingers to authority duly shown, we caught a motorbike – or boda-boda, or pika-pika, depending what part of the country you are in – out of town to the Crying Stone, the only tourist attraction nearby. Again, it appeared as if no tourist had ventured to this part for quite some time, judging by the tremendously excited reaction of the locals to our arrival. It eventually turned out this was because we provided a source of funding to the local community that lived around the stone, both in terms of a donation and then paying our (drunk) guide for “security” (said in a quite threatening, though slurred, manner). The stone is so-named because once the bowled top overflowed, giving the appearance of crying, it was a bad omen for the Luhya community that lives in the area and prompted a community meeting. I can only presume this is no longer adhered to.

Finally escaping our begging guides, we jumped back on the boda-boda to Kakamega Forest, the real reason for visiting the area. The only rainforest in Kenya, it used to spread across Africa but has felt the effects of deforestation and is now much smaller. Regardless, it was still a remote and interesting place to spend two days, and hosted a handful of conservation projects. Our accommodation for the night was a wooden guesthouse perched on stilts, with no electricity or hot water. It was as basic as basic can be, but suited our purposes and budget. After leaving our stuff we headed off into the forest with our guide, who was informative about the varieties of plants and fauna there. A lack of animals was soon explained by the fact that the heavens opened. It seemed that the monkeys were prepared for the rain when we were not, as we had left raincoats back at the guesthouse due to how nice the weather had been when we left. After a brief climb to a vantage point for a view of that part of the forest, we ran through mud back to base to hide from the rain, absolutely wet through.

Once the rain stopped falling, we headed over to the canteen for dinner. We had been asked to order our dinner in advance, and had obviously taken the opportunity to order a few beers in as well. This was a good shout, as dinner consisted of tasteless ugali and chewy meat in a mud shack. We drank our beers and were asleep by 10pm, exhausted from the previous night and tired of using torches to see each other. Breakfast the next morning was similarly disappointing, after which we were shown around the butterfly breeding house before leaving on a long hike of the forest. This turned out to be mostly along a road, but we saw plenty of local wildlife, notably monkeys, snakes and butterflies. At one point a rhino-horned viper blocked our path, and we dispersed it by throwing a stick at it. The highpoint of the walk, literally, was a spectacular view of the forest from the top of a hill. The weather had been kind to us, and we returned to base via a brief look in a darkened bat cave.

From here there was little to do but head back to town, full up on roast goat and Tusker beer, and complete the journey home aided by a small bottle of Kenya Cane liquor.



Posted in: Experience, Travel