Kakamega National Forest

by Ian Maclellan

After six prison visits in 5 days, Humera and I decided it was time we relax and get to see an animal or two, so at 6:30 or so on Saturday morning we left our house for Kakamega National Forest. It was 200KSH to Kakamega then another 100KSH to the forest, though I later found out it was only supposed to be 50KSH… The countryside was beautiful and we decided to walk to the park rather than take a boda boda, which was a wise and relaxing decision. At the gates to the park we were greeted sweetly by Beatrice, a student at Moi University studying zoology. I was positive that Kakamega is a traditionally Luiya homeland so I greeted Beatrice with Marembe, turns out she is Kalangin… and I was supposed to say chemgei and she would reply missin.

Oi! It is impossible to tell what language to greet people, the most useful, but less personal is just a plain old habari yaka, which is Swahili, so most people get. Even in Kisumu, you can’t just say eethe nade godhiambo because around Kenya Re everyone is Kikuyu or Luiya, not Luo. It took me a few weeks of little kids in Kenya Re laughing at me for me to finally understand that they don’t speak Luo… Then when there is a random Kisii around, you don’t have  a chance of getting the greeting right unless you say habari, mambo, sa sa, or neige. Also I’ve learned over the weeks that when a little kid greets you in English, he or she will get very scared if you reply in “mother tongue,” whatever that may be.

Beatrice has us sign the guestbook(nobody else has signed it in 5 days! everyone talks about baboons as well) and then gives us a brief history of the park. We then proceed to the other side of the gate(“marembe”(Luiya) to the woman and “chemgei”(Kalangin) to the officerman), where they hit me up for all the American cash I have. It costs $20USD per Mizungu then another $10USD a night for a Banda. That seems like a lot of money, because I am only really used to dealing with small Kenyan bills, but after thinking about it, I pay $10USD a night for our house now, so can’t complain.

It takes 30 minutes or so of wandering to find where we are supposed to stay for the night, but it’s only 10 so nobody is keeping track. A nice man gets us a key for our Banda(Luiya style not Kalangin, Kalangin has a pole in the middle of course everyone knows that) and we then ask the obvious question of where we can eat in the park and it turns out that there is just one small canteen where you can get soda and different kinds of cakes. We need to walk outside of the park and up to the main road if we want to get dinner, whoops! Should of thought of that beforehand. We buy some cakes and coke to hold us over to evening and eat one of our mini chocolate bars. Once we get back to the Bandas, we meet a young Welsh lad who gives us a pineapple because he is backpacking and nobody wants to carry a pineapple while he is backpacking if he can help it.

Being a MacLellanMan I of course have a compass in my head and could never possibly get lost and would be terribly embarrassed to need either a naturalist or a simple map to find my way around the huge forest. We head off to go for a nice fast walk, slowing down just to try and glimpse three kinds of monkey and a red deer and fawn. We do a good 7 or 8 miles and then head back to the campsite to find out more about dinner options. We never really get lost so to speak, but do get confused when we hit a much smaller river than I thought it would be after walking through a very tall grassed “field of shame.” I was on vacation for once so I figured it was cool to just wear flip-flops. I saw an entomologist that morning from Germany and he was, so it must be safe. Amazingly enough it was. I was scared for my little toe’s lives as we walked through the hip high grass that some super crazy venomous snake would have a nice snack, but it never happened. My feet were very tired though, which wouldn’t have happened if I had worn real shoes…

As we were leaving the gate, Beatrice was also walking to the road so she led us to the “Forest View Restaurant,” which taken in the context as the only restaurant for a dozen KM or so was ok… There is a bit of a miscommunication and after trying to get some chapati to go, we are forced to come back tomorrow, when they will make a meal just for us. It turns out they also opened just for us… whoops! You have to be very careful what you say as a mizungu. That isn’t as bad as the time when two men were kicked out of the front of the matatu to Kisumu from Usenge because I accidentally said I would just wait for another matatu because I like to sit in the front. Beatrice helps us negotiate a motorbike back to our Bandas and I was happy to be reassured that even locals have no idea what transportation is supposed to cost. Her estimate was three times lower than her best negotiation. It doesn’t get dark for a little bit, so we sit outside, then read a bit inside and fall asleep around 8:30, a mere 6 hours earlier than normal. Turns out it’s hard to stay asleep for any meaningful period of time when you go to sleep 6 hours early.

We wake up around 5:43 and head out down the trail to the viewpoint. I of course have no map, so I just guess which way the viewpoint is. By the magic of being me, I pick the right direction and am greeted with wonderful orange cliffs, gently warmed by the pre-sunrise light. My favorite light. I scurry around on the rocks in my normal precarious manner, a camera hanging off of both shoulders, that is two cameras for those counting at home. I decide on the 30/1.4 and 105/2.8 ’cause I’m tired and need to be using fast lenses when I’m tired. The sunrise is amazing though I get anxious to be down in the valley the moment I see the fog down there. After the sun peaks its little head up over the hills we make our way towards the waterfall in search of some good haze. I dunno what is up because the moment you start thinking you’ll catch that gold at the end of the rainbow, you don’t actually find any haze at all. The waterfall is pretty and yes, hazy, so very close to my goal. I dance around on the rocks taking some longer exposures of the water moving over the rocks, but without a tripod it is hard to hold the camera still enough with the angle I want. Whatevs the weight and maneuverability trade off in the long term is way better. I do wish that I brought my 135-400 because it is wicked hard to get any useful picture of a monkey, way up in the canopy, when you are just using a 105… Such is life.

We get back, eat cake, then fall asleep.

I open the door and glimpse a shiny baboon butt scurrying out of the field into the woods. Lame-0. We then really get up, pack, and start to bring our key back to the main office of the park, finding 11 baboons in the big field by the office. I could deal with being a German entomologist if I get to see 11 baboons at random intervals throughout the day and don’t have to wear real shoes. We then go for a walk in an attempt to see giant strangler figs that were advertised, finding none. I did manage to get an okay picture of a monkey, which means Brittany will let me come home now. Humera managed to stand in a mount of either Safari or Jungle ants, I’m not really sure, but those are the ones that the entomologist warned us about. He also enlightened us that the “ants” we found dancing and vibrating in rhythm are in fact termites.

We stop in at the Forest View and they open up just so we can have a soda. oh no! Then on the Matatu to Kisumu, which was another adventure in and of itself. It is 2:33 in the morning and I’m supposed to be out of the house by 6:15 to go to a court case in Oyugis, which means I need to go to bed.