Forest therapy? Tree lovers say it heals the soul

A group of people on a forest tour. PHOTO | Courtesy
A group of people on a forest tour. PHOTO | Courtesy 

Catherine Wacuka, a forest guide, spends most of her days in the woods watching groups of people meandering through thickets, staring at birds with rare colourful feathers daintily darting around the bushes and sometimes searching for wild fruits or butterflies.

These are not children playing outdoors, but working class Kenyans escaping the chaotic city.

On most weekends, she walks with groups of people in forests through small paths, up mountains while holding onto to tiny branches or rocks.

Forest tours are the new adventure, growing in popularity among Nairobi residents seeking to stay away from noise and civilisation and keep fit. Most of the forest trailers do not like strenuous mountain hikes.

“Forest trailing helps people to connect and interact with nature freely,” said Ms Wacuka.

The 25-year-old said the activity which is similar to forest bathing is ideal for people who cannot hike for long hours and who fear heights hence cannot climb mountains.

“I didn’t know much about forest trailing but after trying it, I got addicted. Now, I have mastered many forests and I don’t have to follow one route,” she said.

If you are planning to start forest trailing, carry a map for directions. To kill boredom, do rock climbing, hug trees or do forest bathing which involves sitting down and getting a 10-30 minute fix of life in the woods.

Other activities include bird watching, taking photos and looking for forest fruits.

Ms Wacuka said this activity is recommended to people suffering battling depression, fatigue and those with stress.

“Those suffering from high blood pressure have also been recommended to engage in forest trailing activity as its helps to reduce stress hence stabilising blood levels,” she said.

The more you go back to the forest, the more your senses get awakened hence you learn to relax as you smell clean air while listening to the birdsongs.
Ms Wacuka said what she tells people during a trail is to meander, sit and meditate.

“Sit down in the middle of the forest, listening to your inner self.”
You don’t have to go with a tour guide.

“But guides make people feel at ease especially in forests with wild animals, giving them confidence to wander with purpose whatsoever, and it’s where the fun is,” she said.

Forest trailing can either be done in a mountain forest or in other low land forests such as Karura Forest.

For a forest tour, carry enough water, wear light clothes and comfortable shoes. If it is in a mountain, invest in good hiking shoes with cushioned padding.

Ms Wacuka has been forest trailing for five years in different forests, both mountain and lowland forests.

So far, she has walked through Kakamega, Karura, Aberdare Ranges, Mt Kenya forests and Nairobi Arboretum.

‘‘Mt Kenya is the most adventurous,’’ she said.

Forest adventures have been known calm the body. You also carry your bicycle and ride up the mountains or through the long grass. Such activities are mostly attracting the middle-aged, working class and mostly those aged 20 to 35 years.