It’s a cool May afternoon and my adventurous friends Angela, Christine and I are looking for an affordable and fun getaway for the weekend. After asking around, we set off for Shinyalu in Kakamega.
When most people think about Kakamega, what comes to mind immediately is the Rondo retreat centre. Little known, however, are the new set of comfortable cottages and camp site within the Kakamega forest, just 55 km North of Kisumu and 415 km away from Nairobi via Nakuru and Kapsabet towns.
Once in Kakamega, we head out to the National Reserve forest on the Eastern part of the rain forest; the canopy of natural beauty, home to a variety of animal species ranging from the cute Colobus monkey, a collection of colourful butterflies, snakes and birds.
With our little bandas booked, our bags in our rooms and all set for the day, we venture into the park and as we start our nature walk, we come across the warden who is to take us on a tour of the park.
“Let us go up to the most exciting point where you can view the entire forest from a bird’s eye view,” says Hassan Bashir Harun.
We follow him towards the two-storey grass thatched shed that lies on top of the hilly terrain of the Kakamega rainforest. Before we know it, we are overlooking a beautiful canopy of trees, a spectacular landscape facing us from a far with the clouds so dense that the higher massif is invisible.
This is one of the view points for adventurous people and nature lovers to start their tour from as it gives one a view of the whole forest below.
The monkeys have made the viewpoint their hideout and we can hear them chattering inside the shed peeping at us as we head up to the highest rock for a better view. Using his binoculars, Harun spots a cobra snake lazily resting on a strangler fig tree with its head high above the surrounding leaves.
From our viewpoint, the thick rainforest vegetation is quite clear, but the cobra is invisible to the naked eye. Harun tells us that the forest is home to different species of snakes; therefore it is not a surprise to watch one crawl slowly ahead as you walk through the forest trails.
We are cautioned against leaning on the trees as most of them are home to the snakes.
The view point provides the best site for a picnic amidst the forest vegetation; it is the only dry land where one can access direct heat from the sun unlike the heavy overhead cover within the thick forest.
The centuries-old trees, some 100 years old, create a magnificent environment for the birds, insects, butterflies and other wildlife.
As we walk to the Ishiuku waterfall below the lush forest canopy, we come across some of Africa’s greatest hard and soft woods ranging from Elgon teak, red and white stink woods and several varieties of indigenous trees.
The marvellous sight of the orchids growing wild among the branches of the larger trees, the deep shade within the canopy and the constant melodious birdcalls, the woody scents and colourful flowers is simply mindblowing.
Time literally stands still as we sit on the rocks surrounding the waterfall and watching the water flow into a local river below.
We decide to take some time watching the monkeys that are swinging around the tree branches. The De Braza monkeys locally called ‘kalasinga’ in Kiswahili because of its white beard keeps jumping from one branch around the falls as if putting on a show for us.
After the eventful day, we head back to the camp and set up a barbecue bonfire to prepare our meals before we retire to bed.
“This open air barbecue is just the best thing,” exclaims Angela as we start cooking.
The reserve has a large cooking shed in the middle of the large lawn for those who want to enjoy outdoor cooking. Fire wood is provided with twigs to help light up the fire.
Needless to say, the three of us enjoyed our outdoor meal of roast meat, noodles served with roasted potatoes and tomato chilli soup.
After our meal, we decide take a walk around the cottages which are comfortable and fully equipped with a kitchenette and clean washrooms. Since they are self-catering, come prepared with your provisions for the number of days you will be there.
You can also buy fresh produce from the nearby markets. One can choose to spend the night in one of the small grass-thatched Udo bandas or in the recently built modern cottages. There are six traditional bandas constructed in the local Isukha community tradition which can accommodate a maximum of 14 people.
The modern Isukuti cottages are located within the park headquarters in a quiet compound; each has two bedrooms, a fully-equipped kitchen and dining area. Adventurous visitors can opt to camp on the wide, lush lawns of the Udo campsite with security guaranteed around the clock.
The reserve attracts guests from all walks of life ranging from local to international tourists and corporate clients who access the place for team-building.
Resident adults pay Sh200 for park entry, non-residents are charged $20 and East African residents pay Sh500. Children are charged Sh100, $10 and Sh250 respectively.
Camping fees is Sh150 for Kenyans, Sh300 for East African residents and $15non-residents while children are charged Sh100, Sh150, and $10 respectively.
The reserve also has vehicles on hire for tours around the park and come at different depending on the size and model.