Kakamega Rain Forest!

Whitney and I just arrived back from a wonderful weekend at Kagamega Forest, Kenya’s only rain forest.  I thought I would share a photographic tour of our journey to Kakamega, and some highlights from the trip.

The Journey to Kakamega

We left at 8am on Saturday morning toward the forest with four other short term missionaries from Tenwek (Steve – a resident from Duke, William – a medical student from Ghana/Ukraine, Comfort – a banker from Ghana, David – a medical resident from South Korea).  Our drive initially took us past numerous tea fields, similar to what we posted about previously.

Tea pickers working the tea fields.

Our driver, Donald, had arranged for us to visit and tour a tea factory  to learn how black tea was produced since the factory was on the way to the forest.  We visited Chelal Tea Factory, where we were welcomed and treated to a excellent informational tour of the factory.  Here are some pics and highlights from the factory:

Whtiney and I donned our oversized white factory coats, and started the tour!

Left to right, starting from upper left: a) Freshly picked tea leaves are brought to the factory, b) Upon arrival, the bags of tea are transferred off the truck and weighed, c) random sample handfuls from every bag are sorted into different categories, based on the quality of the tea leaf. If the bags do not contain at least 75% of leaves in the highest quality category, then that bag is rejected and sent back, d) after a bag is accepted, the leaves are initially dried slightly for 4-18 hours (not shown) and then go through a cutting/shredding process, fermentation, oxidation, further drying, and sorting into categories based on particle size, appearance, and quality. In this picture, the tea leaves have been cut/shredded, and are starting the fermentation.

More pics from the factory. On this collage of pictures, the tea further changes color via fermentation/oxidation/dehydration and eventually ends up a dark black color. Following the extraction of the finished product, the tea is made and a quality control inspector samples each grade of tea for taste, color, texture etc. in the tasting room. Following the tour of the factory, we were taken to their wood burning furnace which aids in the drying process. They had thousands and thousands of wood logs to support the wood burning. They use Eucalyptus trees which grow quickly, and for every tree that is cut down, a new one is planted to ensure sustainability. Finally, after the tour, we were treated to a delicious cup of chai, and I must say, this tea certainly passed my taste test!

We finished the tour at about 11am and met Donald at the car.  We anticipated having another 2-3 hour drive prior to arriving at Kakamega.  Unfortunately, we had some serious car trouble and could not get the car started.  We ended up stranded at the Tea Factory for 2+ hours while awaiting for Donald to take a motorcycle taxi (called Boda Bodas) to a nearby town to purchase a part that was the suspected culprit.  While waiting, we chatted with many of the friendly tea workers and learned more about Kenyan culture, traditions, politics etc.  I was impressed with their incredible hospitality.  Fortunately the car did eventually start, and we were back on our way.

Pushing the car in the Chelal parking lot as it was blocking delivery of the tea leaves. We enlisted the help of a few others and were eventually able to move the car uphill and out of the way.

While waiting to leave, dozens of kids came to the factory fence and observed/followed us everywhere we went

The journey continues…

After getting back on the road, we drove through various small villages, past many dukas (small roadside stands selling produce or other basic supplies).  The tea fields that dominate the Tenwek landscape became less prominent as we drove north, and were replaced by sugarcane as the dominant agriculture product.  A few more pics…

A road-side stand selling banana clusters

A Kenyan sugar cane field

After harvesting, the sugar cane is transported to a nearby sugar factory. We saw dozens and dozens of sugar cane loads being carried. Small loads are actually transported by bicycle, or even on the top of someones head while they walk to the nearest factory.

Unfortunately, about an hour or so from Kakamega, our car stalled again and we had another 1+ hour delay.  With the help of a local mechanic, we were able to get going again, although the delays made the trip a bit more exhausting.  Once going again, we next drove through the Nandi Hills, which are the home to many of the famous, elite Kenyan distance runners.  On this trip, we didn’t see too many runners…maybe they are all in London!  Here are a few pics from the Nandi region:

The Nandi hills

Nandi Hills again visible in the background

Kakamega Rain Forest

Well, after a long journey, we arrived to Kakamega rainforest and I must say, it was well worth the wait.  400 years ago, this forest spread across much of the central belt of Africa, but with settlement, the forest largely disappeared.  Kakamega is now a protected rainforest in Western Kenya featuring immense, ancient hardwood trees, an extensive network of vines, orchids, innumerable other plants, and a diverse array of butterflies, tropical birds, and monkeys.  We stayed in authentic bandas (small thatched roof huts) designed in the Luhya tradition (the Kenyan tribe that occupies this region).  The bandas are maintained by an environmental/educational group called KEEP.  The bandas offered a truly authentic Kenyan experience as this is the type of home in which many people in Kenya live.  Additionally, it only cost ~8 dollars per night per person, so it was tough to beat that price.  A few pictures of our accommodation is shown below:

Whitney and I next to our authentic banda!

Whitney hanging out in the banda. Ours included four single beds (with bedding included!), 4 mosquito nets, a coffee table, toilet paper, and…well, thats it!

The roof of our hut!

Around our campsite, was a group of about 20 Blue Monkeys.  They were a riot to watch as they jumped from one branch to the next, eating leaves, and glancing down at us every now and then.  It was dusk when we arrived, so the lighting was poor, but here is a representative picture and short video of one of the monkeys.

A Kakamega Blue Monkey!



Hike to Lirhanda Peak

The next morning, we met our guide, Abraham, at 5am for a sunrise hike to Lirhanda Hill, which is the highest point of the forest at ~5200 feet above sea level.  It was pitch dark when we left, so we all had flashlights to navigate through the forest.  It rained overnight, so the paths were quite soft and muddy, which made navigation a bit more challenging!  On the way, we encountered a Jackal, but did not get a great view of it due to the darkness.  By the time we reached the top of the hill, it was nearly sunrise.  Unfortunately, it was a cloudy morning, so sunrise did not make a dazzling appearance, however, the views from the top were still quite spectacular!  Here are a few examples:

One of the first views from the top!

It was cool to see the fog settling over the forest

another view from Lirhanda

Whitney and I at the top

A group picture overlooking Kakamega

On our way down from Lirhanda, we stopped at this bat cave. Bravely, we all entered to the back of the cave. We were joined there by a group of hammer-headed fruit bats, much to the displeasure of some in our group! They were harmless, but we certainly didn’t stay long in the cave once seeing the bats.

We next hiked through the rain forest where we encountered hundreds and hundreds of monkeys, birds of all different colors and sounds, butterflies, and amazing trees, ferns, and other types of plants.  Our guide, Abraham, was amazing!  It seemed that he knew the name, habitat, and behaviors of all of the different species.  He also could speak to the birds!  He was able to make many different bird calls to match the different species.  On many occasions, he would hear a bird, and start calling back and forth with the bird until we found the bird he was calling.  It was impressive!  We actually did two hikes with Abraham, with a breakfast in between. Here are a few pics of the forest, monkeys, and a few samples of the birds we saw:

Whitney walking next to our guide in the forest

The Blue Headed Bee-eater.

I don’t remember the name of these. I think they were called “Horned Billed…something”

Another view of the forest!

A few flowers we came across

Standing next to a centuries old massive sandpaper tree. It gets its name since the leaves are rough and feel exactly like sandpaper.


Our guide Abraham inside a Fig Tree. This tree was about 600 years old. Fig trees are often hollow inside because they are parasitic trees and grow on and around their hosts until the host inside dies. The host then decomposes over time leaving an empty cavity inside the fig tree.

Kakamega Monkeys:

Here are some representative pictures of some of the monkeys we saw:

These are the famous Black and White Colobus monkeys! They have long black tails with a fuzzy white ball at the end of the tail. They are known for their great leaping ability, and we enjoyed watching them jump far distances from one branch to the other. They apparently can cover up to 100 feet with one leap!!  Can you see all four in this picture?

Two more Colobus monkeys

The Red-Tailed monkey. Typically it spends its time high in the canopy, but this fella came down for a visit!

Two blue monkeys in a tree. These two, along with about two dozens others, were hanging in the trees just above our bandas.

Whitney looking up at a Blue Monkey with another Blue Monkey observing in the background.

Another Blue Monkey

Fortunately, our trip back was much less eventful without any car trouble!  Thanks for taking the time to view some of our pics.  I will post again in a few days regarding some more interesting and exciting medical cases that I have been a part of, and Whitney will share soon about some of her interesting experiences at the school!  Blessings!!



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4 thoughts on “Kakamega Rain Forest!

  1. I want to greatly thank God for stumbling on this blog. I work in the healthcare field here in the US and my native home happens to be the Kenya Great Rift Valley. I have learned a great deal from your blog especially from the healthcare front. Your blog is very authentic. Everytime i read your blog, it takes me on a journey back home and it is so surreal. I mean one time, I was one of those boys standing at the fence and curiously looking at the Wazungu. I want to thank you guys from the bottom of my heart for helping my people. i guess its Gods small way of performing miracles and changing one life at a time. Im looking forward to your next blog and pictures from home. I pray for your safety as you undertake this vital mission. Kongoi missing. Felix.

  2. Robert L. Visser

    Hi Scott and Whitney…almost one month has past and you two have already done so much. I read the comment from Limof and thought how great. You never know who or how you can be such a good example to others. Like the commercial on TV where someone does something nice and then others do likewise. Go Job kids.

  3. Robert L. Visser

    I meant to say…Good job kids!

  4. Roma Visser

    I cannot believe you knowingly walked into a bat cave! Beautiful pictures though, and another amazing experience.

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