Above: Sunrise at South Nandi Forest surrounded by Nyayo Tea Zone at Kobujoi. May 2019. Copyright Rupi Mangat
It’s dawn. And magical.
In the first light, the rising sun illuminates the tea and forest-clad peaks of the South Nandi Forest as a white mist lifts languidly from the valleys. It’s so beautiful an image that we have to stop to take it all in. On the other side of the road that stretches from Kapsabet to Nandi Hills Town via Serem, the ancient rock-clad hills of Maragoli lines Lake Victoria that is Africa’s largest lake.
In the early morning, women with woven baskets on their backs weave their way along the tea fields picking the ‘two leaves and a bud’ so fast that by the end of the day they have filled several baskets.
Within minutes of turning in at Kobujoi we’re in the little-explored South Nandi Forest that until six decades ago stretched all the way from its more famous cousin, the iconic Kakamega Forest. Until recent centuries, these forests were connected to the great Congolese rainforest that is the second largest tropical rainforest on earth and the lungs of Africa. An estimated eight per cent of the earth’s carbon is stored in the forests of the DRC, making the country the fourth largest carbon reservoir in the world. And to think we were once part of this great forest once makes the mind boggle.
Once inside the forest, we take a detour to the gigantic rock in the inner sanctum of the forest. The rock towers amongst the indigenous trees and once atop it, it’s a different view of the forest looking down – instead of up – on the forest floor full of ferns and vines, leaves and moss-clad tree trunks.
The forest charms. A snake slithers to catch a mouse but misses it. It happens so fast that nobody catches a picture of it. We’re looking for animals that are only found in this part of the world with support from the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW – another way of saying ‘a few’). During the night, we’ve been regaled with palm-sized moths appearing from the forest attracted by the lights. The owl moth with its eye spots fools the predator into thinking its’ a big owl while the Atlas moth is named so because of its size – the largest of the moths with an incredible natural history. It has no mouth and once it comes out of its pupa it survives on its stored fat for a week and then dies.
We explore different forest paths. On a quiet path, Jacob Chesum the community forest guard stops and silently points to a nestling still in its nest in the cusp of a tree.
The forest path continues past a stream to the farmers’ fields that are full of vegetables like tomatoes guarded by a family of scarecrows all dressed in different outfits. They are works of art by the local farmer who calls himself Safari – so named because he was born during the then East African Rally in 1964.
In the four days in the forest, one of the highlights is to look for forest birds that are only found in the tropical rainforests. And it does not disappoint. The signature species is the Turner’s eremomela whose stronghold is this forest even though its range spreads to the Congolese forest.
When the branch moves on the canopy, all eyes shoot up to watch a family of colobus monkeys feed on the leaves and then we’re even more amazed to see the rarely seen red-tailed monkey.
Reaching a river that flows to meet the Yala before draining into Victoria, Wendy Ayers in the group tells us about a new health therapy that’s big in the US – it’s called Forest Bathing.
And we’re in the perfect spot for it.
All you have to do is be part of the forest. It’s a Japanese therapy called ‘Shinrin-yoku’ derived in the 1980s. The scientifically-proven benefits of Shinrin-yoku are boosting your immune system and energy levels that we declare South Nandi Forest should be a protected forest for ‘forest bathers’.
On the last day in forest, we make it to the little visited northern part of South Nandi Forest. It’s Sunday and little Nandi boys march into the forest with buckets to smoke out the bees for honey. With expert ease, the kids who are only seven years old ask me to stand aside if l don’t want to be stung. One gathers moss from the tree trunks and lights it close to the hole in the tree.
The forest ranger in plains’ clothes appears. And the kids vanish with lightning speed.
Visit South Nandi Forest. Contact South Nandi Environment Biodiversity Conservation Group that is the site support group of Nature Kenya for guides. 172 species of birds were recorded. You can request for the bird list from Nature Kenya to help you with your birding in South Nandi Forest.
Read more on South Nandi Forest.
You must report to the forester’s office at Kobujoi before entering.
You can camp at Kobujoi Forest Station Eco Bandas and Campsite or stay in comfort at Eden Springs Hotel in Kapsabet.
You can make this part of a longer trip with Kakamega forest up to Mtelo Mountain past Kitale.