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Only four days. The plan? To get to Kenya’s only tropical forest, to the shores of Africa’s largest lake, to the last remaining sanctuary of the Roan Antelope and finally to one of the world’s most famous national reserves in Kenya. The journey was over 1000 kilometers with a camping rest planned for every night. We were about to adventure through Western Kenya. The plan was to do a huge loop through it and just the thought and idea of this trip got my wanderlust juices flowing.
Tip: planning your cooler box is essential! Freeze any liquids and food that will go off in a few days, have it cold before you put it in the cooler. We split each cooler so they would be open on consecutive days, our last one was filled with dry ice, frozen water, beer and was sealed shut, (it was such a treat opening this up on our last day and still finding frozen water and ice cold beer!)
DAY 1 – Kakamega
4 am starts aren’t always fun, but when it’s for a road trip I can excuse the lack of sleep. Groggy yet full of excitement, we set off for Kakamega forest (around a 6-7 hour drive from Nairobi). I love this city at this time of the morning. The empty roads, that early morning chill giving you goosebumps, watching the sun rays slowly stretch its red fingers through the clouds… it’s bliss!
We arrived at Kakamega town for lunch time. Geez, it was a hubbub of boda-bodas, matatus, and pedestrians crisscrossing everywhere! We found ourselves driving on the other side of the road because that’s what all the other cars were doing, it made no sense and I couldn’t wait to get to the peace and quiet of the forest.
Kakamega is a remnant of a rain forest that used to stretch all across Central Africa also known as the Guineo-Congolian forest. Over the years, tracts of the forest have been cut down and turned into farming land. Kakamega forest has been a supplier of firewood, building materials and a source of medicinal plants to the local Luhya people. Despite its rather small size, it is a unique habitat and home to hundreds of species of birds, butterflies, orchids, snakes, primates and countless tree species that you wouldn’t find anywhere in Kenya. Something you have to keep in mind when visiting this forest, you won’t see big mammals, and in fact, despite it being famous for its birds, we didn’t see much, we mainly heard their birdsong. But don’t let that deter you!
We recently had a roof tent designed and installed by a company called Ultra Red just in time for the trip. We were pretty keen to test it out, due to their simplistic design it literally took us less than 2 minutes to set up. Yaas to camping convenience!
We spent the night at Udo Campsite, located quite close to the main gate. It has a large cleared area, a Banda where you can cook and sit inside (we didn’t use it), it also had bathroom and shower facilities. We had a troop of baboons around our campsite most of the time so ensure to pack all your food away before you catch some shut-eye. Our stay in Kakamega was short and we didn’t get to explore the forest but at least we were able to see a hornbill fly over our campsite before we left.
DAY 2 – Rusinga Island
After breakfast, we quickly packed up since we had a ferry to catch at 3 pm. Our next destination was Rusinga Island. We drove through beautiful country. Not your typical travel brochure beautiful but real and alive. Compared to Nairobi which is a spectrum of vibrant colours, this countryside was every shade of green. Heading to Luanda port (around 4 hours away) we weaved in and out of lush farmland and then finally saw the magnificent Lake Victoria (cue your travel-inspiring music and blast it in the background) *sigh* what a sight!
The ferry from Luanda to Mbita was less than an hour, despite the sun pounding relentlessly on us, we were lucky we could sit on the roof rack, have a breeze to keep us cool and a spectacular view of Lake Victoria.
We camped in Wayando Eco Lodge, only a few kilometers from Mbita port. The rooms dotted around the property reminded me of The Shire, I was half expecting Merry and Pippin to be sitting outside puffing away on their pipes. Wayando consisted of shaded circular buildings, hammocks hanging from trees, and an outdoor shower made out of recycled glass bottles was a nice touch.
Our campsite was located right next to the lake and it honestly was one of the best places I’ve camped in my life. The sunset to your left, the sounds of Lake Victoria’s waves hitting the shore and in the morning you are greeted by a remarkable sunrise to your right. We spent the evening eating popcorn, playing monopoly deal whilst watching boats sail across the water.
DAY 3 – Ruma National Park
The next day we spent a few hours at Rusinga Island Resort, enjoying their refreshing swimming pool and cold beers. The highlight of our day was sampling some freshly fried tilapia with ugali and kachumbari. I wish I took a photo but we were all so hungry and it was just too tasty, plus there was no way I was going to stop a group of hangry people eating their meal (including myself… Hell hath no fury when I’m slightly inconvenienced and hungry!)
Ruma National Park was only around 2 hours away, with bellies full of Tilapia and Ugali we made our way to one of Kenya’s smallest parks. It was a short and sweet stay at Ruma. We spent our night at Fig Tree Campsite, a pleasant campsite with panoramic views of the surrounding hills, toilet facilities, and benches.
I was really hoping we would see the Roan Antelope (only found in Ruma National Park) alas the grass was too tall and the bush was too thick, it was a struggle to spot any animal!
DAY 4 – Maasai Mara
Our last stop was the Maasai Mara National Reserve, my first time to ever visit this famous reserve. (I know, I know, shocker!) The drive to the reserve was full of stormy clouds, shades of green and colourful Masaai herding their cattle. I was bursting with excitement as we neared the gate. But my excitement had to be paused. There was an issue with one of the cars… A leaf spring had snapped. In simple terms, it’s not recommended to drive with a broken leaf spring, you just shouldn’t!. The only solution at the time was to have the spring welded (a miracle considering it was Easter Sunday).
Damp and tired we arrived at the Oloololo gate in darkness. With some serious sweet talk and persuasion, we were allowed to enter the Mara Triangle and have our own night safari. We spent a beautiful night at Eluai Campsite full of hyena woops and in the distance we could hear a lion grunting and humming. Our ranger even chased off a couple of Hyena’s literally a few meters away from us, (one brave man!) Eluai Campsite has zero facilities so be prepared to use a shovel and squat, you will also need to carry out your rubbish.
DAY – Back to Nairobi
There was a moment before we headed back to Nairobi where I was watching everyone get back into their cars, busy in their own conversations. A wave of bliss came over me and this quote truly resonated with me.
“Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else.” -Isaac Asimov
I promised myself that I would explore more this year. Travelling has been a way for me to silence my mind, focus on the landscapes surrounding me and connect more with the people around me. This trip has meant more to me than anyone could understand, it left me speechless, lifted a weight off me, and as I’m writing this my head wanders back to the road.
So if you’re reading this right now, looking for a sign to get out and explore. This is it! Book that place, fill your car and fulfill you wanderlust dreams!