BY NJANGE MAINA
Towards the end of February, a Facebook pop-up advert appeared on my timeline. The ad was of a professional hiking company that was planning a tour of Castle Forest and Falls, which is part of Mt Kenya. I tentatively registered, as I proceeded to do an online countercheck about the company, Kenya Adventurers. Normally, I read reviews of a hiking group prior to finalising my plans.
After going through the reviews, I was contented with the group and went ahead to get finer details from the organisers and after agreeing on the terms, I was set for Castle Forest. One week to the hike, I decided to always opt for stairs over the elevator to increase my muscle performance.
One of my worst memorable post-hike experiences was a muscle cramp that lasted for four days. It was during a hike at the Aberdare Ranges and the aftermath was unfathomable. My hamstrings, adductors and possibly every leg muscle were in deep pain. So, after such a harrowing experience, I take matters to do with health during hikes seriously.
On the material morning, I packed a light back weight comprising light snacks, few mangoes, bananas, two litres of water and small pack of natural yoghurt. I got into my track pants and Weinbrenner boots. Since it was at the climax of the February heat, I hadn’t seen the need for a jacket, but given the random weather changes in the mountains, I saw a jacket wouldn’t hurt and then I proceeded to join the rest.
I found the waiting bus about half full. I scanned my eyes through to see if I could recognise any face. Sadly, everyone was a stranger to me. Being a Sunday morning, I retreated to devotional materials on my phone. A few minutes later, other people joined and we were ready to go. We said a short prayer and bid Nairobi goodbye.
The rusty bus pulled across plains and small hills and in about two hours time, we had traversed across three counties. Were it not for a puncture at Kenol town along Thika-Sagana highway, I could have narrated this story two hours earlier (pun intended). Of all the roadside views, Mwea was the most captivating. Paddy fields cover most of the Mwea plains. The green rice fields viewed against morning sunrays made them look even more beautiful.
We arrived at the foot of the forest at 10am. Three armed muscular men in jungle uniform welcomed us at the gate. They introduced themselves as the custodians of the forest and briefed us on the intrigues of the jungle we were about to explore. The three also doubled up as our tour guides. In the forest, elephants and buffaloes roamed leisurely as we were told, hence the very importance of an armed guide. And then we took on the forest.
I made sure that my bag rested comfortably on my back. I knew I would take abrupt movements in the forest. In the first hours, we stirred dust from the ground, which by then had accumulated up to heel level. The dusty paths lead us deeper and higher into the forest. The ground was covered by deep green vegetation that made the forest so dark. The tall trees only allowed thin beams of light pass through them. On the paths, elephants had made several big foot trails, which looked anything closer to the Australian map and formed a pattern that disappeared deep into the forest.
Four hours in the thick jungle, the forest became clear; scattered patches of bamboo and shrubs could be seen. All that long, I hadn’t seen or heard any remarkable animal apart from birds that shrieked sweet melodies, but with no harmony. However, things started to change gradually, as we reached at steep slopes that led to dark valleys. I could hear the clattering sound of water falling from a cliff. Everyone seemed to be excited about what we were about to see. We slowly and cautiously climbed down a hill that led to a stream. The fall was now in full view.
The fall was about 30 metres high and the water was falling from a rock cliff. About 20 metres from the ground, the rock had carved inwards which gave the water a free fall. Water was falling in a thud, which formed ripples at the base. It also formed a small basin and then flowed down in a narrow stream. As I learnt, the stream joined other tributaries to form River Thiba; Standard Five Geography right?
After gathering courage, I took off my shoes to wade through the crystal clear water. My first dip of the feet gave the best interaction with the fall. The water was freezing cold, probably below 10 degrees Celsius. At first, my feet numbed, but some daredevils took to swimming in the chilling waters; talk of courage. I, however, managed to collect a few pebbles from the banks of the basin as memorabilia, otherwise how would I convince my friends that I had been to Castle Forest and Falls?