Deep in the Nandi hinterland are scenic waterfalls and pristine rivers – perfect for camping groups. It’s where nature meets man in his bare essentials of camping – a cloth over the head for shelter.
The valley opens below. Cliffs and high valleys stand in the midst of a sky pregnant with moisture. The rains are about to come. We stop at the Kerio Tingwa Ecotourism camping site for a stretch and to admire the beautiful landscape. We are on our way to Eldoret via the Eldama Ravine road and then to Chepkiit waterfall.
A map on the sign board points to the interesting features in the view. We can see Tongwoto caves, Tingwa hills at 2,700 meters and somewhere below are the Kabilet waterfalls and Kerio River. At the next viewpoint, we can see the white rug on the terrain of the Fluorspar mines.
It’s nearly midnight and we are camping just off the turn from Biribiriet near Eldoret on the Eldoret-Kapsabet road. The night air is cold but stunningly revitalizing. This is the ultimate forest camping experience. The gurgle of the stream running at the bottom of the field is inviting. The moon, hidden in the clouds, sends a little light in the terrestrial grounds, but our eyes have become accustomed to the darkness. We are no longer daunted by it. Instead, warmed by the camping fire, we are suddenly animated when somebody suggests a midnight walk with Beryl to the rivers edge in search of frogs! This may be my proverbial chance to kiss the frog and end up with Prince Charming. I join in.
The trouble with frogs is that you get to see them more at night. So much of Beryl’s fieldwork is stalking the wilds in the dark armed with torch and plastic bags to catch the jumping jacks.
We tread the grass softly so as not to frighten the amphibians. Ringed by the glow of the torchlight, a tiny reed frog tenderly perches on a thin grass. It’s quite a piece of art, this delicate scene. "That’s a reed frog", Beryl says as our torches beam on many more in the shallow edges of Kipkeren River, as it thunders over the nearby Chepkiit waterfalls and onwards to Kingwal swamp. Many of the tiny water frogs are breeding and their throat sacs are ballooned enormously to call out female mates. It’s a busy little scene by the banks of the river. In contrast, the bigger grass frogs look monstrous and scary.
"Frogs are a good indicator of a clean environment," says Beryl. "Any disturbance of the water quality effects their populations." There is no long term national data on the amphibians to compare the state of the environment or the diversity of frogs. Beryl is one of the few young Kenyans studying frogs.
Amazing! In the light of the following morning, where the scene was busy the night before, there is not a single frog. I take a leisurely stroll to a secluded water pool surrounded by massive rocks for a morning bath. The water is cool, the early morning clean and pure, and the sky is lit with diverse colurs. The Ross’Turaco with its bright scarlet under wing has everybody taken "under its wing". It’s a bird of the old forests and quite rare.
This place is a find for camping nature lover groups. We are surrounded by trees and open glades, sandwiched between a picturesque Nandi homestead and the river overlooking a stone buff, thanks to Mary, who has been researching the vicinity for six years. "Everybody keeps running to coast for their holidays. They should come here for a once-in-a-lifetime camping experience," she says vehemently. "You won’t believe the number of stunning places like these."
We lumber early out of our gear. After a private bath in the rock pool and a leisurely breakfast, Mary gets us up on our feet again. This time, it’s a walk to the Chepkiit waterfall. There is so much to see walking through the glades of grass and forest – like being in a wonderland.
The turacos awe us time and time again. The harrier hawk, glides to perch on a rock while the tiny leaf loves and green doves fly about. Black and white casqued hornbills send noisy trumpets in flight while the graceful crowned cranes spread their feathers in elegant flight. There is life everywhere. Even on the rocks "I wonder what these are?" Mary asks as she kneels to gently touch the white strawlike threads weaving a pattern on the rocks. I have no idea either. Silk threads touch our bare faces as we walk the jungle part to the waterfall. Its sound reaches us faintly and we step over a border to see this most amazing scene of giant rocks and water and through the wide split in the gorge, a forest stretching into the horizon.
"This is Chepkiit waterfall," announces Mary proudly. Everybody is bowled over and with a new lease to life; we explore the vistas, moving from rock to rock as the water crashes down. This water will flow on Yala swamp and finally, into Lake Victoria.
"The Nandi area is very rich in biodiversity," says Mary." "There are lots of places like these. What we need is to manage these places through researches that they are sufficiently protected."
We visit the nearby homestead; Janet is busy with the usual household chores. Sheep and goats have been let out, the cows have had their morning drink at the river having to walk around the tents, and the cooking is going on. Inside the kitchen, the handmade stove is ablaze with firewood, little escaping from the sides so as to make the most efficient use of the precious fuel. Above are the calabashes, adding a dash of deco in the earth walled kitchen. The botet or calabashes are used to store mursik, the traditional sour milk of the Nandi. I buy a couple, not to store milk, but as a small token of the place.
To explore more of the outdoors and discover all that’s wild, visit a local operator for more information on camping tours. You get to explore places that are off the beaten track with people who make every trip an unforgettable forest camping event.
For more information contact: www.landmarksafaris.com/
Robert Muhoho is a travel consultant and conservationist from Kenya, East Africa.