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Trip Report: Kakamega, Eldoret

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Nearly all of my time was spent in Eldoret, but I realize no one really goes there for fun, so I'll keep those comments extra-short. The lack of coverage on Eldoret in the guidebooks is, unfortunately, appropriate. Not much going on there.

But, during one of the weeks, two of us went for two days to Kakamega Forest. (We made other side trips to Naivasha and Masai Mara, but those will be in a different report). We paid a driver from Eldoret to take us to Rondo Retreat and then pick us up about 30 hours later. I think we paid 4000 shilling, which was probably highway robbery but still seemed to be the going rate. Eldoret is also probably the closest airport, and it's around an hour drive to Rondo. Only the last 8km were on dirt road, and it wasn't very dusty, unlike most drives in that part of Kenya.

Rondo sits right in the forest, on beautiful grounds. It was an old logging lodge, eventually donated to a Christian group who maintains it and uses if for some functions but mostly just rents rooms.

The rooms were in a series of cabins with I think 2 rooms per cabin, with a large, shared veranda/porch. The rooms were decent sized and the bathrooms pretty nice, which always must be considered in Kenya. There is a small giftshop (which, sadly, does not sell the tea that they grow across the road). The employees were very nice and inobtrusive. There was a slight billing disagreement, which was resolved immediately and in my favor, no questions asked.

All three meals are served in a dining cabin. There is no menu at Rondo--you sit down and they start feeding you. You have options for water and softdrinks (no alcohol) and you can have seconds, but no real options, altho they do apparently make alternatives for vegetarians who ask ahead of time, but I don't remember a lot of meat in the dishes anyway. They offer tea after every meal as well. Again, the service was quite good. I don't think they charged us for the drinks.

One little thing is that the place runs on generators that switch off at 10:00, so showers after that time are impossible and even bathroom trips are a little sketchy, as there are no lights anywhere in the compound to provide even ambient light through the windows. Rondo is very quiet at all hours--the "Retreat" definitely fits.

The grounds are very nice, with monkeys (blue, redtailed, and colubus) in the trees, altho they were very shy. In the morning and afternoon, they offer guided walks into the forest for I think 300 shilling a person. They also offer a night-time walk, but we didn't indulge, we heard mixed reviews from the other guests. The walks last about 2 hours and have a variety of destinations. Apparently, Americans aren't frequent visitors. I only say this because I have a theory that Americans are more interested in monkeys and Europeans are more interested in birds, and our guide seemed a bit confused when we were more interested in tracking down a troop of baboons than we were in finding what turned out to be a fairly average-looking bird.

That having been said, there were lots of wonderful birds and some pretty amazing butterflies. Our guide also took us to the top of a volcanic hill with great views of the forest. From the hill, he was able to show us where the old-growth forest was and where the secondary forest had grown in after logging had ceased about 100 years ago. There is an old mine shaft on the hill that we entered and saw big fruitbats with I'd guess an 18" wingspan, maybe more!

He also pointed out various plants with medicinal value and which trees different species lived in, and it was pretty interesting stuff.. the forest is dense and green, tho not the dripping wet jungle I'd imagined.

The next day he took us to where some of the locals were building another lodge/camp for visitors, altho it sounds like their target audience is scientists and not tourists. The locals were also working on a butterfly farm to help augment incomes to help discourage burning of the forest for grazing land.

Anyway, it's hard to do the place justice. I'd give the whole experience a very positive review, although I couldn't judge if it would be worth it on its own for a drive from Nairobi or whatever. Maybe in conjunction with Mt. Elgon (which I didn't visit but some in my group did) and Lake Victoria...

Questions? Even about Eldoret...

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