Ngare Ndare Forest – Mango juice and Rhino Lipstick!
Another place we enjoyed visiting was the Ngare Ndare forest. Here we were able to walk through a forest which was the habitat for ‘the Big Five’. There were also waterfalls to visit and a treetop canopy to walk across, so would have plenty to do.
Geoff, who had become our ‘go to’ driver, and who had driven us so adeptly around Ol Pejeta, picked us up and we set off again along the Nanyuki to Timau road, now feeling more familiar with the daily activities taking place along the roadside. Geoff had expressed an interest in Marcel’s camera while we had been in Ol Pejeta, and talked about how he could use a good camera to help with his safari business. Marcel, kindly offered to give it to him, but not until we had come to the end of our time here in Kenya; there was too much more we wanted to see. So a promise was made and Geoff would drive down to Nairobi a day or two before we were ready to leave the country and collect the camera. Once turned off the main road and once again we were thrown around, bouncing up and down in the jeep, the roads being deeply rutted and Geoff having to concentrate on avoiding the potholes, the herds of cows, sheep, goats, any oncoming traffic and pedestrians. I think the hardest job here has to be driving… so many obstacles, no rules or laws that are followed, lots of roadblocks and corruption. Interestingly though we have not seen any accidents, not even a fender bender. Geoff had showed us his ‘double sided’ machete that he kept by his drivers seat, ‘in case of kidnappers’, so we always stayed put and kept quiet if we were stopped…luckily only once…so far. I sat in the back, bouncing on the spongey seat, holding on and looking out the window at the sights and sounds of Kenya. We passed fields of corn, all manner of agriculture, stalls selling fruit, veggies, rice and charcoal and suddenly I’m treated to a lovely giraffe loping along a field, carefree and heading for the acacia trees on the far horizon.
We had to book an armed ranger in order to trek through the forest and we were introduced to Greg, along with his gun, who would escort us on this walk. He advised that we could walk for quite a few hours and not see any of the animals, the forest being very dense and the animals sheltering from the daytime heat. We understood that there was no guarantee and set off with him in front, cautiously looking around, but we were secretly hoping we would come across at least one of the five.
What we did find was a lot of poo! Greg was very knowledgeable about such things and we learned a great deal about rhino poo, how to age an elephant by looking at its poo, learned that hyena poo was white due to all the bones they ate, dodged a few piles of baboon poo and generally stepped tentatively around a lot of poo all day long. He was also very knowledgeable about the plants, showing us wild herbs and what they were used for. The moth tree was interesting…it was highly poisonous and the only living thing that could make use of it was a moth. However, if anyone was suffering from being poisoned by anything, especially snakes, this tree held the antidote. He advised that only a specialist herbalist would know which part of the tree to use, at what temperature to heat it and how to administer it…I wondered how many ‘specialist herbalists’ there were available? He pointed out a fragrant herb which he said was good for refreshing the breath, but once chewed would make the mouth numb! Marcel thought I would enjoy that, but I passed on it, my breath was good enough. Then he handed us a leaf and told us to rub it between our fingers. As we did, a bright yellow/orange pigment stained our fingers and he said this was used like henna. It was also a favorite of the black rhinos that roamed the area, and once they started eating it their lips would be bright yellow…the plant being given the name ‘rhino lipstick’. I looked down at my fingers which were tinged yellow like I had been smoking for 50 years, but Greg assured me it would wash off with just plain old water, which it did at the waterfalls.
As we walked through the forest, Greg had a constant stream of questions for us….what are the big 5, which animal has no vocal sound, which mammal other than humans can see in color…every time he asked these questions we both stated ‘Katie would know, wish she was here’…we guessed at a few, but Katie would not have been very proud of us, giving up on most of the questions, much to his delight!
We had been walking a couple of hours, no sightings of anything. I kept hearing a squeak behind me and constantly turned and looked up in the trees, thinking the colobus monkeys might be following us. Every time I stopped though, the squeaking stopped. I’d look around, nothing there, start again, and there it would be again ‘squeak, squeak’. I asked the guys to listen, but they couldn’t hear anything…it was really annoying. Only after another hour or so did I realize it was the hooks on the binoculars I was carrying that was making the squeaking sound…duh!
Eventually we came upon the first waterfall. We descended a rocky, steep path and I was grateful for the hiking sticks we had brought with us. As we rounded a curve in the river we were greeted by the sight of the most beautiful aquamarine pool I had ever seen. A torrent of water spilled over the rocks up above, the water coming directly off Mount Kenya, and the sunlight on the water created shimmering diamonds all across the pool. We didn’t go in, it was too cold, but enjoyed a short rest in this tranquil setting, munching on a snack before proceeding. Still no animals, not even a monkey, but there was still time. Greg was taking us to another waterfall, one with a plunge pool, not that we intended to ‘plunge’ but he was adamant that we should see it. Off we trekked, up the rocky path and further along the river, where there seemed to be some activity. There were safari trucks, more armed rangers, people carrying wooden pallets and potted plants, which we thought was a little odd. Greg told us to wait while he went to find out what was going on. After a few minutes of Swahili, none of which we understood, except the last two words…sawa sawa…okay, all’s well, Greg came back and explained that there was a film crew conducting a shoot, but that they were still setting up and we could visit the waterfall. What was with all the filming here? We had encountered a film crew at the farm, which turned out not to be a great experience, and we wondered if it might be the same crew and we were about to photobomb their set once again! We were apprehensive as to what we were about to encounter and I was hoping it would be a blockbuster in the making. Perhaps Harrison Ford was filming his last Indiana Jones movie? I was told ‘no’ but there was a guy called ‘Guy’ there. I wasn’t sure the effort to trek further was worth it if Harrison wasn’t at the bottom, but hopefully it was something significant and so we picked our way tentatively down an even steeper, rockier path, passing guys with wooden pallets, girls with plants, others just running up and down shouting commands. As we descended, I couldn’t help thinking about the steep climb back up. Oh well, maybe I could soak my feet and rest a bit. We finally reached the bottom and if I thought the first pool was beautiful, this was beyond words. You have a picture of paradise in your head, but until you see it in real life, it doesn’t even compare. The tall waterfall frothing as it hit the deep blue plunge pool, the green lush foliage against the wet grey rocks, the cooling spray, the warm sun rays filtering through the trees, the fresh smell of pure water, loamy soil and unpolluted air, the sound of rushing, gushing water, exotic birdsong filtering among the trees. We stood in awe, watching the water cascade and I was suddenly reminded of a commercial I had seen on the TV as a teenager. Sunsilk shampoo…the lean, bronzed, blond model, submerged up to her waist in the blue turquoise pool, long sleek wet hair flitting over on her naked back, running her fingers through the silky strands…I could smell the coconut as this memory flashed through my mind. Well, this was my chance…you can see my version here! Courtesy of Greg our armed ranger who seemed to know more about my phone than I did!
My photoshoot over, I happened to catch someone from the film crew, probably ‘Guy’ and sked what the film was about. It turned out to be a commercial for mango juice! Oh, okay…now I know why mango juice is so expensive! And now I know there’s no Harrison Ford waiting in the wings. Time to go then! Back up the steep track, passing more pallets, plants (not one of them a mango tree) to the top, where we met another armed ranger who congratulated me on making it back up! He was interested as to where we were from, what we were doing etc. He asked how we liked Kenya and we answered politely but said we thought the roads needed improvement. He disagreed and said that whenever we found ourselves on a rough road we should consider it a free ‘Kenyan massage’. I thanked him for the advice and we started our way back go the jeep, our moment of fame not coming to fruition…another time.
We returned the way we had come, still no animals, but lots of signs that they were there. Branches rustling, hiding cheeky monkeys, broken tree limbs signaling the presence of elephants, the ubiquitous rhino poo, no signs of lions or leopards though. We eventually approached the jeep, where Geoff was having his own personal disco, music blaring. No wonder there were no animal sightings!
One last thing to do…the canopy walk. Now I have done three other canopy walks in the past, one in southwest Australia, which I vaguely remember, looking ahead, not looking down and getting to the end as soon as possible. It may have had something to do with my mischievous daughters deliberately rocking the walkway. Then a short easy one in Manatee County State Park in Florida, and the spectacular tree walk at Marina Bay in Singapore, easily my favorite! We tentatively climbed the steps, adeptly dodging the baboon poo, and stepped gingerly onto the bridge which was made of…chicken wire! The base of the bridge was just a foot wide and to be fair the suspension hooks looked solid, in most places, and the steel pillars seemed sturdy enough, so off we went. Marcel in the lead, me next and the ranger behind. It was pleasant to be in the treetops, and as long as I could hold on with both hands it was fine. The ‘handrail’ was wire covered in a hosepipe, and the base chicken wire was thin in places. I tried not to look down, but Greg, wanting to do a perfect guided tour kept stopping and pointing out birds, shrubs, insects, flowers and all the flora and fauna of the forest, while marcel sped on ahead, rocking and rolling the walkway. I tried to absorb the info, but honestly, I couldn’t summon the interest and kept looking ahead to see if we were anywhere near the end. It turned out to be 450 meters long, that’s almost half a kilometer! Once again, as I tried to hurry along the fragile, swaying bridge, I was reminded of the scene in one of the Jurassic Park movies, where they are trying to cross a bridge in the aviary and pterodactyls start swooping down on them! I’ve obviously watched those movies too often. Finally, I spotted the platform at the end and gratefully stepped onto solid wood. We glanced over the railings but seeing nothing, we took the stairs to terra firma. As we descended, Greg stopped and listened..i heard some popping sounds which I thought were monkeys, but he advised it was an elephant. Mmmm…I’d never heard that sound from an elephant before and as we followed him, yet further along the path I wondered if he was just humoring us, as we had not seen any wildlife. He seemed very purposeful and moved stealthily forward. We came to a clearing and looked across to the other side and there rustling in the trees was, in fact, an elephant. Suddenly the pop pop popping sound filled the forest and I was promptly informed that the elephant was farting! Haha, no wonder I had not heard that sound before, although Marcel has been known to toot like he has his own symphony! This was no competition though, the elephant wins hands down! We crept closer, not wanting to startle the young bull. He was busy chomping on some fibrous fresh leaves but he eventually sensed our presence and skulked back deeper into the forest, not wanting to be sociable or inquisitive at all…probably embarrassed that we’d caught him trumpeting from the other end!
Satisfied with our game hunting, we walked back to the jeep, the Mbongo music still blaring away. We said our thanks and goodbyes and climbed into the jeep and headed towards the gate. We passed more goat herds, shepherds, boda bodas, and young children playing in the dusty roads with wheel rims and sticks. Schoolchildren lined the roadways, laughing and running, glad for school to be over, their impeccably smart uniforms standing out against the dusty red earth. We bounced along and I settled back into my seat to enjoy my ‘free Kenyan massage’. Another wonderful day in the Kenyan outdoors
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