Kenya: Kakamega Forest National Park

I left the Maasai Mara at around 11am after a morning game drive with Sophie and Jonatan. My destination was Kakamega Forest National Park, with a stop-off at the Ket Wangi Orphanage in Kisumu on the way to drop off some food and sweets for the kids. We left the Mara and drove to Kisii to stay the night. Stopping off to eat along the way, we noticed that we had lost a spare wheel from the back of the car on the bumpy road. We were all tired by the time we reached Kisii, and we were very thankful when we finally arrived at the Kisii Hotel to find a bed for the night. After a couple of beers and probably the most overcooked chicken i have ever experienced, my body was very glad to find itself in bed. Breakfast was at 0630 but there were no staff around at all. After knocking on various kitchen and reception doors, i realised that breakfast was not going to be any time soon. There seemed little point in waiting around so, after slipping a goodbye note under the door of Sophie and Jonatan, I started my journey. The watchman had noticed my Landrover was dirty and had cleaned it during the night. I told him I was just going to get it dirty again today, but then slipped him a couple of hundred shillings as he was an old guy and looked like he could do with a break. He gave me a big smile, bowed down as he shook my hand, and waved as I started my drive to Kisumu.

It didn’t take long to reach Kisumu, and I found my way to the orphanage easily despite the twisting maze of dirt roads. One of the boys was outside the gate and he shouted ‘Mwangi’ – my Kikuyu name ‘given’ to me on my previous visit – and came running to greet me. It was a lovely welcome. It was Saturday and there were only a few children at the orphanage. The pastor of the church introduced himself, and Napthaly and Everett came out to greet me. They had not known I was coming, so my visit surprised them somewhat, but they were very glad to receive the food, clothes and blanket donations. I explained I was just ‘passing through’, and would only be stopping for a short time before heading north. It was great to spend an hour with the kids, sharing out sweets and showing them videos of the lion cubs in the Maasai Mara. After a bite to eat it was time to hit the road, and I said my goodbyes.

The drive to Kakamega Forest was only a few hours, but it was almost made longer by a detour as they built a new road over the old one. At the diversion sign, I talked one of the workers into letting me through so I didn’t lose any time. I was smiling as I whizzed past the surveyors and construction activity, whilst everyone else was forced a longer route. At the other side of the construction, the guards seemed quite puzzled how I had been let through and refused to raise the barrier, telling me I had to turn back. This was most likely just a ploy to raise a few shillings, so I pretend to be a little annoyed and told them in my best stern voice that I had been granted special permission to travel this route, and they should raise the barrier immediately. It worked a treat and I was soon on the other side and continuing my journey.

It wasn’t long before i arrived at Kakamega National Park. Kakamega is a tropical rain forest situated in the Western Province, of Kenya, near to the border with Uganda. It is Kenya’s only tropical rainforest and is said to be Kenya’s last remnant of the ancient Guineo-Congolian rainforest that once spanned the continent. The dirt road into Kakamega is not signed and i can thank my gps – loaded with a tracks4africa file – for showing it to me. It was raining so I didn’t feel like camping and paid $60 for a banda (cabin) on top of the $20 entrance fee. I was running low on food, so I drove back out to the road and bought some tomatoes and little cakes from the stalls. Just as well, as the guy running the accommodation was very keen to have his wife cook for me for $10. Yeh yeh, I know that isn’t much back home, but it’s insanely expensive for rural Kenya so was glad to have bought food so i could cook for myself. The banda was nicely kitted out with a kitchen so I made a huge fried rice, with half saved for breakfast. As I drifted off to sleep i was looking forward to a jungle trek the next day, with the hope of spotting some interesting bird species. A group of locals, who were also staying at ‘Udo’s Bandos’, seemed to be there to party judging by the noise they were making. Apparently, they were actually a group of journalists, who were travelling the area on an offroad bus – the kind that you see in Australia – with the intent of boosting tourism through their writing.


The next morning at 0630 i met my guide, Patrick, and we set off into the forest. Patrick turned out to be an incredible source of knowledge on the local environment. I’ve been impressed with local knowledge on previous trips, but Patrick was in a different league altogether. I’ll make a separate post about Patrick, as i want to recommend him to others visiting Kakamega. Kakamega Forest is full of wildlife. It’s difficult to see many of the birds, and Patrick relied heavily on their calls to identify them. He was never uncertain, and gave the scientific name in addition to the common name. As I started showing interest in the many butterflies, Patrick also began to identify those for me. Towards the end of my jungle walk, we were also lucky to spot Colobus, Red-tailed, and Blue monkeys. I would have loved to have stayed another few nights to find out what other creatures are inhabitants here, but sadly time was not on my side. Photography is very difficult in the jungle due to the low light levels, and also because subjects in the trees are often obscured by branches and/or strongly backlit. I took a few shots, handy for identification purposes and great memories of my time there. What a shame to only have spent 4 hours walking here before hitting the road.


Verreaux\’s Eagle-Owl (Bubo lacteus) is also known as the Milky Eagle Owl or Giant Eagle Owl, and is the largest of Africa’s owls. We saw this beautiful bird after just a few minutes of walking, as the nest was easily spotted from the path. Patrick was pretty quick to spot birds and identify them, which is not easy in the jungle where clear sightings are rare. He has the most impressive identification skills of any guide i have met.


I was lucky to get this shot of a Square-tailed Drongo (Dicrurus ludwigii), which has a harsh call of cherit-cherit. In order to get this shot i had my camera settings already dialled in, as birds in Kakamega don’t sit still for long. The ISO was high at 1600, and the aperture wide open to let as much light in as possible. The shutter was at 1/100, which was as slow as i dare go on my 400mm lens with image stabilisation. Ideally you would want to have a much faster shutter speed, but then i couldn’t open the aperture any wider and i didn’t want to go any higher on the ISO. I had my camera set to overexpose past the normal metering by at least 2 stops which means the background may have blown areas, but the subject will be correctly exposed. You don’t want to have an underexposed subject when shooting at high ISOs, as pushing the brightness up in post-production will amplify any noise present. And at high ISOs there will be plenty! If you have time to play with exposure then great, but with these fast-moving subjects you don’t have that luxury often.


I never get tired of seeing Colobus monkeys. They are often shy, and the ones at Kakemega are particularly timid. However, this one stayed put long enough for a photograph.


I saw the light on this butterfly and thought it may look nice in a photograph. This is a Junonia stygia.


As we left the walking trail we entered a clearing with an African Pied Wagtail (Motacilla Aguimp) busy catching insects. I tried for a few minutes to get a shot when the bird was airborne, but the only one that was in focus was from behind. I will have to return to this place again one day to spend more time here. After giving Patrick a lift back to the National Park gate, I set off north with the intention of staying at the Saiwa Swamp National Park…

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