Sunset was upon us as we drove from Kisumu to Kakamega. At some point, we had to ask for directions after almost driving to Nairobi – thank God we stopped and asked for directions. At one point, we spotted a dude cycling away on a black mamba bicycle uphill on the highway at a steep angle, and we all cheered him on – and much to the delight of our driver, who quipped “huyo jamaa yuko na maschular” (insert bursts of laughter!).
With darkness setting in, we only made one stop at the sign denoting the town of “Khumusalaba”, as it seemed particularly funny to us. I have to think that the high altitude was starting to get to us, inducing laughter at every other breath. we had to find our way to the Rondo Retreat Center. A good Samaritan in the guise of a boda-boda motorbike operator was a great help, riding ahead of us and showing us the way to the retreat. We possibly would have been lost in the dense Kakamega forest.
Weary and ready to drop off, Rondo Retreat was a welcome sight. I have to warn you though – this is a Christian retreat, and you cannot share rooms if you’re of opposite genders, unless you can prove you’re married. Please, carry your marriage certificates! Dinner was laid out for us, and although we kept bursting into fits of laughter, the waiters carried on nonplussed as they served us (and I’m sure they thought we were a bunch of crackpots).
Mornings are a beautiful time in the Rondo Retreat. After breakfast I took a stroll through the grounds where they have marked trails going by a waterfall and a fish pond, perfect relaxation and meditation spots that allow you to just sit back and enjoy and commune with nature. If you love watching birds, butterflies and other animals, then this will be a place where you will be literally in a little slice of heaven.
Originally, Rondo was owned by a sawmiller who, in 1948, built a house at his wife’s request at the base of what was thought to be the biggest tree in the Forest, an Elgon Olive, the stump of which still stands today. If the stump is anything to go by, then this must have been a giant tree. I would recommend the retreat anytime, as it is more of a homestead than a hotel. Don’t let the interesting signs deter you: the request to leave shoes at the doors of your rooms and some of the common rooms is to deter mud tracking on the floor by those who have been hiking.
Our guide to Kakamega forest showed up soon after, and we set off for our day’s hike in Kakamega Forest. Being the only remnant in Kenya of the unique Guineo-Congolian forest ecosystem, the park offers unique wildlife and scenic beauty. For bird and butterfly watchers, this is the place to visit. The place is teeming with butterflies, birds, snakes, primates (including the endangered DeBrazza monkey. You also find amazing animals such as the Potto (the world’s slowest mammal on earth), duikers and Dik diks.
After the energetic walk through the forest, we had to say goodbye to the serene environment and drive back through the countryside towards Iten, with a stop at the ‘crying rock’.
The crying rock of Ilesi has a lot of folklore, religious and traditional beliefs embedded in its history. The most popular legend tells the story of a civil war between the Nandi and Luhya tribes over land. The Luhya did not want to give up this important shrine and they challenged the Nandi to an interesting job: drag the rock from its seat, and the land would be theirs. The Nandi tied belts and ropes around the rock, but it wouldn’t budge an inch, and thus the war was won, and they retrated to the distant hills of Kapsabet.
The locals believe that the rock ‘cries’, due to the streaming water down it’s side that has over the years left a large brown mark on the side. However, as one little bright girl let us know, it’s not really crying – rather, a pool forms at the top of the rock which has a ‘basin-like’ feature, and when birds bathe in it, water trickles down the sides.
After this stop, we made quick headway to Kakamega town where we checked in for lunch. Now… if you ask for chicken, you might want to ask how long it would take to prepare the meal. We stopped by a popular joint, Franka, where we were spotted a sumptuous meal on one of the patron’s table and ordered the same. Sadly, 45 minutes later, we were still hungry. However, they have fantastic liquor prices, and we had a few drinks before embarking on the next part of our afternoon the drive – the next stop was Iten.
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Where to stay:
Tel: 056-30268 or 0733- 299149
Enjoy quiet time at the Rondo retreat – magical!
Hike through Kakamega forest
Bird and butterfly watcher paradise in the forest
How to Get there:
Drive or fly to Kakamega (via Fly540)
Follow the signs in town, which direct you direct to Rondo Retreat, through the Kakamega Forest