Colobus monkeys are slinking at the top of a tree by the river, oblivious to us below. They are black and white, and long-haired. Our guide, Lawrence Kariithi of Montana Trekks and Information Centre, tells us the monkeys travel in families and that their babies are born in December. After watching a few minutes a baby comes out on the limb and we can see it clearly. Lawrence tells us the monkeys are only found in two areas of Kenya, and before long the family is leaping between branches and away from us. We move on too. As we walk toward the forest, we stop at trees and Lawrence explains the medicinal purposes of each. The people in this area still use the bark, leaves, and flowers of various trees for many medicinal reasons: malaria, stomach problems, removing human scent while in the forest. My personal favorite is the Sandpaper Tree, which is used to clear up congestion and soothe breathing problems. Lawrence plucks a handful of leaves off and grinds them up in his hands. He gives me a handful of leaves to try and I grind them up and breathe in the scent. It is much like eucalyptus and clears my sinuses and cough immediately. Ahhhhh!! Next, he points out a poisonous tree in this forest; the live roots and leaves secrete a milk-like substance that will dry up human blood and disintegrate the skin in seven minutes. I try not to even breathe in the presence of this tree! As we get a little deeper into the forest he plucks the leaves off a plant and explains that it is used for natural dyes. Rubbing the green leave in his hand turns his skin orange. After taking the leaves, he explains, they are boiled for a certain time to get certain colors.
We walk on for quite a ways, heading to the Mau Mau caves. The Mau Mau Rebellion took place before Kenya gained their independence from the British in 1963. Freedom Fighters in the rebellion were from three of Kenya’s 42 tribes; the rest sided with the British, Lawrence tells us. The Freedom Fighters in this rebellion lived in the forest we are hiking in today for 17 years after leaving their families in order to fight the British. Before we reach one of their caves, we are shown the site where new fighters were initiated- which was done by having them drink goat’s blood and swear a secrecy oath- and we see a thin waterfall in the small canyon-like banks of the river. The cave is large, but not much of a cave anymore because it was bombed by the British in the 1940’s. There is a tree that grows down instead of up here, and a few of these hang in front of the cave. Climbing the vines was the only way in and out of the cave when the Freedom Fighters occupied the area, Lawrence tells us. I am under them, reaching up to grab them and try to figure out how people would climb up and down on these. Lawrence says he can do it and, after a little convincing, up he goes…and with little effort!
After a quick lunch at the top of the waterfall we begin our hike out of the forest, stopping every now and then to look for animals. I am hoping more than anything that we will see a leopard snoozing in a tree, but we just don’t have the luck today. We don’t see many animals on this hike: colobus monkeys, dik diks, and a lot of unique butterflies. At the end of our 16K hike, we catch a crowded matatu to the equator, which is about 1 km south of Nanyuki, where we are currently staying. Here we are shown a quick demonstration of the Coriolis force: north of the equator water in a bowl rotates clockwise, south of the equator it rotates counter clockwise, and on the equator it is still. We spend the next twenty minutes being hassled by various shopkeepers here at the mid-world curio shop, although we’ve admitted to bringing no money along (we have a little, but not for souvenirs).
“Come see my shop,” a shopkeeper says as I leave the one next door.
“I have no money,” I tell him.
“Then free looking, free looking today,” he replies.
This happens about 4 times before Alex and I can get away and back to our guide and Nanyuki.