Camel safaris, canoes and chameleons



I Had heard about the Kakamega Forest but there was no detail in the few guidebooks then available, which referred to an "ornithologist's delight" in a manner which usually means the author hasn't been there. Fortunately I had a bicycle and, having reached the town of Kakamega, roughly worked out where the forest was.

Late that night I was in the thick of it, staying in the tiny Forest Rest House, surrounded by jungle noises. I spent two days traipsing the shadowy paths, accompanied by a ranger, who pointed out monkeys, birds, leopard footprints, medicinal flowers, poisonous plants and swivel-eyed chameleons.


In Kalokol, near Lake Turkana, in the far northern desert, I stayed at Kalokol Tours Lodge and Hotel, a grand name for a humble establishment. The shack is overrun with wannabe guides, water supplies are erratic and the pit latrines a severe test of self-control. The owner offers camel safaris on condition that you must buy a camel and then resell it, usually at half the price you paid. Rooms are about pounds 2.50.


I first visited Kenya's southernmost town, the tranquil coastal backwater of Vanga, in 1985, because it wasn't described in any book. A man called Jungly picked me up soon after I arrived, for a few shillings, paddled me around the mangroves in his canoe, spent the evening with me drinking beer, then took me back to the house he shared with his wife. In the morning, I said goodbye, promising to write.

Eleven years later I returned to Vanga where nothing seemed to have changed. A man came loping down the street in a fluorescent windcheater. "You never wrote to me," he said by way of greeting. It was Jungly and he wasn't smiling.


I envisaged Treetops to be an elaborate tree house, deep in primeval forest, encircled by noisy, nocturnal wildlife. It turns out to be a cramped hotel, planted firmly on the ground, marooned in a narrow salient of the Aberdare National Park and all but surrounded by Kikuyu farms, with a main road running by just a couple of miles away. The large area in front of the lodge is a scoured dustbowl.


I blame the enthusiasm of some hearty New Zealanders from the Mount Kenya Youth Hostel who led me astray when I should have known better. Together, we climbed by car and on foot from the YH at 6,000ft to the main summit rendezvous of Mackinder's Camp at 14,500ft in one day. I was cold, nauseous and numb with tiredness. The next morning we set off for the top, Point Lenana, at over 17,000ft - or rather they set off and I followed at an increasingly alarming distance. At midday I passed glaciers and a snow- crusted lake. Then noticed I wasn't interested.


Machakos is one of Kenya's premier craft-making centres, and also a place well off the regular tourist trails. My eye was caught by a huge goatskin-covered drum, the bowl-shaped instrument normally converted to use as a table in mediocre Kenyan hotels. I managed to buy it for about pounds 7 and even got it home intact. It was only after it had been in the front room a couple of months that we began to notice moths. I caught one and sent it to the Natural History Museum who told me I had an infestation of East African moth.


Songa kidogo. "Budge up a little". If you plan to travel in Kenya's cheapest, most crowded public transport - minibuses and pickups known as matatus - you can use this phrase to get a seat.


A beautiful set of figures, representing elders of the Kamba tribe, just inches high and carved by a man called Simon, who inscribed his name on the backside of one of them.

Richard Trillo is the author of `The Rough Guide to Kenya' (pounds 11.99). Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter `Rough News', which is published three times a year by Rough Guides, 1 Mercer St, London WC2H 9QJ. A free `Rough Guide' goes to the first three new subscribers each week.


Getting there

Flight deals to Kenya include pounds 323 with Trailfinders (0171 938 3939).

Getting about

l Kalokol, near the shore of Lake Turkana, is a long, two-day journey by bus (pounds 1O) or by rented Suzuki jeep (pounds 400/week) from Nairobi.

l Kakamega forest is a day west of Nairobi.

l Vanga is four hours' drive south of Mombasa.

l Treetops is three hours' drive north of Nairobi and can only be visited by pre-arrangement (from pounds 1OO nightly: Block Hotels (254 02 540 780).

l Mount Kenya (four hours north of Nairobi) can be climbed privately, with a local guide, or as an organised tour setting out from Nairobi (from pounds 250 for five days).

l Machakos is less than one hour's drive east of Nairobi.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Finacial products from our partners
Property search

Simon Read: Frozen in time - the expat British pensioners who deserve a better deal

I had dinner with the pensions minister Steve Webb this week. There was a wide-ranging discussion about the new pensions freedoms starting in April, and changes to the state pension. Crucially, I also got to ask Mr Webb whether he had any plans to have another look at the injustice that is frozen pensions.

Number of serially under-performing investment funds has increased by a fifth, survey reveals

The new Spot the Dog survey shows that even famous fund managers, holding billions of pounds of our money, can make mistakes

Mark Dampier: We always bring down Britain. But there's plenty in the tank

While the health of the economy is not insignificant, Mark Dampier finds it incredibly unpredictable in terms of its impact on the stock market

If you haven’t switched supplier or tariff in the last 12 months then you could almost certainly save money by doing so

There are easier ways to save hundreds on your energy bills

A new free app is aimed at the three-fifths of Brits who have never switched supplier

Worse hit are loyal customers with long-standing accounts – their loyalty is rewarded with lower interest rates than more recently-launched accounts

Savers are being let down by banks and building societies, says Financial Conduct Authority

Regulator’s investigation into the market found that around £160bn was held in easy access savings accounts that pay interest lower or equal to BoE base rate

What to do if you're facing repossession: However far you fall, you're not on your own

Helen Fisher had to become a 24-hour carer, and then she faced repossession. But going to the right places for help changed everything, writes Simon Read

Simon Read: Information is power. And it's in the wrong hands when people are cold-called by companies that know they're in debt

In debt? You're likely to be targeted by unscrupulous companies that hope to profit from your misfortune. They may try to pretend to be your friend by offering what they call "help" – but almost certainly that help will come with a cost and leave you worse off than you were before they got in touch.

Mark Dampier: So you've got pension freedom... will it end up as a cold shower?

In less than three months' time radical changes to pensions will take effect, providing investors with more freedom. Yet for those who prefer to make their own investment decisions, the choice of funds available is overwhelming. And an income drawdown account is also not particularly easy to manage.

The move marks the culmination of a long campaign by debt charities and insolvency firms and follows a call for evidence launched by the Minister last August

Bankruptcy rules to change, Business Minister announces

The minimum amount for which you can be forced into bankruptcy is being raised from £750 to £5,000

Three-quarters of parents say being unable to afford to heat their home adequately is hitting the health of their children

Family well-being and health hit by heating costs

A shock report reveals that fuel poverty is affecting desperate families – and their children

Many people have no understanding of pensions

Are you ready for pensions reforms?

Most people are too confused to know how to use their pensions for a secure income

At a rate of 7.5 per cent, the wind is blowing behind ethical investors

A new initiative has financial and ethical virtues, says Simon Read
Ticket to cry: many passengers have been penalised with exorbitant and unnecessary rises

Simon Read: Inflation is riding the slow train. So why have we been given a one-way ticket to travel on the fares express?

I struck a chord with many of you when I wrote a piece earlier this week about rising train fares. It seems there is an army of travellers who feel they've been ripped off by increased transport costs.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

    £30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

    Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

    Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

    £25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

    Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project