Camping In Mukogodo Forest – A Curiousity Rewarded

According to stats if you do not draw in the reader in the first two lines of an article, then there is a 90% chance they will not read on. I’m willing to take that risk this time around. This article I write for the traveller, not for the reader. For those who the open road is an inspiration to adventure as opposed to a fear of the unknown. For those that look at a map of this great country Kenya and see it as an open invitation to new experiences and possibly a new way of thinking. So if by some stroke of luck you’re still reading allow me to take you to a place that greatly rewards that curiosity.

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Background Information

Mukogodo forest is situated in Laikipia North Constituency covering over 74,000 acres and home to around 7000 Mukogodo Maasai. They moved to this area in the early 20th century after being evicted from the Laikipia plains by the colonialists where they found and assimilated the Yaaku tribe in the area who were primarily hunters gatherers. As of 2010 there were only 7 fluent speakers of the Yaaku language, Yakunte left.

Getting there

The forest is located about a 2hour drive from Nanyuki town all on murram roads. High clearance 2WD will make it when dry but 4WD recommended in the rainy season, as I was to find out shortly.

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You have to drive through Borana Ranch to get to the forest which is a treat as there are many chances to spot game here. However please respect the wildlife and enviroment by driving slowly and sticking to the main track.

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There had been heavy rain the night before and I’m out of practice with my mud driving so this happened. These nearby cattle herders tried to get us out for about 30min to no avail.

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By the strangest twist of fate, a friend I hadn’t seen in years just happened to be passing by in that back of beyond. 5 min with a bungee tow and we were well on our way. Strange how the world works sometimes, thanks Ben!

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On Arrival

As so often  happens, we could not contact the conservancy manager we had originally talked to guide us to the campsite. At the first settlement they said he had gone to to Nanyuki for the day. Okay, Plan B.

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Some greenhouse farming going on with the secondary school in the background.

So we had to look for someone who then had to direct us to someone else who would show us the way and get things sorted out. If you travel alot in Kenya you get used to this kind of ping-pong way of getting around. Patience is key. If not enough, we encounter a super storm on the way to the campsite.

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Once it clears the plain, where a large number of the Mukogodo community live is revealed. Quite stunning to find this large open space surrounded by the forest.

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The campsite is a short 10min drive from the chiefs camp through more forest. But we are hungry, tired and wet, lets get to the campsite already.

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The Campsite

The campsite is located at the end of a track with nice views of the surrounding mountains. There is a large cleared area so no worries if you have a large group, there’s enough space for all.

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And few steps away from the campsite is the Nikijabe (place of wind; and it does kick up a bit in the evenings) viewpoint, right on a sheer escarpment looking out towards Lekurruki Conservancy, Isiolo and Samburu counties. The view is endless, one can see as far as the Matthews Range and Mount Ololokwe. If you have a keen eye you can spot Tassia Lodge a bit lower down on the escarpment.

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This is where we spent most of our time, the rock is well shaded by a fig tree and you can while away the day here watching different raptors soaring on the thermals.  During the dry season it is also a great spot watching elephant grazing in the valley below.

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The campsite has a fire pit and dead firewood can be collected free of charge. The campsite is rarely visited so this is yet to become an issue as it is in more popular camping spots.

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Please note there are no facilities at the site, there is no shelter or seating so you’ll have to bring those for yourself if required. There is a compost heap for your organic trash, but any plastics and the like fall under “Beba Zako” meaning take your trash with you. There is also a long drop toilet; behold your throne your Majesty…

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Might not seem like much but quite luxurious by my standards, no frills but gets the job done.

Things To Do

Forest Walk

This was the the highlight of the entire trip, the entire reason for our travels to this part of Kenya. Mukogodo Forest is known in conservation circles as one of the best examples of the right balance between man and nature.

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Led by our guide Sakui, we seemed to walk back in time, seeing this untouched forest as it must have been generations ago. Every plant in the forest is used by the Mukogodo Maasai for one thing or the other. Itipilikwa for malaria, orgelai for bone aches, enkelit for sore throats and constipation, plants for eating, plants for tea, the list is endless. There is also a large bee-keeping culture within the forest.

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The community has rules on use of the forest and destroying it or using its resources for personal gain is taboo. The use of the forest is balanced to benefit man, animals and the forest itself. In this way the forest’s 200 indigenous species persevere and continue to be part and parcel of this symbiotic relationship.

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A watering hole for livestock in the forest, elephants also take advantage of it because why not?

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The walk also takes you to yet another viewpoint which is no less stunning than Nikijabe.

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When evening falls we are treated to nature’s own light show.

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In the words of Sankui, “We have a use for every plant in this forest….” he paused, and pointed to a tiny shrub “…..except this one”. He then said “It does have very beautiful flowers though”.

A forest with no logging, no charcoal burning, no bush burning for pasture or cultivation. Hard to believe this exists in this day and age but it does. For how long? I don’t know.

Read more about the fascinating story of this forest here.

  Snapshot

  • Call in advance; the way to the campsite through the plain is not easy to find.
  • Ensure you are fully self sufficient, although non potable water can be obtained near the school.
  • Enquire if elephants are in the area, if so walk only with a guide.
  • Important contacts: Booking: Benson – 0710-788142   Guide: Sakui -0726-552469
  • Costs: a day trip costs Ksh 800; if spending the night it will set you back $30 a day. We paid Ksh 500 per day for the guide.

Final verdict

My travels seem to have taken a community tourism slant. The more I find out the more I want to know. In many areas of Kenya people are coming together to enhance their livelihoods though tourism by taking advantage of their natural resources. Mukogodo is no different.

To see the true balance of man and his environment; not destructive or selfish but truly in harmony as it should be. To truly experience the traditional culture that is enshrined in the trees, waters, animals, hills and forests of Mukogodo.

Tembea Kenya.

 

 


 

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15 thoughts on “Camping In Mukogodo Forest – A Curiousity Rewarded

  1. navasolanature

    This sounds such an amazing place and so good to hear how the local people can protect their own resources. Fascinating on the use of plants. Can the elephants be destructive of the vegetation or do they too have enough space to live sustainably?

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      As per their feeding habits elephants can be pretty destructive to forested areas. I didn’t manage to get information on just how many elephants there are in the area however I believe that due to them having a large dispersal area vis-a-vis the forest and the escarpment and the plains below the balance between them and the vegetation is kept in check.

      Reply
  2. John

    Hi there,
    So glad I came across this piece.

    I worked with Benson and the community to set up the site – and brought along the longdrop! There is another site in the southern part of the forest before you reach the plateau. This clearing looks back at Mount kenya and is suitable for larger numbers of campers. Like the viewpoint campsite, it has a long drop toilet.

    We also fitted pulleys in a tree at each location so those with camp showers could haul them up for an al fresco shower.

    There is plenty of potable water available by the secondary school you saw.

    The site is en route to Samburu and there is a wonderful track down the escarpment from the plateau to Tasia then east to Isiolo.

    Like you, I suspect, I think Kenya is just crying out for small clean well maintained camping spots where those of independent mind but shallow pockets can experience the wonders of the country. This country is too focused on high end tourists and is missing out on domestic adventure tourists and families and middle income foreigners.

    For a campsite, a long drop, firepit, cleared/slashed area, flat pitch and a view are all that are needed. Plus security and the respect of the community for one’s privacy. Your pictures of the toilets at Mwea are representative of so many community and KWS campsites in Kenya. Built but not maintained. A well meaning NGO/Govt dept saying build a campsite and the tourists will come rather than saying build a beautiful campsite, maintain it, care for it, publicise it and welcome campers to it and they will tell others to come.

    Costs also need to be carefully thought through. While the plush safari camps charge big bucks – even for residents (don’t start me on the nonsense of resident/nonresident rates!) campsites need to be competitive. US$ 30 per person per night is crazy. What family of 5 is going to spend US$150 for a night in their own tents with no facilities when they can stay at Carnellies etc i their own tents for a fraction of that and have access to hot showers, flush toilets and a bar? I could stay in a campsite in Europe for way less. Communities need to be realistic about what they can ask and not put off people from visiting again.

    The model of our friends further south in Botswana, Zim, South Africa and Malawi needs applying. There camping is normal and fun.

    Is there anything to be said for producing a resource for how to set up and maintain a community campsite in Kenya? If one has never raised cabbages, one wouldn’t know to select, plant, water, harvest and market. Expecting one to make it up on the hoof is courting failure.

    Such a resource, if internet linked, could act as a central list of sites that campers could access.

    Keep up the good work,

    All the best

    john

    Reply
    1. thekenyancamper Post author

      Hi John,
      Thank you for writing to me, glad to hear from one of the ‘founders’. Thanks for putting up all the other information on the other campsite, whoever stumbles upon here will now be able to find quite a bit of info. When writing I usually have to really edit the articles down to the bare bones, as such I try to keep it to only what I’ve experienced myself but as a result unfortunately alot gets left out.

      Don’t get me started on camping as a viable, cheap way to see the country, I’ll be here all day. If you even find me on twitter that’s where I rant and rave while frothing at the mouth about the state of tourism in Kenya.

      I do agree that the luxury angle has been over marketed to the point of exclusion of lot of both local (here I include residents) and international tourists as well. The tourism industry seem to be quite content to perpetuate the stereotype that travel is for a certain income bracket and that for foreigners, words like ‘budget’ do not feature in their vocabulary.

      This is especially true when it comes to conservancies. For some reason that a layman like me may not be privy to, the advice alot of them have receive is that the way forward is in the luxury market. I cant count how many areas I’ve been to where the buzzword is ‘luxury eco-lodge’. This is seen as the panacea to all problems. Get an investor to put up a lodge and all will be well.

      This reflects in the conservancy fees alot of them charge whether the infrastructure is there or not. The model taken is that they have so few tourists that the few who come will be charged a large amount in order to keep the idea sustainable. As opposed to proper marketing, reasonable costs, translating to more visitors.

      The major issue I have found across the board is lack of capacity in marketing and using the internet to its full advantage (hence why I started writing, to give them some exposure). There is a large opportunity in the marketing of the WHERE of campsites, but also the HOW of setting up, maintaining and marketing the same as a viable business model.

      I could go on for hours.

      KC

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Camping On Mount Ololokwe – 12 Years A Slave (Part 2) | The Kenyan Camper

  4. Wato elema

    so many treasures to discover.beautiful.amazingly serene….and your description make me wanna join the next trip.you should holler at me for the next one,I need to revive the wild girl that lived in amboseli national park.

    Reply
  5. Pingback: Naibunga Conservancy – The Untold Story | The Kenyan Camper

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