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Africaís Enchanted Forests of Mt. Kenya: a writerís recount of the escapade.

The drive from Embu to Meru has some breath taking scenery.

We turn to the mountain, climbing higher up the slopes. The country side is picturesque, with a green carpet of tea plantations, coffee shrubs and macadamia trees. The air is tantalizingly fresh. From the main road, itís hard to imagine that there is fertile farmland so far up Mt Kenya.

The clear rivers

A river runs from the slopes, crystal-clear cold water gushing out of the forest, skirting the farms and down to the plains. Itís the Rupingazi. Near the indigenous forest, a trout farm has been set up by the Nyanjara Rivers Waters Association, not only an income generating venture to uplift their living standards, but also to save the mountainís remaining forests.

Itís a holistic approach to managing ecosystems. The trout must have clean, fast-flowing water to survive. High above the fish and the tea farms, the old forest line the skyline. Elephants sometimes stray out of the forest since farms wedge their way higher up.

The mega-sponge forests

But itís these old forest that act as mega-sponges, providing the clean fresh water. It is, therefore, in the best interest of the community to look after the forests. Iím shown a story book in Kiswahili based on an elephant and a farmer and the problems they have to deal with in the end, the farmer realizes that the elephant also need a space to live, and that cutting down the forests is not beneficiary to anybody. In the larger context, it all boils down to good management. Further down the road on our way to Chogoria, a ribbon of a water fall catches my eye. Itís so beautiful that we stop to ask some people by the roadside what itís called.

ďThat waterfall is called Ina. It used to be on a white manís farmĒ they reply.
We decline. We have three days to go round the mountain to show the writer from Washington DC the community projects. We are on day two and hopefully, he will see the peaks of Godís mountain today.

Generating electricity

Again, we turn to the mountain at Chogoria to see a micro-electricity project called Baarani, an amalgamations of the two villages it will light, Baraimu and Mpiani. Chogoria is said to be the most picturesque route to the peaks. I can believe that.

At first, we can only hear the sound of the water. We walk down the slope to a dam and then a few steps away, a stunning waterfall called Owinga gushes over the rocks to crash at the bottom and continue its journey down the mountain. Itís the River Mara, which forms the boundary between Meru south and central. The waters of the river are helping the people to light up there homes instead of using paraffin or burning firewood for fuel.

Again, the water is from the forests of Mount Kenya and without the force of the flowing river, the turbine would not function. One of the members is John, licensed guide for Mount Kenya. He canít remember the number of times he has scaled the mountain.Ē Itís easy to reach point Lenana. It takes only four days,Ē he says.Ē Itís the mountainís third peak. But Batian is where you require technical skills.Ē Itís the highest peak at 17,058 feet, followed by Nelion, only a few feet lower.

Giant Lobelias and raffia

Back on the main road, we drive to Meru, home of the Meru people. The road from Embu to Meru is full of picturesque drives, bends and twists and wide bridges over yawning rivers, providing the country with its hydro-electric power. Elegant raffia trees grow by the banks, their leaves, reputed to be the largest in the plant kingdom, sweeping the skies. By the time we get to Meru, itís raining heavily. After a cup of tea, we decide to drive on to Nanyuki before it gets dark. Had we had time, I would have loved to spend a few days at Meru National Park, about an hour-and-a-halfís drive from town. The road out of Meru is lined with the old forest, once filled of the famous massive Meru oaks.

Bordering the Dry and scraggy North

We drive around the shoulder of the mountain from where the crossroad to the northern dry lands turns. In the soft light of the dayís end, the hills of Laikipia and Samburu meld into hues of quiet blues, creating waves against the sky line. It never ceases to amaze me how dramatically a landscape can change from lush farms and forest to dry scrub and dry rivers of sand.

We begin to ascend the mountain road, past Timau with its pastures of rich farm land and the sheep all mowing the grass. The mountain is shrouded in clouds. If the sky had been clear this would have been the best area to see the towering peaks of the mountain. No show. Day two is turning to night and our guest hasnít seen the peaks.

Community Tourism

Community tourism initiatives are interesting. Itís a great way to meet people, discover their land and enjoy the country side. Itís a fledgling industry and a break from the traditional tourist setup. Organisations here partner with local community in the management and conservation of the protected sites by using natural resources sustainably

There are camping grounds all around but if you would rather put up in clean motels like Embu motel , start discovering Kenya's beaten track. Mt Kenya is a world Heritage Site.

Robert Muhoho

If you havenít scaled Kenyaís tallest mountain, give it a try.

About the Author: Robert is a tour consultant in Kenya and has planned business and vacation safaris for over 10,000 tourists in the East African region. He is a tour operation- major and involved in National tourism policy development in Kenya.

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