Reflections over the field course

What’s left to say about this extraordinary field course? When I arrived at my apartment in Helsinki, the first thing I enjoyed was a glass of crystal clear water straight from the tap. I almost got drunk on water. After I almost drained Lake Päijänne I took a shower and tried to get rid of the dust layer that had covered my body for two weeks. Then came the food. I enjoyed the food at the research station, but I’m also happy going back to my meat-free diet.

While I’m chewing on my lettuce I miss the happy faces in the kitchen at the research station. Two days I had to stay at the research station and try to convince my stomach that I’m attempting to survive Africa and during those days, we (the sick people) were taken care of by the lovely staff. I cannot thank them enough for making our stay magnificent.

Thinking back to everything we did during the field course, a few things pop up in my mind. The first trip to Ngangao rain forest was super cool. For forest people like the Finns, I think many of us will remember that gigantic 50-metre high tree, or the view from the (almost) top of the mountain.

A nice size tree in a forest. Picture taken by Marisofia Nurmi.

Another thing I’ve been remembering is the football match we had against a local football team. It was fun playing, especially in the swamp part of the football field. During the second half it started raining. Quite a lot. Like a lot a lot. That just intensified the game and before we knew it the game was over and the result was a friendly tie.

Team before the rain started. Photo taken by Julia Viertola.

All in all our trip was one to remember. I think I speak for all of us when I say that it was really nice getting to know people that study different fields of geography and also making friends that have started studying way before and after you have. It was unique to get to know the professors, university staff and research station staff. There is a need for a big thank you to all of the before mentioned people (and trees) for making our trip truly outstanding. Thanks.

Blog post writer Emil saying hello to his little friend. Photo taken by Marisofia Nurmi. Puppy taken by Emil.

Long road home (with KLM)

The journey back home started already yesterday morning and all-day drive on dusty Mombasa highway and continues today. I was part of team KLM and our flight took off from Nairobi just around midnight. Before that some were enjoying the lounge experience and some doing last-minute souvenir shopping at the airport. The flight to Amsterdam was eight hours long and we were warned of strong turbulence which did occur. The flight passed while talking about the highlights of the course, viewing the dumbest pictures, enjoying drinks and sleeping. After the Kenyan countryside, where air-con is a term unknown, I caught a runny nose from the air-conditioning on board.

After landing to Amsterdam at 6.10 AM our group slip into even smaller parts. Half were flying home around 9 AM and Sanna, Toni and myself stayed back to enjoy Amsterdam until 2 PM. Sanna and Toni spent a laid back morning on Schiphol Airport while I took the train to Amsterdam Centraal to explore a bit. By my arrival to the city, it was still pitch-dark and quite. I strolled around in the city that was about to wake up and was feeling cold after African heat. I strolled along canals, past Bloemenmarkt and beautiful churches and enjoying a second and third breakfast (first one was on the plane). It was great to finally have good coffee and mobile data handy at every corner. I wanted to visit Amsterdam cheese museum but they weren’t open early enough and also decided to just admire Anne Frank Huis from outside.

After a couple of hours of wandering around, it was time to head back to the airport and this time to home. So, I took a train towards Bruxelles and alighted at Schiphol. At that point, I passed the 6th security control in 24 hours. While we were waiting to board our flight, the earlier KML group had already landed and some were enjoying cold-smoked salmon on rye bread. 

The last three musketeers standing on our flight were all tired and I slept most of the flight. Finland welcomed us with an extremely foggy hug (seriously, you couldn’t see the ground at all before landing) and freezing rain. Everything worked smoothly although the weather was a bit of a shock. When they were checking tickets on P train two stops after Helsinki-Vantaa, I felt like I was home. I went to the convenience store around my place and bought two packets of rye bread and Geisha Cappuccino chocolate bar (delicious!) and spent the rest of the day doing laundry, showering and enjoying fresh bed sheets.

Finding the way back home

The bus was filled with tired students, somewhat happy to be returning home. The atmosphere was certainly bittersweet, since looking back it had overall been a very successfull two weeks on the field course. We felt ourselves rich with our newly gained experiences and memories.

We were blessed with final strays of sunlight before we would have to return back to the darker days of Finland. Enjoying the amazing views and even better company, our field course was finally going to end. Though not before spending a full day in the bus traveling, and having a lunch at the same Sikhi temple in Makindu, that we had visited also on our way to Taita in the beginning of the trip.

One of the most amazing things during our field course would be the different kinds of animal encounters. How astounding was it to casually pass by zebras or elephants while driving on a highway, like we did again on the way back to Nairobi.

As we drove on, the landscape began to fill with more villages, people and bigger infrastructure. With the first signs of the airport we knew we would have to part ways.

The Qatar and KLM groups would be going to different terminals and the course officially ended. While we hugged goodbyes it still didn’t stop us from meeting once more after the security check.

After having had rather expensive airport meals, we boarded and started our journeys. Our Qatar group towards Doha.

During the flight, while most of us were sleeping the whole time, the rumour says that one of us was engaging with other passengers about intriguing topics of life.

Having spent over a week in a place where hot water was scarce, best nightlife company were the moths and infrastructure very different, felt the Airport of Doha overly fancy and out of this world.

While our trip came to an end, it didn’t stop us from enjoying each others company to the fullest in every opportunity. Would it be by playing cards, doing a stretch between flights, dancing or making cartwheels at the gates.

While we returned home, it felt like a piece of us was left behind (like the flip-flops on the picture above).

Maybe in the future we would have the opportunity to return to Kenya once more.


Planting a memory


The last morning began like the previous ones – with a good breakfast. After enjoying our breakfast, we went to the research station’s lovely backyard to plant the Guava tree Petri had got as a gift from us the previous evening during the course party. Petri gave a short but meaningful speech before the tree planting, thanking Robert, our minibus driver, and us assistants who got to be the ones to plant the Guava tree.

As a response to Petri’s talk, Robert also gave a small speech to all of us seemingly from his heart. After the planting, the station foreman Mwadime gave his delightful speech as well. Overall, the atmosphere was relaxed, and everyone seemed to be thankful for their experiences.

Robert, our driver for this course, during his speech.
Mwadime speaking.
Planting the tree.

There is a tradition of planting trees in the research station in a memory of events and people. This tree is meant to be a long-lasting memory of us students and this field course to Petri and the station staff. I certainly hope that this tree will grow as large as the tree planted next to it. At least for now it looks well!

Petri showing the bigger tree planted before in the station’s backyard.
The newly planted Guava tree.

The students who got to leave for Finland had packed their belongings and were getting ready for their long drive back to Nairobi. Me and Christa were going to stay due to our own fieldwork for our theses.

Because of the long drive ahead of them, the students about to leave were doing a fun group exercise to stretch. Then it was time for them and Petri, Enrico, and Gonzalo to say their goodbyes, head to the minibus, and drive out of the station’s gate.

Getting prepared for the drive.
Loading the roof of the bus.

I got to plan my following week of TLS fieldwork to be done in Taita Hills Wildlife Sanctuary with Eduardo and Matheus, while Christa was doing her fieldwork in Ngangao forest.

For me, the excitement of being in Taita Hills did not fade during our remaining days there!



All photos: Hanna Hirvonen



Last day in Taita Hills

Final day in the research station started with Terrestrial Laser Scanning practice run by Dr. Eduardo Maeda and Dr. Matheus Nunes together with professors and lectures from Taita-Taveta University. We were supposed to go to Ngerenyi campus in Taita Hills but due to heavy rains in the last few days it was decided that it was too difficult for the bus to climb due to terrible road conditions. Instead of the campus, we went to a nearby field to complete the excercise by scanning the fig trees canopy.

Eduardo demonstrating the use of TLS-sensor
Student starting the sensor.

The actual laser scanning of the canopy was made by Riegl VZ-400i sensor. The sensor makes point cloud data of the surrounding 360 degrees area. Addition to that, the mounted camera also makes a 360 panorama from the same spot. After a quick setup we laser scanned and took pictures of the tree from 5 different spots which were later combined into a single point cloud. Lastly, we took a “group-photo” with the laser scanner. 

Last day ended with traditional ending party at the station which consisted of delicious Prof. Di Minin’s pizza, dinner and some special dance shows. During the party we were accompanied by the MP of the Taita Hills, mr. Danson Mwashako Mwakuwona from the Kenyan Parliament. After a delicious meal, students gave the station a gift in a form of Guava-tree which was then planted the following day on the station grounds. After that it was time for some performances. Night consisted of Dirlandaa (with modified lyrics and accompanying dance), some more traditional African dancing, Brazilian samba and Letkajenkka.

A fitting end to an amazing field course!

Dirlandaa in the evening party

Darius the inventor

The day consisted of visit to sisal plantation, Darius’ farm and football match against local youth team. The preparation for the football match started already on the first bus ride of the day. Listening to the plans about who is playing which spot, some of us thought that there is no way this is just an easy peasy lemon squeezy -kind of game.

Our first stop of the day was Sisal Estate, one of the biggest sisal plantations of the world. We got a thorough talk about sisal production and processing by mr. Anthony, the manager of the estate. Sisal estate is roughly 130 km2 and it employs 2000 workers. There is even a village within the estate, where the workers’ families live, including school, health clinic etc. We walked through the factory and saw the whole process from plant leaves to processed and packed product, ready to leave to Mombasa harbor. It was interesting to see the machinery and how much the production demands human power. One

interesting point was that up to 80% of the actual plant goes to waste during  processing. We got to see the waste field and we were told about the plans of starting to produce bio-energy from the waste. We hope all the best for this project!

Sisal leaves ready to get processed in the factory
Sisal plants

Our next stop was Darius’ farm close to Wundanyi village. He works at the Research station, but he is also an amazing farmer who is not afraid to take advantage of new technology and solves problems with his own inventions. Darius’ family was warmly welcoming, and right at the front yard he could present us his cattle and the whole process of making bio-gas from the waste of the cattle. The yard looked like a scientist’s laboratory. We also had a tour on his fields which consisted of maize, 23 different varieties of bananas, sugar cane, passion fruit and pumpkins. He even gets so much bananas, that he can sell them to others. We got to taste passion fruits and bananas and they were the best.

Darius showing how he feeds his cattle

After the tour we arrived back to the research station quite early at 4 pm. People started to get ready for the football match. Around 5 pm we went to the game field and were a bit shocked how crowdy it was. We didn’t have enough players, so we got two local players in our team. The game was exciting and intense. During the second halftime it started raining, but that did not stop the game. After all the game ended 1 -1.

Our football team