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.

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

Rise and shine – Kasigau

Holy moly what a hike we had! Our original plan was to go up and down by the easy way to Mt. Kasigau but it changed during our breakfast to an interesting and not so easy climb up and slightly easier way down. Even though the way up was long and hard, it was all worth it.

During our hike we learned a lot about nature of Kasigau, its rich vegetation and animals. We even saw a python (at least most of us saw, the ones who weren’t too scared to go and look to the bushes). On the way up we were able to see how the different forrest zones changed and we marked them up to our GPS. One memorable moment for all of us was to climb up on a waterfall while trying to get rid of the safari ants. Clearing up to you, if safari ant bites you, you do not want to experience the same thing again. So when you hear someone yelling “ANTS”, you know what to do: RUN!

To get to the highest peak of Kasigau it took us 5 hours and to climb down 3,5 hours. The day was cloudy but luckily at the top the sky cleared up for us and showed the Kenian safaris beauty at its best!

If the way up was hard, it was also hard to get down due to slippery muddy paths! We were lucky to only get some minor wounds. Our guide, Emmanuel, told us stories from the World War I and described how Kasigau played an important role on war between Germans and Britons. He showed us couple of trenches. And yes, we blessed the rains down in Africa when it was pouring rain the last 10 minutes of our hike that cleaned us up! When we arrived to the bus, there was a small sisal basket market made just for us by local women. Souvenirs check and hop on to matatu (bus).

Like I told earlier, it was raining. Well, you have never experienced a fear if you haven’t been on a Mombasa highway during a thunderstorm. Thunders were lighting the sky while everyone was holding on their seats when the streets were flooding and horns were honking due to not so safe passes by trucks, Luckily we had Robert the driver, who took us home safely! (Asante Robert)

Hike was an amazing experience so here is a short clip of our amazing day in Kasigau!

Field Work on the Fields

After a bit short and not too refreshing night in tents under the starry African sky we woke up before sunrise to be ready for the first measurements on the Maktau fields. In the morning dusk the students manned the three study plots with the FLIR thermal camera and Licor, the leaf area index calculator.  With FLIR we pointed on cassava leaves to measure their temperature, and Licor was used to measure how much the leaves prevent the sunshine from prenetrating into the ground level. As the devices were only two and we had three plots, the morning was quite peaceful as there was no hurry with the measurements and we could enjoy the savannah’s bird symphony.

When the groups were done with first set of measurements, it was time to enjoy a delicious breakfast at Mwadime’s house with plenty of cooked eggs, oatmeal and local bakery products. After breakfast we had a small break for taking a nap, watching birds and so on, to be ready for the next set of experiments: chlorophyll and infiltration measurements and taking pictures of leaves with a hyperspectral camera. A more thorough report of the measurement results will be published in the course blog later.

One group practices using the hyperspectral camera. 

Between measurement tasks, Mwadime walked with idle groups to tell interesting details about local farming practices, flora and fauna and the Kenyan society. We quickly fixed his fence broken by a hungry elephant rushing through towards his maize fields, and learnt how the farmers can upgrade the soil quality by leaving the after harvest biomass onto the fields instead of burning it.

One of the infiltration measurement plots was at the bottom of a huge, 6 meters deep water pit a local farmer had mostly dug without any machinery in order to collect enough irrigation water for his crops during the rainy seasons. As a reward for being allowed to conduct research on the farm, University of Helsinki has provided a plastic cover for the bottom to prevent water from infiltrating into the soil.

The pit a local farmer had dug to store rainwater for irrigating his crops.

The day on the lowlands was hot despite remarkable cloud cover, especially out on the open fields without any shadows, which is why everyone was happy to leave the farms behind and head back to the cooler mountains and research station. On the way to Taita Hills, we had a brief stop at Mwatate to support local kiosk keeper by emptying his refrigerator of cold soft drinks.