Into the Wild

Our day started great with mercifully delayed and delicious breakfast that powered us up for hitting the cloud forest of Ngangao. At the station, we took the Great Group picture with all the students and staff and got the instructions for the coming day and its tasks. We were divided into groups of three or four, with the task of marking some GPS points through our oncoming hike. Unlike during earlier years when different groups marked different points, we all did the same tasks.

Students and staff at the station, preparing for the first day of the field course.

Busride with our freshly fixed bus went as smooth as a butter on a bumby pan and we found ourselves at the start of a walk measured short one by distance and a longish one by the hours. The battle between the indigenous and exotic trees on the area was plain on sight on our way to to the area on the area. Much of the original forests were almost completely gone by human influence, and replaced by crops, housing and more valuable (in the $ sense) tree species.

Green green green.

Ngangao cloud forest is one of two largest remaining patches of the Taita hills indigenous forests, the other one being Mbololo. It’s trees capture much water, being essential for both the forest, its habitants, and the area’s people. Shadowy forest was also great for the sweaty persons and personalities such as myself, as the high temperatures felt much more bearable underneath the trees.

The path on the way to Ngangao, right before digging in the forest. The forest is being protected and we needed (and got, obviously) a permission to pass through.
We learned to look out for the safari ants, they don’t bark but they do bite.

At the beginning of the route, we rehearsed calculating the height of a tree by using hypsometer. After that on we used our GNSS devices to mark the points of the path where tree had fallen and where there were saw pits.

Collected GPS points and the walked route, as presented by our very own, extremely talented and very much appreciated, Jouko Lappalainen.
This giant tree is a piece of art on itself.

During journey different sports where we got to see and hear about the area’s plants and animals, with lots of difficult names that I hope to hear again and learn about again for I am a pretty forgetful person.

Hanna rosti was one of the quides on our journey and she told us about her research that she has conducted on Taita with the help of mr. Benson. She studies the tree hyraxes, specifically the population of Ngangao Forest, which is almost extinct with apparently no more than 10 individuals remaining. The work on protecting this species depends on getting a good DNA sample of them to prove their endangered position, which is a lot more difficult than one would think, because it is rare to get a sighting on them.

Some weary students enjoying the post lunch siesta under the Kenya Sun.

Our schedule ran a little late, so by the time we got back to the station there were time just for the scrumptious dinner and cold-ish shower (which is very healthy and refreshing btw).  The day was as fulfilling as the station’s food and the promise of the coming days let us fall asleep with excitement in our hearts and minds.

Even the neighbourhood dog couldn’t resist the dinner call and a great company.

Little miracles: I lost my glasses twice and found them twice during one day. The latter couldn’t have happened without the great help and support from my peers and the amazing staff of the station. Asante sana, babes. xoxo

Taita here we come!

Waiting to get checked in on our flight in Helsinki-Vantaa

Welcome to our Taita Field Course blog site! Here you can reminisce with us our exciting adventure in Taita Hills (and other places), Kenya.

Our trip to Kenya started from the cold  Helsinki-Vantaa Airport on Sunday afternoon in the beginning of January. Before the trip even really started we got many praises on our perfect document piles – for this trip we needed more than many documents because of the ongoing pandemic.

Finally in Nairobi!

After a couple of sleepless flights we arrived to Kenya and warm Nairobi welcomed us with beautiful morning sun. A “little” wait at the airport and then we got to see some familiar faces; Aura, Jouko and Jussi were waiting for the rest of us with our professor Petri and drivers Ken and Robert. We sat down on our mighty vehicle for the next couple of week – a white stallion (bus) and the trip to “home” started.

Our first elephant

On our way to Taita Hills we already saw our first animals (of course one of the main things we expected from this course hehe). Animals seen: dromedary (camel with one hump, in Finnish also known as “ymeli”), elephant, giraffe, donkey and a lot of cows and goats.

Aside from animals we got to eat lunch at beautiful Sikh temple and see Kenyan gas station life when waiting for our bus to get fixed. I’m not sure what happened but our “turbo gear” was lost and fixed three times. This all was fine, since we got to ponder on why the moon here is in different angle (not sure if we have figured it out even after two weeks of pondering) and to buy some of our first fruits and spatulas. As the day turned into night, we arrived to the Taita Research Station and had our first dinner prepared by our amazing chef. The first day was full of events but this was only the start of our journey!

Some Monopoly Deal while waiting for our bus to get fixed
Changing vehichles at Voi since the turbo gear could not be fixed

The Prologue – Mount Kenya

As soon as we heard about the opportunity to travel to Kenya, we started to plan a way to fully benefit of the trip to the equator. We, me and Jussi, booked our flights to arrive to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport a week before the course start and headed to the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest peak in all Africa – Mount Kenya.

Mount Kenya is an ancient volcano located 150 km north from Nairobi, which has given a name to the whole country (originally Kĩ-Nyaa after the black and white patterns of the snowy peak). The highest peak Batian rises to 5 199 meters above sea level, but as it requires technical rock-climbing gear, we set our goal to the third highest peak, Point Lenana (4 985 m).

On the airport we met the driver and handyman of the Taita Research Station Ken, who organized the whole tour to as. With Ken we drove to the western slope of the Mount Kenya to a city of Nanyuki, where we spend our first night acclimatizing to the thin air in 2000 meters above sea level. During the day we also visited an animal orphanage, which offered a home to injured and abandoned wild animals.

Next day we drove with our guide Patrick, cook Peter and ported David and Ken we to the gate of Mount Kenya National Park. From the gate we started our tour to the first banda hut Old Moses to spend our first night at the true mountain atmosphere in 3300 meters. Banda hosted also many other travelers ascending or descending from the mountain. Most of those expedition parties were at our company almost the whole tour.

Patrick, our guide.

On the second day we continued ascending to the mountain peak. Cold temperatures and high atmosphere made sleeping uneasy. The flora and terrain started to look more and more like the ones in northern Scandinavia, which felt strange in the middle of Africa. At the end of the day, we reached Shipton banda, which was located just under the peak. The altitude started to make its tricks and we both felt a bit headache and dizziness, but nothing serious that could jeopardize the expedition.
A view from Shipton banda.

The summiting to the peak started at 2.00 am on the next morning. After 3-4 hours of slow but steady climbing in the rocky and snowy terrain we finally reached Point Lenana as the first rays of the sun touched our faces. Unpleasantly the fog and clouds blurred our view, and we barely saw anything from the beautiful landscapes. Also -10 degrees and storm-like winds made staying on the top unpleasant.

At the peak!

Descending was a lot quicker than ascending, but gravel and steep slope made it risky. On the eastern side of the mountain the terrain was quite different since the rain shadow effect made the environment wetter. Last night at the slopes of Mount Kenya we spend at the Chogoria banda near the eastern gate of the national park.

Last looks to the Chogoria banda.

The expedition wouldn’t be possible without our guide, cook and porter. They made the biggest physical effort, as they carried our food and sleeping equipment, and prepared delicious and nutritious meals every day. Many thanks to them!