With no electricity for the weekend and miles of beautiful landscape to wander, Wendy Watta discovers the joy of fly fishing, hiking and a cozy cabin at Ragati Conservancy.
PHOTOGRAPHS: BRIAN SIAMBI
I thought I had developed some semblance of pain resistance to the stinging nettle, but as my hand brushes against yet another low leaf along the trail we have been hiking through, I instantly feel the intensity and wince in spite of myself. Ever resourceful, our lead guide Jimmy reaches above his head with a machete and cuts off the leaf of a plant from the stem. He rubs the juice over the already swelling area and almost instantly, the pain ebbs. Just in time, as I can now focus on admiring the bomb crater we have just walked up to; a gaping hole in the ground that was once used to test bombs in the 1982 coup d’état.
Shortly after, we come across the Ragati River which snakes across the trail with its numerous tributaries, and have to cross it, yet again. The measured journey across begins. I gingerly feel my way around the ground for solid footing before making each next step. A miscalculation however has me sliding over a moss-covered stone, and the ice cold water rushes inside my wellies with gusto. Once across, there is no time to pour it out, however, as we now have to walk across a muddy swamp, boots sinking calf-deep with every step. As I am next in line after Jimmy, I am careful to step exactly where he has trudged before me.
Set on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya, the Afro montane forest here is breathtaking. Tall, narrow trees tower high above the ground with branches meeting at the top to create a canopy which keeps the harsh sunlight at bay. The area is said to be teeming with wildlife ranging from buffalos to elephants, leopards, the mountain bongo and an array of birdlife. While there are no face-to-face encounters during our hike, the signs are there. The closest shave is a buffalo which the guides spot somewhere in the distance, and given its strong olfactory sense, we have to divert off the track to ensure our smell doesn’t waft back to it.
There is an old carcass of an antelope that must have been left up the tree by a leopard several days ago. Fresh elephant dung indicates that they would have passed through this path not more than two days ago. My favourite, however, is the cluster of feathers – of a Haurtlaub’s Turaco – which we find lying right next to the river. This bird whose beautiful plumage has all the colours of the Kenyan flag, and would therefore be an excellent national mascot. One of the guides lines these feathers along his hat resulting in a beautiful design worthy only of an avant-garde issue of Vogue magazine.
An all-white monkey playfully flits through the higher branches with two colobus hot on its tail. We stare on for a while, and even the guides admit that this is the first time they have seen it.
Peter’s (videographer) timer beeps. It has been five hours since we started walking from the cabin. I am feeling the burn. So much so, in fact, that when we have to climb yet another fallen tree trunk, I have to manually haul my left leg over with my hands. Our mecca, however, is a bit of an anticlimax today. There is thick vegetation but it is the dark cloud cover that blocks the mountain’s peak in the distance. We are here for all of five minutes, and then it is time to circle back.
When we arrive here late at night, we have to pack our car a little way from the cabin after which a few staff members come to help us carry all our luggage inside. A fire is crackling in the grate which makes it easier to acclimatize. Light is by way of solar powered lamps set around the space, but thankfully, the water in the shower is hot. There are four double rooms, a spacious living and dining room, an enviable fully-equipped kitchen with a gas cooker where I whip up the day’s supper, and a massive front porch. It is however pitch black outside, so I am unable to get a true sense for the surroundings.
I am woken up by the sunlight washing into my room through the large windows, some birds are chirping right outside and I can hear the water rushing in a large waterfall which I was told is nearby. Like an excited kid at Christmas, I rush outside to check out where we are, and spotting the scenic glade upon which the house sits, my breath is taken away. A wooden pathway from the balcony leads to a bridge under which the river streams, and Ndongoro Log Cabin is by all accounts a beautiful spot.
Fishing is a key activity here, and Jimmy tells me that Ragati River was initially stocked with rainbow trout in the 1920s. In the time since then, they have gained a unique red colour, and this is now a go-to spot for fly fishing enthusiasts. Armed with all the required tackle, we walk down to the base of the waterfall where, after a few pointers from Jimmy, I am off casting my line like a seasoned pro.
With no entertainment and the rest of the day to just relax, by evening, the cabin fever has set in, and I am hallucinating that I’m high-fiving Forrest Gump. Accommodation starts at Ksh 11,500 per person per night, with children under seven going for free. This includes the conservancy fees, fishing licence, guides, fishing equipment, guided walks, staff fee and firewood.
- There is no electricity but solar lamps are available. Pack torches and bring a cooler box. Bring a book and some board games to while away the time as well.
- If you intend to go hiking, pack wellies. Trousers and long sleeved shirts/jackets will also serve you better than shorts and T-shirts- the nettles are fearsome!
- This is a self-catering spot so bring all of your own food to last the duration of your stay. You can do all of your own cooking, but there are two cooks that can help as needed.