Mt. Kasigau, A Monolithic Mountain, Surrounded by A Mystical Indigenous Forest
FRIDAY, 25th, Maungu Village, Taita Taveta. I was seated in a 7-Seater Matatu. We’d just done a 30 km stretch from Voi Town and had just arrived in Maungu Village Center. Destination Kasigau. At this point, I was contemplating going back. Perhaps because the driver was driving like a maniac, and the road ahead was a dusty all-weather road, and it felt like it hadn’t rained in a decade. I had a feeling the rest of the journey would feel like camping in a boiler room—It was hot, dry, and dusty. The road had cracks. The earth beneath was clearly desperate for a drop of water.
- Mt. Kasigau is Approximately 64 km from Voi Town.
- It takes 1 hour 25 minutes from Total Service Station on A109 Mombasa Voi Rd to Kasigau through Maungu.
- Maungu to Rukanga Village is an approximately 58-minutes dirt road drive
Before we set out for Kasigau, a local warned us of the possibility of not getting transport back to our hotel in Voi. Jora Village, in Rukanga, Kasigau is a remote village with little commercial activity, transport is a problem due to the poor road conditions. Also, Jora doesn’t get many visitors. Therefore, not many people travel back to Voi town past 2 pm.
We had a contact person in Jora village who’d been waiting for us since 9 am, it was already noon, and the driver didn’t look like he was in a hurry to get to Rukanga center in Kaisigau.
Getting to Maungu Center
Finally, we set out on the 30.7 km dirt road to Rukanga, and by the time we got to Buguta, there was a clear distinction between the locals and visitors in the vehicle. The ladies covered themselves with ‘shukas’ to protect their hair and clothes from the dust, and we looked like we’d been working in a Posho Mill.
- Public transportation from Voi Bus Station to Rukanga Kasigau is approximately $3.50
- Taxis charge $4.00 per person per trip from Voi Town To Rukanga Kasigau.
At first, the landscape towards Rukanga was raw, with all the dust and heat blaring under the noon sun. It looked like we were driving in the middle of a park, the vegetation was filled with drought-resistant bush and thicket that mainly consisted of Acacia Commiphora, Acacia Elatior, sparsely distributed Kigelia Africana, Mimusops Fruiticos shrubs, among others.
And then came the hills. This got my attention. Apart from water bodies, I have a fascination for rocky hills. My parents tell me my ancestors came from the mountain and that genetic memory must have kicked in somewhere in my DNA—I was in awe.
Describing Taita Hills as beautiful is an understatement. The drive through Taita Hill brought back memories from Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa Novel. But, I am biased to say, Taita Taveta is perhaps one of the few places I’ve visited that remain untouched. And that’s what I thought until we got to Rukanga.
Rukanga Center in Kasigau
Rukanga is a small village center in Kasigau with a mountain canvas background. It looks unreal in its simplicity, like an old painting, with locals up and about in their business. The vegetables on the grocery stand look pale. They were probably acquired from Voi town. There’s not enough rain here to grow greens. There’s a tailor in the distance peddling his Singer, too deep in conversation, a young lady outside her shop deep in thought passing the afternoon away.
The moment we step out of the Matatu, the faces around brighten. The locals of Rukanga are so welcoming. Everyone knows everyone here, and soon enough, we are whisked away in motorbikes heading to Jora. At this point, our phones are out recording the marvelousness of Mt. Kasigau. It’s a sleepy village, there’s very little activity here.
The monolithic mountain sits behind the tiny village in its massiveness, almost like an eye in the sky, and it didn’t matter which direction you went. It stood there in its greatness, almost like it was watching, untouched and raw with patches of forests in between the vast rock beds. It is at this point that I fell in love with Kasigau.
We finally got to Jora, another tiny sleepy village at the foot of Mt. Kasigau, and on the way there, we spotted some cottages. They looked rundown and far in between. Perhaps there was someone who, like me, saw the potential of Kasigau as a destination.
- The main means of transport between villages in Kasigau are Motorbikes.
- Motorbike rides within Kasigau are on average $0.50.
We found Amina waiting at the side of the road, with her baby saddled at her back. Believe it or not, she’d been waiting for us since 9 am. It’s unreal how hospitable the people of Kasigau are despite the number of times visitors have let them down. We begin the 15-minute hike to her home in between elephant trails and shambas. She welcomes us into her semi-permanent house (the government was kind enough to get electricity here). We are offered a cup of the sweetest spicy Taita tea.
We had come to Jora for my friend’s possible business venture. As they went into details of their affairs, I could help interject by asking about Mt. Kasigau and its history and why such a beautiful place looks deserted. I was hoping to hear that this village, like every other tourist destination in the country, is suffering the after-effects of the global pandemic, but I was wrong. Kasigau’s problems began 15 years ago.
Challenges locals are facing in Kasigau
I feel the country and the Tourism stakeholders are selling false truths. When you think of touring, it’s often about big budgets, 4X4 trucks, 5-course meals deep in the savanna, cocktails on the beach in resorts only tourists can afford. But, let’s face it, going for an African Safari like the Wildebeest Migration is a privilege which, in my opinion, is absurd. Kasigau offers this and so much more, but I am yet to see a billboard sign selling it as a destination.
In 2001, UNDP started a Banda/Cottage project in Kasigau to help the communities protect the Kasigau forest by enabling them commercially in tourism. This project was a success, but zero follow-ups were made, none of the websites initiated are still running, those left in charge don’t have an idea how to renew the annual hosting fee. They weren’t properly trained on how to sell their destination, manage, and rip its benefits for the long haul. Today, those Bandas/Cottages are deserted, the remaining ones have been converted into homes, and the locals aren’t too happy to talk about them.
Rukanga also has a thriving weavers’ community, a project much like the Bandas that’s slowly starting to face the fate of the Bandas.
People come to Kasigau, marvel at its richness, then tell the locals what to do with little training on how to manage or sustain the projects. They leave, and the projects die soon after.
Despite the challenges and missed opportunities faced by Kasigau locals, it might seem like the government and NGOs are doing a lot for the mountainside village.
There’s still a lot of positive projects in the region. The Kasigau Wildlife Sanctuary protects more than 200,000 hectares of dryland forests, 11,000 endangered elephants, countless lions, cheetah, leopards, wild dogs, and zebras. The REDD+ project initiated in Kasigau is also the first project in the world to receive a verified emissions reduction under VCS standards.
Kasigau also has a thriving weavers community that’s aimed at commercially enabling local women in the region. The community groups work together and produce baskets and ornaments for sale.
There are also a number of conservation facilities in the region for endangered wildlife and forests that promote the local community through employment opportunities.
I believe Kasigau has so much richness to offer. I spent my entire afternoon there, and I felt like I needed more than a week to appreciate its natural bounty fully. There’s so much to experience in Mt. Kasigau, including an indigenous mystical forest, Taita skull caves, endemic orchids, and impatiens flowers. There’s also a WW1 monument for British and German soldiers who died in the mountain.
We drove back to Voi in a last-minute hired car at sunset, and I had this undying need to share my Kasigau story. I’m definitely coming back to this land of hidden treasures. I am sure there’s so much I don’t know about Kasigau that I need to experience. This is my tiny offering towards boosting local tourism for the locals in Kasigau since the government and NGOs are clearly doing a lot in terms of capacity building (cough). What about you?