By Njambi Mungai
We stood and gazed in awe at the behemoth that stood in front of our eyes. The fig tree has been a symbol of might, strength, sustenance and even resilience.
But you do not fully understand the power of this behemoth until you see its true power. The fig’s journey begins with a young vulnerable seed being deposited on a branch or crook of a hospitable tree by an animal. The seed politely uses the sunlight, rain and leaf litter to get its nutrients.
Unbeknownst to the host, this seemingly harmless visitor is busy sending tiny roots that snake down the host’s trunk to the soil. That way, it gets more nutrients and water to become stronger. And that is when the real struggle begins.
The strangler fig roots fight for water and nutrients with the host. As if that is not enough, it continues to send more roots from the top to encircle the truck of the host.
The combined pressure of reduced nutrients and a squeezed trunk eventually lead to the death of the host, leaving behind a magnificent strangler fig tree for humans to marvel at.
And marvel we did, as we took in the full scale of the 200 year old tree. You do not clock two centuries by being nice in this jungle. It’s no wonder even the Agikuyu tribe considered it an otherworldly creation.
We were enjoying a forest walk on Mount Kenya’s slopes. It was early morning and we were dressed in farmers’ gumboots and raincoats.
A forest walk deserves raincoats, gumboots and of course that all important photo moment. Leading the pack was an armed ranger because buffaloes are very common in the area. Benson, the in-house naturalist for Serena Mountain Lodge, suggested a very peculiar way to deal with an animal if attacked.
In our teammate Owaah’s words, Benson turned to us and mentioned rather casually,
“Oh, by the way, stay with pack. Don’t be left behind. We might encounter a few wild animals.”
Us: “Really? What animals would be out here on such a cold morning?”
Benson: “Lone buffaloes most likely.”
Everyone (at the same time): “Aren’t those the most dangerous buffalos?”
“Yes they are,” Benson added, smiling for some apparent sadistic reason, “If you encounter one, you need to outrun everyone else. If you can’t, and he corners you, lie down in a fetal position and let him have his way.”
Us: “Are you serious?”
Then he’ll turn and continue pointing out hyena poop and other random things like he did not just say that.
We were surrounded by indigenous trees and plants with birds chirping and Columbus monkey sounds cutting through the cold misty air. The canopy was so dense that few of the early morning rays were touching the forest floor.
As we made the trek, we came across a couple of small craters which Benson described as bomb holes.
Say what now?
Turns out the colonialist used bombs to smoke the freedom fighters from their hideouts in the forests. Half a century later and the evidence of past conflict is still visible here.
An hour of hiking later, the raincoats had been shed and the team members could be heard huffing and puffing as they dealt with every hill we encountered.
But these efforts were so well rewarded when we finally came across a clearing and the comforting sight of tables with our breakfast. Champagne breakfast!
There is no better sight than this after a long trek up the Mt Kenya forest. Just like we had in Samburu Intrepids, there was the most spectacular breakfast spread. This time instead, we were surrounded by towering trees and thick bushes. The bush breakfast is just one of the experiences offered at Serena Mountain Lodge.
Located on the lower slopes on Mount Kenya, the lodge is somewhat of a surprise.Once you are dropped off the parking lot, the porters lead through a gravelled path lined with lush bushes.
As you walk up the pathway, the lodge suddenly appears. I say suddenly because its facade is painted a jungle green that almost camouflages with the surrounding. It makes no effort to stand out, and yet it does.
The lodge is camouflaged and kind of ‘magically’ appears. Raised on stilts above the forest canopy, a timbered drawbridge leads from the Mount Kenya forest and up on to the wooden ‘decks’ of the tree hotel.
The tree hotel boasts 42 rooms with a clear view of the waterhole below where wild animals visit for drinks and that all important salt lick.
The rooms can best be described as cosy cabins. Keeping with all the five star quality expected of Serena hotels, but staying true to the rustic theme.
Wireless internet is available for those who still choose to be connected to the world despite being in paradise.
For the business people, conference facilities are available complete with projector, PA system, satellite TV and flip chart.
But it is the lovers in the house who are in for a treat. Nothing like a good massage to kick-start your stay before enjoying the roof top dinning overlooking the waterhole.
We tried to be visible against the glass panel but the size of the lodge literally dwarfed us
Exciting Mt. Kenya forest walks are available in the mornings or evening. There is also the chance to fish trout from the crystal clear waters from the mountain, enjoy moorland excursions and bush sundowners while at it.
Of course it doesn’t hurt to see the elusive peaks of Mt Kenya from the comfort of your room.