From his base at Kisumu’s Rock Resort, Harold Ayodo was in the Western region in shuttle tourism where he sampled some of the region’s best kept secrets
The Western tourism circuit is yet to live its full potential as visitors trickle in to sample its spectacles. And my recent visit confirmed that, indeed, the area largely associated with US President Barack Obama (thanks to Kogelo village) has interesting eye-catching moments.
We landed at Kisumu airport shortly after 6pm on a Friday evening. An interesting aspect of Kisumu is that it receives an avalanche of visitors every weekend and this day it was no different. Businessmen, politicians and others could be seen hovering around the airport.
Despite the inviting nightclubs and entertainment joints dotting every nook and corner of Kisumu I took a short drive to Rock Resort. The road from the airport is currently under construction hence be prepared for a good measure of dust.
Though it was at night, I could tell the beauty of the resort. Saturday morning revealed bare rocky peaks above streams tumbling down grassy and rocky shrubby hillsides in their windy rush to Lake Victoria. It was a bewildering sight. Further ahead are landscapes offering magnificent sights of Homa Hills, Kit Mikayi Hills, Maragoli Hills and Lambwe Valley.
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About 200 metres away from the resort, River Daraja Mbili gushed as it snaked towards draining into Lake Victoria. About 100 metres from the river is a colonial railway line where the Kisumu-Maseno-Butere passenger trains meander past the valley. The place is awash with exotic trees creating a perfect environment for several blue monkeys to roam without a care.
Geologists say the hills and valleys in the area were born after land to the west of Kisumu experienced immense geological forces. Consequently, the earth tilted, twisted and fell away to the dramatic escarpment of the current breathtaking scenic beauty. Today, bare rocky peaks stand above several streams in the area as they flow down the grassy hillsides in their windy rush into Lake Victoria. It is every traveller’s perfect photo opportunity away from the beaten tourist path.
Away from the scintillating vegetation and escarpments around the resort, a 20-minutes drive will take you to Kisumu Impala Sanctuary that sits on the shores of Lake Victoria. This place once offered a beautiful view of the fresh water lake, but today water body is just but a mass of green vegetation — the hyacinth.
Impalas, zebras and caged wild animals like lions and leopards are among the main attractions here. After lunch, we set off to an 18-kilometre drive to Kit Mikayi for the phenomenon that are gigantic rocks. The name literally means the rock of the first wife in Luo.
The legendary Kit Mikayi believed to have miraculous powers.
Legend has it that an old chap named Ngeso so loved the rock formation that he would spend his whole day lazing under the stones. Everyday he would wake up in the morning and head straight there and force his wife to bring his breakfast and lunch while he pondered about the meaning of life. Whenever someone asked about him, his wife would say he has gone to Kit Mikayi — his first wife.
The legendary Kit Mikayi believed to have miraculous powers.
It is believed the stones have powers to cure many diseases as well as help mothers who are having problems breastfeeding. Even today, some believe a visit to Kit Mikayi bestows good fortune upon the visitor.
Currently, the local community offers guided tours through the passages within the rock, which are also home to large colonies of bats and nesting birds.
Ruma National Park, which is the last refuge of the threatened Roan antelope, is also about two and a half hours away. The Roans are easy to catch on the open grasslands, grazing freely among stands of whistling thorn acacia trees. Here you will catch other rare species like the Rothschild Giraffe, Jackson’s Hartebeest and the tiny Oribi antelope.
Art of kisii
From Ruma, we headed to Kisii with a brief stopover at Tabaka, home to the finest stone carvers countrywide. The Gusii community is renowned for their artistic skill with the local soapstone following a long tradition of carving ornate decorative art and jewellery and cutlery.
The stone — also known as the Kisii stone — is found in open quarries throughout Gucha, which has also proved equally rich in uncovered fossil evidence and prehistoric artefacts. The success of the stone carving industry is evident shows in Tabaka, where every household seems engaged in carving, polishing, washing and packaging stoneware.
A visit to Kakamega Forest, which is about one and half hours drive — away from Rock Resort — is a treat to lovers of rare flora and fauna. It is a remnant forest, once linked to the great Equatorial forests of the Congo and is home to several unique and endangered species. Deep in the rain forest, the calls of primates are heard, snakes slither by in sauntering slyness, while butterflies make their journeys beneath the forest roof in droves, forming beautiful clouds of multiple colours.
A visit to Kakamega is never complete without witnessing the traditional bullfight in either of the villages especially Sigalagala. The events, held throughout the year, are important for the local Luhya community and are pitched battles between two bulls each one representing an individual village.
Oblivious to the noise and bets being placed on them, the two bulls — Omwami and Ingwe prepare for battle, racing up and down the pitch as if possessed before the match begins with a sharp command. They charge in a cloud of dust and lock horns. The fight is on.
This is bullfighting, Kenya-style; an altogether different version from the more famous Spanish bloodsport. On the eve of a fight, they are psychologically prepared by dieting on remnants of a traditional brew and other special concoctions believed to increase their aggression. The winning bull is led round the field in a victory lap, accompanied by a jubilant crowd chanting war songs.
After an eventful day we headed back to the resort. The air here is chilly thanks to the breeze from the lake.
The rich trees here have turned the resort into a bird watching area with guests walking while dangling pairs of binoculars on their chests. Rooms here are aptly named after birds like penguin, ostrich, swallow, pigeon, king fisher and crow. Here, the designs of the rooms are a combination of Spanish architectural designs on one wing while other sections have designs from the Coast and round Luo huts.
A plus for Rock Resort is its modern in-house discothËque, strictly for guests, and the suspended Golan Heights Bar – a favourite to visitors.