“The trees encountered on a country stroll reveal a lot about the country’s soul… A culture is no better than its woods,” said W.H Auden.
I have realized that Kijabe is one of the happiest and most peaceful towns I have been to. It is also 70% forest. I believe these facts are related.
A stroll in Kijabe will reveal that the town has a spiritual and colonial blanket over it. But as many would think, Kijabe was never discovered by white people. It served as a mission station during British colonial times, but the town has always been in the lands of the Maasai people. The name is believed to have been derived from the Maasai ‘Donyo Kejabe’ to mean ‘Gold Mountain.’
Alice Walker once said, “In nature, nothing is perfect, and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”
The trees in Kijabe are contorted, bent in weird ways, and absolutely stunning. I have noticed no leaves in this place’s thousand trees are alike. The trees grow of their own accord. They put down deep roots into their whole being. All of the town’s wisdom is stored in the trees.
Nothing is perfect about Kijabe town, and yet at the same time, everything is perfect. One would deem it a village if one were to substantiate Kijabe in locality and appearance. It defies the odds of a village because the mission station is the home of Kijabe Hospital, AIC-CURE International Children’s Hospital of Kenya, Moffat Bible College, and Rift Valley Academy. The town also has a railway station along the Uganda Railway, an airstrip, a police station, a post office, two Government high schools, one public primary school, a printing media house, and a National Oil gas filling station.
A stroll on the slopes of this town gives you excellent regard for trees. The town is surrounded by trees. The town is in the heart of the valley, encompassed by hills of trees that represent the miracles of life and growth. These trees and the people living in the town are made of the same stuff.
There is a silhouette to these trees that resembles that of the people. That quality of air, the emanation from old trees, and the beauty of the forest wonderfully change and renews weary spirits. The town has been maintained as a mission station and is run by the same rules. Here the church is the constitution. As a result, the town has maintained the status of a ‘sober’ town for years. The missionaries and villagers coexist peacefully under the guidance of the church.
Ancient trees and values here are precious.
There is little else on Earth that hosts such a rich community of life within one living organism. It is the blend of nature and intricate values of the community that makes the culture here as exquisite as its woods.
And here I was, ready to explore Kijabe hills with a crystal vase mind that contained only one desire. Though my body was its opposite, I was ready to do it. Margie, Reri, and Shem (Our lovely guide) were set to venture into the layered and complex, inexplicable and analogous to nothing hills of Kijabe. We had all assumed that this would probably be one of those easy hikes where you just trek the easiest of trails. They were not that. Well, they were that and a bunch of other things.
Kijabe town already has a tremendous silence to it. This had been what I came for, and it had been what I got. The weather had favored the all visiting hikers. The beauty of Kijabe hills is that they are thru-hikes. With so many trail options, the starting point is never the stopping point.
We started the hike from Magina, trekking past people’s homes and farms into the village. It was a pleasant morning stroll drenched in pleasant conversation. We discussed the country’s state, the politics and upcoming elections, the inflation of prices, and the compromised living standards we have to sustain.
The scrub and scraggly trees stood indifferently resolute on our trail and bore no responsibility for our unfortunate state of a country. There is succulent beauty to intimate conversations had on forest terrains. It is like the air comes alive with the sound of the wind whipping the trees at times and other times profoundly hushed by the endless silencing stillness.
Everything but the four of us seemed utterly sure of itself. The trees didn’t wonder who we were. The sky didn’t wonder where it was. The railway tracks didn’t bend to our weight. The dark tunnels didn’t feel the effect of our flashlights. Though bothered by our intrusion, the bats didn’t care who we were. The trees along our paths didn’t care for the weight we put on them when propelling up the trail. The wilderness here had a clarity that included us.
It didn’t matter if it was a Saturday or the 18th of June. These trees and hills didn’t need to count days. The entire trail was our people, and it didn’t matter if we were two women and two men, it didn’t matter that I was in my third trimester, it didn’t matter how many mountains we had conquered before then. Here, amidst the incorruptible beauty of the wilderness, we too could be incorruptible, regardless of our gender and who we had become.
We came to a cross-section of two trail routes. One would lead up the hills off Soko Mjinga. While the other would lead through the waterfalls off Kinale. Margie wanted to go chasing waterfalls, and we were here for it. Reri and I live in Kijabe, but none of us had made the waterfall trail.
Hiking, I have come to realize, has only to do with how it feels to be in the wild. It is walking for miles for no reason other than to witness the accumulation of trees and meadows, streams and rocks, mountains and deserts, rivers and grasses, sunrises and sunsets. The experience is always powerful and fundamental. Hikes get us wildly enthusiastic about little things, like swinging with trees and playing with leaves, makes us skip down the street and run against the wind.
Hikes remind us of the little things in life that we tend to forget about. It’s the aftermath of taking a moment to stop and smell the flowers, dancing in the rain, and just enjoying the breeze. Hills and mountains have a way of reminding us that you are never too old to play.
Once we took the waterfall trail, the hike took a different silhouette. Heaven was under our feet as well as over our heads. The terrain got a bit rocky. The trail was on a seasonal river. The placements of the rocks on the river’s bank were a clear indication of how seasonal life can be. A subtle reminder to live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the Earth.
The river had dried up for lack of rain, making it possible walk through that part of the wilderness without fighting with the force of the water. The density of the rocks proved that when it’s the river’s season, it roars like a lion. The gloriousness of the rocks along the trail was a kind of glory that satisfies more than the metaphysics of books.
We loved the trail’s roughness because of the certainties and uncertainties captured by nature around it. It gave clear proof that the world cannot be put in order. The world is in order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order. The river wasn’t completely dry. It had a stream of water still cruising through its banks.
We got to a point where the stream was refreshing. The poetry of the Earth came alive. The rock surface looked like something from a painted canvas. There were shades of different spirals on the rock. Water seamlessly flowed down the art piece into a rocky bottom.
We stopped here for a while for a lunch break. It was just the perfect spot. The view around was breathtaking. Assurance as to why all of us had chosen to go to those woods that day. We were here because we had wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if we could not learn what it had to teach that day and not when we came to die, to discover that we were yet to live.
We could see the hypothetical waterfalls Margie had set us up to chase that day. I felt cheated. I expected the waterfalls to be majestic and humungous, not streams of water sipping off the high rocks. The waterfalls, it seems, were just as seasonal as the river itself. According to the guide, this was the best time to hike this trail. When the river is in full effect, the trail is not passable.
The trail from this point brought out all nature in its infinite beauty. The views were glitter of green and golden wonder in the vast edifice of stone and space. Like music and art, what overlooked the slopes above the waterfall transcended any political or social boundaries we had analyzed thus far. From here, the forest seemed boundless.
From the cliff, the view ventured into the beyond. And from the slopes, the trees and the sky adorned the hills with love. We all took in the views in different measures. Whether it was atop the cliff or within the caves. We all experienced the hike differently.
Here, we realized that the incivility of nature and hiking is what makes it unique. It matters not how many people have been here before looking at the same view. What matters is what you’re soaking in at the moment.
The symphony of the surrounding was a lot like that of pregnancy. How the baby, the body, and the mother work in perfect harmony for weeks. There is a bias in our communities that comes with pregnant women working out, running, hiking, or being ‘too active’. It is frowned upon. But when you listen to your body and consult with your doctor, it is possible to still enjoy activities you love and be safe. I was fortunate to hike with gems who hiked at my pace, who let me take as many rest stops as need be, and who cheered me on the entire hike. They are the reason the hike was badass. I was badass. It took us roughly ten hours to do the hike. Hypothetically, it would have taken less time had it been a challenge or had I not been pregnant. It was an incredible day, spent in the woods, in the company of the most amazing folks.
The sunshine was delicious, the air refreshing, the wind braced us up, the view was exhilarating, and the hill was a mighty harmonist. The beauty of the natural world lies in the details. The stories. The laughter. The struggles. The views. The snacks. The photo sessions. The beautiful trek off Kinale. The baby bump. The company. Our guide. These seamless details made this ‘easy’ hike one of the best I’ve ever done.
We spent $11.30 per person for this hike. It is a lovely day hike for anyone looking for an easy, yet breathtaking hike or trail run. It is roughly an hour and a half from Nairobi if you’re on public transport and less than an hour using public means.