We were up early to get on the Kasigau trail, but Simon was up earlier making mandazis for a snack for us for when we reached the top. This was a good incentive to keep us moving as the trail got steeper and steeper. But what a beautiful day! Jackson arrived early to guide us up the mountain and tell us about some of the local history, show us some of the WW1 sites, and was very knowledgeable on the uses of the local plants.
A large round-topped kopje called Python Hill was a very focal point as we walked around, behind and then besides it. Jackson told us about the new trail that's been made to enable climbers to get up, and steel pegs that have been put in for abseiling, and the caves where the Warongulo (Jackson's spelling) tribesmen used to come and hide after poaching sorties getting rhino horns for sale to the Arabs that they traded within the old days.
When I asked if we could see these caves, he explained that they were all out of bounds to everyone in case bad spirits attached to us. On further questioning, it turned out that these bad spirits could come from the people accused of bad witchcraft who were tried by the elders of the tribe and thrown off the top of the kopje to their deaths. Their skulls were then placed in the caves. Jackson then admitted that he still has Warongulo relatives, although most of the tribe in this area, including himself, have now inter-married with the Teita people.
We were very impressed by how well this historic mountain has been cared for by the people here, who are very protective of it and do not allow strangers into the area if possible. Jackson admitted that even us curious site-seers are only now beginning to be tolerated because we buy baskets and other commodities from the community, and bring in a bit of income, giving the ladies a bit of food to put on the table.
He explained that Wildlife Works have been paying them a handsome amount for carbon credits, which is enough to help the people around the mountain to develop water catchments, in particular, to grow other crops, which is enough to compensate any traditional uses from the forest. The people living around the mountain rely on this forested mountain for their main water supply, as boreholes are not successful. So keeping the forest intact has a double benefit.
The forest was pristine; no litter, no harvesting of wood, even dead wood, which we were told is because of the insects that live in or under them, no people living in the forest with their stock as they used to, to hide from the dreaded Maasai. There were so many beautiful and different wildflowers and fungi after the recent rain. We were shown how young men would write a love message on the inner fold of a Cissus leaf for their lover to "happen" upon. We saw the tracks of the elusive Red Duiker and the bushpig and heard the plaintive cry of the hyraxes on the cliffs. The tree canopy was a kaleidoscope of different shades of green as one looked across the steep valleys. And the mist swirled around the tops.
We paid our respects to a fallen British soldier from the First World War, and felt his loneliness as he lay overlooking the vastness of Tsavo so far from home and lost dreams. We walked past a trench that was dug around the narrow ridge where the soldiers and few villagers lived, trying to defend this bastion of communication that flashed heliograph messages from mountaintop to mountaintop against the much smaller German forces of von Lettow Vorbeck. Jackson said the trench used to be 10 ft deep but is filling with falling leaf litter and is potentially too dangerous to keep clean for fear of land mines after one killed and maimed a couple of villagers in another trench. At the knife-edge ridge on the top of one of the highest peaks, we could see why it was such a strategic position for sending messages across the Tsavo plains, and why the Germans needed to break this chain of communication. It was an open space on the edge of another great chunk of defensive rock. We imagined the difficulties that both sides encountered in this mountain fastness.
Jackson explained to us how the Germans had tricked the local villagers into showing them where the track was to where the British were living. And how the tribe suffered when they were punished for doing so by the British, not knowing that all Europeans weren't the same! The entire tribe had been deported to Malindi where the people there gave them a bad time. But gradually they'd found their way back to their Kasagau sacred homeland.
Sunday Church music drifted up a perpendicular approximately 4,000 ft cliff, as if it were just there, as we sat in awe on the edge of this drop-off looking at the miniature village below us; at the landscape rolling away to Sagalla hill and the distant skyline in the north on the leeward side of the only path to the top; to the fern and orchid-covered beauty of the rapidly descending stream from which the residents of the almost flat ridge top collected their water.
By the time we got back down, my legs were shaking from the unaccustomed exercise after a tough 8 km and 5 1/2 hours up and two hours back. Even Simon, Barabara and Tingean, who came with us out of curiosity, admitted to the same shakes! But young Robin ran most of the way down until he skinned his needs, and the wazee were able to catch up and slow him down! Coming back in full view of the execution kopje and caves one couldn't help but feel the presence of those spirits glowering at us intruders of their sacred place. But I did have to ask how the wazee managed to get up there dragging a reluctant man going to his end. Apparently there was an easier path on the other side!