March 20, 2018

Growing up, I was huge fan of the Indiana Jones movies. I mean, what could be more exciting? The hunt for lost treasure, wild chases through the dense jungle, horrifying run-ins with evil snakes and terrifying omens…all a recipe for one wild and completely fantastical adventure.

It seems stupid to make even the slightest comparison between my time in the rainforest and an Indiana Jones film but man, my first day was weird. We had come to the Kakamega rainforest in Western Kenya in search of a wider variety and a greater number of insect disease vectors (another questionable decision, in my mind), and so on our first morning we set off on a trek through the forest towards a river.

Things started off rather magically. Butterflies of myriad varieties and colors fluttered past as hundreds of different birds chirped a collage of harmonic melodies.

And then, chaos broke out.

Our group had stopped, likely to search for some bird, and so my friend Meredith and I took the momentary free time to look not for birds, but for the elusive vipers that supposedly slithered rampantly throughout the forest.

“Is that a snake?” she asked me, pointing at some brown thing on the forest floor.

“Nah,” I replied, “that’s just a stick.”

We stood there for a solid 30 seconds, staring blankly at the ground.

“Okay nope – that’s a snake!”

And it was. We had inadvertently almost stepped on a hungry viper mid-meal, a large toad halfway down its throat as it swallowed the poor amphibian whole (and alive). I feel it necessary to point out at this point that while vipers aren’t very big, they’re extremely fast and very venomous.

Hungry Viper.jpg

A startled viper caught mid-meal

So of course, my entire class freaked out. And of course, instead of maybe running away or just leaving the hungry viper alone my fearless teacher Dino decided to prod it with a stick. Naturally, it got pretty pissed off and came awfully close to my ankles before dropping its half ingested meal on the ground and slithering away.

I thought the excitement level for the day had reached its peak. But just minutes later, we stopped suddenly and excited/terrified shrieks emerged from the front of the pack. Was it another snake? A giant insect? A million possibilities flashed through my brain.

They were all wrong. Dino emerged, proudly displaying a severed monkey head. As you can see below, it was pretty disgusting. The looks on people’s faces ranged from straight up horrified, to absolutely grossed out, to one guy who looked like Christmas came early (I’m looking at you, Luke). It was just another addition to what was turning into a wild morning. Of course, being the weird scientists that we are, instead of leaving the decapitated head where we found it we stuffed it in a bag and carried it around all day.

Dino + Dead Monkey.jpg

Dino shows off his decapitated monkey head to the class

Our teacher claimed that Crowned Eagles, the forest’s renowned blue monkey killers, were the villainous monkey assassins. But I was starting to get some real Temple of Doom vibes, and was convinced insane Thugees were sending our group a threatening omen.

Monkey Killers.jpg

A proud Crowned Eagle rests after a long day of monkey-murdering

Blue Monkeys.jpg

Two fully-living blue monkeys, their heads (currently) still attached to their bodies

As exciting as that first morning was, one of the real highlights of our week in Kakamega was our short adventure into a bat cave. Besides being super narrow, very dark, full of all manners of weird bugs, and covered in bat dung, seeing those fluffy nocturnal creatures burrow into the ceiling was amazing. I happen to be a big fan of bats, and find them to be absolutely adorable, so hanging out with them in their natural habitat was a treat. I did almost fall into a lake of bat guano, but that’s besides the point. I made it out of the cave, hiked back to our retreat, and left the rainforest a few days later.

Bat Cave.jpg

Spoiler alert: Batman was not inside

Thank you all for continuing following along! I’m a little behind on my posts – internet access in Kenya can often be very hard to come by. But stay tuned for next week’s post about my absolutely incredible week in Amboseli National Park.