Just over an hour's drive from Nairobi, in the Aberdare ranges, is The Forest, an activity centre overlooking a beautiful lush green valley. It has an array of activities, including horse riding, hiking, mountain biking, paintball and Segway tours.
The big draw, however, is the Flying Fox, a series of six zip lines that traverse the valley, spanning over 2km and offering international levels of safety standards and highly trained instructors.
Turning off the Naivasha Road, the route is well signposted. Hopefully, in time, the Kenya Forest Service will use the park fees they are raking in to repair some of the monster potholes in the road. I would suggest that a robust vehicle with reasonable clearance is a prerequisite.
There is a minimum height requirement of 1.4m and a maximum weight limit of 115kg to do the full six-rope course, though smaller people can do two of the lines together with one of the instructors. The whole course takes between two and two and a half hours, depending on the size of the group. Lighter people sometimes need to be assisted on the final stretch a bit, the only time being heavier can be an advantage!
The main criterion is a willingness to trust in the equipment, tuck your knees up and let gravity do its work. Safety is key and the instructors responsible for your group will ensure that every single member fully understands the process and can demonstrate how to apply the brake on the purpose-built training area before moving to the course.
On each line, one of the two instructors will travel ahead so they can advise each participant if and when they need to brake and assist you to the end if you don’t quite have the momentum to make it. Each of the lines has its own name for a different reason. For instance, maji (water) is so named because looking down, you will see a stunning multi-level waterfall as the river drops significantly in height and moto (fire) because it goes over the campsite where sometimes a campfire might be simmering below.
The trick to the perfect glide is braking at the right time and applying just the right amount of pressure. There is no sophistication involved beyond using your leading hand clad in a thick leather glove and friction to reduce your speed with the aim of nimbly stepping onto the platform at the end to adulation and applause from your peers. Timing, as they say, is everything.
There are two occasions where you will need to do a little bit of work for your reward. Between the second and third lines, there is a 10-minute walk to regain height, mostly uphill, which gets the blood pumping, and, after the final slide, a much shorter saunter back to the activity centre for a well-earned cold drink and to recount some of the yells, screams and laughter.
During many of the lines, smallholders going about their business, tending crops or cattle may offer a wave or a smile, though largely they continue with their travails, oblivious to the soaring and occasional shrieks of delight.
Inside the centre, there is a large dining area and a smaller bar. They offer a wide range of dishes and frequently have a barbecue buffet available, which can be enjoyed with a possible view of Mount Kenya in the distance. For those needing a snack, there are chocolates and crisps available at the reception to boost those blood sugar levels after your exertions.
It's wise for a member of your group to take a backpack with some water for everyone and maybe a lightweight jacket or jumper if the clouds come out. There can be a bit of waiting around with larger groups and of course, something to capture the fun with for the family photo album.
Last year the centre, through the park fees, reinvested around Sh8 million to preserve and conserve the forest itself. The investors are passionate about reconnecting Kenyans with the precious national heritage of forests and incentivising their preservation. Ninety per cent of staff are recruited locally, making it a truly local enterprise, and it's clear they have a lot of fun themselves.
The Forest has become the venue of choice for work functions and team building, and it can get extremely busy, particularly on weekends, so booking is advised. They will normally require a deposit of a Sh1,000 per person. The cost is Sh2,600 each for adults and Sh2,300 for adults to do the whole course plus the fees to Kenya Forest Service.
They are cash-free and only accept cards or Mpesa, so plan accordingly. It’s a great day out or even a potential weekend, and great to have such a fantastic facility within an easy strike of Nairobi. I’ll be back!