Pupae at Kippeo Santuary
Pupae at Kippeo Santuary
Butterfly Paradise - Gede, Kenya
Sometimes, or more likely several times, when I was a teenager, my mother told me not to get on motorbikes with strange boys. At a road junction after a long, crowded bus ride in Kenya, a teenager on a motorbike was telling me I was his only option. Unless I wanted to walk a kilometre in the ferocious afternoon heat. I was almost too hot to walk over to his bike.
Bouncing past waving villagers along a dirt road and skidding a few times, I don’t think the biker heard me say, wimpishly; “Just take it easy.”
The track took us into the Arabuko forest to the Gede Ruins, the remains of a 12th century town. As the bus had stopped every hundred yards on my 90 kilometre journey from Mombasa, time was going to be short. I decided to leave the tour of the ruins and focus on the smaller and more intriguing attraction in the forest, the Kippeo Sanctuary.
Kippeo is Swahili for butterfly. The sanctuary is an elegant, overgrown building covered in nets; it felt as though I was walking through a palace where Sleeping Beauty might be hidden. Dosing among the bright foliage were lilac, purple and yellow butterflies – this was a palace for them, not human beings.
The heat and frustration of my journey evaporated in the courtyards of the butterfly house. Amid mosaics of butterflies and high clay walls, nothing to hear but the occasional chatter of a monkey outside, I’d found somewhere to just sit contented, still enough for an electric blue butterfly to land on my sleeve and just sit for a while too.
The caretaker of the sanctuary beckoned me to come to one of the enclosed rooms near the entrance. He showed me wooden cages with row after row of extraordinary coloured pupae. Tomorrow, he explained, these would be boxed up for export to butterfly sanctuaries around the world.
Set up by a charity, the Kippeo Sanctuary is a small business for local farmers. In the forest they collect eggs, raise caterpillars to the pupae stage and then bring these to the sanctuary for a little useful money. As butterflies only live a month or so, the demand from butterfly houses in Europe and America is constant.
The caretaker told me he loved his work; “It’s quiet. I used to drive a bus but I prefer this quiet work.”
I could understand that. I was tempted to avoid the encounter with buses that lay ahead of me and volunteer to stay forever, learning the craft of butterfly raising but I could hear the motorbike arriving outside to collect me.
“You liked the visit?” The biker asked me.
“I loved it.”
He shrugged. “Yes, the butterflies… It’s nice but boring for me.”
He was a teenager. When I was his age I’d have been more interested in riding around on motorbikes, despite my mother’s warnings - and not found any sort of thrill in discovering a peaceful, multicoloured oasis.
Gede is only 16km from Malindi, although 90km from Mombasa. Accessible by local bus (and motorbike) as well as through organised tours.
Annie Caulfield www.anniecaulfield.com