When I was assigned to cover the looming evictions at the depleted Maasai Mau Forest, I set out to establish whether the illegal squatters were vacating the water tower.
However, instead of relying on eye account witnesses and the scanty information from the authorities, I decided to plunge deep inside the Mau Forest.
And until you go deep inside the forest, you cannot have a true picture of the magnitude of the plunder of the once beautiful landscape.
Deforestation and widespread degradation can be viewed from the busy Narok- Bomet highway.
My first trip deep inside the forest ended up being a mixture of fun and sadness. The forest has lost over 400,000 hectares.
The Mau Complex ecosystem is ecologically and economically critical for Kenya and parts of East Africa as more than 10 million people depend on its rivers.
The beehives that were placed on particular trees by the indigenous Ogiek community who lived in the forest since time immemorial were conspicuously missing.
The forest was famous for wild fruits but I could not locate a single fruit, thanks to the destruction by human activities.
The soothing sound of the waters of River Mara as it snakes its way in the deep valleys and rolling foothills was no longer disturbing the ears as it used to be.
I joined a group of about 50 Kenya Forest Service (KFS) rangers who were closely monitoring illegal squatters who were voluntarily moving out of the forest.
While I was only armed with a pen, notebook and a camera, the KFS rangers were heavily armed with German G3 rifles and machine guns. At least I was assured of my safety just in case of anything.
It proved to be the most endurance and physical challenge I have taken so far in my journalism career spanning more than 10 years.
Descending the depleted valleys that once had indigenous trees and criss-crossing the drying muddy rivers was a delicate and tough experience.
However, seeing some scattered indigenous trees still standing remarkably tall and bumping into a bubbling spring at the middle of a thicket was beautiful and heart-warming.
The KFS rangers led by Chief Inspector Njoroge Mugo acted as my tour guide. The KFS crew in their jungle green attire knew a lot about the area, wildlife, nature.
“It pains to see some of the indigenous trees that have been here for long felled by squatters,” said a ranger as he pointed at a decomposing brown olive tree in the middle of potato farm.
Other crops that were doting the forest included cabbages, maize, peas and onions.
The KFS rangers were the perfect partners when the going got tough as my Safari Boots failed the grip test on the steep and slippery valleys.
The five kilometre trip started at KFS makeshift camp christened Loliondo. The camp is adjacent to the controversial Sera Leone area that has been heavily invaded by squatters.
The invaders have reduced the once beautiful forest into a noisy and messy area. I did not encounter a single wildlife apart from the emaciated domestic dogs.
“This forest had wildlife but the human encroachment has forced them to migrate,” said a KFS ranger.
Instead of breathing in clean air the calming effect of the natural beauty was turned into a choking experience. The forest is engulfed with smoke from timber houses.
The illegal community learning centres built to hoodwink the authorities and attract public sympathy stood in the valleys.
Interestingly the poorly constructed illegal learning institutions had no ablution blocks, meaning the learners and teachers were relieving themselves in the forest.
And yes the tour is not for everyone, especially if you are not fit and have no energy for tough terrains.
One needs to eat well before venturing into the forest. “You must prepare physically and mentally,” said Chief Inspector Njoroge.