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Overland Travel Guests Pack School Supplies to Make a Big Impact on Kenyan Students

Overland Travel Guests Pack School Supplies to Make a Big Impact on Kenyan Students

This post first appeared on Pack For A Purpose: https://www.packforapurpose.org/blog/2020/06/206434/

When Bryan and Jade landed carrying their full business class luggage allowance we were overwhelmed with their generosity, as well as their family and their friends’.  Their personal belongings for the safari were about a quarter of their luggage and the rest was stationary, clothes, and even some tablets (IPads, not medication!) for us to distribute to the community projects we support. We took Bryan and Jade to Amani Kibera so they could see for themselves the impact they were making on the community. For us, that is the real highlight of Pack for a Purpose: being able to take guests to the projects where they can make their donations in person and meet the beneficiaries.

Bryan and Jade are not the only guests who have come laden with supplies for Kenyan communities. Sheila had been sponsoring Ndunda’s education for some time before she and her friend Christine came for a safari in Kenya and then to Botswana. Ndunda lives at Kiota Children’s Home, one of the projects we support, and we worked a visit into Sheila and Christine’s itinerary. They had brought a pile of stationary, not just for Ndunda, but enough for all the children in the home.

Amani Kibera has a community library and relies entirely on donations of books to fill the shelves. Their primary focus with any funding or grants they receive is to buy the Kenyan syllabus texts as many children in the Kibera slum cannot afford their own copies. All other books, both fiction and non-fiction, have been donated by well-wishers. It’s really important to give children access to books other than their textbooks as it is not common to have books in the home. Kenyan children have to work a bit harder to get an interest in subjects not taught at school or to pick up a novel and get lost in the fantasy. Having such books available at the library gives them these opportunities and can open up the wider world to them.  Tom brought books when he visited and so did the McDonnell and Wedeen families.

Even people who have not booked a safari with us have got in touch with us because they wanted to Pack for a Purpose. Given early starts on most safaris and odd flight times, we sometimes don’t get to meet these people in person but it’s lovely to walk into a hotel and receive a suitcase full of toys for Amani Kibera’s childcare centre or bags of stationary and arts and crafts supplies for Kiota.

Jackson was so inspired by the project he visited that a couple of years after his safari, he raised and sent us money to buy smart phones in Kenya. This gave the project leaders the ability to communicate more effectively with the world about their work and also use the DuoLingo app to learn English.

The benefit to the projects is immense. When every penny of funding and donations goes towards school fees, food and necessary school stationary, it is such a treat for the children at Kiota to get some art and craft supplies. The education system in Kenya is largely rote learning so getting such materials gives the children an opportunity to explore their own imaginations and develop creativity they might not get at school. Plus it’s fun, which is also important for these children who have had a pretty tough childhood.

Bringing stationary and other school supplies to Amani Kibera means they can distribute them to needy families who barely have enough money for school fees.

The projects benefit from Pack for a Purpose because they are able to specify exactly what they need and guests can bring those things. After this current COVID-19 crisis, everyone will have suffered in the economic downturn and especially those with less than the average person. We have unfortunately had a few of our sponsors cease their sponsorship of a Kenyan child’s education due to their own financial hardship in the current circumstances. When this is all over and we can travel again, any school supplies that can be brought to assist families as they scrape together money for school fees, uniforms and text books will be a great help.

Samburu and other northern adventures

Samburu and other northern adventures

Samburu, Aberdare and Meru National Parks are not on a typical safari circuit.  But these are the three parks that Ian had his heart set on when he was planning his Kenyan safari.  He had seen two three-day itineraries on our website and asked to combine them into a week-long trip.  Being a specialist in tailor-made safaris, we of course said yes and put together a tour that took him off the beaten track into Northern Kenya.

By the time we met Ian, he had completed two weeks on a group tour through Kenya and Tanzania.  Needing a bit of a break from long, bumpy drives, he spent a day in Nairobi between safaris doing a walking tour of Nairobi’s city centre.  George is our local guide for these tours.  He was trained by MCF Panairobi, an NGO educating street children in the Mathare slum.  Armed with training and experience, George recently stepped out on his own to establish a tour company specializing in city and slum tours.  For Ian, the opportunity to learn about life in Nairobi, as well as the colourful history of Kenya, from a local who had grown up on the streets was a highlight of his time in Africa.  So much so, that he kept in touch with George after returning home and the continued relationship led to him contributing a large amount of money to a school that George was involved with.  We absolutely love when our guests make connections such as these.

Aberdare adventure

The first stop on Ian’s northern trails safari was Aberdare National Park.  He stayed at The Ark, named for its shape which is a likeness of old Noah’s vessel.  Aberdare is divided into two sections – the moorland and the salient.  The moorland is at a higher altitude and features a number of waterfalls that you can walk to.  The salient is quite dense bush and where the wildlife prefer to be.  The Ark is in the middle of the salient and has a marvelous walkway that is strung high above the ground giving guests an excellent vantage point to view elephants, bushbuck and, if they’re lucky a bongo.

Heading further north into Kenya’s arid area, Ian next visited Samburu National Reserve.  Here he camped in the middle of the park in a simple A-frame tent enjoying the bush cooking of our safari cook.  Samburu is one park where leopards are relatively easy to spot – it’s never a guarantee, but you’ve got a better chance in Samburu than in most other parks.  Ian got really lucky and saw a leopard out on a hunt!

The third and final destination was Meru National Park.  In seven years of operating OTA, we have only had two guests go to Meru; it is out of the way and definitely off the beaten safari track.  But it is an excellent park to spot rhino, which Ian did.  He stayed at Ikweta Camp, a beautiful (and very affordable) tented camp just outside the park gate.

On his return to Nairobi, he had a night to spend before flying out.  He availed himself of our spare room which we rent out on AirBnB and we took him out for a quintessential Kenyan experience: nyama choma.  We chewed on overcooked goat and sipped on Tusker beer, and reflected on Ian’s African adventures.

Ian’s Trip Advisor Review:

Way way more than just a specialist in day tours!

It’s such a shame that OTA (Overland Travel Adventures) comes up in the category of “Private Day Tours” since the reality is that they offer day tours as well as much longer adventures. Tours can be customised or set itineraries and dates can be joined. Either way, a first class experience can be guaranteed. My tour was a customised six day tour for one (me) and from start to finish I was hugely impressed. My goal was to see some of the lesser travelled parks in Northern Kenya (having already been on safari for two weeks in the south of Kenya and northern Tanzania) and with Tracey and Francis’ expert knowledge we settled on Aberdare NP, Samburu NR and Meru NP. Although I live in Australia (Tracey’s origins too), the planning went without a hitch and the whole trip was a wonderful addition to my earlier trip. Highlights were many but I think the day traversing Aberdare NP West to East (barely seeing another person) was one of the great day drives of my life; mind you the stark semi arid landscape of Samburu and its fantastic wildlife also stood out; as did rhino spotting in Meru. All in all, Francis (a born a bred Kenyan) was a wonderful guide; accommodation was exactly as I had hoped (waterhole room in Aberdare; bush camping in Samburu; Safari Lodge in Meru) and the trip, a perfect addition to my Kenyan and Tanzanian adventures. Just to top things off, Francis and Tracey have an Airbnb room so I finished the trip at their place and went out to dinner for some Nyama Choma and a Tusker beer or two.If you want a small local company, that provides outstanding service and value for money while being socially and environmentally responsible then you can’t go past OTA.

Hiroyuki’s Safari

Three leopards on the first day of safari, can you believe it?!  That was Hiroyuki’s experience when he came to Kenya in August 2016.  He contacted us because he had seen our commitment to community projects and wanted to spend some time with Amani Kibera in the slums of Nairobi.  Here’s the story of his short time in Kenya and how we helped him see both the real life and the safari life of Kenya.

The Kenyan Life(s)

Hiroyuki arrived in the late afternoon and we arranged for Ben to meet him at the airport.  Ben is the co-founder of Amani Kibera, a community-based organisation working with youth in the Kibera slum.  Hiroyuki was very interested in learning about life in the slum and if possible doing a homestay, so we asked Ben and his wife Mariam to host him.  I think Hiroyuki got more than any of us bargained as Ben took him on a drive through Nairobi’s city centre on the way from the airport to Kibera.  Hiroyuki then got taken for a night out with the boys, experiencing Kenyan life as authentically as one probably could!

When Francis went to pick him up the next morning, he was very tired and possibly just a little hungover.  But he was about to face the five-hour drive to the Maasai Mara – not the hangover cure I would be looking for!  He managed to sleep all the way, which would have made the drive less painful.  Before getting to the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Hiroyuki was to spend a night experiencing another side of “typical Kenyan life”, this time in a rural Maasai community.  The contrast was pretty significant to the previous day, but that’s the wonder of travelling – finding these contrasts and realising that a stereotype of “Kenyan” is just not possible, as with all nations.

As I said at the outset, this was a short trip and so his third, and final, night was at last spent in the game reserve.  His accommodation was on the Talek River at Aruba Camp which meant traversing the park to get there.  It must have been a big night with the Kibera boys, because he was still tired and struggling to keep his eyes open on the game drive.  Incredibly, Francis found three leopards that afternoon while Hiroyuki dozed.  Francis tried to rouse him and he did wake up to take a photo before going back to sleep.  Eventually Francis gave up and took him to the camp early.  It seemed a shame that not everyone is lucky to find even one leopard in three days of game driving and here in one afternoon were three leopards and no one to enjoy the sightings.

The next morning was better for everyone and they saw eland, lion, ostrich, hyena, wildebeest, vultures, elephants and a secretary bird.  But that was the end of the trip.  After the morning game drive they headed back to Nairobi and the airport for the flight out.  It seems a long way to come for three days, but he experienced a range of environments giving a real taste of all the facets of Kenyan life.

Jasmin’s Safari

The first week of 2016 saw Francis again heading to the Maasai Mara – it seemed as if he was going every week for those couple of months of Christmas holidays!  This time it was with two Swiss and two Argentineans.  Jasmin had been staying in our spare room (AirBnB) and wanted to visit the Maasai Mara together with her brother who was coming to visit her in Kenya.  We were able to find them some travelling companions, to make their safari more budget-friendly for all four of them.

Jasmin had spent a semester on exchange at Multimedia University, studying journalism.  The university is not far from our place and at the end of her semester her boyfriend came to explore Kenya with her.  They rented our AirBnB room before heading off to the coast where her brother joined them.  She returned to Nairobi with her brother for the next leg to the Maasai Mara.  An Argentinean couple was also looking for a trip to the Maasai Mara at that time so the four of them headed off with Francis.  They stayed at Mara Explorers near Sekanani Gate, owned by our friends Laura and Moses.

On their game drives they saw plenty of animals – as usually happens in the Mara.  Impala, topi, ostrich, giraffe and buffalo were in abundance.  One particular highlight was when a mother elephant and her baby came very close to their vehicle.  Another fun creature is the angama lizard which looks like a lolly with all its bright colours.  But to crown it all, and what most people come to the Mara to see, was the lioness with her cubs.  The mama lion rolled in the grass as her cubs peered out between the blades.  It was grooming time and then lunch time, although mama seemed to get a bit annoyed with the young cubs all vying for time at the milking station.  The cubs were typical toddlers though: being cute but not doing as they were told!

Of course birdlife is also incredible but sometimes overshadowed by the wildlife.  Hamerkop is one distinctive bird that is pretty special to spot.  It is called hamerkop as the Afrikaans word for “hammer head” and indeed when you see this bird you could not call it anything else!  Guinea fowl are usually found in flocks on the ground, but on this trip to the Maasai Mara, Francis found them up in a sausage tree.  Lilac-breasted rollers, the national bird of Kenya, flashed their purple and blue through the bush too.

The group got their obligatory photo at the border point that marks where Kenya ends and Tanzania begins.  It is a simple obelisk-type structure in the middle of the bush but it would just be so great if there were an actual border crossing we could use in this location.

In the end, Jasmine described the safari as an “absolutely relaxed and responsible safari.”  Here’s the review she left on Trip Advisor:

Me and my brother made a safari to Masaai Mara. We already knew Francis and Tracey because we’ve spent some nights at their place in Rongai. They are really nice and helpful people and we had an amazing time with them. The safari to the Mara was one of the highlights of our time in Kenya.

I think Francis is a really good driver and I felt so relaxed in his car. This is important because it is quite a distance to the Mara park from Nairobi. Also in the park we felt that he really knows the area and that he exactly knew when he can drive through a waterhole (this time there were a lot of them) – we never got stuck. He also drove respectfully when animals were around, what I appreciated a lot. He really asked what we wanted and did not just stop at any souvenir shop like I knew it from other safari organizations (and I think can be a bit annoying). Finally, the place where we went for the two nights was also a great spot (The Mara explorer’s camps).

I totally recommend to travel with OTA because it is a small, really personal safari organization of such a nice couple with experience and knowledge.

Auke and Agnes choose an African honeymoon

About 90% of our business comes through word of mouth I reckon.  Auke and Agnes got in touch with us for their honeymoon after our past guest (and friend) Sylvia recommended they do so.  They had just less than two weeks in October 2016 to experience the best of Tanzania and Kenya.  Let’s see what they did so you can get some ideas for your own African adventure.

Seven nights in Tanzania

They were to start in Tanzania so Francis and I drove down to meet them in Arusha.  They arrived late but were able to get a late dinner at Tumaini Cottage where they were staying the night.  Tumaini Cottage is almost like a home stay – run by a husband and wife team who greet guests, cook the food and are ever-present with their warm hospitality.

The next morning, their Tanzanian driver-guide, Laughing Tembo, picked them up and we waved goodbye as they headed off to Tarangire National Park.  Famous for massive herds of elephants and a very different landscape to the plains of the Serengeti, they had two leisurely nights to explore, sleeping in quintessential African-style in a tented camp.  From Tarangire they continued into the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Serengeti National Park for another two nights in another tented camp.  Then to Ngorongoro Crater for one night in a lodge (solid walls around them at last!) before finishing their Tanzanian experience at Lake Eyasi for a night back under canvas.

Five nights in Kenya

And then they headed to Kenya.  Charles met them at the Namanga border crossing and took them straight into Amboseli National Park for a night at Kibo Safari Camp.  Then it was a long drive to Lake Naivasha where they spent the night at Fish Eagle Inn.  There they did a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy with our local guide John.  Finally the grand finale was two nights at Aruba Camp in the Maasai Mara.  Here they saw lions and enjoyed a picnic lunch in the savannah (not at the same time!).

Back in Nairobi, they checked into Wildebeest Eco Camp for an overnight stop.  The next day they returned to Arusha for one more night before their homeward flight the next day.

Would you like to come to Africa for your honeymoon safari?  Get in touch with us at OTA to start planning your own romantic adventure. Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

“Best honeymoon ever”

Two suitcases full of donations!  That’s what Bryan and Jade brought with them when they came to Africa for their month-long honeymoon safari.  As members of Pack for a Purpose, we encourage our guests to put some school supplies or clothes in their luggage if they have a bit of extra room.  But these two flew business class and maxxed out their luggage allowance after taking up a collection around their workplaces, family and friends.  We were able to arrange for them to make some of the donations in person as they travelled through Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya so they could see the positive impact they were making with the mountains of stationary they’d dragged halfway around the world.

Bryan and Jade flew from Melbourne, Australia, to Kigali, Rwanda.  There was to be no messing around – they were to start their safari with a bang: gorilla tracking!  They spent their first night at the Hotel des Mille-Collines which was made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda.  Like much of Kigali, the hotel does not show any scars from its grizzly history and is an up-market city hotel in the heart of Kigali.

Before heading up to the Volcanoes National Park, home to the mountain gorillas, the couple spent the morning in Kigali.  They visited the Genocide Memorial, a sombre museum detailing Rwanda’s history of colonialism and how it led to tribal tensions and ultimately the 1994 genocide.  Although I’ve personally been to Kigali several times and taken guests to the gates of the memorial, I’ve only been able to go inside once – although it is vitally important for people to be aware of how such an event can happen, it is incredibly sad and not a place I could tackle a second time.

Their first full day in Africa was certainly one of contrasts: from the luxury of Hotel des Mille-Collines, to the torrid history at the Genocide Memorial, and then to Nyamirambo Township for a community walk to witness modern Rwandan life.  All this before lunch!  They enjoyed a local lunch at the Women’s Centre in the township which supports women living in the slum by selling their handicrafts and giving them employment in cooking for visitors.

Then they drove two hours north of Kigali to the Volcanoes National Park – another contrast to the city they had experienced in the morning.  Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge is located just outside the national park and has spectacular views of the volcanoes.  It is a community-run luxury lodge that was established by the Governor’s Collection based in Kenya but with all proceeds supporting the local community.

After that jam-packed first day, you’d think a rest was in order.  But no, it was an early start into the park to look for a unique and endangered species.  Not the mountain gorilla yet, but the Golden Monkey.  Once found, you can spend an hour watching these playful, lively creatures in their natural habitat.  You do get a bit of a crick in your neck though as they tend to play in the canopy which also makes getting good photos a challenge.

After the Golden Monkey experience, Bryan and Jade visited the Karisoke Research Centre which was founded by Dr Dian Fossey in 1967.  They enjoyed a guided tour where they learnt about the ongoing work of the Centre in protecting the mountain gorillas.

Finally the big day had arrived: day three in Africa was gorilla day.  It’s a very early start as you need to be at the ranger station by 7am for orientation.  The trek can vary in length and difficulty depending on the location of the gorilla family you are visiting.  Once you find them you spend an hour observing these beautiful and endangered creatures.  It is one of life’s most magical experiences being in the presence of a gorilla family.  The startlingly high price for the permit, the toil of hiking in the mountains through dense bush, the inhuman time the alarm woke you in the morning – all these are forgotten as you sit in the foliage metres away from these incredible beings that are so close to us genetically.  You can see the tenderness in the mother’s eyes as she watches her baby learn to swing on the vines, and the massive silverback keeping one watchful eye on his family and an even more watchful eye on the visitors – you know that one sudden move could be your last if he swung his powerful arm at you.

In a daze you head back down the mountain only half-believing what you just experienced.  Over (a usually late) lunch you tend to garble stories with your travel companion(s), still in awe of being in the presence of mountain gorillas.  After lunch, Bryan and Jade visited a local village to catch a glimpse of rural life before heading back to Kigali.

After that whirlwind three days in Rwanda, they flew to Arusha in Tanzania.  They had to fly via Nairobi and at the last minute the schedule changed and they ended up with several hours in Nairobi.  I met them at the airport for lunch as Nairobi’s airport isn’t one that you can easily while away several hours.  It was nice to meet them in person – Bryan was a friend of a friend and we had met a couple of times many years before but I’d never met Jade.  But usually through the process of designing a tailor-made itinerary, I feel like I get to know our guests quite well as emails and phone calls fly back and forth, so it is always lovely to meet in person and put faces to itineraries.  They had left one suitcase of clothing donations with our Rwandan partner and gave me another massive suitcase when we met for lunch, obviously not wanting to cart it all over Tanzania.  It was full of stationary which we could distribute between Amani Kibera and Kiota Children’s Home.  Bryan and Jade had put the call out to friends, family and colleagues that they were going to Africa and had a huge luggage allowance so anyone who wanted to donate items for needy families could give those items to the couple to bring.  And donate they did!

Game drives begin

Bryan and Jade’s first stop in Tanzania was Lake Manyara National Park, described as one of the hidden gems of Tanzania.  It is famous for tree climbing lions and large herds of elephant, which are not shy to come straight up to the vehicle.  They enjoyed an afternoon game drive, their first of many!

The next day they drove to one of the most famous game parks in Africa: the Serengeti.  These huge flat plains are home to millions of wildebeest during the migration meaning you are also likely to find lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena and many other small predators.  Again their afternoon was spent on game drive before enjoying dinner and the experience of sleeping in the middle of the Serengeti at Lemala Ewanjan Camp.

They had another full day in the Serengeti with their guide Grayson finding the best spotting locations.  It’s always good to start early for a better chance of finding the big cats before they retreat from the blazing sun during the day.  The Serengeti has so much to offer: you can spend time at the hippo pool, watching these majestic animals laze about in the cool water alongside the crocodiles, watch a big pride of lions or be in the middle of the migration.  You can journey from the wide open plains to the kopjes, volcanic rocky outcrops that provide protection and shelter for a wide variety of animals.  From the top of a kopje, you can look out across the vast grasslands.  This diverse and interesting landscape provides the ultimate in game viewing.

After a final morning game drive, they continued to the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area where they stayed at Ngorongoro Sopa Lodge which sits right on the rim of the crater.  The next morning they descended into the Ngorongoro Crater which is a wonderful haven for wildlife.  Ngorongoro is unique in that almost all the wildlife lives within the crater walls hence you have the opportunity to find game easily.  Rhino, in particular, can be seen regularly as well as prides of lion and other predators like cheetah.  After a picnic lunch by the hippo pond, our honeymooners commenced the drive to Lake Eyasi.

Lake Eyasi is home to the hunter-gatherer ethnic group of the Hadzabe Bushmen, who bear similar characteristics to those of Bushmen in Southern Africa.  This indigenous tribe is probably the last that lives in true harmony with nature and are well-known for their communication via clicking rather than speech.  Bryan and Jade enjoyed hunting with them and experiencing their way of life.

Finally it was time for them to come to Kenya.  Francis met them at the Namanga border post and brought them to Nairobi and straight into the Nairobi National Park where they enjoyed a game drive as they found their way to The Emakoko.

Then it was time for their first wedding gift; Matt and Katie had given them an elephant called Maktau!  As a foster parent of an elephant at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, you can visit the elephants in the evening, away from the mass crowds of the morning session, and help put the baby elephants to bed.  Bryan and Jade fell in love with several other elephant orphans during their visit and came away with another three fostered babies.

You might think that a luxury lodge in a national park just 6km from a major capital city would be exciting enough, but their second night in Nairobi trumped the first.  Almost a year before the trip, Bryan and Jade’s friends got in touch with me about giving the newlyweds a really special gift: a night at the Giraffe Manor!  It’s necessary to book a year or more in advance and even though November is a shoulder season, there was still only one night in the window of travel time Bryan and Jade had that had a room available at Giraffe Manor.  We had to design the whole itinerary around this one night.

After checking in and lunching with the giraffes (and watching a self-proclaimed Instagram influencer go through a number of outfit changes as he posed with giraffes) I took Bryan and Jade to Kibera slum with their suitcase of donations to give personally to the Amani Kibera community-based organisation.  They sat down with Ben, one of the founders, to hear more about the projects Amani Kibera does to promote peace in the slum.  Ben was blown away with the pile of stationary and the couple of iPads that Bryan and Jade were donating.  The organisation facilitates sponsorship of students who cannot afford school fees and the additional assistance of the stationary would be a great help to those students.

Breakfast at Giraffe Manor has been photographed and featured as a quintessential African experience, so we gave Bryan and Jade a rare late start before heading out of Nairobi and off to Amboseli National Park.  Nestled at the base of Mt Kilimanjaro, Amboseli is another oft-photographed place with the picture of elephants grazing in the shadow of the mountain another quintessential African moment.  On arrival at Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge, they were greeted with rose petals all over their bed – just in case all the adventure had made them forget this was their honeymoon!

From Amboseli, they skirted around the base of Kilimanjaro, close to the Tanzanian border, to get to Tsavo West National Park.  After lunch at the lodge, they got another wedding present: a guided excursion to the Shetani Lava Fields and Caves, which are the results of Mt Kilimanjaro’s last eruption.

Tsavo West is huge and together with Tsavo East National Park, they make up 4% of Kenya’s total land mass.  Bryan and Jade had a few days to explore the vast parks and spent three nights in three lodges in three corners of the park.  First at Kilaguni Serena Lodge, from where there is easy access to the Shetani Lava Fields and also Mzima Springs where there is an underwater viewing room.  Hippos, crocodiles and lots of fish can be observed from this unique vantage point.  Second was Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge which is up on stilts and elephants, zebras, and all the other animals wander around the salt lick below.  Technically, the salt lick is in a sanctuary adjacent to the national park so it is possible to do a night game drive, which our honeymooning couple of course took up.

The third day was back in the national park in Tsavo East at Satao Camp.  Unfortunately their bush breakfast was cancelled due to rain, but that was the least of the problems the rain had caused.  Trucks were bogged on the road and Francis had to detour off road around them.  Then there were David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Kenya Wildlife Service trucks bringing elephants to Tsavo East from the orphanage in Nairobi to start their rehabilitation.  But the local elephants were going crazy so they couldn’t release the new elephants from the trailers.  One elephant blocked the road so no one could pass – not Kenya Wildlife Service and not our travelers.

At last they reached Watamu and the Medina Palms where the swimming pool extends all the way from the rooms to the beach.  Now we can say Bryan and Jade were on their honeymoon: five relaxing nights on a honeymoon package washing the safari dust off in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.  Bryan is a diver so we selected this part of the Kenyan coast for the Watamu Marine Park famous for dolphins, turtles and plenty of other spectacular marine life.

The only thing left is their five-star Trip Advisor review which we were pretty chuffed with as it described their trip as the “Best Honeymoon Ever”:

Nothing was too difficult and everything planned to the smallest detail. When there was a long stopover, she came to the airport and bought us lunch! All the hotels on the way were told it was our honeymoon and we got upgrades and champas and great service. The organization was spot on but flexible. Shout out to Grayson in Tanzania who was excellent too. Would thoroughly recommend OTA and their partners! Eagle eye spotting of game so we were often the first!

https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g294207-d3561827-r640285262-Overland_Travel_Adventures_Private_Day_Tours-Nairobi.html

You Can Share a Meal With a Kenyan Family and Make a Difference

What’s the best way you can think of to get to know someone?  In my opinion, sharing a meal opens people up and enables a friendly comfortable conversation.  When we travel, it can be difficult to scrape the surface of a place and I often find myself wondering how I can dig deeper and get to know the culture better.  So we decided to give travelers to Kenya that very opportunity by offering the option to enjoy lunch or dinner with a Kenyan family.

We met Patrick, Joy* and their two children several years ago.  Having worked on the edges of tourism for about ten years, Patrick was looking for a way to continue in the industry but also be there for his young family.  Despite their modest living conditions, he was very proud of his wife’s cooking and so came up with the idea to invite travellers to see the “real Kenya” and share a meal with him and his family.  This would allow the family to earn a small income while fulfilling the goals of spending time with his family and working with tourists.  On the first visit, there was another benefit that became apparent – his children had the opportunity to play with the visitors’ children, giving all children the opportunity to learn from each other.

A Typical Family

A lower-class Kenyan family typically lives in a one- or two-room apartment or unit.  Curtains act as walls to divide a room into sitting room and bedroom.  The sitting room is at the front and visitors are rarely invited past that.  The wife spends much of her time in the kitchen and brings out pots of steaming food to her husband and guests.  The kitchen might have a gas bottle with a burner for quickly boiling water and one or two “jikos” which are small stoves that fit one pot and use charcoal.  Bathrooms are usually shared between all the residents of the building.  The toilet will be a cubicle with a hole in the concrete which descends to a large pit.  The ‘shower’ is a cubicle with a small hole in the corner acting as a drain and residents take their own bucket of water to wash themselves (no shower rose or even a tap).  There is usually no plumbing in these buildings so residents buy their water in jerry cans.  Given the lack of space inside, children tend to spend most of their time playing outside.  Many families have chickens running around the yard, which are mainly used for meat on a special occasion.

Each tribe of Kenya has its own traditional food.  Joy prepares a selection of dishes from different tribes to give visitors a good taste of Kenya including:

  • Githeri – a stew of beans and maize
  • Plantain – green bananas boiled and then fried with tomato and onion
  • Rice
  • Mukimo – mashed potato mixed with pumpkin leaves and maize
  • Tilapia – fish found in freshwater lakes around Kenya
  • Chapatti – flat bread originating from India (Kenya has a large Indian population who have influenced the cuisine)
  • Chicken stew
  • Zikuma wiki – kale
  • Ugali – maize meal mixed with water to make a polenta-style dish
  • Cabbage
  • Sweet potato
  • Fruits for dessert

In Kenyan tradition, when we visit friends or family, the etiquette is to bring gifts.  These are probably not what westerners would normally consider gifts; rather we take maize meal, tea, sugar, rice, and other basic food items.  If there are children in the house, you might also take pens, pencils and exercise books and perhaps some sweets.

Kenyans traditionally eat with their hands and so hygiene is very important.  The wife will prepare some warm water and bring it in a jug with a bowl, soap and towel to each guest.  She pours the water over your hands so you can wash, and then offers the towel or a serviette.  As I mentioned earlier, there is no running water in most houses, so it often comes as a bit of a surprise to visitors to be presented with this method of washing hands.  There are a lot of stews on the menu so you might think eating with your hands is going to be very messy, but there are two key dishes that can act as spoons: ugali and chapatti.  The chapatti is clear as it is flat bread which can be curled into a scoop.  The ugali is of such a consistency that it can be formed into a scoop as well.

Kenyan food can take a bit of getting used to.  The meat tends to be a bit tough and the maize tends to be a bit tasteless.  Ugali is not my personal favourite, but it is not designed to be eaten on its own – it is meant to be eaten with a sauce or stew and that is where you get your flavour.  Kenyans don’t use a lot of spices in their cooking – flavour is added by salt and maybe chicken or beef stock cubes.  But the vegetables are fresh, they haven’t been months in cold storage as we often get in the west, so you get the full flavours of the actual food you are eating.

Guests often have mixed reactions throughout their visit.  On first entering the compound and then the house there is definitely some trepidation as it is quite a different way of life than what we are used to.  There’s also uncertainty about how to react if the food proves inedible.  And then there’s relief as fish, rice, chicken, mashed potato and cabbage is presented.  It might be cooked a bit differently, but it is recognizable and definitely edible!  As conversation flows guests relax into their surrounds.  The children play outside together and by the end of the meal there’s pleas from the kids that they want to keep playing.  Friendships are formed, connections made, and bonding over a shared meal leaves everyone with the warmth that comes from being with other humans.  Despite the nerves at the outset, all our guests have come away from this experience with positivity and believe that it was a key part of their whole Kenyan safari.

If you would like to share a meal with a Kenyan family as part of your safari adventure, please email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

*not their real names

Is It OK To Book A Safari While In Kenya?

Is it OK to book a safari once you arrive in Kenya or is it better to book in advance?  This question repeatedly comes up on various travel forums.  Many travelers (including myself) like the freedom of landing in a country and seeing how it flows without being locked into a set itinerary where you are told when and where to eat, sleep and go.  So let’s explore how you can go on safari with some sense of freedom while remaining safe, comfortable and within budget.

Let’s start with “Yes”, it’s OK to book a safari once you arrive in Kenya.  If you wander the streets of Nairobi’s CBD, you will be approached by touts selling cheap safaris.  It is very easy to go along with one of them.  The vehicles are usually parked near City Market, so if you are ready to go, you could go immediately.  They accept cash so you just need to go to the ATM, withdraw, hand it over and you’re away.  Simple.

For those who are happy with doing things quickly, simply and are flexible in their expectations, this is perfect.  For others, this might sound a bit dodgy.  I had a friend who went for this method and it wasn’t until her and her comrades had withdrawn the money from the ATM that they realized they were about to walk through downtown Nairobi and at least one person knew they were carrying masses of cash.  It suddenly seemed a foolhardy approach.

So we move to “No” it’s perhaps not a good idea to book a safari when you arrive in Kenya.  Safaris aren’t cheap….or you definitely get what you pay for!  If you find a deal on the street that seems too good to be true, then it probably is.  You might find yourself eating zikuma (kale) and ugali (maize meal) for a week and every day dealing with the results of a poorly maintained vehicle.  Remember, fuel is the same price as at home and the roads are in bad condition (like, worse than you could even imagine), so running a vehicle here is an expensive proposition.

You want to trust your tour operator.  You are about to hand over a large amount of money to make this once-in-a-lifetime safari the one you’ve always dreamed of.  Why would you risk that by picking any Joe off the street?  Take time to do your research.  Read reviews of tour operators (Trip Advisor, Safari Bookings and Your African Safari all help), and start an email conversation to get a feel for how they respond to your wishes.  While it’s not necessary, you may also want to check with industry bodies such at KATO (Kenyan Association of Tour Operators) whose members tend to be more reliable and competent than non-members.  You also want to know who you are dealing with – an agent or an operator.  Of course if you are dealing with your travel agent at home then they will connect you with a reputable tour operator.  But some Kenyan agents can look very much like operators on their websites.  This means they will not be responsible for vehicle maintenance and be “selling you” to a tour operator.  In this case you still don’t know who will be responsible for your comfort and safety while on safari and whether you trust them.  And agents in Kenya are not held by the same rules and guarantees as agents at home, so if they disappear with your money there’s not much recourse.

Kenya is not all bad!

But it’s not just about avoiding shady people (I don’t want to sound like Kenya is full of conmen!), it’s also about availability.  Most people want to come for the Wildebeest Migration in July and August.  These months are also summer holidays in the US and Europe so accommodation in Maasai Mara is around 97% booked throughout the period.  Christmas is also a peak period, with a lot of Kenyans travelling at this time as well as international tourists.  Accommodation and vehicles can be difficult to source in these peak times if you leave it to the last minute.

If you are not fussy about food, the vehicle, or which game park you go to and are on a budget, then you can take a chance with booking your safari when you get to Kenya.  But I recommend you spend some time researching reputable tour operators with good reviews so you know you are safe.  Unfortunately, Kenya is perhaps not the best country to trust strangers on the street who have “the best safari deal for you!”

Overland Travel Adventures has excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and we love working with our guests to personally design their dream safari.  We are a family-run business with husband and wife team, Tracey and Francis, taking care of you from planning through execution.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning your holiday today.

Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

Walking With the Maasai and Other Adventures

As they bumped along the road to the Maasai Mara, they heard a helicopter flying low.  This was the first day of Di and Leonie’s safari and a Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) chopper was ushering an elephant back into the park.  What an exciting way to begin their week in Kenya!  This post tells of their June safari through Maasai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Amboseli.

On their arrival they spent the first night at Wildebeest Eco Camp nestled in the quiet, green suburb of Karen in Nairobi’s south-west.  Rested and refreshed, they headed to the Maasai Mara the next day.  It was on this drive to Kenya’s premier game reserve that they watched the KWS helicopter herding a stray elephant back to within the park boundaries.  Human-wildlife conflict is a constant challenge for conservationists in Kenya and elephants can be particularly destructive in a field of crops, which can result in retaliation from the community whose crops have been destroyed.  So it’s imperative to keep the elephants in the safety of the park to avoid such conflict.

They entered the park and enjoyed a game drive as they made their way to Aruba Camp where they would spend the next two nights.  During their time in the Maasai Mara Game Reserve they saw a leopard with its dinner – a Thomson’s gazelle – that it had dragged up into the tree.  They also saw a leopard tortoise, a Marshall Eagle, buffalo herds, Lilac-breasted Roller (Kenya’s national bird), giraffes, elephants, topis, hyena, lions, ostrich and a puff adder.  On their full day game drive, they enjoyed a picnic lunch in the middle of the savannah.  Before leaving the Maasai Mara, they visited a Maasai village, which was a longer walk than anticipated, demonstrating that the Maasai definition of “not far” might be a bit different to an Australian definition!

Lake Nakuru National Park

The next stop was Lake Nakuru National Park.  They stayed two nights a few kilometres outside the park at a camp called Punda Milias (“Zebra” in KiSwahili).  More buffalos here and also rhinos!  Makalia Falls at the south end of the park was gushing down as June brings an end to the rainy season.

A short drive took them to Lake Naivasha where they spent a night at Camp Carnelleys.  The excitement here was a break in!  Monkeys got in their room while they were out.

Finally, they went to Kibo Camp, for two nights at Amboseli National Park.  Flamingoes were plenty in Lake Amboseli – which doesn’t look much like a lake in the dry season so seeing flamingos here is quite special.

Being the admin gal, I don’t often get to meet our guests, despite usually spending many months emailing each other planning their safari.  So if there’s an excuse to do an airport pick up or drop off or something similar then I don’t mind.  This time it was a camera case and battery left behind in the vehicle.  Di and Leonie had gone on to Tanzania and were flying back to Nairobi and then on home.  So during their transit, I went to the airport to try to deliver the items.  It was a bit of a mission and it was good that they had several hours to kill.  I was passed from pillar to post until one immigration official told me that Di and Leonie would have to talk nicely to the immigration officers inside to allow them to come out to meet me.  I almost gave up hope, but then Leonie found me wandering outside the terminal!  Amazingly it had worked.  Battery delivered, we made our ways home….one journey significantly different to the other, no doubt reflecting the significant differences in adventure each had just had.

16 Iranian Conservationists on a Kenyan Safari

Sometimes it’s crazy weird how people come and go in your life.  In 2012 Aboo and his friend came to Kenya and got in touch with me through the CouchSurfing website as they wanted to meet people in Nairobi to hang out with.  I was happy for a distraction for a day.  Four years later, Aboo had undergone a massive career change into Eco-Tourism and was organising a study tour to Kenya for Iranians working in conservation.  He got back in touch with me to facilitate it.

The group’s first stop was Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to some spectacular wildlife.  On their arrival at the airport, Francis and Letaloi met them and took them to Safari Park Hotel for brunch.  They then headed north to the central highlands and majestic Mt Kenya where they stopped on the equator.  At Ol Pejeta they had the opportunity to do a night game drive after dinner.  Most of the group camped at the public campsite within the conservancy while some stayed at Sweet Waters Serena Camp.

The next day they visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary, the Endangered Species Enclosure and the hippo pool.  Safari cooks John and his assistant prepared all the group’s meals in the bush.

Lake Naivasha provides an opportunity to get out of the vehicle in between the national parks, where you are confined to game drives.  There is plenty of unique bird-life to experience at the lake and after a morning game drive in Ol Pejeta, Lake Naivasha was the next destination.  They stayed on the lake shore at Fisherman’s Camp and enjoyed the delicious (albeit slow) dining at the camp’s restaurant.

They had two full days to explore the area.  Some went on a walking safari, some chose to cycle in Hells Gate National Park and others went out on the lake in a boat to get up close and personal with some hippos.

After stretching their legs  walking and biking at Lake Naivasha, where there are very few predators, the group headed to the Maasai Mara which holds one of the highest lion densities in the world as well as being home to leopard and cheetah.  It is Kenya’s greatest wildlife reserve and, for most people, the highlight of a Kenyan safari.  This is where more than two million wildebeest and zebra migrate annually.  John prepared dinner in the campsite at Aruba Camp while the group enjoyed a game drive.

The abundance of game in the Maasai Mara is amazing.  Nearly every mammal found in Kenya can be seen there – spotting a leopard needs a lot of luck though!  The hippo pool is a popular spot.  The group enjoyed a picnic lunch under a tree in the savannah and, as they continued their game drive in the afternoon, they saw elephants, buffalo and giraffes.

Between Maasai Mara and Amboseli, it’s necessary to make an overnight stop if travelling by road, so the group found themselves in Nairobi for an evening.  They had a meeting with representatives from African Wildlife Society to discuss conservation issues and exchange ideas on how to do conservation better in their respective countries.

They visited the AFEW Giraffe Centre and the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage in Nairobi before heading to Amboseli.  Amboseli is nestled at the foothills of Kilimanjaro and is another of Kenya’s top wildlife destinations – this is where you can get that classic photo of a herd of elephant with Mt Kilimanjaro as the backdrop.  The elephants are the main drawcard for visitors to Amboseli as well as the perfect views of Africa’s tallest mountain.  Again John was in the campsite slaving over the hot coals to feed the group at the We4Kenya Camp.  The group spent two nights at Amboseli watching elephants wallowing in this swamp in the middle of a very arid area and visiting Maasai in their traditional village.

After a final morning game drive to see the sunrise over Mt Kilimanjaro, they returned to Nairobi.  They had time to do some final souvenir shopping before their departing flight.

Join us in September 2020 for a two-week safari through Kenya.  At only US$3000 per person this is the safari adventure of your life! Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

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