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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 flamingoes 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.

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Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Did you know there are about 300 Kenyan children receiving education due to the generosity of the global Christian Science (not to be confused with Scientology!) community?  And in July, some of those supporters came to Kenya to visit the school and see for themselves the beautiful school they had a hand in creating.  But they couldn’t come all the way to the land of safari without also seeing some animals.  Enter OTA – this is the story of the Sunrise of Africa School VIP visit.

Thirteen people made the journey out to Kenya to visit the Sunrise of Africa School.  Three were the grandchildren of the school’s founder.  Three only stayed a short while and didn’t join our safari as they had a couple of other schools to visit.  And then we added three Sunrise staff to the safari so we were back to thirteen when we set out early one chilly July morning for the Samburu National Reserve.  The group had been staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near Nairobi’s international airport.  It was opened in March 2018, and this being July of the same year, the hotel was still sparkly and shiny.  It would be a welcome sight after three days of dusty safari!

Francis, me, our baby Gabriel, Michelle and her daughter Amy squeezed into the van which was a supply vehicle first and foremost and thus was packed tight with all our camping equipment.  The rest were in the Land Cruiser with Julius and Sammy, the school’s Director, had three more in his vehicle.

We headed out of Nairobi before the traffic could build up and had our first stop at Sagana.  The curio shops slyly keep their toilets clean so tour vehicles will be more inclined to stop for a bathroom break.  They also slyly keep their toilets at the back of the shop so you have to walk past all their lovely trinkets on your way in and out.  Not having had much chance to buy souvenirs during the trip so far, the bathroom break became a bit longer.

Next stop was at the home of a friend of the school.  Her house is just before Nanyuki, and she had laid out a massive spread.  Too big for morning tea, too early for lunch, it didn’t matter what we called it, it was delicious!

But now the time was getting away from us as we were due at the lodge in Samburu for lunch.  So we motored on, pausing in Nanyuki to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables for the campers.  Now I should explain our trip a bit more.  The guests had been given the option of staying in a lodge/tented camp or bush camp, in order to cater for varying budgets.  Six of the international guests chose the tented camp option while Michelle and her children and the Sunrise staff opted to camp.  So, that’s why we had a van full of camping equipment but we were rushing to get to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch, they went out on their first game drive (the dash from the gate to the accommodation didn’t count).  They saw a massive tower of giraffes and elephants galore.  The next day they went out for morning and evening game drives, relaxing in their respective camps during the heat of the day.  More elephants, more giraffes, gazelles, gerenuks, impala, and hyena were the highlights.  Unfortunately no lions were forthcoming during those three days.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, our 11-month-old was having a whale of a time chasing monkeys, playing in the dirt, and falling in love with 7-year-old Amy.  He kept us all on our toes though, especially when the group was off on game drive and we were left to cook.  Luckily there were a couple of extra guys around cleaning the campsite and generally helping out, so they took on much of the babysitting.  There’s so much for a toddler to explore around a campsite: a charcoal cooking fire, buckets of water, a bucket of vegetable peelings, logs with all sorts of lovely critters crawling under the bark, the list goes on!  But I’ve come to see that in Kenya children are adored and doted upon, by clucky women and aloof men alike.  So I was comfortable with Gabriel exploring freely, knowing there were several other pairs of eyes always on him along with mine.

On the last day we drove out through Buffalo Springs Reserve.  The Samburu eco-system is made up of three separate reserves.  Samburu and Buffalo Springs are separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River and it’s very easy to cross between the two so long as the bridge hasn’t been washed away.  Shaba is across the highway.  So we headed south through Buffalo Springs to join the highway near Isiolo.  It’s always nice to replace some highway driving with more time in the parks.

We stopped for lunch at Dormans in Nanyuki where we had smoothies and milkshakes and salads and other treats that the guests had been missing after a week at the school eating Kenyan cuisine.  We also made the obligatory photo stop at the Equator.  From Nanyuki we didn’t stop again until we got back to the Hilton Garden Inn.  Our timing wasn’t perfect and we caught a bit of Nairobi’s rush hour traffic.

A visit to Kenya is not complete without a visit to the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage so that’s what we did the following day.  Then a final lunch together at the home of the school’s founder before the guests headed home.  They really saw all sides of Kenya: both interacting with the people while they were at the school and then interacting with the wildlife on their safari.

5 Reasons Africa Is A Great Family Travel Destination

By Monisha Iswaran

Are you one of those families simply filled with wanderlust, always ready to jump on a plane with your kids and jet off to some new and exciting part of the world? Well then Africa should most definitely be the next place to check off your list! Some people don’t realise why Africa is a great place to travel as a family – so here are 5 reasons you should head there with your children!

1) Kids Will Love Going On Safari

It’s rare to find a child that isn’t excited about animals – especially getting to see them up close and personal in the wild! South Africa has a lot to offer, and you can go on a safe, yet adventurous family safari trip! Your kids will get a kick out of seeing the lions, zebras and if you are there at the right time of year, migration – and so will you!

2) Cape Town Is One Of The World’s ‘Best Cities’

People have praised Cape Town for being one of the world’s best cities to visit – and it has become a true tourist hub (this is just one of the many fabulous places you can visit during your Africa trip)! It is one of those cities that has has a little bit of everything – the beautiful mountain ranges, gorgeous beaches, shimmering sea and greenery. You’re going to want to spend heaps of time outside so pack a stroller if you have little ones, and be prepared for scenic strolls in the great outdoors!

3) July Is The Perfect Time To Go (School Holidays!)

No matter where you are in the world, most schools tend to have a break during July for school holidays – whether it’s winter (Australia), or summer (America). This is in fact an awesome time of year to head to Africa! For example, if you decide to take a Namibian tour during these months, you’ll experience the drier, cool seasons – which makes for great daytime temperatures (no unbearable heat). This can also make for some of the best times to view animals as they tend to be more active in cooler temperatures.

4) There Are Fantastic Beaches

Kids love frolicking on beaches, splashing in the water and making sandcastles. Although you won’t be having an entirely beachy holiday, it can be a nice way to break up the trip, and you can visit different beaches between sightseeing destinations. For example in Tanzania, take a trip to Mafia Island, which has beach sections that are great for snorkelling. Alternatively, head to Pangani, for quiet coves and relaxing family times. Your little ones will be such beach fanatics when you get back, you’ll have to buy a sandpit to keep them happy!

5) Expose Your Children To A Completely New Culture

If you have the means to travel, you are able to expose your children to a completely new culture – which is a true privilege! Chances are the various traditions and cultural practices throughout Africa (from the tribal communities to the city areas) are far removed from your own.

Therefore, take this amazing opportunity to expose your kids to a completely different setting, and expand their horizons, particularly if they are slightly older and able to appreciate culture! This will result in more accepting, mature individuals.

Maasai Mara with the Girls

Maasai Mara with the Girls

After three of my girlfriends asked me separately if we had any trips going to Maasai Mara they could join, it only made sense to make a group trip for all of them.  What fun – a girly weekend safari!  And miracle of miracles, we found a weekend that everyone was free!

Marion flew in from Kigali for the safari, the rest of us are expats in Nairobi.  Michelle took an extra day off work for a truly decadent holiday and flew to the Maasai Mara on Thursday while the rest of us slummed it on the road on Friday.  Unfortunately that road doesn’t improve, but an emergency chocolate biscuit stop in Narok saw us through to Sekanani Gate.

It’s been several months since I did a game drive in Maasai Mara and I always get the feeling that Francis only sees the good stuff when I’m not with him.  But the afternoon game drive around to our camp was incredible!  We saw a cheetah, elephants, giraffes, and two lion couples on a double date.  Of course there were also topis, impalas and gazelles galore.

On Saturday morning we headed out with picnic breakfast for an early morning game drive.  One highlight was a couple of lionesses prowling through the bushes with their eyes on a herd of wildebeest.  But we probably spent more time watching a group of young hyenas playing in a river with a stick.  Just like domestic puppies, they gambolled in and out of the water fighting for the all-important branch.

We headed up to the airstrip at Keekorok for breakfast and on our way spotted a group of four Ground Hornbills.  Michelle had told us that she had an all female crew on her flight to Maasai Mara and just as we were expressing our delight at this leap forward for Kenya, a flight landed which again had two female pilots, different to Thursday’s crew, indicating Air Kenya’s great support for females in a male-dominated industry.  Way to go Air Kenya!

We returned to the camp for lunch by the river and a short period to relax before heading out again for the afternoon.  Zebras bathing in a dust bowl and Celia’s quest for the perfect baby zebra photo marked this game drive.  As did the rain!  But first we spotted a cheetah munching on a recently-hunted gazelle and then a very large group of ostriches.  We could see the rain ahead of us and realised we were heading straight for it, but there was no avoiding that – the camp was there!  And down it came.  Marion relished the fresh air, the strong wind and the first drops for as long as possible, but eventually was driven down and the roof closed.  Living in a city like Nairobi really makes a person appreciate the fresh air of the bush and we were all left revitalised after this weekend away.

On Sunday we had to head back however.  Marion and Celia again drove with us, while Michelle took an afternoon flight.  Not surprisingly, we didn’t see Michelle in the morning before we left.  As we drove over the bridge into the park we saw just how much rain had fallen the day before.  The almost-dry river had become a raging torrent.  If there had been much more rain, the bridge could have been washed away!  We had a final game drive before exiting the park and commencing the long drive back to Nairobi.  Meanwhile Michelle relaxed for the morning, had a late breakfast, and then got to enjoy a cocktail at one of the very fancy camps from where she was taking her plane back home.  We arrived home at the same time, but I don’t think I need to say whose travelling day I would prefer next time!

Tracking family history on safari in Kenya

Tracking family history on safari in Kenya

How does the idea of “Safari-oke” strike you? It’s a brilliant concept coined by Simon and Peter in the last days of their safari as we rocked out to power ballads all the way up the Rift Valley escarpment.  Simon’s family heritage lay in Kenya and the two had come to retrace the steps of his grandparents’ life here… and to sing with us of course!  From the wilds of Taveta to the coast, through Lumo, Tsavo, Amboseli, Nakuru, Lake Naivasha and Maasai Mara, finally finishing in Nairobi, we travelled together for two glorious weeks.

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We met at the tiny border town of Taveta at the Challa Hotel.  I approached two foreign guys and asked if they were Simon and Peter, thinking it was a safe bet they were.  “No” they replied.  Gosh how embarrassing AND what are the odds there are four foreign guys in this hotel bar?!  As I dejectedly walked away, they called me back saying they were actually Simon and Peter.  They thought they had injected plenty of irony in their tone, but it seems I’m out of practice!

The next morning, we headed to Mombasa.  As we drove through the city, we made a stop at the Mombasa Railway Station, as Simon’s mother had mentioned it when recounting memories of her life in Kenya.  It’s very difficult to imagine that it is still in use (it is!) as almost nothing seems to have changed in the 53 years since the British left.  We stayed at Stilts in Diani where we fed the resident bushbabies in the evening.  After six years in Africa, this was my first bushbaby sighting so I was excited.  Until I realised they are pretty much the same as possums in Australia.

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Simon and Peter took a half day trip to Kaya Kinondo, a sacred forest used by the local community for various rituals and rites.  In the afternoon we went into Mombasa city to Fort Jesus, crossing two World Heritage sites off in one day.  That evening we stayed at Tulia House in Nyali.  We went out for dinner to a restaurant Francis and I had discovered on our last visit and there discovered a huge number of bushbabies crawling all over the road and nearby trees!

Our final site in Mombasa was Jumba la Mtwana, an old Arab trading port used in the fifteenth century.  It sits right on the beach and the ruins are brought to life by informative guides.

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Lumo Sanctuary was the next destination.  We stayed at Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge, a spectacular-looking lodge on stilts.  With a water hole right next to the lodge, elephants are a common sight as you check in at reception; not this time though.  We dumped our luggage and headed straight out for a game drive with the goal of getting to Lion’s Bluff for a sundowner.  Sundowners are a quintessential part of a safari (simply having a drink as you watch the sun go down) and Lion’s Bluff has the best views for it.  As we look across the savannah from the balcony bar we see Mt Kilimanjaro and the sun setting behind it.  And then more bushbabies!

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During our game drive the next day, Lilac-breasted Rollers seemed to be our mascot, we saw so many.  We also saw a couple of Black-bellied Bustards but had to hurry along.  On the other side of the van, a baboon was making a move to get in through the roof.  He could smell the fruit in our lunch boxes!  The other birding highlight for the morning was a hornbill.  To cap off the morning though, we were treated with a rare spotting of a klipspringer on the rocks.

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In the afternoon we crossed the road into Tsavo West National Park.  The legend of the Man-eating Lions of Tsavo had captured our guests’ imaginations and so we headed through the park to the lions’ cave.  Together, Tsavo West and Tsavo East National Park make up 4% of Kenya’s total area, and it was a very long drive to the cave, albeit through some pretty awesome scenery.  After the lions’ cave we went to the Rhino Sanctuary which is only open in the later afternoons.  We saw a lot of giraffes and zebras, but no rhinos.  The numbers of giraffes were incredible though!  At dusk we headed to Kilaguni Serena Lodge with a fantastic bar and restaurant that opened out to a water hole.  At last we saw elephants!

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In the morning we went to Mzima Springs, complete with lush vegetation after the arid landscapes of the previous day.  We were amused by one information sign about one palm whose “dates make a passable wine, but otherwise unpalatable”.  There’s an underwater viewing chamber there as well where you can see fish and probably hippos if they move up that end of the river.  The best we got was a German man telling me (in German) how to use my camera (i.e. put it on auto was his advice!).  Downstream was the main hippo pool with plenty of hippos grunting and smelling.  We spent quite a while watching monkeys playing in the trees above the river holding our collective breath wondering if they would fall in the water.  There was a crocodile parked very close to the viewing platform, letting the water rush over him and disguising himself quite well.  We had to join a security convoy to take the back roads to Amboseli so we headed to the gate.  The drive took us through lava fields from the last time Mt Kilimanjaro erupted.  We also saw elands, hyrax and vervet monkeys on our way.

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We got to Amboseli in good time and checked into Kibo Safari Camp.  An afternoon game drive resulted in sightings of giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, elephant, hippo, gazelle, baboon, ostrich, secretary bird, eagle, blacksmith plover, crowned crane, and weavers.  Most surprising though were the flamingos!  One doesn’t usually go to Amboseli for flamingos, and indeed it was Francis’ first time to see them there.  But Lake Amboseli can turn up all sorts of surprises.

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In the morning we set out early and were blessed with the picture of elephants in front of Mt Kilimanjaro.  Simon and Peter had spent a few months living in Kilimanjaro’s shadow in Moshi, Tanzania and we had been skirting the base of the mountain the past couple of days.  But now it was time to say goodbye to the mountain as we left Amboseli and headed to Nairobi.

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We arrived at The Stanley Hotel, one of Nairobi’s original hotels located in the centre of the CBD.  Disappointingly, the staff were not very polite and insisted on sighting the guests’ passports before doing anything about checking them in.  There was also a great rush from the doormen for the guests to get their luggage out of the van and for Francis to move the van, despite half a dozen other vehicle parked there!  It was a surprising way to treat guests in a five-star hotel.  But there was no time to dwell as Simon had a long list of places to see that his mum had talked about.  Augustine from MCF PaNairobi took them on a walking tour of the city centre showing them the main sights of Nairobi and helping Simon identify some of his mum’s landmarks, including his grandmother’s shop on Moi Avenue.

We went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage to see the baby elephants that have been rescued after their mothers have been poached or died of other causes.  And then, after lunch, Simon and Peter when to the Karen Blixen Museum, made famous by the movie “Out of Africa”.

Simon and Peter wanted to spend a night at Giraffe Manor despite our warnings that it is probably the most expensive accommodation in Nairobi.  But it was definitely the highlight of their trip by a long shot!  When we arrived in the morning to pick them up, Simon was feeding a giraffe in the breakfast room and his whole face was lit up with excitement.  Earlier in the morning, they had been brought coffee to their room and as they sat on their first floor balcony, a giraffe wandered up to them looking for his own breakfast.  And although they had gone downstairs to eat some breakfast themselves, they didn’t get a chance because it was much cooler to give the giraffes their breakfast instead.  It was clear they didn’t want to leave this haven.

But to Nakuru the itinerary dictated we must go.  We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the park at the Out of Africa lookout where you get sweeping views of Lake Nakuru.  We descended to Makalia Falls and continued with the afternoon game drive which showed up zebras, a woolly-necked stork, a tawny eagle and a dead buffalo.  Then, on the other side of the lake, rhinos were grazing very close to the road which was super exciting.  And as we were just about to leave the park, we spotted several lions in a tree.  As we approached the exit, we took a quick detour to the old gate, which flooded a couple of years ago.  It has been completely taken over by baboons, almost Planet of the Apes style.  We spent the night at Kembu Cottages.

Next stop was Lake Naivasha and we went straight to Hell’s Gate National Park where we met local guide John for a cycling safari.  In the afternoon we took a boat to Elsamere, home of Joy and George Adamson of “Born Free” fame.  We had a terrifying boat ride – not for any justifiable reason, just that I’m terrified of hippos.  But the boatmen have keen eyes and there’s not much to worry about in truth.  Elsamere unfortunately, was disappointing.  The afternoon tea used to be amazing, but on this day, the 3pm tea didn’t appear until close to 4.30 and the video documentary of Joy Adamson has deteriorated (perhaps time to digitize it?!).  But we were treated to a show by the Black and White Colobus Monkeys who suddenly all decided they needed to be on the other side of the lawn and leapt through the trees overhead to get there.  We had dinner at the cosy restaurant at Fisherman’s Camp but spent the night at Camp Carnelleys.

Before the grand finale of the Maasai Mara, we met John again in the morning for a walking safari at Wileli Conservancy – a final leg stretch before big cats restricted us to the vehicle.  At the Maasai Mara, we stayed at Aruba Camp enjoying an afternoon game drive on the way there.  We were there for two nights and so Simon and Peter got a full day to explore the park thoroughly.  They saw a cheetah with her cub teaching him how to hunt.  And an incredible amount of topis!  They had taken over the Mara!  You don’t notice all the different moods and personalities until you are surrounded and indeed we did spot one topi who we nick-named Marvin the Paranoid Topi (hat tip to Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy).  We also saw zebras, gazelles, hyenas, jackals, a Kori bustard, ostrich and lions.  But I think my highlight was Simon and Peter donning matching shirts, that also matched Francis’ shirt!  Go Team Safari!

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To wrap up the safari, Simon and Peter had two nights at the Norfolk Hotel, another of Nairobi’s original hotels.  Despite the mess at check in at The Stanley, according to Simon and Peter The Stanley was better than the Norfolk (for those of you considering which one to stay at).  They spent their last day in Kenya visiting various sights significant to Simon’s family.  His mother had attended Loreto School but he couldn’t take photos as the Israeli embassy was right next door.  His mother lived in Woodley Estate, but there are such big fences you can’t see anything now.  His mother attended St Austin’s church but it was closed.  At the Ngong War Cemetary finally some success: he found his great uncle’s grave.  After visiting Amani Kibera, a community-based organisation working toward peace in Nairobi’s largest slum, we continued to City Park.  When Simon’s grandparents were courting they spent many dates walking in the park, but nowadays it’s not so nice.  His grandparents married in St Francis Xavier Church in Parklands and Simon and Peter humourously attempted to recreate the wedding photo on the church steps.

It was too much fun!  Was it really only 13 days?  Our only regret is that we didn’t get a chance to catch up a few months later when we were visiting Australia.  So Simon and Peter will just have to return to Kenya again someday to continue our Safari-oke dream!

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Simon described his safari as “One of the highlights of my life!” and continues:

Tracey and Frances are an amazing team. During the planning phase for our 13 day Kenyan safari extravaganza, Tracey was responsive and flexible, coping very well with my many requests and changes – and the fact that we were happy to stay in backpackers’ in some places yet wanted to stay in some of the best hotels in Nairobi. During the trip, she and Frances worked tirelessly to ensure that we had an incredible experience, saw the best sights, got the best treatment at our accommodation and didn’t miss anything we wanted to see.

For instance, my partner and I had been volunteering in Moshi, Tanzania, so we met Tracey and Frances at the border town, Taveta, a 12 hour drive from their home base in Nairobi. My grandparents had been living in Taveta when my mother was born and our safari was as much dedicated to following in their footsteps as to seeing the many wonders of Kenya.

From Mombasa to Tsavo West to Amboseli to Nairobi to Lakes Nakuru and Naivasha to Masai Mara and back to Nairobi, the absolute highlights (of my life, not just the trip) included:
– a night at Giraffe Manor, possibly the greatest hotel on Earth
– hot air ballooning over the Masai Mara at sunrise
– the abundance of wildlife at Amboseli with Mt Kilimanjaro forming a dramatic backdrop

I cannot wait to get back to Kenya and I highly recommend OTA to anyone heading there!

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4 Myths that you can dispel and travel Kenya safely

4 Myths that you can dispel and travel Kenya safely

You don’t need to be scared to go on safari.  When CNN described Kenya last year as “a hotbed of terrorism” it called attention to some crazy myths that must be prevailing to prevent travellers coming to Kenya.  I want to address some of these myths to help put your mind at ease and feel confident to experience that bucket list safari you’ve always wanted.  This won’t be a marketing spiel; I live in Kenya so I know the good, the bad and the ugly and will share all of it with you.

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Myth 1: Kenya is full of terrorists

CNN’s description of Kenya was outlandish to say the least.  Kenya suffered several terrorism incidents throughout 2013 and 2014, the most notable of which was the attack on the Westgate Shopping Centre.  Most of the activities were much smaller scale however – grenades thrown into bus stations, churches and nightclubs.  In April 2015 the Garissa University was attacked and since then Kenya has not had another attack (time of writing is August 2016, I hope I don’t jinx it!).  Al Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-affiliated group from Somalia, are reported to be the key offenders.

Unfortunately today, terrorism occurs everywhere and anywhere.  In the last year we have seen attacks in Paris, Sydney, Brussels and Istanbul.  But travellers still flock to these places.

Fifty million people survive every day in Kenya, so your chances are pretty good that you will come out alive.  Like saying “all Muslims are terrorists”, Kenyans want peace as much as the next person.  Moreover, the parts of Kenya you, as a traveller, would be frequenting are not terrorist targets – there have been no attacks on any national parks or game reserves to date.   There is a terrorist risk near the Somali border and in parts of Nairobi.

The current travel advisory from the Australian government is that only some areas are dangerous, not the whole country.  And the dangerous areas don’t have much of interest to the average safari-goer.

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Myth 2:  Nairobi is “Nai-robbery”

A decade ago carjackings, armed robbery, and muggings were relatively common in Nairobi, earning the city the nickname “Nai-robbery”.  But one mayor did a lot of work with the street boys and nowadays Nairobi is just as safe (or risky) as any other big city in the world.  Expatarrivals.com says that crime in Nairobi is “opportunistic, unsophisticated, comparable to other world capitals.”  The crime rate has decreased each year since 2012 according to Standard Digital.

I have lived in Nairobi for five years now and I have never been physically attacked.  One evening, my phone was snatched – but who walks in the city centre in the evening alone talking on their phone; it was totally my fault.  However, everyone who saw the thief chased him and I got my phone back!  Nairobians themselves are tired of crime in their city, especially towards foreigners because they don’t want travellers to have a bad experience of Kenya.

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Myth 3: Corruption is rife and foreigners are targeted because they are thought to have more money

I cannot say that corruption is not rife.  It is, but as a tourist you are unlikely to encounter it.  If you book a full package safari, there will be little opportunity for police or any other official to ask you for a bribe.  Tourists are rarely targeted.  Foreigners are not an easy target because we tend to ask too many questions and don’t always understand what’s really happening.  It’s not in our habit to slip some money in the door handle for the traffic policeman for example.  Expatriates who participate in corruption means crime continues unpunished and Kenya’s development remains stymied.  The phrase “When in Rome…” should not apply to bribery and corruption.

President Kenyatta says the right things about cleaning up Kenya’s corruption, but it’s going to take a huge shift.  However it’s certainly not a reason to avoid a Kenyan safari!

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Myth 4: Tour operators are dishonest and you will lose your money if you pay in advance.

Yes, there are some briefcase businesses, but in this age of the internet you can certainly do you own due diligence and avoid being scammed.  There are plenty of review sites online and many allow you to contact reviewers directly to ask about their experience.  Use Trip Advisor, do your research, check the prices.

The tourism industry has suffered greatly the past four years (due to the myths I’m writing about here!) and tour operators are getting increasingly desperate just to make a sale.  But if park fees are included in your package, check that the total price can cover those fees.  For example, it is $80 for a 24-hour ticket to the Maasai Mara.  So if you are booking a two-night safari to Maasai Mara for $200, you can do some simple maths and calculate that $160 is for park fees, leaving only $40 for transport, accommodation and food.  Park fees are public information so you can do some rough calculations.  If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is!  Either your operator is paying bribes at the park gate, or your vehicle hasn’t been maintained, or your food will be substandard.  Or you could get the trifecta!  Please, it does not help Kenya’s fight against corruption to encourage your tour operator to pay bribes at the gate so you can get into the park cheaply.

The Kenyan Association of Tour Operators and the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism are also working hard to introduce measures to curb cheats.

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Sensational media is destroying Kenya’s main industry and the economy is suffering as a result.  So if an African safari is on your bucket list, look beyond the headlines and see Kenya for the amazing country it really is.

OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

OTA’s Wildlife Wonder – East Africa’s best game parks in two weeks

The Maasai Mara and Serengeti form a cross-border eco-system that supports millions of animals and is the scene for the Great Wildebeest Migration.  In January, OTA is leading a tour to these parks as well as Lake Naivasha, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, giving guests the opportunity to experience a variety of landscapes throughout their safari.

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Spectacular wildlife in Maasai Mara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater is the biggest draw-card of this safari, but the stunning birding in Lakes Naivasha and Natron is not to be dismissed.  Throughout the safari, we will travel through several different environments, each providing incredible scenery.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional Maasai village.  Travelling in a comfortable safari vehicle fit for photography, game-viewing and touring and accompanied by an experienced driver-guide, on this trip you will stay in three-star tented camps and lodges.

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Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “Lake Naivasha is the biggest of the Rift Valley lakes and Lake Natron has an alga that makes it look red; both are home to millions of flamingos.  Maasai Mara is famous for the Great Wildebeest Migration that arrives in July and returns to Serengeti in November – that’s where you’ll see the herds on this trip.  Ngorongoro Crater is the caldera of an extinct volcano and local people believe it is the Garden of Eden, especially as nearby Oldepai Gorge is where some of the earliest human remains have been found.”

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OTA’s 13-day Wildlife Wonder Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional and unique safari experience.  The tour cost is US$3460 per person inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fees to Maasai Mara, Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Natron, and an English-speaking driver-guide.  There are limited seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve yours.

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