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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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A 10 Day Safari with 16 Photographers

A 10 Day Safari with 16 Photographers

The message came the evening before that their flight was delayed by seven hours.  Initially I felt relief at not having to be at the airport at 5am.  But as I considered the impact to the whole itinerary, 5am became a much better proposition.  However, there wasn’t much to do but succumb to the whim of the airlines and so at lunchtime on 31 August 2016, I met 16 photographers from Hong Kong at Nairobi’s International Airport.

Breakfast booked at Safari Park Hotel turned into lunch, which turned into lunch boxes scoffed the car by the time the group bought sim cards, we found our vehicles in the mess of a carpark currently at JKIA, and then we delayed another hour by two trucks who decided to collide head on in the middle of the bypass.  That day, bypassing Nairobi was not quicker!

We arrived at Ol Pejeta finally after dark – not an ideal situation to say the least.  We checked into our tents at Sweet Waters Serena Camp and enjoyed the spectacle of several black rhino at the water hole just outside the dining room as we ate dinner.  OK, now the safari has started.

The next morning the group went out early for a game drive.  No sooner out of the gate then they saw a couple of lions.  This was the theme of the whole trip – this group had a good luck charm for animals (not for vehicles, but that’s another story!).  After breakfast, we stopped at the Chimpanzee Sanctuary before departing Ol Pejeta for Lake Bogoria.

The road to Lake Bogoria was quite a bit longer than we had remembered, or perhaps it became longer the more I wished we were there already!  A couple of the vehicles made it to the lake for sunset, but unfortunately one of the vehicles had a problem and was delayed.  Lake Bogoria Spa Resort, I’ll be honest, is not worth the money you pay.  They have the fortunate position of being the only hotel there so they can charge what they want without bothering about crazy things like customer service.  Which was a shame as the guests had had a long day and probably could have used some customer care from lodge staff when notifying them about the scorpions they found in their rooms.

Watching the sun rise over a lake full of flamingos redeemed Lake Bogoria however and the group spend a few hours taking photographs.  Sadly, the local children have somehow been “trained” to run into the water, scaring the flamingos so tourists can get a photo of the flock taking off.  But this disturbs the birds and they don’t return for several hours after such an event, so that is the end of any photography session.  It took some convincing of a few different groups of youths that our guests certainly did not want them scaring the flamingos!  One kid almost got through our watch, but got shouted down by 16 angry photographers!  I’m not sure how they learnt this behaviour, but I see it as a definite negative impact of tourism on the environment.

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After a late breakfast, we headed to Lake Naivasha, arriving at Enashipai in time for lunch.  Finally we were back on schedule after the flight delay.  In the afternoon we headed out on boats to Crescent Island.  We saw many many different species of water birds and the boatmen fed the Fish Eagles – another contrived tourist experience designed for good photos, but spectacular I’ll admit.  On Crescent Island we enjoyed a walking safari where we saw zebras, waterbucks, impalas, gazelles and wildebeest.

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And then the main event: the Maasai Mara!  We battled the road all the way to Governors Camp, arriving at the Private Camp in time for a BBQ lunch by the river.  This was to be our home for the next four nights, with no one but the hippos for neighbours.  The days were spent on game drives – some of the group opted to take picnic lunches to go further afield on a full day game drive, while others chose to go for shorter game drives and come back to the camp for lunch and siesta.  Six of them went hot air ballooning one morning.

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Again the group were blessed with incredible wildlife sightings, with wildebeest herds crossing the river almost every day.  We even saw a crocodile slyly take one down…. although to be honest I didn’t actually spot this event until I reviewed my video back in my tent that evening!  We also saw two lionesses try to get a young wildebeest.  But the wildebeest suddenly started fighting back, bucking it’s little horns at the lions and generally dancing around.  It must have become confused or disoriented as it emerged from the long grass because it started headbutting its own reflection on one of the vehicles!  The lionesses gave up on the little fighter and stalked off, probably in search of an easier meal.

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We returned to Nairobi for a night, where we stayed at Nairobi Serena Hotel.  In the morning it was a convenient stop to pause at a lookout for a view over the city centre before heading back out of the town to Amboseli National Park.  My highlight for the afternoon game drive was watching a Goliath Heron defend its catch against a greedy Fish Eagle.  The Fish Eagle got its come-uppance however when a plover took offence to it and dive-bombed the bigger bird.  The Fish Eagle still eyed off the Heron’s fish dinner while ducking from the aggressive plover.

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Mt Kilimanjaro revealed itself on the early morning game drive on the last day – a spectacular end to a packed ten-day safari.  We returned to Nairobi for dinner at the famous Carnivore restaurant before heading to the airport for a rather late flight home.

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The safari was not without it’s challenges, not least of which were several mechanical issues which can always be expected on Kenya’s poorly-maintained roads unfortunately.  The importance of an international guest reviewing ALL the information a tour operator sends was highlighted a few times when expectations were much higher than anyone could deliver (if you want to go to a national park please don’t expect a perfectly tarred road all the way!).  However, the wildlife sightings and scenery the group encountered over their ten days was about as good as it gets and they were incredibly lucky!  And we hope to welcome them again someday to experience some of Kenya’s lesser-known parks.

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Day Trip to Lake Naivasha

Day Trip to Lake Naivasha

How wonderful is it when a family member or friend moves abroad for a job opportunity?  Suddenly, questions of where to go for the next holiday are solved and that exotic destination becomes much more affordable (as you “live like a local”).  Well I’ve been living in Kenya for over four years and no one in my family has taken advantage of the situation.  Freda, on the other hand, is currently doing a four-week residency at a hospital north of Nairobi and her mother, sister and brother-in-law made the trek from the USA last week to visit her and experience Kenya.

But it wasn’t Freda who organized the day trip, rather Novem her sister connected with us.  We planned a wonderful day of walking safaris and a boat ride – fantastic activities for perfect Kenyan weather.  However it was November, when Kenya has less than perfect weather, and it became prudent to plan a rainy day alternative.  That would also be a nice day, albeit with activities that would be bearable in a drizzle, but not a storm.  Kenya is definitely a fair weather destination!

We agreed to decide which itinerary to go with when we met on the day and inspected the clouds together.  The forecast said there was a 100% chance of rain in Naivasha, but our local guide assured us the sky was clear.  So we took the chance and headed to the lake.

First stop was Hells Gate National Park.  The group opted to walk instead of embarking on the more popular cycling adventure.  On foot or on a bike, Hells Gate has some spectacular scenery and rock formations to marvel at.  And animals of course – they saw waterbuck, elands, zebras, buffalos, a secretary bird, impala, Thomson’s gazelle and so many warthogs.

After the early start and the hike, they were definitely ready for lunch which we enjoyed at a traditional restaurant in one of the lakeside villages.  The chef had prepared a selection of dishes so they could try a bit of everything.  We had beef stew, chicken, fish from the lake (Tilapia), rice, chapattis, ugali, zikuma wiki, and kachambari.

After the feast it was time to walk again.  This time we drive around the lake to Wileli Conservancy where there are a lot more animals than in Hells Gate.  There are not many predators in the Naivasha area, and so the herbivores can graze in relative peace and humans can mingle with them….to an extent!  As well as zebras, elands and impalas (which were getting boring now) the family saw giraffes.  It is so impressive getting close to giraffes when you are on foot.  You can see exactly how tall they are, but so gentle and graceful.

As we drive to and from Wileli Conservancy, we pass through a wildlife corridor, which must be my favourite kilometre of road in the whole of East Africa.  And this day was especially amazing!  We saw so many animals as we passed by: giraffes, impalas, elands, zebras and warthogs.  And the awesome thing was they were all grazing together in a Garden of Eden-style setting.  Usually you see groups of like animals together; it is less common to see many species all together.  Not today!

The grand finale of the day was a boat trip on Lake Oloiden.  This little lake is adjacent to Lake Naivasha with a 5 metre inlet/outlet separating the two.  The fun fact about these lakes is that Naivasha is fresh while Oloiden is salty.  This is the boat ride you take if you want to see hippos, which they certainly did.

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Novem, Chris, Freda and Lek, it was wonderful to spend the day with you.  And a few days later in Nairobi National Park.  We hope to see you again …. for a longer safari next time!

If you want your own Lake Naivasha experience, join OTA’s 13 Day Wildlife Wonder Safari in January 2017.  Covering three of East Africa’s premier game parks, this trip circuits southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.  Watching wildlife and visiting communities of different cultures, this trip shows all sides of life in East Africa!  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park

“The World’s Only Wildlife Capital” is Nairobi with a 117 square kilometre National Park only seven kilometres from the city centre.  On this unique urban adventure you can snap some pictures of the wide savannah with the city skyline in the background.  Black rhinos are the highlight of this amazing wildlife park.  It was Kenya’s first national park and is a local treasure for Nairobians.

The best way to enjoy the park is to start early in the morning so you can see the animals at their most active.  You can enjoy a picnic lunch in the park and follow some of the walking trails before finishing with another game drive.  If you do not have your own vehicle, you can reserve a private game drive in an open-sided KWS (Kenya Wildlife Service) safari vehicle.

We have had several visits to Nairobi National Park this year, first in January with Richard then in February with Hasse and his family.  The beautiful Saddle-billed Stork made an appearance in amongst the wildebeest and zebras, who decided the road was a good place for a dust bath.  Lasse came with his family in April and Jeppe’s family in July when they came across a lion who had just killed.  Elands are very common to spot in this park – they are very shy and often disappear in the other parks around Kenya.  Giraffes are plenty and the birdlife is incredible.  With Celia and her friends in June we saw a Leopard Tortoise, two lionesses and some buffalos getting intimate in the “Jacuzzi” (that is, waterhole).  In May, Sunrise of Africa School in Kitengela had a visiting teacher from England and invited her to the park at the end of her work.  Accompanying Linda was Sammy, the director of the school, and Sammy’s daughter.  They enjoyed breakfast in the park in amongst their animal spotting, which included lion, eland, zebra and impala.  The herbivores were all together in a clearing, looking almost like a Garden of Eden.  The lion had a freshly-hunted impala which he took into the bushes to eat in peace.  Last year Pauline and Auriole were very lucky to see about nine black rhinos in one area as well as a group of rock hyraxes.  On my first ever visit I saw a bushbuck, Fish Eagle and so many hartebeest.

Co-located with the National Park are the Nairobi Safari Walk and the Nairobi Animal Orphanage, dubbed “Refuges of the Wild”.  The Animal Orphanage provides refuge for injured wild animals and for young orphaned animals.  The animals are treated, but sadly many will never be rehabilitated back into the wild.  However, the orphanage is associated with several international breeding programs, so the work there is highly important.  We visited the Animal Orphanage with Lindsay and got the best Serval Cat sighting one is likely to get.  Lions, leopard and buffalo are all there, and of course plenty of monkeys run amok around the grounds.  It is a bit sad to see these animals stuck behind bars when their brothers are just outside roaming free.

The Safari Walk is a raised boardwalk that gives excellent views over the national park, with observation points at waterholes where wildlife is most often found.  With Xavier we walked the boardwalk and saw a cheetah lounging on the lush green grass.  Xavier also had an incredible game drive in the park, spotting a lioness with a young playful cub, an ostrich sitting on his eggs, Grant’s gazelle, Secretary bird, rhino and even a leopard!

For non-Kenyan residents, it cost US$50 to enter the national park and it’s open from sunrise to sunset.  Depending on the type of car that you choose, a half-day excursion can cost from US$150 per person including the park fee (price varies according the number of people in your group and the length of time you want to spend in the park).  The Animal Orphanage and Safari Walk each cost US$25 to enter and are open from 8am to 6pm.

 

Covering three of East Africa’s premier game parks, OTA’s 13-day Wildlife Wonder circuits southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.  You have a free day in Nairobi when you have the opportunity to visit Nairobi National Park yourself.  Watching wildlife and visiting communities of different cultures, this trip shows all sides of life in East Africa!  Book your seat today by emailing tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

OTA’s Northern Trails Safari – culture and wildlife in Kenya

OTA’s Northern Trails Safari – culture and wildlife in Kenya

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Aberdare and Meru National Parks are two of Kenya’s lesser-known parks, off the well-pounded traditional safari circuit.  In October, OTA is leading a tour to these parks and Samburu National Reserve, giving guests the opportunity to experience the unique wildlife of Kenya’s north.

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Spectacular wildlife in Samburu and Meru National Park is the biggest drawcard of this safari, but the stunning birding in Aberdare is not to be dismissed.  Throughout the safari, we will travel through a variety of environments, each providing incredible scenery.  Guests will also have the opportunity to visit a traditional Samburu 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 experience a variety of accommodation from a luxury lodge in Aberdare, to bush camping in Samburu and a tented camp in Meru.

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Francis Wamai, Founder and Director of OTA, says: “Samburu is my favourite park in Africa!  You find animal species that you cannot see in the southern parks.  Heading to northern Kenya gets you away from the crowds of the Maasai Mara which gives great opportunities to enjoy the wildlife in peace.”

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OTA’s six-day Northern Trails Tour is designed for those looking for an exceptional and unique safari experience.  The tour cost is US$1295 per person for non-Kenyan residents inclusive of all meals, accommodation, entry fees to Samburu National Reserve, Aberdare and Meru National Parks, and an English-speaking driver and guide.  There are limited seats available so contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to reserve yours.

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OTA offers trips in Kenya where you can experience the local culture, stay in villages, and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery in this amazing country.  We can cater to groups (large and small) for any budget, offering a range of accommodation from camping to luxury lodges.  Visit http://www.ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

Kenya’s Independence Day

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On 12 December 1963 Kenya was granted independence from British colonial rule.  The following year, on the same day, the country was established as a republic.  Today in Kenya, 12 December is one of the most important national holidays.

In 1890, Kenya became a British colony, known as British East Africa.  In 1920, the country changed its name to Kenya, after Mount Kenya which was the tallest mountain in British East Africa and second-tallest in Africa after Mount Kilimanjaro in neighbouring German-controlled Tanganyika (now Tanzania).  In the 1950s the Mau Maus started their rebellion against the British rule and a state of emergency was declared in October 1952 and remained in place for eight years.  At the time however, the British had other challenges (namely their colony in Malaysia) and so they started the process of handing over independence.

And so at midnight on 12 December 1963 the Union Jack was lowered for the final time and Kenya’s flag was raised – a Maasai shield on a black, red and green background.

December 12, 1964 was Jamhuri Day – “Jamhuri” is a Kiswhahili word meaning “republic” and indeed this was the day Kenya was established as a republic.  This was the day that Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first president.

The British had hoped a more moderate party would take control, but rather it was the KAU, led by Jomo Kenyatta that retained power.  Kenyatta had been a key member of the Mau Maus and had spent time in prison for his activities.  The British and Kenyans worked together to design a constitution that gave rights to all Kenyans, which Kenyatta signed simply to please the British.  As soon as the British left, Kenyatta ignored the constitution and it soon became apparent that his Kikuyu tribe would be the main beneficiaries of independent Kenya.  Fifty years later, Kenya is still suffering from similar tribalism and elections are fuelled with ethnic tensions.

Despite the unrest at election-time, Kenya is one of Africa’s most politically stable and most democratic countries.  It is also the richest country in East Africa and the eleventh-richest country on the continent (out of 52) due to a growing finance industry and tourism.

Today, Independence Day in Kenya is typically celebrated with feasts, speeches from prominent politicians, including the president, parades and dancing.  In 2013, Kenya celebrated it’s Jubilee and there was a huge amount of celebrations throughout the country to mark 50 years of independence.

Tools You Need for Planning a Holiday

DSC00093The websites and applications recommended in this article can help you plan your travel, from finding low-cost flights to planning your budget, booking excellent accommodation and, most importantly, having fun on the road.

1. Kayak
Benefit: Allows you to compare flexible dates very easily so you can find the best days to fly.
Description: Kayak is a standard flight search engine where you enter your destination and preferred travel dates. If you tick “Flexible date” it will present an easy-to-understand layout to show the cheapest dates to fly.
Tip: Once you have used Kayak to find the cheapest flight, go to that airline’s site and see if it’s cheaper to book directly. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t.

2. Hipmunk
Benefit: Their agony scale balances cost with layovers, plane changes, etc so you can weigh up your time versus your money.
Description: Hipmunk is another flight search engine where you enter your destination and travel dates. It present the flights on a time line so you can compare the length of the journey with the prices. It has an algorithm to judge the “agony factor” and ranks the flights accordingly. But it presents the information so you can also decide for yourself the level of agony you are willing to put up with for a lower price.
Tip: You can also choose to rank the flights on price alone or any other factor. But the agony scale puts it all in perspective.

3. Seat Guru
Benefit: Helps you pick the best seat for your flight (or at least avoid the worst!)
Description: Enter the airline and/or flight number and it will present a colour-coded chart showing good seats, bad seats, mixed review seats and ordinary seats. You can use this chart to select seats for your flight when you book or check in.
Tip: Select your seats when you book so you have maximum choice, but keep checking back from time to time in case better seats become available.

4. Trip Advisor
Benefit: Read reviews from other travellers about accommodation and attractions. The site also ranks accommodation and attractions according to category and location to enable easy comparison.
Description: Simply enter your destination and what you are looking for there (i.e. hotel, tour, restaurant, etc) and it will give you a list.
Tip: Check the dates of the reviews. A change of management can make a dramatic difference so if there is an overall four star rating but the reviews from the past six months have been terrible, you might think twice. Of course, it also works the other way – a low star rating might have excellent recent reviews.

5. Universal Packing List
Benefit: UPL puts together a packing list and a preparation list according to the parameters of your trip.
Description: Go to http://upl.codeq.info/ and enter all the details of your trip – dates, climate (it has a handy link to get that information), activities, mode of travel, accommodation style, size of bag, etc. It will give you a packing list and preparation list specific to your journey.
Tip: Don’t do this at the last minute. You will be surprised, especially for an international trip, at all the little things you need to do and get that you might forget. For example, do you have enough sockets to charge all your electronics (and nowadays we seem to travel with more and more!) the night before?

6. Sworkit
Benefit: An app with no-equipment workouts to help you keep fit while you travel.
Description: Choose the type of workout (strength, cardio, yoga, stretching) and the amount of time you want to exercise for. It provides a circuit-style session with exercises that can be done in a small space with no equipment (i.e. a hotel room).
Tip: In a new city sometimes even going for a run can be a bit daunting. But a quick workout in your room is a cost-free way to stay in shape on the road.
Price: A free plan is enough to keep you going, but there are paid options as well.

7. XE.com
Benefit: Provides easy access to foreign exchange rates
Description: The app is easy to use – simply plug in the amount, the currency you have and the currency you want to convert to and it will give you the conversion. You can set up a number of different currencies if you are travelling to several countries and enter the amount of one currency and see the conversion into all the currencies you have in the list. It can be useful when you are crossing a border and need to change money to decide if you want to change at the border or wait for a better rate further down the line. Or if you are carrying say US Dollars and Euros and need to get some Kenyan shillings, you can see which currency will be more beneficial.
Tip: It’s such a handy tool to have on your phone for quickly converting grocery items, accommodation prices, tour quotes, etc on the fly.

8. Foursquare
Benefit: Share hidden gems with fellow travellers and get their secrets as well.
Description: It uses your smart phone’s GPS signal to determine where you are so you can do quick and easy check-ins. You can read other travellers’ tips, leave reviews, photos and your own tips.
Tip: Link Foursquare to your Facebook account so your check-in automatically shows up as a status update to share with friends and family.

These tools will help you get the most out of your journey, from saving you money on the flight, to helping you pack, getting the best seat, finding great accommodation and at last sharing it all with your loved ones back home. What are your favourite apps or websites that you use to plan or enjoy travel?

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