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Travelling Solo in East Africa

Quietly considering myself a “seasoned traveller”, in June 2010 I packed my backpack and headed off to Africa for the adventure of a lifetime.  Family and friends told me I was out of my mind and requested I join a tour.  But I had already backpacked the USA, Europe, and worked as a tour leader in Central Asia, Russia and China independently travelling in those parts between tours.  So what could Africa throw at me that I could not handle?

This naivety is not uncommon, I am relieved to admit.  But in fact Africa is NOT Europe.  It is not even Vietnam, which may be considered a reasonable comparison if you look at development data.  But that is the wonderful thing about this amazing continent: it is different to everywhere else in the world.  And despite having started my backpacking career sixteen years ago, Africa still makes me feel like the greenest of travellers.  That is not to say independent travel is impossible; indeed I survived three months backpacking South Africa, Mozambique and Malawi.  If not for finding a job, I was planning to continue up to Nairobi.  As it happens, nine years later I find myself living here, in the continent which has thrown me my toughest challenges and continues to do so.

These days I do suffer an internal conflict: I am a huge advocate for independent travel, getting to know real life through home stays and using public transport; but now I run a tour company offering private safaris (I’ll admit that up front, so you can read this article in whichever light you think appropriate) and the more I use my own vehicle, the less I enjoy crowded buses.  So what’s my advice for someone wanting to travel solo in Africa?

Transport

First let’s talk about public transport.  It’s not comfortable and you need to be prepared to be overcharged on the price of a journey.  But maintain a sense of humour, ask locals how much the journey usually costs before embarking the bus, and relish the opportunity to “live like a local”.

Most people come to Africa to see the wildlife, so getting to a National Park or three is a priority, and the second challenge.  Unfortunately public transport rarely gets you all the way to a National Park.  The best way is to book your accommodation and ask them for a pick up from the nearest town.

Accommodation

Speaking of accommodation, lodges in or near the parks tend to be expensive.  Regardless of where you are in the world, travelling solo and sleeping in private rooms every night can eat into your travel budget quickly.  After a month of backpacking in South Africa, I noticed many other backpackers were carrying a small tent and I realised that could be a way to extend my travel time by cutting costs.  There are many hostels and guesthouses that have yard space where you can pitch your tent and safely camp as a solo traveller.  I do not advocate bush camping though!  Also at such hostels and guesthouses, it’s easy to meet fellow budget travellers with whom you can share the costs of hiring a vehicle for game drives.

Tours

Even if you are not into the group tour thing, I would suggest getting yourself on short trips – just to save your sanity.  From Nairobi for example, there are regularly three-day tours to the Maasai Mara or Amboseli.  Three days is manageable, right?  So use long distance buses to get between big cities – Nairobi, Mombasa, Kampala, etc – and then join a short tour and make your life a little more enjoyable.

If are not averse to group travel, overland tours can be a fun way for solo travellers to see Africa.  Overland trucks traverse the continent, catering mainly to the backpacker market, making them a cheap option.  Sitting in the back of a truck for a few weeks sharing all the amazing new experiences with a bunch of other travellers is fun.  At the end of the day, there’s always someone to have a drink (or three) with.

Africa is not like Europe with backpacker hostels everywhere.  Some countries are easier than others – South Africa for example has great tourism infrastructure to suit all budgets, while Tanzania has less options and Botswana outright targets the luxury market.  It’s definitely possible to travel solo without being a millionaire though.  With humour, time and a little bit extra in your back pocket so you have room to splurge when the going gets tough, travelling solo in Africa can be one of life’s greatest adventures.

If you would like more advice about travelling in Africa, please contact me on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  I love to talk travel and will be happy to point you in the direction that suits your preferred travel style so you can get the most out of your African adventure.

John’s Trip

Have you ever been so dehydrated you’ve seen green elephants, green hippos or a giant weevil about the size of a cow?  On his descent of Ol Doinyo Lengai in Tanzania, John had these hallucinations, but that didn’t stop him from continuing up three more mountains in a two month East African adventure!  A solo traveller on a mission to climb the peaks and visit the mountain gorillas in Uganda, John was looking for pocket-friendly ways to see the region.  Joining group tours is always a gamble, and he regaled us with tales of the fellow travellers he met on the tours we organised for him.

Before John came to Kenya, he had spent a lot of time in Tanzania climbing three mountains (Ol Doinyo Lengai, Meru and Kilimanjaro), hanging out in the Serengeti and visiting a Maasai village.  His other African goals included scaling Mount Kenya and tracking the gorillas in Uganda.  So we helped him find a tour to Uganda which had the added bonus of travelling via the Maasai Mara, Lake Naivasha, Lake Nakuru National Park and Jinja.  As with all group tours there is a chance that your travel mates might not be compatible, but it is certainly a convenient and affordable way for a soloist.  He visited Elsamere, the home of Joy and George Adamson of Born Free fame, took a cruise at the source of the Nile River, and visited orphanages at Lake Bunyonyi and Nakuru.

While he was in Nairobi between trips, John stayed in our spare room, which we have on AirBnB.  We were regaled with tales of his travels (he has travelled all over the world!) and he got to experience a very “local” life in Ongata Rongai.  We took him for dinner a couple of times to our favourite local for nyama choma, as well as the more touristy sites of the elephant orphanage and the giraffe centre.  He also went into town to visit the National Museum, which gives an excellent history of Kenya from pre-history to present.  We took him to Kibera to visit the community projects of Amani Kibera and a day hiking in the Ngong Hills.

Mt Kenya was the big climax though for his Kenyan experience.  Again being a soloist, the climb can be prohibitively expensive, but our colleague in Nanyuki was taking a group up and said John could join.  It was a school group, as it turns out – so John hiked up the mountain with 40 teenagers!

After leaving John to hike up the mountain, Francis and I decided to take our own adventure.  We spent some days exploring the area, checking out different accommodation, and having a break from the bustle of Nairobi.  We ended up at Naro Moru gate for the night where we camped at the public campsite.  We drove up the mountain as far as we could and then continued walking….for about 20 minutes!  I don’t think I can say that I’ve hiked Mt Kenya!  With rain clouds on one side and clear blue sky on the other, the weather on the mountain is unpredictable and can change suddenly.  Francis wasn’t keen on lingering as there was a high chance of getting stuck if the road turned muddy.

In the morning we wandered up to Batian Guest House about a kilometre from the campsite.  It is a self-catering house that sleeps eight.  Stunning views of the mountain would greet you in the morning as you ate breakfast on the balcony.  On our return to the campsite, baboons were running amok!  Our food was safely locked up, but the creatures were everywhere!  As Francis approached, they scattered but not before one broke the side mirror as he slid off the roof to the ground!

Our next stop was Aberdare National Park – a new one for me!  We had a bit of a challenge finding the campsite but finally we slid down an embankment into a clearing.  It was beautiful!  Surrounded by trees with a river running by, we had the forest to ourselves.  The next day we went for a drive around the forested Salient where we saw plenty of buffalo and bushbuck, before we headed to the moorland.  Aberdare is not a big park but it is divided fairly definitely into two sections – the salient and the moorland.  We thought that our chances of spotting animals would disappear on the moorland, but we were wrong.  We saw elephants and then the elusive bongo!  Bongos are incredibly shy and notoriously difficult to spot, so I held no hope of seeing one.  But we saw two!

We visited Fishing Lodge, a self-catering guesthouse that sleeps 14 people (seven in each cottage).  It is in a great location from where you can fish in the river and walk a few kilometres to the waterfalls.  Aberdare has landscape one doesn’t normally associate with Africa: waterfalls, forest, and babbling brooks.  So it is quite an interesting addition to the typical safari itinerary if you are looking to experience Kenya in all her diversity.

If you are looking for some (or all) of the experiences described here, please get in touch.  We love planning interesting itineraries tailored to your interests and budget, and as you can see there is much more to Kenya than savannah plains.  Email tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com to start planning your safari today.

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.

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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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.

Lake Oloidon (6)

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 2019. 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.

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