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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.

Community Engagement on Safari

Community Engagement on Safari

Gone are the days when “Safari” was only for the elite of Britain’s colonial population.  Nowadays the Dark Continent is accessible to anyone on any budget.  And it is no longer about hunting or simply wildlife spotting.  Increasingly, travellers are looking for ways to connect with people, to find out how other cultures live, what they eat, what their houses are like, and what jobs they do.  Of course, travellers coming to Africa want to see wildlife, but sprinkle a smattering of meeting people through the safari and you enhance the experience and bring more life to the trip.  Although community-based tourism is relatively new in Africa, there are some great experiences you can include in your safari to break up the game drives.

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One of the simplest, and most overlooked, ways of getting to know a culture is to talk to your guide.  Many people fly in and out of the game reserves and don’t have time to interact with a guide on the ground (they might talk to their driver on a game drive).  Travelling by road rather than flying gives you more opportunity to see more of the country and ask your guide lots of questions.  Moreover, you can choose a tour company that uses local guides in some places on your itinerary meaning that your tourist dollar is spread more widely and you are getting the expert knowledge of someone who lives in that area.  Examples include:

  • In Kenya at Lakes Naivasha and Baringo there are local guides who can take you on a boat or for a walk
  • MCF Panairobi (http://mcfpanairobi.or.ke/) offers walking tours with street kids in the Nairobi CBD
  • In Cape Town and Johannesburg you can do township tours
  • In the Okavango Delta in Botswana you can take a mokoro (dugout canoe) trip with local polers

You get the benefit of the experience of someone who has grown up in that area and they get access to some tourist dollars.  If you are travelling with a tour company, ask them if they use local guides.

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Home stays or just a meal with a family gives you a perfect opportunity to see real life in your destination.  If you are not completely comfortable with imposing yourself on a family, you can request your driver-guide take you to a local restaurant instead of the tourist restaurants.  If you do go for a meal with a family, there is sometimes the opportunity for a cooking lesson before the meal and you all eat what you produce.  Mwenya Uganda (http://www.mwenya-uganda.org/) is a community organisation that hosts such an experience as a day trip from Kampala.

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Home stays are not for everyone, but there are some places that provide a great balance between having your own privacy while being part of the community.  Maji Moto (http://majimotomaasaicamp.com/) near the Maasai Mara in Kenya is one example: you have your own hut close to the Maasai village, your meals are prepared by the Maasai and you participate in village life during the day.

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Visiting community-based organisations is becoming a popular offering of many tour companies.  You might spend a day teaching English in a school, tutoring students in a library, playing with children at an orphanage or planting trees.  Or you can simply visit the projects to see the positive development work occurring in the communities.  If you want to bring donations, visit Pack For A Purpose (www.packforapurpose.org) and search for your accommodation and/or tour operator.  There you will find a list of supplies you can donate to the projects your tour operator/ accommodation supports.  Investours (http://investours.org/home/) in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania is a day experience where your fee becomes a micro-loan for one entrepreneur who you choose through the course of the day as you visit several small businesses and get to understand daily life.

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There are many tribes throughout the African continent that have a representation in the form of a cultural village or a living museum.  In Kenya there are several Maasai villages around the Maasai Mara, Samburu villages around Samburu National Reserve, an El Molo village at Lake Turkana, and a Kikuyu cultural centre at Githunguri.  In Namibia there is a Damara living museum near Twyfelfontein and a Himba village near Kamanjab.  In Tanzania you can visit the Bushmen near Lake Eyasi and in Botswana there are also opportunities to see the San Bushmen around Ghanzi.

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Festivals are a great way to experience local culture if you can time your trip well.  The Lake Turkana Cultural Festival in northern Kenya occurs each May and brings together fourteen ethnic groups in a flurry of singing and dancing.  Lake of Stars in Malawi and Rift Valley Festival in Kenya are two contemporary music festivals both happening around August or September each year.  There are plenty of festivals which can usually be found on the internet or by asking your tour operator.

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As you can see volunteering for two weeks is not the only way to engage with communities as you travel.  Throughout the African continent there are various opportunities to meet local people and learn their cultures and traditions.  As you plan your African safari keep your eye out for different experiences – trawl travel forums, blogs and ask your tour operator – so that your safari embraces all aspects of the country.

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At OTA we specialise in unique tailor-made experiences. Contact us today to start planning your African adventure on tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  As an extra bonus, from March to June 2018 we are offering a free day trip to visit some of Nairobi’s highlights with every safari!

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