RSS Feed

Tag Archives: Kenyan

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.

Jared’s Graduation in Uganda

Jared’s Graduation in Uganda

Here is the result of one woman’s amazing generosity: Jared Opio, a Ugandan student of Public Health graduated in December 2015!  If you have been following us for a few years, you might remember Jared’s initial request that I posted on this blog at the end of 2012.  He was looking for a sponsor so he could transform his life by gaining a university education.  Bev answered his request and, after three years, Jared invited us all to his graduation in Kampala.

Road trip!  We packed up two of Francis’ kids, Mathew and Miriam, and the four of us headed west.  We were only ten minutes on the road when a crazy bus caused our first halt.  It was passing us on the verge and was rocking wildly as it fell in and out of holes until one lurch made the bus rock so far as to bump us and shatter a  back window!  Fortunately no one was sitting there, but I was furious.  Kenyan buses think they are kings of the road and have little regard for other users, just as long as they can get where they are going as quickly as possible.  It seems they had caused such damage before however, as the conductor gave some cash to Francis and they continued their journey.  When we found somewhere later in the day to replace the window, we found the amount he had given us was exactly right!

The rest of the trip to Kampala was event-free.  We spent a night at Lelin Camp near Iten overlooking the Kerio Valley.  The training centre for Kenyan athletes is at Iten and indeed as we drove through early the next morning we saw several running along the mountain roads.

We arrived a day early and so we spent the day catching up with Jared.  We were pleasantly surprised when he handed us gifts – OTA t-shirts!!  He had got our logo from the internet and had it embroidered on shirts for Francis and I.  This is something we had been talking about doing for years now, and here Jared had shown us up!  We are immensely grateful for the shirts and wear them with pride.

In the evening, we went to see the Ndere Troupe, a dancing and drumming show.  The host was very entertaining and one of his sets involved getting an American member of the audience to demonstrate to the Ugandans how all the vowels actually have different pronunciations.  He used the examples “hat”, “hut”, ‘hurt” and “hot” which can all sound very similar when a Ugandan (or a Kenyan) say them.  Similarly, I’m never quite sure if Francis is asking me if I’m “hungry” or “angry” and the evolution of “hangry” in English has made things a bit easier for both of us.

The Burundian drummers had to be the highlight however.  Their drums were massive and so the logical place to carry huge drums is of course on one’s head.  They walked onto the stage beating the drums that sat horizontally on their heads.  They then lowered the drums to the ground and you could tell how heavy they were from the way they heaved them down.  It was incredible!

Graduation Day

The next day was the graduation.  Unfortunately, Bev had fallen ill a week before she was due to travel and so I was even more anxious to be there to report back to her about it.  But when I arrived at the gate they told me I wasn’t allowed to bring my camera inside.  It was very confusing – this is a big day for families to see their loved ones graduate from university and we can’t bring cameras in?!  Meanwhile, everyone inside was taking photos with their phones and iPads!  I’m still not sure about the reason for banning cameras but we got around the situation and I was able to attend.

Jared was beaming with pride in his cloak and hat amongst his fellow students.  The Bachelors of Public Health were the second biggest group after the Nursing graduates and they let out a loud whoop once all their names had been called.  The restrictions of the space meant that the students just stood up when their name was called rather than negotiating their way to the front to doff and shake hands.  It was a much more efficient way to do it and the ceremony finished a bit early as a result.

Jared and his aunt invited us to lunch afterwards where we ate some delicious food and took photos in the garden….in between downpours!  It was a short but sweet visit as the next day we headed back to Kenya.  We are very proud of Jared’s achievement and of course we thank Bev so very much for affording him this opportunity.  Jared has since secured employment in his field, working in refugee camps on the Uganda-South Sudan border administering vaccinations and improving maternal and child health.

Three For Free!

Three For Free!

Are you planning a safari in Kenya next year?  OTA is offering a free city tour with every safari taken between February and June 2020.  So book your Kenyan safari with OTA today to enjoy this incredible bonus.

All safaris that are booked for the period beginning 1 February through to 30 June will enjoy a complimentary day trip around some of Nairobi’s highlights.  The first stop will be the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where the baby elephants come in from the park for feeding time.  Their keepers introduce each elephant and tell the story of how each one came to be at the orphanage.  (Read more about the Elephant Orphanage here: https://overlandtraveladventures.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/the-david-sheldrick-wildlife-trusts-elephant-orphanage/)

Next is the AFEW Giraffe Centre (https://overlandtraveladventures.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/the-best-location-to-see-giraffes/).  The African Fund for Endangered Wildlife hosts about a dozen giraffes at Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre where you climb up to a platform to be at eye level with these beautiful creatures.  You can feed them and even get a big sloppy kiss if you are very keen!

In the afternoon we head to Africa’s second-largest slum, Kibera.  Amani Kibera is a community-based organisation working towards peace and development in the slum.  Started by a team of young people following the traumatic post-election violence in 2008, Amani Kibera is committed to eradicating the tribalism that erodes Kenyan society.  They promote peace through three pillars: sport, education and economic empowerment.  You will have the opportunity to visit the public library they have established as well as the youth economic empowerment project where you can lend further support by purchasing some of the handicrafts the young people produce.

Valued at $135 per person this tour of Nairobi gives you the chance to see the positive work being undertaken in the fields of conservation, education, and youth empowerment by various organisations.  And it’s yours for free when you book your safari with OTA to travel between February and June 2020!  Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com today to start planning your Kenyan adventure.

Thrilling Safaris that show the Best of Kenya

Thrilling Safaris that show the Best of Kenya

If you had friends living in Kenya you’d definitely have to take advantage of the safari opportunity presented by visiting them, right?  That’s exactly what Koen and Puteri’s friends did.  The only challenge was how to schedule all the parks they wanted to visit amongst their obligations in Nairobi.  Simple: three short safaris rather than one long one.

The first trip was to Maasai Mara….of course!  As Kenya’s premier tourist destination, it is on top of most people’s lists when they come here.  Sadly, Kenya’s premier tourist destination is accessed by one of the world’s worst roads and so the group opted to fly there.  Koen, Puteri and their two children accompanied their friends for a three-day weekend in “The Mara”.  They stayed at Mara Siria, a tented camp on the Oloololo side of the reserve.

A few days later, the three friends set out with Francis to Amboseli and Tsavo West National Parks.  This was a four-day trip with mass herds of elephants and stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro the highlights.

The first day they drove down Mombasa Highway to Lumo Community Sanctuary.  They stayed at the beautiful Lions Bluff, a tented camp perched atop a ridge overlooking the plains to Mt Kilimanjaro.  Their bar is The Best place for a sundowner in Kenya (IMHO).

The next day saw them cross the road into Tsavo West National Park, Kenya’s largest park and, together with Tsavo East National Park, takes up 4% of Kenya’s area.  The animals in Tsavo West tend to be a bit shy compared to other parks; I think because it’s such a huge space, quite bushy and less visited, so they don’t get used to passing traffic.  The travellers stayed at Voyager Ziwani, another tented camp again facing Mt Kilimanjaro for a dramatic sunset view.  There is also a waterhole by the camp and they saw no less than ten Giant Kingfishers fishing.  Leslie went for a walk near the waterhole and although she saw the crocodile, she thought it was a fake – you would, wouldn’t you?!  But suddenly as she approached, it dived into the water.  I don’t know who got the bigger fright!

The final stop before returning to Nairobi was Amboseli National Park.  Rather than returning to the highway, it is possible to skirt around the base of Mt Kilimanjaro from Tsavo West to Amboseli.  Travelling this way takes you through the Shetani Lava Flows, from the last time Kilimanjaro erupted.  They stayed at Kibo Camp where the pool was a very welcome break from the vehicle.  On their game drive in Amboseli, they saw a lion at last.

What’s lurking in the bushes?

Leslie went home after this safari so there were only two who went with Francis to Samburu and Ol Pejeta Conservancy, in the north of Kenya….and in the northern hemisphere as they crossed the equator to get there.

Their first day in Samburu saw them chased by an elephant.  Their second day in Samburu saw them reversing and retreating as an elephant was blocking the road and was not willing to budge for anyone.  They saw a lion at the river and a caracal – not a common sighting.  They stayed at Samburu Intrepids, a tented camp inside the park.

Ol Pejeta Conservancy was the last park for these epic travellers, and probably the highlight of their whole time in Kenya.  They watched a lion hunt a baby rhino.  Fortunately (for the rhino!) the lion was unsuccessful, but what an amazing thing to witness!  They stayed at the Serena Sweet Waters Camp, one of Kenya’s nicest tented camps as the dining room and tents arc around a large waterhole.  In the evenings, animals congregate at the waterhole – there’s almost no need to go out on a game drive!  I remember arriving there one evening myself and as I entered the dining room, I was greeted with the sight of about five rhinos just outside the window!

Would you like to experience your own safari in Kenya?  We would love to hear from you! Get in touch via tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com and we can start planning your adventure today.

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

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

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

angelique-3

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

black-rhino

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

dsc_2444

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

elsamere

4 Reasons Why You Should Go on Safari in Kenya

4 Reasons Why You Should Go on Safari in Kenya

A safari in Kenya is one of life’s most incredible experiences and the ultimate travel adventure.  However, many travellers share some common doubts about security and any media about Kenya seems to bring only stories of terrorism, ebola and road accidents.  But you have to be unlucky to get caught up in trouble of these sorts.  Kenya has much to offer if you can shake off the media’s negative images, so you should go on safari for the following reasons:

  1. To see the Great Wildebeest Migration
  2. Beach, bush, mountains, desert, savannah – Kenya has many different environments and with them, different cultures, wildlife and birds
  3. Poaching is increasing and gloomy predictions say there won’t be any elephants in 20 years
  4. Kenyan people are ready to welcome visitors – low tourist numbers affect the whole economy and Kenyans want to show travellers their beautiful country

visit-kenya

The Great Wildebeest Migration

Tourists flock to the Maasai Mara to witness the Wildebeest Migration, often touted as the eighth wonder of the natural world.  Each year approximately 120,000 tourists come to see the wildebeest cross the river while crocodiles snap at them.  But even if you miss the river crossing, seeing the massive herds (animals in their millions!) grazing the savannah is a sight to behold.  Cameras cannot do it justice; you have to see it for yourself.

Varied environments

Whether you want a beach holiday, bush retreat, mountain climb or desert experience, Kenya has it all.  And you can put together an itinerary that covers some or all of these environments without having to fly long distances.  The most common Kenyan holiday combines a safari with a few days at the beach at the end to wash the dust off.  And along with these different environments comes different cultures and wildlife – Samburu in northern Kenya has five endemic species you won’t see in the southern parks.  For culture, you can visit a Maasai village, experience 14 different ethnic groups around Lake Turkana and then finish in cosmopolitan Nairobi.  The highlight of the central highlands is Mt Kenya, but you don’t have to hike for a week to enjoy the mountains; there are coffee and tea plantations to visit and the beautiful Thomson’s Falls.  Through the Rift Valley and into western Kenya are lakes with the myriad birdlife, including the famous flamingos.

Lake Oloidon (6)

Poaching threatens the Kenyan safari

There seems to be a misperception that poaching was a problem in years past, but is not now.  Sadly this is untrue, and in fact it is becoming worse.  One prediction is that there will be no elephants in 20 years if poaching continues at the current rate.  Lions and rhinos are also under significant threat, with rhinos disappearing at a rate that is simply not sustainable.  It’s difficult to be optimistic that humans will be able to turn around the trend with market forces so strong for ivory and rhino horn, so it is perhaps better to come to Kenya now to see these magnificent animals before it’s too late.

Kenyan people

Tourism is Kenya’s biggest industry so when tourism numbers are low the whole country feels the economic impact.  Kenyans are naturally hospitable, keen to welcome visitors and show off their country.  Not everyone is a terrorist or a madman; most are proud of their country and excited to meet travellers.  Moreover, there is a lot of positive work being carried out by Kenyans to develop Kenya that goes unseen and unheard.  Come and see for yourself and be inspired!

DSC_0809

A Kenyan safari will be one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life.  I came to Kenya in 2010 and have now made it my home.  But a word of caution: you may have heard people who have travelled to Africa talk about the “Africa bug” – it bites!

P1060640

What are your perceptions of Kenya?  Do negative news reports impact your decision on where to travel or do you ignore the hype and do your own research on a destination?  Please leave your comments below.

Nairobi’s Best-Kept Secret

Nairobi’s Best-Kept Secret

On Valentine’s Day 2015 my friend Kirstin and I met George out the front of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Nairobi.  It wasn’t some kinky Valentines arrangement, but rather a very informative and entertaining walking tour of Nairobi’s CBD.

From the Hilton, we walked to Kimathi Street where a statue of the war hero General Kimathi stands.  When this statue was being erected, there was significant controversy about whether Kimathi was worthy of a statue or not.  After one year of deliberation he got his place.  Kimathi was a leader of the Mau Mau rebellion which has been viewed by some Kenyans as the great rebellion that gave Kenya its independence and by other Kenyans as a group of rogues who caused needless trouble while more formal efforts were taking place.

DSC_0798

Next we headed up to Kenyatta Avenue where the impressive Sarova Stanley Hotel dominates.  Inside the hotel is the Thorn Tree Cafe where an acacia tree used to stand.  The acacia tree held a message board where colonial settlers left messages for one another.  Nowadays, you may have heard of Lonely Planet’s online travel forum dubbed “Thorn Tree” – that’s where the name comes from!

Also at this intersection, a statue of Lord Delamere used to stand.  It marked the division of Nairobi – to the west of Delamere was the side of the city for the white colonialists and to the east was the rough and tumble of Indian merchants and Kenyan vendors.  Still today you can see the difference between the east and west sides of the city.

Along Kenyatta Avenue, we stopped to admire Cameo.  Not because it’s a popular night spot, but because it is the oldest building in Nairobi at over 100 years old.  Ironically Nairobi’s newest store is located inside – Subway, the sandwich chain has made a foray into the Kenyan market.  Next door is the Bank of India which has had quite a history.  It has been the Parliament House, before the current Parliament was built, and also the National Archives before those too were relocated to their current home on Moi Avenue.

DSC_0801

Turning off Kenyatta onto Wabera Street we found the McMillan National Library.  It’s not hard to find anything if it’s address is Wabera Street, as the street is only 100 metres long!  Next to the library is Jamia Mosque and continuing alongside the mosque to the end we arrived at Chai House and the City Market.  The market sells everything from meat and fish to vegetables and souvenirs.  Despite all the shops though, the market was empty of customers.  Outside however, the rose sellers were doing a booming Valentines trade!

DSC_0806

Our last stop was the Kenya International Conference Centre (KICC), the tallest building in Nairobi at 28 floors.  The second floor from the top was a revolving restaurant, but the large empty space was today a place for young couples to hang out.  On the roof is a helicopter landing pad and for a fee you can walk around for 360 degree views of Nairobi.

DSC_0818

On weekends there is an open air market that George offered to take us to for some souvenir shopping.  But it had started to rain and Kirstin and I figured this wouldn’t be our one and only chance to buy souvenirs, so we skipped it and went to a cafe instead.  Over a cup of tea we learnt more about George who had been taken in by Mathare Children’s Fund (MCF) when he was a child and received support from the community organisation to complete school.  MCF also provided him with the training to become a city tour guide, facilitated by the National Museums of Kenya.  George is also attending university, studying economics, and the guiding allows him to earn some money to help him through school.

MCF have trained several young people to be guides on city walking tours.  Even though I have lived in Kenya for over four years, there was a lot we saw on the tour that I had never noticed before (even if I had walked past it a dozen times!).  And things I had noticed, I hadn’t known about.  The tour lasts two hours (not including the cup of tea at the end!) and costs 1000 Kenyan shillings (approximately US$10) per person plus 400KES to go to the top of KICC.

Covering three of Kenya’s lesser-known game parks, OTA’s 6 Day Northern Trails Safari heads up to the arid north of Kenya.  Before the safari, you have the opportunity to explore Nairobi on one of these walking tours.  If you are interested in joining this trip in October, please get in touch: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

%d bloggers like this: