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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.

Travel OTA’s stunning Kenya to Kigali Safari Adventure

Travel OTA’s stunning Kenya to Kigali Safari Adventure

Departing every November, adventure travellers have the opportunity to visit spectacular Maasai Mara in Kenya, track mountain gorillas in Uganda and soak up the Rwandan vibe in Kigali.  Lake Naivasha and the Maasai Mara Game Reserve are the Kenyan highlights, while the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, home to the endangered mountain gorillas, completes the wildlife-viewing trio.

Kenya to Kigali Adventure OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

OTA is leading the twenty-day Kenya to Kigali Adventure from 3rd to 23rd November 2015, beginning in Nairobi, Kenya and finishing in Kigali, Rwanda.  The highlights of the trip include experiencing the wildlife of the Maasai Mara and tracking the mountain gorillas.  Travelling in a comfortable safari van with pop-up roof fit for photography, game viewing and touring, this is a camping trip accompanied by an experienced English-speaking driver/guide and a cook.  The price is US$3985 per person with space for only six people.  You are invited to contact Francis and Tracey at OTA via email (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) for more information and to place your booking.

Tom Koerkemeier experienced the tour in 2012 and said: “I felt totally safe and comfortable with Tracey and Francis around. On the other hand there was never the feeling to stay in any kind of tourist-bubble in which you cannot get in contact with locals, their way of living or their culture. It was just the perfect mixture between culture, wildlife, adventure and relaxing.”

Kenya to Kigali Adventure OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

This Kenya to Kigali Adventure gives travellers the opportunity to experience the local culture and engage with community development organisations as well as view the amazing wildlife and spectacular natural scenery of East Africa.  Whether a single, couple, small group, expat living in East Africa or a holiday-maker this tour is for travellers seeking a bit more than a standard safari.  It is an opportunity to step outside your comfort zone, take a much-needed break, and meet like-minded travellers.  Visit www.ota-responsibletravel.com or www.facebook.com/ OverlandTravelAdventures where you can sign up to the tour on the Events page.

Trekking Magnificent Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi

Trekking Magnificent Mountain Gorillas in Bwindi

Long sleeves and long trousers: check.  Sturdy walking boots: check.  Rain jacket: check.  Trousers tucked into socks: check.  Walking sticks: check.  And so we dived into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest on an expedition like none we had experienced before.   We were looking for the Nkuringo family of mountain gorillas and I was bursting with excitement of seeing real live gorillas in the wild.

The night before the trek, we had travelled to a nearby village where local children had entertained us in the evening with traditional song and dance and we had walked around the village marvelling at the landscape as we were right on the edge of Bwindi Forest.  It was mountainous terrain covered in dense forest, so many shades of green that I never imagined.

Early in the morning we headed to the ranger station.  We wove around the mountain roads as breathtaking vistas presented themselves at every turn.  One of our group commented “It’s like heaven on earth” and that was it for me: Belinda Carlisle’s song plagued me for the rest of the day!

When I wasn’t being Belinda Carlisle, I had moments where I thought that this must be how David Livingstone, Henry Stanley, John Speke and all the other explorers who wandered this continent throughout the 1800s must have experienced Africa.  Of course gorillas don’t care for marked trails in the forest and so after about an hour of comfortable walking we diverted off the trail and into the forest proper.  As we beat our way through the bush, fording streams, dodging safari ants, trying not to get caught by prickly trees, and slipping through mud I was glad of the walking stick, which I have to admit I thought at first was a bit of a contrivance.

After a couple of hours the pace slowed and we realised that we were close to the gorilla family.  Our moods quietened immediately and we were led into a …. I can’t call it a clearing, but it was as much of a clearing as Bwindi would offer.  There were gorillas all around us in the trees.  We were entertained by a baby gorilla swinging from vines and generally being a pest to mum.  Then a massive silverback ambled into the view and sat under a tree approximately 15 metres away.  A younger silverback also decided to come closer to check us out.  He sat very close and looked wistfully at the sky, as if wondering if it would rain later.  And indeed it did – a brief shower just on top of us.  It was a gorilla in the tree overhead relieving itself.  A little bit gross, but how many of my friends back home could say they’ve been pee-ed on by a mountain gorilla?!Kenya to Kigali Adventure; OTA Kenya Safaris; www.ota-responsibletravel.com

There was one moment that made us all hold our breath, when the larger silverback rose from his place under the tree and walked towards the younger silverback.  We wondered if we were going to witness a fight for alpha status or if he was going to come and swat at us.  He passed by us not two metres away and the rangers told us to hold our ground; you should never run away from a gorilla.  But he paid us no mind and nor his younger counterpart, he just kept walking and disappeared into the forest.  An anti-climax sure, but these animals are big and I wasn’t keen to see them fight each other or us.

After an hour with the gorillas our time was up and we began the trek back to the ranger station full of stories about how a massive King Kong-sized gorilla had eyed us off and we were seconds away from fighting for supremacy in the tribe.  Or that the baby gorilla had almost touched us.  And so it goes when you have an incredible experience but still feel the need to talk it up.

Gorilla permits in Uganda cost US$600 per person and in Rwanda US$750.  Only six permits per gorilla family are issued each day and in Uganda there are only eight habituated families, so it is wise to book early to avoid disappointment.  The trekking times vary according to where the gorillas are on any day.  The trek I did was about four hours (two hours to the gorillas and two back) while our friends went to another family the same day and took six hours.  On the other hand, we had a group who drove back down the road a bit after the briefing at the ranger station, then walked for twenty minutes before coming across the gorillas.  It is very random and you cannot really request a short trek or a long trek – it’s up to the gorillas.  But it is such a magical experience that the hardship of the trek is over-run in your memories by being so close to these incredible animals.  If you find yourself in East Africa, it is well-worth making the journey to western Uganda and seeing the mountain gorillas.

Mt Longonot National Park

Mt Longonot National Park

Mt Longonot National Park is situated approximately 90km from Nairobi and provides a wonderful hiking opportunity for the hale and hearty.  Labelled by Kenya Wildlife Service as “Sheer Adventure”, it certainly can feel like that as you traverse the narrow track around the rim with very little between you and a steep fall either down the mountain or into the crater.

Located near Naivasha in the Rift Valley Province and Central Kenya region, Mt Longonot covers an area of 52 square kilometres.  It rises 643 metres from base (2146m above sea level) to summit (2789m).

It’s a fairly steep ascent for about 3km from the base to the crater rim – it was a volcano.  You can then opt to circumnavigate the entire crater rim, which is approximately 7km, before descending back to the base.  From the top you have expansive views of the Great Rift Valley and Lake Naivasha.  Guides and porters are available upon request.

Being such an easy day trip from Nairobi, one sunny Saturday a group of us decided to go.  It was the beginning of a training regime to prepare us for climbing Mt Kenya.  I have decided that Mt Kenya will have to wait a while – my (un-) fitness level was embarrassingly revealed on Mt Longonot!  On weekends Mt Longonot is a very popular outing for many Nairobians and we saw people of all ages running and walking on the mountain – elderly men, training athletes and a swarm of children participating in a sponsored activity.  As a result the path up to the rim was almost like a highway and the first point you reach at the top was crowded.  Fortunately most were simply climbing up to enjoy the view from that point and then descending.

As we had all day, and we figured 7 km wasn’t too far, we decided to take the track around the crater rim.  I supposed that 7km was not too far on flat ground, and I supposed the crater rim would be somewhat flat.  I was wrong on both counts.  On the western side of Mt Longonot the rim rises sharply and it is a bit of a rocky scramble to get over it.

Stunning views are the reward for the slog – as you circumnavigate the crater you first see over Lake Naivasha and its surrounding flower farms to the west, then south and east towards Maasai Land and finally north to the Aberdares.  My hiking buddy was Agnes and she told me that in years past, this was a place local Maasai men would come to throw themselves into the crater if life became too difficult to deal with.

The track up the mountain is also the only way down.  It’s very sandy, and I could not say which direction is easier: two steps up resulted in one and a half steps down as you sink in the sand while one step down resulted in sliding down the equivalent of three steps and worrying about knee joints.

Perhaps I’ve painted an unfairly grim picture of this mountain, but please understand that my sedentary lifestyle means that mountain climbing isn’t awesome for me!  My climbing companions loved it and couldn’t wait to do it again.

 

OTA is offering trips to Mt Longonot National Park for US$100 per person (non-residents’ price; 7450 Kenyan Shillings for East African residents), including park entry fees and transport between your accommodation in Nairobi and the mountain.  That’s a 25% discount if you simply quote the code: MLNP@ezine in your email to tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.  And this is valid until the end of 2014!

Kilmanjaro’s Royal Court… Otherwise Known As Amboseli

Kilmanjaro’s Royal Court… Otherwise Known As Amboseli

Known as the “Kilimanjaro Royal Court”, Amboseli National Park is nestled at the foothills of Africa’s highest mountain.  Amboseli is a top destination in Kenya for wildlife and one of the classic African images is that of a herd of elephants strolling across the plains with the snow-capped peak of Kilimanjaro in the background.  It is to catch this sight that people flood to Amboseli National Park.  While Kilimanjaro is actually across the border in Tanzania, Amboseli has a perfect view of the world’s tallest freestanding mountain which rises an impressive 5895 metres above the plains.

Amboseli is approximately a half-day drive from Nairobi, meaning you can leave early in the morning and arrive in time for lunch and an afternoon game drive.  Some of the lodges and camps in the area offer a walk with local Maasai warriors and it’s definitely worth taking the opportunity for a sunset or sunrise walk to view Kilimanjaro.  The best time to view the majestic mountain is at dawn, when the clouds lift and the light is clear and soft.  Early morning walks are very good photo opportunities as you witness the African sunrise lighten the mountain and distribute golden rays to the dry savannah of Amboseli National Park.

You can spend a full day game driving in the park, which contains swamp grounds where elephants and hippos are in abundance.  A variety of plains game, antelopes and birds can also be seen.

There are several camps and lodges both inside and outside the park.  Maasai Simba Camp is run by the local community and profits support the hospital and schools in the neighbouring village.  Kibo Camp is very close to the main gate and offers outstanding service at a very reasonable price.  Inside the park is Amboseli Serena Safari Lodge which won Africa’s Leading Eco Hotel in the 2013 World Tourism Awards.  Part of the Serena Hotel chain, a stay here includes game drives with professional guides, bush dinners with a campfire and Maasai dancing, and village visits.  Tortilis Camp is a classic luxury safari camp with stunning views of Mt Kilimanjaro.  In nearby Selenkay Conservancy is Porini Amboseli Camp where your stay includes game drives in Selenkay Conservancy plus one full day with picnic lunch in Amboseli National Park and a visit to a Maasai village.

If driving 250km is not your thing, Amboseli also has an airstrip with regular flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

Why not book a weekend trip to Amboseli? With beautiful lodges inside the park it is possible to travel there on Saturday and return on Sunday – what a unique way to spend a weekend for a Nairobian!  Get in touch today (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) to book.

amboseli

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