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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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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Recipe for a Successful Safari

Recipe for a Successful Safari

Here’s a safari recipe that will leave you knowing what to expect when you land in Africa, ease your travel preparations, and ensure you have a fantastic holiday.

Safari Ingredients:

  • A willingness to step outside your comfort zone
  • An open mind
  • A sense of adventure

Safari Method:

  1. Get ready. First you need to organise all your logistics – book a tour, book your flights, and get all your documents in order (passports, visas, vaccination certificates, etc). Figure out your travel goals and make sure you communicate them to your tour operator so they can help you plan the perfect safari itinerary.  Check your goals against the above ingredients and try out some activities that push the limits of your comfort.  It might be to include some nights camping, it might be white-water rafting, or it might be volunteering at a community project – it doesn’t matter, so long as it is an adventure to you.
  2. Get set. The next step is to prepare for travel. Research your destination for extra activities, climate information, cuisine recommendations and anything else you can find out.  Ask lots of questions both of your tour operator and from other travellers.  And finally, pack appropriately as you are now armed with all the information that you need.  A decent camera is a good investment for a safari as you will want to take some special pictures of the wildlife.  Read up some travel blogs and look for ways you can engage with locals in your destination – find a tour operator who can facilitate dinner with a family, a visit to a community project or even a home stay.  Open your mind to the possibilities and you will be surprised at the opportunities that come up.
  3. Go! The time has finally come for your holiday. Get to the airport on time, keep your copy of Born Free in your hand luggage to read on the plane, and ensure all the other ingredients listed above are handy. Your adventure is about to begin and now, having followed steps one and two, you are ready for anything.  Travel in Africa is unpredictable, but with the right attitude the unexpected can turn into a fabulous opportunity to experience something a bit different.  Maintain a sense of humour, roll with the punches, and your safari will be one of the greatest memories of your life.

Following this simple recipe will ensure you have a great safari.  You will have everything organised, feel in control, and be ready for anything.  At OTA we guide our guests through this recipe to ensure they fulfil their travel goals, have all the information they need, and feel confident and comfortable as they board the plane.

Recipe for a Successful Safari

What are some of the other ingredients for a successful safari?  If you have travelled to Africa, please share your tips for first time safari-goers in the comments below.  Or if you are planning a safari and have questions, please post them too.

And while you are planning, here’s something to consider: For any safari in the months of March to June each year, we offer a free day tour around Nairobi’s highlights including the Elephant Orphanage and Giraffe Centre.

Confessions of a Safari Operator

Confessions of a Safari Operator

It’s true, not every safari runs perfectly – gasp!  We rely on machines (i.e. vehicles) and they are just as fallible as humans – another gasp!  In August we had a trip that could have gone a bit smoother.  And, as I take a deep breath to calm my nerves about sharing a less than perfect safari with the big wide world, I hope that it will help you with your own expectations of travelling in Africa.

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Africa is unpredictable.  We tell our guests this about 37 times in our pre-trip documentation as they prepare for their tour.  The roads are bad, the police are disruptive, weather patterns are changing, and of course it’s called a “game drive” for good reason – either you win the game or the animals do, depending on who spots who first!  But as the safari operator, we don’t actually want to believe that we can’t predict (and prevent) what will happen.  Of course contingencies are in place to minimise the impact of any unpredictability on the guest.  But it still pains us to have to use those contingencies.

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We hosted a large family group of nine in August: two parents, four sons and three wives.  They wanted to travel all together in one vehicle so we decided the best vehicle for them was a small overland truck.  The itinerary was five days – three in Maasai Mara and two in Amboseli.  It had been planned for several months and everyone was excited.

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Arriving in Kenya

The first hitch came on arrival.  The people arrived but the luggage didn’t.  Not a single piece of luggage from the whole group was in Nairobi when they landed.  I’m still not sure how that could happen, but it did.  The luggage was to arrive on the same flight the next day and so they requested a later departure to Maasai Mara.  We were to leave at 8am but by the time they returned to the airport and retrieved the luggage, it was 4pm!  And in a truck it’s a long, slow drive anywhere, let alone the bumpy road down to the Mara.

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The late departure meant that we were driving at night, which is something we never want to do, especially through the bush.  We finally arrived at midnight and the camp staff were so wonderful!  We had kept in communication with them throughout the evening and they kept dinner for us and served it very graciously at that hour.  Lesson learnt though: next time we won’t depart for Maasai Mara so late and instead leave very early the next day.

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Safari Begins

The next day our morning game drive didn’t start very early as everyone was tired from the previous night.  But Francis took them off around 8am and they spotted lions almost immediately.  A truck gives you more height and they got a great sighting of the pride in the grass.  Shortly after that though, the truck stopped.  And nothing Francis did would move it.  Again the camp staff were amazing and supplied a vehicle so our guests could continue with their game drive.  Then they supplied another emergency vehicle to tow the truck out of the park.

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Francis pulled the engine apart at the camp and discovered the piston had, as he described it, “turned into githeri” (a traditional Kenyan dish of stewed beans and maize, i.e. small round pieces in a bowl).  The trouble with engines is that, even if you regularly service them, there are things inside that you can’t see and that will fall apart with enough bumping along on these fabulous Kenyan roads.  (I recently discovered in Australia that bushes are something that are replaced every twenty years or so.  In Kenya we replace them after almost every trip down to the Maasai Mara!)

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So that was the end of the truck for this trip.  We organised a replacement vehicle to get the group back to Nairobi the following day.  The itinerary continued for the guests as planned, fortunately.  The only issue was that there was now no space for Francis and I in this back-up vehicle.  We tried to hitch a ride on the road nearest the camp, but it’s a quiet road so we didn’t have much luck.  So we got a motorbike taxi (boda boda) across the savannah (outside the park!) to the main gate of Maasai Mara where we would find more traffic.  I have to admit that the motorbike ride has been a highlight of my time in Kenya!  We have driven that route before, but on a motorbike it was something else!  Beautiful scenery, through Maasai villages, across rivers, wow it was stunning!

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Somehow we arrived in Nairobi before the guests, despite our waiting for a lift, and then getting public transport in Nairobi to their accommodation.  But they had a much more leisurely trip, stopping at the Rift Valley lookout, visiting a Maasai village and having lunch en route.  Nevertheless, they were as surprised to see us waiting for them as we were.  We made the arrangements for Amboseli the next day and called it a night.

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Amboseli

Thank goodness the second half of the trip went smoothly!  We had to split them into two smaller vehicles and they switched up their seating arrangements for the two days to spend time with everyone.  They saw hyenas, elephants, a large herd of buffalo in the swamp, saddle-billed stork, zebras, a big flock of ostriches, and of course Mt Kilimanjaro.  They also climbed up lookout hill for sweeping views over the park.

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All’s well that ends well and there really was minimal disruption to the safari for the guests.  It was just my own mortification that got in the way of me enjoying myself.  But Francis always tells me soberly that “Anything can happen” and he is right.  Perhaps we will add that to “Africa is unpredictable” in the trip preparation documents.

Please share your experiences of travel that hasn’t gone exactly to plan – help me realise that not only can anything happen, but anything can happen to anyone!

And if you would like your own well-planned but unpredictable African adventure please get in touch: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com.

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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!

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Sheila and Christine’s African Safari Extravaganza

Walking safari at Lake Naivasha

Waaaaaay back in May 2014, I sat in Sheila’s lounge room with Sheila and Christine to talk about an African adventure.  They had travelled to South America a few years before and wanted to make the most of their Yellow Fever vaccination, so Africa was the logical next step for them.

Of course they had to come to Kenya, as that is where our little tour company is based and it’s the place for the best safaris in the world (I’m not biased!).  They also wanted to visit Botswana, being fans of the The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and Victoria Falls.  They had three weeks to experience the best of the African continent and so we set to work planning an itinerary.

There were a couple of challenges.  First of all, Kenya has so much and we wanted to show them all of it, but we had to narrow the safari down to just a week.  Secondly was finding an affordable way to travel in Botswana.  Botswana caters to the high-end luxury traveller, and lodges are typically US$400+ per person per night.  For your average retired teacher, this is not affordable.  The alternative is a mobile camping safari and our intrepid ladies agreed.

Eighteen months later Sheila and Christine landed at Nairobi’s airport, looking quite fresh after the 22-hour flight.  We headed straight to the accommodation for a quick shower and then went to the mall to take care of some essentials – changing money, buying things that had been left behind and having a cold Kenyan beer as we discussed the week ahead.

Safari Begins

Our first destination was the Maasai Mara.  The wildebeest migration was in town, and Sheila and Christine could be forgiven for never wanting to see another wildebeest ever again!  But do you think we could find an elephant?  The night before, a herd of about 15 elephants had crashed through our camp, but there was not a trace of them or their friends until 5pm when I glimpsed a big grey face in the bushes.  Elephants do not like all the noise of millions of wildebeest and tend to disappear until the rowdy tourists have gone back to Serengeti (kind of like Philip Island residents on Grand Prix weekend!).  On our ellie hunt though, we were lucky to find five lions – two males and three females – supervising a herd of buffalo.  No one else had found this group, and so we got to enjoy the sighting all alone.  Magical!

Lionesses survey a herd of buffalo in the Maasai Mara

Lake Naivasha

From the Maasai Mara we went to Lake Naivasha for two nights.  The next day started with a walking safari in Wileli Conservancy where we got excited spotting many different birds (see the list below) and getting close to some giraffes who were necking.  Necking isn’t as romantic as it sounds; it’s actually the term for how giraffes fight.  From a distance they look quite graceful and almost gentle as they swing their necks against one another.  But once we got close, we could hear the thumps as they crashed together.  They can cause serious injury or even death as they fight for supremacy of the herd.

We had a very lovely lunch at Sanctuary Farm and then went for a boat ride around part of the shore of Lake Naivasha.  We requested our captain keep us a safe distance from the hippos, and despite his respect of the request, I was still very nervous – I don’t think I should do any more boat trips in hippo-infested waters as I suspect my nerves make everyone else a bit edgier.  But they are really big!

Cormorants in Lake Naivasha

Samburu Safari

Our final destination in Kenya was Samburu.  This is where Sheila and Christine got a bit of a taste of what was to come on their camping safari in Botswana, as we stayed in tents inside the park.  Camping in the park is such a great experience, even if you think you aren’t the camping type, it’s worth trying just once.  Samburu gets really hot in the middle of the day and all the animals retire to the shade, making game driving at that time a little boring.  Fortunately there’s a lodge near the campsite with a pool that one can use for a small fee.  While Sheila and Christine cooled off, Francis and I ducked out to Umoja Primary School.  Last year, Bev had spent a day teaching at the school and later sent some money that her students in Australia had raised.  We used that money to buy hoops and footballs for the school and at last we had the opportunity to deliver them.  The students remembered Bev and I heard murmurs about rockets (one of the activities Bev had done with them) as they gathered to receive the gifts.

Delivering a donation to Umoja School

As we headed back to Nairobi, there was one last stop to make: Kiota Children’s Home.  At our fundraising event in Melbourne earlier this year, Sheila had signed up to sponsor a Kenyan student.  Being in Kenya now, it only made sense for her and the student to meet.  Ndunda is a very shy young boy, but he graciously received the stationery that Sheila and Christine had brought for all the children at the home.  He then showed us around the home, pointing out the place where he kept his school bag and shoes, his homework, his bed, and common areas where they hang out.  We also met Samuel and Simon who are also sponsored by people who came to our Melbourne event.

Sheila and Christine hand over donations for Kiota Children's Home

I can’t write too much more about Sheila and Christine’s adventure, as they flew out of Nairobi the next day and left us behind.  They went to the mighty Victoria Falls for a few nights before heading to Botswana.  They had a night in the Chobe Safari Lodge where they did a boat cruise on the Chobe River.  That’s an amazing cruise as the animals come down to the water to drink in the evening.  Chobe has the highest population of elephants in Africa – it certainly must have made up for the ellies’ absence in Maasai Mara!

Seeing Sheila and Christine off a the airport

Then they joined their camping safari, travelling to Savute, Moremi Game Reserve and the Okavango Delta.  It was surely an adventure, and I hope that they have written about it somewhere so we can hear all about it!

What we saw

Birds

  • Common Ostrich
  • Great White Pelican
  • Great Cormorant
  • Long-tailed Cormorant
  • Cattle Egret
  • Common Squacco Heron
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Purple Heron
  • Black-headed Heron
  • Hamerkop
  • Marabou Stork
  • Yellow-billed Stork
  • Sacred Ibis
  • Hadada Ibis
  • African Spoonbill
  • Egyptian Goose
  • Yellow-billed Duck
  • Secretary Bird
  • Lappet-faced Vulture
  • Rüppell’s Griffon Vulture
  • African White-backed Vulture
  • African Goshawk
  • Augur Buzzard
  • Long-crested Eagle
  • Tawny Eagle
  • African Fish Eagle
  • Francolin
  • Yellow-necked Spurfowl
  • Vulturine Guineafowl
  • Helmeted Guineafowl
  • Black Crake
  • Red-knobbed Coot
  • African Jacana
  • Blacksmith Plover
  • Crowned Plover
  • Sandpiper
  • Gull
  • Yellow-throated Sandgrouse
  • Ring-necked Dove
  • Go-away-bird
  • Verreaux’s Eagle-Owl
  • Swift
  • Grey-headed Kingfisher
  • Pied Kingfisher
  • Lilac-breasted Roller
  • Green Wood-hoopoe
  • Ground Hornbill
  • Red-billed Hornbill
  • Grey Woodpecker
  • Plain-backed Pipit
  • Common Bulbul
  • Cinnamon Bracken Warbler
  • Rattling Cisticola
  • Long-tailed Fiscal
  • Brown-crowned Tchagra
  • Cuckoo-shrike
  • Common Drongo
  • Black-headed Oriole
  • Pied Crow
  • Rüppell’s Long-tailed Starling
  • Superb Starling
  • Wattled Starling
  • Red-billed Oxpecker
  • Rufous Sparrow
  • White-headed Buffalo-Weaver
  • Sparrow Weaver
  • African Golden Weaver
  • Baglafecht (Reichenow’s) Weaver
  • Red-headed Weaver
Vuturine Guineafowl

Vuturine Guineafowl

Animals

  • Cape buffalo
  • Lion
  • Elephant
  • Black-backed jackal
  • Spotted hyena
  • Burchell’s Zebra
  • Grevy’s Zebra
  • Maasai giraffe
  • Reticulated Giraffe
  • Eland
  • Impala
  • Thomson’s gazelle
  • Grant’s gazelle
  • Wildebeest
  • Hartebeest
  • Topi
  • Waterbuck
  • Bushbuck
  • Beisa’s Oryx
  • Gerenuk
  • Dikdik
  • Rock hyrax
  • Warthog
  • Olive baboon
  • Vervet monkey
  • Hippopotamous
  • Crocodile
  • Skink
Lioness in Samburu

Lioness in Samburu

Emily and Lee’s Kenyan Safari

Emily and Lee’s Kenyan Safari

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I love starting trips on weekends.  The traffic to escape Nairobi is clear and we don’t have to start a safari in a jam.  Emily and Lee conveniently started their journey to Mombasa on a Saturday morning, and we found ourselves bright and early at Wildebeest Eco-Camp in Karen.  It was a reasonably unremarkable drive, therefore, to Amboseli.  The only potential for disaster arose when I inserted my foot firmly in my mouth with a cynical remark about the aid industry…. only after the words were out did I remember that Lee works as a fund raiser for an NGO.

But their humour remained intact, even after the 22 kilometres of corrugated road on the last stretch to the park (it’s nothing compared to the road to the Maasai Mara, but not having that for comparison, 22 kilometres can also be tiring).

Our arrival at Kibo Camp was like a homecoming for Francis and me.  First Charles, the supervisor, cracked a big smile in welcome as he saw us emerging from the van.  Francis had only been there a few days before, but I was pleasantly surprised they remembered me after several months.

We checked in and Charles generously gave us a new guest tent.  The tents are floored with stone and covered with cow-hide rugs.  The four-poster bed in the middle of the room is surrounded with a mosquito net which is set up during the evening turn-down service while we have dinner.  At the rear of the tent is the en suite with flush toilet and hot shower.  The water is solar heated – part of Kibo’s eco-friendly efforts.  No time to linger in our luxurious tent though; it was lunchtime.

As Francis and I entered the dining room our old friend Gona was preparing our table.  When he turned and saw us, it was like meeting a long-lost pal.  “Mama and Papa Overland” he cried and shook both our hands energetically.  Nothing is too much trouble for Gona – as he says “my name is Gona and I’m gonna serve you.”  Gona had christened us Mama and Papa Overland on my first visit to Kibo in 2013.  We were quietly tickled by the name and are glad it’s stuck.

Safari in Amboseli

Emily and Lee had their first game drive that afternoon.  They were lucky with an early lion sighting!  Even better, it was a lion couple on their honeymoon.  Of course they also saw plenty of elephants and a hippo with her baby out of the water.

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Emerging from our tents at sunrise the next morning, we were greeted with a perfect view of a naked Kilimanjaro.  Usually covered in cloud during the day, early morning is the best time to see the mountain and Amboseli is the best place for those views.  Francis whisked Emily and Lee off to the park for an early morning game drive.  Over breakfast, Lee marvelled at the incredible variety of birds they had seen during the drive, many of which they had never heard of, including the Secretary Bird.  We all had a giggle at Francis’ imitation of the Secretary Bird as it hunts.  Amboseli National Park comprises a large swamp in the middle of a massive arid area and thus attracts many water birds including water rail, egrets, herons, ibis, kingfishers and plovers.

After breakfast we bid our farewells to the awesome staff and started back to Mombasa Road.  The highway between East Africa’s main port and the rest of the region is only single lane in each direction with some trucks hurtling along at hair-raising speeds while others barely make it up the gentlest of inclines.  Side mirrors are a needless accessory it seems and rarely used.  It’s not my favourite road to travel on and so I like to either turn around to talk to people behind or pretend to sleep – anything to not look at my impending death over and over!  Francis is masterful though and navigates the other drivers’ craziness with cool calm.

Elephants and Leopards

Our destination was Taita Hills and Lumo Sanctuary.  It took us about six hours from Kibo to Taita Hills but it was worth it as Sarova Salt Lick Game Lodge came into view.  A herd of elephants were wending their way through the lodge’s stilts as they made their way to the waterhole.  I had tried to describe how the waterhole is at the reception area, but it’s difficult to understand that elephants can be just a few metres away as you check in, until you get there!

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Once you are there it is even more difficult to tear yourself away from the incredible proximity you have with these beautiful creatures.  However, after enjoying sunrise over Kilimanjaro that morning we felt it a fitting end to have a drink watching the sun set over the mountain.  The only trouble was that we got distracted by a couple of lionesses feasting on a zebra on our way.  By the time we got to Lion’s Bluff, the sun had all but disappeared.  The thing about being so close to the equator is that sunset happens in about five minutes – not the two-hour romance we get in Melbourne!  But Lion’s Bluff still has one of the best balcony bars in Africa, so we indulged in a glass of wine anyway.

There’s a rocky outcrop in Lumo Sanctuary where on one of my earliest visits another driver-guide told us he had just seen a leopard.  We scoured the outcrop, fully circling it, looking for the leopard with no luck.  On every subsequent visit I search that outcrop desperately for the leopard.  I look among the tree branches and in the cracks and crevasses of the rocks, always suspecting the leopard will be in the most hard to see place and really wanting to be the first clever cat to find it.

So the third day of the safari saw us on an early morning game drive close to this outcrop with me desperately craning my head to find the elusive leopard.  As I carefully searched the branches of a particularly large sausage tree (a leopard’s favourite), everyone started talking about something else remarkable: the large elephant that almost seemed stuck under the very same tree.  Had I really missed that?!  He was perched somewhat tenuously on a ledge and munching on the leaves of the sausage tree.  As he backed up, his side rubbed against the rock giving an audible demonstration of how thick his skin must be.  After watching him for some time and satisfying ourselves that he wasn’t really stuck, we continued our circuit of Leopard Rock.

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I returned to looking in all the hidey holes when a minute later Francis suddenly hit the brakes and said “Leopard!”  And there, lounging in plain view on a Pride Rock-style arrangement was indeed a leopard!  What luck!  And we were the only ones there to enjoy this magnificent sighting.  After several minutes however another van approached, but too fast and too noisily.  The leopard jumped lightly off his rock lounge and disappeared into the grass.  (Note: suggest to your driver-guides they drive slowly in the parks, especially as they approach another vehicle that is obviously looking at something, so you don’t miss out on exciting sightings.)

Leopard at Taita Hills, Kenya

Leopard at Taita Hills, Kenya

We were happy with our sighting anyway, and headed back to the lodge for breakfast.  This morning the zebras were having their turn at the waterhole, but not before having a bit of a chase around with the elephants.

Kenya’s coast

Then it was time to drive to Mombasa.  To avoid driving through the city centre, we turned off at Mariakani and drove through rolling green hills.  It became a rough road but the scenery was quite beautiful (aside from the large rubbish dump in one part).  Finally we got to Nyali where Francis and I took our bearings from the dentist’s office he had visited in 2013.  As he had been under the influence of strong painkillers at that time, I suggested he trust my directions…and eventually we got there.

We had such a great time with Emily and Lee and we can’t wait to welcome them in 8-10 years when they bring their baby daughter for safari!

For us, we found a campsite and sat down to a cold Tusker and a chat about how long we were going to enjoy our beach holiday.  The silver lining of Kenya’s tourism decline is that we didn’t have to rush back to Nairobi for the next safari…. lucky us??!!

After a lazy morning, we headed 11 kilometres north to Jumba la Mtwana, the ruins of an Arab trading port.  It was very interesting; the guide taught us a lot.  And it was so beautiful – ruins of stone and coral buildings amongst trees of so many shades of green.  The port was active between 1350 and 1450 and has three mosques and many houses including a hotel of sorts for the traders who sailed in.

Francis tests the acoustics in the remains of a mosque.  This is the alcove where the Imam stood to preach...although I think Francis should be facing the other way to get the amplifying effect!

Francis tests the acoustics in the remains of a mosque. This is the alcove where the Imam stood to preach…although I think Francis should be facing the other way to get the amplifying effect!

In the morning before leaving for Nairobi, we visited Bombolulu Workshop and Cultural Centre.  Established in 1969, Bombolulu is a craft workshop employing people with disabilities.  They design and produce jewellery, bags, clothes, wood carvings and many other crafts.  It’s a fantastic project employing around 100 staff (that number used to be 350 before the global financial crisis).  Accommodation is provided for the staff if they wish and there is a school and day-care centre for their children.  It is well worth a visit if you stay on the north coast.

If you would like to experience a safari like Emily and Lee, please contact us today (tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com) to start planning your Kenyan holiday.

Emily and Lee collage

Travelling in Kenya for People with a Physical Disability

Travelling in Kenya for People with a Physical Disability

Travelling in Africa can provide many challenges for people without a disability, but is it a complete no-go zone for people with physical impairment or other special needs?  Harun Hassan of NONDO (Northern Nomadic Disabled Persons Organisation) says definitely not and encourages travellers to “experience the excitement of getting through the hardship”.

While facilities in Kenya for people with disabilities have been slower to come to the fore, there is legislation in place to ensure that all buildings are accessible.  Moreover, there are several community-based and non-governmental organisations that advocate the rights of people with disabilities and the results of their work are becoming increasingly evident.  Shopping centres are very accessible and there are several hotels including Sarova Stanley, PanAfric and The Boma (all in Nairobi) that have excellent amenities.

The 2010 constitution has specified a certain number of people with disabilities must be elected to parliament to represent the needs of the community.  In Kenya, there is not so much discrimination against people with disabilities as a lack of awareness.  Having members of parliament with disabilities is one step to increase awareness as they speak about their impairment and how their lives have been growing up and now as a public figure.

A result of the lack of awareness is that when travellers with disabilities approach a safari operator, often their enquiry is ignored because the operator puts them in the “too hard basket”.  In Kenya, there are hardly any wheelchair-accessible vehicles – those Kenyans with physical impairments must be able to transfer themselves into taxis.  But that should not be a reason to dismiss Kenya as a holiday destination.  Rather, have a good conversation with your tour operator about your needs and find one that is prepared to work with you to plan your safari.  It will be up to you to inform the tour operator very specifically what you require, and it is probably not realistic to expect all the smooth mechanics you might be used to at home such as chair lifts, but the great thing about Kenya is that anything is possible!

If you are thinking about a Kenyan safari, you may contemplate including the Desert Wheel Race in your travel plans.  Held every August in Isiolo, the race is designed to give people with disabilities the opportunity to participate in sports and raise funds for children with disabilities to attend school.  NONDO works in partnership with the county governments from the seven counties participating in the event and willing partners and sponsors such as CBM in ensuring the event is well organized. In northern Kenya most communities are nomadic pastoralists and many people with physical impairment have never even seen a wheelchair.  Inter-tribal conflict has caused disabilities (for example one of the founding members of NONDO was stabbed in the spine with a spear as a child by a raiding tribe) resulting in the further marginalisation of people living in an already marginalised community.

Desert Wheel Race, Isiolo, Kenya Photo courtesy of the CBM database

In 2015, the Desert Wheel Race will be held on 22 August and OTA is organising a safari from Nairobi to participate in the event.  Please contact Tracey and Francis for more information: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com

Desert Wheel Race, Isiolo, Kenya Photo courtesy of the CBM database

All photos courtesy of CBM picture database

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