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Samburu and other northern adventures

Samburu and other northern adventures

Samburu, Aberdare and Meru National Parks are not on a typical safari circuit.  But these are the three parks that Ian had his heart set on when he was planning his Kenyan safari.  He had seen two three-day itineraries on our website and asked to combine them into a week-long trip.  Being a specialist in tailor-made safaris, we of course said yes and put together a tour that took him off the beaten track into Northern Kenya.

By the time we met Ian, he had completed two weeks on a group tour through Kenya and Tanzania.  Needing a bit of a break from long, bumpy drives, he spent a day in Nairobi between safaris doing a walking tour of Nairobi’s city centre.  George is our local guide for these tours.  He was trained by MCF Panairobi, an NGO educating street children in the Mathare slum.  Armed with training and experience, George recently stepped out on his own to establish a tour company specializing in city and slum tours.  For Ian, the opportunity to learn about life in Nairobi, as well as the colourful history of Kenya, from a local who had grown up on the streets was a highlight of his time in Africa.  So much so, that he kept in touch with George after returning home and the continued relationship led to him contributing a large amount of money to a school that George was involved with.  We absolutely love when our guests make connections such as these.

Aberdare adventure

The first stop on Ian’s northern trails safari was Aberdare National Park.  He stayed at The Ark, named for its shape which is a likeness of old Noah’s vessel.  Aberdare is divided into two sections – the moorland and the salient.  The moorland is at a higher altitude and features a number of waterfalls that you can walk to.  The salient is quite dense bush and where the wildlife prefer to be.  The Ark is in the middle of the salient and has a marvelous walkway that is strung high above the ground giving guests an excellent vantage point to view elephants, bushbuck and, if they’re lucky a bongo.

Heading further north into Kenya’s arid area, Ian next visited Samburu National Reserve.  Here he camped in the middle of the park in a simple A-frame tent enjoying the bush cooking of our safari cook.  Samburu is one park where leopards are relatively easy to spot – it’s never a guarantee, but you’ve got a better chance in Samburu than in most other parks.  Ian got really lucky and saw a leopard out on a hunt!

The third and final destination was Meru National Park.  In seven years of operating OTA, we have only had two guests go to Meru; it is out of the way and definitely off the beaten safari track.  But it is an excellent park to spot rhino, which Ian did.  He stayed at Ikweta Camp, a beautiful (and very affordable) tented camp just outside the park gate.

On his return to Nairobi, he had a night to spend before flying out.  He availed himself of our spare room which we rent out on AirBnB and we took him out for a quintessential Kenyan experience: nyama choma.  We chewed on overcooked goat and sipped on Tusker beer, and reflected on Ian’s African adventures.

Ian’s Trip Advisor Review:

Way way more than just a specialist in day tours!

It’s such a shame that OTA (Overland Travel Adventures) comes up in the category of “Private Day Tours” since the reality is that they offer day tours as well as much longer adventures. Tours can be customised or set itineraries and dates can be joined. Either way, a first class experience can be guaranteed. My tour was a customised six day tour for one (me) and from start to finish I was hugely impressed. My goal was to see some of the lesser travelled parks in Northern Kenya (having already been on safari for two weeks in the south of Kenya and northern Tanzania) and with Tracey and Francis’ expert knowledge we settled on Aberdare NP, Samburu NR and Meru NP. Although I live in Australia (Tracey’s origins too), the planning went without a hitch and the whole trip was a wonderful addition to my earlier trip. Highlights were many but I think the day traversing Aberdare NP West to East (barely seeing another person) was one of the great day drives of my life; mind you the stark semi arid landscape of Samburu and its fantastic wildlife also stood out; as did rhino spotting in Meru. All in all, Francis (a born a bred Kenyan) was a wonderful guide; accommodation was exactly as I had hoped (waterhole room in Aberdare; bush camping in Samburu; Safari Lodge in Meru) and the trip, a perfect addition to my Kenyan and Tanzanian adventures. Just to top things off, Francis and Tracey have an Airbnb room so I finished the trip at their place and went out to dinner for some Nyama Choma and a Tusker beer or two.If you want a small local company, that provides outstanding service and value for money while being socially and environmentally responsible then you can’t go past OTA.

Book Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Book Review: Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux

Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux is the story of the author’s overland travel from Cairo to Cape Town with all the adventures, people and places he encounters throughout the continent.

Paul Theroux travelled Africa from north to south in the first half of 2001.  Beginning in Cairo, he travelled down the Nile in Egypt, through Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland.  He travelled mostly by public transport including trains, boats, bush taxi, buses, cattle truck, rented Land Rover, canoe and hitch-hiking.  As a young 20-something-year-old, Theroux had come to Africa to teach in rural Malawi as a Peace Corps volunteer and so this trip 40 years later was partly a sentimental journey but also to see how much has changed since.

The book starts in Egypt’s capital Cairo and heads south into the land of the Nubians, Sudan.  Theroux travels all the way down into Kenya and then heads west to Uganda.  He catches up with friends in Kampala where he had lived several years earlier.  He takes a ferry across Lake Victoria to Mwanza in Tanzania and then the train to Dar es Salaam.  Another train gets him to Mbeya in southern Tanzania before entering Malawi where he visits the school where he taught as a young man.  This is probably the most demoralising point of the whole trip as he assesses the impact of foreign aid over the 40 years since he was there.  After the treatise on development (or lack thereof), he travels via the Zambezi River into Mozambique.  The next country is Zimbabwe where he experiences the effects of Mugabe’s regime on white farmers.  Finally he reaches South Africa and the luxury of the Blue Train between Johannesburg and Cape Town.  Theroux’s summary after this journey reveals a disappointment in the “help” foreigners have thrown at the continent but also the joy he experienced in meeting people as he travelled:

Africa is materially more decrepit than it was when I first knew it, hungrier, poorer, less educated, more pessimistic, more corrupt, and you can’t tell the politicians from the witch doctors. Not that Africa is one place. It is an assortment of motley republics and seedy chiefdoms. I got sick, I got stranded, but I was never bored. In fact, my trip was a delight and a revelation.”

Dark Star Safari is an interesting account of Theroux’s travels, especially as he travels in Africa by means not dared by most.  He is very negative about the work of foreign development organisations, which is not entirely unfair I will agree.  Throughout the book however, Theroux’s style remains witty and entertaining.

Paul Theroux’s account of his overland journey from Cairo to Cape Town in Dark Star Safari follows his other stories of epic overland trips such as Riding the Iron Rooster in China and two books about the Silk Road.  You may enjoy contrasting Theroux’s wit and insight with Sihle Khumalo’s Dark Continent My Black Arse.  Khumalo also travelled the length of Africa from Cape Town to Cairo by public transport, but he has quite a different perspective being a native of the continent and focuses more on the travelling than the impact of foreign intervention.

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