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Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Welcome the VIPs of Sunrise of Africa School!

Did you know there are about 300 Kenyan children receiving education due to the generosity of the global Christian Science (not to be confused with Scientology!) community?  And in July, some of those supporters came to Kenya to visit the school and see for themselves the beautiful school they had a hand in creating.  But they couldn’t come all the way to the land of safari without also seeing some animals.  Enter OTA – this is the story of the Sunrise of Africa School VIP visit.

Thirteen people made the journey out to Kenya to visit the Sunrise of Africa School.  Three were the grandchildren of the school’s founder.  Three only stayed a short while and didn’t join our safari as they had a couple of other schools to visit.  And then we added three Sunrise staff to the safari so we were back to thirteen when we set out early one chilly July morning for the Samburu National Reserve.  The group had been staying at the Hilton Garden Inn near Nairobi’s international airport.  It was opened in March 2018, and this being July of the same year, the hotel was still sparkly and shiny.  It would be a welcome sight after three days of dusty safari!

Francis, me, our baby Gabriel, Michelle and her daughter Amy squeezed into the van which was a supply vehicle first and foremost and thus was packed tight with all our camping equipment.  The rest were in the Land Cruiser with Julius and Sammy, the school’s Director, had three more in his vehicle.

We headed out of Nairobi before the traffic could build up and had our first stop at Sagana.  The curio shops slyly keep their toilets clean so tour vehicles will be more inclined to stop for a bathroom break.  They also slyly keep their toilets at the back of the shop so you have to walk past all their lovely trinkets on your way in and out.  Not having had much chance to buy souvenirs during the trip so far, the bathroom break became a bit longer.

Next stop was at the home of a friend of the school.  Her house is just before Nanyuki, and she had laid out a massive spread.  Too big for morning tea, too early for lunch, it didn’t matter what we called it, it was delicious!

But now the time was getting away from us as we were due at the lodge in Samburu for lunch.  So we motored on, pausing in Nanyuki to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables for the campers.  Now I should explain our trip a bit more.  The guests had been given the option of staying in a lodge/tented camp or bush camp, in order to cater for varying budgets.  Six of the international guests chose the tented camp option while Michelle and her children and the Sunrise staff opted to camp.  So, that’s why we had a van full of camping equipment but we were rushing to get to the lodge for lunch.

After lunch, they went out on their first game drive (the dash from the gate to the accommodation didn’t count).  They saw a massive tower of giraffes and elephants galore.  The next day they went out for morning and evening game drives, relaxing in their respective camps during the heat of the day.  More elephants, more giraffes, gazelles, gerenuks, impala, and hyena were the highlights.  Unfortunately no lions were forthcoming during those three days.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, our 11-month-old was having a whale of a time chasing monkeys, playing in the dirt, and falling in love with 7-year-old Amy.  He kept us all on our toes though, especially when the group was off on game drive and we were left to cook.  Luckily there were a couple of extra guys around cleaning the campsite and generally helping out, so they took on much of the babysitting.  There’s so much for a toddler to explore around a campsite: a charcoal cooking fire, buckets of water, a bucket of vegetable peelings, logs with all sorts of lovely critters crawling under the bark, the list goes on!  But I’ve come to see that in Kenya children are adored and doted upon, by clucky women and aloof men alike.  So I was comfortable with Gabriel exploring freely, knowing there were several other pairs of eyes always on him along with mine.

On the last day we drove out through Buffalo Springs Reserve.  The Samburu eco-system is made up of three separate reserves.  Samburu and Buffalo Springs are separated by the Ewaso Nyiro River and it’s very easy to cross between the two so long as the bridge hasn’t been washed away.  Shaba is across the highway.  So we headed south through Buffalo Springs to join the highway near Isiolo.  It’s always nice to replace some highway driving with more time in the parks.

We stopped for lunch at Dormans in Nanyuki where we had smoothies and milkshakes and salads and other treats that the guests had been missing after a week at the school eating Kenyan cuisine.  We also made the obligatory photo stop at the Equator.  From Nanyuki we didn’t stop again until we got back to the Hilton Garden Inn.  Our timing wasn’t perfect and we caught a bit of Nairobi’s rush hour traffic.

A visit to Kenya is not complete without a visit to the Giraffe Centre and Elephant Orphanage so that’s what we did the following day.  Then a final lunch together at the home of the school’s founder before the guests headed home.  They really saw all sides of Kenya: both interacting with the people while they were at the school and then interacting with the wildlife on their safari.

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Tsavo West National Park

Tsavo West National Park

In March 1898 the construction of the Mombasa to Kampala railway reached the Tsavo River.  Colonel J.H. Patterson was sent to Kenya to supervise the construction of the railway and the Tsavo River Bridge.  For several months, two man-eating lions reined terror on the 3000-man labour force of Indian and African workers at Tsavo River.

In December the same year, the lions brought the rail works to a complete standstill for three weeks as they had taken 28 Indian workers and an unrecorded number of African workers.  On 9 December, Colonel Patterson killed the first of the two lions.  He had been hunting them for several months and finally succeeded (whilst being propped up on a flimsy structure), approximately 1200 metres from the lions’ cave.  On 27 December, the Colonel killed the second lion from a tree 1800 metres from their cave, effectively ending the terror and enabling construction of the railway to continue.  In early 1899 the railroad head progressed to Nairobi.

Colonel Patterson found the lions’ cave, declaring it to be “beyond all doubt the man-eaters’ den” as hundreds of human bones and skulls were discovered inside.

In February 2013, we went to Tsavo West National Park to learn more about the history of the legendary man-eating lions and explore the second-largest park in Kenya.

Its label as the “Land of Lava, Springs and Man-Eaters” gives quite a good idea of what one can expect to find in Tsavo West National Park.  Located in Kenya’s Southern Region, 240km from Nairobi, Tsavo West is a massive 9045 square kilometres.  Closer to Mombasa than Nairobi, the park makes an interesting diversion from a coast holiday for a few days while not having to travel too far.

Accommodation is a bit limited on the Tsavo West side compared to Tsavo East, but there are a few lodges and campsites inside the park.  Voyager Ziwani, Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge, Severin Safari Camp and Finch Hattons fill the upper range of accommodation.  Expect to pay around US$450-500 per person per night including all meals (a bit more at Christmas, New Year and Easter).  Game drives, bush walks, laundry service, spa treatments and sundowners are available at the lodges.  Finch Hattons was awarded Africa’s Leading Safari Lodge in the 2013 World Travel Awards.

If you prefer something a bit more budget-friendly, there is a campsite near Chyulu Gate.  Kenya Wildlife Service also provides accommodation with Kamboyo Guest House and Lake Jipe Cottages.

There are a few sights around the park that are worth visiting.  Poacher’s Lookout provides a great view over most of Tsavo West including the lava flows.  At Mzima Springs a guide can explain the history of the area as you walk around.  Most of the spring’s water goes to Mombasa while the rest flows into the Tsavo River.  There is an underwater observation room where you can see the various fish species that inhabit the pool.

To visit the Man-Eating Lions’ Cave, you can get a ranger to escort you from Tsavo River Gate.  There is a walking trail to the cave but being within the national park, you need a ranger while you are outside the vehicle.  Tsavo West is also home to a Rhino Sanctuary which is free to visit with plenty of animals.  It is only open between four and six in the evening however.

The wildlife you can see in Tsavo West includes hippos, crocodiles, vervet monkeys, dik diks, elephants, zebras, giraffes, Cape buffalo, black-backed jackal, eland, oryx, warthogs, impala, klipspringer, and lesser kudus.  There is also plenty of birdlife including kingfishers, hornbills, starlings, helmeted and vulturine guineafowl, hoopoes, waxbill, barbet, mousebirds, and bush-shrike.  The landscape is mostly brushy woodland making animal spotting a little bit more challenging than the open savannah of other parks.  The elephants are red due to the colour of the soil with which they bathe themselves.

Have you visited Tsavo West National Park?  Please share your experiences in the comments below.  Or if you would like to visit Tsavo West please visit our website www.ota-responsibletravel.com and send us an enquiry today.

3 Reasons to Visit Remarkable Ruhengeri

3 Reasons to Visit Remarkable Ruhengeri

Ruhengeri, also known as Musanze, is nestled in the Virunga Mountains in northern Rwanda.  Most travellers pass through on their way between Kigali and their gorilla trek, but Ruhengeri and the surrounding region have much more to offer.  This article provides information about this little-known destination and gives you three good reasons to visit.

  1. Golden Monkeys

After the gorillas, the golden monkeys are the rising stars of the Parc National des Volcans, becoming an increasingly popular attraction (especially with the significantly lower price tag on the experience than the gorilla trek).  As with the gorilla trekking experience, you beat your way through the forest to find the golden monkeys.  They are a bit more active than gorillas however, and your time with the monkeys is mostly spent walking under the trees following as they jump around.

Kenya to Kigali Adventure www.ota-responsibletravel.com

  1. Village Experiences

Banana beer production and basket weaving are two key enterprises undertaken in the Ruhengeri region.  You can visit the village of Muko and see these activities being conducted, get your very own basket and sample the banana beer.  English is not generally spoken proficiently in the village so it is worth taking a guide from Ruhengeri with you.

  1. Dian Fossey

The Parc National des Volcans outside Ruhengeri is the place Dian Fossey called home for much of her life as she researched the beautiful and endangered mountain gorillas.  Gorilla trekking is one of the most popular activities today in Ruhengeri and we can largely thank Ms Fossey that there are gorillas remaining in these mountains.  Dian Fossey’s grave is a two- to three-hour hike from the park headquarters where you will also find the ruins of the Karisoke Research Centre.

There are plenty of other things to see and do in Ruhengeri aside from these three highlights.  The Twin Lakes of Ruhondo and Burera are a beautiful setting as you look out from Virunga Lodge (one of the more expensive places to stay, but you can just go for the views).  There are also hiking trails in the Parc National des Volcans, mostly up to the top of one of the volcanoes through the thick green forest that covers the mountains.

Kenya to Kigali Adventure www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Would you like to visit Ruhengeri?  Join OTA’s Kenya to Kigali Adventure next November for your chance to trek golden monkeys, try banana beer, and visit the place Dian Fossey called home for her research years.  Contact tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com for more information.

Is Nairobi Safe?

Is Nairobi Safe?

Perceived issues of personal safety and security are often of concern to people wishing to travel in Kenya.  This has increased in the wake of the Westgate shopping centre attack, with travellers questioning the safety of Nairobi and whether they should travel to Kenya.  The answer is YES!  New York, London, Madrid and Bali have also suffered terror attacks and travellers continue to visit.  But Nairobi is treated differently, and it probably has a bit to do with its old nickname “Nai-robbery”.  Ten years ago the name may have been true, but much has changed in the last decade and continues to change with the current “Safer Cities” initiative by the Nairobi City Council.

OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Many Kenyans do live in poverty and there are reports of theft and muggings from time to time.  But these are opportunistic attacks on people clearly displaying wealth and making it easy for someone to grab and run.  It can be argued that this is the case anywhere around the world – you must always keep your wits about you, wherever you are.  Some easy ways to avoid being mugged include:

  • Not wearing jewellery
  • Checking your change and putting all money safely away before leaving the bank, foreign exchange office or shop
  • Using hotel safes to store what you do not need for the day

Violent crime is much rarer, especially against tourists.  Most Kenyans recognise that tourists bring money to their country, and attacks on foreigners are punished severely if they do occur.  If you do find yourself in a situation however, it is best to submit to the demands of the attacker – violence is often not an assailant’s first preference, they just need money.

Harassment is not a physical danger necessarily, but it can make you feel uncomfortable and nervous.  Walking alone at night is definitely to be avoided.  Always go out with two or three other people and take a taxi after dark.

Scams show up as locals drawing on the compassion of sympathetic travellers.  They may take on the role of a political refugee requesting money for their family or they might pretend to be a student collecting contributions for their education.  Use your common sense and if you are in doubt about their story, then you are probably right.

There are also local customs to be aware of, but by observing how other people behave you can easily fit in.  There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in Kenya, particularly in coastal and rural areas.

Engaging the services of a tour operator will assist in avoiding most of the above-mentioned security issues.  Your driver-guide will have the latest information on your destinations and know where he/she is going.  They know the travel times and will ensure you have arrived at the accommodation before sunset.  Moreover, most tour operators will package up the prices for national park entry fees, accommodation, and transport, limiting the amount of cash you need to carry.

Finally, don’t forget to register with your home country’s embassy or high commission in Kenya for the duration of your visit.  Comprehensive travel insurance is also highly recommended.

Overall, Nairobi is just like many other large cities around the world: there are rich people, there are poor people and there are people in the middle.  Most Kenyans don’t look twice at foreigners in their capital city.  The worst that most tourists encounter are children in rags accompanying them for about a block asking for money – while it’s heart-wrenching, it’s hardly a reason to avoid visiting a spectacular destination that has much to offer an enthusiastic traveller.

OTA Kenya Safari www.ota-responsibletravel.com

Is Kenya on your bucket list, but recent events in Nairobi have you hesitant to tick the item off right now?  Overland Travel Adventures offers tailor-made itineraries for individuals and small groups with a focus on excellent customer care, safety and responsible travel.  Contact us today: tracey@ota-responsibletravel.com or visit the website www.ota-responsibletravel.com.

OTA Kenya Safaris www.ota-responsibletravel.com

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