Archive for the ‘Kenya’ Category

No trip to Africa would be complete without a safari. One of the biggest reasons we even decided to head from Ethiopia to Kenya was that I’d finally be able to do something that sat pretty high on my bucket list. We settled on a four day three night journey which included the Maasai Mara and Lake Nakuru.

The first day of our safari we were picked up in Nairobi and made the drive to the Maasai Mara park. It took the better part of the day and even more out of our backs and bums as we drove across the not so well kept roads. We arrived at our camp site at around 3:30, just enough time to get settled have some tea and get ready for our first game drive.

Our ‘tent’ was one of the nicest accommodations we’d had. It sits on a cement slab with an attached bathroom. There’s electricity in the early morning and evening. There were probably a dozen tents around the site set amongst beautiful fruit trees and flowers. Maasai men guard the site both day and night as the lions are more afraid of the warriors than the warriors are of the lions.

We loaded back into our van and set off into the park. The roof lifts off and the windows open, so while it’s not quite the safari jeep you imagine it definitely did the trick. Almost immediately inside the gates of the park we started to see animals. There were zebras and buffalos along either side of the path. The zebras ended up being one of my favourites – their stripes are a lot neater than you think – and no two are alike!

After the zebras we headed a bit further inland to find a herd of elephants and giraffes. The giraffes are magical and the elephants MUCH bigger than I thought they would be. We had seen a few elephants while we were in Asia but the African version makes them look puny. The giraffes are quite majestic as they seem to float along nibbling at the trees.

To finish off our two hour drive we came upon two male lions. Everyone was obviously quite excited to find the kings, but they were actually quite disappointing as they didn’t even lift their heads. We left excited for what our full game drive tomorrow was going to bring.

Day two starts relatively early as we’re trying to get as much time inside the park as we can. As we’re driving in our guide gets a call on his cell phone – all the drivers keep in contact with their friends to help each other find the animals – and we speed off through the park. There are two cheetahs out lazing around in the morning sun and we want to catch them. Luckily, we make it with quite a bit of time to spare as they look to just be waking up. We watch them for about a half an hour as they go through their morning routine – unfortunately neither felt up for an early morning sprint.

We spent the rest of the day driving to the other side of the park stopping every 15 minutes or so to gawk at the animals. We watched elephants drinking and bathing, giraffes running around and drinking from the stream, a surprisingly large number of lions although they were all female or cubs and of course a bunch of gazelles, antelopes, wart hogs, emus, buffalo and wildebeest. We were also quite fortunate and tracked down a black rhino. They’re quite hard to spot as they graze in the bushes and blend in surprisingly well. They also travel alone and don’t much enjoy visitors.

The highlight of the day had to be finding the leopard – the last of the big five. The big five originate from hunting days and are considered to be the most difficult and dangerous animals to hunt on foot. Lions, elephants, buffalo, rhino and leopards make the cut. The leopard was hands down my favourite animal. It was incredibly beautiful as it slinked through the high grass. You had to really keep your eyes on him though, if you even looked away for a second, you couldn’t find it again until you saw the tail flick despite the fact that he was within 15 feet of us.

The final game drive in the Maasai Mara is the morning drive. The cats are the most active in the early hours of the day before everything heats up so we went in with high hopes of seeing a chase and a kill. Jacob was especially excited. Sadly though, no one seemed to hungry and we didn’t end up seeing much of anything. Since the cats are out to hunt, the rest of the animals seem to disappear.

We left the Maasai Mara and drove to Lake Nakuru. Again, the drive took the better part of the day, it seems that no matter the distance you are driving in Africa, it always takes a day to get there. Lake Nakuru was nice, aside from the ridiculous amount of birds (there was a lot of flapping and it didn’t smell so hot) but we got to see hyenas, a lot more rhinos and quite a few baboons and other monkeys.

If any of you ever have a chance to go on safari take it. And for those of you who don’t have the chance, make it. Being with in 10 feet of these animals is something that you have to experience for yourself to truly appreciate.

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Mida Creek

Since we ended up staying quite a bit longer at the beach than we originally planned (2 weeks instead of 4 days) we were running out of time before we had to catch our flight to London. We had originally planned on heading back across Kenya to Ugunda for our last 2 weeks in Africa but well, we had gotten lazy. We still wanted to see a bit more of Kenya though so we headed up the coast to Mida Creek.

Mida Creek is about four hours north of Mombasa closer to Malindi (where our friend Safari was from). We read about this CBO (community based organization) eco-camp in our guide books so we stopped in to check it out. They only have three sites available, all built as traditional african huts. The one we were staying in was a traditional Giriama hut, the other two were made of mud and the top of the line model was a two story built out of wood with the top story open. We of course booked ourselves in the cheapest one and settled in for breakfast (included in the price – sweet!)

Breakfast, and all meals for that matter, are served in the treetop restaurant. We had just finished up eating so Jacob headed back down to the hut to grab his book and iPod since we were just going to be chilling in the restaurant come lounge area for the rest of the day. A few minutes later, I could see Jacob coming back out of the hut looking rather unimpressed. He called me down – which truthfully made me a bit worried. Now that shouldn’t be surprising to anyone, seeing as I worry quite easily, but the look on his face made me think that all our stuff was gone.

I walked in to the hut to find that we had indeed had a visitor. All of our stuff was luckily still there, but it seems our new friend had been hungry. I’m not entirely sure what kind of animal had made it’s way into our grass hut, but it had managed to chew two holes through Jacob’s bag that would have been at least 3 inches wide. It had also chewed his basically brand new headphones into a dozen pieces. We were only gone for about 25 minutes.

Now I wouldn’t say I’m scared of animals – I assumed it wasn’t a cat or bird which I am terrified of, but the thought of sleeping with rats and rodents isn’t an idea that thrills me. We figured we should probably let the staff know that we had some animal problems and they upgraded us to their best hut – woohoo! We spent the first night sleeping on the top story with the wind blowing through, it was awesome.

Since it is an eco-camp and a CBO all of the food that they serve comes from local farmers or fishermen and has to be available in the area. It is also guaranteed to be fresh since there’s no electricity, none of it can be stored. The meals we ate while we were at the eco-camp was some of the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Like I mentioned, there’s no electricity on site, so we spent our days lounging around in the treetop restaurant/lounge reading the books and napping. The view was spectacular. All around us were mango pineapple and cashew trees with the creek off in the distance. The peace and quiet was only interrupted by Coco the donkey, on staff to haul the soda in from the main road.

During our stay at the eco-camp we met up with our friend Safari who had traveled to his home town to visit his son. He took us around Malindi and to the Gede ruins. They are the remains of a 13th century village. It was a peaceful walk around the old stones through the trees. It reminded me of Angkor Wat but on a much smaller scale. We finished the day off with a walk on the beach. Perfect.

Our last night at the eco-camp they hired a few locals to come in and do some traditional dancing. They lit the bonfire and went through their rituals and ceremonial dances. It was pretty magical sitting under the stars in a place that is kilometres away from any kind of electricity with huge homemade drums being pounded on. Is it any wonder I fell in love with Kenya?

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As much as I loved Diani Beach, the sand, sun and lovely temperatures, there was another side to the life most people on the beach lead.

We’ve become quite used to having people try to sell us things, world over, so much so that we often just say ‘no thank you’ to people as we walk past. It usually makes it easier. Diani was no exception. There were people the length of the beach selling all kinds of souvenirs, everything from carvings to material from fresh coconuts to banana leaf hats.

Most of them were quite nice and usually we would have a small chat with them as we walked down the beach. It could definitely get annoying but at the same time, we were one of the few who took the time to even say hello; most people just shook them off or could be quite rude. It was hard to remember that this was probably not their first choice for employment, and that they are not trying to bother you. They are trying to make a living. Sometimes it was quite sad to see the same guy day in day out knowing that he hadn’t sold anything. You could see them get more and more desperate because it was low season and times were tough.

Low season was a hard thing for everyone, not just the souvenir sellers on the beach. It also means that all of the people who typically work at the resorts and restaurants are out of a job. Most of them will come down to the beach for something to do. They exercise, practice acrobatics or just enjoy the sunshine and the water. Unfortunately though, the restaurants that remain open have a problem with this. The restaurant where we ate most days (the only ‘budget’ one available) hired Masaai to chase the beach boys away with sticks. Literally with sticks.

All over the beach, and Ukunda for that matter, it was a common sight to see older white men and women walking hand in hand with young (and often quite beautiful) Kenyans. Talking to some of our friends we soon confirmed what we suspected, the Africans were being hired as escorts. While it’s not something I would choose to do, it is something I could probably easily overlook. That was, however, until we talked about it with our friend Nancy.

Nancy told us a story about a man she had seen around the resort near to where she works who arrived one year and promptly found himself several young girlfriends. One of these girls, it seems, had HIV. This same man then went back home to his clean, and advanced hospitals and medicine, got himself some help and then continued to come back year after year always seen with a few girls throughout his vacation. Years later she remembers seeing this same man withered away to skin and bones still continuing his dating practices. As Nancy told us this story, I remember feeling sick to my stomach. AIDS being prevalent in Africa is no secret, and is a very real and very large problem. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that this is part of the way it’s spreading.

These men (and women) come on vacation knowing the risks but at the same time also know that they probably only have about 10-20 years left to live anyway. In our state of the art hospitals and access to drugs, you can definitely live that long with HIV. The young women (and men) you leave behind will most likely be dead before you return.

We were lucky enough to get to stay on Diani Beach for two full weeks and I look back on it as one of the most real times of our trip. It was where we connected most with locals simply because we took the time to relax and have a conversation with some friendly people and learn a little bit about what actually goes on.

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