Archive | Africa

Green season in Hwange

Elephants Eye Hwange Zimbabwe-10

Travelling to the bush at the tail end of rainy season means you really have to get into birds if you aren’t already. In the dry season in Hwange National Park, many thousands of elephants in huge herds – just part of a population of 75 000 – can be seen, along with herds of buffalo, prides of lions, cheetah leopards and wild dogs. The park has no natural water source and so when it’s dry, the animals are forced to congregate around the man-made waterholes fed by boreholes.

Rainy season is a different story. The bush is thick, green and lush, water is plentiful, and the tens of thousands of elephants and other animals tend to stick in the middle of the park, where there are no roads and they don’t have to contend with being gawped at by camera-wielding safari tourists. This beautiful emerald green time of year is, however, amazing for bird life – especially for migratory birds who’ve flown down from Europe for the summer like Germans who have beach houses on the Atlantic Seaboard in Cape Town. Appreciating the beauty and abundance of the rainy season is all about being a twitcher.

My Hwange green season stay was at Elephant’s Eye, a small intimate lodge in a private concession that borders, unfenced, on the massive national park. Elephant’s Eye has just eight spacious rooms built on stilts overlooking a waterhole (populated by a pair of grey crowned cranes down for a migratory visit from Central Africa when we arrived) – wooden plank floors, thatch roofs and khaki canvas walls which open floor-to-ceiling with wraparound decks, outdoor showers, big bathtubs and even bigger beds, from where you can lie and gaze out on a sea of green. The intimage lodge is all understated, low-key luxury with a communal lounge with comfy big sofas, a sweet little bar and dining area with tables facing towards the outdoor fire that’s lit every night, and utterly charming staff who make you feel part of a big family.

The first question our affable guide, Shepherd, asked was “What kind of birds are you into?” The answer was all of them, and off we set on long game drives into Hwange, where we did spot singular or small clusters of zebra, steenbok, wildebeest, impala and a big leopard tortoise but most of our attention was focused on the avian creatures. I had my Hwange bird list, and like a true bird nerd, ticked off species as we saw them – in one game drive alone we saw over 30 species. We watched a rufous-naped lark sing then flap its wings and turn its head 180 degrees just to check if anyone was encroaching on his territory, shaft-tailed wydahs flit around with their elongated black tails and golden plumage, and marveled at the bright ruby red crimson-breasted shrikes.

Back on Elephant’s Eye’s concession, we did short walks in the bush with walking guide Joshua, who was a fount of knowledge on all things nature. Walking a few hundred metres took us about two hours, as we stopped to examine the amazing world inside a disintegrating elephant poo, learned to read kudu, buffalo, warthog and impala tracks, picked wild basil and found out the medicinal (and aphrodisiac) uses of plants and trees.

In between game (bird) drives and walks, we ate tomato pasta, savoury veggie-filled pancakes and homemade Amarula ice cream back at the lodge, relaxed at the natural water swimming pool (which the elephants and buffalos drink till empty during the dry season), took unplanned for siestas in bed, lulled to sleep by the whirr of crickets, did some bird watching from the couches in the lounge with a bowl of salted peanuts and cold Zambezi beers and visited the Painted Dog Conservation Centre to see the resident pair of beautiful (and highly endangered) creatures.

My favourite time of day was going to bed or waking up. In the room only mosquito nets and canvas walls separate you from the outside world, and the sounds of nature are like an orchestra as you fall asleep: from champagne frogs, their croaks like the sound of dozens of champagne corks popping at once to the whoop of hyenas. In the mornings, bird song starts with a few tweets and works up to a crescendo of song, waking you up for another day in the wilderness.

I was a guest of Elephant’s Eye Lodge during my trip to Hwange. Click here for more about this luxury lodge, which offers eight tented rooms on a private concession 13 km away from Hwange National Park.

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A Botswana safari in photos

Okavango Delta from the air

A trip through national parks and wilderness areas of northern Botswana in rainy season: gliding through a channel of the Okavango Delta in a mokoro; flying above the Delta in a small helicopter above rivers and islets, water lily-studded lagoons and marshes full of birds; falling asleep in a canvas tent while lions roared outside; fuschia dawn skies; going on game drives for hours and not seeing another car; the sound of elephants wading through a stream in the dark; getting our Land Cruiser stuck in the muddy roads of Moremi and having to dig it out; giraffes, elephants, foxes, jackals, buffaloes, mongoose, hippos, red lechwe, zebra, wildebeest, hyena; Rex, our guide and driver, spotting a leopard tortoise the size of a palm in the middle of the road, stopping in time to help it cross; spectacular afternoon thunderstorms; baobabs full of leaves; flocks of yellow and white butterflies; the cry of fish eagles; a baby baboon doing a handstand on a picnic bench; one pink and purple sunset over the Chobe River that seemed to last forever; seeing two leopard lazing in a tree in the last moments of our last game drive in Chobe National Park; monkeys throwing seed pods at us from the roof of the Zimbabwean border post; standing under the mist of the Smoke that Thunders (Victoria Falls) and looking into a white roaring abyss.

To read more about my safari to Botswana, read my blog here.

My 9-day Botswana safari was hosted by Jenman Safaris. Find out more about this overland trip and other African safari trips Jenman offers here.

Okavango Delta mokoro ride BotswanaPoling in fibreglass mokoros through a channel of the Okavango Delta

Okavango Delta mokoroFlying above the Okavango Delta in a four-seater helicopter, going up and down from 100 metres down to two metres above the groundOkavango Delta from the airOkavango Delta helicopter flightOkavango Delta from the airExploring the community-owned Khwai concession, which borders on Chobe National Park

Khwai River area BotswanaBotswana safari KhwaiKhwai concession BotswanaSafari in Botswana Chobe National ParkKhwai concession BotswanaExploring Moremi Game Reserve, seeing elephants, buffalo, hippos and red lechwe, and getting stuck three times on muddy roads with deep puddles filled with rain water from a huge thunderstorm the night beforeMoremi BotswanaMoremi Game Reserve BotswanaElephants Botswana safariDriving for nine hours under a huge sky of puffy white clouds through Chobe National Park to get from the southern end to the northern end, game viewing and rock art spotting along the way

Chobe National ParkWe reached northern Chobe National Park, which borders on Zambia, Nambia and Zimbabwe, exploring the park by land and by water, seeing two leopards lazing in a tree in the last moments of our last game drive and watching the best sunset of the trip on our river cruise
Chobe National ParkChobe National ParkChobe National ParkChobe National ParkMosi-oa-Tunya: the Smoke that Thunders

Victoria Falls

 

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On safari in Botswana

Okavango Delta mokoro ride Botswana

Everything seemed to be in slow motion as we glided through the channel in a fibreglass mokoro like a knife through runny honey. The water lily-dotted water was as silvery, calm and flat as a mirror, reflecting a big sky full of rain clouds. Serenity reigned, and the stillness was punctuated by the cooing of doves and the occasional distant cry of a fish eagle, the sound of the breeze in the reeds and the chirruping of insects, the thwop of the pole going in the water and the piggy grunts from a pod of hippos.

This was just a tiny slice of the massive Okavango Delta, Africa’s last wetland wilderness, which stretches across 8000 square kilometres of north western Botswana. After the mokoro ride I had more of a glimpse of just how wild and vast the Delta is by flying above it in a small four-seater helicopter with Helicopter Horizons, taking off from a small village near the mokoro launching point. Pilot Andrew Baker took us up 400 feet to get a planet-curving view over a part of the Delta that can’t be accessed by road – channels, lagoons, ilala palms and marshes full of animals and birds. We skimmed down to a giraffe’s view point – just 2.5 metres above the ground and flew past treetop fish eagles, startled warthogs, nonchalant giraffes, zebras and wildebeest.

The Okavango Delta was a spectacular introduction to a nine-day trip through northern Botswana with Jenman Safaris. From this southern finger of the Delta, which was near the town of Maun, we headed north in our open-sided Land Cruiser up to a lodge in the bush in Mababe, a community-owned concession bordering on the southern end of Chobe National Park, where we stayed for three nights in canvas tents, falling asleep to a soundtrack of thunderstorms, grunting hippos and roaring lions.

It was my first time in the bush during the rainy season – I’d only ever gone on safari in southern Africa in the winter months when the vegetation is dry and sparse, and thirsty animals congregate around watering holes, making them easy to spot. The rainy season is an entirely different story. I travelled in March, which is right at the end of months of rain, when vegetation is at its most lush. The grass is thick, trees are full of leaves and water is plentiful, meaning animal spotting is far more challenging. On our three days that we stayed in the area, exploring the community-owned concessions and national parks – Khwai, Mababe, Chobe and Moremi – nearby on long drives on muddy and puddle-filled roads, we had to hunt for game, and when we found it there was much more of a thrill than in the dry season, when you don’t have to try at all.

Safari in Botswana Chobe National Park

We tracked a male lion’s paw prints and followed his sporadic grunts in the early pink-dusted morning, off roading through the concession to try and find him – to no avail, but we did spot a pair of bat-eared foxes instead. In the course of our drives, we also saw elephants, waterbuck, giraffe, lots of zebra and hippos, wildebeest, buffalo, a pair of red lechwe with horns locked, seemingly fighting to the death, a jackal, bands of mongooses, a tongue-flicking monitor lizard and lots and lots of birds. Green season is the best time for birding, and I’ve never seen as many species in one go as I did in those three days: tawny, bateleur, fish and brown snake eagles, African darters, cormorants, long-toed lapwings, eagle owls, kingfishers, coppery-tailed coucals African jacanas, open billed storks, herons, sacred ibis, egrets, and my favourite – lilac breasted rollers.

Other than prolific bird life, the rainy months do come with a lot of advantages – spectacular thunderstorms (which bring lovely cool temperatures and intense herby, earthy smells), beautiful landscapes (shooting animals against green is so much more photogenic than against a backdrop of the browns and greys of dry season) and low tourist numbers: on one seven-hour game drive we only saw three other safari vehicles.

From Mababe we made an epically long journey to Kasane and the northern end of Chobe National Park, travelling on sandy, muddy and wet tracks through the Savuti area of Chobe National Park and Chobe Forest Reserve, taking nine hours to travel 265 kilometres, spotting game all along the way and stopping off to see bushman rock paintings of an elephant, eland and an antelope, estimated to be 20 000 years old at Gobabis in Savuti – a reminder of just how long people have lived alongside the animals we now confine to the limits of parks and reserves.

Arriving at a lodge on the banks of the of the Chobe River just outside of the town of Kasane felt like re-entering civilisation again after days of wilderness. Our last day of game viewing was on land in Chobe National Park in the morning, where we had the lucky sighting of two lazy leopards up in a tree, sleeping in the early morning sunshine with their legs trailing over the branches, and on water in the afternoon, where we cruised slowly on the river, spotting kingfishers and fish eagles, crocs, munching hippos, giraffes drinking awkwardly on their spindly legs and a herd of elephant taking an afternoon mud bath.

It was a quick drive over the border to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, where we got a thorough rainy season soaking by Mosi-oa-Tunya – the Smoke that Thunders. The largest curtain of water in the world – and one of Africa’s greatest sights – was the perfect ending to a trip packed full of wildlife, wilderness and non-stop natural highs.

Here’s my photo blog with more images from my Botswana safari.

My 9-day Botswana safari was hosted by Jenman Safaris. Find out more about this overland trip and other African safari trips Jenman offers here.

Botswana safari Moremi

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A guide to surviving AfrikaBurn

Afrikaburn 2013

In just over two months’ time thousands of people will be gathering in the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as the Tankwa Karoo in the Northern Cape) for South Africa’s most unique, exhilarating and exciting festival, AfrikaBurn. It offers a chance to step sideways into a surreal parallel desert world of music, art, generosity and mind-boggling creativity.

AfrikaBurn is all about self-expression and gifting but it’s also about radical self-reliance. There’s nothing to buy at the festival other than ice which means that you need to bring everything with you (and take it back – there are no dustbins to dump your rubbish in), the desert environment is harsh and there’s no luxury VIP serviced tent option. It’s not easy out there in the Karoo, but if you pack the right stuff (and the right attitude) you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the time of your life.

Here’s my survival guide for AfrikaBurn 2015. I hope it helps you to have the best time at this amazing event.

For an idea of what you can expect from AfrikaBurn 2015, read my blogs about previous years:

AfrikaBurn 2012

AfrikaBurn 2013

AfrikaBurn 2014

AfrikaBurn 2014 in photos

Learn the guiding principles

Subterrafuge, AfrikaBurn 2014

There’s a lot of thought that goes into AfrikaBurn – it’s not just a music festival where you go to party. The event’s participants are guided by a set of principles, without which AfrikaBurn would not work. Make sure you read up the 11 guiding principles here and incorporate them into how you approach AfrikaBurn.

Plan your contribution

AfrikaBurn only works because of the community that contributes to it each year, so make sure you’re a part of it. Bring something to share as a gift, whether it’s homemade crunchies, gin and tonics or your DJing skills. It’s not a bartering system – the idea is to give something without the expectation of anything in return.

Please don’t just come for a party and to see what you can get for “free” from other people – that’s not what AfrikaBurn is about. Making a contribution is actually the best part about attending AfrikaBurn! If you’re not sure what to give, you could always make your contribution in the form of volunteering (read about how you can volunteer here). I volunteered last year and it was so much fun – I met some great people, welcomed “virgins” to the gate with big hugs, and really felt like I was participating in the festival.

Getting there

The dirt road to AfrikaBurn 2014

AfrikaBurn is on a farm 300 kilometres north of Cape Town. The drive is fine up until you turn off onto a 110-kilometre-long dirt road which is a notorious tyre shredder. Don’t overload your car, drive really slowly (as in less than 70km/hr) and make sure you’ve got a spare and a jack.

I’ve blown two tyres on two consecutive years driving as slowly as possible in my car (a VW Polo) – but it isn’t a 4×4. Even the big 4x4s get burst tyres though! I’ve burst my tyres on the way home both times – not sure if that’s coincidental or if it’s just more likely that you’d burst tyres the more you’ve driven on the road.

Once you’ve turned off the highway there’s only one small farm stall before you get to AfrikaBurn and it doesn’t have much to buy – a few costumes and some homemade ginger beer (worth stopping for). So don’t rely on getting any provisions on the road – get everything you need in Cape Town. The last place to fill up your water containers is the gas station near Worcestor.

How long to go for?

Reflection, AfrikaBurn 2014

AfrikaBurn runs for a week, which may be a daunting amount of time to spend in the desert, especially if it’s your first time at the event. Don’t even think about only going for two nights – this really is an incredible event with so much going on, and if you’re only there for a couple of days you’ll miss out on a lot. Stay for a minimum of three nights but try and go for longer. The first day can be a bit overwhelming because of the sudden transition into living like a desert nomad, but after day two you really get into it and the heat, dust, cold, no showers and uncomfortable camping mattress pale into insignificance when you realise that you’re having the time of your life.

Where to camp

Decide where you want to camp with the people in your group before you arrive at AfrikaBurn – pick from Loud, Loudish or Quiet zones. If you’ve got an idea of a spot you’d like to be in before you arrive, then your friends know where to find you. If that doesn’t work out leave a message for them at the Off-Centre Camp (organisational headquarters). There’s practically no cell phone reception at AfrikaBurn (apart from intermittent signal on MTN phones – just enough for SMSs – around the Clan sculpture) so don’t rely on being able to call your mates.

What to bring

AfrikaBurn 2014

The climate at AfrikaBurn is harsh – expect freezing nights, hot days, wind and extreme dryness. Daytime temperatures can be in the high 30s, while nights can drop to freezing. Pack for all seasons – summery clothes for the day and thick winter jackets, beanies, scarves and gloves for night. Pack your warmest sleeping bag. Here’s where you can check the latest weather forecast for Tankwa Town – although weather can be unpredictable (as anyone who went to AfrikaBurn in the downpours of 2012 will know). In 2013 it was so cold during the day and at night – I wore thermal vests, jerseys, a jacket and beanie almost the whole time. In 2014 I expected the same kind of weather, but it turned out to be super hot – boiling during the day and warm enough at night to just wear a t-shirt. You never know what you’re going to get so be prepared!

Bring sealable plastic bags to keep your camera equipment dust free and bandannas and goggles for dust storms. Take lots of sunscreen and heavy duty lip ice with SPF – last year I spotted many a cracked pair of lips.

Bring shelter for your camp so you have some respite from the hot sun during the day.

A headlamp or torch is essential – it’s really really dark at night.

Go hands free as much as possible and wear a backpack, sling bag or a moon bag (yes, it’s acceptable to wear these at festivals), and a water bottle holster.

Bring your own drinking water – five litres per person per day is a good amount. Bring extra water for washing up. It’s a good idea to freeze bottles of water in freezer before coming and put them in a big cooler box along with as much ice as you can fit in. Pack a lot of rehydrating non-alcoholic drinks like juices and coconut water.

Pack a first aid kit and bring things like bandages, disinfectant and rehydrate (don’t forget all those vitamins to help your body recover).

You can never have enough wet wipes or zip loc bags.

Make your camp homely by bringing lights, cushions and chairs.

Bring some health back to your body with supplements and vitamins.

Food

You need to bring all your own food to AfrikaBurn. Bring gas stoves or skottels for cooking (unless you want to eat dry crackers and tinned tuna for a week). What’s worked well for my camping groups in the past is splitting up people into groups who take turns cooking for dinner for the entire group each night (so we have at least one big nourishing meal a day) and then snacking during the day. For the first two days bring lots of fresh stuff – salad and veggies and fruit – and for the rest of the time rely on canned and dry food. If it’s a hot year, you’ll sweat a lot, so bring salty snacks. Protein and energy bars are great too. Remember to bring enough snacks, juices and water for the long drive home!

Dressing up

AfrikaBurn 2014

Dressing up in elaborate costumes is a large part of the fun at AfrikaBurn, and some people spend the best part of the year planning and making the most amazing outfits. Try and make your own outfits or buy clothes from second-hand shops rather than heading straight to China Town to buy cheap synthetic crap that you’ll throw away afterwards.

The best costumes are practical and comfortable (to allow for maximum dancing capabilities). At night LED lights and EL wire make just about any outfit look amazing.

Try and wear really comfortable shoes – you end up walking kilometres every day, so those cool-looking high-heeled festival boots are probably not the best idea. Instead wear shoes with a thick, flat sole to protect your feet from the stony ground.

Go brand-free

AfrikaBurn 2014

AfrikaBurn is a decommodified event so if your van/truck/trailer/tent has logos or branding on it, cover it up. Similarly, if you’re wanting to promote your energy/vodka/coconut drink, AfrikaBurn is not the place to do it at.

The toilet situation

There are compost toilets and portaloos. The compost toilets, which are enclosed on three sides with no roof, have lovely views of the desert and are more pleasant than the enclosed portaloos. There are no showers at AfrikaBurn. If you want to wash, bring a portable camping shower and extra water, or make do with a bucket, a water bottle and some biodegradable soap.

Getting around AfrikaBurn

AfrikaBurn 2014

Tankwa Town is pretty huge and your feet do get tired from all the walking around, so the best thing to do is bring a bicycle – that way you get to explore more without the footache. Don’t forget your tyre repair kit – the ground is hard and stony and tyre punctures abound. AfrikaBurn is pretty much the only place where it’s acceptable to get lift from strangers: hitch rides on the many mutant vehicles (bakkies, trucks and buses converted into weird and wonderful art cars) cruising around.

Taking the party home with you

AfrikaBurn is a leave no trace event and there are no rubbish bins. You need to take every last scrap of litter (known as MOOP) back home with you down to your cigarette butts. You can’t burn your rubbish (the burnings at the event are organized burns of artworks and sculptures), so leave space in your car for rubbish bags. Last year there was a huge amount of litter, especially after a really windy night – I saw litter spread far into the beautiful desert. Please clean up after yourselves! I volunteered last year at the entrance gate and asked people if they knew about MOOP. Quite a few said “Yeah yeah we know about it. Can you throw these coffee cups away for me please?” AfrikaBurn is about taking responsibility for yourself – not relying on someone else to clean up after you. If you don’t get that, then you shouldn’t come.

How is AfrikaBurn different to Burning Man?

Sarah Duff Burning Man-2

I’ve had some emails from Americans who’ve been to Burning Man several times and are attending AfrikaBurn for the first time this year and want to know how different it is to the US festival (read more about my experience of Burning Man 2014 here).

The main dissimilarity is that AfrikaBurn is much much smaller than Burning Man – which means that it feels much more intimate. You meet people and then you see them again – unlike the encounters you have at Burning Man, where you know you’ll never bump into the same person again. It also means that there’s less going on in terms of theme camps. The variety and diversity of what went on at Burning Man really blew my mind. I do think AfrikaBurn will get there one day, but we’re still a way off of the nearly 70 000 participants of Burning Man.

AfrikaBurn also has much more of a DIY element to it. At Burning Man there are loads of huge RVs and plug in and play camps (camps where people have paid for the service of having accommodation set up for them and meals cooked for them). You won’t find that at AfrikaBurn. Sure there are some motor home set ups, but the vast majority of people are in tents and in camps that they’ve built themselves.

While AfrikaBurn is dusty and there can be dust storms, it’s nothing like the dust I experienced at Burning Man. You still do need to protect your camera and bring bandannas though!

For more on the differences and similarities between AfrikaBurn and Burning Man, you can read the article I wrote for the Mail & Guardian newspaper here.

AfrikaBurn 2014

 

Remember above all to have no expectations – come with an open mind, a generous spirit, lots of energy and rustle up all the creativity that you’ve got and you’ll have the best time (ever).

For more survival tips check out the AfrikaBurn survival guide on the event’s website.

If there are any seasoned burners who’d like to share more survival tips, leave them in the comments below. 

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AfrikaBurn 2014 in photos

Subterrafuge, AfrikaBurn 2014

The dust is settling in the Tankwa Karoo as another AfrikaBurn has drawn to close. For a week, 9000 people turned a farm in the middle of nowhere in the Northern Cape into a temporary town – a surreal world of art, music, dress up and performances. When you’re there you have to keep reminding yourself that you’re not in a dream, and when you’ve returned to the “real” world it’s even harder to realise that it all actually happened: all the crazy costumes and unexpected dance floors and spontaneous gifting and the sea of neon and flashing LEDs lighting up the desert sky at night.

I took as many photos as I could to try and capture some of AfrikaBurn’s transient magic.

 

The Offering, AfrikaBurn 2014The Clan, AfrikaBurn 2014Reflection, AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014High T, AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014Abracadabra, AfrikaBurn 2014Sunset at AfrikaBurn 2014AfrikaBurn 2014, SubterrafugeReflection burning, AfrikaBurn 2014

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10 things I loved about Kenya

Cheetah in the Masai Mara

Kenya’s been on my African travel wish list for a long time. I’ve dreamed of visiting the country that’s home to vast plains teeming with game home to the greatest wildlife migration on earth, the continent’s most famous tribe, the Maasai and tropical islands laced with hundreds of years of history.

My first trip to Kenya was short and sweet: a whirlwind of the Masai Mara, a brief stop in Nairobi (staying in the lush and lovely suburb of Karen) and a few languorous days on magical Lamu Island. It didn’t take much to convince me that this is a country I want to come back to again and again.

1. Masai Mara

Masai Mara, Kenya

At the top of the list had to be Kenya’s flagship park and one of the continent’s best safari destinations: the Masai Mara. The park is in its prime between July and October, when a million wildbeest migrate from the Serengeti in Tanzania to the plains of the Mara, but even being there in March was amazing. Within a few minutes of landing at the dusty air strip, we saw giraffe, a herd of elephant, and hordes of zebra and wildebeest and on game drives for the next three days we saw lion, hyena, jackal – and a first for me – a beautiful cheetah.

We stayed in a stylish but low-key tented camp called Ol Seki Hemingways Mara in a private conservancy, where we sat by the fire each night drinking wine and watching the floodlit waterhole where animals came to drink and fell asleep to the sound of jackals barking and hyenas laughing.

2. Masaai culture

Masaai dancing, Kenya

Our guide in the Masai Mara was the wonderful Suruni Mpoe, a Masaai whose genuine passion for wildlife and conservation was infectious and inspiring. He made us fall in love with Masaai culture, explaining things like how Masaai don’t know how old they are (they don’t celebrate birthdays or know exactly when they were born) so they do things like get married when they feel like it, and how when men marry they must pay 10 cows as dowry for any woman (“What about more beautiful women” I asked “All women are beautiful” he replied), and how Masaai respect nature – they don’t eat anything wild – and try to live in harmony with wildlife. We visited as Masaai village where we watched Suruni jump metres in the air along with other Masaai men in the traditional dance they do, covered in their beautiful red shukas and jangling beads and necklaces.

3. Tiny planes

Flying in tiny planes in Kenya - from Nairobi to Lamu Island

When you have less than a week to explore Kenya, you’re going to end up flying a lot on tiny planes. I would have thought that as a nervous flier I would have a nervy wreck but the plane flights were so spectacular and I was so focused on the scenery that I forgot all about the chances of the plane crashing.

4. Lamu Town

Lamu Town's main square, Lamu Island, Kenya

Lamu Island, on Kenya’s north coast, is home to the country’s oldest town. The history and culture here have influences from Portugal, India, Oman and Persia (people on the east coast of Africa have been trading with the Middle East and Asia for over a thousand years). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Lamu Town is the best-preserved example of a traditional Swahili settlement: it’s all Arab-influenced architecture, old thick wooden doors from India, splashes of turquoise on walls, cool palm-tree shaded courtyards and tiny alleyways that smell of masala tea. There are no cars on the island, so everything’s transported on sweet grey donkeys. I loved exploring the town, eating newspaper-wrapped deep-fried cassava sprinkled with chilli, popping in at the fresh vegetable, herb and fruit market, browsing interesting shops full of African antiques and locally-made jewellery, visiting the interesting museum and taking endless photos – everything here is photogenic.

5. Swahili curry

Swahili curry, Kenya

The best meal of my trip was a Swahili vegetable curry on at Peponi Hotel on Lamu: a steaming huge bowl of curry with chunky veggies was accompanied by freshly grated coconut, coriander, tomato, onion, yoghurt, sour pickles, sweet chutney, rice, poppadums and buttery naan bread.

6. Shela Beach

Shela Beach, Lamu Island, Kenya

A short boat ride from Lamu Town is Shela Beach, which is where most tourists to the island stay. It’s easy to see why: there’s a 12-kilometre stretch of beautiful beach that never gets busy, a tiny, sleepy village of narrow streets cushioned by bright pink bougainvillea that’s home to an assortment of kaftan-wearing tanned expats (and where Princess Caroline of Hanover has a holiday house), shops selling beautiful kikoys, handmade jewellery and bags made from recycled dhow sails, a few laidback cafes and restaurants, some lovely guesthouses and a yoga centre.  I could see why there were so many expats who’ve made this island home: it was easy to slip into a gentle rhythm of life here and feel like you would never want to return to the real world.

7. Peponi Hotel

Peponi Hotel, Shela Beach, Lamu Island, Kenya

In Shela Beach, we stayed at the fabulously eccentric and charming Peponi Hotel, a family-owned hotel of Swahili buildings and romantic rooms right on the beach.  Days were spent floating in the baobab-shaded pool, drinking the house speciality (vodka cocktails made with fresh lime juice), eating samoosas and Swahili curry and fresh mango, snorkelling on the offshore reef, watching dhows glide silently past the hotel and falling asleep on swinging hammock beds to the sound of lapping waves.

8. The best of bush and beach

Lamu Island, Kenya

The Masai Mara and Lamu Island couldn’t be more different from each other: the isolation of the bush with nothing around for miles, and a tiny island on the Indian Ocean home to a fantastically rich culture and history. Combining both on one trip was great – the contrast was perfect.

9. Sunsets

Masai Mara sunset, Kenya

Africa’s never short on spectacular sunsets and Kenya is no exception. We drank G&Ts watching the sun sink behind a horizon dotted with wildebeest and zebras in the Masai Mara and sipped beers on a dhow watching the sky turn dusky purple over the Indian Ocean in Lamu.

10. Beer

Tusker beer, Lamu Island, Kenya

Last but not least, is Tusker beer. I can’t get enough of this great Kenyan brew – I even drank it when I was in Uganda.

 

Getting to Kenya

South African Airways flies to Nairobi from Johannesburg (a four-hour flight) daily.

My trip to Kenya was sponsored by Kenya Tourism

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