Monday, 31 October 2016

5 myths you’ve been told about Kenya

From infamous wildlife to the stunning coastline, Kenya is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. With a diverse culture and some of the friendliest people you could wish to meet, it is an incredible place however unfortunately, still falls victim to misconceptions. There is a lot of misinformation, and much of the attention they receive is unfortunately negative despite having so much to offer to so many people. Having been in Kenya for the last month and absolutely loved it, I thought it would be useful to put together a little list of the myths we are told about this incredible country…

 Everywhere is dangerous
Prior to arriving in Kenya, both my friend and I were asked why we were thinking about going to a place like that, because, you know it’s really dangerous, right? Whilst there are areas which you are told to either try to avoid or be extra careful in, for the most part it is a safe place to visit and you will be very welcome here. With such an interesting and diverse culture, and some of the friendliest people you could wish to meet, there’s no wonder it’s one of the most popular countries to visit on the continent. After spending over a month here so far, I haven’t felt unsafe or in danger at any point so don’t let false misconceptions stop you from visiting.

2. You should avoid Matutus at all costs

When reading about Kenya, much of the online advice was to avoid matutus completely as tourists are not welcome on them and they are far too dangerous, particularly without the company of a local. Whilst you have to exert caution and make sure your bag is secure by your side throughout the journey, catching a matatu is part of daily life and are an extremely affordable way of getting round. In over a month of catching matatus almost every day, there has only been one guy who sent us in the wrong direction purposefully and aside from that, whilst it might be a bit of a squish sometimes, my experience of them has been good. Look like you know where you are going, be firm but fair with the guys running them and you will be absolutely fine.

3. Wild animals roam around everywhere

Kenya is home to some of the most incredible animals in the world and it’s one of the many reasons they receive so many visitors. These animals though, including the big 5, are not simply roaming around the city and built up areas because funnily enough, they aren't really fancying a Burger King and a look round the shops. They have their own beautiful homes within National Parks and Game Reserves and their homes they will stay.

4. Nairobi city centre is too unsafe for tourists

There’s no doubting that Nairobi city centre is intense and it’s not the prettiest you’ll ever see, but as for being too unsafe for tourists to visit? Not so much. Just like in any city across the world, there are the chancers who are hoping you’ll be daft enough to leave your iPhone in your back pocket however for the most part, it’s people going about their daily business, working, shopping, eating and drinking. There have been people I have met in Nairobi who haven't visited the city centre despite being here weeks and my only piece of advice is to just go. Visit the KICC and view the city from the rooftop, go for cake and coffee at The Mug, explore the Nairobi Gallery - there are places to visit and experience that you don’t want to miss out on so go, do, see!

5. You’ll never get dirty feet

Whilst walking around it is inevitable that you will end up dusty ankles and toes and (if you’re a lazy like me), you can just tell yourself there is nothing you can do about it and get over it.

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Saturday, 29 October 2016

Kenya diaries #1 - Settling in, safari and a complete change of plans

So, it's been almost a month since we made the monster journey from Sydney to Nairobi and it's safe to say that as per usual, none of our plans actually...went to plan. If you'd read my 'updated travel plans' post, you'll know that the plan was to spend around 10 days in Nairobi before heading to Tanzania for three weeks and well, that did happen but we were in Tanzania for around 72 hours before heading back. We're now going to be in Kenya in total, for around 3 months so I thought it would be a fun to make a little 'Kenya diaries' series because hey, it's a little different to the original plan of spending almost a year in Australia.

It really has been an eventful few weeks here. Admittedly, when we first boarded the place in Sydney I was a little apprehensive and as we landed, whilst I was excited, I was wondering what the flipping flip we were thinking. Whenever you even begin to mention that you're travelling to a country in Africa, the first reaction is always, 'why, isn't Africa really dangerous?' The truth is, whilst there are parts of countries across the continent that do have dangers (just like the rest of the world, read more about that here), and you know that for the most part, these countries are incredible destinations that you're lucky to travel too, there is still that little bit of apprehension, there is still that little voice in the back of your mind feeding you doubts.

It's when you get there, and you settle in, that you notice that the apprehension you had, has disappeared. The apprehension has disappeared because when you actually arrive, and you actually see a place for yourself, you realise that the perceptions that you previously had, and the scare stories you were told, were completely and utterly wrong.

And that's exactly what happened with Nairobi.

For the first few days, we stayed at Mililani Backpackers in Karen and pretty much eat, drank and slept (blaming the jet lag for this of course). When we managed to tear ourself away from either our beds or any establishment that sold food, we visited the Giraffe Centre whereby you can feed and even have a cheeky little kiss with the wild animals themselves. It was an amazing experience and one that neither Rosie or I will ever forget thanks to hands down the worst tourist in the world, who decided that hey, screw everyone else that was visiting the centre who perhaps want a photo with a giraffe friend or two, I need to get an on point selfie and that's what I'm going to do...for 3 straight hours...with every single giraffe in the entire place who is being fed by another person...gotta get that shot.


Also, to the American woman who was told not to pet the giraffes at least three times because, y'know, they're wild animals, don't then pet the giraffe and get upset and call it dangerous when it starts to thrash and head butt you. Why not just follow instructions and respect the animals in their natural habitat, yeah?


After a couple of nights in the city, we wasted absolutely no time in heading out on safari and it was pretty much one of the best experiences on the trip. The safari was a 3 day adventure in the Maasai Mara National Park, which is named one of the top wildlife destinations in the entirety of Africa. With a diverse number of resident animals, including the big 5 - lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant - the Mara is the ultimate place to travel on safari and oh wow, it really is difficult to put into words how incredible it is (helpful for a blog post, I know.)

Just as we thought our time on safari couldn't get better, we met a group of people who were volunteering at a charity called Marafiki Community International. After a few drinks and a visit to an actual club in the actual Maasai village with the group, we decided to put our actual plans for the next week to one side, take the owner's offer up of a place to stay for a few days and head back with them. I've always believed 'what will be, will be' and I really do think that this was the best decision we could have made because staying at the volunteer house and being surrounded with such an amazing group of people completely made our time in Nairobi what it much so that after our first night in Tanzania a week later, we made the decision that nope, this wasn't for us, and came back!

Did I mention that we're a tad spontaneous and insane in equal measures? Mmhmm.

So what are we doing now? Well, a dodgy going in in Tanzania and a whole lot of travelling to and from the Kenya/Tanzania border turned out to be completely worth it as we are now working with Marafiki on their marketing and social media for the next six weeks. It's really exciting to be able to experience living in such a diverse and interesting country like Kenya and I'm sure it's going to be a time in this trip, and my life, that I'm not going to forget in a hurry... (particularly travelling around the area in Matutu's (a small bus) with 15 people, 3 bags of bananas and the radio blasting out every possible nook and cranny).

Yep, it's going to be an experience - and one that I'm loving so far!

Look out for more posts about Kenya soon - let me know if there is anything in particular you would like to read about.

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Sunday, 16 October 2016

Guest post: But, why would you want to go to Africa?

After months of waiting whilst I get the shot for the blog, of being trained to not touch any food in a restaurant before the obligatory food photos are taken and of practically being Written by a Girl's creative director, I finally asked my best friend and travel companion, Rosie, to write a post of her own and she finally said yes! Enjoy...

Since working on a University project in Zambia while at University, I’ve been completed fascinated with the diverse, captivating continent that is Africa.

Zambia was like no where I’d ever been before and I was immediately struck by the openness and friendliness of the people I met there. I’ve since been lucky enough to travel in 4 countries on the continent, and hope to visit many more.

For countless reasons, travelling here is unlike travelling anywhere else in the world. Unfortunately, I’ve also found that it’s the only place I’ve felt I had to justify travelling to. When I tell people this is my favourite place to travel, I’m usually met with a mixture of confusion and concern - “But, why would you want to go there? Isn’t it dangerous?”

Despite being a continent that is 6 times larger than Europe, Africa’s 54 countries are often lumped together into one. Mention ‘Africa’ in the west, and the images that spring to most people’s minds would be malnourished children, desolate landscapes and war.

It would be easy to blame the western media for these negative stereotypes - and much of this criticism would be justified. We rarely hear positive news from this part of the world and it makes me genuinely sad that many people might miss out on travelling here simply because of what they’ve seen on TV or read in the paper. They’ll be missing out on experiencing completely different cultures to their own.

They’ll miss out on the beautiful, take-your-breath-away scenery and the amazing wildlife (yes, I loved the Lion King as a child and yes, I’m a total cliche). Above all, though, they’ll miss out on meeting some of the most friendly, welcoming, funny, caring people on the planet.

That’s not to say that there isn’t problems here - it would be naive to deny that. Travelling here will test you and you’ll see things that put into perspective your own background and experiences. However, there’s a famous quote that says something like ‘when you see bad things happening in the world, look for the helpers’.

And that’s exactly what you’ll find here - people who are devoting their lives to helping their communities. People who are striving to make a difference for no other reason than the inherent need to help others. I think if I had to pick one reason to try and explain why I feel so content here, this sense of community and drive to always do better would be it.

Travelling through Africa is an experience that will change and shape you. It isn’t always easy - but it’s always worth it.

If you enjoyed reading this post and want to hear more from Rosie, please leave a comment down below or maybe tweet @RosieWillan and I'll pinch her on the arm until she agrees...

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Sunday, 9 October 2016

3 day safari adventure in the Masai Mara

Kenya is one of, if not the, most popular destination for going on safari. If you’d sat me down six months ago and told me that I’d land here last week, apprehensively wondering if this really was the best decision, if I’d given up on working in Australia for a year just a little bit too soon, I’d have told you to stop drinking in the morning, you silly old thing. Of course I wouldn't be landing in Nairobi, for a day later to venture on safari, because duh, I had The Plan.

The Plan that Rosie and I carefully constructed.

The Plan that actually, went to sh*t after a couple of months because sometimes, you just have to take a little (or mighty huge) leap into the unknown and…plan a three month trip through East Africa? Something like that.

At the beginning of our trip in May, we were asked countless times if, whilst in South Africa for two months, we were going on safari. Each question was met with a resounding no because of course we couldn't afford to go on safari. Safaris cost thousands of pounds and are for well off people who have their lives totally together and settled, with a fabulous job in a fabulous house and possibly two kids and a pet labrador.

So whilst it was always on my 'life bucket list', the thought of a safari on this trip was just completely out of the question, it was simply unimaginable. One day soon, one day in the future, the experience would arise, but not now, not at this stage in my life.

And yet, that one day, came around pretty quickly to say the least, because with a little research, and a little digging, Rosie found a pretty great deal. So great in fact, that at first, we weren't fully convinced. Surely something is a little amiss when it’s hundreds of pounds cheaper than any other prices we’d seen before. Are we actually camping in the Masai Mara with a pack of hyenas to keep us company? Are there hidden costs that would be sprung upon us when it’s too late to back out? They say food is included but is it actually included or do they mean we’ll be given a soggy banana a day and a bottle of water for the fun of it?

In the end, we took a chance because hell, we’ve gotten used to that recently and as it turns out, it was preeeetty much the best decision we could’ve made.

The safari was a 3 day adventure in the Masai Mara National Park, which is named one of the top wildlife destinations in the entirety of Africa. With a diverse number of resident animals, including the big 5 - lion, leopard, buffalo, rhino and elephant - the Mara is the ultimate place to travel on safari.

After being picked up from our hostel, Milimani Backpackers, at around 8am in the morning, we began the six hour drive to the national park. With so much to see along the way, it could never be a boring journey, particularly as we stopped off at the Great Rift Valley, a continuous geographic trench that stretches from Lebanon in the North to Mozambique in the South, and is 6,000km in length.

We arrived at our camp at around 3:30pm and after being greeted with hot drinks, went out immediately on a late afternoon game drive. Cloud has consumed the Masai Mara, and a rain storm was looming over us therefore neither of us were expecting to see very much. Fortunately, we were mistaken as within a mere 15 minutes, we’d been up close and personal with gazelles, zebras and wildebeests, had seen a herd of elephants looking for shelter and followed two lions who were trying to work out whether to find their tea or go under cover from the rain.

After the rain finally fell, we zoomed back to camp where we were met with the heartiest evening meal you could wish for. The camp we stayed at was called Lenchada Camp, and is an ideal place if you’re looking for budget accommodation but don't want to actually sleep on the floor with a sleeping bag and canvas tent, this is the place. It was more down the line of, glamping if you will, with single beds adorned with sheets, embroidered blankets and the all important mosquito net, an ensuite bathroom all tucked underneath a sturdy tent. I’ve never been camping properly in my life (so of course I choose the Masai Mara to do it first) but I really couldn't have wished for a better first experience.

Our full day game drive began at 8am. After a fab cooked breakfast, we were packed up with lunch and water and after a mere few minutes, were in the national park and ready for the day. It’s safe to say, it was one of the best experiences of not just this trip, but of my life and will be something I’ll never forget. From watching a pack of lions chase two buffaloes for lunch, to being mere feet from cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, zebras and a whole lotta lions, it was just…incredible. In addition to this, from July to November, the ‘wildebeest migration’ takes place, which is named as one of natures greatest spectacles. Travelling up north from the Serengeti in a seasonal annual cycle, the number of wildebeest arriving in the area is unbelievable, and literally everywhere you turn, are wildebeests, for as long as the eye could possible see.

Your experience on safari is hugely dependent on how good your personal game driver is and whilst his actual driving at times, made me hold onto the back of my seat, close my eyes and say a final goodbye to my family, we saw some incredible sights, and often, got extremely up close and personal to some of the most amazing animals in the world. Overall, he was really great.

Whilst it was kind of sad to say goodbye to the Mara after those few precious days, I really couldn't have wished for a better time. To have gone on safari within this trip, is an incredible privilege and one that I won’t be forgetting for a long, long time.

Essential info: 

- We paid USD$360 for three days safari in the Masai Mara National Park which included game park entrance fees, all travel, all food and water (soft drinks and alcohol not included) and accommodation and we booked it through our hostel, Milimani Backpackers.

- We stayed at Linchada Camp - for more information/photos, click here.

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