We spent nine days in Kenya in Spring break 2017. There were five of us, with the boys now 8 and 10 and cousin Bob joined us from England as well. We went to three areas on the trip, Nairobi, Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara.
Straight off the bat I’ll get off my chest that Kenya is VERY expensive (this is a cool link but a bit out of date, add another 50% for everything it says!), I know all about the majesty of the savannah and what not, but Scar himself would have blushed at some of the prices you get charged for mucky food and tourist tat. Having said that the pain of the cost will fade away soon enough, but the pics of us surrounded by WILD ANIMALS in AFRICA will last until the Zombie Apocalypse is upon us. And with modern editing techniques I even made it look as if there weren’t five other tourist vans gawking at the same Cheetahs.
I will also get off my chest that Danny was so bored on the whole day safari that when the aforementioned Cheetahs took a leisurely stroll a few feet away from us he didn’t even bother to look up from his iPad. Now before you start feeling smug and superior in your parenting skills or whatever, for an eight year old to be on a 10-hour game drive, the only way for you all to get out alive is to let him play Clash Royale, FACT.
We stayed at Hotel Troy in the outskirts of the city, right next to Nairobi National Park. We chose Troy (as its known to its friends), because it had two-bedroom bungalows where we could all stay, but at $150 a night it still wasn’t cheap. Mind you the breakfast was a gut buster and if I never see another pork sausage again it will be too soon….
The upsides of Troy were also that it was in a quiet part of town, but was only ten minutes walk from a mall. Now I know most people going to Africa don’t go looking for malls, but it was somewhere to go in downtime away from animal watching. It had pizza and good coffee and was a place to get back into your headspace after some of the weird and wonderful stuff we experienced in the rest of Nairobi.
the hotel grounds were also a good size and we bought a footy for kick about and had a a pre-Easter egg hunt. There were also a few lizards and geckos about the place, we even saw some baboons down the way a bit and Danny got to do his homework project Flowers in Kenya. At night it was dead peaceful, although the night air was punctuated by terrifying screams that turned out to be the love calls of the Rock Hyrax and little bugger with a BIG voice.
The staff at the hotel were also great, in fact the owner’s son even took me and Bob out for a night of dancing and chatting to the hip young locals, all I remember about the later part of the evening was seeing a guy dressed in leopard skin (was it real?), a headdress and those sandals made from tires boogieing with his band. And this is probably a good time to address the Nairobbery label, it was fine, we just caught taxis (in fact Ubers) everywhere…
Me and Bob had a trip downtown towards the end of the holiday, Lorena and the boys were knackered after a bum numbing drive back from the Masai Mara and so decided to hang by the tiny hotel pool. We took another Uber and paid the driver a flat rate to park up and giving us a walking tour, which frankly is quicker than driving. Nairobi traffic is horrendous and can really grind you down. Walking is only slightly less horrendous as there are only a few decent pavement and of course crossing the road is heart stopping.
Our itinerary included Kenyatta market, for me to buy some West African vinyl from Jimmy’s (overpriced of course), lunch in the said market (really overpriced to the point that we kicked off, to no avail). Then it was sweaty walk across town to look at a manky park and some just as manky government buildings and then a visit to the National Archive, (also manky) complete with guide who showed us lots of photos of Kenyan luminaries and some masks and pots and African stuff…We were also treated to an armed guard slapping and dragging around a homeless very high/mad/both bloke before handcuffing him to the railings because he refused to exit the environs of the museum, (this seems a strange punishment given that his crime was that he refused to leave?). Then we were treated to a bus ride back to the car (Uber) which was slower than walking and indeed hotter because they don’t open the bus windows so pick pockets can’t get at you. What a palaver for a bit of a dump. Of our three excursions to Nairobi city this was the least fun. Glad the kids stayed at home.
The trip to Kibera was hardly fun either I guess but it was unforgettable. Every visitor to Kenya should include this trip on the itinerary and leave a few tourist dollars where they will be put to good use. Kibera is a massive slum and the tour we chose covered a few highlights including a school (the most heartbreaking), a house (a close second), a second hand clothes market (lots of Gaelic football tops) and two community projects. We were guided all the way and the most dangerous part of the tour was not falling on my arse in the mud. The kids kind of engaged, but this was a three hour walk punctuated by listening to tales of misery and/or incredible optimism, so for Danny especially, it was no surprise he whinged a bit. Tommy paused for thought a bit more, and I hope the trip will be something they can look back on and reflect about the world we live in. If you think this kind of trip is exploitation, then kiss my arse, we got to interact, help a bit and maybe evaluate what we have a bit more. If anyone wants to contribute to Kibera then get in touch here, or if you’re in the UAE I’m collecting books for teens to send to the school we visited, so drop me a note in the comments section and I will take your offerings
The trip to Kibera wasn’t the only time we questioned the role of tourism in Kenya and came to the conclusion that it was positive on balance. The first of our three safari spots was Nairobi National Park, which has been written about a lot for being the only park of its kind close to a city etc…. What I can say is that in all the parks the guides (and by extension us), get too close to the animals and in the case of Nairobi National Park leave litter all over the place. But without the tourists I’m pretty sure the animals would be umbrella stands and wall hangings by now. Still, onwards an upwards. The park is not the most scenic (unless you like high rises in the background) or indeed the biggest, but the animals are all there and our guide Jackson was a nice bloke even if I think I knew more about the animals that he did. We saw lots of species but what we saw where got mixed up, so we will list all the animals we saw in Kenya which weighed in at something like 42 species. These included seeing some zebras and gazelles get spooked by crocs at a watering hole and baboons flashing their wedding tackle so it was quite eventful really.
The boys wanted to get out of the van more (this was a recurring theme), and they really liked getting out to hand with the baboons (which is which I hear you cry?), they also enjoyed playing with Bob’s big camera and took hundreds of blurry photos.
Another incident worth mentioning was the run-in that Bob and Tommy had with a gang of delinquent baboons, before we even got inside the park,Bob broke into a trot and Tommy a full throated sprint, that’ll teach the boys to mess! Also outside the park we got our first Masai photo op, which was fun.
We had Jackson and his Toyota for the day, so after a morning game drive he took us to an honestly horrible Croc park followed by an honestly excellent Giraffe park. Of course the boys enjoyed the horrible croc park because you got to hold the babies, I spent the time shuffling around looking for shade and mumbling that I didn’t want to hold anything. The giraffe place is light years ahead, it does great work with re-introducing giraffes to Lake Nakuru so you get to spend too much money for a reason.
I’ll put our other side trip from Nairobi under Lake Nakuru, because it was in the same vague direction…. after Kibera we took a one hour or so drive up to a Nyama Choma BBQ place at the start of the Great Rift Valley. Me and Bob were hung over from our night on town and after 3-hour schlep around Kibera we were gagging for greasy meat and beer.
We didn’t get there until around 3 and the place was winding down a bit meaning that the service was perhaps even more leisurely than usual. Thankfully we had some coldish Tuskers and a band of merry Masai to keep the party going.
The food was fine, and there was enough of it, although again Jackson thought we paid over the odds. What was really worth the trip was the view, which was over the Great Rift Valley, which frankly is worth saying twice, over the GREAT RIFT VALLEY. Tommy isn’t in any of the photos with the Masai because he had wandered off, which he is doing more as he gets older….
In these pics you can see Danny was a bit bashful, but mom and dad not so much, Jackson our guide is on the left in a T-Shirt, he’s also Masai.
The great Rift Valley is home to Lucy and is the cradle of humanity, and what’s more important makes for cool photos
We went a similar way the next day when we set off for our first road trip proper. We went with a company called Big Time Safaris, unofficial motto, “if it’s possible to take twice as long as necessary then we will” they took this motto to heart the first day, which went something like this….
They said they’d pick us at 6.30 and turned up at around 8 by which time we had missed breakfast. We then spent 90 minutes driving into now rush-hour-traffic Nairobi. When we got there it was so we could go to the office and pay the balance of the Safari. We then hit the road again and got to Lake Nakuru at around lunch time, bearing in mind that if we had driven straight there at the appointed time we would have arrived by 9 at the latest. Did I mention I have an eight-year-old and a ten-year-old? Then to make us laugh even louder, the couple we met up with paid our guide direct, and missed the pointless drive to the city, LOL….
Anyway enough white boy rage, I suspect all the “budget” (use this term VERY loosely) operators are similar, so I guess unless you are super loaded be prepared to take a few deep breathes and count to ten….
So, on our first day of ‘safari’ proper we arrive at Lake Nakura for a late lunch at our hotel, whose name escapes me, but is so typical of mid-range African/Latin American/Middle Eastern generic ‘business hotels’. What was noteworthy about this one was the snappily dressed waiter (complete with bow tie etc), clean rooms, decent food and that the restaurant was packed with Kenyans attending various business jollys by the looks of it. Also in one of the groups (I think it was malaria prevention crowd), one of their number was a splendidly afroed young man with heels and hot pants, who I think may have taken a few sideways glances at Bob? As well as being a welcome relief from Kenyan men wearing slacks and shirts or oversized suits, he reminded me that Kenya is a place where gay men come to escape persecution, which makes you wonder what the countries they are escaping from are like.
I’d also like to note that our big night out in Lake Nakuru was having a hand of cards in the hotel , the game of the holiday was ‘Blackjack‘ (I mean the one my Nan taught me not the American name for Pontoon), and once again showed that old school can be way more fun than technology. We weren’t champing at the bit for anything more racy, at least me and Bob weren’t as we both had a dose of the Kenya Kollywobbles, after drinking raw milk in a coffee stop on the way, which you can spot in the pic below….
The game drive in Lake Nakuru is basically around, guess what, a big lake, so you don’t get the full on Lion King experience. BUT it was splendid and animal filled. And most of the time we were on our own, which again makes sitting with baboons etc. that much more special. This was also our first drive with an open topped van, which not only made animal watching easier but also kept the kids excited for a while. We hadn’t seen lions yet and knew that were some in Lake Nakuru, so spent a good half of the time saying that this was ‘typical lion country’ seeing as we were now experts given that this was our second game drive. This proved not to be the case though, but it was flamingos, rhinos, warthogs, giraffes, buffaloes and a bunch of other stuff country…
After Lake Nakura we picked up the other passengers for the rest of the tour, they turned out to be a sound Aussie couple, Scott and Elise (in the photo below). It was nice to meet new people but of course it did mean we had less room in the van for the bone shaking drive to the Mara. We stayed at a tented camp just outside the Masai Mara game reserve, after the 7 hour drive, with the last 90 minutes or so over un-tarmacked roads it was a welcome sight, but to be honest was nothing to write home about. We stopped for lunch on the way from Lake Nakuru at one of many Muzungo (Danny kept calling me and Bob Muzungo, like he wasn’t), restaurant/handicraft places that dot the landscape, they are all a bit depressing and it felt like you were corralled and kept away from Kenyans, but hey ho, they had chips for the kids. The most interesting part of the journey was seeing how life unfolds on the side of the road, with classic views of Africa, roadside wildlife and lots of goat and cow herding it was a dusty eye opener. The Masai village where we stopped for the ‘loo’ was a real world version of Rango and led us to musing about what life would be like in place like that (pretty boring was the conclusion)
It was finally good for the boys to spread out a bit in the camp, they found some sticks and ran around shouting. After a couple of days being stuck in the van they were getting hard(er) work and not for the first time we thought that this was more a holiday for the adults than for the kids, closely followed by the thought that it was adults who were paying so the kids could naff off if they didn’t like it. They also got a fire going the second evening, at first I thought it was to throw the boys on, but it turned out to be just wood. We also hooked up with some guests from the same safari company, they were all UN workers on ‘R and R’ from places like South Sudan and the CAR, so that made for more interesting conversation than the typical backpacker fare. Lorena still remains unconvinced by camping, but at least these tents were a good size and there was some tepid water in the shower and the camp was just big enough not to hear the boys all the time.
We also did a side trip to the Masai village next to the camp site, or at least me and Bob and a nice lady from the UN did. Again I was torn between being really interested in the experience and thinking it was all a bit shabby. The guys did the jumpy dance, showed us their homes and did some shonky fire starting and overcharged for the privilege. BUT (loads of ‘buts’ in Kenya), if they really were as hard done by the Kenyan authorities who must make millions of $$$$ from tourism, as they appeared to be, then at least I can drop a few $$ their way. I just wish you got a bit more value for money if that doesn’t sound crass, I mean you can be proud of your culture, show people your homes and what you are about and do keep it ‘real’ you know bruv? I.e less of the hard sell and shuffling from one photo op to the next. Still we got the money shots and jumped up and down….
The rest of this page is basically going to be a eulogy to the game reserve which is completely amazing and made the whole, dust eating, overcharging, getting irate with the kids, melting the credit card, getting a sore backside from sitting in a van and from raw milk, trip, worth it.
There is not a lot else to say other than we did three drives, one evening, one whole day and one early morning and saw just about everything, including lions. As I said Danny got a bit bored on the whole day safari, but I know that for all of us, the way we see animals has changed forever. Going to a zoo is nothing like this.
I think the adults among us expected less animals in such a reduced space, I mean they are almost everywhere. And it struck me how the grazers really stick together for safety, whereas the hunters are off doing their thing. The kids were after blood and wanted to see a kill, but I’m kind of glad they didn’t as I don’t think they really knew what they were wishing for. We were also surprised by how green it was, in places it looked like rolling hills of the UK, but with massive animals.
Highlights were, for me the elephants and hyenas, for Lorena the giraffes and gazelles I think, for Bob and the boys Cheetahs, which we got to see hunting a bit . We also got to stop for lunch under a tree, which of course Tommy proceeded to climb (too high) and as our guide (whose name escapes me) said, a fall would have left us up the proverbial creek. Talking of the guide whose name escapes me, he was a nice enough bloke, and knew a fair bit about the animals. But whereas Jackson seemed to enjoy hanging, this chap didn’t, it was all very business like. He was in constant contact with his buddy on the drives (the aptly named Animal), and wasn’t afraid to hare off-piste in pursuit of the money shot. This is of course BAD as it churns up the terrain, and of course we didn’t say ANYTHING because we all wanted to get close to animals. Yet more moral quandaries. So, here is a list of the species we saw in Kenya, followed by a load of photos… (thanks to Bob for the good ones )
Zebra, Buffalo, Ducks, Giraffe, Baboon, Hyena, Wildebeest, Jackals, Hippo, Rhino, Crocodiles, Warthog, Rock Hyrax, Flamingo, Ostrich, Guinea fowl, Woodpeckers, Kingfisher, Vulture, Impala, Antelopes , Storks, Pelicans, Colobus monkeys , Waterbuck, Gazelle, Squirrel, Cheetah, Mongoose, Eland, Thomson’s gazelle, Topi, Elephant Lapwing, Secretary bird, Lion, Red beaked pecker, Lilac breasted roller, Springbok, Eagle, Hornbill, Agama lizard….
Would I go back?
I would go back to Kenya if the kids were a bit older or indeed when I’ve got rid of them. It wasn’t the easiest trip but it was one of the most memorable with the Masai Mara winning head and shoulders above the rest and Kibera making perhaps the deepest impression.