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Kenya - what a truly amazing part of the world! Its without a doubt the most beautiful place i have ever seen and am ever likely to see. My trip to Kenya was my honeymoon - 2 weeks in October 2008, the greatest 2 weeks of my life - both because of my wife, and the location. People The Kenyan people were just fantastic wherever we went - and we certainly went to a few! Everybody seemed happy and relaxed and always keen to share their local and wildlife knowledge with you. Also despite the level of poverty there, it never felt as though people were hassling you for money - you met sellers of products on many roads for example, but it rarley seemed pushy or annoying. Food Well iam the worlds fussiest eater and with an all inclusive holiday covering around 7 different lodges i expected eating to be a problem - i was wrong, i ate very very well! The food was always of a decent standard and a huge range to suit all tastes. Usualy a varied hot buffet with stir frys, chicken pieces, pasta, etc - never found it a problem to eat. Also breakfasts were amazing every day, the quality and range was huge. Fruit was the high point of food due to the qualiy and freshness every day - and i dont usualy eat fruit! The lodges We did a travelling safari that moved between Nairobi, Masai Mara, Lake Nakuru, Ambosseli, Taita Hills, Tsavo and Mombassa - and the one thing that was common beween them all was the high standard of accomodation! The rooms were always fantastic, better than any holiday ive experinced, and all the restaurants, bars, pools etc were equally as well built and maintained - all lodges made you feel very special - largly due to the amazing staff Lastly the wildlife Well this really did exceed expectations - im a huge animal lover and always knew i would love it but didnt realise quite how much until i was in the thick of it. There is no way to describe te feeling of 30 full grown elephants walking 6 feet away, and herds of Zebra and gazzelle galloping alongside, or the sight of a cheetah and cubs playing in the morning sun, a mere 15 feet away from your face, and fully grown male lions sitting at the wheel of your 4x4 - i could go on, its just mindblowing! And Kenya certainly seems to be THE place to see it all! My advice when going to Kenya if planning to be quite big on the safari element iss to move around a bit - The masai mara is a must fr the lions and the cheetahs - all very yellow and brown and dessert lik - then lake Nakuru is the best place for Leopards and Rhino, and the mesmorising sight of 4million flamingo - its almost rainforest like! and Ambosseli is very red and dusty, with Kilamanjaro behind you and countless families of Elephants every where you go - youhave to see those 3 areas! Kenya is beautiful and amazing - everybody should go!
I was just looking back at my photos from my holiday in Kenya last year and felt compelled to write about the wonderful places we stayed and attractions we visited. It feels like being back at school having to write about holidays we went on!! I went to Kenya last June with my Mum, her fiancee and my little sister (well not so little at 23!). Mum and my now step dad were getting married out there are took me and my sister out to celebrate with them. Having seen Africa on TV I wasn't really too keen on going, especially having to leave my husband behind for 2 weeks, however, I really wanted the chance to celebrate my Mum's wedding and who can turn down a free holiday! We went with First Choice from Manchester airport. The flight is about 8 hours but it really doesn't feel that long if you take advantage of the movies and other in flight entertainment. If you are thinking of holidaying in Kenya I would strongly recommend choosing First Choice as we found them to be incredibly helpful right from the flight and throughout the whole time we were in Kenya. Arriving in Mombasa airport we faced a fairly lengthy wait at the airport and had to fill in a couple of forms which then had to be checked before we were allowed to continue to our respective hotels. We were probably at the airport for around 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours in total! Once we were allowed on our way our luggage was loaded on to the top of a minibus and on we got. I must admit at this point I was wondering what I had done! Here I was on a rickety old minibus with my luggage placed precariously on top in a place that looked really quite rough! The area around Mombasa airport is not the nicest but this does not reflect on the main part of the city! Getting to our hotel all my fears quickly disintegrated. We stayed at The Severin Sea Lodge for the most part of our holiday (whilst we were not on safari!). The hotel was well protected by security and there were big gates at the entrance which were kept locked unless people needed to come in or go out. The hotel backed onto the beach and there were always guards down on the beach stopping anyone coming in who was not supposed to be there. For the first couple of days we stayed in the main hotel which was not the best. The beds were uncomfy and the air conditoning was so loud you couldn't sleep! However, once back from our safari we were upgraded to one of the lodges which was absolutely great - it is hard to beleive they are part of the same complex! The lodges are large and we had 2 comfy double beds and a decent sized bathroom with both a bath and shower! If you stay at Severin make sure you spend the extra money on a Lodge! There were plenty of facilities on the complex including: A small (and expensive) gift shop 2 pools A laundrette A hairdressers One large restaurant where main meals were served A small pizza and pasta outside restaurant which also served cold breakfasts "The Dhow" restaurant which is a small boat in the grounds which serves a la carte meals (have to be paid for - not included in all inclusive) A main bar which on one side went out to the pool so you could sit in the pool drinking cocktails! A bar by the beach which had swinging seats (not a good idea when you have been drinking - yes I did fall off!!) Another smaller bar where most of the evening entertainment took place A small internet cafe The food in the main restaurant was reasonable but not always great so we often went for a toasted sandwich or pizza at the smaller restaurant. This smaller restaurant would also take your order and bring your food to you at the pool if you were having a particularly lazy day!! The only problem was they didn't always come and collect your plates and when, at around 4pm, the monkeys start sniffing around the pool they will come straight for any leftover food! One afternoon when I was sunbathing I heard lots of people laughing and opened my eyes to see a monkey right next to me eating my left over salad!! Quite scary as they are not the nicest animals no matter what you see on tv! We ate on "The Dhow" on the eve of the wedding and I have to say the food was excellent. We sat down to a seven course meal but could only manage five - there was far too much food!! The food is rather expensive but is well worth treating yourself one night! There was always plenty to keep you entertained throughout the day such as water aerobics, water polo and volleyball. There was also nearly always one of the entertaining staff around if you wanted a game of table tennis etc. As well as going on safari we had a couple of day trips. We spent a day looking around Mombasa and I was surprised at how many shops there were. I don't really know what I expected but it was a complete revelation! To get our souvenirs we visited a wood carving workshop in Mombasa. You get to go round the workshop first and see all the people carving the wooden animals etc, before going into the shop and making your purchases. This really was an eyeopening experience as there are so many people carving and if no-one buys their items they make no money, it is difficult not to buy something from everyone. We spent an afternoon in the hippo and crocodile park (on a trip run by Severin) in Mombasa. This was great as we got to see hippos and crocodiles up close which we had not got to do on safari. We also got to feed giraffes! This park is not expensive and only takes around 2 to 3 hours to go round so is well worth a visit one afternoon. Be warned though it is a very humid place and would probably not be suitable for everyone! We met a local at the hotel who provided holidaymakers with trips into Mombasa for a small fee. I definetly recommend going with someone as they know all the right places to go. During our last day in Kenya we asked him to take us out of Mombasa to see the "real" side of Kenya. He took us to the school that he attended and then on to his village to meet his family and friends. Having seen this side of Africa on the TV, actually seeing in person the poverty some of these people live in is still a real shock. All the people we met that day were so kind and generous and all the children were just so grateful for anything you gave them (we took some sweets with us) and were all so willing to go to school and learn. As it gets dark (and I mean pitch black!) in Kenya at 6pm it was a good time to go and get ready for dinner and the evening entertainment. There was entertainment on every night, some nights just being a disco but one night there was a reptile show and I held some snakes and lizards which I never thought I would do! One night we decided to go to a nightclub with some of the etertainment staff we had met. This was a real experience. The nigh club was outside and dance floor was kind of a giant boxing ring raised high off the ground! The toilets were not the best! Basically just a hole in the ground! The music was like going back in time 10 years with lots of old Craig David songs amongst others. If you go to Mombasa I would strongly recommend you have at least one night out of your hotel to experience the local culture. We spent 5 days of our holiday on safari staying at 3 different resorts in the Tsavo safari game reserve. We were picked up from Severin early one morning and got on a mini bus for a few hours until we reached the game reserve. The mini bus ride is quite scary. Because the roads in Kenya are so straight you travel quite fast and are constantly on the wrong side of the road overtaking the numerous lorries and other safari buses. It is definetly not for the faint hearted but is really worth it! As soon as we got to the game reserve we started seeing elephants and giraffes. Our first resort we stayed in was the Voi Safari Lodge. The rooms here were really spacious and airy and we had nice big comfy beds. The food here was great. Although the view from the room was probably the worst out of the three lodges we stayed in we still got to see plenty of activity, mainly from the elephants and the complex itself was probably the nicest we stayed at. The next day after travelling through a bit more of the game reserve and seeing other animals such as ostrichs and even a lion (as well as the usual elephants, giraffes, zebras, deer etc) we arrived at our next resort, Nguila. Out of the three resorts this was definetly the worst in terms of the room and food, however, the view from the room was amazing. As soon as we got there we got to spend a good couple of hours on our balcony watching a family of elephants playing in the mud. It was surreal! The other bonus about Nguila was at night we were in the bar and were able to watch an elephant that was about 10 metres away from us just rubbing himself up a tree. There was no windows in the bar just a bit of a moat around it so the animals could not get to you but you felt like you could just reach out and touch them! Sat drinking a beer watching an elephant just doesn't compare to anything else, drinking at a pub in the UK has never been the same since! Whilst I was in the shower at Nguila we got a knock on the door from a member of staff telling us there was a leopard outside and we should come take a look! They tell all the guests if there is an exciting animal outside so that you don't have to miss anything which I think is a really nice touch. The last resort we stayed in was Saltlick. These were definetly the most impressive. They are huts on stilts all joined together with wooden bridges and can be seen from miles away. The huts are quite large and you get a fairly decent bed and bathroom. The food here was the best of any of the other resorts. The huts are based around a salt lick (hence the name) where all the animals come to drink and wash so we saw many more elephants! On the way back to Severin we stopped at a Massai village and were shown around by one of the Massai. It was really interesting to see how they live. The only problem was as you try to leave they all crowd round trying to sell you things and it can be quite daunting. You just have to be firm but polite and don't buy everything that is shoved in your face! A couple of days after we got back to Severin was the wedding. This was a really nice experience. It was done in the grounds of the hotel and we had some kenyan dancers/singers as part of the ceremony. It really was a great day and I would recommend anyone thinking of going abroad to get married to seriously consider Kenya. I know there has been a lot of trouble in Kenya this year but it would not put me off going again. All the people we met were really friendly and put you at ease. As long as you don't go off on your own into areas that are not meant for holidaymakers you are fairly safe. At the end of the day most of the people in the tourist areas are trying to make an honest living and it is in their best interests to be friendly to all holidaymakers. I have loads more I could say but think I have rambled on for long enough! If you are considering Kenya but are not too sure, go for it!
Tsavo East (joined with West) is the largest safari park in Kenya. It is where they film big cat diaries for the BBC and unlike the more famous Masai Mara is easily accessible by road - it is 2 hours drive from Mombasa. If you are staying in Mombasa the Masai Mara is easiest to get to by flying (in a rickety looking old plane!) The safari experience: If you book through a travel agent or rep it is likely your party will be organised through Sonak Safari (a Nairobi based company.) You will be picked up from the hotel, very early in the morning and driven to the Tsavo east gates. The vehicle is like a campervan with 6 passenger seats and a detachable roof so you can stand up and have a look. The roads are very dusty so don't wear anything white and they are also seriously bumpy! If you have big boobs you would probably be best taking a couple of good sports bras. After a few hours I am sure I lost the ability to have children thanks to being thrown into my seat about 5 times! It will probably also make your shoulders ache after a while as you will learn to lock your body in order to stop being thrown about. As you enter the park you will be approached by a man who could sell snow to the eskimos who will try to sell you a hat. I would advise to go for it as they are pretty good quality, have a tie string underneath (which is a must) and cost about £5. Plus if you buy one from the entrance your driver will get a little backhander! During the middle of the day is too hot for the animals so you will have a drive in the morning - around 8 - 11 then one in the afternoon - around 3 - 5. Tsavo East Tsavo is split into East and West by the Mombasa to Nairobi railway line and covers nearly 22,000 km2 in total. It is an arrid land which means visibility for animals is greater than Tsavo West which is full of trees and shrubs. Tsavo East is around 11,000 km2 and mainly flat land. Animals Tsavo East is home to a massive amount of animals, and four of the big five (lion, leopard, elephant and buffalo - the rhino is protected in a sanctuary in Tsavo West.) We had to drive for about half an hour into the park before seeing anything and took loads of pictures of some giraffes that were about a mile away - as you go further into the park animals will be about 6 ft away from you so be careful not to run your battery down too soon! Obviously lions, leopards and cheetas are quite rare so all the vans are fitted with a radio system so that if something is spotted your driver will floor it so you can see it! We saw: Elephants Buffallo Giraffes Ostriches Lions Leopards Cheetas Warthogs Jackals Zebras Babboons Gazelles/ Antelopes/ Bucks There are also over 500 breeds of birds in the park Photographs Safari will give you hundreds of opportunities to take pictures so it is worth while borrowing or investing in a good pair of binoculars and a camera with a good zoom. These range from about £300 to £700 but ours paid for itself with the amount of pics we got. Cost About £20 per person per day to enter the park, however if you are booking a package it will be about £200, which will include all meals, petrol, driver and accomodation Drivers Your driver will be your guide for the period you are on safari, and ours was amazing. He had the eyes of a hawk and would often slam the brakes on and reverse up the road at high speed. They know the best places to see the animals and will answer just about any question you have. If you want to see a particular animal they would go on a mission to find them for you! They are fluent in English and either German or French. It is customary to tip them 500 schillings per person per day Accomodation Depending on the length of time spent on safari will depend on whether you need accomodation. The usual packages offered are 1, 2, 3 or 7 days so if you are on a 1 day safari you won't be staying over. The main place to stay in Tsavo East is Voi. There is an option of tents or a hotel. We opted for the hotel. It was set on a side of a mountain and looked impressive as we pulled up. We were greeted by a fresh glass of orange juice and checked into our rooms. I know we were on the safari experience but the rooms were about as basic as is possible. They didn't seem clean, were covered in lizards, had holy mosquito nets and you could hear everything going on in the rooms next door. Also if you had a room on the top level you could hear monkeys, birds and lizards chasing up and down the roof all night. There was also a lack of hot water! Its one saving grace was the amazing view of the watering hole where elephants frequented. The food was a buffet, which was ok - nothing special. However a couple of my friends stayed in the campsite below with military large tents. They had an amazing time with great barbecued food, hot showers and even massages included! I was gutted. Moral of the story is that even though camping may seem scary it was filled with fewer creepy-crawlies than the hotel! At night you are pretty limited to the hotel (as you are in the middle of the reserve) so there isn't a lot to do. But after dinner you will probably be so knackered you will want an early night anyway Overall Safari is the most amazing experience I have ever gone on and if you are lucky enough to get a good driver and have a good eye you will love it. Tsavo is so big that you can easily lose everyone else in the place, as there are usually a lot of vans there. You can often go miles without seeing another person! I would advise not to take any food with you as the monkeys do tend to try and get in and pinch it. Tsavo is filled with a massive variety of animals that are best to be seen in a natural environment - we were fortunate enough to see some cheetas chasing a gazelle, which luckily got away. Tsavo is cheaper than the Masai Mara and means you don't have to get on a rickety old flight. My only downside was the hotel - so go for the full on safari experience and go for the tents! I would also say that a 3 day safari will be enough, as you will see most of the animals on the first day. You are also likely to go further afield into Tsavo west and seeing the Rhino. People who did the seven day one said it was a bit too long and quite tiring.
I’ve told you a lot about the interesting and nice touristy things to do – Nairobi and Mombassa are both equally interesting and beautiful places to visit and the Maasai Mara National Park is an experience you have to take – but I want to tell you something now of the experiences outside of these areas. Of the real Kenya without the gloss – warts and all – and maybe I’ll write some other time of the games drives in the Mara, but we’ll see… **A BUSMAN’S HOLIDAY** The whole purpose of my visit to Kenya was work related – my antics on holiday only came about because if I’m owed holiday I may as well take it while I’m there as who knows the next time I’ll be able to get there. Bite the bullet, as they say, and do everything in one fell swoop – by the end of three weeks work I was ready for a break… I work for the church in the UK and went to see how the church works in a different country. I spent my first two weeks there with a Pastor called Julius – who lived in a very nice little apartment, but who hadn’t been paid for four months as there was no money to pay him. His family lived a five hour drive away as his wife worked in a hospital and he didn’t have enough money to make the journey up-country for Christmas. One day, a woman neighbour came to visit him in an awful state. Her husband, after being caught spending money on too much alcohol and too many prostitutes, was sacked from his job for bringing the company into disrepute leaving the family with no income. Julius said to us after she had gone, “She came to me for help as I am a Pastor, yet what could I do for her? All I could do was give her the last of the money in my pocket and divide the food in my kitchen in two and let her take half. I should have done more.” What more could he have done?! There was me worrying about giving 50 pence to beggars on the stree t and here was Julius giving all that he had. That was a hard lesson I needed to learn. **THE PROBLEM WITH SEX** I don’t know if you know this or not – but I’m going to tell you anyway. A recent UN report stated that in the next few years nearly a whole generation in Kenya will have been wiped out thanks to the AIDS virus. You may think that’s because they have no morals, no sense – but you would be sorely mistaken. It is culturally acceptable in Kenya for a man to sleep with more than one woman, particularly if he is away from home, although – as I am sure you aware – this is not applicable to Pastors! So you can see the problem there. In Western Kenya, if a husband of a marriage dies, his brother will inherit the dead guy’s wife. BUT – in order for the inherited marriage to be accepted within the community – the marriage has to be consummated. Now it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if the husband had died of an AIDS related illness it is likely that he has infected his wife. The brother then consummates the marriage, contracts the virus and passes it onto his wife and I think you should be able to get a picture of the scale of the problem. Condoms are available, but cost – and any Kenyan will be able to tell you the A,B,C’s of sexual relationships: A – Abstain. B – Be Faithful. C – use a Condom if you can’t do the other two. But when you need to buy food and pay the rent, contraception is not high on the shopping list. I visited a Methodist based hospital in Maua, just North of Mount Kenya doing an amazing work amongst some of the poorest people. The church throughout the world is sponsoring the hospital and it’s facilities are pretty good, but there is such a social stigma surrounding the whole issue of AIDS that if it is not reversed the hospital may be declared bankrupt and forced to close. Why? Well, when you test positive for the AIDS virus your family will generally throw you out, allow you to contract some awful disease – most often Tuberculosis – and then wait until you are nearly dead before taking you to the hospital for treatment. The TB drugs are very expensive and if the patient dies the hospital has no way of re-cooping the money from the dead patient or from the family as they are long gone and falls further into debt. Sadly, the church hasn’t really helped the issue by preaching judgement on those who are HIV+, but we can’t be too harsh on them. The church in America reacted exactly the same way in the 1980’s when AIDS exploded onto the scene. But now that is slowly changing and there are signs that things are improving. The hospital is working with local churches to educate people. In fact, 20 members of one church have volunteered to become community health workers to care for and treat AIDS patients in their locality therefore taking pressure of an already busy hospital. There are positive signs – sometimes you just have to really look for them. **PEOPLE SHOULDN”T HAVE TO LIVE LIKE THIS** Just outside of Nairobi is an area called Kibera. Kibera is a slum – the largest in the world – home to over 2,000,000 people. The land of Kibera is owned by the government who will not allow permanent buildings to be erected there. Houses – if you can call them that – are made out of corrugated iron help together by bits of wood. They are, on average, 10 metres long by 8 meters wide and may hold up to ten people from the same family. The houses are so tightly packed together that feels claustrophobic and oppressive. The residents have to pay rent for their plot of land – high rent that led to riots the week before we arrived in which 12 people were killed, houses were burnt to the ground and nearly 600 made homeless. The rent is approx £20.00 a month. Doesn’t sound much does i t? However, when you’re earning less than £1.00 a day for a 12 hour day and there is food to buy and children’s education to pay for – you can see the problem. Actually, there isn’t anything you don’t have to pay for. If you are unfortunate enough to fall ill, a consultation at your local hospital will cost you about £5.00 and then you have to pay for medicines on top of that. And the papers have the gall to call our NHS a Third World Health Service. They haven’t got a clue. There is no running water of any form of sanitation in Kibera. Toilets are plastic carrier bags that when used are tied up and thrown out of the door of the house. Most of the little alley ways are nothing more than open sewers. And this is the year 2002? **GLIMMERS OF HOPE** And yet, in the middle of all this suffering in Kibera there are glimpses of light. I visited a medical centre that offered cup price medication to those at the bottom of the pile. I’ve never really believed them on Comic Relief when they say, “Send us whatever you can – even 25p can save someone’s life.” Call me cynical but you need thousands of pounds to make a difference – surely? In that little medical centre I was shown a small plastic bag containing three anti-malarial tablets that could cure a victim from Malaria. The price? 25 pence. To save a life. The centre had a benevolence fund to support those who could not even afford 25 pence. A light in one of the darkest places I have ever visited. I worked for a week with an AIDS orphan centre in the middle of Kibera, caring for children whose parent had died as a result of contracting AIDS. Meeting children, seeing them educated and fed and meeting children sponsored by people from around the world. £10.00 a month can change a child’s life and give them an education. Most of the wanted to be doctors or nurses when they grew up so that they could give som ething back to those who had helped them. What a lesson to learn and what a place to learn it in. I shall never forget that place nor the people I met and I hope to return there one day… **FINAL THOUGHTS** There are so many contrasting thoughts flying round my head at the moment. The excitement of an amazing holiday seeing animals on Safari and swimming with dolphins in Mombassa. But not far from my thoughts are the images of real suffering and hope amongst that suffering that I have seen and experienced as well. My life, my faith and my perspective have all been changed, shaped and strengthened as a result and I hope that my experiences and my thoughts are of some help to you. Kenya is a country of real contrasts – at one time beautiful and at another, devestatingly real. If you do go to visit (and I strongly adivse you to do so) don’t just sit on the beach or go on safari, visit some of the other places in the country and see the real Kenya. It’s easy when faced with all that I have described to feel helpless, so I want to leave you with a story that has helped me gather my thoughts. I think it is fairly self explanatory so I’ll let it speak for itself: ‘One night a violent storm blew thousands and thousands of starfish onto a beach. The next morning, a boy walking along the beach felt sorry for the starfish and, one by one, picked them up and threw them back into the sea. A little further up the beach there stood a man, watching this little boy at work, wondering what on earth was happening. After a while the man walked up to the boy and said, “What difference do you hope to make? There are thousands of starfish on this beach – what difference can you make to them?” The little boy bent down, picked up one starfish and threw it into the sea, “It’s made a difference to that one” was his reply.’ Together we can make a difference.
Kenya... Yes, the land that promises you all those lovely golden sandy beaches, loadsa sunshine and plenty of fun at the seaside, everything they say about the place in the brochures is true - or so we thought! We had a great flight there and arrived early morning, after having a shower and a change (you need one after an 8 hour flight!) we ventured out and thought this was going to be one hell of a honeymoon. We had a swim in the hotel pool ? by the way we stayed at the Travellers Beach Hotel on the north side of Mombasa, had an afternoon tea and after a couple of hours kip decided to go for a walk on the beach before dinner. As we tried to leave the hotel we were stopped by the hotel security guard and were told not to go out as the chances of us getting mugged were pretty high. We didn?t really take much notice and thought we?ll go after dinner but the stories we heard at dinner from other tourists staying there were even more horrific. We heard how a couple had been stripped of all the jewelry, another guy had all his money stolen and his face slashed?. I won?t tell you about the others otherwise you might decide not to go to Kenya! During the day, though, you are quite safe to wonder around and walk on the beach. Be prepared when on the beach as the locals do try and get extra friendly with you just to sting you when the time is right, by that I mean they do try and get you to part with your money and at exorbitant rates for things that would probably only cost you about a tenth of the price at any stores. Try visiting the market in Mombasa for a real African experience and don?t forget to take a trip around the ?Old? Mombasa probably better to take one of those tourist guided trip not too expensive and they do try and cram in a lot of places in half a day. Also if you can make it to Malindi, try their fresh ?Halwa? you?ll probably end up bringing a couple of kilos back for your friends and family. Enjoy Kenya! don?t be put off by the stories.
It was summer 1999 when we set off for the experience of a lifetime which turned out to be above and beyond our expectations! Destination 1: Nairobi We stayed in the holiday Inn for our first night in Kenya. The hotel was lovely - clean, friendly, comfortable, good facilities, excellent food and most important of all, drinking water! We asked about venturing into town as we had a day to waste before setting off on safari. Our query was met with surprise and we realised hat this was obviously not the done thing! We soon found out why! We were probably the only British people out on the streets and as a result we attracted much attention (not all enjoyable). We were guided (for commission) around the markets and enjoyed some amazingly beautiful wood carvings etc. Destination 2:Masai Mara We spent a week on safari by the end of which we wished for our time all over again. It was the most unforgettable experience of my life. We went in August; at the time of the wildebeest migration and found that the park was not short of predators keeping an eye open for weaklings among the many thousands of migrating animals. WE SAW EVERYTHING!! It really was unbelievable! Our driver went out of his way to find every rare sight that we were enough to experience! Some highlights were: lions with their cubs, two cheetah brothers lazing in the shade of a tree meters away from us, a leopard, herds of elephants marching in the sunshine against a dark rainbow striped sky....the list goes on! Lodges were out of this world- everything you could dream for! Amazing food, hospitality...etc Destination 3: Mombassa This was used as a recovery period from those early morning starts on safari! Unfortunately the town is similar to Nairobi in that it is not advisable to spend time there so we lazed around the beautiful hotel instead! Watch out for un cooked chicken on the BBQ as I spent most of the with food poisoning! From there we flew back to Nairobi then home. Wow! What more can I say...?
We were undecided as to where to go for our honeymoon but we finally decided upon was Kenya. After browsing various brochures we finally decided upon one particular package deal. It involved one night in Nairobi, six nights on safari, then seven nights on the Kenya coast. The flight was just over 8 hours and was fine and we arrived in Nairobi as per our schedule. We arrived at our hotel for the night, The Mayfair Court hotel. The facilities were lovely but the rooms not great. We had the afternoon free to explore the town. A group of people went to a restaurant called "Carnivores". Apparently this is worth a visit. It serves mainly meat as the name suggests, game meat a speciality. A flag is placed on your table and waiters bring platters of meat around to all the tables until you surrender and put your flag down. The next morning we were split into groups of eight. These would be our travelling groups for the entire safari, and we travelled to our first lodge in the Samburu. We arrived at the Buffalo Springs Lodge and we were very pleasantly surprised. The sleeping quarters were individual huts, complete with your own patio overlooking the Samburu Game reserve. The restaurant was buffet style and very extensive, the bar was comfortable and there was a swimming pool. The following day we had two game drives, one early morning before breakfast, then one after lunch to avoid the hottest part of the day. The experience of seeing elephants, zebra and leopard for the first time in their natural habitat was amazing and the animals did not seem phased by our presence. The following day we drove to the Outspan Hotel. We were only at the Outspan for lunch; we then drove through the Aberdare’s to Treetops. Our vehicle stopped nearly at the top of the valley and we had to walk the rest with a guide in front armed with a rifle, very exiting. Treetops was amazing, we had dinner then prepared ourselves for a nights g ame watching. We saw many animals at close hand and had a very enjoyable time. After breakfast the following morning we drove to the rift valley for our third lodge at Lake Nakuru. On a game drive to the lake we experienced flamingos and rhinos! After dinner, we watched a wildlife video then after a few drinks in the bar, bed. The following morning was back on the vehicle and a drive to our final lodge at the Masai Mara. We stayed here for two nights, and with game drives during both days we managed to see all the animals we wanted, including cheetah, lions, giraffe, warthog, hippo and many more, Including the migration of water buffalo. We then drove back to Nairobi where we took a flight to Mombassa. After a drive to Watamu we arrived at our hotel, Turtle Bay Beach Club, an all-inclusive hotel. It was beautiful. It had its own stretch of private beach which was nice as there are lots of people trying to sell their wares, and they were not allowed on the hotel beach. The room was very nice with air conditioning and a balcony. The evening entertainment wasn't brilliant but after a week of safari, we just wanted to relax so it suited us fine. All in all the holiday was great. The people were very friendly and the holiday was arranged to the last detail. However I did find that a week on safari was long enough, we had seen all of the animals that we were expecting to see and seeing another elephant and another zebra was getting a bit repetitive. I'm sure that had we decided upon a holiday to an exotic beach, it would have been lovely but no where near as memorable as Kenya. Notes: Many hotels will change traveller’s checks. Phone calls made from Safari Lodges are very expensive, try and save them for when you get to main towns. Pack an alarm clock, some game drives are very early and even though you will be called, its better to be safe than sorry. Take bic pens and white socks, when travelling between lodges; you will stop at villages. Carvings etc can be bought and they love to barter, especially with pens and socks! Don't take your best clothes on a safari, you will get very dusty. All of the porters at the hotels will expect a tip for carrying your bags, ensure you have loose change at all times.
Around 5 years ago now I accompanied a school trip to Kenya on a mission to find out about the country and it's people. We avoided the usual tourist areas of the coastal resorts and journeyed North of Nairobi to do a tour of the lakes ending with few days stay at the Marich pass field centre. The 10 day tour gave me many wonderful experiences and I couldn't write about all of them. I will instead write about the most significant experiences which may be of interest to the potential traveller... Curio shops: There are hundreds of these. Strike that - thousands. The traders working in these shops, particularly the ones located on tourist routes, are quietly persistent and very accomplished at taking jet lagged, naive tourists with little experience of haggling for a ride. The drivers taking us from Nairobi to our first port of call allegedly had a deal going with the shop and our stop to "take pictures of the view of the rift valley" swiftly turned into an experience at pressure selling. Several of the children in the group, even though warned before leaving the bus, got confused over exchange rates and ended up spending the majority of their money on souveniers they 'sort of' wanted but found a lot cheaper elsewhere. The salesman who picked me as a likely target didn't even bat an eyelid when quoting me 8000 shillings (£80) for 10 little bead necklaces you can pick up for 50p a time back in Blighty. Good advice would be to hold off from buying anything for the first few days until you have a better idea of prices. It also saves you having to carry them around with you if you are on a more mobile tour of the country. Insects: There are lots of these. If you are speamish about insects then stick to hotel rather than the more traditional mud huts. Mosqitoes were not as prevalent as I had been led to believe - I only got bitten twice, both times in Nairobi airport as we waited for our luggage. But make sure you've packed a good insect repellent - a roll on one which you could apply to your hairline and wrists was particularly useful. Larger insects were around, mostly in the rural interior to the North rather than the places we stayed further south. During our stay at Marich pass we got to witness the emergence of the flying termites (swarms of them around every light), and several scorpions (one of which had to be ejected from my hut... well, squashed and thrown out). When staying in Marich pass we were advised to sweep out out huts daily - scorpions don't like clean dirt floors! The locals were very useful in this respect and would happily smite a renegade scorpion with a flip flop if it wandered too close to tourists. Weather: I went in April which is usually the start of the wet season. We had no rain however since the rains were unusually late. The area was very dry as a result with a humid feel to the air. Mornings were pleasant with clear skies and a fresh heat. The heat got intense around 11am - 3pm. I then went back to pleasant with the evenings getting dark quite early (5ish) but staying warm until bedtime (about 10). Nights were warm but not unpleasantly so. The only time the heat really got too much was whilst on a botanical safari with a local Pokot guide at midday. Temperatures were around 96 degrees and with no water nearby the heat was baking and we were sweating about as much as we were drinking. Locals: The Pokot tribe near Marich pass were the most delightful people you could ever meet. The ones in the camp at Marich Pass were constantly helpful. The locals who came to sell their craft goods and entertain us with an evening of dancing, were friendly and welcoming. The locals we encountered in the market were smiling and tolerant. The children who flocked to watch us swim in the river were laughing and fascinated by us. The only bad thing about them was their endless energy and tolerance to heat made us large Europeans feel like asthmatic white blobs. Our guide Julias was a 24 year old guide who lived on the other side of the nearest mountain to the field centre where he had his family (wife and 6 kids) and goat herd. Every morning we would find him strolling into camp for the day's safari or walk, he would spend all day with us giving us essential local information in broken english and hurrying us through the Kenyan bush in pursuit of medicinal plants, the locals swimming spots or on safari looking for elephants and leopards. On the day when the group decided to climb the mountain, Julias was at the field centre by 8am and over breakfast it transpired that Julias's route to the field centre took him over the top of the mountain ("It's the shortest route") a walk of some 12 miles. We took this as a good sign that the mountain was maybe not as high as it looked and so we asked him "How long will it take us to reach the summit?". Julias thought for a moment and said "4 hours up, 2 hours down". The children thought on that for a moment and then one was elected to ask, "So you set off at 2 in the morning to get here?" Julias and the other guide there that day laughed loudly at this and let off some rapid Pokot. The field Centre manager explained: "Six hours for YOU, Julias runs up and down, it only takes him 2." It actually took us eight. Locals and us white folks: I spent much of my trip feeling embarrassed about being white. This was partly because I simply don't tan - not even in Kenya - and so spent most of the trip plastered in factor 45 sun cream and wearing a collection of ridiculous hats and bandanas which were moved around my person according to the position of the sun and the location of the worst burnt bits. It was also because next these small lithe, almonded eyed, beautifully ebony skinned Pokot people, I felt like an sweaty walrus. I also thought that we would have a lot to apologise for in terms of previous tourists and their behaviour. But the joy of coming to the remoter Northern parts are that tourists, although fairly frequent were not huge in number and therefore still a welcome novelty. We further enhanced our novelty appeal through a thoroughly amusing trip to a local market which I will relate to you now... A common way with Europeans on holiday is a reluctance to get stuck in and explore the local life. Many people pay £800 to travel all that way to stay in a hotel in Mombasa that serves gin and tonic and chips and sunbathe by the pool. The great thing about this trip was that it forced me off the beaten track and gave me some experiences that I will never forget. The market day was one of them. We arrived in the minibuses that had been our main accomodation so far and all piled out. The children were instructed to stay in groups of no less than 3. Our first stop was one fo the small hotels with a bar where we ordered 6 cokes (a staple drink in even the remotest parts of Kenya). Sitting down we surveyed the decor - a poster of Liverpool FC circa 1992, a framed picture of Michael Owen, a menu board where the only words were "Coke" "Beer" and "Sprite", and a framed picture (on the opposite wall to Michael) of Saddam Hussein. We supped our cokes and then had a go at a doughnutty looking pretzely type affair which turned out to be rather nice, then discussion turned to what we could get Julias as a present for being so helpful throughout the tour. It was decided a goat would be the most useful item since money generally ends up going on whisky, whereas a goat is a sign of wealth. So the goat hunt commenced. We'd been seeing goats all over the place for a week but finding one for sale turned out to be more of a challenge. We were eventually directed to a small holding some way from the market itself where we found a nanny goat tethered to the fence. Julias had a brief conference with the owner and reported that they were asking 700 shillings for it (£7). We asked if this was a good price, Julias said that he thought it was maybe a bit dear for a nanny goat but that he thought it might be pregnant. "Two for one offer!" he told us. We got 700 shillings from our stash and hande it over. No problem. The problem turned out to be getting the damn thing back to the minibus. It was obviously reluctant to leave it's previous owners and was stopping every few steps to issue a deafening bleet. After 10 minutes of pulling this mule-goat behind us a decision was made. The party leader, John, a 6'4" guy with a large beard, picked up the goat and slung it over his shoulders. For an extra comic touch it was decided to put the sunhat that had fallen off John's head on the goat. Upon re-entering the market people were flocking to the sides of the road to have a look at the strange white people and how they thought goats were transported. Market stalls were abandoned, hotels were emptied, and a small herd of children began to follow us chanting to us in Pokot. People were doubled over laughing. If you're a stand up comedian looking to do a tour of Kenya, do lots of goat jokes. Further hilarity was created during the "putting a plastic nappy on a goat" sketch to protect our minibus from goat currents on the ride back to Marich. The Pokot children were endlessly entertaining. Constantly heckling us with their calls of "Hellooo!" and "Howareyou?". We waved in response. If one of us said "Fine, how are YOU?" they would run off in peals of laughter. A few of us had been studying our Swahili words and tried a few "Jambo!"s and "Msuri Sana"s, but this had much the same effect. Where ever we went we had a swarm of disciples behind us. On one particularly hot day we had retreated to a local river for a swim and Pokot children lined both banks. We motioned for some to come in and join us but they just giggled at us. Swimming is not a particularly popular Pokot pastime it seems (their muscular fat-free bodies are not as buoyant as our fat European ones). So we threw down our towels and stepped gingerly into the water, whilst being on the look out for any nasty beasties. It had rained the night before and the soil washed down from the mountains had turned the river the colour of the chocloate river in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". However, our endlessly amused guide Julias assured us there were no dangerous creatures there and so we went ahead. There was a small panic when one of the girls let out a pircing scream at the sight of a harmless water scorpion in the shallows, but the sight of Pokot children proceeding to pick it up and poke it with sticks reassured us. Two of the men on the trip decided to settle down with a makeshift fishing rod upstream. And so we began to swim and generally float around in the nice cool water accompanied to the sound of near hysteria from the Pokot children lining the rocks on the bank. I treaded water and peered over to see what they were laughing at. It was me. Several of them had their arms out to their sides and were rotating their hands like propellars before doubling over laughing. It seems there had never seen someone sculling before. Just to entertain them further we gave them demonstrations of other Western swimming strokes. Front crawl raised a few titters. Butterly sent them all running. A shout came from the fishermen as they triumphantly pulled a crab out from the brown water. Julias calls over calmly, "Let it go. Poisonous!". And just like that our afternoon of swimming ended. For the ultimate missionary experience, seek out the opportunity to trade. We had come armed with pretty hair clips, felt tip pens, colouring books and any other cheap plastic colourful nick naks, and proceeded to spent a profitable afternoon swapping these "luxury" goods for bows and arrows and spears. You should have seen the faces of the guys at Nariobi customs and check-in as our rudimentary band of warriors rounded the corner. These are easily, cheaply and quickly made craft goods in their eyes, although the Pokot children were our main trading partners. Their parents all know the value of cold hard cash now. As long as you do a bit of buying as well, they are happy to let their children learn the art of haggling. If you feel to guilty about swapping cheap nasty plastic items for local crafts, clothing is always valued and makes for a more sustainable present - cotton t-shirts for example. Transport: Our holiday involved quite a lot of moving around hence we had our own air conditioned although still slightly shabby minibuses. There seems little infrastructure of any quality once you're away from Nairobi. Most of the roads had such large viscious pot holes that we spent as much time off the road avoiding them as on it. This made sleeping en route very difficult. There was also the constant road blocks set up by corrupt police officers out to make some extra cash, charging randomly selected vehicles about £10 in bribes to avoid the trumped up charges they accused them of. This may have become a thing of the past since the recent change in government though since corruption was one of their major aims - to stop it that is. I do not recommend making your own way around Kenya by road. A guide is essential. If you do choose to head off into the bush and don't have your own vehicle you can take your chances with a bus (circa 1940s belching smoke and full of 2 x the suggested number of passengers...and all their goats and chickens. Another alternative is a "mutatu" which I think is Swahili for "You must be kidding mate I'm not getting in that". They're basically outrageously overloaded trucks operating like taxis but transporting about 10 times the usual number of people. As they fill up at the various stops, people are almost diving headfirst into the bodies already inside in order to get a ride. They didn't appeal to me personally but I guess if you're desperate to get somewhere and have very little money, they're perfect. Food: Obviously if you stick to the classic tourist traps you'll get tourist food. Chips. Our holiday offered more local fair which, amazingly, didn't give anyone the squits. Remarkable. The meals were simple but delicious, if lacking variety. Breakfasts were usually a sweet gruel (like runny porridge without the bits - actually very nice), fresh mango and papaya and babana, and toast/bread, butter and jam. Lunches were generally sandwiches since we were invarably on safari. On the days we were at base they were usually salad based and bread. Evening meals consisted of umgali - a starchy paste a little like sticky rice, stew - either veggie or meaty, various salads and vegetable dishes, with fresh fruit for desert. I've never felt so healthy as after our 10 days in Kenya, although I have to confess to falling on my chips with unashamed relish on our last night, spent in Nairobi. I can't recommend going to Kenya enough really. I don't usually enjoy my holidays abroad but this was the exception. Highlights? Meeting all the people - the goat buying day especially. Hiring mountain bikes at Hells Gate National Park (an old volcano) and racing a startled giraffe that I surprised as I zoomed round a corner. Having a cold shower out in the open air shower cubicles after a long day's safari. The food. My only regrets about going? Getting ripped off on my first day (how embarrasing). Not having a zoom lense for my camera - cue hundreds of pictures of savanna with a tiny spot in the centre, "That's a vulture eating a carcass!" or endless pictures of trees, "That's a leopard!". Not seeing any elephants despite a 5 hour elephant trek starting at 5am (just unlucky, most unusual apparently). No seeing any lions, despite eating lunch at a picnic site named "Lion Point". It must be good - I'm organising my own school trip for this summer.
I visited Kenya about three years ago, staying in a typical 4 star hotel on the beach near Mombassa. It is a fabulous holiday resort for sun and warm sea (even though the locals have killed off all the coral). But be prepared for some unusual experiences.... For example, every evening our Hotel dining room served a three course buffet dinner with a selection of large cakes to slice and eat....no matter what how they were decorated in coloured icing, they contained exactly the same internal composition of sponge cake with butter cream filling ! Chips were served with every single meal but were named against a wide range of potato delicacies such as duchess potatoes (these are usually creamed piped and baked potato in England). Fancy a stroll on the beach? Not in the daytime you won't..... if you try it you will be surrounded by locals trying to sell you their carvings or wraps..there is little opportunity to sunbathe on the beach so many people stay within the walls of the beach hotels...a pity as this spoils international relations. I decided that if you can't beat them, join them: I offered to trade all my clothes on the last day with the local beach stallholders if they didn't try to sell me goods during the week. We agreed this and on the final Saturday I took all the spare clothes and shoes from my case and displayed them for sale on the beach. I didn't want money but would accept wooden carvings or wraps.. If you can picture the swarming of pidgeons when they spot a fruit cake...well that was exactly what happened...arms and legs flying in all directions as clothes were pulled, pushed, dragged between the stall and people's baskets...best of all were the men shouting to grab my white socks...I was offered expensive carvings for these and when I asked why, the men told me they like to offer them to their girlfriends in exchange for a hot night in the sack! So, fill your cases with white socks and expect to get a completely undisturbed spot on the beach to sunbathe, guarded by local men with the biggest smiles for miles!
Geographic contrast, from the smooth hills covered with rich green pastures to the infinite dominions of acacia and the impenetrable thornbush in the dusty savannah, from the shattered ground of Amboseli Lake and the deserts of the north to the paradise coastal line shaded by coconut palms and rocked by the waves of the Indian Ocean, almost scarcely Kenyan but so Swahili at the same time, from the barren edges of the salty lakes to the snows of the steep summits of Mount Kenya... Economic contrast, result and heritage of the heavy load of colonial history, from the luxurious British atmosphere clubs to the slums around Nairobi, from the beautiful and fragrant equatorial gardens to the humble villages covered with red dust... Contrast of races, languages and cultures, product of its rich and romantic history, from the Europeans of the great epic explorations to the proud and impassible Maasai, from the Indians who left their lives in the lions' jaws during the construction of the railroad, to the Arabs of the millenary Swahili coast ... Cradle of Mankind and tomb for many who loved it, lived it and protected it.
I went to mombasa, Kenya in November 1998 and stayed at one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in 'Southern palms'. My first impressions of Kenya were not very good. When we got into the taxi that was to take us to our hotel we were told to keep the (barred) windows closed and remove any jewelery. This was quite scary but when we pulled into the drive of our hotel I was gobsmacked at the beauty and atmosphere. We was greeted with a glass of fresh fruit juice after our journey and our bags were immediately taken to our room. I could not get over the kenyan people. They are so polite, helpful and pleased to help you, that asking them for something is a joy. Your treated like royalty and they trythere hardest to please you. Seeing the way that they live and then them having to come to work and see our life must be very difficult for them. Kenya is a lovely country and if ever you get the opertunity to go you must!
This remote field centre is not only excellent for academic groups wishing to study both social and environmental/ ecological aspects of northern Kenya, it is also available to independent travellers. I visited it in 1997 with my university, and UEA and many other institutions continue to run field trips there. Situated in virgin forest on the banks of the Morun River, at the edge of the Rift Valley, the Marich Pass Field Centre has a spectacular location. From the small hill behind it you can see along the vast, flat expanse of the valley, or turn around to see the mountains towering above you, their tops wreathed in cloud. From the breakfast tables on the patio, you can see across to Mount Koh, which can be climbed with a guide from the centre if available. A responsible ethos is followed in that the centre uses local material, labour, and food wherever possible. The cook, guides and other staff are all from the neighbouring Pokot village, and the buildings are in traditional styles and made by local people. The centre is run with the co-operation of the local elders, and donations are made to the local community for each visitor. The well water is available to all who wish to use it, an important and potentially life-saving piece of generosity. English-speaking Pokot guides can take you out and explain local traditions and agricultural methods, and identify wildlife (especially the hazardous kind!). They can also interpret if you wish to talk to villagers, but there's sometimes of a sense of expectation, that the villagers are willing to tell you anything in return for the usual small gift of soap, sugar or cooking oil. Still, why shouldn't they exploit us for a change? Concessions are made to western tastes with the food, and also with the drinks sold in the small shop - yes, you guessed it, the ubiquitous Coca-Cola :( Happily, Kenyan Tusker beer is also available. Local Pokot are provided with an outlet for traditio nal crafts, and will demonstrate dancing to larger groups (even if they are wearing t-shirts mixed in with the bead collars and skirts). The food is excellent, a mix of traditional African food and European-style, with much use made of the carbohydrate-heavy maize-based ugali, which can perhaps best be described as very thick, sticky, whitish couscous. Smothered in spicy sauce or gravy, it's fantastic, and just what you need after a hard day's work. There are plenty of vegetables (vegetarians catered for and served first :), local goat and chicken, and breakfasts often consist of heavenly deep-fried yellow dumplings with golden syrup. The centre consists of numerous traditional huts, or bandas, each equipped very simply with beds (including linen), chairs and of course mosquito nets. A larger building houses kitchens and a small classroom and library, while a separate, larger room serves as dining room and classroom. There is a fair-sized campsite available. All the buildings are on various levels, according to the terrain, and are surrounded by trees, rather than being placed awkwardly on a razed, clear-felled piece of ground. Toilet facilities are provided in both "western" and "traditional" styles. Western loos are raised, with a seat, but everything is contained in a pit below, attracting huge cockroaches and other fauna. Traditional facilities comprise a concrete slab, appropriately shaped, and a hose. Everything is washed away to a pit some metres away, and our group quickly got used to using these, especially at night when they are much more pleasant and bug-free. Cold showers are available, either under cover (in with the traditional toilets), which can be a bit dark, or open-air, with bougainvillea growing around you and sometimes monkeys watching you from the trees! Although they're a bit strange at first, taking a shower here soon becomes a lovely way to wake up! All the water is pumped f rom the centre's own well, and is perfectly safe to drink, let alone wash in. Everything is swept clean daily - it's not sterile and spotless, and there are certainly plenty of large insects running around, but anything else would feel wrong in this setting. The women who clean (and I only saw women) take as much pride in the site as they do their own houses. There is thus a real sense that the site tries to work with both nature and tradition, in all its forms, bending to work with and accommodate it rather than dominating and subduing it. The lasting impression I gained is that the way in which this centre is integrated into the local community, environment and culture makes it a refreshing, interesting and above all rewarding stop. * * * * * Marich Pass Field Centre lies at the foot of the Marich Pass, and can be reached from Nairobi (~500km away) via Nakuru, Eldoret, Kitale and Kapenguria. Locally, matatus (worryingly small and overcrowded buses) are fairly common and should be able to get you there if you are travelling independently. Full factual information, including details of how to get there, an equipment list and suggested excursions from the centre, is available at: http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/ge/teaching/robson2/MPFSC.html
Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain on the African continent and provides a fantastic opportunity for the trekking traveller. Many tour companies in the UK will pre-book guides for you and this is preferable to finding one when you get there. They will also arrange transfers, which makes life significantly easier. The trip up the mountain takes 4 and a half days. You begin in the National Park in Tanzania and trek up through rainforest, savannah grassland and desert – each of which offers their own visceral pleasures. On the final day, you awake at midnight to begin the night climb up steep scree, which culminates in snow and permafrost at the top. Guides try to time your arrival for dawn and you find yourself standing on the top of Africa. Sitting there, watching the sunrise over the plains of Africa, able to see the curvature of the earth, is a magical time. Those who want to make it to the very top can trek to Uhuru peak which is an extra 2-3 hours though not much higher in absolute terms. Returning to basecamp takes a day and a half. Accommodation is in basic but comfortable ‘A frame huts’ that hold 4-8 people. Food is prepared by your own cook and is generally very good and plentiful. I cannot offer enough praise for the guides who were charming throughout. Remember that you’ll need to tip them. Altitude is the major problem of the trip. It does not seem to matter how physically fit you are, altitude sickness is unpredictable; everyone can expect headaches and mild nausea. At the end of your climb, I would truly recommend that a week of rest and relaxation in Mombassa or Zanzibar is taken, you’ll need it.
Eastern Africa. Kenya is the world's forty-seventh largest country (after Madagascar). It is comparable in size to France, and is somewhat smaller than the US state of Texas.