by Valerie Evans on 11/12/07 at 7:48 am
Africa is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination for western tourists and there’s a good reason for that, or rather, there are several good reasons. You will come back with some of the most astonishing holiday snaps your friends have ever seen, you’ll be able to dine out on your tales of adventure for months, you’ll broaden your mind and encounter situations you’ve never imagined.
If you are going on a safari holiday, there are a few things you should know.
A lot of Kenya looks like Scotland, until you look closely and realise that the plants are all different and there’s a giraffe munching acacia leaves behind that tree. At lower altitudes it is hot, as you would expect, but in the higher altitudes it is freezing. Take at least one winter-weight fleece if you’re going anywhere near the Aberdares.
We visited Kenya in July. We flew Kenya Airways from London to Nairobi, stayed overnight in Nairobi and headed out into the bush the next morning. The roads are terrible. Seriously. The locals refer to the ‘African bone massage’ and they’re not kidding. We spent most of our driving time on the verge because it was smoother than the road. Expect a 100km drive to take over an hour, possibly over two hours. If you’ve ever suffered from piles, consider taking a cushion.
Expect also to be swamped everywhere you stop. Take plenty of pencils and notebooks to hand out because the children need them for school and most adults will gratefully accept them. Also expect someone to try to carry for you anything you happen to be holding and to expect a small gratuity for their trouble. These people are poor and they view westerners as moneybags. You may have saved for a year or more to afford this trip, but most of the people you meet will never be able to afford the flight you took. A lot of them can’t afford shoes or food and there’s no such thing as a welfare state in Kenya. If you can’t afford to clothe your kids in Kenya, no-one else is going to do it for you. Take the badgering in good humour and remember that if you own a car or a house you are in the top one percent of the world’s wealthy population and therefore the equivalent of an A-list Hollywood celebrity in terms of wealth to the locals. The highest paid workers in Nairobi earn less than the average salary in Britain. Take any leftover euros, dollars or any other foreign currency because there’s a good chance it will be accepted.
Take your camera and plenty of film, or memory cards if you’ve dragged yourself into this century. If you are going on safari, you will almost certainly see the big five: elephants, buffalo, lions, leopards and rhino. You will also almost certainly get a good deal closer to them than you think you will. We were charged by an elephant, chased by a rhino, menaced by lions and a giant tortoise and mugged by monkeys. The monkeys, incidentally, will have you on that they are just sitting there, but don’t be fooled. They are watching you and waiting for you to leave your room door open so they can break in and hunt for chocolate bars.
We stayed in Samburu National Reserve, at Lake Nakuru, Treetops and Keekorok Lodge. We sat at the windows of our chalets and watched lions, crocodiles, hippoptomi, monkeys and even a leopard from inside our rooms. In fact, although Treetops is designed for animal watching and is therefore more akin to a large hide than a hotel, we saw only one elephant there, although we did see our only successful kill. If you are including Treetops in your itinerary, take another fleece and be prepared for some hardship. It’s cold and damp and you can’t get a hot drink outside of the designated tea-time. Remember that you are there to spend the night watching for wildlife and not for a good night’s sleep. After the incredibly luxurious accommodation at Samburu, it came as quite a shock. You might want to remember that ‘nairobi’ is a Maasai word which means ‘generally cold’ (although in context you would say ‘kairobi’).
Take long sleeves, long trousers and long boot. If you can get them, I strongly recommend Palladiums. They have strong soles and light canvas uppers and are ideal for hiking about amongst acacia thorns without boiling your feet. Don’t go thinking you’re going to get a tan. You will, but don’t go looking for it. You’re at the equator and you will simply burn. You will. I don’t care how much sun you can handle. It’s the equator. Unless you’ve been there before, you simply don’t appreciate how strong the sun is. Take a wide brimmed hat, long sleeves and plenty of suncream.
Take your nonchalant face. We found ourselves sitting at the bar watching the hippos down below us and sharing a cold drink with a fully kitted out Maasai warrior who was funny and generous with his time and happy to fish out tree snakes for us to look at on the way to and from the bar. It was one of the most surreal moments of my life.
Take your nonchalant face again. The drive up to Treetops is hair-raising at the best of times, terrifying if it’s been raining because the road is simply a mud slide that zigzags up the side of the mountain. Worse still, you will probably be in one of at least two mini-buses so you will be able to see the peril that the other mini-bus is in.
If you are booking a safari holiday, the chances are that you are an adventurous sort and not happy to simply lie around on a sunbed all day. Take my advice and be very wary about booking a second destination. Safari companies may include a week somewhere like Mombasa or Zanzibar. If you are going on to Mombasa, consider breaking your week there with a two day mini-safari into Tsavo National Park and try to get a hotel in the city rather than on the beach or you might be stuck in a fairly grotty third rate resort in the middle of nowhere which you can’t leave on your own because there are simply no means of transport without the pricey excursions.
You have to have a visa to get into Kenya and along with the visa comes a vaccination certificate which requires a number of potentially unpleasant jobs to earn. You have to take Malaria medication while you are there and usually for some time after you come back. Take mosquito repellent. Oil of Olay produces a skin cream which inadvertently works better than most purpose treatments and is slightly less toxic to humans. Consider taking a chemically-infused mosquito repellent sheet. They can be bought in high street pharmacies and they make a worthwhile addition to your bedclothes because most of the mosquito nets at the lodges are full of holes. Take anti-diarrhea tablets and rehydration salts.
have just started flying to Nairobi from London from less than £500 return. There are a number of companies providing safari holidays. We went with Somak but you can also do fourteen day tented safaris for under £500 per person with Travelmoods, bringing your total costs to less than £1000, rather than the usual several thousand. It’s worth noting that the lodges at the game reserves cost up to and more than £200 per night to book independently. Look for a tour operator who can give you the option of a balloon ride and breakfast. It costs around £200 but is absolutely one of the major highlights of our trip. I’ve never had a better hot chocolate and croissant than the one I had in the middle of the Maasai Mara, surrounded by armed guards and watching a herd of giraffe loping across the plain in front of us.