A to Z of Adventure Travel: K is for Kenya

26 03 2009

gerenuk-giraffe-gazelle-mw        “Phone home…..”                                      (Gerenuk – Samburu, Kenya) 


Although there may be a better park or more prolific wildlife somewhere, nowhere else offers the variety and diversity of Kenya in such a compact and accessible area. In short, Kenya offers the one-stop-shopping of safaridom.


The East African country is of course best known for its wildlife and game parks. It’s most famous is the sprawling Masai Mara which lies along the Tanzanian border and is the Kenyan continuation of the Serengeti. For most visitors, the Mara is Africa: rolling amber plains filled with herds of elephant and antelope; rivers teeming with hippos and crocodiles; flat-topped acacia trees; rocky outcrops; mud-hut villages and resplendent warriors. When you’re in the Mara there is nowhere else on earth you could be than Africa.


The Mara is renowned for the annual wildlife migration which sees massive herds moving from one grazing rea to another while predators line up like rugby players at a buffet. Although the migration is every bit as great as any television documentary suggests, the Mara is just as awe-inspiring at any time. If you visit only one park or reserve and want a truly African experience, it must be the Masai Mara.


Further to the east and still on the Tanzanian border is Amboseli, a great wildlife park in its own right, but with Kilimanjaro in the background, one of the most scenic parks on the continent. Anything photographed standing before the snowcapped peak immediately becomes poster-worthy. Be forewarned, however…Kili can often be shrouded in cloud leaving nothing more than its lowest slopes visible.


For a different taste of Africa, try Samburu in the mid-north. Nestled in the semi-desert, Samburu is reminiscent of the Australian Outback…except with lions and leopard. For keen wildlife buffs, there are also species found here and not in parks further south, like the gerenuk or giraffe gazelle. Samburu is also home to the Samburu people who branched off from the Maasai many generations ago and have maintained their own traditions and customs.


The Rift Valley provides epic scenery from its origins in Mozambique until its demise in Jordan, but few countries benefit from it as greatly as Kenya. From soda lakes painted red by millions of flamingos to volcanoes and baboon-strewn escarpments, Kenya’s Rift Valley is a magnificent wonder.


Lake Naivasha was a playground for colonials before independence, but its tranquil waters and reed-lined shore belie the hippos that lurk beneath. “Born Free” author Joy Adamson’s home is now open for overnight visitors or just for afternoon tea, while Hell’s Gate National Park provides a rare opportunity to get out and walk amid the wildlife – thanks to the absence of most of the more dangerous animals!


If a week on safari has you yearning to stretch your legs, there’s always Mount Kenya to provide a challenge. Although conquering Africa’s second-highest mountain requires no technical skill, it is a much tougher trek than Kilimanjaro but every bit as rewarding. Climbs generally take 5 days with an additional day necessary to get to and from Nairobi.


Kenya’s Swahili coast is a wonderful mixture of relaxation and cultural enrichment. The palm-fringed beaches caress crystal clear waters while the towns bustle with busy markets and the call to prayer. For a truly tranquil experience, try to find a quieter property on the edge of town. Or, for a spot of adventure take the legendary “Man-Eater Express” sleeper train from Nairobi, so named for the lions that stalked the men who laid the track more than a century ago.


Whether starting or ending your trip in Nairobi, be sure to visit the dusty National Museum and the legendary Carnivore restaurant. And, if you want one last taste of wildlife that’s not as literal as that at Carnivore, take a spin through Nairobi National Park for the opportunity to catch some of the Big Five with the city’s skyscrapers in the background.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan


One Small Strep…

9 03 2009





“Hello doctor? I seem to have come out in spots…”  (Samburu, Kenya)



Whenever I venture off the beaten path, I always carry a small First Aid kit. I first acquired one many years ago and it came stuffed to the brim with all sorts of things I hoped I would never need like enormous syringes, butterfly closures and sterilised needles for sewing stitches. Gradually, bitter experience enabled me to better customise the kit for ailments and accidents that either have afflicted me or might strike me during my wanderings. Although I know it’s common sense to carry such a kit, I still feel like a hypochondriac when I go shopping before a big trip and leave with enough supplies to equip a small hospital!


The key to preparing a good First Aid kit is the assumption that once at your destination you won’t be able to buy anything, which is actually often the case. There are many obvious things to carry like bandages, aspirin, anti-nausea pills, tablets to make you go to the loo and others to make you stop (not to be taken together!), but it’s only through hard experience that you assemble a truly useful medicine chest.


I’d never carried rehydration salts until several days locked in a long-drop left me as dehydrated as a bag of wood chips. A circle of 20 mosquito bites around each ankle that kept me awake night after night led to the purchase of insect bite soother. Brutally sun-burned ear-tops not only taught me to be more assiduous in the application of sunscreen but also resulted in the addition of aloe. A bottle of water purification tablets could so easily have prevented the parched throat and headache suffered in a dodgy equatorial hotel room which offered only brown tap water. And of course a drop of disinfectant is good for any cuts, scrapes and the general purging of germs.


Once while deep in the wilds of Kenya and well away from any medical care, I was struck by self-diagnosed strep throat. In the absence of antibiotics, there wasn’t much I could do for the infection but I did have a small packet of throat lozenges. During the first day, I ate so many that my tongue turned Blueberry blue, swelled up and I lost all feeling in my mouth…meanwhile the pain in my throat maniacally laughed at my efforts and worsened. After a restless night of fever, I awoke the next morning feeling as though my throat was being slit with a hot knife. The lozenges were all gone and I was already rationing my aspirin. I dipped back into my kit to see what else was on offer and found a bottle of Dettol liquid disinfectant.


For those unfamiliar, Dettol is a childhood staple used to clean cuts and destroy every possible germ. If Dettol had been around hundreds of years ago, grannies are adamant that the Black Death would not have swept Europe and that enough administered to the South Pole would cure Global Warming. The bottle says it is made of chloroxylenol, pine oil, isopropanol, castor oil, caramel and water and is described as a general disinfectant and house cleaner. It also clearly states that it is not for internal use. However, in my desperate and almost hallucinatory state, I reasoned that if it was good enough to kill germs around the house, it was good enough to kill strep throat…and besides, just how dangerous could anything with caramel in it be?


Now, I should stress that I did not drink it. No, I am not that dumb. Instead, I diluted it with purified twig-strewn murky river water, and gargled with it. With my head tilted backwards and my mouth open, the scent immediately tweaked at my nose and caused my eyes to water. Bubbles and froth rose skyward as I continued the whirlpool activity. Eventually, confident that not even a hippo could survive the Dettol-isation, I spat out the fluid. I instantly knew it had worked because my throat burned in acquiescent agony…and my mouth shone a foamy white. After several days’ treatment, the pain subsided and the fever disappeared although back in civilization I still visited a doctor for a proper dose of antibiotics just to be sure.


Although I am not certain that the Dettol actually cured my strep, I still carry it in my First Aid kit – but now I also carry a prescription bottle of genuine antibiotics in my name!



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan












Lessons Learned the Hard Way – No. 33

1 08 2008

Vervet Samburu

…and can you send up some toast with butter and jam, some orange juice… (Samburu, Kenya)

Never leave corn flakes unattended.


Almost everyone who heads to the wilderness anywhere in the world hopes to have a close encounter with wildlife. Whether it’s kangaroos, koalas, macaws, bears or orangutans, the local fauna is usually a big attraction and the closer the encounter the better the experience…within reasonable limits!


I have been attacked by brown kites, dive-bombed by skewers, pursued by a leopard seal, bent-double to avoid a jelly-fish, driven insane by a cricket, deprived of sleep by noisy frogs and been chased by elephants and hippos.  But there’ll always be a special place in my heart for monkeys…particularly in Africa.


It’s not unusual to find notices in African campsites warning visitors to take care while walking and not to keep food in the tents. In Amboseli the warnings pertained to elephants, which – until an electrified fence was installed – had a habit of dropping by for afternoon tea but often overstayed their welcome. In most parks however, unless you are fond of keeping a side of zebra in your tent, the biggest problem are baboons and monkeys.


I was on breakfast duty in Samburu National Reserve, Kenya. It was a beautiful sunny morning and already tropically warm. The Ewaso Nyiro River wound past our idyllic shaded camp from where we had seen elephants, buffalo, giraffe and hyena and had in turn been watched by voyeuristic tree-top baboons while we took our showers. The only company I had for breakfast was a scattering of superb starlings, a few mourning doves and a tree full of vervet monkeys that seemed half asleep and rather disinterested in my activity.


Or so I thought.


Pans of sausages and eggs sizzled on the fire while large kettles of water boiled away. I started to unpack the breakfast cereal, fruit, powdered drinks and loaves of bread all the while blissfully unaware of the stealth-like encroachment of my simian chums.  In hindsight, I imagine they shimmied down the trees on the side furthest away from me. Once on the ground, they likely belly-crawled towards the food using a few active youngsters playing with each other on the nearest branch to distract my attention. I continued to stoke the fire and toast bread until I heard a clatter of pots and pans behind me.


I spun around.


There before me stood a vervet monkey, a bag of corn flakes in his small hands. We stared at each other. He squinted in the bright sunlight. I lunged with my sausage tongs. He feinted to the left, did a neat step-over and then darted up the nearest tree. From a low branch just beyond my reach he taunted me by opening the bag and eating the flakes one overflowing handful at a time.


I contemplated throwing a stick in his direction but reasoned that he’d probably catch it with a free hand and hurl it back with greater accuracy and force than I could ever manage. Instead, I did what any self-respecting male would do in that situation: I went to my tent, got my camera…and then told my campmates that if they thought the monkey was bad, they should have seen the leopard!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan








5 06 2008


What’s that lion’ in the bushes? – Chobe, Botswana

Humans are rarely satisfied. No sooner has our dinner arrived at a posh restaurant, than we’re busy ogling the food at the next table. We’re happy with our first 28” colour television only until we’ve seen the 44” flat screen that’s on sale down the road. And one week spent on a palm-fringed sun-soaked white sand beach with colourful little drinks is absolutely perfect…until we’ve met the couple who are there for two weeks.


Safaris in Africa are much the same – unless you’re only doing it to one-up your annoying next-door neighbour who spent a week braving the perils of Disney’s Animal Kingdom (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).


You finally see your first elephant. The thrill is almost as massive as the beast itself. You’re bowled-over by it’s immense size, the roughness of its hide, and the silence and grace with which it moves despite its enormous weight. You are drawn in by its huge soulful eyes and captivated by the deft manipulation of its trunk. You are mesmerised by its low gurgles and breaths, could spend the entire day watching it and regard the experience as one of the greatest of your entire life.


But moments later you want more.


You want a young calf. You want a gigantic bull elephant with huge tusks. You want a family. You want hundreds in a loose herd, traipsing across the savannah or bathing in a river. In other words, your life-fulfilling event of just moments earlier has suddenly failed to satisfy and you simply want…more!


I must somewhat ashamedly confess to a similar experience with lions. I still vividly remember seeing my first lion…two, actually:  a young brother and sister in Samburu National Reserve in Kenya, lounging away the midday heat in the park’s semi-desert by reclining in the shade. It was incredibly exciting. My first pride of lions was in the Masai Mara, and my first gigantic male lion with a classic black mane was in Tanzania’s Ngorongoro Crater. All were incredible. In fact, every lion sighting I have ever had has left me completely satisfied…so why did I want to see one savour a poor little semi-defenceless warthog in Chobe, Botswana?


An eagle-eye among us had spied the lion hidden deep in a bush. She was sprawled in a lifeless stupor, her face barely visible. We watched her for a moment until someone mentioned that a warthog was coming. We all turned to look. The little Pumba was merrily trotting along, tail ramrod straight like the pole in a bumper-car, seemingly not a care in the world. He was also heading directly for the lion.


Our initial reaction was one of fear for the poor little thing…but a darkness soon descended over our group and replaced concern with a vicious and brutal bloodlust that consumed us all…even the rampant vegetarians who had spent the previous week avoiding stepping on the grass! We watched with undisguised and unabashed hunger. The warthog continued along, an accident just waiting to happen. The lion raised its head and watched intently. The distance between the two shortened. Our breath quickened, we were willing carnage just lusting for the warthog to become a platter of sausages, ham and bacon. Soon the gap had disappeared…and the warthog was past the trouble. The lion sank back down. Although as easy as opening the door to a pizza delivery boy, it was clearly too much effort for the lion.


The little warthog had no idea how close it had come to being a light afternoon snack. In a nutshell, that little encounter had been life in Africa.


We settled back down and our game drive continued. The wanton savagery that had united us minutes earlier had suddenly divided us like an iron curtain. We avoided eye contact and remained silent, each held deep in our shame. We had seen each other in our true light and it wasn’t pretty.


The uncomfortable silence continued until we saw a kettle of vultures circling near the river.


“Cool,” someone shouted. “Perhaps there’s a kill!” and we were all back on our feet enthusiastically cheering our driver onwards in the hope of some real blood-strewn horror.



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2008