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


Basic Swahili Words and Phrases

23 09 2008

Hakuna matata!!!                         (Sunset over Stone Town, Zanzibar)

Just as authors, adventurers and explorers of centuries past brought the cultural wonders and riches of distant lands to their fellow countrymen and women at home, so Elton John and Tim Rice enlightened much of the 20th century western world to Swahili. Well, not quite, but few people who hadn’t travelled to East Africa likely knew what Hakuna matata meant before ‘The Lion King’ was released in 1994.


Swahili is spoken by approximately 50 million people in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the DR Congo. Although English is also widely spoken in most of those places and certainly anywhere frequented by the majority of tourists, it’s always nice to have a smattering of words and phrases to raise a smile, leave a good impression and avoid matata mengi! 



Hello – Jambo
Welcome – Karibu
Goodbye – Kwaheri
Yes – Ndiyo
No – Siyo/Hapana
OK – Sawa sawa
Please – Tafadhali
Thank you – Asante
Sorry – Pole
Excuse me – Samahani
No problem – Hakuna matata
What is your name? – Jina lakonani?
My name is __ – Jina langu ni _
Very good – Nzuri
Where are the toilets? – Wapi choo?
I don’t understand – Sielewi
Sleep well – Lala salama

Buffalo – mbogo
Elephant – ndovu/tembo
Leopard – chui
Lion – simba
Rhino – kifaru

Many problems – Matata mengi



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

Peril In The Long Grass

24 04 2008


A room with a view

I am fluently bilingual in Canadian and English. I know that a lorry is a truck, that a lift is an elevator, football is soccer and that lemonade is lemon juice and not fizzy soda. It only becomes confusing when crisps are chips, chips are French fries, French fries can be crispy but crisps can’t be French Fries.


My grasp of Swahili is considerably less robust, however. I know the usual pleasantries and I’m proud to proclaim that I understood what hakuna matata meant even before “The Lion King”. Over time, I’ve learned numbers and the Swahili names for some of the wildlife encountered on safari.  But I’m certainly not bilingual and that never particularly concerned me until one June evening.


We were camping in the middle of Kenya’s Masai Mara. The savannah rolled as far as the eye could see, interrupted only by rocky hills and clusters of acacia trees. From our campsite we could see elephants, giraffe and antelope all with the naked eye and separated from us by….absolutely nothing. There were no fences, walls, moats or fields of land mines. If a pride of lions wanted to visit us to borrow a cup of sugar or exchange e-mail addresses, they could. The only thing protecting us from a jolly good mauling were a couple of Maasai asgaris, or guards, armed with spears, knives and a few thousand years’ worth of genetic nous.


Each evening, we sat by the campfire chatting about the day’s sightings or listening to the wonderful sounds of the African bush. All was good until it came time to go to bed.


Being in an area of the reserve filled with predators, chargers, stompers, biters and gorers, we had been advised that we couldn’t walk around unescorted after dark. Instead, when time came to head to our tents we would be accompanied by a Maasai warrior. If we had to go somewhere during the night we had to blow a whistle and someone would assist us. All rather reassuring when you’re protected only by thin canvas.


Our asgari led the way. Spear in one hand, flashlight in the other, we traipsed through the darkness towards our tent. Just as we arrived he hissed for us to stop, and hurriedly whispered something to us in Maa, and then again in Swahili, all the while crouching and gesticulating at the bushes and grass directly in front of the tent.  We cowered behind him trying to see what he was indicating and racking my brain to try and translate the word ‘komba’. I knew it wasn’t lion, buffalo, leopard or elephant, but beyond that I just couldn’t determine what was about to leap from the bushes and tear us limb from limb.


Finally, the viscious komba threat apparently over and our asgari frustrated at being unable to tell us what horrific death he’d just bravely prevented, he led us back to the campfire and a stack of reference books. He thumbed through one, stopped at a colour plate and handed it over.


The picture was of a small squirrel-sized teddy bear with enormous dark eyes, fluffy ears and a long curly tail that was wrapped around a small tree.


“Komba” he said. “Bush baby”.


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008