Thursday, 21 February 2013

Safari: Tsavo East and West in pictures!

Recently I took a 3 day/2 night safari with Kentanza Tours to Tsavo East and Tsavo West National parks, around 2 hours north of Mombasa.

We headed up to Tsavo West first to get the longest drive over with first and start seeing some ANIMALS! Tsavo West is stunning, it has such amazing scenery, whereas Tsavo East is flatter with fewer bushes for animals to hide behind.

Hey! I see you! Elephant in Tsavo West, Kenya near Mombasa

Sunset in Tsavo West National Park, Kenya
We stayed in Ngulia Lodge in Tsavo West, which is owned by Kenya Safari Lodges and Hotels. They have the most amazing views from the rooms, elephants and buffalo strolling past on their way to the watering hole next to the hotel bar - you get a drink and they get a drink.

Room with a view at Ngulia lodge, Tsavo West
Over dinner a baby leopard walked right past the restaurant and I was like 'ah that's cute, a cute cub with cute baby claws'... until I remembered that baby leopards tend to have Mummy and Daddy leopards as parents and that the walls of the restaurant were not leopard proof and that no one was carrying a rifle... GULP.

We took a walking tour around Mzima Springs, which is where the whole of Mombasa's water supply comes from, dontcha know. We got out of our safari vehicle and followed a man with a gun into the forests... GULP.

Smile! I've got a gun!
If you like Mount Kilimanjaro, you'll love Tavo West (stick with me) as you get a mean view of the mount on a clear day too. Sadly my camera is not high-tec enough but your eyes will appreciate the real view, so travel to Africa, go check it out yourself or give me money for a new camera and I'll go for you.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Safari Time!

Tomorrow we're catching our own private safari vehicle to Tsavo West National Park to see me some LIONS baby!

Although, here's something about me you might not know, my favourite thing to see is the Secretary Bird. What a wicked name for a bird. I love Kenya, did you know that?

I met someone in a bar the other day who works for Kenya Wildlife Services and he promised to bring me a Secretary Bird the next time I was in the bird. I didn't go back there. He didn't specify whether it would be dead or alive and my flat here just isn't big enough for a big bird pet. Plus IMMIGRATION WOULD BE MAD AT ME.

I don't need the hassle.

OK folks, offline for a few days, back soon!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Shopping in Kenya - it ain't no Tesco...

I've been helping the economy over here in so many ways... mainly by buying shoes and pretty dresses and African baskets that I don't need (or MORE CRAP as Josh put it).

You are welcome Kenya.

The other day, 3 of us went into Mombasa central and did some shopping. Central Mombasa is pretty mental and attacks all of your senses, it's so damn hot and the traffic is zooming past you, horns honking, motorbikes revving, street children are begging, the sun is shining so hard you can't see and there are people EVERYWHERE.

It's fun though. You just have to know your limits and know where you can retreat to if it gets too much and you want an iced coffee to cool down with before getting involved again.

So the other day we were shopping and we met this guy called Omar who introduced himself as our personal shopper. I recognised him from a previous trip to town where I'd told him I wanted a coconut to drink from and he'd shouted 'I'll get you one!' and ran off into moving traffic and came back holding one with a massive grin on his face.

Hi Omar...

Omar took us all around central Mombasa and patiently waited while we tried on dresses (me and Mandy that is, not Josh) bartered for cheap spices and got chased to the ATM by some VERY good salesmen... all for the princely sum of 100 shillings as a tip (around 80p).

Shopping is hilarious here, the starting price for items is ludicrously high but hold out long enough and you'll get a good price. I find if you act like you're not bothered then the price will be slashed in half, if you show any kind of excitement about an item then they'll know you want it. Act aloof.

We're going back into town today to buy new shows for all the boys at Grandsons project. The only thing that the Sister told us is that if the boys have new things, they are more likely to run away and sell the items on the streets for glue. So you think you're helping, but you might actually be creating a problem, it's so difficult. But I'd rather help and encourage the boys to stay at the centre, so they'll get the shoes in return for staying at the centre for a set amount of time.

Let's go shoe shopping, Josh!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Visiting Kilifi...

Last Sunday we took a road up the North Coast of Mombasa to Kilifi, I've wanted to go there for a while and our original plan was to head to Malindi which is even further up the coast, but we were hungover and didn't wake up early enough, so we settled for Kilifi which was fine by me...

We visited the ruins of a mosque...

We visited a 600 year old Baobab tree (I LOVE Boabab trees, they're HUGE!)

Then we visited a snake park and held a snake... not so much fun for me because when the man took it off my shoulders it tried to bite him, so if he had waited a second longer I would have punched a snake...

After we held the snake, the tour leader asked if we wanted to see them feed the snakes, I said yes as I thought the food would be dead... I MUST HAVE FORGOTTEN I WAS IN KENYA. The next thing I know, he's carrying this cute yellow baby chick over to the snake tank and it's chirping away happily and I suddenly feel SICK and walk away covering my ears. I do not have a single regret that I didn't stay to watch that chick getting eaten... VULTURES.

Next we headed to Kilifi boatyard for a seafood lunch:

After our fill of seafood, we hit the beach to sink into the sand for a lazy hour of sunbathing, swimming and idle chit-chat.

With wet shorts we climbed back into the car and decided to swing by a 5 star golf resort called Vipingo Ridge. This place is so posh it has its own airstrip that you can fly from Nairobi to in your own private jet, so it was really the perfect choice for us in our wet shorts and beach dresses with sandy flip flops... :)

We sat and had coffee, cocktails and a chocolate brownie for the princely sum of £25 while watching the sun set over the valley.

How was your Sunday?

Lamu island is out of bounds then...

Soooooo... The Boy has arrived in Mombasa and has been here for almost one week already! Wow!

It's weird getting used to making plans with someone else when you've been a lone ranger for a month! The other day I went to bed without telling him and he found me in bed and was like 'you didn't tell me you were going to bed' oh yes, I'm not used to telling people my whereabouts, sorry...

We've been busy looking through the Kenya guidebook for all kinds of adventures to fill our time here, and Lamu looked like a decent place to visit. It seemed similar to Stone Town in Zanzibar and I was looking forward to wandering down alleys and checking out some wickedmean architecture, but alas! It is not to be!

It turns out that my Rough Guide I found is from 2009, and since its publication, Somalians keep insisting on kidnapping Westerners so it's no longer safe. Tut.

I'm one of those people who things happen to, so I would 100% be kidnapped if I were to go to Lamu, and that would be REALLY ANNOYING. The FCO website states:

"There were two attacks by armed gangs in small boats against beach resorts on 11 September (Kiwayu) and 1 October 2011 (Manda Island, Lamu). Both attacks were on beach-front properties, with two Westerners kidnapped and one murdered. Security in these areas has been tightened. However, beach-front accommodation and boats off the coast in areas close to the Somali border remain vulnerable."

Hmmmm. Normally I laugh in the face of the FCO website for all its scaremonger tactics and 'Oh, don't go outside when you're in Kenya because it's not safe and you'll be murdered' messaging, but on this occasion I might just go back to Zanzibar again and not be kidnapped.  

To Zanzibar then!

In conclusion: Lamu is full of people waiting to kidnap you, don't go there. I am of course kidding and I do feel bad for it having Somalia as such a shitty neighbour. I liken it to if you had a really nice house with nice furniture and a nice garden and then some chavs moved in to the council house next door and kept killing people. So annoying, you know?

Friday, 8 February 2013

The Mission: 7 Children's Homes, 1 Day...

Last Saturday I had the most amazing time visiting five different children's homes around Mombasa and donating items of food, clothes, toiletries and SWEETS!

There were seven children's homes in total that received donations, but we were unable to go to two of them because they were in dodgy areas, so the staff met us at the meeting spot and we distributed the donations from there.

We headed off behind our big blue truck to Nazarene School, the very first project i-to-i worked with. We had to drive the truck through the smallest gap between the houses in the community, where we saw a few people try to take some of the donations from the back of the truck, but we were on their tails and they fled.

We arrived:

We dropped the items off for Nazarene, took a look around the school, played football with the children and then sped off into the distance. We had work to do.

The next stop was around the corner at the Grandsons of Abraham project. Grandsons takes in street boys who want to live a better life and it was so amazing to meet the boys. Most have lived on the streets and they've run away from something in their lives. But the boys I met were all great, a little tough looking, but once you crack through that exterior, it was great to get to know the boys and talk to them.

After leaving Grandsons, we headed to New Hope school and children's home, but not before getting stopped by the police for reasons I'm still not sure about but that I think involved a bribe :)

We met the children, took a look around the school, I even had a go at taking a lesson of my own :)

After spending time at New Hope, we hit the (bumpy) road again and headed to Tumaini Home of Hope. The project is run by a British lady called Joan who now has Kenyan citizenship and all of the children at the home have been affected by HIV in some way. There's some great work going on at the home.

We were running out of time and we still had one project left to visit, Lunahome! So we climbed back in the cars, sped over to Lunahome and met the children :)

It was such an amazing day that just showed me how much good work is being done here, but how much more there is still to do. I'm happy to have been a small part of that and to have met everyone I did that day!

Thank you to everyone who donated money from back home, thank you.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

How to get around in Kenya... NOT LIKE THAT!

For anyone who hasn't been to Kenya before, there are three main types of public transport, all equally dangerous, fast and a LOT of fun. Today's essay blog will explain in more detail:

1. The matatu

As Mombasa doesn't have public buses, the main transport comes through matatus, or minivans that theoretically should seat 12 people as they have 12 seats. Go figure. However it's not uncommon to have more than the maximum capacity and strangers sitting on your lap. You have to forgo any concerns about personal space and leave them at the door. In the matatu you have to climb over people to get to seats - literally CLIMB.

I am clumsy, I have hit at least 20 people in the face on matatus so far.

Plus, I always forget that wearing a skirt in matatus + climbing over people = pants flashing! MUST STOP WEARING SKIRTS ON MATATUS.

The best thing about matatus is that at night time, they pimp the matatus so that every angle of the vehicle is decorated with a string of rope lights, so they look like freaky skeleton/badass/neon slugs. That is until they drive past you pumping Britney Spears 'Hit me baby one more time' at full volume and you fall about laughing.

Did I mention that most journeys cost 30 shillings which converts to around 15p???? CHEAP, man.

2. The tuk-tuk

These three wheeled menaces aren't afraid of anything, and I flipping love them. The engines are so noisy that  conversation is ruled out while they're in motion but the drivers are hilarious and you can trust that they know the dimensions of their vehicles to the nearest millimeter. They're more expensive than matatus, but handy if you have shopping to carry home.

3. Boda-boda/piki-piki

I've saved the best until last... the forbidden fruit... my motorbikes! I'm not actually supposed to go on them as they're apparently so dangerous, but feeling the breeze in your hair is just so amazing on a hot African day. I have a very nice driver called Rashid who likes to tell me about his family as he drives, but he has a scary habit of turning his head to talk to me, so I don't talk that much on the bikes... JUST LOOK AT THE ROAD PLEASE.

So there we are. A mini guide to how to get around ON TRANSPORT in Kenya.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

An Interesting 24 Hours in Kenya...

There's no point in planning anything in Kenya. Kenya grabs any plans you might have, throws them out the window and says 'HA! That's what you THINK you're doing!' then runs away with them into the sunset.

In the last 24 hours I have:

* Gone to the airport to collect a new arrival who we took straight for a few beers. A few beers turned into talking with the owner of the bar who offered me a job and treated us to a kilogram of beef, ugali and four tusker beers. At one point there were three unopened bottles in front of me at which point I had to tell him to stop buying us beers - not something I enjoy saying.

* I took a motorbike taxi to a beach hotel and sunbathed and typed blogs to earn some cash. I had planned to stay at home and work to save some cash but Mombasa decided to have a powercut so I figured it would be cooler to sit on the beach and work than sit in my apartment when the fans aren't working. Smart move.

My new office :)
* I took a motorbike taxi to the beach which cost me a cool 100 shillings = 80p. This is a sign that I am becoming Kenyan that i didn't want to pay for a motorbike so instead I walked for 20 minutes in the sun, paid 10 shillings for a matatu, then had another 20 minute walk and a 30 shilling matatu again. I saved 60 shillings, you work it out.

* I was skyping with my Dad earlier and a waiter comes over to see why I am talking to my laptop. He then proceeds to stand and watch me for five full minutes while my Dad keeps saying 'Katie, he's still behind you'. I guess I'm getting used to this behaviour, like when a lady came and sat on my lap on the matatu bus the other day.

* I had a full conversation with a Masai tribesman today, I'm still not exactly sure what I said but it seemed to make sense to him and we both parted ways.

* I had an invitation to live with a man in Burundi today. I don't even know where Burundi is other than it's not in Kenya. I'm not going.