Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Spice Island

Chris and I landed in Zanzibar with no expectations whatsoever. All we wanted was a beach on which to rest our weary legs post-Kili and we hadn't thought any further than that. Zanzibar was the obvious choice and after a full day on the bus, arriving in a crowded and scary bus station, missing our evening ferry and a night in a seedy Dar es Salaam hotel cum brothel, we were more than ready to get there.

I have been to an embarrassing number of beaches in my time. Yellow sand, white sand, black sand, pebbly, wavy, calm, crystal clear, murky, sunny, windy, tropical, Arctic. It is amazing how different they can be, yet how they draw people from far and wide. Everyone loves going to the seaside, they are the focus of  annual holidays yet if you look closely, very few have all the elements that make them truly special; that make them places you really want to go to unwind. Most of the time, if we're honest, it can be a bit of a chore going to the beach. I have already waxed lyrical about my love of Palolem beach in Goa so I won't bore you with that again but I do think that Zanzibar may be the only place I have been to in a long time which ticked the majority of my extremely demanding and fussy beach holiday boxes!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

A Kenyan Safari, Masai Mara

Our first glimpse of the sleeping lions
There is no adequate way to explain what it is like to go on safari; to spend hours searching the vast African savannah for just a glimpse of an animal, any animal. For those of you who have been, you will know what I'm talking about and for those who haven't, I can only attempt to describe my feelings during the experience. It was so much more magical than I could have ever imagined to see so many beautiful animals in their natural habitat. My first glimpse of a wild lion really did send me into a state of childish euphoria. Not quite sure where to put myself, I hopped around our safari vehicle like a mad woman trying both to calmly observe them and let the moment sink in, and to get a prize winning snap all at the same time; God help anyone who was in my way...Chris!. I was in a constant state of alert for the entire duration of our game drives, adrenalin coursing through my veins at the excitement of what might be around the corner. Naturally, most of the time there was nothing around the corner and there are actually quite long stints where you don't see much at all, but when you did come across an animal hidden in the bushes it was incredibly exhilarating, like winning the lottery (or how I imagine that would be!). Every now and then my excitement would bubble over and I would be convinced I'd seen a leopard stalking through the tall grass....nope, just a log! I think our guide Alex grew a little tired of my 'sightings' after a while!

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

'Real Africa' - A road less travelled.

From Lake Naivasha we braced ourselves for the journey west into 'real Kenya'; the bit that not many people visit. A couple of years ago our good friends Jess and Graham spent six months plus in this little known corner of Africa and we were keen to see the places they spoke so fondly of, the place they had made their home.

Perhaps most famous for the shocking tribal violence that erupted around the 2008 elections, Kisumu, set on the banks of Lake Victoria,  is Kenya's third largest city (though it was only granted city status in 2001and has a population of only about 400,000) and more importantly, home to Obama's grandmother! Read any guidebook and descriptions of the place are slim on the details. There are no lions, leopards or beaches to lure the crowds of foreign visitors that Kenya receives each year. Instead it is an area known for its high levels of malaria, poverty and HIV and is home to an impressive number of NGOs and aid agencies all trying to address these endemic problems. However, despite all of this, Jess had managed to build a successful tour agency business out of the sights to see in the area, a wonderful community based tourism project that not only has brought this corner of Kenya to life for tourists who are after something a little more authentic but that also gives back to the people who need it most and supports some of the vital work that is being done in the area; Integritour. It sounded like people were missing a trick leaving this part of the country off their holiday itineraries and we were keen to explore. We weren't sure what to expect as we bundled ourselves into a series of matatus and made our way from the paved roads and tourist infrastructure of the East to the dusty bumpy roads of the west, all the way to Kisumu.