Tsavo Conservancy

It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been to a wildlife park that has elephants in it, and I really wanted to get away this Christmas to see them. Elephants eat a lot of food (100-300kg’s) and drink lots of water (190litres) and not all parks can cater for them. They also have routes that they follow.

sign

So, off we went to a place called the Tsavo Conservancy.

camp-sign

In theory it should take 6 hours to drive there from Nairobi, but with trucks going ridiculously slow (think 40km’s per hour) and traffic thick because of the holidays it took us 7 hours. It’s an easy drive and the road is in pretty good condition until just after Voi, where it’s advisable to fill up on petrol.

cheetah-licking

We stayed at a place called Rukinga, one of 7 ranches that form the Tsavo Conservancy. Cara, my contact there gave very clear directions (which is unusual here). We signed in at the gate and kept following the directions to the camp. I said we’d get there at 3.30pm and we did.

hornbill-staring

What surprised me the most was the quietness. After being in a noisy city the quiet was almost deafening. I was also surprised that there were very few people around. I assumed because it was coming up to Christmas that the place would be overflowing with visitors. There was just the three of us and a group of eleven people from Nairobi. It was ironic that the group actually lived in the same suburb we do. The next day a family of three from Germany were going to join the camp.

ele-eating

Rukinga is split into three areas. There’s the tenting and self catering area. There’s Nduvo House which is a two story building with three huge bedrooms, it’s own kitchen and a couple of open space lounges. That’s where the large group were staying.

And then there was our area.

There are bandas which either have bunk beds in them or like ours, a two room with a bathroom in between. There’s an outdoor eating area as well as a bar and an open area for the lounge. Unfortunately there’s no pool, which, with the sweltering weather would’ve been appreciated. However, we would’ve had to fight the elephants for it had there been one.

camp-grounds

One of the things we quickly discovered is that the wifi that was advertised, did not exist. I was bummed out because we really wanted to Skype the kids on Christmas Day.

nduvo-lounge

Our time there was spent on early morning and late afternoon safaris. The best thing we had done was to pay for a jeep and driver to go on the three drives. There was also a guide who was on the lookout for animals. One the first afternoon we were there we drove ourselves and saw – nothing. The guides know the habits of the animals, their feeding and watering grounds, as well as how to get good photographs.

I hate it when drivers become impatient and want to get on to the next animal ‘fix’. We like to watch, observe and get a million and one photos. Sometimes you just need to enjoy the beauty in front of you through real eyes and not just a lens. Our guides were fantastic.

guides

I do have to say that the meals provided were really basic, but we figured it out before we left. We didn’t go hungry, but the meals weren’t flash. Our Christmas lunch was spaghetti and tomato puree. Not anything to rave about. However, there was always fruit at the end of every meal, and the mangoes were to die for.

While having no wifi at the camp, we managed to find it when on safari. We even managed to call the kids in New Zealand on their Christmas morning, which was great.

But I guess that’s what getting away is really about. Getting away from all the hassles of daily life, getting connected to the world and not a device, take a break to breathe.

If you visit the Tsavo Conservancy I suggest a couple of things:

  1. Take a book, games and cards.
  2. Definitely pay for a safari guide and driver – you can see much more from their vehicles.

evening-hills-3

The staff at the Conservancy were of some of the highest I’ve experienced. They went out of their way to make sure our stay was the best one possible. We liked it so much, that we’ve decided to return in April.

Why not take a weekend out from the city and visit the Tsavo Conservancy, it might just do you some good.

Can you have Christmas without Candy Canes?

In another week, most people around the world will be celebrating Christmas. Some will be with friends, others with family and way too many people will spend the day alone. Probably for most it will be about Santa and gifts, for some it’s the time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.

There’s always competition on who can have the best lighting show on their house and the most impressive gift given.

house

We have some traditions for Christmas. The tree goes up on the 1st December, followed by the lights. Each year we each go out and choose a decoration for the tree. Sometimes we’re in different countries so it’s nice as a memory of our travels.

This year we will be in Kenya for Christmas. We were here last year too but we were actually meant to be in South Africa. That all fell through at the last minute and so we felt a little lost being in Nairobi. All of our friends had gone away, both local and expat. Nairobi pretty much empties out as this is one of the few times people will travel to go and see their families. We knew we would be here this year so planned for it well.

However, the other day I was looking at the tree that Lizzie put up and really missed seeing the candy canes. I’ve never seen them in Kenya and although there is a lot more Christmassy stuff this year, not a candy cane in sight. We went to church on Sunday and there wasn’t even a Christmas tree up. The only decorations was a small wreath and a couple of red baubles. While there was a lot of people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ it didn’t quite have that feel.

Last weekend we took some friends to Thika Road Mall. TRM has the best decorations in the whole of the city. It’s quite marvelous and has such a Christmassy feel about it. There’s nothing like glitz and glamour to walk through. tree

When we lived in Australia it was often around 30 degrees and our days were spent at the beach having fish and chips. Now we live in Kenya with similar weather conditions but the beach for us is a 9 hour drive away. We brought all of our tree decorations with us from Australia and in 2012 we purchased a fake tree which has kept us going.

We have had to purposely make Christmas a great thing here. This year we decided that it would be no presents, but we would go camping instead. We made up 5 food parcels for people who needed them. We bought some Christmas crackers to take away with us. Every now and then Chrissy music plays through our house.

What we have is limited compared to how we would do things when we have greater family around. While it would be really cool to have candy canes, I think we can do without them. We’ve made a decision to make the most of it even if we don’t have much.

The one thing I have learned from living in Africa is that it’s not about the trimmings or gifts, it’s about getting together with family and giving kids what they so desperately want and need – TIME.

christmas-girls-5

Just Get Lost!

We’ve been very blessed to be able to do a lot of travel as individuals, a family and in a group. Every trip has its challenges and triumphs. Living in Kenya enables us to see amazing wildlife and scenery within a few hours.

Travelling with a large group complicates things and I thought I’d share a few pointers on it.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting.

Most of our first team to Africa. It was fun/interesting

Group dynamics become evident in a very short time. There’s the loud person who is sure they know the way (but not really) and enforces their viewpoint. There’s the quiet one who goes with the flow. In between you’ll have a whole range of people who try to be heard, get frustrated when they feel no one listens to them, and those that verbally let everyone what they think. The more people you have, the more variables in behavior.

I remember when the four of us and one extra went to Hawaii for a conference. The plan afterwards was to go to the volcano national park. It was the one thing I insisted on as I’ve a weird fascination with volcanoes, natural disasters such as tsunamis and the like. This trip was doable because we had sold our house in New Zealand and I thought we might not get this opportunity ever again. What I hadn’t counted on was 5 sleepless nights because one of the crew snored loudly, and I mean earth shaking snoring. I even threw pillows at her and told her to shut up. She didn’t notice a thing.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we're still married.

I did get to see the volcanoes and 10 years later we’re still married

By the time the conference had finished we were really tired. It had been a full on week and the five of us were ready for a break. First, we missed our connecting flight to one of the islands. Then, I lost the plot and nearly divorced my husband because I wanted things done my way to get going on our ‘holiday’. I got so cranky that I walked out of the pancake place and was heading for my passport at the hotel. It all came down to tiredness. Three teenage girls and tired adults don’t always mix either.

Building memories

Building memories

Mixed ages can cause other problems too. If you have a group that might have pre-schoolers, teenagers and adults from different families, it can bring conflict. Teenagers are likely to want to just shop, adults hang by the pool and pre-schoolers just want to play on the outside equipment. Phones don’t always work in other countries, people don’t listen when it comes to meetup points and little kids can’t handle the long hours often required.

We went to Disneyland in LA one year. One of the family (who will remain nameless) was prepared to stand in line for 3 hours just to go on the Cars ride. The rest of us weren’t and wanted to go on other rides. It was his turn to lose the plot. Again, a mixture of jetlag, tiredness and disappointment.

Liz building a car at Disneyland

Liz building a car at Disneyland

To go in a large group, you really have to be selfless.

I guess we’re not there yet.

We wanted to spend a year travelling around Australia just for the heck of it. Our youngest daughter gets car sick and she was prepared to divorce us for even considering it. She’s married now, so we’re going to drive around Africa instead.

I’m a Type A person. I like to cross my T’s and dot my I’s, but living in Kenya I’ve had to learn to be much more flexible. I’ve learnt that when you’re on the road you may just have to give up trying to do everything and enjoy what you can see/do. Too many times we also try and fit too many things into a schedule and when we don’t get to do them, we get disappointed.

Sometimes, it’s also good just to get lost. That way you end up having adventures you would never had encountered.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It's 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made thing interesting.

Pete broke his leg on Mt Kilimanjaro. This is in Dubai on the way home. It’s 43 degrees. Not planned, but it made things interesting.

In 2009 I did my first trip to New York City. I was by myself and for the most part it was for work. However, I always try and fit in some fun things to do. The people I was with weren’t very hospitable and pretty much left me to my own devices. One night I caught a train from Queens into Manhattan to meet a board member and his son for dinner. It was quite late when we finished and they insisted I get a taxi back to Queens. I was just thinking of the few dollars in my pocket and was very vocal about catching the train back. They were insistent and so was I. Remember, I was jetlagged and in a new city. I went to the train station to find the gate locked. I couldn’t find another entrance and then had to walk lots of blocks to find the right line. I jumped on a train but it became obvious I was heading in the wrong direction. Meantime I’m getting text messages from our board member wondering if I was in Queens yet. I get off the Harlem bound train and a nice old lady pointed me to the right one. I get off at Queens but then can’t remember how to get to the house. I start praying madly (it’s amazing how spiritual we get during a crisis) and looking for a familiar building. Thankfully, I eventually found it and of course never told anyone about by short visit to Harlem in the middle of the night.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway.

Our plan was to go to New Zealand in 2015. Instead we went for our daughters wedding in 2014. Some things are out of your control, but you can have lots of fun anyway. We did!

With all the crappola that goes on in our world, I’ve found people are pretty good at helping out in a time of need. The problem when you’re lost is that they’re not and they know how to get there but don’t always have the ability to communicate it. By the time you’ve got to the 5th turn, you’ll be lost all over again. Getting lost is okay until that goes on for hours on end.

When we first moved to Sydney, Australia, we had to meet up on the other side of the city with some friends to pick up a suitcase. Evan insisted on coming to our place, but we really wanted to see what their part of the world looked like. This was pre-GPS days. I don’t know how many hours later we got there, because Ev came and got us, but 13 years later he still gives us stick about it.

Golden Rules of Travel:

  1. Don’t book anything on the day you arrive – we’ve missed lots of appointments by breaking this rule
  2. Do one thing in a day – it should be fun not a marathon to get around
  3. Mix things up in your schedule – one day sight seeing, one day shopping, something in the morning, another day something at night
  4. Before you go, ask the group what one thing they want to do/see and make it happen (I’ve never got to the Statue of Liberty because of the weather, but one day…)
  5. Remember the world is big place – it takes more than 5 minutes to get from A to B
  6. Know where the toilets are
  7. Know and obey the local laws
  8. Make happy memories not disastrous ones.

So go ahead, travel and get lost. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pan out like you thought – isn’t that life? You will meet incredible people, see amazing things and experience life changing events. You’re not going to get that while at home

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn't have known how good he was if Pete didn't have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Our 2012 guide to Kilimanjaro was the same as 2011. We wouldn’t have known how good he was if Pete didn’t have his accident. We are lifelong friends now.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain

The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. Augustine of Hippo

Go see the world, your adventures await you!

Go see the world, your adventures await you!

Camping in Kisumu

Actually it wasn’t Kisumu but Seme about an hour out of the city. The 8 hour drive was great until we got lost, in the dark, and the directions we had didn’t match what we could see. Then it became a 10 hour trip.

Seme (sem – aye) is right on the edge of Lake Victoria. It’s a very small village, up a long dirt road. Think of close to Uganda, just below the Equator and that’s where we were. It’s in the Nyanza District.

These students are in school for 11 hours each day. We got to spend an hour with them.

These students are in school for 11 hours each day. We got to spend an hour with them.

We were visiting some new friends who are helping with our visa requirements and are also putting up a childrens home. Pete has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to practical things but especially putting up buildings. Many people lose money in construction here because of dodgy builders who do a half decent job and never return.

How we got around Seme

How we got around Seme

While the weather in Seme was warm (29 degrees) we had to pass through rain and hail storms to get there. In fact we missed the turnoff from Kericho to Kisumu because we just couldn’t see anything, way too much hail.

From visits to other places I expected our hosts to live in a very small one bedroom house. Instead they had built a beautiful 3 bedroom, two storied place. On the second floor was an open walled meeting area which looked out over the lake. It was lovely.

The view from upstairs

The view from upstairs

Because we got there so late we slept in the house that night and pitched the tent the next morning. The weekend was full on with visiting families, filming for BeyondWater, giving out a health pack to a soon-to-be mother, playing games with the kids at church and even a community consultation forum. In between Pete was able to peg out the building on the land.

Lindah, our host, showing a soon to be mum how to use the things we had bought her.

Lindah, our host, showing a soon to be mum how to use the things we had bought her.

Sleeping in a tent is great. That is until your blow up bed unexpectantly goes down in the wee hours of the morning. And it’s not so great to discover that you’ve pitched the tent right next to the chicken coop where a rooster starts crowing at 4am. I can do without running water and electricity but a rooster…. He was lucky not to become dinner.

However, having a fire burning and everyone sitting around it having a good time is priceless. Last year we bought a bunch of fireworks but never lit them off in case the neighbours thought it was gunfire. So we took them to Seme and within 10 minutes they were all gone. I don’t know whether they just aren’t as good or when you’re small everything is bigger and better, but fireworks just aren’t as good as they used to be.

Teaching the kids 'River/Bank'.

Teaching the kids ‘River/Bank’.

At least in the country you can see the stars. There’s too many lights in the city. It’s quite noisy at night as the sound travels a really long way, especially when a lake is involved. It seemed someone up the road liked to party every night. In truth, it was probably miles away, but it still went all night. Of course, when it’s dark, it’s really dark. Our wonderful hosts are trying to organize solar power to their house because the electricity provider is making it impossible for the average person to afford to get it connected. We brought with us 3 small solar lamps which lit up their house (and our tent) wonderfully. Apparently since we left, they’ve invested into one and the kids love it.

The camera doesn't do justice to the sunsets we saw.

The camera doesn’t do justice to the sunsets we saw.

One thing I really noticed in Seme is that there’s this massive lake (Victoria) and it’s the only water supply for the area. It’s also very unclean. People bath in it, pollution comes from Kisumu onto the shores, it’s for drinking by humans and animals and for washing your clothes.

collecting 4

Lake Victoria is the biggest in Africa and it’s the largest tropical lake in the world. However, the people living around it have so many waterborne diseases. Thankfully our friends had a really good water filter.

When you live in this area you need a filter like this one.

When you live in this area you need a filter like this one.

Lack of clean water, no electricity, slow internet. If you’re fussy about any of these things, don’t go camping and don’t go to remote areas. When you’re there you find instead wonderful, hospitable people, young people hungry to learn, little children who love to laugh and communities who do it tough, but always with a smile.

With a face like this, why wouldn't you want to come back.

With a face like this, why wouldn’t you want to come back.

Our friends thought we had really gone bush by tenting at their place. We felt honoured and spoilt by everyone and can’t wait to return.

Ol Pejeta

We thought we’d be clever and have a mid-week break instead of trying to battle traffic on the long weekend (Madaraka Day). I had always wanted to head up to the Mount Kenya region, where we’d never been, and so we settled on going to the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, just outside of Nanyuki.

cranes kissing

Their website is full of info but quite complicated to make bookings on. Eventually we got to book our tent site, which is something we have wanted to do for some time. Our tent hadn’t been used for over a year and we’ve got all of the accessories so all we had to do was to get food and get going.

perfect eagle

We were so surprised on how good the roads were heading out that way. We expected potholes all over the place and even though the website said it would take 3 hours to get there, we allowed for 4. We had only been as far as Sagana in the past and had stopped at a great resort/café.

Setting up our home

Setting up our home

In typical Kenyan style the resort only had half of the things on the menu, but at least it had decent toilets.

The trip was pretty non eventful except for being pulled up by a policeman for speeding 5km’s over the limit of 100kmph. Note that there are no speed signs, no speed radars and we were going up a very steep hill at about 90kmph. Here you don’t argue with the police. At first he demanded 10,000kshs about $120. We had two options, talk him down or go back to the same area the next day to face court and pay ‘a fee’. Corruption is a filthy thing and destroys the country. The officer knew we had no choice but to pay, in the end we got away with $30. We grumbled for the next hour because we knew we were only pulled up because we were white.

The weather started caving in as we got closer to the Mount Kenya National Park. Then it started raining – heavily.

Greys Zebras are endangered

Greys Zebras are endangered

Thankfully by the time we got to the conservancy it had cleared up, just in time for us to put our tent up.

Of course, we had to find the place we had booked. Simple instructions, go right, then left and follow through to you see the sign for the Ol Lerai campsite. We got there and saw a small rusted sign that said ‘campsite’. There was no water, firewood nor latrines as promised. Just a river and a really bad area for a tent. We were ticked, thinking we had spent a considerable amount of money (for us) for a dodgy site. After a few frantic calls to the managers we found out our actual site was through some trees and on a rough dirt track to the most amazing site. Sort of like a cul de sac made of dirt that was surrounded by a rushing river.

Morning neighbours

Morning neighbours

And there was a large family of elephants right beside us.

That night was spent erecting the tent, getting the fire going, cooking dinner and listening to the wildlife around us.

I have to say that Pete and I didn’t sleep much because elephants were trumpeting, I’m sure I heard a lion roaring and there were definitely warthogs outside our tent. Something spent a long time outside our tent chewing at a tree.

big horns

There was no way I was visiting the latrine in the middle of the night!

The next day we spent around 8 hours in the car looking at the wildlife. I had seen a lion and lioness about 20 metres from our tent on the other side of the river that morning and we knew it was going to be a good day of viewing. There are a lot more elephants here than what we thought.

The cool thing about camping is that we could call back to our site for lunch. Again to be greeted by elephants.

Baraka with one of his carers

Baraka with one of his carers

Today we also got to see Baraka, the blind black rhino. The poor guy got a cataract in one eye then went blind in the other from fighting. We also visited the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It’s actually within the park and we found out that the whole area used to be called Sweetwaters. Chimpanzees are not native to Kenya and all of the 38 chimps they rescued had been in conflict, mistreated or abandoned. Someone had posted that it was like a zoo, but the area we saw was massive 250 acre enclosure. We were really impressed with it.

elephant hiding

We slept much better the next night because we were so exhausted.

One of the main reasons to come to Ol Pejeta was to see the world’s last remaining five northern white rhinos. It’s definitely worth paying for. They are guarded 24/7 and they also have their horns sawed off to dissuade poachers. There were also Greys Zebras who are endangered. Who would’ve thought that a zebra was on it’s last legs!

Max

Max

The bummer about camping is that you have to pack everything up. Mind you we had been really lucky with the weather as there had been no rain at all over our stay. The cool thing about camping is being right in the middle of wildlife. At night we would put marshmallows on a stick and heat them up.

The trip home was uneventful, except we had to lug the tent, sleeping bags, clothes and cooler box up 4 flights of stairs. In another week we head to Kisumu to do it all over again.

Amazing sunrises greeted us each day

Amazing sunrises greeted us each day

Camping is definitely the way to go. However, if you plan on doing it at Ol Pejeta, definitely hire a night guard, you might sleep better than what we did!

rhino 3