Tsavo National Park West, Kenya 2014
What did you do for the holidays?
I shouldn´t even answer this question but here it goes.
Continent #5 is special. Not only is it 2 away from 7, it also happens for me to be Africa. I get a lot of **** about going because it is not safe…or well right now mainly it´s dangerous because of Ebola…What is Ebola doing where I was….Absolutely Nothing….lets worry more about MALARIA huh.
Ebola happens to be in WEST Africa for those who know where that is, it is the bottom lip of Africa, the part that touches the Atlantic Ocean, some 5 countries have been affected, thousands contracted the disease, many died. It is still a big disease affecting many but by all means when news is International please do some research. Turns out the closest point reporting any cases was over 2,000 miles to the closest point where I would be, that is a 7 hour non direct flight and Portugal happens to be much closer and has a reported case. YES, hello AFRICA is HUGE….my 5th CONTINENT.
I survived, no scratches, no really harmful diseases to my knowledge, still waiting on the malaria pills to finish up. I do think I had Cholera or Salmonella though….but I survived even though many died of that in Oregon Trail…it is really just severe dehydration….survivable.
I must say thought that I did go in scared. 1 – I am female and I was going alone (they say not to) 2- the guide book warned of so many diseases I´d never heard of 3 – they say transportation is unsafe 4 – the cities are really dangerous 5 – you can´t swim in certain places because of some snails 6 – wild elephants scare me (since Chitwan – look it up) 7 – terrorist attacks and Muslims 8- and who knows what else but I was scared.
Turns out It was perfectly safe, the cities are big and just as dangerous as any big city, you must pay attention to surroundings and watch out for your stuff, don´t wander into slums, places with lots of people always have muggings same everywhere, don´t go out alone at night, don´t carry many valuables if you don´t want to lose them if it so does happen, maybe use taxis at night…but I never felt unsafe…it is your basic travelers guidebook.
The diseases are rarely contracted by tourists and many locals are immune naturally or unaware of it plus they are curable…except this MALARIA I keep mentioning…which also apparently some people are just immune…I would like to know if I am one of them so I can not take pills next time!
Going alone was fine. I never had any big issues. I Actually got lots of help catching my buses off the highway, no one bugged me on the buses, hotels were cheap and safe with Air Con or with fan and window, *beach boys didn´t get anywhere except be entertaining and informative for someone alone (also a shield to other beach boys), being violated definitely did not happen, it was all the usual travel alone backpacker ordeal (if you´ve not tried it – DO IT ONCE).
*Beach boys are men on the beach that either try to sell stuff or want to get in your pants (mainly this one), so they follow you around, tell you about stuff you see (very informative), invite you to places and basically never leave you side – you have to be direct with them, completely ignore them, or enter any establishment and they disappear. (Warning: they are likely to run into you later and you must do the whole process again..jaja)
It was true that driving is crazy but I´ve seen much worse….the worst part was passing…that, was a bit crazy. Basically they pass even if there is not enough space causing the other side often to come to a complete stop, or swerving the vehicle drastically to get back in the lane…it was fun…also some roads were dirt…potholes?, what the heck are those (as they speed off to the destination without anyone even winking)..in Kenya it´s called the Kenyan massage….i had a nice hour massage there. Another thing with transit was the Matatus, DalaDalas, or Taxis which are little vans that act as public buses, turns out they are way better than expected and far superb to Latina American buses because because each seat per law is the max occupancy of the vehicle (well plus the door opener/money collector and sometimes a few more squeezed in but really so much better than Latin America. Travel by bus was nothing spectacular but it got you there and you had a seat….hold those bathroom breaks and bring T.P.
Still water (water that doesn´t have inflows or outflows) do not swim in, it has Schistosomiasis…whatever that is…like the water version of the crazy amazon moths….comes from snails, buries inside your skin (or organs) and grows out…yuck! Lake Victoria was a good example. Totally curable. Any way for this trip I got one new vaccine…menengitis…I had many of the others…yellow fever here is a must, they do check at borders…some times.
Terrorism, yes it is present, mainly in Kenya, it is random, the North Coast bordering Somalia is really the issue…because Somalia itself is an issue and the border is not controlled (they can come and go as they please)…this is a place to avoid right now because of kidnappings and pirate attacks…so much so that the popular island has a curfew at 6 p.m….so don´t even think of watching that sunset! I wanted to go to Lamu (the island) and I will one day…i did not have time nor was the 6pm curfew thing really appealing….the terrorism didn´t quite bug me…not sure why…maybe the cases are really random. Terrorism also happens away from the coast, same Somali people causing the disasters (also why you randomly see camels in huge herds…camel milk apparently)…these in general are small town things at the moment…but obviously something to be aware when traveling there.
Now that all bases are covered except the most important…those scary and dangerous elephants. You know the ones everyone loves….in movies and the zoo….well turns out they have great memories and scent and recall that poachers killed many of them…they fear us and do charge…very strong animal….though in a vehicle there is no problem (us and them). Pretty sure I haven´t convinced you that they are dangerous so I will elaborate Chitwan. Chitwan is a National Park in Nepal (same territory covers a chunk in India – yes this is where Nepal is located on the map – smart people you already knew that, right?). This park is well known for rhinos (1 horn) – also dangerous – but in this particular park you can do walking tours…yeah…well until the guide shows up with a big stick that is supposed to be your protection from elephants (not guns)…hum…right, I trust, I trust. Well while walking about you hear animal noises…normal….well roars from wild elephants are hair raising because you really have no clue where its coming from and your in the forest (with a stick for protection mind you)…can´t see either…yeah! Turns out in Chitwan the elephants are looking for mates, but when denied or not finding they kind of go crazy…and can be dangerous…well these roars are mating calls…greaaat! Chitwan though highly recommended is a bit crazy….to add to your walks the town is literally in the center of the park…coool right…well until animals, huge animals, start walking down the street and through resorts at night…yeah!….I have a lot of stories…sorry, back to Africa.
Most people go to Africa for a safari to see the BIG 5* – well I went to see the big 20…what is that supposed to mean?…I went not caring what I saw, but I did want to see my favorite, the ZEBRA :D. Turns out I got really lucky and saw my big 20 and lucky for me the ZEBRA is one of the most common animals to see…It is literally everywhere…Saw it right off the freeway before we even got to the park….also super easy to see are giraffes, elephants and baboons. The zebra was the second wild animal I saw, first was the giraffe. I literally love animals and was just as excited for a turtle and frog as I was for a butterfly (typical) and birds…a hem I mean the ZEBRA. I loved every second….and I spotted a lot because everything that caught my eye caught my eye :D. *The Big 5 are basically the biggest animals in the parks, the Lion, Rhino, Leopard, Buffalo and Elephant. I saw all of those except the Leopard (saving something for next time). Some go and miss many, so I consider myself lucky and many go with a MUST SEE attitude which makes guides crazy sometimes when they hear of their whereabouts on the radio….I really didn´t care…like I said, I was happy with every animal sighting. I´m also proud to say I saw a Cheetah because man they really are hard to find…should be on that list of 5!
I did 2 safaris. One 5 days completely alone with a guide and the other 3 days in group and guide. Tourism is really low, especially in Kenya right now for the Ebola (not problem) and terrorism. So it was hard to find groups even in high season.
I must say safaris are darn cool. There are 3 levels…aka costs, economic, mid level and high end. The first I did was mid level and wow, it was like 5 star. You stay in camp sites only your tent has its own bathroom and it is huge, there is a restaurant and bar, sometimes amazing views….and a POOL! What, I thought safari means no shower for days, searching for animals, cooking dinner by campfire, lots of mosquitos….pools never once came to mind. Maybe the economic ones are like the safari I had come to know but really…it was luxury…one place I even had a guard with a spear escort me to dinner and back for safety from animals…maybe it was for show…but still very cool! (but hey we were in the middle of the park with animals right outside and no fence)
Cost of safaris were somewhere between 500-1500 depending on size of group, country and park. On my trip I visited Kenya and Tanzanian parks. Kenya (Ambroseli – 2 day, Tsavo E – 1.5 days and Tsavo W – 1.5 days (pronounced without T); Tanzania — Tarangire, NgoronGoro (pronounced without 1st N like most words in Swahili) and Lake Manyara — each 1 day. I stayed clear of highly traffic game parks like Masai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzania – I´d still like to do this one but they suggest 7+ days). All parks are very different, very beautiful and some are specific to certain animals (sometimes depending on season) and trees, birds, etc. Ambroseli I choose for Mt. Kilimanjaro views, Tsavo E and W sounded beautiful and less touched and were very beautiful…loved Tsavo W and in the end Mt. Kili was quite breathtaking. In Tanzania I really just wanted to hike Ngorongoro which is this crater with animals inside….so cool…but I fell for a 3 day tour….I did end up liking Tarangire for its Baobab trees (great for elephant sighting) and Lake Manyara for crazy scenery changes (all parks had this generally because they are massive in acres) and variety of different animals I had not seen.
So there you have it safari world, Africa introduction, and animal kingdom galore. Yes, I´d do it all again but I would like to camp in a tent (no bathroom like one does in the forest) next time so I can be scared to death by buffaloes wandering by the fire while sleeping.
In fact it turns out many people never truly see these countries or their culture because tourism is so well set up that you can just as easily arrive, go straight on safari (in fact there are even airports in the park – usually right next to the high end lodges…so you don´t even have to drive!). Yes, in luxury and all coordinated, and then on to another tour and before you know it 2 weeks is up (the usual time of visit). So if you prefer this style of travel, stop being afraid of Africa and GO it is worth the visit, the long flights, and the cost – you will probably return.
P.S. Not as many mosquitoes on safari as I anticipated but the centipedes are massive and have a deadly bite.
What is your favorite animal?
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