By Stéphane Bazan (Facebook) - My story with Kenya started almost 20 years ago when my Mom decided to go on a plane from Lyon to Nairobi and never came back. She settled near the port city of Mombasa, on the Indian Ocean, in a small Digo tribe village called Magutu. She built a house and started to invite friends and family to spend a few days in what I consider to be one of the most beautiful places on Earth. The country, as big as France, has a great variety of landscapes, from the tropical coast to the rugged lands of Mount Kenya, from the eastern lakes to the rift valley. Kenya is also known for the most beautiful game reserves of the World, made popular by many Hollywood movies including “Out of Africa” or “The Constant Gardener”.
|Welcome to Kenya|
How it all startedWhen Mom started her little travel agency, she decided to give it the name of the largest animal of the savannah, the master elephant “Tembo”. Tembo-Tours was born in 2000 and at the time Kenya was a prime destination for both luxury and economic travel. The country, once the British colony of Tanganyika, has a real “out of time” charm and superb wooden lodges can accommodate both honeymooners and families. Kenya is, in some ways, like California or Florida: it’s exactly how you expect it to be. You’ve heard about it, you’ve seen images and films, you’ve read about it. Standing in the Amboseli Park and looking at the majestic Kilimanjaro feels like featuring in one of these old advertising posters you find in vintage travel agencies. You’ve been here before, but you don’t remember it! We all have been here before, actually, the Rift Valley being the cradle of the Human race. We all come from Kenya. We’re all Kenyans.
In 2000, I visited my Mom for the first time and enjoyed my first safari, in the Tsavo Reserve. I traveled again in 2004, 2009 and 2016. In 16 years, the country has changed a bit: the violent elections in 2007 and the recent terrorist attacks in Nairobi and in the Northeast sent the country far down the list of dream destinations: Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana and even Namibia have replaced Kenya as the best safari destinations. European and American tourists desert the luxurious hotels of Diani Beach. And if this is bad news for the local economy, it has some positive aspects: cheaper prices, empty white sands beaches and less traffic in the game reserves. It’s time to go back to Kenya.
Here’s a short version of my 2016 summer trip to Kenya’s travelogue.
How to obtain Kenyan Visa, fly from Lebanon and reach DianiGoing to Kenya from Lebanon is super easy. Kenya has a consulate in Beirut for Lebanese passport holders and if you have a Europe or USA passport, you just pay 50$ at the border. You can also prepay your visa online. The best solution for air travel is Ethiopian Airlines. You leave Beirut at 3am, have a short stopover in Addis Adeba and end up before 12pm in Mombasa. Cool flight on new airplanes with the super-fast growing Ethiopian company. Once you get to Mombasa, you still need a 90 minutes drive to Diani, including the fun experience of the Ukunda Ferry, a 10 minutes ride across the Mombasa bay. After leaving the over populated village of Ukunda, you reach Diani, the plush resort regularly voted as the most beautiful beach of Eastern Africa.
After 2 days of rest at my Mom’s cottage, it’s time for our safari trip. We booked a 3-days all-included stay at the Masai Mara Game Reserve. The drive from Diani to Masai Mara, the Kenyan side of the Serengeti Park, can take up to 15 hours. As we travel with 2 kids, we decided to book our seats with a small local airline, Aeronav, and enjoy the trip from up, including a 10,000 feet fly-by of the Kilimanjaro.
The 6-seater plane takes only 2 hours to reach the Kikoorok Airfield, a strip of red dust right in the middle of the reserve. After a well-deserved stop at the local toilet, the safari starts in the all-terrains Toyota, with our local Masai guide and John, the experienced driver.
|6-seater plane with Aeronav airline|
Meet the amazing wild African animals
As then the hunt begins: this is not a zoo, you have to look for the animals. And your only available weapon is a camera. Thanks God, beginning of August is the best time for safari: it’s winter and it’s the great migration. Really, you don’t look for wild animals… they’re everywhere! Elephants, wild beasts, zebras, buffaloes, giraffes… millions of them scattered along the large golden plains and the greener hills of the 14000 km2 reserve. A celebration of life and diversity! Some animals are more difficult to see, but we had the chance to find them all: lions, cheetahs, even the rare black rhino. Talking about the rhino: we got to close with the Toyota and the rhino didn’t like it and started to run towards us. I think he saw the color of fear in my face and decided that I still deserved to live. Thank you, Mr. Rhino. I won’t get close again.
|Offroad and time for food|
After a full day of dusty and rocky roads, you’re glad to go back to the hotel. Ours was a “camp” inside the park, well, hum, a 5-stars camp, with delicious food, cozy little bungalows and a nice swimming pool. Just perfect for a good night sleep after the 60km back rubbing drive!
The second day was just about fauna and flora. From the tiny blue birds on the side of the road to the lion family quietly playing under the bush after lunch, there’s always something to be amazed of. Cheetahs covered in blood, digging warn flesh out of a dead wild beast, killed minutes before, not-so-cool hippos lying in the cold waters of the Mara river, funky zebras trying to avoid the super-stealth crocodiles waiting for an easy catch: life’s everywhere and the food chain’s logic appear quite clearly when you understand everyone’s intentions. The Hunter and the Hunted.
Time to go back to Kikoorok airfield. The small plane is only 10 minutes late and after 2 stops at Amboseli and Mombassa, we’re back to Diani for a few days enjoying the beautiful beach, the delicious food and the extraordinary excursion to Funzi Island, its emerald waters and white bank sands.
|Proper meal after a great Safari Trip|
I know, going on vacation to Africa is not for everyone: malaria, insecurity and yellow fever do not sound like things you want to care about during your time off. Kenya is like any other African country: poverty, unemployment, overpopulation are visible most of the time but that’s the country reality. Another reality is that the Kenyans we met were really nice people – this is definitely a direct outcome of the quality of their education system. They love their country and they’re always trying to make you feel comfortable and welcome with their favorite Swahili expression “Hakuna Matata”!
FROM KENYA WITH FUNK