For many years I have wanted to visit a country in Africa but could not decide which one I wanted to visit first. After months of pondering and researching multiple countries I decided Kenya would be my first African country to visit. After weeks of research on Kenya I realized that the time I was planning to go was also the time of the Great Migration. From July through October, over one million wildebeest and zebra migrate from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the greener pastures on the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Going on a safari has been a bucket list item for me and I would also have the opportunity to witness this mass movement of animals that I only saw on the Discovery Channel. I spent a few days on Trip Advisor trying to locate a Safari company, and due to their good reviews and their timely response to questions I had regarding the Safari, I finally choose Perfect Wilderness Tours and Safaris I choose a 3-day 2 night safari that consisted of two full day game drives with one including driving to the Mara River where the Great Migration occurs. I’m booked for my Safari, and now I need to find a place to stay.
When traveling I have stayed at resorts, hotels, hostels, and one source that I frequently use is Airbnb. I have found it to be more cost-effective to book a BnB where you can have the entire house vs. a hotel room. I book a BnB that I like. It is located in a great area that will give me the opportunity to walk around to other interesting sites in the city of Nairobi. As for any country I travel to, I always check The Department of State website for travel requirements to that particular country and alerts or messages. For U.S citizens traveling to Kenya, a tourist visa and a yellow fever vaccination are required. I had a yellow fever vaccination prior to this trip so all I needed was a visa. The visa process is very easy on Kenya evisa. You set up an account on the website and approximately 48 hours later you can log back on to retrieve your visa. My departure date arrives and I’m on a 15-hour flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. This was my first time flying with Emirates Airline and I must say it is the best commercial airline I have been on. The service, good food, wi-fi, shower, bar, and large selection of free inflight movies helped the 15 hours go by pretty quick. The seats are comfortable as well.
I arrive in Nairobi, breeze through immigration due to me having my evisa before I arrived. You can get a visa upon arrival but this is a great reason to get it ahead of time to avoid long lines. My BnB host arranged for a driver to pick me up from the airport and take me to the apartment. Walking to the car, the programming of living in the United States was still in effect as I walked to the right side of the car to get in as a passenger rather than the left.
Riding as a passenger in Nairobi is an experience itself as the traffic and driving technique is far from what I have seen anywhere else. If you can drive a car in Nairobi traffic, you can drive anywhere. I thought for sure the driver was going to have us in an accident. I closed my eyes a couple of times. On the way to the apartment I asked the driver (Wilson) to stop by a store so I could grab a bottle of water. We pull over to a supermarket, I get out to enter and I’m directed to pass through a metal detector by one of the security guards. Security is big in Nairobi as cars are checked going into shopping malls and you are checked going into most large stores. All of the hotels and apartments I saw in the city had on site security as well. I arrive at the apartment, shower and my host suggests a good place for Kenyan food.
We had dinner at the Golden Spot in Nairobi. This was my first time experiencing eating in a Kenyan restaurant with no utensils and also eating Ugali. The word ugali is a Bantu language term derived from Swahili. The traditional method of eating ugali (and the most common in the rural areas) is to roll a lump into a ball with the right hand, and then dip it into a sauce or stew of vegetables and/or meat. Making a depression with the thumb allows the ugali to be used to scoop, and to wrap around pieces of meat to pick them up in the same way that flat bread is used in other cultures. I also tried nyama choma meaning “barbecued meat” in Kiswahili, is Kenya’s unofficial national dish.
After a great meal and a Tusker, which is a Kenyan beer, I was ready to call it a night. The next day was spent walking around the neighborhood and riding the matutu. I walked up to a guy that was selling sugarcane and purchased a bag of about 20 pieces. The juice is cool and with a light sweet taste. The cubes are addictive and are considered a snack in local neighborhoods and communities.
The matutu are privately owned minibuses that are very unique. They usually have flat screens inside that show R&B and hip hop videos or just playing music pretty loud. The exteriors of these minibuses are usually painted with a rapper from the U.S such as T.I. and Wiz Khalifa or have some slogan on it referencing some American hip-hop artist. I had no idea of where I was going, I just jumped on one and rode it for an hour or so. The music was great! This is a way to get a feel for what the local residents experience on a daily basis. At this point I discovered that most children and teens in Nairobi are at least bi-lingual speaking Swahili and English. Most of the locals were very friendly and welcoming as I asked questions on how to take the matutu back to the neighborhood that I was staying in which was Killamani. The following day the tour company called me and let me know that they were on their way to pick me up for the Masai Mara safari.
The van arrived at the apartment complex and we embarked on a 5-hour drive to the Masai Mara National Reserve. About an hour into the drive we stopped at the Great Rift Valley viewpoint. Africa’s Great Rift Valley is a 6,000-mile crack (fissure) in the earth’s crust, stretching from Lebanon to Mozambique. One of its most dramatic sections slices through East Africa, dividing Kenya into two segments. The view from this location is very serene. It was a good time to get out take photos and talk with some of the other people in different vans headed to the Masai Mara as well. The further you drive into the countryside, you start to see locales in the traditional Masai dress.
Making our way to the safari camp on a dirt road full of curves, hills, rocks and water we approach what appears to be a log held up by two other logs resembling a lift gate. The driver stopped at this log and from the other side of a tree a young man came out to the driver side and collected a toll in order to remove the log. Roads entering the camps are government-owned roads and some end at family owned property, so in order to drive on the family property you are required to pay a toll. Made sense to me. The toll is 100 Kenyan Shillings, firstname.lastname@example.org which is equivalent to 1 USD.
We arrive at Lenchada Tourist Camp. We checked into the camp, unloaded bags and got back in the van for our first game drive. This entrance to the reserve was approximately one mile from the camp. The first animal I saw was a wildebeest at the entrance grazing. The Masai Mara is 583 square miles and has all members of the “Big Five” (lion, leopard, African elephant, cape buffalo, and black rhinoceros). Leopards, hyenas, cheetahs, jackals, and bat-eared foxes can also be found in the reserve. Hippopotami and crocodiles are found in large groups in the Mara and Talek rivers. After a two-hour game drive we returned to the camp for dinner and sleep. The next day our game drive we drove out to the Mara River where the Great Migration occurs.
It is amazing to see the large amounts of wildebeest and zebra on the plains. The wildebeest and zebra will communicate with each other on the Tanzanian side and the Kenyan side. We saw a herd of zebra lead by one zebra and it heard a zebra from the other side and immediately stopped. The zebras behind this one leading zebra were just standing until the leading zebra made some sound, turned around, and went the other direction. The herd followed the leading zebra. Due to crocodiles, lions and cheetahs in the area, the animals on each side let the others know when it is safe to cross. They are also aware of the vans. After about a 5-hour game drive, we returned to the camp. I found out that there was a Masai village about half a mile away from the camp, so I wanted to visit. A couple of others on the safari and I found out how to get there and headed off to visit.
When you arrive to the entrance of the village, the elder of the village will come out and greet you. He is usually with a younger person from the village, which typically speaks some English. Masai lifestyle centers around their cattle, which constitute their primary source of food. Maasai’s needs for food are met by their cattle. They eat the meat, drink the milk and on occasion, drink the blood. Bulls, oxen and lambs are slaughtered for meat on special occasions and for ceremonies. I learned that the Masai stood against slavery and were forced to live among wild animals including lions. The Masai showed me around their village and invited me into their houses. They performed the traditional Masai jumping dance along with songs, in which I was given an opportunity to participate. I witnessed some of the biggest smiles from the children and adults at the village that are happy with living their lifestyle and it helped put things into perspective on what really brings joy to your life and things that we often take for granted.
The streets of Kenya.
Leonard Bean dancing with the Masai
I’m a native of Florence, Al. I spent most of my teenage years in Birmingham, Al where I attended Homewood High School. I attended University of North Alabama and I’m also a United States Air Force veteran. I have lived in all regions of the United States. I currently reside in Baltimore, MD. I work at the Army Research Laboratory testing small autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles. I am an avid traveler and live a nomadic lifestyle that consumes most of my free time. I love checking off bucket list items, learning other cultures, and meeting new people.