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Trip Report Kenya Trip Report

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10 Days total in Kenya. First day in Nairobi, then a 4 day - 3 night safari in Masai Mara, one night at Lake Naivasha, one night back in Nairobi, one night in Mombasa, two in Watamu and the last day back in Nairobi.

Accommodations:
Nairobi - The Wildebeest Camp - tents are spotless and staff is friendly; dinner is pricey but decent. It is blissfully quiet and peaceful at night. It is convenient for Sheldrick and the Giraffe centre but not for the city center since the traffic is horrific and they are doing construction nearby. The taxi ride back from the city took 2.5 hours.

Lake Naivasha - Crayfish Camp - rooms were a bit run down. Window screens were full of holes and though there were mosquito nets, it meant a long night of listening to the high-pitched sound of circling mosquitos. They try to push full-board and half-board on you, but you are better off skipping the whole board.

Mombasa - I decided to go more upscale to the Castle Royal, supposedly the best in the city center. The room was dingy and the A/C didn't work. The guy at the desk told me there were no other rooms available which I knew wasn't true. After a failed effort to fix the A/C, it turned out they did have another room, several of them, which was better.

Watamu - Several of the places listed in Rough Guide and LP either don't exist anymore or have changed their phone numbers. I tried Turtle Bay which is highly recommended in both books. There too, the A/C didn't work nor did the safe. I went to call the desk to tell them and found the phone didn't work. Then the music from the disco started. There were a total of about 12 people there, maybe three of whom were dancing, but they were blasting music for three hours. They also had a Masai cultural show which no one seemed to pay attention to and which seemed really tacky to me.

I moved to the Barracuda which is entirely Italian, the staff speaks Italian, the food is Italian and all the info is written in Italian. I was the only non-Italian, but the staff seemed excited to have a chance to speak to someone in English. It rained for most of my time there.

Safety - No trouble. I was nervous the first time I walked in the center of Nairobi, but by the end quite relaxed. I was told not to walk outside the hotel at Lake Naivasha at night, not due to hippos but due to the people, though I'm not sure how serious that threat is. And my safari guide was pretty insistent that I not stay in a crowded area in central Nairobi due to grenade attacks but that's the least of my concerns.

Weather - the first few days were beautiful and that was timed perfectly for the safari. Then the short rains began and there was lots of it.

Safari - Finding a safari company was long and frustrating. Everything was either way too expensive, the dates didn't match, wasn't going since they didn't have enough people, or they simply didn't reply to emails. I checked with all of the backpacker places and all said they had lots of options, but they were unable to give me anything concrete. So I chose Bushbuck Adventures and it was one of the best travel experiences I've ever had. Their camp is basic - permanent tents with beds, no electricity or running water and a toilet and bucket shower behind the tent. When I got there it was just a German family and me. An American couple came the next day.

The game drives were just me and two guides. I saw every type of animal I had hoped to (no leopards though). Came close to seeing a river crossing - several hundred wildebeest and zebra were steadily moving toward the river which was filled with hippos and crocodiles and vultures circling above. We waited about two hours with 20 other cars but the zebras saw the crocodiles and opted not to cross. Also got to see three adult male lions together which I'm told is rare and the fact that they sat together peacefully means they are brothers.

I had two amazing guides and I'll give them a plug here - George Mwalu (072-1802870) and David Mburu (072-5308660). They can take you anywhere in Kenya and do rides to the airport, etc... The camp was surprisingly well organized and staff were great. It was great opportunity to get to know the locals and the country. In contrast to a recent trip report on here, I found the Masai to be quite friendly, though I would never do one of the village visits.

Food left much to be desired - lots of chicken, fried eggs, tasteless pineapple and watermelon and a nationwide obsession with toast. Total price for three nights, all meals, game drives, pickup in Nairobi and return to Naivasha was $940. It is of course possible to spend a lot more, and possibly less, but I can't imagine the experience being any better.

Nairobi - I liked it much more than expected. The Sheldrick Trust and Giraffe Center (or Centre) are well worth a visit. And I had a nice day walking around the city center, saw the Nairobi National Museum and the US Embassy memorial park and museum, which I recommend.

Naivasha and Hell's Gate - I took a long walk with a guide and saw some zebras and a giraffe or two, then hiked through the lower gorge. The gorge was nice but there was nothing I hadn't already seen and I probably could have skipped it. The ride from Hell's Gate back to Nairobi, normally 1.5 hours, took 4 due to traffic.

Mombasa - I was excited to go, with its mix of African, Arab and Indian cultures. It is loud, dirty, crowded and run down, which would all be fine and well, if there were some sites worth seeing. I saw Fort Jesus and a couple of temples, but the Jain Temple is "closed to tourists" according to the guard and the Sikh Temple was also closed, and non-Muslims can't go into the mosques. Other than that, the old city is a lot of crumbling buildings, muddy alleys and impoverished residents.

Watamu - The drive north from Mombasa is beautiful, lots of little villages with quaint houses and rows of palm trees. The town itself is attractive and friendly with a few good eating options. But every inch of the beach was covered with seaweed. After dreaming of a tropical beach, it felt like Chevy Chase arriving at Wally World. According to everything I read, October to March is the prime beach season. Not this October. And it rained for 24 hours straight. But while the sun was out, I had some nice pool time.

People - I found Kenyans to be incredibly friendly and helpful, particularly along the coast. There are lots of touts in Watamu and the beach boys are ready to pounce if you even approach the beach, but that was really the only hassle. I tripped and fell flat on my face on a crowded street in Mombasa and while feeling like an idiot, everyone around was extremely helpful. I was in front of a hair salon where the employees insisted I go in and they cleaned up my bloodied face. Then when I decided to get checked by a doctor (the US embassy could not have been less helpful in pointing me to one), one of the hotel employees came with me in the rickshaw and waited with me in the office, which was helpful since the 24 hour clinic actually closes at 6:30 and we had to go elsewhere. and the lady working there spoke so softly that I couldn't understand a word she said. After that, I had the pleasure of everyone I came in contact with ask me "What happened to your face?"

Beware - The LP guide is brand new, just published in June, yet is full of mistakes. In Nairobi, the numbers for the Kenya Comfort Hotel, the Upper Hill campsite, the Kahama (which is one of their "picks") and even the Nairobi Hilton, are all wrong.

In the end, I'll say I have mixed feelings about Kenya. I could have skipped Mombasa and would have avoided the coast had I known about the seaweed. It is also not as easy to travel independently as it is in say Ecuador or Vietnam, nor is it as cheap. But I liked Nairobi and I loved the safari and my guides, and most of the people I met. If I could do it over, I'd have concentrated more on the game parks and less on the coast.

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