In the summer of 2006 I had the opportunity to head over to Kenya and the island of Zanzibar. An amazing part of the world - its burned itself into my memory as one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. This is one of my longer posts - I thought about breaking it up but thought better of it so here it is in its entirety.
I arrived into Nairobi after a long journey from Dublin via London. I was met at the airport by my partner and some of her friends. They were all doctors working in one of Nairobi’s hospitals for a brief time. It was the end of their stay so they were going on Safari afterwards so I managed to get myself an invitation!
We stayed in Nairobi for a few days, took in some of the sights and sounds, and some of the markets and bars that dot the city. But I remember something from my first night very vividly - I was awoken in the night to the howls and barking of hundreds of dogs. I was so amazed by this, that I asked our taxi driver the next day - he told me that huge packs of dogs roam the Nairobi streets at night to scavenge what they can.
We were all still students at the time so we organised a cheap safari that took in Lake Nakuru and the Masai Mara game reserve. We had timed it (though not deliberately) to the time of the year when all of the buffalo and other animals were still in the Masai from elsewhere in the huge reserve. I was looking forward to seeing the enormous herds of animals.
So we left Nairobi and set off for Lake Nakuru. Lake Nakuru is a place most people have heard of or have seen on TV - Its famous for its huge numbers of flamingo - thousands upon thousands as far as you can see. We drove around the small national park - this was my first experience of an African national park and it did not disappoint.
We saw Rhino and more flamingoes than you can imagine in one place. We drove up to the famous Baboon cliff - which as an unbelievable view of the Lake and the surrounding Rift Valley. I was awestruck.
Next on the list was the Masai Mara Reserve. We were camping in the park with a large number of other people. The campsite was guarded at night by a couple of Masai, and it had some of the basic amenities. We were fed and the camp had a nice reserve of alcohol - though we had brought our own. We spent many a night around the fire with a few beers.
The park itself was amazing. I remember first entering the park and all I could see was blue sky. And within 10 minutes we could see Zebra and every so often even a number of Giraffes. I was immediately in love with the park. One morning we drove before dawn and found a pride of lions that no-one else was around. We had them all to ourselves for some time. The lions completely ignored us and continued drinking and lying around.
Other days we drove around while herds of buffalo and zebra surrounded us. We watched a cheetah calmly munch down on a fresh catch. We watched as vultures circled overhead. We sat quietly as a family of elephants wandered straight passed us - close enough to smell. It was amazing. I would definitely do it again - maybe not on so small a budget but definitely worth doing it while I could.
After all of the sight-seeing and travelling we were then going to head on to Zanzibar from Nairobi. Turns out the cheapest way to do this was to fly from Nairobi to Zanzibar and get the Ferry back to Dar es Salaam, and bus from there back to Nairobi - This would allow us to see loads of the countryside so something I was looking forward to.
The flight to Zanzibar was at night so we arrived in Zanzibar city in complete darkness and got a taxi to take us to Stone Town and our Hotel. On that first taxi journey we were stopped again by the police/army, though this time was scarier as it was at night and everyone had torches and assault rifles pointed at the taxi as the driver and the questioner had their conversation. Some money passed hands and we were allowed on our way (Not the first time on this trip…)
We had split our stay in Zanzibar in two parts - one a hotel stay in Stone Town and then on to a resort by the sea called Kendwa Rocks.
Stone Town is an amazing place. After the initial scare at night, walking around the town was very safe - even at night. Stone Town was used to some level of tourism so we were mostly left to ourselves. We stayed a few nights here eating and drinking by the beach and managed to take in some of the more famous places during the day.
We then hired a taxi to take us up to Kendwa Rocks, which turned out to be a great little resort - nothing special but a great bar right on the oceanfront, and nice service and views.
A lot of the staff from other hotels would drink here at night and it tended to have the younger crowd of people. We spent a lot of time on the beach or drinking until sunrise - I have some great memories of the people I met and the places I went here. And that’s when it started to dawn - we were going home.
We had booked a ferry crossing back from Zanzibar to Dar es Salaam. So we made our way to the ferry - we had to book first class - Mzungu had to travel first class. But they had movies and a shop for snacks and it was going to a short trip on the faster catamaran type ship so we didn’t mind.
Seas were choppy but I’ve never been seasick in my life. That didn’t stop every other passenger on the ship (or so it seemed) from being violently sick. I grabbed some Pringles and settled down for a movie. The journey was over quickly and we arrived in Dar es Salaam when it started to get dark.
And that’s when things started to go wrong. The hotel we were booked in for the night had no record of our booking and they were fully booked for the night. We had managed to arrive during a Muslim religious festival and everywhere was fully booked.
Our taxi driver though found us somewhere to stay that would take us. All in one room though - I slept on the floor - it was for $9 that night and they had food so we accepted the room. We asked the driver to take us to the bus station in the morning for our bus journey to Nairobi.
We were up early - before dawn - and we arrived into the bus depot. This place was the size of two football pitches full of people and buses. They charge people to enter the depot to discourage ticket touts - It doesn’t work. And that’s when things started to go really wrong.
Our driver brought us to a spot in the depot and then asked for more money to bring us to the correct spot and to wait with us. We declined this blatant exploitation and all of our things were thrown out of the taxi and were left to the mercy of about a million ticket touts who spotted their chance.
We already had tickets but that mattered little to the group of people who surrounded us. They all wanted us to buy tickets to Arusha - a popular destination because of the nearby Serengeti and Kilimanjaro national parks. It took a lot of shouting an herding to finally get to our bus but by the time we had gotten there we had caused an enormous crowd to gather to see what the fuss was. Then the police arrived and started to move the obvious touts on.
We barely made it on to the bus - we were the last passengers but we had made it. I managed to get the broken chair so had to endure that for 16 hours so it really took away the enjoyment of travelling across this beautiful country.
I had a very poor camera with me at the time. I had been saving for a good camera but had missed my target by the time the trip came along. I want to say that though turned out to be a good thing.
Most of the time, I took very few photographs - I just watched things happen and believe for some reason that that’s helped me remember it better. That probably isn’t true because what other place can lay claim to so many amazing wonderful vistas and panoramas. Probably the reason I remember it so well is because it was so visually stunning that it has burned itself into my memory.