We have just come back from a short 10-day road trip around north Kenya. This blog post will briefly explain the route of the whole trip and a bit of information about the 5 must-see places in Northern Kenya. Future blog posts will go into detail about each place related to our trip specifically.
Day 1 – Lewa – Il Ngwezi
Day 2 – Il Ngwezi
Day 3 – Il Ngwezi – Sabache Camp at the foot of Mt Ololokwe
Day 4 – Climb Mt Olokwe – Lion Cave Camp.
Day 5 – Lion Cave camp – Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
Day 6 – Reteti Elephant Sanctuary – Elephant Rock
Day 7 – Elephant Rock – Isiolo (food top-up) – Samburu
The total driving time between each destination was no longer than 3 hours or no more than 100km, this makes it is a great trip for those who don’t like long days in the car. It also means you have more time to rest and relax as you are not having to get on the road so early in the morning to make your drive to the next place. This was a part of the trip that I LOVED! Don’t get me wrong I love road trips but in Africa, the distances tend to be far and the drives long. Consequently, you do spend a lot of the day in the car getting to your destination as well as a lot of time in the car on safari. I also loved that this trip was active, we climbed a mountain, we went for hikes, walking safaris and I even managed to fit in a run! Let’s have a look in more detail at the 5 must-see places in North Kenya:
This is probably not on a lot of lists in Northern Kenya THE PLACE to visit, but that’s what also makes it THE PLACE to visit. We were the only visitor in the whole conservancy, of course, a lot of this has to do with covid, but generally, it’s not a busy place. Il Ngwezi Eco Lodge is a community-owned and run lodge in Kenya. It is run by the Laikipia Maasai people for the sake of the conservation of the wilderness and the animals.
Accommodation: Il Ngwezi lodge offers affordable comfort surrounded by pure wilderness, it is the only lodge in the conservancy so you will never bump into too many people on your safari. The lodge has a large pool with views overlooking the water hole and comfortable bedrooms. The ‘star’ bedroom overlooks the water hole and the bed is on wheels so you can roll it out onto the deck and sleep under the stars. Both the toilet and the shower also share the same amazing view of the waterhole, I think it would be difficult to leave your room if you stayed there. You can also camp in the conservancy as we did, but be warned there are no facilities. Make sure you are self-sufficient when camping. You also need to have a ranger with you for safety reasons.
Activities: The lodge does have a game viewer, or you can drive your own car, however, we didn’t really safari by car at all. Instead, we went on walking Safaris with the ranger, the geography is perfect for walking safaris as it is quite open so you can see the animals from a long way off, there are also no buffalo so you don’t have to worry about bumping into them as you walk. Other activities offered include; visits to the Maasai village, spa treatments, bush breakfasts, visiting Mukogodo Forest and walking to the rhino sanctuary.
Animals: The area has a lot of reticulated giraffes as well as gerenuk, impala, lion, kudu, waterbuck, hyena, leopards (although very rare to see) and elephants.
The sacred mountain of Ololkwe. The recognisable flat top of Mt Ololokwe makes for a wonderful hiking destination. The hike is 4.32 Km long up and then the same back again. It takes around 2 hours to climb if you’re going at a good pace, longer if you stop and take rests. It is 2,000m high. It is very steep at the start and then gets easier, it’s not an easy climb so prepare to be out of breath! Top tip, start your climb early (4:00 am) to get t the top for sunrise it will be cold but worth it for the view!
Accommodation: We camped at Sabache camp (named after one of the smaller mountains adjoined to Ololkwe), it is the perfect location for the hike as it is literally at the foot of the mountain so you basically begin your uphill climb straight away. The campsite is very basic but it does have a clean toilet (long drop compost toilets) and cold showers. There is a young Maasai as security to watch over your stuff as there are monkeys around camp so be careful of leaving food out. Sabache also has a lodge that looked like when it was in its prime it would have been great. The views from the rooms and the generous balconies are certainly amazing but, unfortunately, it has been left to go downhill and it certainly needs some work doing to restore it to its former glory days.
Activities: Climbing My Ololokwe is the obvious one you can also camp on the top of the mountain which we didn’t do but I think if we went again we would. There are also other not so strenuous walks you can do that will still award you a pleasant view including climbing Mt Sabache. The website also claims other activities including cultural visits, night wildlife safaris (although their land rover game viewer was ‘parked’ in the campsite and looked like it hadn’t moved in a very long time), visiting the singing wells and camel safaris. It is also well located for day safaris into the local parks including Samburu and Shaba.
Animals: Plenty of monkeys around the campsite and genets at night time as well as elephants in camp waking us up at night. The elephants actually walk up the mountain to get water from the permanent springs so be aware when hiking up, especially if hiking in the dark. We also saw lots of leopard tracks.
Reteti Elephant Sanctuary
My favourite part of the trip! This again is a community-owned and run sanctuary, the community came together to provide a refuge for all of the baby elephants who were being abandoned by their mums (due to drought) separated from their mums, had fallen in wells and were unable to get out or were injured or otherwise needing help. The sanctuary started in 2016 and they now have 33 orphaned elephants and have already reintroduced 12 back into the wild. They also have 4 baby reticulated giraffes and 2 kudus.
Accommodation: Again if you are self-sufficient you can ask permission to camp at the elephant rock (more info in the next part) but other than that there is no accommodation so you need to find a place nearby. Lion cave camp is a very nice, affordable site. We did plan to camp there but you couldn’t access the campsite by car (our tent is a rooftop tent) so we decided to get a room instead. The rooms are varied in price but we actually went for the most expensive ($75 for 2 people with breakfast). Our room had a beautiful view over the Ewaso Nyiro river which I would have loved to splash around in (it’s very hot!) except for the fact that there are crocodiles everywhere! The perfect activity here is sundowners on the rock overhanging the river.
Activities: Feeding baby giraffes (my highlight!) and watching the caretakers feeding the baby elephants. You also get a tour of the kitchen and learn what the elephants get fed (spoiler: it involves goats milk and human baby formula) and how they mix the formula. The elephants get fed every 3 hours and they are literally trying to break down the fence to get their bottle. When the gates are opened they come running and trumpeting to their keeper demanding their milk. When their bellies are full they then splash around in the mud and play in the water, it’s truly a magical experience.
The Elephant rock, the place where the elders met to discuss the start of Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. Since the start of Reteti a French artist, Youri Cansell, painted the elephant on the rock, it’s an impressive mural and an amazing place to be able to camp for the night.
Accommodation: What you see is what you get, if you want to camp here, as I said before, you need to be self-sufficient. There are no facilities so make sure you have enough water and food. You also need to arrange with Reteti beforehand so they can organise rangers for you, you have to have 2 rangers with you throughout the night for safety reasons. Generally, you don’t notice they are there are they are patrolling the area so you are left to feel like you are camping alone under the stars guarded by this magnificent elephant.
Activities: You are of course very close still to Reteti Elephant sanctuary so you can go there and see the elephants and giraffes, you can also do hikes and walks around the area with your ranger. There are many hills to climb which offer great views, and there is also plenty of wildlife around to be able to do a walking safari.
Lastly, we visited Samburu National Reserve. Famous for its ‘Special five’ including Reticulated giraffe, Somalian ostrich, Grevy’s zebra, Besia Oryx and Gerenuk, although these can all also be seen in other parks. Samburu is also home to the beautiful vulturine guineafowl who are very photogenic. Samburu is definitely a place worth visiting, although, it has to be said, at this particular time there were a few unexpected surprises. Currently, there is a big drought in Kenya, the rainy season simply did not produce enough rain and as a consequence humans and animals alike are suffering. Due to this the local Samburu community are currently grazing their cattle, sheep and goats within Samburu and Shaba reserve. This somewhat ‘takes away’ from the safari experience as men and women, their livestock and even their dogs wander through the reserve. However, needs must and until the rains return, this is what will happen.
Accommodation: Currently, there appears to only be one high-end lodge open in Samburu, due to covid many have closed. Elephant Bedroom has remained open and did have guests. There is also Samburu Riverside camp which isn’t on the riverside. It is a basic tented camp with stationary tents for $60 per person per night. There are also public campsites which are on the riverside. You are literally on the banks of the river with many shady spots under the trees, the trouble is, once again the campsite has seen better days and the facilities are not maintained. The toilets and the showers are unusable, but there is a working tap so that’s a bonus! We stayed at the campsite nearest the ranger post and in terms of location it’s perfect, you are on the river bank and the core game-viewing area is right behind the camp.
Activities: Games drive of course! Despite the people and livestock walking around, there is still plenty of wildlife, including the ‘special five’ and lots of elephants who came into our camp every day. When the big camps are open they also offer things like bush breakfast, cultural visits etc but for us, it was lots of game drives and lots of relaxing at the camp in the heat of the day.
So there you have it! 5 must-see places in Northern Kenya. With tourism still recovering from Covid it’s a great opportunity to travel local, get out there and be a tourist in your own surroundings, we didn’t travel far from home this trip but still felt like we were in a different world! Have you been to any of these places, do you have any other recommendations, comment below and let me know!
So we have a trip coming up soon and we are in the process of packing. I thought this might be a good opportunity to go through what I pack and how we set up the car, what equipment we have for camping etc. Not because I think I am an expert at packing, but actually the opposite, I am notoriously bad at packing and I always overpack or forget something. Therefore, by going through the process of explaining what I am packing and why I am hoping it will help me to really think about what I have packed and hopefully not forget anything and not pack too much!
Before I get onto the packing let me tell you about the trip. We are starting at Lewa Wildlife Conservancy
We leave here on Saturday 11th September (2 days time). From here we drive to Il Ngwezi
Il Ngwezi neighbours Lewa, Borana and Lekurruki. Il Ngwesi covers 16,500 hectares and is home to the Il Lakipiak Maasai – ‘people of wildlife’. Il Ngwezi lodge is the only upmarket lodge owner and run by the community, the profits from the lodge help support the community in caring for the wildlife and protecting them against poaching. We are spending 3 nights camping at Il Ngwezi, going on games drives and walks etc. the next stop will be Reteti Elephant sanctuary.
This video says all you need to know about Reteti and why I am excited to go there:
We are spending 2 nights in a new lodge still being finished at Reteti and then one moving on to see this place:
(photo by Lori Robinson)
After that we are heading to Mout Lotokitok, we will stay 2 nights to give us time to climb the mountain on one of the days.
Our final destination will be camping in Samburu and exploring Samburu and Buffalo Springs. We will be here 4/5 nights before heading back down to Lewa and back home.
Click here to see our route virtually via Google Earth.
OK on to packing! As you can see the trip we are going to go on is very much a bush trip, there will be no fancy dinners, bars or clubs so that makes packing a bit easier. Therefore I will be packing practical clothes:
The packing will be listed in the following way; personal, camping, food, electronics, other
1 pair of safari zip of trousers
1 pair of safari shorts
1 long dress (useful for travelling in)
1 pair of comfy long trousers for the evening
4 t-shirts (green, beige, khaki colour) avoid bright colours and dark blue (tsetse flies)
2 long sleeve tops for the evening for the evening
1 pair of running/exercise shorts
2 exercise tops
1 down jacket
1 kikoi/shawl (very useful to cover up when in villages)
an old ‘brick’ phone that lasts for days (very useful in the bush)
car battery back up
tea, coffee, milk, sugar
tins; tomato, beans, chickpeas, coconut milk etc
spices, salt and pepper
snacks, breakfast bars
fruit & veg
bird book/app on the phone
first aid kit
day rucksack/camel bag and bladder
maps/download maps.me on your phone
other useful apps: SASOL birds, Ioverlander, Lonelyplanet, Kingdom
zip lock bags – useful when it starts raining
money/load your phone with Mpesa
yoga/exercise mat, skipping rope
passport & driving licence
As you can see we don’t travel light when camping, we like to be comfortable when camping and have everything with us when we need it. For this reason, we take out the back seats of our land cruiser to give us more space and we have also made a few modifications to the car itself. A few things we have done are:
installed a rooftop tent
fridge in the back on a draw system
dual battery system
pull out storage draws
fridge in the front
upgraded the suspension
blacked out the windows
installed a flip-down table on the back door
shower system and curtain
I will make a few videos on the trip and show you better and post them on the next blog post. Ok so for now that’s it. I will soon find out what I have forgotten to pack or if I have packed too much as the trip goes on! Comment if you can think of anything I have already forgotten!
Malawi, is it worth the visit? If the big five is what you’re after, then maybe Malawi isn’t the place for you. But if crystal clear water, unparalleled sunsets and private wildlife viewings are your priority then Malawi should be number one on your list!
Malawi is a largely overlooked African country when it comes to tourism, in other words, one of Africa’s best kept secrets. Of course, we all love safari and while on safari we all love seeing lions, cheetah, leopards and lots of action. When you think safari you probably think of the Serengeti in Tanzania or the Masai Mara in Kenya, you think of the wildebeest migration, of opportunistic crocodiles and predators waiting in the wings, of endless plains and silhouettes at sunset, great herds of elephants and journeys of giraffe. Although you will not get the concentration of animals in Malawi that you get in Tanzania or Kenya, you will also not get the concentration of people. Well not tourists, the concentration of locals however, is very high!
Having said that, with African Parks now in charge of a number of parks and the reintroduction of 16 species including cheetah, rhino and wild dog, the wildlife sightings in Malawi are definitely on the rise. Even with this being the case, you will never see the hoards of people in the parks that you do in Tanzania and Kenya for example. It is this that makes Malawi so special. When you are on safari in Malawi, 9 times out of 10 you will have sightings to yourself. You can enjoy those moments, just you and the animals. Those heart-pounding moments when you make eye contact when a lion which somehow pierces through to your soul.
When you are surrounded by a herd of feisty elephants (if you have been to Majete you know what I mean), when you find that oh so elusive leopard and you can revel in your luck for as long as you want without anyone disturbing you. When your car overheats and breaks down in the middle of Mejete due to blistering heat – ok so there are drawbacks as well as perks but give me a private viewing of a greater kudu over 10 vehicles tussling and pushing to see lions in the Mara any day.
I lived in Malawi for 4 years, during that time I was able to see a lot of the country. It is true Malawi is a small country, 2.1 times smaller than the UK, but it packs a big punch in terms of places to go and things to do.
I have already mentioned Majete National Park now a ‘Big Five’ park thanks to African Park’s initiatives. There is also Liwonde National Park which has also benefited from African Parks. African parks, among many other things, have kept poaching down, re-introduced cheetah, relocated black rhino to the park, and increased the number of lions. Liwonde’s magic is the river safari when you can drift by hippos fighting and get sprayed by water as elephants splash and play. Both parks are beautiful and are easily Malawi’s ‘best parks’ in terms of animal concentration. However, there are also many smaller parks including Nkhotokota, Kasungu, Nyika and more. If you want a real feeling of being out in the bush then these should not be missed. However, be warned a lot of them do not have good facilities so be prepared to camp, some places you even have to bring all of your own food as there is nowhere to buy anything. Of course, you do not want to miss the best National Park of all, the reason you come to Malawi, Lake Malawi National Park.
Lake Malawi takes up almost half the country in size, it is the second deepest lake in Africa and home to more species of fish than any other lake, including 700 species of freshwater cichlids. When standing at the tidal water edge it is sometimes hard to believe it is a lake and not the sea, that is until you see a crocodile nestled on its banks or a pod of hippo submerging and re-emerging from its surface. Of course, the best thing of all is when you go for a swim and are met by beautiful crystal clear freshwater. Lake Malawi is one of my most favourite places on earth, more specifically Cape MaClear on the southern part of the lake.
Laid back life
If you have been to Africa you know the pace of life is not exactly fast. If you have been to Malawi you would know if it was any slower everyone would be going backwards. You do not go to the lake for high energy, fast-paced adrenalin rush, you come for a relaxed, tranquil, reset. You can whittle away days, swimming in the lake, snorkelling in with the cichlids, paddle boarding, lounging in hammocks, reading, going on boat trips, watching fish eagles, birding, eating delicious food and sleeping under the stars. Just writing about it is making me want to go back immediately!
Where to stay
If you do go and visit, then there are two lodges I particularly recommend Mgoza Lodge and Warm Heart Adventure Lodge both of these are right on the beach in Cape Maclear, the owners care about sustainability and work together to help the local community. If you’re feeling adventurous there are also 2 islands off Cape Maclear, one budget camping island called Domwe Island and one more ‘luxury’ style island called Mambo Island. Trips to both of these islands as well as other activities around the area can be arranged via Kay the owner of Warm Heart Adventure Lodge. She also organised day activities including kayaking, boat trips, snorkelling, hikes and bike ride.
The people of Malawi
It would be wrong of me to write a blog bout Malawi without mentioning the local people. As I said before there are a lot of them, a population of over 19 million people it is difficult to find a spot to go for a quick wee without someone appearing out of nowhere to catch you with your pants down. Besides there being so many Malawians, they are the reason why Malawi is called ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. Everywhere you go the people emit a genuine kindness. They are keen to talk to you, to direct you if you are lost, to assist you if you are struggling, to accommodate you if you are without and just to generally help in any way they can. The children love to see you and will run up to you hold your hand and escort you on your way, sometimes for too long so you have to shoo them away so they don’t wander too far from home.
Malawi, is it worth the visit?
It has to be said that Malawi is a very poor country and people do struggle to get by, many Malawian are farmers and live hand to mouth, they rely heavily, sometimes solely, on the harvest which is determined by the countries rainfall. For this reason, you will find people begging as well as street children, which is always difficult to see.
Don’t get distressed if/when people shout ‘Mzungu’ at you, it means white foreigner, it is not said to offend you. If spending time with the locals is something you wish to do then there are many opportunities for this. There are the usual ‘cultural tours’ where you pay money for an ‘authentic experience’ however I would recommend the ‘old fashioned way. Just talk to people, you can go to the local village, visit the markets, go into churches to listen to beautiful singing.
As a general rule men will have a better understanding of English than women in rural areas so it might be best to approach them. Everyone is friendly and most people are not in a rush so will take the time to talk to you. It would also be good if you could try to learn some Chichewa, in particular, greetings as these are very important in the Malawian culture. The greeting is ‘Muli bwanji’ (how are you) to which the response is ‘Nliri bwino, kaya inu? ( I am fine, and you?).
A top tip is to remember is that a lot of Malawians get their ‘r’ and ‘l’ mixed up, so if you are struggling to understand something try swapping these two letters and it might suddenly make sense! Also, be sure to dress respectively when walking around villages, this generally means covering your knees and shoulders.
Other things to do in Malawi
Mountain Biking – Malawi has a big mountain biking culture and organises events and races, if you don’t want to compete you can just explore the beautiful surroundings on a bike, the terrain is perfect but don’t forget your puncture repair ki
Hiking Mount Mulanje – There are many routes up Mulanje which is accessible from the southern town of Blantyre. Mulanje stands 3000m high. The mountain club of Mulanje have made a comprehensive guide to climbing Mulanje which can be accessed here
Volunteering – There are so many places that need your help,. If you’re a teacher you can go to one of the schools, give resources and equipment, talk to the teachers share ideas. If you’re a nurse or doctor you can go to hospitals or clinics, maybe you are a coach, instructor, therapist…the list goes on. If you are going to Malawi on holiday then bring along stationary, books, toys, medical resources etc it will all be gratefully received
Visit the Tea Estates – Satemwa tea estates are. a beautiful place to visit. you can stay the night at Huntingdon House explore the tea estate, have high tea and play croquet on the ground.
Play golf with zebra and giraffe roaming around you at Game Haven
The list goes on… so as you can see there is plenty to do in Malawi. In addition to his, you have a relatively cheap safari, friendly people and a rich culture and traditions. So Malawi, is it worth the visit? In my humble opinion, the answer is yes, Malawi is 100% worth the visit!
Have you been to Malawi, what did you particularly enjoy? Get in contact and let me know if there is anything I have missed!
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Let’s talk about safari. Many people have a favourite animal when it comes to what they want to see on safari. A lot of the time it’s lions, leopards or cheetahs, some kind of predator as they have the WOW factor. I understand that of course, it is exciting to see a lion, well initially it is, and then you realise that you have spent the past 20 minutes staring at a pride of sleeping lions when the only shot you can get is on the side of its face hidden in the tall grass.
Don’t get me wrong, witnessing and getting those shots when the members of the pride greet each other or the lion cubs playing or that iconic yawning shot is very exciting, but with lions, it’s usually 5 minutes of action, which you had better not miss, and 30 minutes of sleeping.
The same applies to Cheetah and leopards a lot of the time it’s a shot of them sleeping or resting, preserving their energy for their hunt.
However, with patients, you sometimes managed to get some kind of action shot, for example, a shot of a cheetah with Mount Kenya in the background
Or a scene you can turn into an artistic low key shot:
But the chances of seeing action when observing predators is quite low. I have lived in Africa for 7 years, been on countless safaris and in my lifetime I have seen one successful lion hunt, and one failed hunt, one successful cheetah hunt (a VERY long way away) and maybe 3/4 predators with kills that they had already made. While of course, these were amazing experiences, this is the exception rather than the rule. The likelihood of seeing some action is not really in your favour.
Let’s Talk About Elephants
If action and entertainment are what you are looking for when on safari then elephants are the animals for you. Yes, elephants do spend around 80% of their time grazing but during that time there is always a lot more going on. Elephants live in herds led by a dominant female called the matriarch. The matriarch is the oldest and wisest female of the group, she leads the herd to their feeding ground, to water and generally looks out for everyone’s safety.
Within the herd, there are usually one or two young calves. Depending on the age of the babies they are sometimes difficult to spot, very young calves (below one year) will still fit under their mother’s belly and spend all of their time close to her and usually shielded by the rest of the herd.
As they get a bit older they venture a bit further away and they are endlessly entertaining to watch, especially when they have not yet figured out how to use their trunk.
There will also be some adolescents who still at times play with the younger calves, or tussle with each other, especially younger males as they wrestle to test their strength. The adolescents are usually the ones to show you how big and strong are by flaring their ears and doing a mock charge at you to show you who’s boss.
When these bulls (males) become a bit older (around 12 to 15 years of age) you will find them on the outskirts of the herd. Bull elephants are slowly pushed away to prevent inbreeding within the herd, but they are sometimes reluctant to leave the safety of the group. The outcast males eventually go off on their own and roam alone. They are kept in good behaviour by the dominant bull in the territory who gets breeding rights with the females. Eventually, the young bulls will challenge the dominant male to try and win breeding rights.
Elephants are such gentle giants, you will be amazing at how a whole herd of 2-7 ton mammals can move so silently and quickly through the bush, you can literally lose sight of a 10+ strong herd in a matter of minutes.
It is also fascinating to watch their feeding habits when the adults reach up to the branches balancing on their hind legs to bring down food for the smaller elephants,
They also use their feet to dig up the root of the grass and then hit the grass against the floor or their tusks to knock the soil off, this prevents unnecessary grinding down of their teeth as much as I’m sure it also doesn’t taste great. As I said there is always something interesting to see when watching elephants and the following image is one of my personal favourites as it is so unusual, this particular ele had a persistent itch and found the perfect tree to be able to scratch it:
One of the best times to observe elephants is when they are by water. At the first sight of water they often get so excited they can’t help but trumpet and run towards it. When drinking they are able to suck up around 10 litres of water in one trunk full. At a waterhole, you can often see the social structure in action as the matriarch is the first to drink and decided when it is time to move off. Once they have finished drinking they then enter the water and splash around and wrestle or splash water over themselves to cool themselves down. An elephant is fortunate to not have and predators that are able to take them down (besides humans) so they are able to spend time enjoying life and securing social bonds. I can spend hours watching elephants and never get bored.
This is a great way to observe elephants as it allows you to get close without being obtrusive or putting yourself or the elephants in danger. It also gives great opportunities for unique low angle photos.
Recently a herd of elephants camp to the camp to visit. The waterhole at camp had just been fixed and the elephants could obviously sense this and they were coming to get the first taste. The herd walked past the entrance to the lodge and followed the fence around until they got to the water. This gave me a fantastic opportunity to be on foot (safely behind an electric fence) while they walked past. I was lying on the ground to ensure the best angle to give the elephant the status it deserves. From a game viewer, the elephant is undeniably impressive but from the ground level, there is nothing more intimidating than a herd of elephants marching less than 50 yards away from you.
Once around the other side of camp, they made straight for the waterhole and spent around an hour drinking, feeding and cooling off, much to the guest delight at they had their afternoon tea. Here are some of the shots (available as fine art photographic prints) taken on the day:
If elephants are your favourite animals are elephants and you are looking for the best places to see elephants then I recommend 2 places, in particular, one is Tarangire National Park in Tanzania, for that luxury trip you can stay at Tarangire Tree Tops and Chobe National Park in Botswana. I personally have been to both of these places (Tarangire on many occasions) and have never been disappointed.
With regards to reading more about the social structure of elephants or just learning a bit more about them from an expert then I recommend reading ‘The Elephant Whisperer’ by the late Lawerence Anthony it’s an amazingly touching story about his life with a herd of troublesome elephants on his conservancy in South Africa:
The sequential book ‘An Elephant in my Kitchen’ by Lawrences’ wife Françoise Malby-Anthony is the story of how she continues her late husband’s conservation work, expanding to caring for not only orphaned elephants but also orphan rhinos, and the consequential lessons she learnt about ‘love, courage and survival’ is also definitely worth a read.
Check out other images available for purchase as fine art, sustainable photographic prints delivered straight to your door:
As promised here is the next instalment of volunteering information, please bear in mind this is all purely from my perspective from my own personal experiences and therefore not to be used as a hard and fast guideline for volunteering. Whenever you are thinking about volunteering you should always research the companies and see if they are reputable, where the money goes, what impact they have had etc.
I have had few experiences of volunteering, my first as I wrote about previously was in Tanzania in 2012 with a company called ‘Original Volunteers’ to be honest I don’t think it is very easy for me to review this company, it was such a long time ago, it was a brand new project and I have had no dealings with them since. In fact, I have just googled them to find a link but it appears they are no longer running. What I will say it at the time their pricing was fair, there were a few hiccups but there was always someone available to discuss issues with and most things got resolved in a timely manner. In this volunteering experience, I assisted teaching in the local school and helped dig foundations for a new orphanage that was to be built. I also had a bloody good time getting to know my host family, going on adventures and experiencing new cultures, food and traditions.
My next experience of volunteering was in Honduras 2013 teaching in a bilingual school. The interview was a skype interview with an 18-year-old who was in charge of the school, he was not a teacher but was in charge of hiring, teaching and running the summer school. The emphases of the summer school was to improve the students English, as it was a summer school it was optional for the students so the classes were not full and I guess what was being taught was not part of the curriculum but an ‘added bonus’. I mention this as I am assuming this is the justification behind having an unqualified teacher in charge of the school. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the guy in charge, he was a great guy, whose heart was in the right place, but he was not qualified to be in the position he was in. There were a number of other volunteers there at the same time as me, some qualified some not. However all of them put their heart and soul into the school, we walked or got a tuk-tuk to school every weekday, we taught lessons, we played with the kids at break time, we ran fundraisers at weekends to try and get more equipment and resources for the school, we discussed lesson plans and how to tackle difficult situations in class, we bought resources from home or made them, we helped each other and we all gave it our best. My point here is that despite the fact that we were basically left to our own devices, we were headed by an unqualified teenager, we were of course not getting paid, some of us didn’t even speak the language, I still feel like we made a positive difference. Those kids learnt more English that summer than they would have had we not been there. Of course, we also gained from the experience, we made strong friendships, we got to know the locals, we were invited into the homes of the students for dinners and celebrations, we experienced situations that you wouldn’t get if you were just a tourist passing through, we went on adventures including white water rafting, jungle trekking, we ate local cuisine and again became part of the community. After the summer school ended another volunteer and I got a (very rocky) boat to Utili and did our PADI diving course. So yes, we did gain from the experience but importantly I feel like the students did too and it was not all in vain.
The point I am trying to make here is that I think there are two types of volunteering placements. The ones where you have to go through strict interview progress, meet lots of minimum requirements and qualifications, jump through lots of hoops, and usually pay a substantial amount of money all for the privilege of being able to work for no pay. Or the type of volunteer placement where they accept basically anyone, including fresh out of school students without the right experience or qualifications and leave them to it and hope for the best. While it would seem the former type is the better, I still believe that the latter can be of use and beneficial if the volunteers themselves are passionate and dedicated.
Throughout my time in Honduras, I had no communication with anyone from the volunteer company, to the point where I can’t even remember the name of the company. I remember we had a volunteer house to live in and someone organised pick up from the airport but in all honesty, I can’t think what else they might have done. I do remember the police coming to the school one day demanding our passports and to see our volunteer permits which I don’t think we had. This leads to my next important point, this type of volunteering can also be potentially dangerous. On that day we said we didn’t have our passports and they eventually left, it could have very easily gone a different way. This is where the first type of volunteering comes in useful. There are people who organise that for you, they know the laws of the country and make sure that you abide by them all, there is someone on hand to help you should you have any problems, you usually have meetings or training prior to the placement to discuss any issues, meet people and have your questions answered. However, as always this is not always the case. While I lived in Malawi I spent some time volunteering. This was different to the other previously mentioned volunteer experiences where I went to the country specifically to volunteer. In this case, I already lived and worked in the country and just volunteered in my spare time.
My time volunteering in Malawi was my best experience. From 2014 – 2016 I lived and worked in a private school in Kasungu, north of Lilongwe. The school was a boarding school a long way from any big towns so was quite isolated. A few other teachers and I found ourselves spending a lot of our free time at the local orphanage. It was not formal volunteering, we would just go and play with the kids, help bath and dress the babies, chat with the older kids, we even started bringing students from our school to the orphanage, we literally just spend time with them giving them some attention and the mama’s (ladies who worked there) some time to wash the clothes and the rooms etc in peace. I worked at the school for 2 years so I spent a significant amount of time at the orphanage, I knew every child and mama by name and character and really became part of the community. Over time we wanted to do more to help and eventually, we set up a nursery school at the orphanage, employed a teacher, bought in resources, did some training with the teacher and the mamas and with time had a fully functioning nursery school so that the youngest students could start learning at home to get a head start before they went off to school. I still get updates from the school and see how the children and mamas are doing.
When I moved to Blantyre in 2016 – 2018 I again found a local orphanage and would go and help out, help kids with homework, play sport and just generally spend time with them. While there I met a lady who had come to volunteer, she stayed at the orphanage and help out where needed. I got chatting to her about her volunteer experience and what she thought about it ect. the long and short is that she spent over $2000 to be able to come and volunteer, on top of that she had to pay to go to a 2-week’ training camp’ prior to her volunteer placement and still had to pay the orphanage directly to assist with costs towards her food and lodgings. When I asked the owner of the orphanage if any of that $2000 goes to him he said he didn’t know anything about the money.
All of this leads me to describe my next volunteer experience and one that I think is the best model I have experienced. Having already been living in Malawi and casually volunteering in my spare time, I felt like I was aware of how things generally worked in East Africa (a huge generalisation, I am aware) and didn’t feel the need to pay a company sitting in their posh office in London a large amount of money to organise my next volunteer placement. I had some friends who wanted a new experience (coming to Africa) and wanted to do something useful while they were there. Both friends and I are teachers and so we had a long summer holiday to use. We decided on Tanzania as our destination and set out looking for a worthy cause for us to input our efforts into. That was when we came across The Greenhouse Hostel.
The concept behind the Greenhouse Hosel is great, at its most simple it is a friendly, affordable place to stay with like-hearted others, in simple dorm (there is one private) rooms, where food is also provided within the rate. But it can also be so much more than that. If requested the owner Benson can also organise day trips and excursions, or multi-day safaris or hikes. He welcomes you into his home as if you are family as well as the other staff who throughout my stay also became good friends. Even more that, if requested, he can organise suitable placements for your to volunteer in during your stay. He personally vets each and every placement including schools, hospitals, orphanages and general community projects to ensure that they are suitable for volunteers. Within this vetting process, he ensures that they are above board and transparent with all of their dealings including what is expected of their volunteers and where all donations go. He has regular meetings with the placements to ensure that he can best place volunteers in the most suitable placements to ensure their needs are met. Benson also personally checks up on volunteers throughout their placement to ensure that everything is going smoothly and that the volunteer is doing well and doing what is required of them. Benson is always on hand if anything is needed and both the placement and the volunteer can speak to him if they have any problems. For our trip he organised pick up for us at the airport, a suitable school and orphanage for us to volunteer in, transport for us to get to placement, volunteer permits, a welcoming home, weekend activities and we woke up to breakfast already prepared and came home to an evening dinner ‘family style’ every evening. We became good friends with Benson and the other volunteers and hung out frequently throughout our stay, giving us a locals perspective on Arusha. There were no extra costs for him to organise all of this, we paid for our volunteer permit ourselves and of course, any weekend activity costs (including trips to the hot springs, and hikes up Meru) but other than that the costs were only for the accommodation which included meals. What I love most about this concept is the fact that it doesn’t take advantage of the volunteer or ask for anything extra of them. This model allows tourist to visit Tanzania, give back to the community and experience the real Tanzania all in one trip without paying an extortionate amount of money in order to do so. It also allows you to build real connections with people who live and breathe the experience every day instead of an abstract person somewhere else being your point of contact. If people have a positive experience volunteering it can have endless opportunities, it can lead to lifelong connections and continued support. I remain friends with Benson to this day and hope we can continue to support each other if needed. Of course like many other businesses that rely on tourism Benson’s is suffering and he hasn’t had many volunteers this year due to covid. His business supports schools, orphanages and hospital in his community as well as supporting other community projects like planting trees. He and the projects he supports are in need of donations and volunteers so if you are able and willing please do have a look at what you can do to support, whether it be physically going to volunteer or assisting with donations. Here are a few photos from my recent trips to revisit the school and orphanages I worked with when I volunteered 5 years ago.
So as you can see I have has a few experiences with ‘cowboy’ volunteer placements and others with more reputable companies. My problem is I am in the camp of not expecting to pay through the nose and jump through tones of hoops to enable me to ‘help’ others for free. Alternatively, I do get that sometimes what we do is not really helping, a bunch of high school kids coming over to Africa to play with the orphans and post photos on their Instagram about how much they are helping these poor kids can indeed fuel the ‘white saviour’ mind frame. My way of overcoming this is to always volunteer in a field where I think I can actually be of use and bring some experience and knowledge that will actually help. I have always volunteered in the teaching sector where I feel that as a teacher who trained in England I have had more extensive training than teachers in the countries in which I have volunteered, but also just different experiences so that we can have discussions and share experiences. This means I can also, of course, learn from them as much as they can learn from. Isn’t that also the point. To share experience and ideas, to have discussions and try and do something positive.
So there you have it, my thoughts and experiences of my volunteering, despite some of the experiences not being the most organised or official, I still loved all of them and I would recommend it to anyone.
If you have any comments or questions please feel free to post them below or if you want more information about the projects at the Green House Hostel or of the other mentioned projects please don’t hesitate to get in contact.
As predicted the blog has gotten a little bit forgotten recently, I would love to say it’s because I have been so busy with new projects and very exciting things happening in my life. That’s not exactly the case, to be honest, I have just been settling into my new, normal life. I still kind of feel like I’m on holiday and I don’t think it has really sunk in that I’m unemployed and I’m not just waiting for term to start again.
So my day usually loosely follows the structure of wake up, a cup of tea followed by either a dog walk or a run. If I am attempting a run I have Roo on the retractable lead and Rafa on a shorter lead and harness, this makes it slightly less likely that we will trip each other up. I have decided I don’t have time to be able to run with one dog and then the other so I take both at the same time. To be fair the dogs have actually got much better, they must have gotten a bit used to the sights and smells and have settled into a routine. Most of the time they run nicely alongside me, occasionally they do still smell something and try and make a dash for it but I have a firm grip and they don’t get very far. If I’m just going for a walk then I have Rafa on the long rope so he has a bit more freedom and we are less likely to fall over the rope when walking than running. I then have my morning smoothie and then spend some time on my website and photos. My aim was to get the website up and running by the 1st of June which did and didn’t happen, technically it was ‘live’ on the 1st but it definitely wasn’t ready. It’s still not fully ready but it is live and you are able to view it. If you have a chance pop over to the galleries section and have a look at what I have been working on Prints Across Africa. There are still some things to add, mainly the part where you can physically buy the photo from the website but that will come soon, for now, you can email me directly if there is anything you are interested in. While I am at the computer the dogs are lazing around in the garden playing their new favourite game of chase the birds. I have put up a nice new bird feeder in the back garden in the nook of the acacia tree, I get leftovers from the kitchen and give them to the birds and squirrels etc. It only took 2 days of putting food out and then the birds got used to it and started coming every morning demanding their food. The problem is the dogs think it’s their food and so try to chase the birds away every time they land, the dogs run and bark at the birds and they fly away and come back again a couple of minutes later. I wonder how long it will take the birds to figure out that no matter how much they bark or run around the dogs will not be able to get the birds so they can just continue eating without worrying?!!
Apart from the website and photos, I have been looking into a few projects and been speaking to some local Non-Government Organisations, charities and schools and there are a few things in the pipeline for some things for me to be working on in the near future, so watch the space on that! I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into something and using my time a bit more productively. Don’t get me wrong its been amazing having some time to get projects done that have been sitting in the background for ages, I actually started setting up the website a year ago and it’s been sitting idle for all that time so it’s a massive achievement to finally have that up and running (even if it’s not actually finished). But it will be great to get into something new, I have always loved getting involved in community projects and development and anyone who knows me knows my love for animals so if I can get into that conservation side of things as well then that would be amazing too. I am very lucky to have this time and to live when I do, so I hope I can do something beneficial with it!
Today I visited a school just outside the conservancy. It is a local private school built out of the frustration of the limitations of the local government schools; too many children, not enough teachers, not enough resources etc you know the score. This school is in the local village surrounding the conservancy where many of the staff from the conservancy are from. It has been running for three years and so at the moment has only three classes. Next year they will have one more. The classrooms are basic but they are at least warm and dry and have all the necessities. The fourth classroom is already built ready for next year and all that is needed is some tables and chairs, they wish to expand each year until they have the full classes for primary school. Crucially class sizes are small (there are only 17 students at the moment) so students can get some more one to one attention to ensure they reach their potential. Although they are hoping for a few more children next year to bring in some more school fees to help with costs. This is exactly the kind of thing I like to get involved with and I look forward to working with them in the near future.
Afternoons I usually am able to get out for a game drive, to take more photos to add to the ever-increasing collection of pics I haven’t edited yet, or go for a stroll or play some volleyball with the staff in the beautiful surroundings of Lewa:
Another dog walk/run and then dinner. If I’m feeling sociable I will go and chat with some of the guests and have a drink with them and Charl. Occasionally the assistant manager hosts in the evening so Charl and I can spend the evening at home together.
In other news, the garden is now finished, we are now working on planting and trying to get the grass to grow as the extended part of the garden was a road before so didn’t have grass. Here is a pic of the new and improved garden:
The half marathon training is still slowly going ahead, I’m pretty sure we will end up walking most of the ‘run’ but it’s the taking part that counts! Also, the wonderful app that is ‘Doulingo‘ is back in my life, if you are trying to learn a language then you should definitely check it out. It’s a free app for your phone/tablet and it has lessons where you need to select the correct answer, or type the missing word or eventually translate the whole sentence of whatever language you are learning. It’s great for when you have 5/10 minutes to spare to do something productive with that time instead of scrolling through Instagram. I was really into it before and had a 100-day streak of doing lessons every day and then one day just gave up, I think I gave up around about the time that school started and my life got taken over by work…I don’t currently have that problem so let’s see how much my Kiswahili improves.
The house is also looking better, we now have some photos on the walls, the bedrooms are ready and set up for visitors, Roo’s escape hole in the window has been sewn up so now she is well and truly trapped! All in all, it’s going well and I am excited for some potential (covid pending) visitor in the summer!
I’m working on a few more interesting blog topics for the future, info about volunteering, info about Lewa and the impact it has on conservation, ideas for travel around East Africa, info about some of the upcoming projects etc, so hang in there if you are still managing to follow along!
To keep your interest for now here are some pretty pictures from some recent safaris 🙂
Hi I'm Natasha
I live in Kenya and love to go on adventures and take wildlife photographs. Follow along for more!
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