East Africa Part 1: Kenya

18 Jun

Oh, Africa. It’s a continent that you either visit once and don’t return to, or it gets under your skin and you have no choice to but explore it more. For me, it’s the latter. I couldn’t be more in love with the place; the history, languages, the people, the food, the views, the wildlife and more.

This time around I explored Kenya and Tanzania/Zanzibar. There’s so much to learn about; the history (how the Brits screwed both countries over), the change in culture (traditional Maasai vs modern life), the language (Swahili, I have decided is my favourite language in the world)… and of course, there’s the animals. OH HAI LIONS.

I went on an organised tour (this one by Tucan Travel) and it was epic. It visited all the main places I wanted to see in two weeks and included 5 safaris, some of the most spectacular scenery on earth, beaches, historical walking tours (sounds geeky, don’t care) and loads of opportunities to explore on my own and have wild nights out. Which I did.

Below are the main stop-off points of my tour, what I did, ate and saw there and more. Enjoy! AND FOR THE LOVE OF SIMBA, GO!

Nairobi
Nairobi. Usually called Nairobbery but I had no bad experiences there at all. Despite the fact that for the 2 nights prior to my tour I stayed in ‘Old Town’ – a place that Google would have you believe is incredibly dangerous. It’s not. It’s a fantastic snapshot of real-life Nairobi and while staying in that area I didn’t see a muzungu (white person in Swahili) for two days. It was GREAT. I also saw many variations on this poster below… really wish I’d called up and met with one of these Doctors. Just for a laugh, but I’m sure it would have been quite the experience…

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I walked from Old Town to Westlands (an hour in the dark) and again, had no problems. If you go somewhere thinking you’re going to get in trouble, then you might. But walk through the streets with your head high and try and speak the language with the people who live there and you’ll usually be fine I’ve found. True, I was there with two friends this time (a man and a woman) but I spent enough time walking around Nairobi on my own to know that no trouble was going to come my way.

EAT: I haven’t mentioned her much so far, but my Tucan Travel tour leader (Kim) was epic. She was so up for taking us to interesting places and fully embracing being in Africa and making the most of it. She actually visited London a couple of weeks back and I took her to a trendy al-fresco Brixton street food / bar place, a little like one she had taken me to when in Nairobi. The main reason she took me there was because: burgers. C’mon, as if I could go to a country that has agriculture at its heart and NOT have a burger.

We went to The Alchemist (near to Quik Fit in Westlands, Nairobi) – it’s basically got a few food trucks there, lots of seating and a huge DJ / dance area. We sat down and ordered Tusker beer (obviously) before browsing the Mama Rocks menu. Mama Rocks started in London before the founders moved their delicious burgers to Nairobi – and they were seriously delicious.

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I went for the chicken burger; Peanut crusted suya-spiced chicken breast, crispy lettuce and fiery chili, coconut mayo. It tasted as good as it sounds, trust me. The peanut spiced coating was crispy but not overpowering and broke away perfectly leaving you with delicious tender chicken to get at. Coconut mayo is also my new favourite thing. It all worked together gloriously… pair this with the plantain fries and you’re onto a total winner.

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Only downside of the evening was it TIPPED DOWN. Like, heavens hardcore opening. So we had to finish our meal, smiling and not giving a shit about the weather. Because when you’re in Africa, the rains are a good thing!

EAT: I read a short piece on Nyama Mama in the Kenya Airways in-flight magazine on the way to Nairobi. Not how I usually get my food tips when visiting new countries, but in this case it was a brilliant shout. Nyama Mama is reasonably new and is in Westlands, just off the super-highway. It plays to what I mentioned earlier – about East African traditions and modern life coexisting – and all of the food uses traditional Kenyan ingredients but served with a contemporary twist.

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First up; the ugali fries (in the back of shot). Ugali is a stodgy food, like thick starchy rice and is a staple of the Kenyan diet. It bulks up meals and is usually pretty tasteless. However, Nyama Mama turned ugali into ‘fries’, sprinkled them with paprika and served them with garlic sauce. They were completely delicious.

I went for Mama’s Matoke burger (no more burgers, promise) which consisted of plantain (matoke is another word for it, basically), cheese and chermoula which I discovered is a paste which is made of herbs and earthy spices. The bun wasn’t fantastic, but the burger and extras totally were!

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Oh, and I had to have the meal with Tusker. Tusker is Kenya’s best-selling lager and it has a yellow elephant on the label which immediately makes it better than ALL UK BEER (plus it tastes nice too). It was actually the creation of two British brothers in the 1920s – the British government were ‘encouraging investment in the colonies’ and two brothers came over and started brewing. One brother loved hunting and on a shooting trip got killed by a male elephant (SERVES YOU RIGHT DICKHEAD) – and male elephants with huge tusks are called… YES. TUSKERS. So, the surviving brother named the beer Tusker in his honour and the rest is cold, refreshing history.

I bring back a beer bottle from every country I visit, so this bad boy is sitting on my beer bottle shelf at home (500mls because in Africa they don’t faff about with 330ml bottles). If you go to Kenya, you can’t miss having a cold Tusker. Mwah.

Nyama Mama is a brilliant shout for an interesting spin on East African food, fantastic music (the soundtrack was painfully trendy African music) and beautiful décor.

SEE: I’d never done yoga, but it seemed easy. Bit of stretching, bit relaxing, etc. Before I went to Nairobi I came across the Africa Yoga Project. The AYP is captialising on the explosion and increasing investment in the ‘wellness industry’ and is training out of work Africans to become yoga teachers – it’s a really smart idea. So, where better to try my first yoga session than in Nairobi?

Obviously I rocked up wearing colourful cotton leggings, no sports bra and a stupid top and I walked from the centre of Nairobi to the yoga studio, about 45 minutes in the lovely midday sun (fml). So I was already warm. Once we started the session, it took about 2 minutes for me to realise the following:
1. Yoga is really hard.
2. I am not that bendy.
3. You sweat a LOT doing yoga. Especially when it’s 35 degrees.

The instructor’s assistant could tell I was crap and spend half the session trying to bend me into the right position, which he did in a way which helped me and didn’t make me feel totally incompetent. The instructor I had was in the middle of training, but was really good. He made it really clear what I needed to do and catered to all abilities. As the instructor was being trained, the session was ‘pay what you want’ too. If you like yoga, or want to try it, then definitely visit this place. You’ll be funding a brilliant project AND sweating like the African rains (but maybe that’s just me).

SEE: While in Nairobi I did make the effort to do some hardcore tourist stuff. First up was the Elephant Orphanage. It’s about a 20 min drive from central Nairobi (near the National Park) and it’s only open between 11-12.

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When you get there, you queue up and then are welcomed into a roped off area. All of a sudden, you’ll see the baby elephants come bounding towards you from the distance (they keep them in as close to a natural, open environment as they can) and once they get to the roped off area they lunge at the feeders who are waiting with milk for them. SO CUTE.


Most of these elephants have lost their parents in the wild due to natural causes or poachers. Some of them were abandoned by their parents because they couldn’t survive in the wild (one baby elephant has a limp because he was shot in the leg) but in the orphanage, they are free to roam, given milk and have allll the mud and water to roll around in they could possibly want.

Next on the well-beaten tourist trail is the Giraffe Centre. You may have heard of Giraffe Manor – it costs a LOT of money to stay there and it’s a hotel where the giraffes stick their head through the windows / ambush you on the patio / generally get in the way (nicely). Well, the Giraffe Centre is next to the Manor and the same giraffes hang around waiting for tourists to feed them veggie pellets. Again, they’re free to roam; if they decide they don’t want food, they’ll wander off and you can’t do anything about it.

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But, like most animals, they always want food. Basically, they slobber all over you and look really cute doing it with their huge, blue tongues. If you want to get up close and personal with giraffes, this is the place to do it.


SEE: I went to the Karen Blixen Museum without really knowing who she was or what she did, but having heard that it’s a place not to miss if you’re in Nairobi. Turns out, she wrote Out of Africa (I’ve never seen the film but have since read the book) and she’s a pretty extraordinary woman!

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A tour of her farm starts with a guide telling you all about Ms. Blixen. She moved to Africa in the early 1900s from Denmark with her husband. While in Africa she got a divorce from him (UNHEARD of back then?!), ran her own business (she turned the farm into a coffee plantation), she lived with her lover for about 10 years (extremely sassy 100 years ago) and she was a writer, a painter and acted as a nurse to the local people while she was here. You get to tour her farm grounds, the house and see some Out of Africa highlights… but learning all about this immense woman is the real highlight. I left with a bit of a girl-crush.

“You know you are truly alive when you_re living among lions.”

So much so that I went straight to a bookshop in Nairobi and purchased Out of Africa. I’ve now finished the book and, colonial mentality aside (she shoots animals and obviously is a white woman who just purchased some ‘native land’ for herself) but her heart is generally as in the right place as it could be for the time. The way she views Africa is the way I do – a place like no other and gets under your skin. The way she describes the landscape is beautiful and she honestly wants to help (as in with their help and offering employment, learning about their culture. Not the colonial version of ‘help’ which is take over and assume their customs and culture is wrong). Once you’ve been to Nairobi the book is well worth a read.

Ooh, also – about a 5-minute walk from the Museum is the Karen Blixen restaurant / café. It’s set in stunning landscaped gardens and the food is looovely (I had coconut and butternut squash soup and it’s as gorgeous as it sounds). True, it’s not a ‘local’ food place, but if you fancy a treat and want to eat surrounded by gorgeous artwork, head there too. According to my friends the coffee was brilliant!

SEE: Karura Forest is about a 20 minute drive outside of central Nairobi (or a nice long walk) and is well worth a visit. It’s a wonderfully peaceful place to wander around and has plenty of marked trails for exploring. Within 10 minutes of wandering through the forest I saw SO many colourful butterflies and spotted what looked like a dik-dik hiding in the bushes. *sniggers*

My aim was to get to Karura Waterfall and it took about 45 minutes to walk there from the North East entrance to the park. The walk was virtually all in the shade – see the beautiful canopy and trees with huge roots above!

The waterfall can be heard in the distance as soon as you stumbled across the small river. What’s so lovely about it is how secluded it feels and that you can walk across the front of it too.

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A woman sat down next to me to gaze at the waterfall and asked me about myself. We ended up chatting about the waterfall and she said that she’s been living in Nairobi her whole life and that this was the first time she’d visited! Apparently it’s a place people know about but don’t really go. So get yourself ahead of the locals and visit 😉 Is there anything better (lions aside) than the sound of water?

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Elsewhere in Karura Forest you’ll find wildlife, nature trails, the lovely lily pond above (again, very secluded, had to walk through a maze of bushes to get to it on the South West exit of the park) and a pricey cafe too. It’s pricey because the views are stunning… worth nipping in for a cold beer after you’ve meandered around the park though!

LISTEN: When I travel, I want to eat where the locals eat. Unfortunately, when you go on organised tours, the tour leader is forced to recommend places that are tried and tested (which I understand) – but I wasn’t having any of it. I did some digging and found a place called K’Osewe Ranalo Foods, about 5 minutes from my hotel. I loved it so much, I went there twice.

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First visit was just food. It’s back to basics Kenyan cuisine; beef, goat or Tilipia fish with either ugali or chapatti and either tomatoes or spinach. This is essentially as Kenyan as you can get. The food was simple but DELICIOUS. The beef was tender and the goat (not something I’ve actually tried before) was full of flavour. But the highlight was the chapatti; East Africa has a mix of British, Arab and Indian influence and chapatti is a Kenyan staple. Ronalo Foods have completely nailed the chapatti; it’s one of the best I’ve ever had (and trust me, I’ve had a lot). Add to this the fact that for a meal and a beer it only costs about £3 and you’ve discovered a new favourite hang out.

While I was there, they were playing music which I LOVE; African Rhumba. I asked the waiter for the name of the artist and it turns out it was Franco of TP OK Jazz; a group my Kenyan driver on my last Tucan Tour, Timan, had gotten me into. The waiter said that the following night there would be a live African Rhumba band. So, of course, I went back the next night to drink and dance.

The music was amazing, but more so was watching the Nairobians dancing. Kim and I were the only white people there (again, it’s the kind of restaurant / bar that locals go to and tourists would usually never know existed). The dancing was INCREDIBLE; Africans honestly have movement sewn up. The women would barely move at all – slow, sexy dancing, all with their bums and hips. The men would dance to the side of the women, barely touching them but again, allll the movement in the hips. It’s amazing to watch; they honestly don’t walk or ‘move’ when the music starts to play, every movement they make it a dance in itself.

The type of music that was playing is below. 2nd generation African Rhumba (from the 60s) and is from DR Congo – it’s incredible. It’s music you can’t keep still to.

(My white girl dancing went down a storm to this, hahaha). Can seriously recommend as well as checking out TP OK Jazz, you should definitely visit Ronalo Foods for great food, a fantastic atmosphere and a brilliant night out.

LOVE: Oh, Kenya. If you’re a white woman who has boobs and bum, head immediately to Kenya for an ego-boost. You’ll get hit on everywhere, by servers and tour guides to barmen and locals… and kids on the street. I got two marriage proposals in one day just wandering through the streets of Old Town – this isn’t me bragging at all, it’s just standard course in East Africa.

The local men seem to think:
1. That white women are easy (well, they’re certainly easier than local women I guess due to the religious society and that men still dominate in terms of rights and economics).
2. That white women are different (and in the same way I love speaking to people to learn about their culture, they love quizzing me).
And 3. They’re not used to seeing a white woman with boobs, bum and thighs but without a huge stomach. I’d get men shouting crap like ‘wow’ and making comments about the way my hips move when I was just minding my own business walking down the street. Honestly, the ego boost is insane. Pretty much felt like Beyonce must do on a minutely basis.

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I got the above information not only through my experience but by asking the local men / my tour leader. I also learned from my tour leader that in East Africa it’s legal for men to have multiple wives; the Maasai men have a ‘main’ wife (his first) and then various others. A lot of the men who work in Nairobi travel in there from hours out of town, so while they’re in Nairobi during the week they’ll get a mistress too. This is completely normal for the men and the women all know that this is going on too (wives included).

Having not had the chance to speak to any local women about it, I don’t know if they’re honestly ok with their husband doing what he wants with other women or if it’s just such a part of their culture that they feel they can’t fight it. Probably the latter, I’d imagine. Speaking with the men I told them I think it’s completely fine if their wives can sleep with other men too. Some local men understood my point of view, others Did. Not. At. All. Was interesting having conversations with them about it… and speaking with various men on nights out, only to have my tour leader tell me she knows they’re married. So yeah – watch out for that if being a mistress ain’t your thing!

Maasai Mara
The Maasai Mara is a National Park about a 5-hour drive from Nairobi. THERE ARE LOADS OF LIONS THERE so obviously I was very happy to be heading out from Nairobi to my first safari of the trip.

I went to the Maasai Mara using a third party (not Tucan Travel) and stayed in an eco-lodge just outside the park gates (sounds fancier than it was). When I was there I got my first bedbug bites (we slept in permanent tents) and one evening I heard a rustling next to my bed. I decided it must be something wandering around outside so went to unroll the tent flap to cover the ‘window’… and found a mouse clinging to the side of the tent. Obviously, I’m cool with lions and later in the trip came face to face with a hyena in the middle of the night, but I freaked out when I saw a mouse and went to get one of the Maasai to help get rid of it. To be honest, a mouse and some bed bugs are just part of the course when camping next to a National Park, so all good.

This section looks at things I learned and did while on my three day Maasai Mara trip! One of which (and I have to note this down) was discover one of the best soaps EVER: it’s on 8pm-9pm and every night after dinner we watched it with the locals who were just as obsessed with it. ALL SORTS OF DRAMA. And a girl with half white half black hair… who screwed over another girl by framing her and sending her to jail… or something. It got very complicated and it was also subtitled in Portuguese which didn’t make things any easier. Anyway, I cannot remember what it’s called for the LIFE of me but I couldn’t NOT reference it in this blog post.

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EAT: Maize. It’s a staple of the Kenyan diet and is used to make ugali and basically most dishes. You’ll find people on the side of roads, on roundabouts, outside shops and in all sorts of places cooking maize over coal and you really shouldn’t visit Kenya without trying it. It’s smoky, chewy, and filling… and the photo above is me munching on maize whilst overlooking the Great Rift Valley. As ya do. Only thing that could have made it better is a bit of butter, but that’s just me being a fancy twat.

SEE: … which leads me nicely onto the Great Rift Valley! To get to the Maasai Mara we followed the road which hugs the Great Rift Valley. So, we obviously stopped to take some photos, eat some maize (and get hounded by souvenir shop owners).

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Bit of a stunner, right? The GRV spans both African and Asian countries and 3,700 miles. INSANE RIGHT?! So this is what Kenya’s section looks like. It was basically formed thanks to those lovely plates moving and a huge amount of land sinking. In the GRV life goes on much as it does outside it – Maasai tribes wander, monkeys roam, kids go to school… but just in a more epic place, I guess!

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Views for dayyyys and definitely worth a stop.

SEE: So the main thing to see in the Maasai Mara National Reserve are the incredible animals. Obviously numerous Lion King references were made (especially as the zebras and wildebeest were starting off on their migration) but when you go on Safari the Lion King disappears and you are just struck by the simple beauty of the plains and the wildlife.

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I saw all of the Big 5 except the leopard (Big 5 – Elephant, Lion, Buffalo, Leopard and Rhino) in the Mara and around (what felt like) a million giraffes, zebra and wildebeest. I also spotted a crocodile, a fair few hippos and a vulture or two. Plus, saw cheetahs in the wild for the very first time!

Waking up at 5am for safari (the animals wander around and hunt when it’s cool and rest in the heat of the Kenyan sun… after all, the equator runs through Kenya, so they deserve a bit of a nap under a tree at midday)! I’m NOT a morning person, but have no problem whatsoever waking up knowing that I could see a lion. And, I totally did. LOOK AT THE BABES BELOW!

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A safari is a spectacular experience and every time it’s a mix of adrenaline (when you spot the animal you’ve been hoping for) and anticipation (hearing messages from the other safari drivers, wondering if we’ll get to the animals in time, searching the hills and ploughing over dirt tracks in the hope of spotting something, ANYTHING) – there’s nothing quite like it.

One thing – I’ve been on safaris in South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Tanzania and Botswana and of all the National Parks in Africa I’ve visited, the safari drivers made me feel more uncomfortable than usual in the Maasai Mara. Simply because they got SO close to the animals… which I don’t like. I don’t want a car to be blocking their path, I don’t want them to be scared or to change course to avoid a truck. But our driver (ALL drivers) got very, very close to the animals which, although wonderful in terms of taking photos, didn’t sit well with me. Unfortunately, it’s just how things are done in the Mara it seems, so something to be aware of!

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I didn’t see the black-maned lion of the Maasai Mara… which gives me a reason to go back 😊 The sunset  above is another reason. Sigh.

LISTEN: The Maasai are nomads – they (used to) rarely stay in one place longer than 6 months to a year before moving their cattle, family and belongings across the plains. The Maasai Mara is a ‘nature reserve’ because it is the Maasai’s land and from time to time you’d spot a Maasai wrapped in their usual red, checked cloaks, herding cattle across the plains next to an elephant or three. In a National Park, humans aren’t allowed free reign, so the Maasai must keep out.

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My campsite was next to a Maasai village so we went and had a tour and asked some questions of the Maasai; after all, the Maasai no longer move like they used to and are trying to live a traditional existence while incorporating modern teachings and technology into it.

Some things I learned about the Maasai: they still use cattle in dowries and dowries are totally still a thing. However, a man can pay a smaller dowry the higher he can jump. So obviously all the men on the tour (well, both of them) had a jumping contest and the Maasai men leapt about 4 foot in the air with us lot getting maybe 2 foot if we were REALLY enthusiastic.

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The Maasai wear red cloth to scare lions. Red is the colour of East Africa thanks to the Maasai culture. Interestingly, it’s the reason why EVERYONE in Kenya/Tanzania supports either Man U, Liverpool or Arsenal… because they have red football kit!

Boys are circumcised at aged 12 and without any drugs – it is done in the middle of the village with everyone watching, and if they cry or even move then they are considered a coward. Fuuuuck, right? Apparently it brings shame to the family and hurts your chances of marriage if you even flinch during the ‘ceremony’… to practice for this, the Maasai men give themselves ‘tattoos’, which basically consists of them heating wood and burning themselves with it. My Maasai guide (below) has about ten!

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Maasai men can have multiple wives – their first wife is their main one and the wife does basically everything aside from look after cattle. She builds the home using mud and cow dung, she keeps the home, she raises the kids… etc. It’s this traditional culture that is being, slowly, eroded and causing issues in Kenya. Apparently with the influx of Western TV and film, women are expecting men to be faithful and to, basically, make an effort: flowers, chocolates, etc. Something that they’ve not had to do before… interesting time in Kenya!

As part of the tour I not only got to jump a lot, learn Maasai chants, peek inside a Maasai home and learn how to make fire, but I visited a Masaai market too. A Maasai man tried to sell me, numerous times, a lion’s tooth necklace. Not only was I gutted that a lion died to make that necklace (he didn’t get that I was sad about a lion dying as the Maasai celebrate that happening) but he also failed to understand my government would be well unhappy with me bringing a lion’s tooth into the country. So I left empty handed, but having learnt a lot about Maasai culture.

LOVE: I REALLY LOVE LIONS. Like, so much. They are glorious. They are the best animal in the world and I would love to be one, basically.

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Let’s be honest, they’re a big part of why I adore Africa and why I keep going back. They’re independent, beautiful, serene, fierce and the only wild cats that work together as a group. I mean, they are the absolute best. Anyone who knows me knows I love lions (I adopt one via the WWF every year, have numerous pieces of clothing with lions all over them and petitioned my Managing Director to allow lions in the office. I think he’s nearly convinced. Nearly.)

When bae knows he gotcha attention but is acting like he don't care. ❤😍🦁😍🦁

A post shared by Hannah (@hannahlujah123) on

^ click the above for the video to play.

If I ever find a man I respect and love even half as much as I do all lions then I’ll be onto a winner.

Next blog post will be coming along within a few days and it’s about my time in Tanzania. (Hint: it involves more lions.)

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