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Out of Africa
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Out of Africa
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Out of Africa
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Articles
19 June 2019

Out of Africa

A writer takes a journey to Nairobi

Written by Christine Retschlag

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

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Photo by Sergey Pesterev on Unsplash

It’s the dust in Kenya that will hit you first, long before your brain has time to even contemplate the immense poverty, or your soul, the incredible beauty, of east Africa. I am on an eight-day G Adventures National Geographic Journeys Kenya Safari out of Nairobi, a travel writer on a trip that emerged quite out of the blue. And one with which I had grasped with both hands, pen poised, khaki trousers at the ready.

Two months earlier, I had been in the midst of a psychic reading, over the phone with a clairvoyant in North Queensland’s Atherton Tablelands. We’d trawled through the usual: affairs of the heart, money matters, friends and family, before she tackled work. “You’ll go somewhere remote, you won’t like the food, and I sense danger. It won’t be a terrorist attack, but something like a mugging or robbery. Be careful,” she warned. I was curious. I had nowhere particularly “remote” etched on my travel calendar. But as a writer who wanders the world, you have to believe in a little magic.

My phone rang straight after I’d hung up from the psychic. I was being invited to Kenya. Another travel writer had pulled out due to the January terrorist attack in Nairobi, which killed 21 people. Would I care to come? I refuse to allow terrorists to frighten me, or to limit my access to the world. And anyway, if your number is up, your number is up, or you’d never jump in that taxi to the airport. There’s a terrific saying, it’s the mozzies that will get you on safari, not the lions, meaning you can spend all your time worrying about the big things, when it’s the little things in life that will make you unravel. Every damn time.

Another travel writer tells me she was “mugged” in Nairobi. “They call it “Nai-robbery,” she says. I ask her what happened. “A group of teenagers stole my Coca Cola.” If this is the worst that will happen, I will buy them all a coke and toss in some fries as well. In Nairobi, I meet my G Adventures Chief Experience Officer and guide George Njunguna Mwaura. He will later tell me that employment sits at a staggering 50 per cent in Kenya, which is home to Africa’s largest slum with one million inhabitants. I try to wrap my mind around this shanty city of tin and timber as we drive past, but it’s impossible. Yet it’s not crime, rather terrorism that’s the problem in Kenya. Somali pirates, who once plied the surrounding Indian Ocean and hijacked ships and trade routes, have been forced inland. These Al Shabab terrorists are being met defiantly by Kenya’s defence forces and there’s strict security everywhere. Am I worried? No. G Adventures carefully assesses the risks in every country in which it operates tours.

We punch out of Nairobi in our truck, west bound for Kenya’s Masai Mara, best known for its wildebeest migration. We pass the Rift Valley—a 9600km gash which runs from Jordan to Mozambique— and drive through Narok, the last township before the Masai Mara and the point at which we leave the bitumen. From here on in there’s a plethora of pot holes, and dust that will make you delirious if you allow it. It’s here that we also encounter the brightly-coloured Masai Mara people, the last group of Africans who are still living their traditional way of life.

On safari in the Masai Mara we witness the wildlife works, even encountering the elusive leopard. Mother Africa flicks on a spectacular sunset, with her trademark Acacia tree in the foreground. It’s the moment I feel most connected to the country. We farewell the Mara and pause at the Ubuntu Café, a social project supported by G Adventures where not only organic food is grown and served, but at the factory next door, Kenyan women are carving out autonomy. Made outcasts from their communities after they gave birth to disabled children, these women have risen from the African dust to form a flourishing business which sells canvas shoes, wine bags, and leather totes.

Along more dusty roads we push, bound for Lake Nakuru National Park, renowned for its rhino. On the roadside, there are women selling, of all things, strawberry milk under the hot African sun. What possesses them to think that this perky, pretty drink is what a driver is craving at this particular point on their journey? These are the things you ponder on long drives through this continent. The next morning, we experience a flock of flamingos, the same shade as that milk, on the lake. Sometimes beauty perches on just one leg.

Our final destination is at Amboseli National Park, best known for its elephants and the glorious Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the highest point in Africa. I am not a climber, but I am in awe of Kili, which stands at 5985 metres and commands a mighty presence. But it’s the elephants here that steal the show with their size and smarts. Kenya is currently exploring controversial legislation which would introduce the death penalty for animal poachers. I am conflicted.

And that’s the whole point of a trip to Kenya. It will make you uncomfortable and cover the lens through which you view the world with dust and doubt. Did I travel somewhere remote? Yes. Did I dislike the food? It was OK. Was I mugged or robbed? No. Unless you count the assault on all of my senses.

 

An eight-day Kenya Safari Experience small-group National Geographic Journeys with G Adventures’ tour is priced from AUD$4629pp, including accommodation, most meals (allow USD$100-130 for meals not included), a chief experience officer (CEO) throughout, transportation and most activities. Prices do not include flights. For more information or to book, please call 1300 180 969 or visit www.gadventures.com.au

Christine Retschlag

Christine Retschlag is an award-winning travel writer who has worked for newspapers, magazines and online in Australia, Hong Kong, London and Singapore for the past 30 years.

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