So. This one time. I went to Africa. And it was the most fucking amazing experience ever. I think everyone should find a way to go there at some point in their lives. Start to finish – it was spectacular. I signed up for my very first (but it won’t be my last!) Habitat for Humanity Global Village. We were originally assigned to build in Kenya, but long story short we ended going to Zambia instead. I already had an adventure planned in Kenya so I ended up getting to have 2 completely wonderfully different experiences in 2 completely wonderfully different places. Here’s the run down and about a trillion pics. Believe it or not – this is a shortened version of my experience. I also originally planned on including my Habitat for Humanity exerpience in this post as well, but honestly – I feel that deserves it’s very own post. So stay tuned for that! For now – lets just cover Kenya!
Traveling to Kenya
I flew from Cleveland to Kenya through Ethiopian Airlines. It was a LONG flight (20+ hours) but I must say, it wasn’t so bad! My middle seat was open. I had a couple (free!) drinks. I haven’t had airplane food in ages, and while I won’t go as far to say that it was delicious, it got the job done! Unlike the domestic flights I’m familiar with, this flight was definitely a step up. They provided not only food and booze, but headphones, pillow, blanket, socks, and even toothbrush and toothpaste!
I was meeting the rest of the group at my first destination, so I was traveling alone. This freaked my family/friends out a bit but it was actually a breeze! I had no issues at all and figured it out as I went even with a couple layover issues. I landed in Kenya and only had Wifi for a brief moment. I didn’t want to buy a SIM card so I knew I’d be relying on Wifi for checking in. I lost it pretty quickly unfortunately but just turned on my cellular for a moment to send an “I’m safe” text out. From the time I exited the airport I was in the very very very capable hands of Bigfoot Adventures – Kenya!! I worked with Daniel when planning the trip and he was extremely patient with me. I am a very detailed oriented person, plus traveling alone…..needless to say I had A LOT of questions. Daniel answered ALL of them and even encouraged me to ask more (although I think he was just being nice!). I felt very prepared and knew what to expect each step of the way.
I was meeting the rest of the group in the Masai Mara, which was about a 5.5 hour drive from the airport. My driver, Amos, was super friendly and although the roads/driving technique in Kenya was a little more intense than I’m used to, I felt well taken care of! Before we even left the city I about lost my damn mind – you drive right by Nairobi National Park and there were just random giraffes hanging out. Obviously this is completely normal for some people – for me, it was awesome and that was the first 5 minutes of me arriving! I stayed awake the entire ride out because I didn’t want to miss a thing. It was a pretty easy and beautiful drive. Cruising through the Great Rift Valley was absolutely breath-taking.
The only difficult part of the drive is the last bit into the Mara. They are working on building a paved road in, but for now, it’s a super rough dirt/rocky road in. If you are prone to motion sickness, I’d recommend some Dramamine for this portion! As we entered the Masai, I couldn’t stop thinking “Is this real life??” I repeated this phrase at least 1,000 times throughout this trip. Here are some pictures from just the drive it, before my trip REALLY even started.
Our accomdations for the Ashnil Mara Camp and Sopa Lodge were part of our package through Bigfoot Adventures – Kenya so they did all the hardwork setting it up for us.
Ashnil Mara Camp
The first place for my stay was Ashnil Mara Camp which was tucked into the Mara right along a river. We stayed in tents – but they were some pretty LEGIT freaking tents. This was my first experience with “glamping ” and I was thoroughly impressed. My bed was gorgeous, my patio area…gorgeous, even the bathroom – gorgeous. Each night they had a huge buffet (included in my safari package) which each person in our group was impressed with. I was pretty into the Mara Wine! It was delicious annndd came with a cute lil beaded charm so I was sold. Two things to know before arriving:
- They turn the hot water and electricity off during certain hours. This was never much of an issue for me, I mostly needed to just be aware and charge my cameras/devices during “on” times
- Wifi is VERY iffy, but this is out in the middle of the Masai Mara! It was a bit frustrating at times when I was trying to check in with family at home, but it worked out! (Also Wifi was only available in the lobby, just an FYI)The hotel provided coffee, tea, and cookies in the morning. We also had the option of having breakfast at the camp before we left OR we could choose boxed breakfast and eat while we explored. Our group was awesome and always on the same page – so since we were anxious to get out, we took our breakfast to go! Breakfast on Safari – yea. There are worse ways to spend your morning…..
Sopa Lodge – Lake Naivasha
From here we headed off to Sopa Lodge Naivasha. This joint was pretty fancy! The grounds were GORGEOUS as it sat right on Lake Naivasha (aka Hippo central!!). This hotel was awesome.
- There were animals everywhere! Giraffes, zebras, waterbuck, and Colubus monkeys just hanging around. (MAKE SURE YOU KEEP YOUR DOORS CLOSED!)
- The view was phenomenal.
- There was consistent Wifi in the lobby as well as the rooms.
- Different activies available – like Horseback riding which I gave a shot! (Only $11 for 30 minutes!)
- I don’t have much experience with horses, but one of the girls from our group who went with me did, so that helped give me a bit of confidence! One of the employees accompanied us on our walk through the grounds where we walked through a herd of zebras, heard the hippos making their way into feeding, caught some giraffes having a snack, and crept by a bunch of waterbuck.
- Huge delicous buffet with a million options both from dinner and breakfast
- Giraffes and Hippos come out at night to feed! We posted up on my balcony with some wine and watched. So awesome.
The next couple days we spent exploring the Masai Mara. The Masai Mara is a National Reserve in Kenya and a prime destination for Safaris. I thought maybe the driving around would be “boring” or I’d get sleepy, but we were CONSTANTLY seeing something new. Each turn had a different view, a different animal, a different tree. I was (and still am) absolutely obsessed. Our first full day included:
- Close up with some lions – guarding their recent kill from some hyenas and vultures
- Babies – all the freaking adorable babies. Warthogs (way cuter than you’d imagine), giraffes, antelope, baboons, wildebeests, zebras, and elephants
- Sandstorm with the most gorgeous leopard just taking it all in
Here’s a slide show of the day:
I wasn’t sure if the second day would be able to top the first, but it did!
The “Big Five” are considered the 5 most difficult animals to track and hunt. It isn’t necessarily for their size, but the danger and difficulty in hunting them. We obviously weren’t hunting them but seeing all of them were on my “to do” list. The Big Five are Lions, Leopards, Cape Buffalo, Elephants, and Rhinos! At this point, we had seen all of them in the Mara except for a Rhino. Our guides Saidi and Joe (<3 them both!!!) made it happen!!! Right before we left the park, they tracked down a beautiful black rhino, the last of the Big Five on my list! I was so stoked. Along with completing the Big Five, we also saw……
- Cheetah’s stalking some zebras
- Hippos hanging out and snacking
- A leopard wandering around and jumping through trees
- Goofy Giraffes
- Hot air balloons!
The following day – we had two activities set up. Hiking and a Hippo Safari! We started the morning at Hell’s Gate National Park. This was much different from the Masai Mara but just as beautiful. There are also no big predators here so we were able to get out of the Jeeps and wonder around a bit. We took a gorgeous hike through the gorge and tracked down some (very) hot springs. After spending the majority of the trip sitting, it felt SO good to get out, stretch our legs, and take in some more awesome views. Our guide, Brian, walked is through and provided information along the way.
- There is a little market along the way – bring money if you’re interested in purchasing anything
- There are no restrooms – for someone like me, this is important to know!
- While not a particularly strenous hike – it has moments it can be tricky and you might get wet!
Our last adventure was a Hippo Safari. Now I, I imagined we’d be on a big boat to go hippo spotting, but we were on boats similar to a motorized canoe. I was into it but a bit curious about how that would go down if we got to close too a hippo. Lucky for me, I got to find out! The lake itself was beautiful, but I was surprised how we were able to find hippos. We spotted quite a few pods of hippos (however I didn’t spot a baby..boo). One pod we ended up getting a smidge close to and one of the hippos chased our boat! I was a very intense 30 seconds. So intense that one of girls I was with thought the best defense against the hippo was to hide behind me and bite me…hahahaha. Earlier in the day we had just learned how hippos kill, they crush with one giant bite so I had that nice thought running through my head as I imagined him tipping our boat. However – I learned yesterday on Snapchat that hippos can smash a canoe with one bite – so he prob would’ve gone that route….Anyways. We survived. I was too frozen with fear to get any good pics of him coming for us but the other boat managed to grab part of it on video!
Out in Nairobi
This day was a bit sad for us – as it was our last official day on safari and the phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” couldn’t be truer for this past week. However, we weren’t quite done annoying our guides yet! After a full week of peer pressure, whining, and insisting, we convinced the guys of Big Foot Adventure to go out with us! We went to 2 bars!
- Brew Bistro – It was a pretty fancy place but had a great drink and food selection. However, I did have some major trouble ordering vodka waters as I was told they didn’t have vodka, but I could spot that Absolut from across the room!
They also had some delicious appetizers and served Big Five Brewery Beers
- Onyx – a rooftop bar in Nairobi with a gorgeous view. Did you know it was a thing for people to wear headphones at the bar? I didn’t! Like you can rent them and either listen to the music the DJ is playing or pick your own jams? This was a huge thing there! It was so intriguing to me. We hung out here long enough that Rob’s alarm to wake-up went off – whoops!
David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary
Our last stop with Bigfoot Advenutres – Kenya was to the David Sheldrick Elephant Sanctuary. This group takes in orphaned (usually due to poaching) baby elephants and nurse them to health in hopes to release them back into the wild. It is AMAZING the effort, time, and heart these caregivers give to these babies. The sanctuary is only open for one hour a day to the public when they elephants get bottles (omg so cute!) and play in the mud. You have an oppotunity to hear the keeps speak about the elephants and their history and you can touch them too! There is also an opporunity to adopt an elephant – if you do this, you can come back and tuck your baby elephant into bed at night!! AHH! I didn’t, but members of my group did and it was awesome (and adorable).
Nairobi National Park
Nairobi National Park is insanely close to downtown Nairobi. You fly over it when you come in, so keep your eyes peeled for a herd! We ended up adding this day onto our trip and our, now, very good friend Saidi from Bigfood Adventures – Kenya not only made it possible, but also managed to track down one of the animals we wanted to see MOST on our Safari – BABY CUB LIONS!! We were so excited to get to see them!! They spent most of the time hidden in a bush but we were able to catch a few glimpses – included one snuggling with mom <3
In one of the pics below – you’ll see a femal lion with a collar around her neck 🙁 This was once used for tracking purposes and indicates she wandered out into populated areas. However, as she gets older – the collar is causing issues. The safari groups have been fighting for the removal of these collars but have so far had no luck. It was kind of a bummer to see and I hope in the future they can be removed.
It was crazy to be able to see the skyline with a giraffes and rhinos right there?! Personal opinion – I preferred the Masai Mara where it was JUST nature. But the proximity to the city makes Nairobi National Park an easy and just as beautiful day trip.
I was SO SO excited for this next experience, but yet my heart was hurting a bit because I was sad to leave such a perfect safari experience with such awesome people. Luckily, the Giraffe Manor was there to cheer me up. It’s hard to put into words my thoughts and feelings on this hotel. It is just as amazing in real life as it is on Pinterest and Instagram. The staff was phenomenal. When we arrived, check in was a breeze and we got to sit on the gorgeous patio and enjoy a drink while they got us situated. We got settled in our rooms then met on the patio for drinks and relaxing while we waited for the giraffes to join us.
They arrived at about 5pm for tea time. Oh my goodness. It was surreal, and slobbery, but mostly surreal. One thing they are very adamant about is watching their heads because they can head-butt with some solid power. Kelly, one of the adult giraffes, is very well-known for showing her sass with a head-butt so just make sure to listen to the staff – they want you to have a once in a lifetime experience but they also want you to be safe. So don’t be a dick and pretend you know better.
We pretty much posted up outside all evening. They staff grabbed us drinks and we were able to utilize the full bar inside as well. We missed the sit-down dinner as we weren’t hungry yet but the staff was accommodating and served us dinner later. It was exceptional and the little giraffe accessories made me happy.
As awesome as the day/evening was…..the next morning was even better! After my shower I threw on the comfy robe and made my way to my window where I was told I might have a morning visitor. <3 <3 <3I love mornings in general, but waking up feeding a giraffe while enjoying my morning coffee and listening to a light rainfall – yea I don’t think anything will top that morning experience for me. We then headed down to breakfast, which was also top notch and got to have some more giraffe time. It was just as all the lovely pictures on the internet look. We spent the rest of the morning relaxing, sipping wine, and waiting for a ride to the airport to head off to Zambia for Habitat!
Here are some tips from my experiences! Take em or leave em but hope they help you plan your trip!
- Dress Comfortable and Pack Lightly!!
- I mostly wore comfortable khaki shorts and a tank top each day
- Bring a long sleeve because it gets pretty cool in the morning/evenings
- Hats are helpful – even to keep your hair out of your face when you’re trying to see cool shit
- I wore a nice pair of Merrell hiking shoes – they were perfect. Boot would’ve been too much/heavy
- I packed everything for two weeks in my Terra 40 backpack. It was perfect. Lots of pockets. Secured so I didnt worry about things being taken out. Lots of straps for extra suppport
- Have your camera ready!
- I used my iPhone for some pics and was glad to have it for easy access
- I also took a Nikon d5300 with a Tamron 18-400mm lense which captured most of the AWESOME pics. I am no where near being an experience photographer and this camera and lense were super easy to use.
- I read a recommendation that you should try to minimize switching lenses due to the dust and risk of scratching your lense. This is why the Tamron lense was so awesome!
- Cellphone Usage
- I did not get a data plan and I didn’t feel like I wish I had. Using WiFi was sufficient for me
- This only got complicated when Wifi was lacking and I needed to inform family I was safe (especially because I was traveling alone)
- I had the option to turn my data on and send a quick text. Had to pay later but worth the couple of times I had to do it check in