All we knew when we booked is that we wanted hot sun, with a tropical feel, that was a bit different. When we booked Kenya we were just expecting to go and lay around in a 5 star hotel for 2 weeks looking out on the Indian Ocean.
After booking we realised that British citizens required a visa to enter Kenya. The options were getting them done beforehand or getting them on arrival. Either way it cost £30 each, and as I worked near to the Kenyan High Commission I opted to go there.
We then looked into vaccinations. You need to be up to date with all your UK vaccinations such as Tetanus, and are also given Typhoid (which hurts your arm for a few days after), and Hepatitis A, which are all free on the NHS. We were also advised to get Yellow fever, which is a live vaccine and is chargeable. Costs vary, mine was £50 and my partners £65, but it does cover you for 10 years and you need to keep the certificate with your passport. The next medicine that was required was Malaria tablets. There are a variety of different makes you can chose from, that have different side effects and different prices. We went for the most expensive as it tends to give you less side effects and you have to take less before and after your trip. With the cost for your GP to write the prescription and the pills, and the dispensing charge we spent about £80.
It is worth looking into all travel vaccines and visa's before you book, as we found it can easily add another £200 to the cost of the holiday.
I read a lot in the Lonely Planet Travel Guide about risks and things to look out for, but the thing that scared me most was flying with Monarch in economy for 8-9 hours!
After an 8 1/2 hour night flight from Gatwick to Mombasa we finally touched down. Us and passengers from another flight from Gatwick were herded straight into an enormous queue to get entry Visa.
It was a roasting 90 degree heat, and it was unbearable as the couple of limp ceiling fans did little to help. Then my preparation in getting the visa sorted out before we arrived paid off, as we were taken aside to get our passports checked separately. Granted we still had to wait for the others sharing our bus to apply and pay for their Visas, but we could do the waiting in an open space.
As we got our bags we were led into the Kenyan sunshine to a waiting Nissan mini van, where our suitcases were put on top of the van for us and we were politely asked to tip. We had no idea how much and gave 200 Kenyan shillings (approx £1.50), and realised that 100 was probably plenty. The bus taking us to our accommodation was air conditioned "Hoorah!" but it was very rickety, due to the quality of the roads and being very mechanically loud.
As we drove past armed guards at the airport perimeter, we saw our first glimpse of Kenyan life, and nothing I read or saw on tv could have prepared me for it.
We drove through Mombasa, past shacks, roadside stalls, people pulling wooden carts through the bustling and busy streets.
Filthy, sweaty people and children with no shoes working and playing - but above all SMILING!
At first I was wary but within 5 minutes I realised that the people of Mombasa are amazing, and very welcoming and I suddenly felt very humbled.
We quickly drove from the busy city, over the bridge to the "coast". All the way we were being told of the history and the British influence in the past which explained why they all speak English, drive on the same side of the road and use the same electricity as we do (you don't need a travel adaptor in Kenya).
Every person that was at the side of the street selling fruit or walking home from school was waving and smiling at you, yelling a cheery JAMBO!
We waved back at every single smile we received. We felt like celebrities, and we felt strange to be getting so much attention. These people were not smiling and waving for money as we were in a fast moving van, they were smiling because they are happy to see us, and know that we, as tourists, are helping their ever growing economy by visiting.
En route to the Hotel, we drove past the local school, which was made out of corrugated tin and was plain and rusty but ALL the children had blue uniforms and big welcoming smiles. They were all heading out for lunch, the smaller ones would stay home as the heat gets to much. We found out our hotel funds this school along with providing fresh drinking water for the local community.
I am delighted that we picked this acommodation, and that our money was being used to assist the local communities.
After we reached the entrance gates, a security guard searched the underneath of our bus with a mirror, which we thought was checking for people or monkeys, then we later found out it was bombs.
We were greeted at the reception by a guy in white robes who handed us a chilled flannel to sooth us, and a cold drink.
Porters showed us to our rooms, and took our cases. From this moment it was very apparent we would not be allowed to lift a finger, which suited me fine. I had plenty of change to tip with all week and we had plenty of people willing to do things in return.
The room is the 4th one in from reception, the shop, bar, pools and sea (result!) on the ground floor with the most amazing view of the pool and the sea.
We are also right next to the hair and beauty salon which charges £10 for a 1 hour body massage!
Quick freshen up and we went for Lunch. Buffet for all meals was very very good quality and very good selection. Lots of rice, meat, stews, soups, salads deserts and fruit. Everything healthy, not a chip, burger or pizza in sight. Fabulous!
The hotel also consisted of a Sports bar with all the regular games, Sky TV showing the major sports, with gym equipment. Only thing lacking here was there was no bar so when you watched 2 hour's worth of Rugby world cup or the F1 title race you had to get up and fetch drinks which took a while.
Guards patrolled the edge of the complex going onto the sea day and night, for the guests safety. There are a number of beach boys on the beach trying to sell you souvenirs and trips (ranging from walking 1/2 to the coral reef to a full Safari). The beach boys are ok, but can be annoying which is what the guards are for.
Water Sports, excursions galore are available from the different "teams" on hand to keep you occupied.
The A team - who are the entertainment staff put on a wide variety of things to do all day long. From early morning stretching in the pool, Croquet, trips to the local school and village are all catered for. They walk around and ask you while you are chilling out and are happy to wish you a relaxing day if you prefer not.
Waiters and waitresses walk around all day and night keeping you hydrated with whichever liquid refreshment you require.
We decided to take a day trip out to a local Nature Park, Haller Park, which has a variety of Animals, that are all fed in the afternoon. The entry was about £5, and the taxi was about £30 (well it was more like a private chauffer as the hotel provide you with a driver that waits for you all afternoon to return you to the hotel safely).
On arrival we were greeted by a lovely 120 year old Tortoise which was wandering around the park. We came across these a bit later on the walk around and found out if you tickle them on the underneath of their neck they like it and stand up!
They must like it a bit more than we realised as while my partner petted one Tortoise, he got a little aroused and tried his luck with another grazing male. It was hilarious!
We were taken around the snakes, lizards and other small reptiles before being taken to feed the giraffes. I was looking forward to this more than anything, but when I got close I got a little bit scared and left the feeding to my other half. There were about 5 giraffes and they were all very friendly, just very very big (you obviously know they are big but don't appreciate it until you get this close). There were little monkeys running around our feet scooping up the stray pellets. The male monkeys have blue scrotums, depicting their status in their group, which we all found highly amusing.
After this we were taken on a nature walk (where I got bitten to death so if you go here spray yourself with deet). The guide was fantastic, he spoke of plants and picked one that smelled of lemons when he crushed it in his hands, advising that this is what Kenyans use as a natural Mosquito repellent (a bit late for me though).
We saw some big tanks with fish in it that were being farmed, lots of crocodiles of different varieties and sizes, Hippos feeding time, Buffalo feeding time (a lady stood under a tree with a monkey resting in the branches, and she got a smelly surprise present from the monkey down her cleavage) ... and after that it was time for the crocodiles snack.
The keepers had a piece of rope set up and attached a few pieces of meat to it to send out over the water above the waiting crocs. This was amazing to watch, it surprised us how they would tread on each others heads to get the meat. One piece of meat fell near us the other side of the fence and we got to see the croc up very very close as he came claim it.
We woke up early to get the flight from Mombasa to the Masai Mara on our little plane. Somak Travel were amazing and provided us with a private bus to travel there and back, and an air conditioned waiting room at the airport with TV and refreshments included. We were tipped off that if we sat on the left of the plane we would see Mount Kilimanjaro, which was a good tip and we were delighted.
Following a very bumpy flight, we landed on a dust track at Governors Camp at around 10.30 local time, where we were taken by jeep to our accommodation, only a few minutes away. The people who were with us in the Jeep would also accompany us on each safari drive. On that 5 minute drive we saw a lot of big animals including Lions!
We were given a drink on arrival at the camp and asked to sign a declaration that if we DIE, they are not liable (but they assured us they would try their very best to not let that happen!!). Er - ok then! So we literally signed our life away and got taken down to Tent 12a, which would be our home for the next 24 hours.
OK - so - tent 12a was down past everyone elses tents, and the furthest away from all the Jeeps, Wardens, and the bar/restaurant, Great.
No really ... GREAT because 12a "Just Us Suite - Private" was clearly the honeymoon suite! How on earth did we manage to pull that one off? We are not even engaged or said anything to make anyone believe otherwise. This was a stunning place!
We had a look around our "tent" to find the biggest most ornate 4 poster bed I have EVER seen, fitted with full mosquito nets. Behind the main "living area" was a "double en-suite bathroom" with double sinks, hot shower, bath and bidet.
We walked in a daze in our own private "back garden" which had a river running along the perimeter where we were told that all wildlife drink from during the day and night. Then across the river we heard a big animal step on a big twig ... that would be an elephant then! The security guard heard our voices and dashed over with his bit of bamboo (which is his and our only protection). He then pointed out Warthogs with babies across the river, and then the best thing ever ... a HIPPO coming out the water to sunbathe in our garden for 2 hours. This guy was an ex Masai Warrior and told us all about animals as we watched the hippo sleep. He also told us that crocodiles often use our "garden" to sleep at night and to not be surprised or alarmed if we see one!
We were so amazed watching our new pet Hippo, that we didn't want to leave him to go for lunch (we knew it was a he as he was covered in scars). We were glad we did as the buffet lunch was superb, and the 2 waiters assigned to us were very prompt and helpful. Mr Hippo was still there on our return and we had just enough time to watch him wade back into the river before our first drive at 3.00.
Our first drive out into the Masai Mara greeted us with so many animals to choose from all in the first hour, we were amazed. We saw Giraffe, Buffalo, exotic birds, and Elephants with young, all within the first 5 minutes of the trip. We were also amazed to see a lot of Ostrich (not something we were expecting). Lots of different varieties of Antelopes were roaming around, and surprisingly not scared of a big diesel jeep, meaning you can get very close.
Elephants were not the only ones with young, Antelope and Warthogs were abundant with babies in tow.
We were not surprised to see a lot of Wildebeest as we were told prior to our visit that they were in migration, but we could not believe the amount we did see. Each herd tends to have Zebra in front of them as Wildebeest have very poor eyesight, leaving Zebra to lead the way, and they migrate together. We were taken to the Wildebeest crossing point, where they cross to enter Tanzania, and we saw the Crocs waiting. This was where we were asked to stretch our legs (Er ...) and saw these crocs were the biggest I have ever seen, it was awesome to see them basking in the hot sun, mouths open waiting for the Wildebeests to cross. Unfortunately we didn't see any cross but we did see them get close and turn around running scared. I don't blame them I nearly did the same!
Turning around to go and explore more animals we were lucky to stumble across a trio of Leopards eating a dead Wildebeest that they had just caught.
The sound of the Leopards ripping through the carcase, and snapping the bones gave goose bumps to all the watching tourists. While we were there 2 were eating and the third was resting in the shade of another Jeep after just having his fill. Amazing!
Vultures were circling and landing nearby waiting for their turn.
We had to turn back to camp as the sun was about to start going down and it would be time for a wash and food. On our way back we saw something else that was amazing that we didn't expect to see... LIONS!
There was a male sitting, with a female lying on her back in the grass, and as if it was staged the female rolled onto her front, and the male mounted her (for under a minute), before walking off. It was an awesome experience, and something I will never forget.
Turning up for our meal wasn't easy as we were right at the end of the block, we needed to wave a torch to be escorted through the dark by security but they couldn't see us.
When we got there we ordered drinks and were ushered towards the edge of the decking where 2 Hippos were coming out of the water to graze. They remained eating their dinner as we ate ours. Again the food was amazing, table service in a tent with one side lifted up so we could watch the Hippos, then the Masai Warriors came in and started jumping and singing. We didn't manage all courses we were so tired and retreated to bed at 9.30pm.
When we got back to our tent someone had bee around to turn all the lights on and close the blinds. The bed was the comfiest bed I have ever slept in and we sunk into it.
As we lay there we started to realise where we were and the reality of it hit us when we heard animal noises. Governors camp is not fenced in at all, they pride themselves on it. Then we heard a grunt from a hippo, and heard it chewing Grass outside our tent. It was only when it skimmed the tent and started un-pinning the side we realised how close it was. This was THRILLING and following that the tiredness took over and we had the best nights sleep on the whole holiday!
We were woken at 5.30am by a security guard who brought us hot coffee and cookies to our room and turned all of the lights on for our 6am Safari.
We didn't want to get out of this amazing bed, but eventually we did manage to get down to our waiting Jeep and Guide Robert, who had water and blankets waiting for us. We were told that the early mornings are the best time to see kills in action or fresh kills - he wasn't wrong!
It was dark when we left the tent and daylight when we departed. The sun rises and sets so quickly here, blink and you miss it.
We didn't see any new animals, as the previous day was so fruitful, but we did get to see them having breakfast. We also came across the same pair of lions as the previous day, and they were up to their same old tricks, but this time closer and from a new angle!
I have to admit that even though we were layered up and had blankets on we were both freezing cold. We saw close up's of dead animals, and Hyenas battling with Vultures for the last dregs of meat.
We tried again to follow Wildebeests to the crossing, but as the day before they didn't cross. Back to camp for a delicious breakfast.
We had seen everything we were going to see on Safari, All the "Big 5" with the exception of Rhino as the Mara only has about half a dozen and they are difficult and time consuming to see. Robert our Guide offered us an alternative, and a better use of our time. Lets Visit The Masai Mara Village!
We drove across some bare terrain to visit the village where the famous Masai live. We knew what they looked like from the previous evenings visit to our dinner table but other than that we had no idea. There were some beautiful Giraffes on the way, who kindly stopped for a quick pose.
As we were driving we saw more animals on the way, mainly Wildebeest, and came to a funny gate which was the entrance to the Masai Mara reserve. This was very odd as it is a gate in the middle of nowhere and you can easily drive around past it.
There was a heard of goats that we drove around to get to the camp, these belonged to the Masai. When we parked outside we were greeted by a Warrior who took our entrance fee (they are not silly it seems), but we were happy to pay them as it was only £6.50 each.
We stepped over a dead lamb and followed our guide into the camp. Masai women dressed in brightly coloured cloth greeted us singing their lungs out.
We were amazed at the smell of animal droppings that the Masai had left piled around the floor and were walking in it barefoot.
The Masai men were putting on a show where they have a jumping competition. They are very very good at jumping and challenged a few western tourists to jump with them ... they were pathetic!
The Masai guide allocated to us told us about how the women make all the housing out of straw, wood and animal droppings, and led us towards one of the houses, ushered out kids who were eating their lunch (which made us feel terrible) to show us the inside.
The smell was unbearable, as the whole house was made out of poo, and they had a fire going inside, so it basically smelt like cooked poo.
Our guide advised that over 250 villagers live inside approx 40 houses, and when we went in we were shocked at how small and cramped it was.
There are 2 double sized beds made from a stretched animal skin that hang from wall to wall, and a fire in between them, and that is all. This houses 5-6 people. The Masai are very tall and they all need to stoop to stand inside.
The 2 windows are the size of a birds nest so it is pitch black inside.
It's very dark, very hot and smelly.
We were taken to see a pen where they keep all their animals at night to stop predators getting at them. This is made from lots of wood, and some spiky materials, iron and whatever else they could get their hands on.
The warrior told us that they had Hyenas in the camp the night before trying to get their animals, and proved it by pointing out white dusty poo. He explained that Hyenas crush the bones to consumer them as they digest the marrow out of the bones, which comes out as white poo. This is why you rarely see meatless carcases strewn all over the place.
The "gift shop" was situated just beyond the animal pen, and was basically a big circle of gifts that had been made by the Masai. The men carved figurines, masks and statues, and the women made jewellery and bags. We were give a female guide to take us around and show us everything. She insisted on picking up every item and saying "this one?", "this one?", "you like ... this one?", we tried to explain it was easier to see the things if she left them on the floor.
We did purchase a mask, and a statue of 3 elephants for £30 which was good value. We were proud that our purchases were clearly carved by the Masai and not a mass produced factory in Mombasa.
Its the last day in Kenya, and we decided to go out on a glass bottom boat, which went out to the Coral reef where you can snorkel.
Another early start of 7.30 departure, took us from our hotel towards the centre of Mombasa, in another rickety Nissan truck. When we arrived we took a paddle to the boat and started our journey out to sea.
When we got there we went for a little walk on a sand shelf in the most awful sea shoes which were ripped and full of sand. The driver of the boat pulled a few red starfish out of the sea, and at this point we realised that we had arrived.
The water was crystal clear and we were able to see right to the bottom, the boat really didn't need to have a glass bottom.
I felt a little sick, and was not up to going in the water after the choppy ride, which left me in charge of feeding the fish. The driver had brought along pieces of bread to throw over the side, and all the fish came to nibble. I was happy!
My partner loves water and fish and he went in to swim with them. The guide from the boat went down to the bottom and pulled out a huge Clam, which squirted water as it came to the surface.
When the bread went into the water the fish all swam around, at which point I called out to sea and the swimmers came too. It was amazing to watch. I am glad I wasn't in there I am little scared of fish (well as it seems, most things actually).
One girl got out of the water, and a man got bitten by one of the fish which drew blood. Luckily he found it funny.
Some people were putting bread in their mouth and having the fish jump out and snatch it from them.
The whole area is protected and you can not fish here, or take shells away.
I am pleased this is the case, and Kenya has a lot of nature that is very un-spoilt, and with the growing tourism I am glad they have made the stance in order to keep it that way.
Good for you Kenya!