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Kenya’s coast: a view from Lithuania

As a teenager I read a lot. One of my favourite books was “Born Free” by an English author Joy Adamson. She is a famous traveller, who lived in Africa with her husband, Kenya’s wildlife protection inspector, for many years and wrote an interesting story about a lioness Elsa and her cubs. The author of the book in detail and accurately describes the habits, behaviour and reactions to the environment and people of the growing lion cub and later an adult lioness living in the wild, and her cubs. It was this book that helped me create a dream to see the distant Africa and its nature, safari and animals living there.

Last year, in November – the dream suddenly materialized – in the vastness of the Internet in search of a relaxing trip I have found one agency offering a two week holiday in an exotic and distant Kenya for a relatively low price. After a short discussion and some doubt on the reliability of this offer a mutual decision was taken to go. The hardest part of the trip were two flights lasting more than 14 hours from Kaunas to London and form London to Mombasa and the inevitable fatigue due to long, uncomfortable seating, and swelling legs. But the idea to see a distant land provided more excitement.

First impressions on arrival

First impression – pretty small airport of Mombasa, stuffy and long queues to obtain a visa in Kenya. We reached the hotel we stayed in by bus and just when we entered the room the first action was to inspect the bathroom – it was clean; and when we opened the door to the balcony overlooking the Indian Ocean the view was amazing.

Where's the water?

Second impression – where is the water? We had a first close-up view of an interesting natural rhythm: low water in the middle of the day and floods just after lunch. Tempted by curiosity some of us went walking on the bottom of the exposed beach. It was covered with stones, grass, and you could perfectly see the fauna of the ocean in the shallow water – various fishes, dangerous sea urchin plantations, crabs in the burrows, many small shells, sea stars, and since one of the locals volunteered to show everything around, he not only caught the creatures, but gave us a lot of information about ocean animals. Since it was very interesting we didn’t even notice that we went far enough from the hotel and on our way back we already realized having made a fundamental mistake – staying too long in the sun made our bodies red, and when we later started to painfully peel out off the old skin – we jokingly named this experience a ‘Walk in Hell Safari’.

Acquaintance with the locals

In the evening, when the ocean “returned” we all finally got a good swim and then started to look around – well where did we get: what are the local people, prices, traditions, entertainment, travel deals. Kenya’s ethnic population diversity is very high, over 40 tribes, each with its own language, but most locals are fluent in English, and among themselves use a common tongue – Swahili.

In the beginning seeing that we have just arrived traders were quite active offering their products – headscarves, paintings, cruises and safaris, bone and wooden souvenirs, art wares and jewellery for an excessively high price. However, during further communication they realized that we are not Germans and not English, they became more accommodating. When we told them where we are from and how many of us are left, our story was followed by their jolly laughter – because Lithuania has a smaller population than their capital Nairobi.

Local residents addressed a woman “Madame” or “Mama” and the men were addressed “Papa”. At first I was a little surprised because it’s strange to hear it when you don’t have children, but then I got used to it. When I plaited my hair into nearly three hundred braids the entire beach began greeting me with joy – “Jambo Mama Africa”. I liked to see that elderly tourists are very respected, cared for and protected here. Most of the locals are good-natured and kind to the surrounding people, as they say – if they behaved otherwise, this would reduce per capita income from tourism and sales.

On the beach in a local agency, we ordered as many as three trips: 2-day sightseeing trip in Mombasa ($ 200), one day Safari in Tsavo East National Park ($ 150), and a holiday trip to Vasinio Island ($ 60) with diving ($ 60) and snorkelling.

By the way, I recommend to book trips from official travel companies’ employees who are wearing a tee-shirt with the logo, otherwise you may be left without money and travel.

A trip in Mombasa

Frankly this city didn‘t make an impression on me – there is no extraordinary architecture, only uproar in the market, mess and piles of trash lying on the ground in some places in the middle of the city that is a real eyesore, and unpleasant odours make you turn away your nose while passing by. My impression: huge dark mess. The majority of the population is Muslim – Mijikenda is an ethnic group, so taking pictures is not recommended, in order to avoid possible conflict, as well as in some state or protected areas. The city is built on the island, so the water flowing from the water supply is the salty Indian Ocean water, and fresh bottled water comes from the Kilimanjaro. In the central streets mendicant disabled and fruit merchants are trying to approach the tourists. I had an opportunity to watch as in the evening the city is flooded with a large crowd of people who live in small towns near Mombasa and only work in the city. The same picture was in the morning too.

Nightlife in Mombasa is different – the young have fun in the clubs and dress in style. In the discos people dance till dawn, and I as an outsider was very interested in monitoring their communication, their original dances, and in particular the very obvious – and frequent – relations between young local girls and older Europeans.

The long-awaited safari

In Africa going on Safari in Swahili means “a journey” – it is the refusal of civilization amenities in the name of the wilderness. And I always wanted to see other wildlife, the animals at close range.

Tsavo East National Park is one of the oldest and largest parks in Kenya, its total area is 11,747 square kilometres. It was opened in 1948, the park is located near the village of Voi. The park is divided into eastern and western parts. It was named after the Tsavo River, which flows from the West to the East through the National Park, bordering with Chyulu Hills National Park and Mkomazi Game Reserve in Tanzania.

The park is accessible only through the three main gates: Manyani, near the village of Voi, Bachuma if you arrive from Mombasa or from Malindi side. Our group of travellers arrived at the park through Bachuma gate. A ticket for one person costs $ 50 for a period of 24 hours. Several local merchants were waiting at the gate rather obsessively offering headgear – in the form of a sunscreen safari hat for a much higher price than usual – you must always negotiate.

Most of the park vegetation is semi-arid grasslands and savanna. It is believed that it is one of the world’s biodiversity strongholds, and its popularity has led to large quantities of various wild animals, therefore you can see the famous “big five” animals which are the Masai lion, black rhino, buffalo, elephant and leopard. We were lucky and we saw giraffes, elephant herds, herds of buffalos, a leopard, a lioness lying lazily in the bushes, gazelles and various small animals, zebras, ostriches, monkeys, varans, even some wild birds from a close-up.

But if one has enough money I would recommend visiting the Masai Mara – it is the most popular.

Entertainment & Leisure

Travelling to and from the Vasinio Island we had a chance to see a completely different picture – isolated villages and areas rarely visited by tourists, and we could see the fragments of Muslim religious festivals held there. Underwater World was perhaps not as impressive as in the Red Sea, but we liked the punt with the sea turtles, watching exotic fishes and admiring coral reefs.

Having returned to the hotel after long journeys, we simply relaxed on the beach, and later each individually chose mini-trips around on the boat, beach picnics or a visit to the local villages and nearby crocodile farm. The most delicious food – fresh seafood – was served in the nearby Coco beach. All hotels took care of evening entertainment for their guests: snake shows, acrobats, music and dancing.

The more you travel in this country, the more African colours you can see – from poverty and trash lying in the middle of the city to nicely handled private or park areas, but I was most charmed by the wild nature of Kenya and somewhat shocked by significant difference the calm atmosphere of Mombasa by day and the raucous tone there after dark. Cultural differences could be felt most while communicating with the locals.

I am glad that I had an opportunity to see this country, expand my horizons, and gain new experience.

Essential Swahili phrases

Hakuna matata – no problems (whatever happens it is like a declared philosophy of their life)
Pole, pole – slowly, slowly. i.e. leisurely: we Europeans appear always on the run in their eyes.
Karibu – welcome; Asante sana – thank you very much; Tafadali – please,
Habari shepherds? – How are you?; Mzuri sana – very good.

I wish you all to visit it and say:
Jambo, Africa! – Hello, Africa!

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