*** Organising a school trip this year? Have you ever considered Magical Kenya? ***
A belated Happy New Year to all our wonderful members. I hope you’d a fantastic winter break and a Merry Christmas to those of us who celebrate it! My winter hols got off to THE BEST START EVER because the lovely people at Magical Kenya (aka the Kenyan Tourism Board) were kind enough to bring me (and a gang of other expat teachers) on a magical 7-day trip to explore the beautiful country of… yes, you guessed it, KENYA! The land of great tea, even better coffee, and obviously Timon, Pumba and Simba, which actually means “lion” in Swahali… It all makes sense now!
I had never been to Kenya before so I was mega-excited about the trip! There were so many highlights to this unforgettable trip, but one thing that definitely stuck out for me is that Kenya has so much more to offer visitors than the Maasai tribe and the Maasai Mara alone. In my time there, I ate the finest cuisine, explored fascinating historical sites, relaxed at coastal resorts, was inspired by community-based projects (including initiatives to empower females and to turn discarded plastic into profit), and gained an insight into the non-Maasai culture and history of the nation. This was all thanks to the amazing itinerary organised by the kind and knowledgeable staff at Magical Kenya. They are experts in the field of planning school trips to Kenya and will tailor itineraries to suit your students’ needs, so I highly recommend contacting them to see what they can offer you. Please feel free to let them know you heard about it from Sorcha at Empowering Expat Teachers!
We flew direct to Nairobi with Emirates (luxurious as ever- thank you!) and arrived to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that night, where we met a lovely representative from Magical Kenya who brought us to our stunning hotel (and Nairobi’s first luxury hotel), the Sarova Stanley. The decor of the Sarova Stanley is beautifully classical, looking like it has not changed from its inception in 1902! As we’d arrived late in the evening, we had a delicious dinner at the legendary Thorn Tree Cafe (named for a single centrally situated acacia tree in the centre of the dining area) at the Sarova Stanley.
Day 1 in Nairobi
We started off the day with an AMAZING buffet breakfast. Hotel buffet breakfasts are one of my top 3 loves in the world (after watching reruns of Murder She Wrote and people-watching in new cities!) and a highlight for me of the breakfast at the Sarova Stanley was the delicious fresh baked healthy bread that we just couldn’t get enough of! Then off we went! Our first stop was the Daphne Sheldrick Elephant orphanage, where we watched abandoned and endangered elephants play in the (bright orange!) mud in its elephant and rhino rescue and rehabilitation program. They do not allow riding or bathing with elephants because their long-term conservation goal is to reintegrate the orphans back into the wild herds of Tsavo. To date, their “Orphan Project” has fulfilled this goal with over 150 infant elephants.
Our next stop was the the Giraffe Centre, which was set up in 1979 in order to protect and breed the endangered Rothschild giraffe, only native to the grasslands of East Africa. At the elevated feeding platform, I came face to face with the resident giraffes, who are very cute up close!
After a pleasant drive, we arrived at the Karen Blixen Museum, where I learned all about Karen Blixen, a Danish author, who is best known for writing Out of Africa, a memoir of her life in Kenya from 1914 to 1931. Fun fact: It was later adapted into a film of the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford!
A short stroll later, we had lunch at the Tamambo Karen Blixen, which was the site of the original farmhouse belonging to Blixen. We sat on the terrace, overlooking the lush green spacious gardens filled with gorgeous flowers and local artwork exhibitions. During our lunch, we saw a wedding party pass through en route to their wedding celebrations in a nearby marquee… That is how beautiful the grounds are! The food was wonderful and I honestly could have spend hours there, relaxing, eating, and people-watching!
Later, our driver took us to Kazuri, a workshop that produces a variety of hand-made, hand painted ceramic jewellery that reflects Kenyan culture and art. Kazuri beads are absolutely stunning and I bought a necklace and earrings for Christmas presents for my family. The best part of this business is that it currently employs 400 mainly local single mothers, so your shopping is supporting female empowerment! You can support this initiative outside Kenya too by buying Kazuri beads online- click here.
Our final stop before we returned to our hotel was the Maasai Market, where I bought a beaded Maasai-inspired necklace for myself as an early Christmas present!
Mara Intrepids has possibly the most attentive and kind staff that I have ever encountered. We were each assigned a staff member who looked after us exceptionally well. Every morning, we would be gently woken by a friendly call from him/ her as they served us a hot drink and local pastries… In addition to the buffet breakfast! In the evening, the same staff member would place a hot water bottle into each of our beds, so we would not feel the night-time chill. I felt so spoiled!
Due to the camp’s location in the middle of the four game viewing areas of the Maasai Mara Reserve, right beside the Talek river, we would often hear hippos bathing at night, which was so memorable. Over the 2 days, we had spectacular game drives around the Maasai Mara National Reserve, where we saw the Big 4 of 5 (the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the African lion, and the African leopard). Sadly I didn’t spot the Black rhinoceros, as they are very rare. What I loved about our drivers on the safari was that they stayed a respectful distance from the animals, so we would use binoculars to get an even closer view. Hence why some of my photos were taken through a binocular lens- a tip for you when you go on safari!
Later that afternoon, a Maasai village visit was on the itinerary. During this, we were encouraged to ask any questions we wanted, so we could learn as much as possible about their customs and traditions. The Maasai tribe kindly greeted us with a welcome dance (bottom-left video) and the men showed us their athletic prowess in a jump-off competition (bottom-right video)!
Day 3 in Maasai Mara
My personal highlight of the trip was meeting the inspirational Hellen Nkurayia at the Tepesua Cultural Camp and Rescue Centre. Hellen, a member of the Masaai tribe and a former government teacher, has set up a number of programmes to protect and empower Maasai girls and women, who have few rights in the culture. In 2006, she founded “Enkiteng Lepa”, an organisation for rescuing young Maasai girls from circumcision, also known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Even though it is officially prohibited by the Kenyan government, many Maasai tribes continue the practice as a rite of passage for girls.
We visited the Maasai primary school at Tepesua, where we met some of their lovely students, who were delighted with the stationery gifts we’d brought! The very inspirational Hellen is to the right of the photo.
In 2008, Hellen launched the school building project, “Enkiteng Lepa School,” to enable young Maasai people, especially girls, to receive an education and improve their job prospects. At the moment, young Maasai girls are married off at quite a young age because their fathers receive a dowry of 10 cows from the groom’s family. Hellen’s motto is “Don’t exchange cows for girls. Give them an education” and one of her aims to show fathers that their daughters can earn a much better and more sustainable income for the family, if she is educated and employed. The school also has boarding facilities and Hellen is always eager to accept donations from international foundations and individuals to guarantee scholarships to students whose families cannot afford it.
Then in 2010, Hellen established the vocational training centre at Enkiteng Lepa School, where widows and girls during their school break make washable sanitary pads, shopping bags and school bags which they can sell and earn a salary.
You can see Hellen below standing proudly in front of the “Enkiteng Lepa School.”
As you can imagine, Hellen has faced much verbal and violent opposition from the male-dominated Maasai society, but still strives to eliminate harmful customs that exploit girls and women while still maintaining Maasai cultural traditions. You can donate to continue Hellen’s wonderful work here.
A short drive away was the Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp, which had a number of cool visitor programmes, including ‘‘Six Days of “Being Maasai”. This involves undertaking once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as Maasai Warrior Training, living in a Maasai village, attending a ceremony of blessing, and learning about how the Maasai survive in the wild!
Day 4: Final Day in Maasai Mara and onto Watamu!
On our last morning in the Maasai Mara, we did a final game drive and were surprised with a bush breakfast, prepared by the chefs and staff of our camp. We ate like kings, while an armed bush ranger stood nearby incase any wild animals decided they wanted to join us… Or worse still, eat us for breakfast! Luckily, all was safe and sound, but it is an experience I will never forget!
Off we flew to Watamu! Watamu is a small town located 105 km north of Mombasa and about 15 km south of Malindi on the Indian Ocean coast of Kenya. It is famous for its crystal clear water and white sand beaches. We checked into the Medina Palms, which according to Trip Advisor is in the top 1% of hotels in the world and definitely the most fabulous resort I have ever stayed in my life! Check out my video of our villa- it was HUGE!
Personally, Watamu reminded me of the coast of Zanzibar, as Watamu’s architecture, history, and local people have also been heavily influenced by Arab traders. In fact, we were shown around the ruins of Gedi, a settlement occupied by sailors, traders and settlers from Oman. Excavations prove that from the 14th to 16th centuries, Gedi was a large Arab community with many stone houses with advanced drainage and plumbing, a palace, and a grand mosque.
Day 5 in Watamu
After a delicious breakfast, we met Jane who guided us on our dolphin watching and snorkelling at Watamu Marine Park. The coast guard are trying very hard to promote ethical dolphin watching by ensuring boats do not go too close to or frighten the sea creatures. When snorkelling, you can see the coral reef, one of Watamu’s and Kenyan Indian Ocean attractions, which is home to approximately 600 species of fish.
The second biggest highlight of my trip was meeting Myra when I visited the EcoWorld Watamu Recycling Centre. The centre was set up in 2009 by the Watamu Marine Association to solve the issue of discarded plastic polluting Watamu’s Marine Park beaches and endangering vulnerable marine life. 25 Blue Team waste collectors currently carry out weekly beach cleanups and bring the plastic rubbish to the Recycling Centre, where it is reused and repurposed for a number of community projects, including being used in art, house construction (Plastic bottles are filled with sand and used in concrete blocks. If the building catches fire, the plastic will melt and the sand will put out the fire- clever, isn’t it?), and selling crushed plastic for income. Myra is a very talented artist and combines her creativity and love of recycling, illustrated in the below-right picture. You can follow EcoWorld Watamu Recycling Centre on Facebook too.
Day 6: Departure Day!
D-Day arrived. so we all reluctantly said farewell to Medina Palms! Even though I was looking forward to getting back to Ireland for the Christmas holidays, I was definitely sad that our Magical Kenya adventure had ended! On a positive note, I felt honoured and lucky to have been able to gain such an insight into Kenya and all its beauty and attractions, thanks to our guides, Maggie, Fatma, and Cecilia. If you want a holiday with a diverse range of activities, warm weather, culture, and unique experiences, I highly recommend visiting Kenya and contacting Magical Kenya (the Kenya Tourism Board), whether it is for a personal trip or a school excursion. I cannot wait to go back; Diani and Mombassa are next on my list!