A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Farewell Kenya

Its time to say goodbye to Iten and Kenya as we leave for India on Tuesday. We have had a wonderful time here and will be very sad not to see more of Africa in this trip. We have only had about 6 weeks here so it hasn’t been long enough to truly understand Kenya but it has been time enough to give us an appreciation of what Kenya has to offer. I have decided to write a summary of the accommodation, transport etc in case anyone is wanting to travel to Kenya in the near future. I fully appreciate though that this is a tourist summary. Unfortunately Kenya has a lot of poverty which we weren’t really exposed to on this trip but we haven’t forgotten about it. We have had such heartbreaking yet interesting conversations with people regarding this and I really hope in the future, we might be able to something (small as it may be) to help ease the poverty for some that live here. For the moment, all I can do is heartily recommend Kenya as a holiday destination.

Accommodation -There are plenty of options for accommodation here no matter what budget you are on from small guesthouses to luxurious 5-star hotels.

Lamu: Jambo Guesthouse The rooms were comfortable and really clean. The guesthouse located in Lamu town about 10 mins walk from the main restaurants etc. . It has a lovely terrace with Wi-Fi and loungers to enjoy the sunshine. The owner Arnold is very helpful and any his recommendations were great. Breakfast was included and the fruit was so good. Price: €22 – €28 B&B per room depending on whether you have a bathroom attached or not.

Watamu: Marijani Guesthouse . This place had really nice gardens with some self contained lovely rooms. It’s very safe and really close to the beach. We were there out of season so the service was fine but it was a little bit slack. I think in season though it would be a great spot. For the price it is excellent. Price: €30 B&B per room. I think it was €33 but as it was low season we got it for a bit cheaper. Can organise snorkeling in turtle bay from here.

Mombasa: Backpacker’s Nirvana. Really nice place located outside of the city just beside Nyali Beach. It was really relaxed and was a great place to stay. We were sorry we couldn’t stay longer. Price €30 B&B per double room but dorms are cheaper. They organise safaris and snorkeling from here too.

Nairobi: Wildebeest Eco-camp. Its located in Langata outside of Nairobi. It has rooms, tents, dorm tents and Garden Tents that are like a double room. The food is very good has Wi-Fi. It is very clean and safe. It can be busy so might need to book ahead. Prices range a lot. The dorms are €10 and the double garden tent is €45 B&B.

Iten: High Altitude Training Centre (HATC) All an athlete could need. Really great food, good facilities and lots of people to chat with. Wi-Fi access too. The price is €33 per person but that is full board. All meals are included.

Transport
Getting around Kenya has been very simple for us and there are lots of transport options. The matatus are the local buses that get you from A to B and while at first they can be a bit daunting, they are well organised and are a cheap way of getting around. They can be packed though so if it’s a longer journey, it might be the most comfortable. Local trips cost anything from 20 shilling to 100 shilling (20 cent – 1 euro. Longer trips like from Nairobi to Eldoret takes about 5 hours and costs 800 shilling (8 euro).
For long bus journeys, a coach might be more appropriate. We took Modern Coast coach from Mombasa to Nairobi and it took 9 hours with a stop along the way. It cost 15 euro for a 1st class ticket. It is worth paying the bit extra for the better seats. It was a very comfy coach but was lacking air-conditioning so could get quite hot. Getting the coach lets you see lots more of the countryside though.
If you want to fly, there are internal flights that are reasonable in price considering it’s a flight. A lot of people fly from Eldoret to Nairobi if your going to Iten. The main airlines are Fly540 and Jetlink and for that journey its about 60-70 euro one way.

Culture & Food
Where do I start???? The are so many different tribes/cultures here that I just don’t have the knowledge on this after just 6 weeks. I will say though that in general, people dress quite modestly in the places we have been and I haven’t felt it appropriate to wear mini-skirts and strappy tops down the streets in any place we have been. Obviously in the big cities it is different but in general I have tried to cover up a bit. This is especially true in Lamu where its 95% Muslim. I think the locals appreciate when you try to dress appropriately. What I tended to do was to ask in the guesthouse/people we met when we arrived what is appropriate or not. It is easy to get clothes made in the various villages so I had a couple of longer skirts made. They cost around 8-10 euro. The different cultures here are fascinating and just taking to locals will give you some idea however, you could spend years here learning new things I could imagine. If we weren’t moving on, I would definitely have bought some of the arts and crafts and they are really amazing.

Regarding food, the main food that has stood out for us has been the fruit. I never knew how good mangoes actually tasted until here. They are amazing. Traditional swahili dishes consist mostly of coconut rice and fish. They also have Nyama Choma which is basically a plate of barbequed meat. Its really yummy if your a carnivore like us. If the potato is the staple food of Ireland, then Ugali is the stable of kenya. We have it most days with dinner. Its basically like a dumpling made of maize flour. They like to serve this with kale (Sukuma wiki). I'm not a big fan of ugali but its a personal taste thing i guess. The main beer is Tusker. I normally don't drink beer but i really like the Tusker malt here. They are also fans of guinness, its tastes a little different here though....not bad just different.

Wildlife
A big attraction of Kenya for obvious reasons. There are lots of different safari areas to go to and lots of companies. At this time of year, the Masai Mara is a highlight because of the great migration but there are lots of other parks located around the country. The company we had was http://www.lokenjen.info. I can recommend them but there are lots of other companies too so its best to contact a few for prices. Gametrackers are also recommended. No matter who you go with, safaris are super expensive even for the budget options. We had the van/driver for our exclusive use though so we could tailor the days to our needs. You can go with a group and it would be a little bit cheaper. It is such an amazing experience though, I don’t regret spending one penny of it!!!

Currency
Kenyan Shilling: 100 shilling is approximately 1 euro

Dodging Mosquito Status: Excellent, still none here. We have enjoyed the break from our arch enemies but en encounter is soon approaching i fear!!!! India will bring a whole new army of them...We are off now to prepare ourselves.

Posted by ofenelon 04:29 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Have I started running like a Kenyan?

Hello again from Iten. Have I started running like a Kenyan? – no not just yet but am working on it. I recently heard of a local 6 year old here who could run a 5km race in 32 min so that will give you an idea of what I’m up against. Ok so her mother is a past world champion but still, the abilty of the runners here is really something. We went to a race last week and it was v interesting to see the Kenyan runners in action. It was a 10km road race. Some of the people from here were running in it so we went for support. We reckoned we weren’t here long enough to participate and I’m very glad I didn’t. It was very tough apparently. It was pretty much uphill the whole way. That plus the high altitude and I know I wouldn’t have finished it. The standard was just amazing. I think the winner won in about 29 minutes and there were lots of Kenyans in after him around the 30-31 minutes. The mzungos (white people) runners from the HATC done really well though and all got great times. The race organisation was very similar to local races back home with one major difference being mode of transport to the start line. Have a look at the pic below!! Other than that, it was the same and there was a great atmosphere at the finish line.

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Our own running is going good. I have had a little issue with my chest so I’ve missed some training but got it checked by the local doctor, all is good and hopefully will be back to normal in a couple of days. Ger is doing great, his knee is still playing up a little bit but he has been seeing the physical therapist on site here regularly so that’s good. To help with our training, we have enlisted the services of some local Kenyan athletes called Sammy & Steve to show us some of the trails of the local areas. There are so many different options here for running that it is good to get shown a few of the routes by the locals. They are athletes training in Iten so they run to our pace, not the other way around thankfully!!! Ger headed out to a local forest yesterday with Steve and said the scenery was spectacular. I was on a ‘rest’ day so he will show me another time. Here is an example of what some of the trails looks like.

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Life here for tourists interested in running is pretty amazing. Everybody has there own training agendas and are of different abilities but most people here get up early, go running, eat, rest, run, eat again….you get the picture. Sometimes we have been fitting in two runs in the day and others maybe one plus a core session. As we are here for 3 weeks we have time to build it up. One of the interesting things about going running around here is that the kids wave excitedly and always shout ‘How are you?’. They are so cute and sometimes they hold your hand and run beside you. On the more rural trails they don’t see Mzungus too often so they get super excited. While it’s very cute and so welcoming, sometimes when your in the middle of a hill gasping for air, I find it difficult to return the enthusiasm but try my best!

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Life here for athletes from Kenya is a bit different. For them running is an opportunity to change their life. Most people in Kenya have very little money and life can be tough. The average wage here is a dollar per day (approx 85 cent). If an athlete is good enough to win the big races abroad, they can provide for themselves and their families. The standard here though is incredibly high and the reality is that very few make it out of Iten. Athletes will come from all around Kenya to train in Iten and the surrounding areas with the hope that a coach will ‘spot’ them and take them on in one of the many training camps. We were chatting to an Australian coach at the track the other day who is trying to open a camp for Kenyan women athletes. It was sad hearing about how few of the athletes here are actually good enough to make it ‘big’. He made a good analogy that Iten for runners is like Hollywood for actors. Everyone is trying to get noticed but few do. To me, at the track, they all look so fast its incredible to think that most of them will train for a few years and return home if they cant get a manager etc. Tuesday is the main day for the track and its very cool just sitting watching all the talent running around. They use it for their interval sessions to work on their speed. I was planning on going on a less crowded day and using it not for speed work but just cause it’s the only flat bit of ground to run on!!! A welcome break from the hills.

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Aside from running, we pretty much chill out here at the HATC. There are some very interesting people here who have lots of information about life in Iten & Kenya. We met one man Toby Tanser who is a former athlete and is founder of the Charity Shoe4Africa. His charity has some really great projects, built some locals schools and he is currently working on building a children’s hospital in Eldoret. The one thing for me about this trip from chatting to people we meet is that I am suffering from western guilt a lot. I knew that this would happen and in fact it was one of the reasons I wanted to do this trip. To face up to the harsh reality that the world is so very unfair when it comes to the division of money, material items, education etc. The difference in lifestyles is just staggering and yet people here are so warm, friendly and kind. Kids eyes light if you give them a square of chocolate. A bar of cadburys here is a luxury and costs about 65 cent (not far of the average daily wage). The kids here also love learning and going school and go even in summer when they don’t have to. For them the alternative is to stay at home and work on the land. The problems with poverty in Kenya seem to be very complex and we have heard some bad stories about some of the larger charitable organistions but Shoe4Africa is a smaller charity and is doing some great local work in this area.

Well that’s it for the moment, back to bootcamp as I call it although I have managed the odd sneaky beer and square of chocolate.

Dodging Mosquito Status: Excellent, I haven’t seen a mossie however, the mossies seem to have been replaced by colonies of moths. At night they gather outside the around the lights. Last night I had visions of me in the batman type scene where he arose from the bats as batman– except with moths. I’m not sure Mothwoman has quite the same ring to it!!!

Posted by ofenelon 11:02 Comments (5)

Running with Champions

Iten Kenya

We arrived in Iten last Monday night with a little trepidation of what lay ahead. Iten is a village located north of Eldoret that is home to some the best kenyan runners the world has known. It also houses the famous St Patricks School where Brother Colm O’Connell has trained many world champions and olympic medalists. Iten is utilised for temporary training grounds for many athletes such as the British Olympic Team, Youth squads and top athletes across the globe. The reason for this is that Iten is at High Altitude so provides great preparation for runners athletes just before big races. It has spectaular trails/roads to train on and has a track that anybody from the community can untilise.

Which such athletes visiting here, you can imagine that we felt a little bit intimidated at the prospect of staying in this village. However, our fears were laid to rest when we got settled into life here. We are staying at the HATC (High Altitude Training Centre) which was founded by Olympian Lornah Kiplagat. The centre is more like a hotel that includes full board and has a lot of facilites such as a gym, pool etc that athletes can use. The food is healthy/yummy and plentiful so no fear of my hunger monster reappearing here. There are lots of great athletes here but everyone is made feel very welcome and people are super friendly.

The altidude is one of the key things that requires some adjustment for us. You can get quite sick if you do too much to soon so the key thing is to build up your miles slowly, to drinks lots of water and rest. We arrived 5 days ago and were doing 1 run a day but hopefully this will change today to two runs as we are becoming adjusted. They have free core classes 3 times a week so we have being doing those in the evening when they are on. We started on Day 1 with just a 25 min, increasing it the next day, yesterday we done 12km (i admit I had to walk the last 1km). Today hopefully will do 2 sets of 8km. We were up early at 6am for the 1st run so will do the next one around 5pm. Its all been done at an easy pace for the moment and as Ger is just back from injury, he runs with me which is a nice for a change. We went to the track the other day for a look at all the athletes training. It was brilliant just watching all these amazing athletes speed around the track. Anybody can use it and I couldn’t resist going out on it so I went for a run around the edge… out of the way of the elite runners.

It’s not hard to see why people use this place to train, apart from the altitude, the trails are really nice but extremely tough. For some reason, i had thought they would be reasonably flat. Im not sure why i thought this and i was defiinitely mistaken. The trails we have been on so far have been packed red earth and gravel. They are really nice to run on but they are hilly!!!! They wind up and down and just when your enjoying a lovely downhill section, around the next corner the devious uphill awaits!!! It is however realy beautiful scenery so at least there is some distraction while I gasp for air at the top of the hills!. It is after these hills that you really notice the altitude. Overall though we have been adjusting ok to it, I have gotten more symptoms than Ger so am keeping an eye on it. My chest is a bit tight although i was assured earlier that this quite normal and should subside in the next few days. The altitude is not extremely high here so we shouldn’t get the more serious symptoms.

Apart from training, we eat and rest. The olympics is on at the moment so there is a big screen for everyone to watch it. After dinner, most people head in and discuss the various races etc. It’s a bit surreal at times because you could be sitting beside people teenagers who are potential olympians or chatting to people who have been super runners in the past and know the likes of Mo Farah (he comes here to train and they have great respect for him, meant to be lovely), David Rudisha etc. There are a few past olympians walking about too at the moment as there is a japanese film crew about but I am useless at knowing who is who.

There are also lots of people here who are like us and love running and are here to train, improve times and enjoy the atmosphere so there are lots of people to chat/run with if you want. A group of us headed to a hotel nearby to see David Rusdisha in the 800m. It was brilliant, such a race and the big bonus was meeting his coach Brother Colm o’Connell later on in the evening. At first i was too shy to approach him but I really wanted to meet him and he was so nice when a few of us went up to him. He is an inspiration and was very proud of David Rudisha’s win. He seemed to be very proud of all of his athletes and is much respected in Iten. It was a great end to the evening and I was very excited walking home.

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Well that’s its for the moment, I will update you on our progress after we get a few more days training in and I manage to conquer them hills and get my lungs back to full capacity. Luckily Tony’s training at home with us on the Kyber in the phoenix park has enabled me to make it up some of them. Hopefully a few more days and i’ll be running with the Kenyans (i wish!!!).

Dodging Mosquito Status: Very good, they dont seem to like the altitude so much. While we may have escaped with the mossies for a few weeks we now have to dodge some of the biggest stick insect type things I've ever seen. There has also been sightings of some supersized beetle but I haven't seen it just yet thankfully!!!!

Posted by ofenelon 05:21 Archived in Kenya Comments (2)

Nairobi - Get me out of here!!!!

Unlike what the title suggests, getting out of Nairobi can be more difficult than it seems. In fact getting anywhere around Nairobi can be quite difficult due to the traffic. Ger had heard of the legendary traffic jams but I had no idea it would be so bad. If i had a piece of advice for anyone it would be, never arrive in nairobi during rush hour which seems to be start from 3pm in the afternoon. We didnt really get a chance to see much of nairobi, partly because of time and partly by choice. Nairobi seems to have lot of bad press which is probably a bit unjustified from what some travellers we met said. It isnt suppose to be the safest at night so we stayed outside the city in Wildebeest campsite which is lovely albeit a bit hard to get to from the city due to the traffic. We got stuck in one of the jams and took about 2 hours to go 10Km.

Getting out of Nairobi to go to Iten was quite amusing. We decided to get a Matatu from nairobi to eldoret which is 5 hours away. A lot of travellers fly to Eldoret but the Matatu is so much cheaper. It does come with the drawback that it takes a lot of patience which i didnt really have after all the travelling to and from the Masai Mara the day previously. The thing about the Matatus is that they dont leave until they fill up - 14 people so we had to sit on it for about an hour before it even left. We had also sat in a taxi for about an hour trying to move through the traffic trying to get to the matatu so my patience was wearing thin. Squashed into the minibus it took 5 hours to get to eldoret - with a change to another matatu in between. The actually journey was lovely driving through the picturesque rift valley. It is stunning and very like Ireland in its greenness, its colder further north and gets more rain, hence the greenery.

When we arrived in Eldoret, tired and starving we got a taxi to Iten. The taxi driver got lost and ger said the taxi driver was lucky to have escaped with his life. Normally I am a very calm relaxed traveller and i dont mind long journeys but on certain occasions of extreme hunger, i can turn into a monster!!!! Ger thinks its very funny. Luckily when we arrived at our destination, they had saved dinner for us so all was good and my monster was put to bed.

We are in the High Latitude Training Centre in Iten (home of champions) at the moment for the next few weeks trying to get the fitness back up after our lazy coastal days. It is a fabulous place. At the moment we are just doing one short run in the day as we have to let our bodies adjust to the altitude. I'll have a more detailed report on Iten and on our training in the next post. Am hoping it goes well!!!! Although i dont think we will be outrunning the kenyans. Was chatting to a kenyan guy today who runs a half marathon in 65mins. Needless to say my jaw dropped and i quickly changed the subject before he asked me what my time was!

Ger was at the physio yesterday so he gave him the all clear to run so we are delighted with that.

Posted by ofenelon 00:24 Comments (1)

The Magical Masai Mara

It was like waiting for santa on Christmas eve as was my excitement the night before the safari. I tried to sleep but to no avail. I even tried counting zebras (thought it was better than sheep given the context) but it didn’t work -I eagerly awaited the morning time to head to the Masai Mara. We were delighted then that at 7.30am the next morning, the safari company arrived with our vehicle ready for the trip. You see picking a safari company is quite hard as there are so many to choose from and it is so expensive that we wanted our moneys worth. In the end we decided to go for a local company that we had read good reports about and it also meant that we had the vehicle and driver to ourselves.
Once the van was loaded we headed off on the long trip to the Masai Mara. On the way down, we passed through the famous Rift Valley which is a sight to behold. Its is where the first human remains were found apparently. After about 7 hours of driving down some of the bumpiest roads I have ever encountered, we arrived at our campsite. We were tired and hungry and were beginning to wonder if the journey was worth it. I can say now that it absolutely was. After a quick bite to eat, we entered through Talek gate to see what lay ahead. I should mentioned that even though we entered through a gate to show our passes, the Masai Mara isn’t actually ring fenced, It is far too big for that. After we entered the gate, it didn’t take long to see that the journey down the bumpy roads were more than worth it. It is spectacular. In the 2 hours of our first drive, we saw 3 of the big five (lion, buffalo, elephant –the other two are leopard and rhino) and much much more. It is difficult to describe the feeling of seeing so many animals I had only seen in documentaries roaming freely. Needless to say that as you drive through the reserve the camera becomes an extension to your hand. We actually got very lucky with our little video camera catching a scene of a male lion fighting off another right in front of our vehicle.

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Of course the most important thing about this month in the Masai Mara is the arrival of the wildebeest from Tanzania. The Great Migration – and great it is. The migrate from Tanzania to the Masai Mara every July/August and then go back aorund December. How they find their way is beyond me! It is spectacular seeing thousands of wildebeest roaming migrating across the grasslands walking, leaping and running about. The are true to their name and are prone to buck-leaping about.

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The amazing thing about the arrival of the wildebeest is that they seem to complete the ecosystem here, providing much needed food for the meat eaters and friendship for the zebras. The zebras and the wildebeest are good mates and can been seen hanging around together in massive groups. This relationship works well for the wildebeest as they can sense the lions approaching, and start running. Unfortunately the wildebeest aren’t the smartest of animal in sensing danger so the warning if much needed.

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On day two of the safari, we left the campsite at 7am and headed off on our full day game drive across the park. It was unbelievable. We saw so many animals and birds I think I was just going around with my jaw dropped for the day. Some of animals were more elusive but many had no fear of the vehicle and a lion walked straight beside the van. One interesting thing about the lions in the Mara is that they aren’t man eaters. The ones in some of the parks near Mombasa, the lions can be man eaters but apparently if a lion eats a man, he is killed. The reason being that humans are meant to be unbelievably tasty to eat and once a lion eats a human it wont eat anything else and will continue to hunt humans so it has to be killed. I never knew we were delicious!!!

The thing I found so amazing was that all of these animals (elephants, lions, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, wildebeest just to name a few – live in the same area and just get about their daily business. Yes, obviously some animals are food for others but it seems to be on a need only basis. They don’t just randomly kill for fun. The day ended seeing two Cheetahs lying together under a tree – what a sight. They were so cat like just sprawled out (I couldn’t help think of poncho at that moment).

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Today- Sunday we got really lucky and got to see the famous wildebeest crossing of a river. It was spectacular. Thousands of wildebeest crossed the Talek river. It was over in about 15 minutes. The amazing thing is that they all gather together on one side of the river and when the leader decides to cross they all follow. It was amazing. There were a few zebra in the group too!!!

Aside from the animals, it is also important to remember that this area is home to the Masai people who live just on the outskirts of the Masai Mara in different villages. We passed through some of them on the way to the campsite. They are a very interesting tribe and take great pride in their livestock. They have a wonderful traditional dress that some of them wear but many others just wear plain clothes and are not involved livestock anymore but have taken jobs elsewhere. We got chatting to a really nice guy called Freddy in Watamu who a shop selling Masai crafts. He was very interesting and while he seem to take part in traditional dances etc, he lived like us other days.

I could go on and on about the experience in the Masai Mara but I don’t think I could do this place justice in just how amazing it is. It was always my number one dream to see the African wildlife in person and now I have fulfilled it. Hopefully I will be back again someday – actually I know I will!

Dodging Mosquitos Status: Was so overwhelmed by this place that I forgot about them!

Posted by ofenelon 12:49 Archived in Kenya Comments (4)

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