Africa, Extreme Sports, Kenya, Travel

Celebrating in Watamu

Like I said in the Galdessa post, the main reason why my family and I had gone to Kenya, was for our family friend’s birthday. Her husband organized a massive party inviting all their close friends to the week event, held in the beautiful area of Watamu.

Watamu is a 100 kilometres from Mombassa and 15 kilometres from Malindi, a village situated on the coastal beach front with pristine sandy white beaches and azure aquamarine seas. Turtle bay is the nicest section of the beach and with Watamu voted third best beaches in Africa, one is quite surprised to see no tourists jostling for towel space on the sand. With Malindi’s nature reserve being a small swim away from Watamu, diving and snorkelling activities are in abundance and offer fantastic views. It is known by many as an eco friendly area, where hotels hold sustainability as a priority in their services, and with such a magnificent view, one would easily agree to do the same thing. Fishing is also immensely popular because of the enormous Blue Marlin that flock and thrive in the crystal waters, thus many tourists try their hand at catching one of these silver tailed beasts.

Our family friends organised a number of fun things and entertaining evenings for us (and many others). Touch rugby on the beach was a highlight, as well as “snake catching”. This latter activity involved going into the bush with some locals to hunt snakes. Definitely not the safest option, but the most thrilling activity I found. I remember separating from the group, getting bored about how strict the guides were, until I looked up and something caught my eye in the tree. Sliding along a branch was not one, but two Green Mamba snakes! The very snakes I had been warned about previously being incredibly venomous and dangerous. Being an already adrenaline junkie… I shook with excitement. As I went to call for one of the guides attention, I turned around and it seemed the whole village was behind me. 20 other people stood there, mouths open and paralysed with fear whilst looking at the tree. In no time at all, the guides rushed ahead, urging us to stand back. They smoothly used tridents in sharp and quick movements, managing to lift the slimy snakes that had attached themselves onto the branches with ease, and shoved them into a sack. We had found what we had been looking for and were immediately told that the tour “was over”.

My family and I stayed in Hemingways Resort. It was a luxurious establishment that had kind helpful staff and had a lovely swimming pool right along the sea front. This hotel, is a little out of a backpacker’s budget- to say the least.

Africa, Extreme Sports, Kenya, Travel

Safari in Galdessa Camp, Tsavo East National Park

I had never been on safari before. Neither had my parents. So when my Dad turned to my brother and I and said, “Fancy going on safari in Kenya?”, we all jumped at the chance. But this is no ordinary safari in Kenya, where you stay miles away from the heart of the park, popping there for a day trip and rushed to spot wildlife as if in an amusement park- hurrying to cut queues but barely enjoying the rides themselves, no. This was Galdessa.

Galdessa 1

Galdessa Safari Camp is situated on the southern bank of the Galana river in Tsavo National Park. The camp holds 12 spacious thatched bungalows, all with an en suite bathroom and even a private shower (in the middle of the savannah?!). The camp oozes with sophistication and opulence, the beds are soft foam mattresses with crystal white sheets and matching mosquito nets- that protect you from any critters in the night. The interior is styled exquisitely with wooden chairs carved out of craggy branches as if picked up from the sandy plains itself, whilst rooms hold stretched animal prints (fake of course) to blend the visitor in with their surroundings. Having sheer material as walls means that you really are in fancy tent, where animals can be heard grazing at night next to you (we had a rhino one night munch very loudly on grass which made me feel protected rather than anxious). Although there is nothing to worry about, members of the Massi Mara tribe come and act as security guards against any creatures of the night, walking visitors to their resting places (definitely the best sort of security guard you can find in Kenya!)

In the middle of the camp there is the restaurant area, where breakfast, lunch and dinner are served. The dining area is furnished in a similar style to those in your bedrooms, which makes the entire camp a whirlwind of elegance and luxury. Being situated along the river means that visitors don’t even need to leave their comfy seats of the river terraces at camp. In fact, they have a friendly elephant whom visits every morning to be fed, and his entire head fits through the doorway, (I obviously was so excited, it was my first time seeing an elephant that wasn’t brutally tortured like those in Thailand- see Phuket post). Families of elephants wander across the river daily, all slowly swaying in unison, the baby clutching his mothers tail in sheer terror whilst he plods deep into the river. It is a breathtaking and moving sight, seeing animals in their natural habitat that take no notice of you as they go on their daily routine, leaving you speechless to watch these magical beasts that are so wise and wondrous. Exotic birds swoop low and sip at the river, crying out for attention and flurrying their colourful and attractive wings in seduction.

Galdessa 2

A visit to Galdessa must be teamed with a four by four drive around the Savannah, it would be a sin not to! The ride is suitable for everyone, (my mother is disabled so we needed to make sure she was comfortable with it), and as you grab hold of the railings of the bouncing Jeep, you are whisked deep into the Savannah. The guides are incredibly talented, their eyes are trained like a hawks and can spot any movement in any direction from miles away, whilst they move like trained and dangerous assassins, braking the Jeep suddenly to smell a waft of fresh animal dung and track which direction the animal went. It truly is a remarkable sight and one to give Simon Cowell a run for his money, (X Factor joke- I apologise). As our tracker/guide/driver/magician drove us further along the dusty track, calmly resting a shotgun across his lap, we wandered past aged elephants, stealthy lions and gigantic giraffes. The experience is one that a zoo will never be able to replace.

My brother and I were also taken on a “Walking Tour” to Mudanda Rock, where a dam is based. Suddenly, we heard a rustling in the bushes and a flash of detailed spots on yellow skin came out from the undergrowth and scampered in the opposite direction. His body ran like a dog but swaying manically as if suffering from rabies, our guide turned and looked at us with concern on his face and said, “We are very lucky. It is a hyena. If he came around our way, we would have been torn apart to pieces. I think we should go back to camp.” Although the walking tour had ended, that rush of adrenaline and my love for extreme had just begun (little did I know I would be skydiving, swimming with sharks and bungee jumping in just a few years- and loving it).

My Dad also decided to organise a “bush breakfast“, which is when the camp organises a package of food, a table and chairs, as well as a waiter to come with you, out into the savannah and watch the sun come up over the plains, as you are completely surrounded by nature dining on breakfast. It definitely was a surreal moment and is the best breakfast experience I have ever had.

Going on safari is a majestical experience, and it does differ depending on what country you do it in and what style of safari you go for. We had timed this trip with our family friends birthday celebrations in Watamu, so that is the main reason behind us going to Kenya, although Kenya has the reputation for being one of the most safest and friendliest countries in Africa. Before you do any safari trip, make sure you research wisely, and prepare yourself and your family, for what’s in store. Also please do keep in mind, to be ethical to the environment, it is nature and not a theme park, treat the animals and their home with respect by letting them be.

Oh and Dad, if your reading this: Thanks a billion.

Africa, Morocco, Travel

Mint Tea in Marrakesh

Marrakesh is a hive of activity, an organized chaos. The city sways in the sweltering heat and sings with items for sale and surprises to share. Marrakesh is loud, vibrant and busy. Even when the call for prayer is melodically heard echoing the dusty streets and sand coloured walls, the air still hangs with excitement and buzz. Marrakesh is not a place to tip toe one self into the culture, you are thrown head over heels in, learning from your mistakes and gasping for air when appropriate.

Flying over Marrakesh Mosaic Door

Marrakesh is perfect for losing track of time and meandering through the maze like medina, bartering with pleading eyes and cheeky smiles, sipping gorgeously sweet yet fresh mint tea on a street corner, and exploring beautifully adorned mosques. Feeling as if an extra from Arabian nights, immerse yourself in the celebrated confusion of days and Marrakesh’s balmy nights.

I find the best way to get to know a city is by getting lost in it. So do so. Marrakesh has a number of sights that highlights the city’s splendour and beauty to all unknown to it; highlighting the incredible traces of architecture, the years of blood soaking history, and the Islamic culture. Sights are hidden amongst and around the city walls, nestled within souqs and standing on street corners.

Sleeping Cat The Square

Koutoubia mosque centres the bustling square, and centres many of the population’s religion. Like the British to a football match, the cry of the mosque entices all around, encouraging all to flock to this religious site and connect with his holiness. It is a beautiful site to see, although the action of going to prayer is even more beautiful.

If you would like to learn more about the culture and people of Marrakesh head over to the Musee de Marrakesh. The stunning architecture of the building is a monument in itself, with its vast swooping domes, porcelain tiles with intricate designs that pave the floor and strong pillars that hold this wondrous sight up. It is a museum dedicated to the decorative objects, contemporary arts, and mystical daggers.

Mint Tea in Morocco

Another beautiful architectural vision is the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa building, which used to be a a theological college throughout the 14th Century, and is another fine example of Marrakesh’s geometric mosaic design. It acts as a perfect recluse in the centre of the heaving sweaty souqs of the city, a place where one can rest and be with ones thoughts.

There are so many tombs around the world that are awe inspiring, ones to ironically, die for, and the Saadian Tombs are one of these very tombs. Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi made sure his tomb was an artistic masterpiece and spared no expense in doing so. The honey coloured columns and pillars inside the dark depths of this tomb are breathtaking and line the area with symmetrical order, unlike the loud and colourful mosaics that swarm the interior.

My favourite sight of Marrakesh and one to most definitely not be missed, is the Jardin Majorelle. It acts as an oasis of calm and nature inside the hustle and bustle of Marrakesh city. Yves Saint Laurent bought this eccentric blue house with his partner, restoring its natural splendour and giving it as a gift to the city of Marrakesh. Take a relaxing stroll through the hanging palm leaves that graze your skin as you wonder past, prickling your fingers on the odd number of catci there are on display, and admiring the large variety of foliage on view. The streams and pools tinkle in the background, creating a soothing and calming effect whilst you finger large soft petalled flowers and admire lavish designs of tiles and canopy’s. Stop for a coffee here to really take in the perfectly balanced ambiance.

Gardens Floral My mum in the sun

Now a trip to Marrakesh, is no trip without an adventure into the unknown: the labyrinth of souqs that the city has to offer. Find yourself stumbling under canopy’s of hanging wool, glitzing past a mirage of colour, sights and sounds. Walk slowly taking in the swarming environment around you as shopkeepers cry for your attention, wanting to make a sale. Smile encouragingly, but don’t halt too long, as you allow yourself to wander deeper and deeper into the disarray and disorder of the souqs: a bargainers dream, a shoppers paradise. Make sure you take the time to explore the metal workers souq and the leather workers souq, thus you can see the variation in products and their environment, the glistening pots and the smell of tanning hide wafting up your nostrils.

Shoeshopping Lantern Shop

End your journey at the focus and heart of Marrakesh, Jemaa el-Fnaa, where a collision of worlds, religions and heritage awaits you. Acrobats; snake charmers, dancers, story tellers, animal holders, conjurers, magicians and artists all gather here, sharing their passions, their magic and their story. At night, this place really comes alive. Instead of the lonely orange juice stalls that are here in the day, the square is teaming with life, tourists and locals gather together to be blown away by people’s talents. Try find a restaurant that overlooks the square, where you can observe the starry night sky smother the mad crowds below, where you hear shrieks of laughter and joy, where the smell of barbecued lamb on the pits below overpowers your nostrils from afar, and where you can eat a sumptuous meal of lamb tajine, in a more relaxing atmosphere.

Fortune Teller in Marakesh Shopping

Spa’s are a popular activity here in Marrakesh, and with the vast amount of plentiful treatments and packages in luxurious hotels on offer, it is quite difficult to turn down a cleansing facial or deep tissue massage. Do some research before choosing your spa, or out of convenience, before booking your stay, double check if your hotel has a high quality spa.

I was lucky enough to be staying in such a place which not only had professional spa’s and welcoming hospitality, but a number of pools, delicious restaurants and astonishing interior. Hands down, the only place you should stay in Marrakesh is: les jardins de la koutoubia. This hotel seems an incredibly well kept secret, and if not a hotel, I am sure it could make a marvellous mansion for someone filthy rich. I implore you to take a brief look at their website if you are planning to travel to Marrakesh and are looking for luxurious and stylish accommodation, (not my usual backpacker kettle of fish), as it is a welcoming treat to return to after a day of adventure in the heart of medina.

The Square at Night

Coming here for a brief city escape with my mum, although I am unsure ‘escape’ is the right word, as this is not a place of relaxation and solitude, but a comfortable readjustment of yourself into ancient history and authentic culture. We found the place, hot, humid and sticky, so I do advise staying here for 3 days. If you do plan to stay longer, take advantage of the surrounding nature and landscapes around Marrakesh where you can ride along Sand dunes or camel ride into the vast empty plains of the desert.