It’s been awhile since I’ve written something here, and partly that’s because I’ve been traveling through East Africa for about three weeks. I’ve been back for a couple of weeks now but I’ve had some serious writers block when I thought about writing about this trip. Why? Because it seriously left me speechless. I know that sounds so incredibly cheesy and cliché, but I have been having a hard time putting into words this trip. Even when I’ve been talking to my friends & family! East Africa travel was a major bucket list item for me, so I’m still blown away I got to cross this off of my list.
Despite the writers block, I’m back now and I’m here to give you an overview of my three weeks in East Africa, traveling through Uganda and Kenya primarily, with a quick day trip to Rwanda thrown in there. I think it’s important to mention that I did this trip on a tour. It’s hard to travel across rural Africa, especially alone, so this was the easiest way for me to cover as much ground as possible. I went on their Gorillas & Game Parks trip and I definitely will give you a more in-depth lowdown of traveling with Intrepid and the tour I did in a post coming soon, but for now, here’s some of the biggest highlights.
Seeing the gorillas in Uganda
This is the main reason I booked this East Africa trip. I was aiming to visit 30 countries before I turn 30 in February, and I wanted my 30th country trip to be something next level, and a big item on my bucket list. I’ve wanted to trek to see the mountain gorillas basically since I first found out it existed, and it was everything I dreamed about and more.
I seriously need to do a whole post (or two) on this experience, but there was such a build up to this moment during our time in Uganda. We were so anxious that it was going to be incredibly challenging, but we lucked out with an easy hike, and lots of time to see and observe the amazing gorillas. They are so cool to watch and be that close to. I could sit there all day just admiring them!
(Almost) seeing the “Big 5” during our East Africa travel
Obviously one of the coolest parts about this continent is seeing exotic animals that we would never see in North America outside of a zoo. It’s hard to explain what it’s like when you see that first wild animal. It doesn’t even see real! Something we only really see on TV, to Africans it’s like not even a big deal to drive by a heard of elephants on the side of the road, but to us, to me, it was crazy and I never got sick of seeing them.
The “Big 5” is a famous term coined by damn big-game hunters and refers to the five most difficult animals to hunt. However of course in our case we were just trying to spot them, an item on most people’s “to-do” while doing any kind of East Africa travel! We managed to find the elephant, rhinos, buffaloes, and the lion, but unfortunately, we didn’t manage to see a leopard! That’s okay, it gives me just another reason to return. 😉
Learning about the traditions of the Maasai people
I had seen so many pictures of the Maasai Mara prior to visiting Kenya and I was so excited to not only see the animals within this reserve, but also learn about the tribe/people that live here. I’m not going to lie, some of their traditions are very dated, and a little hard to swallow, however, I think it was so important to learn about as it’s part of Kenya’s culture today in this area.
I want to tell you so much about what I learned, but I’ll save that for another post, however, with Intrepid, we got to visit a really interesting project that was being run by a lady named Helen, who is part of the tribe. Helen stood up against some of the traditions among the Maasai, specifically related to young girls. Women in this tribe are almost never given the opportunity to go to school. They are traded as children for a dowry in the form of livestock. They marry young, have children, and that’s it for them. Helen had provided young girls with an opportunity to be educated, and her work is so so so important.
I can’t wait to tell you the full story about this. What Helen is doing to empower women and young girls is amazing.
Update: I’ve now written the story of Helen. Read it here.
Our truck breaking down
Sounds weird that this is a highlight, but our truck that we traveled in throughout our trip broke down in Uganda one day. Yep, in rural Uganda we were stuck on the side of the road, in front of a locals house (which was more like a hut) for 6+ hours. There is no roadside assistance in these parts of Africa, so we were dependent on locals that stopped by to help our driver (also mechanic) find the parts to fix our bus.
Why did this end up being so good? Well, it really allowed us to interact with the community and see what the East African culture is all about. It didn’t take long for all the kids around to hear there were 22 white people stuck on the side of the road, and soon enough we were all playing with, and chatting with the local kids. We even made our lunch right in this families “driveway”. If this happened at home, people would be like WTF are you doing on my property, but instead, it was just like normal. No one batted an eye. You didn’t even have to ask permission. This is what’s so beautiful about African culture. It’s a community, even if you aren’t from there, or you have more than they do, or your skin is a different colour, it doesn’t matter.
This was such a good day, but also, we were all very excited when our truck finally was fixed! We never talked badly about it again after that.
Camping throughout Kenya & Uganda
The tour I did with Intrepid was a Basix level tour. Their Basix tours are more “budget-friendly” and basically this was the only way I was going to be able to afford East Africa travel. Africa is not cheap!
Anyway, part of the Basix tour was that your meals were made by your cook, but you pitched in with chores like helping him prep dinner, and clean the dishes. You also camped in tents the entire time (except for one night). There was the option to upgrade in multiple places to hotels/rooms, but my friend and I stuck it out and were the only ones of all 22 of us that camped every single night. We were actually so nervous about the camping, but the tents were super easy to take up/down, and we got into such a routine. We also were super cozy and it was like sleeping in a comfortable fort every night. We had some of the best sleeps and it made this trip even more of an adventure!
Kayaking the Nile River
I mean, this was just one of those surreal things during my East Africa travel. Visiting the Nile River, which is one of the world’s longest rivers, is already pretty cool, but kayaking down it was pretty crazy. This kayak was actually really calm and easy, but it was just really cool to be on the Nile River. We also stopped in a spot where we could just soak it all in, and have one of their local beers in Uganda, which is ironically called “Nile”.
Some R&R at Devarana Spa in Nairobi
We camped this entire trip, and had a lot of long drives on an uncomfortable bus, so by the time the trip ended our tour back in Nairobi, we thought we deserved some much needed pampering. I literally just googled “Spas in Nairobi” with very little expectations. I picked the first place that responded with appointment availability for that day, and that was that.
When we arrived at the spa we were floored. This was the kind of spa you could dress up in a dress to go to and we looked like outdoors women. Anyway, it was luxurious. We got a great deal on a spa package and spent about three hours there getting a body wrap, massage, and facial. It was so beautiful in this spa and it was MUCH NEEDED. Definitely a very non-cultural highlight.
I can’t wait to write more about this trip for you, but for now, this was just a teaser! Have you been to East Africa? What was your highlight?