maasai east africa exploitation

A Little Story… How One Maasai Tribe Is Changing the Face of Responsible Tourism

The sharp guffaw of a wild baboon startled me from sleep. Close as a whisper, the eerie sound ricocheted through my dreams. I awoke in full fight or flight response mode. My eyes whipped open, careening around the space; they slowly adjusted to the soft ochre light emanating from the banked campfire. From somewhere outside the dim glow came soothing melodic murmurs. The language was at once familiar from my months in East Africa, yet incomprehensible.

My heartbeat slowed as my consciousness caught up with my surroundings. A wall of trees shrouded our campsite, creating an impenetrable ring of darkness. A carpet of thick bush began a mere spitting distance from my sleeping spot. Again, a flurry of baboon calls crept across the Loita Plains. The sound echoed in the far distance; it had seemed closer in my disoriented dregs of half-sleep. The ground murmured nearby; my gaze collided with the smiling eyes of Quela, a Maasai warrior and my fearless guide. His head quirked to the side, offering quiet reassurance.

A cushion of sage leaves hugged me as I snuggled into my sleeping bag. Deep breaths filled my lungs with gentle, sage-scented air. The shooting stars overhead left fiery trails—a riot of stars more numerous than I had ever before seen. A Fourth of July sparkler had splattered its joy across the sky. It was just shy of 4am and I was alone, but not. An earthly quiet settled over the night—a quiet that hummed with noise. The slow and methodic breathing of fellow travelers acted as a metronome for my thoughts. Moments and memories played like a slideshow across that canvas of glittering night sky.

maasai experience kenya women in shukas

Five days at the Maji Moto Maasai Cultural Camp. It seemed impossible. Time had contracted. Instead of measuring days, I had counted moments. I had collected hundreds of moments. Moments of learning, moments of beauty, and moments of friendship.

That first morning at Maji Moto, I woke with a happy jolt. My body wakes with the sun each day, and a quick glance out my window confirmed that darkness was giving way to light. I threw on my shuka, a colorful wrap the Maasai had gifted to me the night before. It braced me against the cool morning. Snatching my camera, I darted from our circle of manyattas, small mud huts that were well-appointed and cozy. I live for a good sunrise and I was looking forward to watching this one.

I walked to the edge of the campsite. The cool breeze ruffled the leaves and a snap of sticks sounded from the Maasai campfire nearby. Creeping into a new day, the sun began to tint the landscape. The sunrise washed Kenya’s Great Rift Valley in a pastel wonderland. A rising chatter of birds emanated from the thicket of trees—they were excited, too. Mirroring the shutter of my camera, I mentally froze that moment, pressing it into my memory.

review of Salaton's Maji Moto Culutral Camp in Kenya

sunrise in Maasai Mara ethically visit the Maasai of East Africa and experience sunrise in the Maasai Mara National Park sustainable tourism Kenya

After sunrise, and with the rest of the camp still drowsing, I grabbed my book and headed for the dining area. My visit to this Maasai camp in Kenya was the cornerstone experience of my four months in East Africa. Although I rarely plan my travels beforehand, I had booked this week at the Maji Moto Cultural Camp long before the other moving pieces and parts.

I visit social enterprises when I travel; it’s one of my favorite parts of discovering a new place. For months, I had corresponded with Susan, the U.S. facing partner of the Maji Moto camp. Now, I was finally in the one place where I could uncover answers to my many questions.

I visited with the hope and promise that tourism was the most profound commodity this Maasai chief needed in his village. I visited to support a social enterprise using tourism funds to create, run, and manage projects within its community.

In the months leading up to my visit, I had heard of canned tourist experiences with African tribes. Now that I was at Maji Moto, I again worried that my money had bought me a one-way ticket to cultural exploitation. Until now, my knowledge of the statuesque Maasai tribes came from the pages of National Geographic magazines. Over the years, internet shorthand and fading attention spans have reduced many ethnic groups to seductively exotic images. They are a blip on our Pinterest board. A rapid “like” in our Facebook feed. Deep thought has given way to a passing interest. In this digital world, we often forget to consider the stories behind those foreign faces and obscure traditions.

After an ethically sketchy slum tour in Cape Town, I had heightened my awareness of my lack of knowledge. There were questions larger than I was thinking to ask. There are issues in Africa deeper than outsiders can ever understand.

Ethical tourism is a complicated subject. The edges and boundaries of responsible travel experiences are soft and porous. Something unprecedented and innovative in one community might unravel in another. The underlying belief that there is a panacea to perceived problems has wrought havoc in Africa. But, I also believe that effective avenues of responsible tourism exist; there are ways to visit the region and support projects that steer far clear of the exploitative models of past colonialism. African-led businesses are solving local social issues and locals are shaping their own communities. But finding these voices among the cacophony of outside development solutions is difficult.

And so above all else, I hoped my presence at Maji Moto lived within the precept of “do no harm.” I wasn’t there to volunteer—I have no skills needed in their communities. Nor did I visit with a mission to change them. I visited with the hope and promise that tourism was the most profound commodity this Maasai chief needed in his village. I visited to support a social enterprise using tourism funds to create, run, and manage projects within its community.

campfire songs with the Maasai

Over my five days at the cultural camp, Salaton Ole Ntutu, the charismatic Maasai warrior chief of Maji Moto, led our small group through the customs of traditional Maasai life. With members of Maji Moto’s Maasai tribe as guides, we walked through the Loita Hills and learned the names of medicinal plants. We watched sunset from a rock outcropping. We sang around the campfire each evening. Grounding each day, we visited the local projects that run, in part, with support from the cultural camp.

On the surface, our trip was a simple way for us tourists to responsibly engage with the Maasai culture. Underneath, the cultural camp is a single string in a wider, interlocking web of projects bound by Salaton’s a vision and careful execution.

There’s the Enkiteng Lepa primary school, a gated building on a dusty dirt road a short walk from the cultural camp. That first day at Maji Moto, Rose walked us to the school. A dry baking heat pulsed around us as Rose explained the school’s importance to her community. Although it looks like schools most anywhere in the world—rows of windows, space to run—this one is unique. Enkiteng Lepa emphasizes two primary learning goals: a modern education and a comprehensive understanding of Maasai traditions.

It’s this adherence to traditions that underpinned so much of what I learned at Maji Moto. Although Salaton has created a modern tourism model for his community, every new project sympathetically marries modern development and cultural preservation. It’s this balance that has made his work successful. In addition to the school, the Cultural Camp supports a widow’s village and a girls dormitory.

Widows are unable to remarry in traditional Maasai culture, nor can they own property. As a result, many face difficulties supporting themselves and their children. Maji Moto’s Widow’s Village gives the women a support network they traditionally lack. It also provides them with a source of income—the women teach beadwork to the tourists and sell their exquisite, intricate jewelry.

One other piece of Salaton’s vision had a significant effect on my perception of the Maji Moto Cultural Camp. Salaton and other key leaders in his community are leading a campaign against early marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) within the Maasai community. He began this work with his mother, a renowned medicine woman and shamanic healer.

Over decades, many foreign NGOs and international groups have campaigned as outsiders against this practice. Salaton, his mother, and local Maasai leaders envisioned a different path that would shift attitudes and traditions. Together, their internal campaign is strong but mighty. It has the ability to affect lasting change in the practice of FGM among the Maasai. Together, they put in motion a movement that ripples across not only his community, but throughout East Africa.

Salaton Ole Ntutu, Maasai warrior chief

Women in the Widow's Village

Maji Moto Cultural Camp

ceremony at Maasai Widow's Village in Kenya Rose; review of Maji Moto Cultural Camp what it's like to meet Maasai women

Fighting for education in the Maasai tribes of East Africa exploring the Loita Plains near Maji Moto

The lake near Maji Moto, Kenya.

On my last evening at the camp, Meeri, one of my Maasai guides that week, shared with me her story. We were walking to a camping spot about two hours from the village. The Maasai had promised us a night of friendly conversation, singing by the campfire, and sleeping under the stars. Meeri and I walked side-by-side over the shrubby savannah.

She wasn’t always a part of the Maji Moto community. At her family’s prompting, Meeri dropped out the fourth grade to become circumcised and married. When most preteens are dreaming of their future goals, Meeri became the fifth wife of an old man. Not long after their marriage, her husband died. Meeri, however, was already pregnant. Her husband’s wives and their eldest sons seized Meeri’s possessions and forced her to leave.

She went to her father, but he denied her reentry into the family—he had received a dowry and did not want to return it. Meeri had few options.

She had vague knowledge of a widow’s village in a different Maasai camp; she set out alone and determined. She walked for three days. Each night, she slept in trees to avoid the wild animals. Once at Maji Moto, the community welcomed her. She now had a new future. The Widow’s Village provided Meeri with a support system that most Maasai communities lack. The other widows offered to raise Meeri’s child so she could return to school and continue her education.

The sun hung lower as Meeri and I walked, the soft tread of my uneven gait scuffed the dusty rocks. Although Merri’s words looped through my mind, Meeri continued with enthusiasm when she spoke of her future. Having finished at the local school, Meeri planned to continue her education. She hoped to become a certified guide. Her long-term goal was to lead tours through the nearby Maasai Mara Reserve.

After a time, Meeri left me to my thoughts. It was a lot to digest.

eliminating FGM among the Maasai

Meeri

Maji Moto Cultural Camp

Walking the Maasai Mara in search of our camping spot for the night — we hit a goat traffic jam.

Salaton, a Maasai chief in Kenya working to end FGM among the Maasai. goats on the plains

A rock outcropping near Maji Moto.

Stories have the power to change us. Stories use a steel cable to cinch humanity closer; they bind us across cultures, time, and space. Once you have created a new story of a place, that connection can never be undone. It changes your perception of foreign events in far-off places. I will always have a connection to Kenya. A tapestry of stories bind me to the Maasai. In the span of a few days, I had solidified my once abstract associations. And though the Maasai had become more than just the magazine images from my youth, even more I realized that my role here was as a tourist.

The cultural camp affords the Maasai control over how the tourists experience their culture. Maji Moto’s mission is to create an experience that facilitates connections and stories between Maasai and tourists, while controlling outside impact on their culture. I would leave Maji Moto with a new story of East Africa’s Maasai and with a connection to a people different from my home country. But I would also leave behind my tourism dollars and the far greater impact that money has on this community’s ability to build and shape its future.

My moments of pressing introspection upon hearing Meeri’s story passed in a heartbeat. With alacrity, we arrived at our camping spot. Other warriors had arrived before us. They had prepared a bed of sage leaves for those who wanted to sleep outside, a few tents for others, and the beginnings of a large campfire. A goat rested in the corner; he would soon become dinner.

Once the sun had retired, we gathered around the campfire. Late into the night, I listened to the Maasai warriors converse through song. Melodies echoed with deep reverberations into the night. Some songs included high-pitched catcalls strong enough to pierce the star-studded sky. The Maasai’s contagious joy outlasted me; I crawled onto my sage pallet and into my sleeping bag. I fell asleep to the soft cadence of conversation as it warred with the rustling leaves and the distant hoot of birds.

Our group visiting the Maji Moto Camp, I was the only non-doctor or nurse in the group. Quela, a Maasai warrior who taught me so much about Maasai life. An elder in the community at Maji Moto helping to support women and stop FGM within the Maasai.

One of the Maasai warriors spins the stick quickly to create friction! the Maasai lighting a fire by hand learning how to make a campfire

roasting goat over a campfire

Traditional Maasai songs and dance. Experiencing an evening of Maasai song over a campfire

In the two years since I visited Maji Moto, I have pressed each moment into my memory bank. Like a treasured flower pressed into an age-worn book, some memories have faded with the passing of time. But like that flower, each time I open the book, memories rush back to me. Textures, colors, and scents fill each memory.

My time at Maji Moto is memorable for more than providing me weeklong glimpse into a different culture. Pressed into my memories are those moments of human connection. There’s Meeri’s crinkling smile as I peppered her with questions. I have forever preserved Quela’s infectious laugh as I misidentified the local medicinal herbs growing in the fertile plains. I open that book and I hear Salaton’s measured lilt as he spoke of his passion to preserve his culture through innovative sustainable tourism programs.

The Maji Moto camp, and the people who welcomed me, crafted the tourism experience that I didn’t know I needed. My visit landed squarely in the camp of cultural tourism. Salaton and the elders designed our experience to steer far clear of the cultural exploitation rampant elsewhere. Each moment was guided by a visionary chief working to define what modern responsible tourism looks like for the Maasai of East Africa.

The Maji Moto Cultural Camp operates year-round. They offer multi-night stays at the camp and safaris to the nearby Maasai Mara Reserve. Earlier this year, A Little Adrift readers visited with their two kids; they reported back that they had a wonderful family experience. The Maasai warriors are great with kids and have a range of activities designed to engage and interest them (from beadwork to warrior training). Be sure to book through the site linked here as the similarly named eco-camp nearby is not a part of this social enterprise.

A Little Adventure… Going on an Incredible Safari in Tanzania’s National Parks

A quick (and grainy) snapshot from the Kenyan-Tanzanian border. I had already been stamped out of Kenya but didn’t have enough cash to make it into Tanzania. Highlight: the kind Canadian I was about to beg from is in the shot.

Arriving in Tanzania started on a shaky note. I hadn’t realized someone robbed me of my cash my last day in Cape Town until I stood at the border between Kenya and Tanzania. I gutted my bag and found nothing. I sat miffed among my scattered possessions, wondering how my cash had vanished. The very cash that was meant to buy my Tanzanian visa. Others in my van had already returned with their visas, and I had only managed to scramble together $50 in three different currencies from my stashed cash in secret parts of my bag. But that left me still staring sheepishly at the border official when I proffered my passport, cash, and a weak explanation. I just didn’t have another $50.

To say he was unimpressed with my story is an overstatement.

No amount of further searching was going to come up with more cash, so I started phase two of the plan: charmingly beg.

I needed another foreigner—likely the only ones willing and able to lend me that much cash—but the border was fresh out of foreigners. So I sat. And my bus waited. And we sat some more. And I finally found a kind Canadian woman who assumed me a travel noob and graciously lent me a crisp $50.

For as much as it was a debacle for my confounded bus driver (he couldn’t understand why I would have gotten on the bus without cash), the event ended quickly once I passed over the cash. I profusely thanked the Canadian, promising I wouldn’t stiff her—we later met up in Arusha so I could pay her back.

Luckily though, that snafu at the border wasn’t a herald of my time in Tanzania. A spate of kindness and fun followed me throughout the country. With my focus on responsible tourism, I’ve use many of the stories here on A Little Adrift to share what grassroots tourism looks like on the ground, and the impact travelers can have on local communities when they use their tourism dollars effectively. And it’s still something I care about deeply, but sometimes travel is just about fun and the realization of a bucket list item. It’s about making it to the top of that dream mountain, standing in front of an architectural wonder, or—for me—hanging out of a safari car window treating a pack of lions to an enthusiastic photo shoot (clarification: I was enthusiastic… the lions were decidedly unimpressed).

And so, this story shares just that: the photos and anecdotes from my four days on safari where I bumped along the dusty red roads of the Serengeti and pretended I was on assignment for the likes of Discovery Channel or National Geographic. I joined a group of four Danes and split the costs with them. Together, we took a four-day budget trip through Tarangire National Park, Serengeti National Park, and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.

the serengeti

The Serengeti

Sunrise safari in the Serengeti

Dawn arrived over the Serengeti in blinding flash of color—slashes of fluorescent fuchsia and blue lit the horizon beyond the flat acacia trees as my truck rattled down the dirt road for our sunrise safari. The sun began to warm the land and the animals stirred. Us five safari-goers wrapped our jackets tighter against the chilly morning, our heads poking from the top of our safari truck.

We sped by herds of tiny impala—delicate of feature and gait—as they grazed.

Zebras and ostriches roamed the fields and high grasses. But we pressed on, our truck speeding down the straight stretches of ochre road past the small animals: we had higher hopes for our morning safari. The big cats prowl in the early hours and on day three of our safari, we were hoping for a sighting of a live kill.

Twenty minutes later, we jolted to a stop on what had looked like a passable road. Three of the safari truck’s tires were deeply mired in a gushy black mud. It was the first week of rainy season, so though not surprise, we had all hoped the rains would hold out.

But, of course, it’s not an adventure if something doesn’t go wrong. Our driver pulled tools from the back of the truck and attempted to create some traction under the mired front tire. It was a no-go. An hour had passed and we were still forbidden from leaving the safari vehicle; the four Danes and I passed the time by watching the sun crawl higher across the sky. The cool pinks of morning burned off and transitioned into golden tones and scorching light.

stuck in the mud getting out of the mud serengeti

Soon, another safari truck saw our plight and pulled over to help. Minutes later, they too were stuck in the mud, the couple in their car lamenting at their derailed safari. At that point, our two driver/guides decided we weren’t likely to get eaten if we exited the truck, so they let us out. Really though, they just needed our man-power. We banded together for the next 20 minutes, shuttling rocks and branches from a nearby rock outcropping to the holes dug into the mud underneath our mired tires.

With all the rocks and sticks we could find now under our wheels, the drivers floored it and with a cheerfully wet sucking sound the tires were free. We all chased after our safari truck, beating the mud from our feet before we piled into our spots once again. All told, it took about an hour and a half before we were once again rocketing down the road in search of animals. The morning hunts were over, but our driver had word from the other guides and he promised us a treat that would make up for our lost time.

He was right.

Lions in a tree!

a lion sound asleep in a tree

lions sleeping in a tree tree lions

And a lot of them. We counted six in total, though I am fairly certain a stray tail hanging down the back of the tree belonged to a hidden seventh. There morning jaunt tuckered them out, and didn’t do more than yawn and shift as we pulled up to their napping spot.

We continued our Serengeti safari, and I cooed with enthusiasm at each new sighting.

The water buffalo dotted the grassy fields with utter nonchalance, their only outward acknowledgement of onlookers being a brief flicker of their tail. We passed a watering hole for the local giraffes and watched one ungainly guy form a triangle with his legs as he bent to drink. Nearby, that same watering hole seemed to feed into a swampy area that looked straight out of a movie. Tall curved palms angled over a small pond filled with hippos submerged in the dull, muddy water.

Dark storm clouds in the Serengeti

Vultures crowd around a kill Giraffes River

Later, I squeed with fangirl levels of enthusiasm when we spotted a leopard. The leopard slunk around our truck for several minutes before meandering into the grasses along the roadside.

One of the more heart-stopping moments of the safari was watching that leopard pause about 100 feet from our truck, his spots pronounced among the hay-colored grass. Seemingly done with posing for our cameras, he shot us one last indolent shrug before sinking into the tall grasses. He vanished from sight without a trace. The tall grasses shrouded his body, and the soft breeze made all the grasses sway, effectively masking his disappearing act. They told us rule number one of the safari was “never, ever leave the safari truck,” and it wasn’t until that moment when I truly understood why our guide was so hesitant to let us help gather stones and rocks when we our truck was stuck in the mud.

Spotted leopard

leopard A water buffalo with a bird on its back giraffe

zebras running

hippo swamp

monkey Pied Kingfisher bird Ostriches Serengeti river

The Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Cool air caressed my face as the safari car took a soft right turn and descended into the Ngorongoro Crater, the largest volcanic caldera in the world. I pulled my scarf tighter, though the days were hot, the sun had yet to burn off the layer of mist settling over the gentle slide of green hillside.

We had camped under a giant tree on the rim of the crater, and I woke just before dawn to catch every moment of sunrise. And it was a beauty. Wisps of pink shifted into a deep red, and by dawn the entire campsite activated and began to ready for another day of safari exploration.

Sunrise on the crater rim

Camping on the crater rim Zebras at dawn

Formed two to three million years ago, the Ngorongoro Crater houses all the Big Five animals (lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo, and leopard) and most of the others too, thanks to its unique shape and range of climates. Rainforest covers one wall of this inactive crater, making a soaring backdrop to photos on the grassy plains and swamps in the center of the crater.

Politics play a role in this region of the world, as they do across most arable land in the world. The Crater used to be open grazing and living grounds for Maasai cattle, but now that the Tanzanian government has designated much of the region as national parks and protected land, the Maasai are allowed to graze their cattle in the open plains, but they have to leave the crater area by nightfall. We zigzagged the region for four days and each time we exited one of the parks, within minutes we would begin to pass small circles of huts, manyattas, where the Maasai were given rights to set up roots and graze their cattle.

Maasai in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area

Children tend the goats A local Maasai school near the manyatta Manyattas on the hillside

With less movement available to them, many Maasai in the area set up pop-in programs to take advantage of the tourism dollars zooming by in safari vehicles every day. Though I had plans to visit the Maji Moto Cultural Camp in Kenya a few weeks later, the group voted to stop at a road-side Maasai settlement, paying $10 per person to tour the huts, view their small school, and learn a little about their culture.

I found the experience contrived. Though their setting was stunning, it seemed the Maasai donned their tourist personas just for our 20 minute visit, then went back to their daily lives… an addendum to their lives now that seemed necessary for their survival, but also sadly out-of-place for their values and way of life. It would provide a stark contrast to the program that Salaton built at Maji Moto in Kenya, which creates an environment of respectful interaction between tourists and Maasai. Sating the tourist’s curiosity while using the funds to maintain the integrity of his culture and their values, and underlying it all, a cultural exchange for both sides.

All that being said, there is far more I need to learn about the region before I could give knowledgeable commentary on the politics between the government, the Maasai, and tourism.

What I do know, is that the Ngorongoro Conservation area is one of the prettiest places on earth, and I can see why the government has taken steps to protect the land, ecosystem, and animals.

Fields of white flowers Pink flamingos

We cruised for several hours through the grasslands, spotting a herd of elephants with the longest tusks I had yet seen. Poaching is a serious problem across Africa. Many of the tusked elephants I spotted in the other parks were younger, the older elephant’s tusks had been removed for their safety. But the unique shape of the crater allows the government to effectively patrol the area, and the mature elephants sported massive ivory dipping in a graceful arc from their face. Perhaps wisely, the oldest elephants maintained their distance—our vehicle wasn’t allowed to off-road so we glided past them in layer of damp morning hovering over the green landscape.

Within a couple of hours we found several lions lounging in the late afternoon sun. After giving them a full photo shoot session, we headed to lunch at the swamp near the Ngoitokitok Spring. Hippos belched and gurgled in the water. Birds soared. I could wax poetic, but suffice to say, it was pretty.

Lion

Lions near our vehicle tired yawning lion Friendly lions

Elephants Crowned Cranes Zebra reflections

A quiet picnic at Hippos at Ngoitokitok Spring

Happy, happy hippos at Ngoitokitok Spring Ngoitokitok Spring hippos

Tarangire and Lake Manyara National Parks

I booked my safari through African Spoonbill Safaris. As a solo traveler, I had few options on a budget and really no selection. I showed up at the hostel and asked them to help me find a tour to join. Within three days, Benson called me over, excited to tell me that four Danes had room in their safari car if I wanted to join their trip. So I packed up and headed out. Their tour included Tarangire National Park, which is one of the lesser known parks (I had never heard of it), but is famous for its elephants.

The park is full of baobab trees, a favorite of the elephant, and thus it’s easy sightings of large elephant families.

Elephants

Monkey Impala

Looking out at Lake Manyara

Rainbow over Lake Manyara Photo-opp on the rim of the crater

The safari days were like poetry, each one ending with a slow retreat. The animals stirred around dusk. Most began to make their way to hideaways far from the roads zigzagging their home. Our group pitched tents each night and we ate dinner by the dim glow of flashlight, sleeping to the roars of lions and snuffling of nearby buffalo.

Lions at dusk seregeti outlook

Elephants in Tarangire National Park

Quick Travel Tips

African Spoonbill Safaris: I used them and they were a very budget option, working to put small groups together interested in splitting the costs of the safari.

Green Living Hostel: A hostel outside of Arusha and very quiet. They have just the loveliest staff and were incredibly helpful. They also run a lot of local projects and can help arrange short and long-term volunteering in the area. There is a lot closer to Arusha’s city center, but this worked as a landing spot for a couple of days to arrange a safari, and would make a nice base for rural volunteering.

TPK Expeditions: Highly recommended for a higher-end safari experience. It’s woman-operated organization committed to paying their guides fair wages and giving them opportunities to further their education. I will use them to climb Kili next time I visit.

Other tips:

  • Though some budget travelers opted for a self-drive safari split with friends, they missed a lot of the great animals because they didn’t have the walkie-talkie network of guides sharing when the Big 5 were on any given day. I recommend having a driver/guide.
  • Camping on the rim of the crater was magical. Some higher end tours don’t include this, but I loved it because of the chance to see sunrise from the rim at that exact spot.
  • Longer tours (5+ days) go deeper into the Serengeti and they are more specific about making sure you see a live kill and that sort of thing.

And you can view all photos from the safari in this gallery.

rwanda-lake-kivu

A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Rwanda and a Final Goodbye

I pen this now from a coffee shop at Nairobi International Airport, several hours out from the flight that will take me home, back to the United States and into a new journey over the summer months as I attend weddings, speak at conferences, and visit old friends.

My website was blocked these past weeks as I traveled through Rwanda, and so, apologies for the gap in dispatches—this is the last I will write from Africa.

I am ready to leave.

This is not always the case as I board a homeward bound flight, but while I loved much of my time in Africa, the travel grows weary on me these past few weeks—I added another bout with serious traveler’s sickness to my already long running list—and I am looking forward to a bit of down time before planning some travels this fall. Several years ago I penned a piece about going home called a A Little Love Letter… On Travel and Leave-Takings. It’s still a favorite of mine, and much of that still holds true on this leave-taking. Friends have had babies these past few weeks, other friends planned weddings this month and I look forward to attending, and too, my niece Ana is begging for me to return and scoop her up for some sort of adventure—even a stateside adventure is “acceptable if necessary” according to her.

Fun finds at the morning market. The baskets full of beans and local veggies made for a pretty arrangement and made wandering Kampala’s small markets are the more fun.

And so, I write these thoughts with less nostalgia than I would have guessed going into a long-haul flight taking me back to America. Less nostalgia, but no less appreciation and gratitude for the experiences afforded to me these past four months. There are countless new friendships that shaped my time on the continent, and some of the most incredible wildlife experiences our planet can afford. It’s been good. And so, onward with the final dispatch covering a bit about Rwanda these past few weeks, as well as some of my travel plans and the cities I’ll visit throughout the summer months if you’re keen to meet up!

On Traveling Through Rwanda

Rwanda caught me by surprise. Many nations have a nickname, and as I passed from Uganda, the “Pearl of Africa” into Rwanda, the “Land of a Thousand Hills,” I was unsure of nature of the country I would find on the other side of this new border crossing. The diversity of each country in East Africa has surprised me, though they share borders (some borders that seem quite fluid if you look far enough into the past), the modern versions of these countries have strong national identities and cultures unique unto themselves. Rwanda is no exception, and the visible cues that I had switched countries were as noticeable as the change in demeanor.

Women in Rwanda head home at the end of the day, walking up a tall hill with their goods.

The sweeping beauty of the landscape is the first sign you’ve entered a new country. Though Uganda shares topography with Rwanda, Rwanda’s fierce dedication to keeping up appearances manifests as a countryside free of plastics blighting the hills and gutters. My bus rocketed through the countryside at sickening pace, taking turns I was sure would tip us, and the cleanliness of each new village we whizzed past struck me as different. Women walked the roadsides with their goods balanced on their heads, children snapped to attention, hollering “mzungu” at the top of their lungs and waving with unbridled enthusiasm.

The beauty here struck me so strongly, perhaps, because of the country’s past. Beyond the fact that you can track gorillas in the wild here (which I did not, though I did see monkeys in one of the other forests), the country is most notable in the global consciousness for the horrific genocide back in 1994 that took the lives of roughly a million people in the span of just 100 days. Over the past three weeks I zigzagged my way across the country from the gorgeous Lake Kivu, which forms a partial border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, to the high peaks near Virunga National Park, home to several extinct (and active if you’re on the DRC side) volcanoes.

Throughout, Rwanda’s beauty was staggering. Terraced hillsides sidle up against lush forests containing some of the richest biodiversity in Africa.

Storms rode in from the east with rains and spectacular lightning as the sun set over Lake Kivu with layers of misty mountains far into the horizon.

On Traveling with Friends

These past three weeks were also special in that I threw off my solo travel mantel and teamed up with the loveliest blogging couple I know, Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market. When we realized we would both pass through Uganda the same week, and could then easily align our Africa travels, I jumped at the chance to tag along—and tag along is exactly what I did since Audrey is an amazing travel planner and plotted out the important parts of our joint travels, allowing me to transition into “blindly accept and follow” mode for several weeks.

We talked over drinks in Jinja, Uganda, laughed as the wind whipped our faces on our tour of Kampala via motorbikes, colloquially known as boda-bodas, and survived an eleven hour mostly food-less bus ride into Rwanda. We headed straight to the gorgeous blue waters of Lake Kivu, where a friend of mine from Thailand (who is now working in South Sudan) joined our motley crew.

To say that having friends here was a lovely way to end this trip is an understatement.

Not a picture of my friends, though we did goof around like monkeys at times. This family of Vervet monkeys posed for me in the trees near Rwanda’s Nyungwe National Park.

On Future Travels

As always, I have no clue where my next plans will take me—I dream of visiting Bangladesh and exploring more of India. Ethiopia was a purposeful oversight on this trip as I would love to dedicate an entire month to exploring the deep history there. Or, as always, the Spanish-speaking regions of the world beckon as a potential home-base for a more grounded six months exploring a region.

What I do know though, is that I will be in Los Angeles next week for a wedding, then home to Florida for another wedding. July kicks off in Portland, Oregon for the WDS conference, and I’ll head to Seattle just after that for a couple of weeks. I am speaking at a conference in Atlanta late July, then on to NYC for the beginning of August. If meet ups in any of those places sound good, leave a comment or reach out on the Facebook page to let me know!

As always, thanks for the support these past months!

~S

massai

A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Grassroots Tourism Edition

My mornings in Uganda are a noisy affair as the town wakes up, birds and roosters too. But oh, the views.  The small town of Jinja is home to the point where the Nile River branches off from Lake Victoria, also known as the Source of the Nile. I found a shady spot and watched the boats criss-cross the waters for hours. This was a needed a break from catching up on work after traveling through remote regions of Kenya these past few weeks.

And speaking of those remote regions, I uncovered some wonderful community based initiatives. Good stuff, can’t wait to share more.

Source of the Nile River
The Source of the Nile River in Uganda flows from Lake Victoria. The river exits the lake in the lower left of the photo and flows to Egypt and empties into the Mediterranean Sea.

Time with the Maasai

Picture the statuesque figure of a Maasai warrior standing tall over the vast plains of East Africa. This iconic image is relatable to most of us who grew up on a steady diet of watching the National Geographic channel. Like anyone planning East Africa travels, I wanted to learn more about their culture. Ethically undertaking the task though, was harder.

Maasai women
Women from Maji Moto’s widow’s village welcome us to their compound with a lively traditional song and dance.

And the problem is, there are lots of opportunities, but not all are positive tourism initiatives.

My safari trip last month in Tanzania included a short visit to a Maasai camp on the path between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti. The cultural experience set me back a mere $10 and the Maasai performed a spirited welcome dance and offered back story on the Maasai people. On the surface it was fascinating, here was the intricate and beautiful beadwork adorning the necks of the women. Warriors carried their sharp spears, a reminder of their fierce capabilities. And yet, 30 mins later, as we left the small circling of manyattasmud hutsthe experience felt hallow. It was a canned tourist experience repeated many times a day, week in, week out as safari tourists flood into the region.

Fast forward a few weeks and I found myself searching the markets of Narok, Kenya for Salaton, a charismatic Maasai chief running a cultural camp near Maasai Mara National Park.  A camp representative contacted me over the holidays, and from pre-trip research, the Maji Moto Cultural Camp looked like the perfect execution of a community-driven social enterprise. , I love supporting these types of businesses on the road (like in Panama and Thailand). At the core, this form of tourism puts the solution to a social issue directly into the hands of a local community. Social enterprises allow them to develop a sustainable solution on their own terms. (And it’s this exact tourism model that GV supports and it’s also the reason for my NatGeo honor.)

Maasai woman
I took a sunset hike to a nearby rock outcropping to learn more of the Maasai culture and stories. The view of the Loita Plains was stunning and vast.
Meeting the Maasai at Maji Moto
Decked out in traditional jewelry I borrowed so I could attend a nearby ceremony with Meri and Salaton, our two primary guides for my week in the African bush living at their cultural camp.
Sunrise over the Loita Plains in Kenya
Sunrise is a bold affair over the Loita Plains of Kenya. I bolted awake each morning just before 6am to the sounds of bird song and morning quiet and rushed from my manyatta so I could catch that day’s sunrise.

Salaton’s camp is a reversal from the idea of assembly line tourism. Rather than push tourists through the camp to increase revenue and appease snap-happy, camera-toting tourists, the Maasai at Maji Moto guide visitors into respectful interactions and welcome them to immerse in the traditional village life.

I joined a small group of touring medical volunteers to learn more about Salaton’s business model and the camp. Funds from the cultural camp support a nearby school, a health clinic, and a widows village he started to provide a safe-haven for girls escaping early marriage or genital circumcision.

My experiences over the five days I spent at Maji Moto are among my favorite from my Africa travels. I have thousands of photos to edit, more thoughts to process, and stories brimming to come to the surface from that week!

Learning about Rural Health Issues

Just after leaving Maji Moto, I met with Dan Ogola, the founder of a large health initiative in one of the poorest provinces in Kenya. Dan founded the Matibabu Foundation in 2001 to address the pervasive health issues in Ugenya, Kenya. What started as a single clinic for maternal and child health is now a hospital, a girl’s school, a nursing school, and much more.

matibabu, kenya
Visiting the Matibabu Health Clinic in Kenya. Right now we’re debating if I need another baby on my lap… the verdict? One will do. :-)

Dan asked me to visit his projects with the hope that through GV I can access long-term teaching, agricultural, and medical volunteers for his projects. After days of kind hospitality in this rural community, I am committed to supporting his projects. I also agreed to take on the title of Goodwill Ambassador for maternal child health; this role will allow me to continue working with Matibabu and supporting their efforts.

Weeks of low internet access means I still have hundreds of photos to process before I write more about my time in this rural region of Kenya. Realistically, this will happen in June when I return stateside.

What’s Next?

What dispatch would be complete without an update on what’s next?! I arrived in Uganda a few days ago and have reveled in lots of connectivity (during my time in the rural regions I mostly just had 3G on my phone… on a good day).

Next week I meet up with my favorite traveling and blogging couple, Dan and Audrey. They are finishing up a tour of the region and we plan on some hiking funnies together here and in Rwanda.

If you know of any projects I should check out in either of these two countries, please let me know!

Many thanks,

~Shannon

dala-dala

A Little Story… This One’s for Africa

I stare owl-eyed into the waiting dala dala as 27 faces stared back. The minivan—for though it has extra rows of seats compared to the soccer-mom-mobiles of the U.S., it’s still just a minivan—is bursting full and a chorus of mzungu echoes through the car as a flurry of shifting takes place. An older Tanzanian woman, the grandmother type, pats the space beside her—all three inches of it—and gestures for me to sit. And though I’m thin, three inches just isn’t going to cut it.  With a confused gesture to my backside and those three inches, I try to tactfully indicate I will crouch-stand instead.

dala-dala

A hearty laugh erupts from her, echoed around the van as she exclaims in a thick East African accent: “You will fit. This is Africa.”

The conductor nudges me toward the seat, his sharp rap on the side of the car signaling to the driver to continue onward. Indecision hits for a second and the old woman pulls my hips into the space, but really onto her lap, and we bump and jostle down the road.

A bubble of laughter forms as I adjust my wedged limbs to drape my arm around the old woman, settling into a comfortable position for the 45 minute ride.

Full dark settles and a parade of small, street-side cookfires pass below the lower third of the window, the only view I have from my high perch in the minivan.

Slowly the dala dala empties a bit—including the kind woman who spoke some English—and as I gain a full window view I realize I have no idea if we passed my stop. The nondescript facades blend into the night.

I tap the handler and give him the only landmark I know near my hostel: “Arusha City Bar?”

I point, gesturing with a “which way” look on my face, trying to ascertain if the bar is behind us or ahead. Baffled, the handler let’s out a steam of Swahili. Seeing my confusion, the women in the dala dala take to my cause and I hear mzungu, the name for travelers of European descent, bounce around the van once again as they discuss my predicament.

Finally, they incredulously decide I mean the dive bar another two minutes up the road and they all clamor for my attention asking me why on earth I am going to a bar miles outside of the touristy city center. At  least, that’s the gist of what I assume they asked me since it was all in Swahili and my only response was huge grin and affirmation that, yes, indeed I want to stop at Arusha City Bar.

At the bar, they enthusiastically eject me from the van and stare at me curiously, awaiting my next move. I turn away from the bar and gesture toward the narrow side road to my hostel, at which understanding dawns on everyone and the women send me spirited waves and their huge guffaws echo into the quiet night.

Just before I walk out of sight, I turn around once more to glance back at the minivan. They are still stopped, still waving, and all still riveted by the prospect of where in the world this crazy, friendly mzungu is going at this time of night. With a final thumbs up in their direction, I enter our compound. I can’t wipe the smile off my face.

It wasn’t a huge adventure. In fact, I just went into town to pay back the kind Canadian who lent me $50 at the border. But moments like these send bubbles of contentment to the surface to remind me why I travel. This wasn’t a moment on which many stake their travel dreams, but it was real.

As the kind woman told me at the beginning of the ride, this, this is Africa.

Kendwa beach in Zanzibar

A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: From Sand to Safari

The sky is lit with fiery fingers of color, the dense humidity and the clouds pulling the saffron flames across the sky. Zanzibar does not disappoint. I arrived last week in the wake of my safari, I needed a base for two weeks to work on a few new assignments and all signs (and recs from readers) pointed here as the best option in the region. Thanks, it’s beautiful.

Kendwa beach in Zanzibar
There is just something meditative and beautiful about sailboats on the turquoise-blue waters off the coast of Zanzibar.

On Safari: Spotting the Big Five

My week, though, started in the north of Tanzania, and the prevailing chain of conversation centered on the wildlife and Africa’s Big 5 animals. Travelers suss out which national parks everyone visited and what they saw, all in the hopes of finding the elusive faces of some of the most magnificent animals on the planet.

As a lone traveler, I was afraid that traveling off-season was a bad idea. Not wanting a package tour of the region, I had the unenvious task of finding a group willing to let me tag along, otherwise the cost of the safari would be too steep.

Lady Luck was feeling friendly this month—and quite frankly that was a welcome respite after the spate of bad luck last month—with the perfect timing for me to join a group of four Danes visiting in a college field-work program. I donned my wide-brimmed hat and threw my lot in with them for the four days and three nights of safari-ing.

On the road between the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serenteti

Majestic baobab trees dominated Tarangire, the tree bark worn away from the park’s many elephants satisfying their itches on the tree trunks throughout the park.

Cheetahs and leopards stalked through the tall grass of the Serengeti, their bodies sleek and fit from mornings spent hunting the thousands of impalas and gazelles grazing the plains.

Giraffe, graceful and gorgeous, tottered into our paths, casually munching from trees both tall and short.

Lions rested in the shade of our vehicle, and buffalo stood stoic and unimpressed.

The safari was incredible and awesome in the true sense of both words. April is off-season and we shared the park with just a handful of other safari vehicles, all willing to brave the occasional rain showers for the chance to sight these beautiful animals in the wild. With 2000 photos to process, it took a while but I have a proper photo essay of my time in Tanzania’s wilds.

On safari at the Ngorongoro Crater

A rich and complex history in Zanzibar

These two weeks in Zanzibar are a study in the blending of cultures and religions as history chose to throw a wide mix of influence on this tiny island in the Indian Ocean over the past 100 years. The Arab slave trade converged on the island, with the historic Stone Town as a primary staging ground. Also making an appearance in the island’s history were the Portuguese, British, Persians, and Indians, among others. The result is a chaotic mix of narrow, intricate corridors, mosques jostling with buildings of British and Arab architecture, and giant wooden doors that will forever stand out as my strongest memory of Stone Town.

In present-day, the island is an eclectic mix that has created a fierce island pride native Zanzibari. Though they are Tanzanian by passport, rumblings around the island insist on a need to separate from the mainland and take back their farms, trade, and island identity.

Conversations hum with the laid-back cadence native to island life anywhere in the world, and locals are just as likely to share a cheery greeting as they are to pull up a chair and sit for a chat. A week into my time here and I have yet to find a resident who doesn’t smile with pride and ask, as they always do, “So you like Zanzibar?” A question for which there is but one answer they expect.

“Oh yes, you live in paradise,” I always reply.

Next Steps

I am traveling back to Kenya this weekend to visit a cultural project, the Maji Moto Masaai camp, which came highly recommended. Scarce internet means I haven’t yet compiled my planned guides to local projects along the way, but if you’re looking for an ethical safari or Kilimanjaro trekking company on a mid-range budget, TPK Expeditions comes highly recommended. It’s operated by a Tanzanian and Canadian women duo committed to paying their guides fair wages and giving opportunities furthering their education.

Speaking of Kilimanjaro, I am saving the climb—the highest peak in Africa—to trek with my dad. Traveling through Panama last summer, my dad mentioned he would love to start retirement by climbing Kili. I’m holding him to it and hopefully in the next few years we will make it happen!

More soon,

~S

Kibera slum

A Little Adrift… Dispatch From Africa: Perspectives on Poverty

A month into my trip and travels thus far are filled with highs and lows; there were a few days last week where I just wanted to give up, which is normal on any given trip but usually later into the travels. Once Gary left, and I was on my own again, I was overwhelmed with the weight of balancing work and solo travel. But, I met new friendly faces in the past week, and partnering up for a few days helped straighten out some of the discombobulated feeling.

Pushing through the overwhelm, I finished out my time in Cape Town and caught a flight to Nairobi, Kenya. Arriving here was a surreal flashback to Mumbai—bustling traffic, congestion, and drive from the airport lined with slums. This is far from the Africa of travel brochures. A region that calls home to the “Big Five” animals travel dreams are made of is also a struggling, developing economy.

kibera, nairobi, kenya
Walking the railroad tracks in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya as the sun is sitting low and workers return home for the evening.

Conversations with Taxi Drivers

The moment I landed, however, my driver’s enthusiastic exclamation of karibu!—which means welcome in Swahili—had me smiling. Language barriers are a fear point for many travelers, and I can only say that the gap here is small. Nairobi hums with English and Swahili both as lingua franca, and most Kenyans speak with fluency. Which makes traveling and learning about the country infinitely easier.

Taxi drivers are fonts of information on this trip. Travels in Asia are often filled with stilted conversations and games of charades, but my African drivers converse with the skill of a veteran barman as they the bob and weave through gridlock traffic. They field any topic you throw their way with ease and insight, though the talk here, as in South Africa, often circles back to poverty and politics.

All smiles and a wealth of knowledge from our guide as we visited music projects and local initiatives in Kibera.

And as we talk of life (and even philosophy on one late-night ride) my taxi drivers ask me about America. The great American dream is alive here, and throughout most developing countries I visit. Yet it’s skewed. Hollywood and our media have done an excellent job selling others on the big dream, and my drivers are shocked and most don’t believe me when I mention things like poverty, racism, and homelessness in the United States. Our poverty is relative rather than systemic like in many developing countries, but these issues are not a part of the consciousness outside the U.S. We are a vast land of opportunity in comparison, this is not an argument against the U.S., but we are far from the Utopian image portrayed outside our borders.

It’s hard to explain to them that we have traded much for the sake of our take on prosperity. A moving documentary I watched last year, God Grew Tired of Us, follows three Sudanese men on a journey from wandering across sub-Saharan Africa to life in the U.S. Their initial elation gives way to deeper insights as the boys remark on the odd state of our communities, the unconnected lives we lead from each other, and the hard work it takes to even to subsist for many Americans.

Like the route our taxi took through the city, our conversations wove through all these complex issues this past week as I made my way through three airports and three thousand miles.

Slum Tourism

In the way of weaving, let’s shift topics a bit. I mentioned last week my plan to visit a township in Cape Town on the recommendation of many travelers and as many South Africans. The resounding question is: what did I think?

My conclusion is muddled. I just don’t know if this is a positive form of tourism. It had never before occurred to me to partake in one of these tours, but somehow I found myself on two tours in one week. The standard recommendation is to find the right operator, one using the funds to build community projects and empower those in the townships and slums. There is, without a doubt, great need in these areas, but as much as I push local-level tourism, this feels off on a large scale.

Langa township Cape Town
Outskirts of Cape Town’s townships

I didn’t love my Cape Town tour, and yet two days later I took a new friend up on a chance to see a different side of it all as he looked for partnerships in the Kibera slum in Nairobi for his music charity, Bridges for Music. I tagged along in the hopes of seeing an alternative side since we had a purpose, a reason for being there. And it was interesting, I learned a lot and saw incredible initiatives within the slums and heard some excellent local music to boot.

kibera bone crafts
A worker grinds bone into jewelry for sale locally in the markets and to tourists in Kibera.

But in both places, our guides carefully mentioned the need to photograph areas and not people as we walked the streets, to not peer into homes and invade their privacy… and having to stress that this is not a zoo-like experience (their words) is the very reason I can only say that mass slum tourism is an ethically ambiguous area and as such, others should tread carefully.

And one last thought, NGOs catch a lot of flack in Kenya and it only furthers this idea of whether aid and development are progressing in a positive direction. Cynicism abounds, especially in the projects within Kibera, and it didn’t take long for locals to point me to Aid for Aid, a home-grown parody series about an international NGO that accomplishes nothing but is filled with do-gooders.

Moving Forward

Switching countries came with a marked change in the attitudes and welcome here in East Africa, and these next weeks have me jazzed once again. When I asked the community for recommendations on grassroots projects, you guys gave me heaps of wonderful work being done over here! Enough that most of my weeks are planned out from here until June when I head home. So, thank you. And, if you have any others, let me know, I can always squeeze in more along the way.

Next week’s update is a big one for me as I am visiting my first safari this weekend! I’ll make sure to edit my photos asap so I can share photos of the Big Fivelion, leopard, rhino, buffalo, and elephant.

Have a wonderful weekend.  :)

~S

A Little Adrift… Dispatch from Africa: Cape Town

I attacked Cape Town with fervor this past week, and ticked the checklist of must sees: flora and fauna at Kirstenbosch gardens—check, Houts Bay harbor—check, Table Mountain—oh yes, check. Add to that much wandering the streets and chatting and the only thing left for this week is Robben Island and a township tour.

As such, this week’s musings read more like a rundown of things to do in Cape Town edition—it’s been a great week. Each day I worked in the early mornings, sipping excellent coffee at one of the many trendy coffee shops (CT definitely holds its own in the coffee department!) and I took to the streets to wander and photograph in the afternoons.

Table mountain vista.
So, that’s not me, but she looked so peaceful there on the ledge looking out from Table Mountain into the Cape Town Harbor.

Walking the City

The city’s wide range of ethnic groups are still largely separated, and each neighborhood is steeped in its own culture, food, and religion, giving distinct vibes to the various areas of town. And as such, it’s through the sum of each quarter and suburb that the city’s long history unfolds, a fact that has made my two weeks here more interesting that I had imagined.

A walk to the waterfront from my hotel passes the District 6 Museum, a museum built to honor the former District 6 residents who were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated when the government declared Disctrict 6 a “whites only” zone during apartheid. The government razed their homes and history to the ground in the 70s and moved the residents to the townships outside of town. Now, much of District 6 itself is still a wide expanse of rubble-strewn land, neither trees, nor homes, nor people populate the noticeably empty hills.

Another day, I wandered away from the Central Business District; the indistinct city architecture—tall buildings and weaving cars—suddenly dropped away and low-slung, colorful houses marched up a sharply sloping hill in the Bo-Kaap area of town. This section of the city drips with Indian and Malay influences. The Cape Malays settled this gorgeous section of town, building beautiful mosques and a creating a cheerful rainbow of colors throughout the neighborhood. My love for Indian food is no secret, so I grabbed a mango lassi and walked the streets until late-afternoon, when I was told it was no longer safe for me to be in the area.

The very pretty Bo-Kaap area of town.
The very pretty Bo-Kaap area of town is just off of the CBD and its quiet streets were settled by the Malaysian, Indian, and Indonesians who were originally brought to Africa as slave labor.
A brightly colored door in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.
A brightly colored door in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.

This is a common refrain during my time here. Leaving Bo-Kaap last week was my first true reality check. The city feels so developed at times, and it’s easy to forget that the wealth disparities and recent past make it dangerous past dark. Though this is true for many big cities, the vehemence of the warning is more pronounced here. I chatted with a grandmother on her steps in Bo-Kaap, and as our conversation wound down her son stepped outside and issued a gentle, firm warning that the lowering sun was my indication that it was time to head back to my hotel.

Locals from all areas of town take a moment to warn me of the dangers if they see me out past 5 pm, though if I take a more hardened “city-look,” head down and walking purposefully, no one comments. But if you look friendly and like a tourist, you’re warned that it’s best you stick to the Waterfront or more touristy areas of town past dark. These past weeks have reminded me of my travels in Guatemala, which is the only other country I’ve visited where I was so frequently warned of the local dangers (women on the chicken buses in Guatemala often passionately warned me that the country was too peligroso for a solo woman).

The Lighter Side

Those are pieces of the city though, and the lighter side of it all is the beauty at every turn. The city’s natural geography is a big part of the draw and the defining physical feature, and crowning glory, is Table Mountain, the most famous UNESCO World Heritage site in South Africa. The mountains are visible from most roads all over the city and the shifting moods of Cape Town’s weather mean you never know when you turn a corner what will happen on the face of the mountain. At one moment, clouds pour over the cliff-face like a living, flowing tablecloth—the mountain’s eponymous natural phenomenon—and just an hour later the mountain clears with crisp late-afternoon sunshine.

Before Gary left, we took the rotating cable car (so cool!) to the top of the mountain, to Table Mountain National Park, where we hiked around for a bit and found the long-range view out toward Cape Point.

My conclusion: you just can’t take an ugly photo of this city.

View from table mountain out into the Atlantic Ocean.
A flat wave of clouds begin to roll in over the edge of Table Mountain.
The view of Cape Point from Table Mountain, Cape Town.
The view of Cape Point from Table Mountain, Cape Town.

What’s Next

My time is ending and I have a flight to East Africa this weekend. The Great Computer Debacle of 2014 (that’s what I’m calling it now), coupled with the sheer size of this continent made me reconsider going fully overland and instead I fly directly to Nairobi, and from there I will travel overland through that region until I leave Africa in June.

Also, thank you for the dozens of emails and recommendations about the computer situation! They didn’t honor my international warranty on the PC, and they held it hostage for an extra week just for funsies, so I bought a Mac. The sad reality of import fees and taxes meant that a very low-end PC was $700+  USD, but the Mac came with all the higher end specs and, as a foreigner, I can claim back my tax (14% VAT here) at the airport. It seemed a wise move in terms of value and ease. At the end of the day, I needed something now that would get me back on the road so I could catch up on client work and move onto the projects and initiatives you all have recommended in East Africa.

Jumping shot on Table Mountain!
Thanks to Gary, I have another jumping shot to add to the folder! :)

Before I leave, I have three things left: the boat to Robben Island, a township tour, and a morning volunteering at a food bank nearby. I waffled on the township tour when I first arrived because I wasn’t sure about the ethics, but the realities seem a bit different from the slum tourism debates in India and other places. Here, locals living in the townships have urged me to go visit, to hear their stories and support their businesses and developments.  As such, that’s on the docket tomorrow and I’ll share more about it next week, and I’ll be writing from Kenya!

Cheers and hope you have a wonderful weekend. :)

~S