After a few weeks of traveling on my own, I was kind of fed up with loud hostels, grocery food and having the same conversation with every traveller I was meeting ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Where are you going?’ Blablabla! I didn’t want to be a tourist anymore. I wanted to meet locals and experience their culture. This is when I got the idea of Couchsurfing. My only past experience has been with my big sister Renée in New York City, 8 years ago. Since then, she has been traveling this way all around the globe. I decided it was now my time to give it a try!
Couchsurfing is a hospitality exchange network where travellers crash for one night or more on locals’ couch, floor or bed if you are lucky enough to have a guest room! Through the Couchsurfing website or mobile app, surfers browse, find a host and request their stay. On their side, hosts read the profile and references of the surfer and decide whether or not to accept him or her as a guest. The concept is free of charge but normally the surfer will thank the host in some kind of way (by cooking a local dish for example). The Couchsurfing culture is all about meeting new people, discovering new cultures, visiting new places and sharing the same passion for traveling with others.
I began surfing in Kenya and then South Africa. So far, I only had very positive experiences! Couchsurfing gave me the opportunity to stay in a house five minutes from the Indian Ocean, to go hiking with my host and her 7 dogs, to jump out of an airplane for free (thank you Skydiving Diani!), to party my head off at the Ultra South Africa music festival, but most of all, to meet amazing people from all around the globe with whom I share great memories and friendship.
Partying at Ultra with my host Llyod and Matt
My Brazilian host Maria and I
Riding in style to Diani Beach with my host Aaron
From now on, I will definitely continue to surf couches across Africa, but also during my future travels. There’s nothing better than experiencing the culture through locals. Couchsurfing is a fun, economical and exciting way of traveling. You never know where you’ll end up staying for the night or what kind of bond you will have with your host. All you need is an open mind and a vigilant attitude. According to their website, there are now 10 million members in more than 200,000 cities! There is a home for every traveller in this world, which one will be yours?
My two months journey in East Africa began and finished in the fascinating country of Kenya. I remember when I first landed in Nairobi; seeing skyscrapers, highways, shopping malls everywhere for the first time in Africa was almost shocking! I felt like I was on another continent! What surprised me the most however was the multiculturalism, especially in metropolis like Nairobi and Mombasa. Through the years, Kenya became a melting pot of traditional tribes, urban families, expats and of course tourists from around the world. I could finally walk in the streets or in the grocery store without being the odd one because of my skin color!
Nairobi, the national capital
The Swahili Coast
Not only Kenya has a vibrant ethnic culture, but the country also offers a vast palette of landscapes. I started my journey in the mountains by trekking Mount Kenya. Then I experienced my first game drive in the Masai Mara National Park, The Lion King’s inspired savannah. Finally, I wrapped up my Kenyan trip by sunbathing on the sugar-powder beaches of the Swahili Coast. This rich diversity of environments, activities and cultures will please any traveler. It surely worked for me considering I extended my stay for a few weeks! Tanzania, I will have to come back for you another time! Kenya, thanks for all the beautiful memories and friends I have made. You have a dear place in my heart! ❤️
Masai Mara National Park
Population: 44 millions
Languages: Swahili and English
-Nyama choma (barbecued meat, often goat)
-Ugali (cornmeal dough)
-Masala chai (very sweet spiced tea)
Visited places during my trip: Nairobi, Mount Kenya, Masai Mara National Park, Eldoret, Mombasa and Diani
-The ‘Big fives’ (lions, elephants, buffaloes, leopards and rhinoceros) are found all around the country. They are considered the five most difficult animals in Africa to hunt on foot.
-The sceneries of the Waltz Disney movie The Lion King were inspired by the Kenyan national parks.
-The black rhino is the most endangered specie in Kenya. Poachers are hunting them for their horns.
-Coffee is the country’s biggest income generator, followed by tourism. Ironically, most Kenyan don’t consume coffee which is considered an export product. They prefer tea and beer instead.
-The minimum legal wage is 160$/month.
-No matter the religion or gender of a person, polygamy became legal in Kenya last year!
-Kenya is one of the most corrupted country in the world..
My Kenyan highlight moments:
My Mount Kenya trekking is still my highlight of my African trip so far (see Mount Kenya Expedition) but I will also always remember my amazement during my first game drive in the Masai Mara. There is something very unique about seeing elephants, giraffes and buffaloes in the wild for the first time. Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to see the ‘big five’ (I missed the lions, leopards and rhino) but I’m crossing my fingers to spot them during my travels around South Africa!
Going on a safari tour was on my bucket list. I mean, I couldn’t come to Africa and not see an elephant or a giraffe in the wild right? Since I am traveling solo and there’s so much to see and do in East Africa I thought it could be fun to try the group tour thing. While I was in The Gambia, I spent numbers of hours researching on the different companies, the different routes, the different activities offered. I knew I wanted an adventurous kind of trip where we would camp, see all kinds of animals, experience the culture and that would suit my budget. So I finally booked a 16 days trip (20% off because of low season! Bonus!) with the company Intrepid and opted for the Kenya-Uganda-Rwanda route.
My next blog entries will be about the three visited country on my trip, but for now, here are my pros and cons of my first group tour.
The Good Sides:
-No planning to do. Everything is perfectly organized, from the route to the activities to the meals. It’s considerably less time consuming (and stressful) than traveling solo so more time to relax and enjoy the holidays!
-I did 2 weeks of camping (for me that is a big plus!). Intrepid provides the tents and mats so you only have to bring your sleeping bag. I must say that sleeping beside elephants and hippos is a pretty unique experience! Although you don’t feel like going peeing in the middle of the night!
-Comfy ride. I got to travel in a comfortable truck (no chicken or goat running around like the public transport in Senegal!), and because we were only 13, we even had our own double seat! No one had to fight for a window seat during game drives!
-Having a local guide 24/7. Forget the Lonely Planet, we had our own live encyclopedia to teach us about the country and the culture, tell us stories and answer any of our questions!
-Finally, I think the best aspect of a group tour is the chance to meet and socialize with a very nice group of travelers. Although the age on my tour was ranging from 21 to 83 (!!), we all got along pretty well! I met very interesting people from different generations, from all around the globe. In two weeks time, we shared some pretty good memories and lots of laughs! 🙂
-Don’t have much liberty. When you book a tour you’re kinda ‘stuck’ with the itinerary. So even if you fall in love with a place, you still have to pack up the next day and follow the rest of the crew. I would probably still be in Lake Bunyonyi if not…
-A lot of time on the road! We did a few (too many!) 8+ hours driving days. I should have known that covering three countries in two weeks would mean a lot of bussing… At least the scenery was pretty impressive!! And thank god for podcasts and my entertaining fellow travelers!
-You don’t get to interact as much with the locals. Since you’re traveling with a group and stay in the touristic areas, you don’t have many opportunities to meet locals. Especially after living 3 months on the west coast and traveling by myself for a few weeks, I was kinda enjoying hanging out with Africans all the time!
-You eat whatever’s on the daily menu. Don’t get me wrong, our tour chef was great but I didn’t get to taste the local flavor as much as I wanted to! Yes for cheap street food!!
-It’s more expensive than traveling solo, but you get to do and see more in less time. So at the end of the day, you get your bang for your buck!
-And finally, as much as I’m a social person, I also like my ‘me time’. When you are traveling with a group it is often difficult to spend time by yourself. My solution: Everyday when we were arriving at our destination, I was putting on my running shoes and see ya later alligators! For me it was the best way of exploring a new place but also of escaping the group for a little while.
This trip did fulfill (almost) all of my expectations. Each country was unique in all its aspects (sceneries, wildlife, culture, language, people)! Two weeks was also a good length for a group tour (for me) but it is also VERY short to make it worth the visit of three countries. I did enjoy every minute of my trip but feel like these countries have so much more to offer. It’s like eating just the ‘M&M’ in the trail mix. Yes, they are most people’s favorites, but almonds, peanuts, cashews, raisins are also really good to eat and part of the mix!!
Overall, I’m happy I did this trip. I did a LOT and seen a LOT in a short period of time; I could never have done the same thing by myself in the same length of time. But on the other hand, this trip also made me realize how I like my liberty of traveling on my own. Yes it’s more time consuming and it takes more energy but hey, I’m still young and I do have that thirst for adventure! So, personally, would I do it again? Yes, but not now. Maybe in a few years…or when I’ll be retired! 😉
I got the idea from my parents. They started trekking a few years ago and since then, they’ve been hiking on almost every continent. Looking at their pictures each time was leaving me speechless. So I picked Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest peak after Kilimanjaro (and half the price)! January and February, being the beginning of the dry season, are supposedly the best months to climb the mountain. Perfect timing I thought! ….well Mother Nature decided differently this year. After quite some research, I booked a 5 days trek with Equatorial Star. I picked the Chogoria route to go up and down the Simiron route. It was my first multi-day trek, so I was very excited! Two days before my adventure, it started pouring (and I mean, pouring!) in Nairobi. Everyone was confused about this weather. The raining season in Kenya is usually from April to June (long rains) and July to November (short rains) then it’s hot and dry for the rest of the year. Oh well, there’s nothing I could do. I packed my bag with as much warm clothes as I could and hope for the best!
Let the adventure begin!
Fried chicken on the mountain!
Day 1: 10km (950m ascent)
When the company came to pick me up, they told me I would be the only trekker this week, which means I would have my own personal guide, cook and porter! Wow! I didn’t know if that was a good or a bad thing, but hey, three men for myself for 5 days, I’m not complaining! 😝 We drove to Chogoria, a little village on the east side of the mountain, our starting point. The first day of our trek was a 10km gradual hill on a dirt road. We walked through a beautiful dense bamboo forest all the way to the camp…in the fog. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much of the scenery that day.
Day 2: 13km (700m ascent)
I had my first sight of the mountains that morning, but it didn’t last long before the rain and the fog showed up again! Grrrr. But it didn’t stop me from doing the longer walk via Lake Ellis (where we supposedly have a scenic view of the mountains). Patrick, my guide, and I arrived to our campsite drench and freezing. I spent the rest of the day in my little tent, all wrapped up, drinking tea, trying my best to warm up… How fun!
Day 3: 14km (600m ascent)
The rained stopped just as we woke up… For the moment anyway! Patrick and I made our way up the mountain beside the breathtaking Gorges Valley. The clouds, fog and rain, came and went all day… So I was making sure to take pictures whenever I could see something! It’s crazy how the weather forecasts of a mountain are totally unpredictable! We finished our hike looking like wet dogs… Thanks a million to my cook, Eldady, who always had hot coffee or chocolate ready for me in my tent! 😊It was early dinner and bedtime (7pm!) for me that night, getting ready for tomorrow’s big day! Praying we would finally have a nice day…
Let’s do this!
At the top of the world!
Rocking Mount Kenya!
Day 4: 24km (785m ascent)
The alarm rang at 1:30am…. Ouff! I chugged a coffee, dressed up like an Eskimo and off we went. Patrick and I hiked for about 4 hours, in pitch black darkness with only our headlight on! The last part of the ascent was pretty steep and technical (we were almost doing rock climbing!). It was a bit scary but exciting at the same time! We finally reached the summit, just in time for the sunrise. As the sun was slowly rising, the scenery appearing in front of me was spectacular. For the first time in 4 days, we had a (semi) clear sky and I could finally see Mount Kenya! The view was simply beautiful! I couldn’t stop smiling. I thanked God for this beautiful moment. After enjoying a nice cup of tea, Patrick and I slowly made our (steep!) descent to the bottom of the mountain where I devoured my breakfast! We then hiked the long 14km to Old Moses Camp. Unfortunately but not surprising, the fog and rain showed up again, erasing the beautiful scenery… When we got to the camp, I ate and went straight to bed. I consider myself a fit person, but my god this day was one hell of a workout!!
My guide Patrick
My wonderful crew
Day 5: 9km (descent)
I woke up with sore quads and guess what, a perfect clear blue sky! Urg. Now that I’m leaving the mountain, the sun finally decides to show up! 😐 After breakfast we slowly trekked down to the entrance of the park, in Nyangan, where I could have a perfect view of Mount Kenya. After saying goodbye and thanking my wonderful support crew, I made my way back to Nairobi, reflecting on my beautiful journey in the Kenyan mountains.
Despite the unusual and not so favorable conditions, I still had an amazing time trekking Mount Kenya. The efforts, the rain and the cold were definitely worth the view at the top! I would do it all over again anytime (if my budget would allow me!). I will definitely try to do some shorter treks during my travels on the continent, maybe in South Africa? I really think I caught the trek bug like my parents! 🙂