If I tell you about Kenya, what do you have in mind?
“Safari” would probably be the very first word. Indeed, with National Parks such as Masai Mara, Tsavo, Amboseli, the country is a reference and one of the most popular safari destinations.
Kenya is also well known for its white sandy beaches stretching along the Indian Ocean, from Diani in the south to Lamu at the border with Somalia. I must admit that I was surprised by the beauty of Kenyan beaches, even those located in the northern suburbs of Mombasa. The Kenyan coast has been at the crossroads of African, Arab and Indian civilizations. Cities like Lamu have such a special atmosphere.
During my 4-month stay in Kenya, I did spend some time doing safaris and chilling on beaches. But my most memorable experience is without a doubt this epic journey in the northern part of the country, where I took part in a permaculture project (Sadhana Forest, more information at the end of the article).
Kenya’s remote areas are your best opportunity to discover what makes Africa: its ethnic diversity. Whereas the Masaïs are the country’s most famous ethnic group, it has to be said that there are not less than 42 different tribes on the sole Kenyan territory. Traveling north you will meet, among others, the Samburu ethnic groups (and Turkana if reach the Ethiopian border).
This beautiful project I joined aims at reforesting a semi-arid area. Some permaculture techniques are taught to the locals and all the necessary assistance is provided to them to plant various species at home. The final objective is not only ecological but also social (in the long run, local communities should enjoy food self-sufficiency). Other kinds of training (as i.e. building an energy efficient oven) were also organized. All the training were on-site training and the follow-up was ensured through some visits to the communities. At the same time, water is distributed around communities (which saves a 20km journey to get water). Besides, a water filling station and an electric charging station (produced from renewable energy) were set up next to the project site. Because as strange as this modernity seems, the locals have mobile phones and internet, but neither electricity nor running water…
The visits to the communities were a wonderful experience that enabled me to discover the locals’ daily lives and learn more about their culture and beliefs. A great cultural exchange between human beings and a fructifying collaboration.
I will also keep a wonderful memory of the wedding we were invited to. A colourful ceremony that lasted 3 days. The climax: we were driving on our way back under a magnificent sunset and acacia trees as far as you can see, and the Morans (Samburu Warriors) started chanting. Zebras could be seen everywhere. Definitely one of my African highlights.
One of my favorite places was the small local market of Likicheki, held every Saturday. A landmark full of unusual scenes: tribesmen selling goods in traditional clothing, old men chatting about the latest news, and from time to time, random people would start singing at the glory of lord “Yesuh”, soon enough joined by the crowds!
To sum up, this area of Samburu is a unique place to discover real Africa, the one you don’t find in any travel guide. A truly authentic place where you can experience the traditional way of life of one of the many tribes of this beautiful continent.
Kenyan safaris are up to their reputation and its paradise beaches are worth a visit. But if you are seeking something different, more intimate and authentic, you should definitely head to the remote areas of this beautiful country, you’ll love it!
How to get to Samburu area?
From Nairobi: take the bus to Nyahururu at Nyamakina bus station. The ride is about 4hours and costs $6. From there you can either keep on traveling to Maralal (another 4 hours, but plan accordingly as departures are not frequent) or split your journey and spend the night in Nyahururu.
If you opt for a night in Nuyahururu, check out Thomson Falls, a 30-minute walk from town.
Where to stay?
Maralal is a small town but offers a few lodging options (I didn’t try any since I was sleeping on the project site)
In Nyahururu, I stayed at Olympia Hotel. Basic but decent and clean ($10 per night).
- Maralal Camel Derby in August: Camel race and folklore show
- Samburu National Reserve: In case you wanna go to a less crowded safari (entry fee: $70 per person per day… You’re still in Kenya 😉
- Rift Valley: Samburu has one of the best viewpoints of the African rift (you can overlook the valley by more than 1000m!)
Information about Sadhana Forest project:
It is a global permaculture and reforestation project. Originally based in India, they’ve started projects in Kenya and Haiti. During your stay, you will learn various permaculture techniques and live without leaving any environmental footprint. So be ready for a very rustic way of life (camping, bucket shower, toilet composting, etc.) and a vegan diet.
The project is amazing as it provides invaluable help to local communities, not only by providing ecological solutions but also access to running water and electricity.
As a volunteer, you’ll be asked for a petty contribution (that barely covers your food and accommodation).
For more information, check out their website: sadhana forest
“Safari Njema” (have a nice trip)!