The Masai Mara: How to Experience Kenya’s Best Safari

Setting off to take up a front-row seat in the Animal Kingdom’s back yard, we watched the majestic Kenyan sunrise on a crisp weekend morning, like an image straight out of animated musical hit, The Lion King. It was just one of many scenes that would remain an indelible symbol from an unforgettable trip to the Masai Mara – one of Africa and Kenya’s most popular game reserves, about 270 kilometers south-west of the capital, Nairobi. As we began to traverse the 1800-km stretch of the Mara on a matatu – or mini bus – our hope was to see some, if not all, of the so-called Big Five: the leopard, lion, rhino, elephant and buffalo. And, of course, the famous annual migration of wildebeest herds making their way from the Serengeti into the Mara, was at the top of our list. The one-and-a-half-day safari would spoil us, but we wouldn’t quite sate that wish.

A proud lion sits in the grassland of the Mara and, below, a group of cubs huddle together in a bush

Seeing animals up close, from lions to cheetahs to hordes of wildebeest and hippos, believed to be Africa’s most dangerous animal, was as breathtaking as it was inspirational. The dozens of wildebeest sprinting across verdant plains; giraffes munching on acacia leaves for breakfast; a family of hippos, half-submerged in lakes, opening their tusk-esque teeth to a jaw-dropping 150 degrees; and beautiful herds of zebra, oblivious to all around them. Pictures of cubs huddled together and (right) a proud lion chills in the grassland As we chatted amongst ourselves about reminiscences of The Lion King – the 1994 Hollywood film about how young cub, Simba, searches for his identity – we happened upon an incredible lion, sizing up its prey.

Using the grasslands as camouflage, our driver, Jack, stopped the matatu to watch as a gripping one-hour, tension-laden game unfolded. Would the lion get its prey?

Lions are known to be the only big cats that hunt in packs, sniffing out zebra, wildebeest and gazelle, but they also attack buffalo, hippos and giraffes. On this occasion, however, the lion was alone and eyeing up one of the stunning zebra, standing around 100 metres from its short-grass haven. As we waited in expectation of the scene to unfold before us, we were told by our kindly guide that just one-in-five attempts will end in a kill. And so, with one zebra straying from the group, the lion seized its moment, and a game of nail-biting, cat-and-mouse ensued, with the desperate zebra running for its life, charging into a bush and somehow managing to avert the hungry gaze of the simba. Whilst we didn’t catch that tantalising, curtain-closing moment, at prices like these, we’ll be back again soon.

Our group, pictured in - and outside - our mataka at the gates to the Masai Mara National Park

Our group, pictured in – and outside – our matatu at the gates to the Masai Mara National Park

Tips on travelling to the Masai Mara:

How to get there? It’s around a six-hour journey from Kenyan capital, Nairobi, via mini-bus, with the last two hours a ride over rough terrain. But you pass some gift shops and get a bird’s-eye view of the country’s rolling landscape.

Where to stay? We stayed at the Tipilikwani Lodge, a luxury camp made up of 20 tents overlooking the banks of the Talek River. If you’ve had a particularly tough day on safari, you can unwind on one of the hammocks in the garden or sample one of the spa services on offer ☺

How much does it cost? Contact The Holiday Dealers or on Facebook We got a bargain deal, based on 12 travelling, for 24,550Sh-per-person (or $280 at the time of writing). With a bush dinner and lunch on the Mara, a two-night stay at the five-star lodge and transport to and from Nairobi thrown in and, given some safaris can cost up to $300-a-day, this was a bargain.

*It comes at a time when Kenya’s tourist industry has been affected in recent months since the Westgate shopping mall attacks in Nairobi and a spate of small-scale incidents around the country. With that in mind, you could probably snap up a bargain – as we did. The Masai Mara, however, is located in the south-west in Narok County, where there have been no incidents up until now.

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Top five places to watch the World Cup in…Nairobi

Whenever I touch down in a new destination – and that’s often! – be it a buzzing metropolitan city or a sleepy village, I often revert to TripAdvisor, or similar, to unearth the best restaurants, cafes and nightclubs. But on my travels in recent years, there is one search that has cropped up invariably: great bars to watch football in?

And I have had great reason recently to be typing those very words into Google this past week, for the World Cup has just started.

I have been plying my trade in Nairobi, Kenya’s vibrant capital, over the past six weeks and, in a cosmopolitan city which could well lay claim to be the home to every nationality in the 32-team World Cup, you’ll want to find a nice den to enjoy the games.

So here’s my round-up of the best places to watch the festival of football after the end of week one:

Kengeles Bar and Restaurant…

Nestled in the corner of Lavington Green, Kengeles offers primarily standing-room only options, with wide-screen TVs dotted around the bar. The result during the World Cup is a raucous atmosphere of rabid footy fans.

If you’re eager on enjoy a more relaxed environment, there is a seating area on entry, where you can select from the restaurant’s menu of Mexican, African and Asian dishes and bar food, too.

Lavington Estate, Nairobi, Kenya, T: +254 (0)20 3877360

 

Dutch football fans celebrating Holland's 5-1 trouncing of Spain

Dutch football fans celebrating Holland’s 5-1 trouncing of Spain

Carnivore…

Is an a la carte restaurant which serves up a marathon meat fest – from crocodile tail to Giraffe neck steak to some of the tastiest chicken in town – but also has a lively and popular nightclub.

You can enjoy five local beers for the price of four and that enviable residents’ discount of 25%. Oh – and there’s five themed bars under the roof, boasting18 HD screens.

Langata Rd, Nairobi, Kenya, T: +254 (0)733 611608

Carnivore: arrive with an appetite for an extraordinary meaty feast...and 18HD screens for the footy

Carnivore: arrive with an appetite for an extraordinary meaty feast…and 18HD screens for the footy

Sankara Hotel

The stylish 7th-floor bar of this five-star hotel has set up a large screen above the swimming pool, unfurled the 32-nations’ flags and dusted down the comfy sofas. If you’re a football purist and like watching a game in a relatively civilised atmosphere, washed down with some silky-smooth rum and ice-cool local Tusker beer, then this is the place for you.

Woodvale Grove, Nairobi, Kenya, T: +254 (0)20 4208000

Gipsy’s

Billed as ‘three themed bars under one roof’, Gipsy’s is located in the well-heeled part of Nairobi, Westlands, and brings together a fusion of locals and expats.

Its exterior looks quite uninviting, but – within – it has two giant screens which draw your attention and a medley of sports fans are served by kindly waiters looking to serve you more drinks in contrasting environments to suit your taste: upstairs more intimate, with sofas and shishas; outside livelier, where the Nairobi din can be heard from the streets.

Although if your team happens to be playing at 1am on a Saturday night because of the time difference with Brazil, you may struggle to get the DJ to turn down the decks and turn up the audio on the game…

Woodvale Grove, Close to the Jacaranda Hotel, Westlands, T: +254 (0) 733 730529

K1

If you like your bars loud and your vibe local, this is the place to head. With four screens and surround sound centred around stadium-style seating, the Heineken-sponsored K1 Soccer City Stadium creates a local, Kenyan ambience that’s near-unbeatable.

Ojijo Road, T: +254 20 3749042

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The top five places to ‘lime’ in Trinidad…

How’d you like to find the best spots in Trinidad to hang out in? 

Well, having spent the best part of four months living on the amazing twin islands recently, here’s the lowdown.

Party-loving Trinidad is a city that brims with energy and sings and shouts with all the verve of a vibrant, global city. No doubt it’s small – just 1.3m people on the island and its twin, Tobago.

While Trinidad itself is still emerging – its untapped oil and gas reserves are attracting significant interest from China, for example – there is one thing that Trinnis do that can rival the very best the world has to offer: liming.

Liming is essentially hanging out, socialising and having a good time. It can be a verb, as in ‘We liming on the beach today’ or a noun: ‘That party going to turn out be a big lime’, according to the urban dictionary. From time to time, we all do it. But to Trinnis, it is an art.

Here are my top five haunts to lime at if you are ever in Trinidad’s frenetic and exciting capital, Port of Spain (POS):

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Locals enjoying a laidback lime on the island (left) and right, with friends at a beach lime in Las Cuevas, Trinidad

Trotters

Despite the time difference (minus five hours for GMT) of kick offs, you will nevertheless find a good mix of locals and expats rubbing shoulders in this sports bar. Packed with LCD screens and surround sound, it boasts an awesome atmosphere and some tasty treats, though not if you want to watch your waistline 😉  The Friday after-work happy hour is a must.

Maraval Rd, Port of Spain, +1 868-627-8768

Aria

This Syrian-owned bar and nightclub certainly looks the part and is a great place to be on Saturday nights. Located on the heart of Trinidad’s famous ‘The Avenue’ – or, as it’s popularly known, ‘Lime Street’ – it’s pretty swish and you’ll hear a mix of mainstream and dance music, though don’t expect to see too many people whining – the island’s infamous gyrating dance.

Corner of Fitt St. & Ariapita Avenue, +1 868-225-2742

Aura…

is a restaurant and bar – and a great chill-out haunt. Less raucous than The Avenue, you’ll nevertheless hear some very trendy music, in-keeping with the ambience and clientele. They serve amazing, homemade pizzas and pasta – and its creamy Tiramasu is, as their menu describes, “like heaven”.

Cipriani Boulevard, Port of Spain, +1 868-627-7497

Brooklyn Bar…

is a great after-work spot, especially on Fridays. With the crowd spilling onto the pavements, it is the oldest bar in POS and, due to its sub-zero giant chiller, boasts that it serves the coldest beers in town.

Carlos & Roberts Streets, Woodbrook, Port of Spain, +1 868-685 2010

Paprika Restaurant & Bar

The crowd make Paprika what it is. You’ll find a post-Trotters – and generally older – collective in happy and very merry mood, while others drop in and use it as ‘a launchpad’ bar for The Avenue. A little cliched in its musical choice, with old classics and rock’n’roll spinning late into the night, if you like your dancefloors crowded, Paprika’s the place to be. Its terrace is a fun place to ‘lime’ – and stays open until around 3am.

201 Western Main Road, Cocorite, Port of Spain, +1 868-6225930

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Nigeria’s secret treasures…amidst the doom and gloom

Listening to the news yesterday that 88 people had been killed and 200 injured at a bus station in Nigeria, brought a shudder to me.

What was most shocking personally was that terror attacks – which has long been a northern and north-eastern issue in the country, particularly in Maiduguri, ironically known as the ‘Home of Peace’ – had come to the peaceful capital, Abuja.

Having lived and worked in Lagos – the rough-and-ready commercial capital of Africa’s most populous nation – and travelled widely throughout the country, there is so much that is positive throughout Nigeria’s densely-populated mass that does not generate coverage in the media.

Here are three aspects of Nigeria that do not get enough media attention, but which I feel its 170m people should feel particularly proud of:

1. The people:

Nigerians’ innate joie de vivre, hospitality and warmth is infectious. Rarely did a day go by where I didn’t find myself laughing heartily with locals in business meetings, over a cold Guinness – held dear by Nigerians; the beer is sold more than in any other country worldwide – or at a party. Nigerians love to have a good time and are as welcoming as any nationality I have ever met.

2. Nigerian Suya:

Suya is amazing! It is barbecued meat which you can find on most street corners in Lagos and in most street stalls around Nigeria. I even sat down to eat the delicious dish in the north of the country, Kano, long-associated with church bombings in the domestic and international media, but it was a very pleasant meal in peaceful surroundings. Despite the multifarious nature of the country, the meat is eaten everywhere.

Nigerian meat being grilled into suya, cooked by locals in Lagos

Nigerian meat being grilled into suya, cooked by locals in Lagos

3. Natural beauty

Nigeria’s tourist industry is growing and, as the country continues to develop, sooner rather than later it will tap into some of the picturesque lakes, waterfalls, long, golden beaches, tropical forests and wildlife it boasts…

A stunning beach in Lagos, which the country is not well-known for

A stunning beach in Lagos, which the country is not well-known for

When that day comes will depend as much on its ability to quash insurgent groups as on its ability to brand itself as a bona fide location where international tourists can enjoy what it has to offer.

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Walking with lions…in Mauritius

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When you think about Mauritius, author Mark Twain’s rendering that “God created Mauritius first and then heaven” comes to mind. In other words, it’s more about kicking back and sipping piña coladas on shiny, golden beaches in paradisal surroundings in the minds of tourists than anything else.

But Mauritius’ touristic offering is becoming increasingly diverse and the island is starting to make more of a splash around the fact that it is – if not physically – a part of Africa.

So parks such as Casela Nature & Leisure Park, in the south of Mauritius, are offering a little dose of Africa in and around the island’s natural beauty.

As such, when I got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a stroll with Zaza and Mapara last weekend, I jumped at the chance.

Walk with lions

With my heart beating rapidly, flanked by a trickle of minders and just a stick between me and 120 kilos of lion, I walked alongside two-year-old, 2.4-metres-tall Zaza. As I cautiously patted her on the back, buoyed by our guide, Jim, what a sight it was!

Together with a group of international tourists, who travelled from as far as China to meet, touch and walk with Zaza, from the Timbavati region of South Africa, and 11-month-old Mauritian-born Mapara, we stopped and – eyes agaze – watched as the two lions exercised and jumped 10 feet-high in the air to trap their dinner. It was a jaw-dropping sight – all within a couple of metres from us.

Once the lions are three years old, they will get to live and roam at the back of the park in their natural habitat. Until then they can feast on two dinners of 25kg-a-week – much more than they would be able to find in the wild.

It was a special, unforgettable morning – and one that many of the nearly 1m tourists who flock to ‘Paradise Island’ every year should check out.

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Lifestyle design – as practised in Barcelona

Ever felt like taking some time out to do all those things you love, but never get around to doing because you’re just too busy? Well, I recently spent one month living in Barcelona: Catalonia’s cosmopolitan capital which sings and shouts with an exhilarating energy that is at once inspiring and infectious – and I managed to do just that.

‘Catalonia’ could arguably – and very controversially – squeeze into the catchall of an ‘emerging nation’ because there is a brewing debate there about independence from Spain, which is set to be discussed in a referendum in November later this year; it may not happen, as the Spanish Government intends to block it altogether…

But political wranglings aside, Barcelona is a great place to unwind – and the chic, central neighbourhood of Jaume, with its cobbled streets, trendy cafes and eclectic buzz, was my home for four weeks.

Taking time out between projects, I settled into the local scene and, in a nod to author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss’ guide to lifestyle design, dedicated myself to trying out some new things.

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The fountains at the bottom of one of Barcelona’s central avenues, Passeig de Gràcia, with an advert of famous football star, Messi, in the background

Lifestyle design is geared towards taking action, getting exactly what you want from life, living out  your dreams – and doing it anywhere.

Looking back on the month, here’s a list of what I feel I achieved:

I finessed my salsa skills with some semi-professional dancers…check out Esencia Salsa Club, close to Carrer d’Aribau: it’ll set you back around €12, with two drinks thrown in

I got to watch one of the world’s greatest football teams, Barcelona, and one of the world’s best players, diminutive Argentine Lionel Messi, at the world-renowned Camp Nou stadium. Awesome! I snapped up a ticket for €45 from www.viagogo.com – nearly half the cover-price as season ticket holders sell their cards for unwanted games.

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Me at the Camp Nou

I started a running habit, helped along the way by a professional coach, and ran every other day, inspired by Arc de Trimof as surroundings and along a sun-kissed Barceloneta Beach – in January!

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One of the city’s iconic monuments, around the corner from my apartment: the Arc de Triomf

I took up vinyasa yoga lessons, taking classes in Spanish…you can find €5, one-hour sessions on meetup.com.

I breathed in late-night Barcelona on a scooter – an oft-trodden journey of many a local.

Dined at some of the city’s best tapas restaurants.

And I made some cool local friends 🙂 Salsa was an amazing ticket to achieving this.

Whilst it was an amazing month, one key thing lacking was structure. Without this, your life can resemble a chaotic, miasmic mess, stumbling from one ambition to the next. This last I would attribute specifically to not properly conquering the language…having said that, if I am negotiating on prices in local markets in any language after so little time, I can’t be that bad. Can I?

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How I bounced back to ski in one of the world’s best ski resorts

Lying in a hospital bed after a near-fatal injury, I wondered if I would ever get to ski again and participate in one of my favourite sports.

It was at that moment I realised that all I loved about life could have disappeared so quickly.

My edited video from a recent holiday to Verbier, Switzerland, is an homage to a sport I love and to capturing those great and special moments in life. There are few things I love more than the adrenaline-pumping experience of flying down a sun-kissed mountain, to a backdrop of snow-topped peaks that is the stuff of fairytales.

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As one of the world’s most stable economies, Switzerland cannot be bracketed as an ‘emerging nation’ so a fuller piece doesn’t belong on this blog; its average wealth per adult alone is an incredible $513,000 (CHF467,000), putting the central European nation top of the league of developed nations. But this is my first foray into producing video content and so I’ve dropped in the video below. Check out my step-by-step guide, spelling out how I produced the video on my new site: the University of Inspiration – and more about my story.

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