short trip report
Replies: 17 - Last Post: Oct 21, 2012 10:30 AM Last Post By: richardtrillo
Oct 5, 2012 4:03 AM
short trip reportHi all
Thought I would write a small trip report for others bound to Kenya. After a very bumpy start we managed to get to Kenya and enjoyed our time there although we did have some negative experiences about the country.
Things that we loved:
The major highlight was Samburu national park, and staying at the elephant bedroom camp. Loved the national park with fantastic wildlife, and really loved elephant bedroom camp, lovely place to stay, lovely food....highly recommended. There are loads of elephants there and it was an amazing sight to see them all running down from the hills to the water in the mornings.
We used Bushtroop safari which was ok, they gave us everything we asked for in our itinerary.
Nairobi we stayed in Ndemi place which is really nice, about 20 mins by taxi from town, and has beautiful chilled out gardens, highly recommend staying here.
Masai Mara was also another highlight for us, a great park with loads of wildlife.
The roads have much improved, and apparently the infamous Masai Mara road will begin being sealed shortly.
You can get great guinness there!
Nothing got stolen from us, and we met a lot of very nice, honest people in the country. Keep an eye on your stuff, away from easy reach in the windows in vehicles, and valuables on you all the time, and you should have no problems.
The food also was surprisingly good wherever we went.
Things we didn't find so great were:
The Masai themselves, I don't think I've ever met a more money grabbing bunch of people in my life, the cultural visits are a complete farce, and wholly a set up, it's quite obvious from the moment you walk in, they are only interested in fleecing you, some places were demaning 50 USD per person, then you were expected to buy trinkets at very high prices, and then you were expected to make a donation in the fake school they make at every one of these "villages". We heard they also block roads to demand money, and can guide jeeps across rivers and deliberately try to get them stuck to again demand money. We wanted nothing to do with these people after a while.
Lake Nakuru I would not recommend, the flamingo's have gone, and it was mostly flooded when we were there...we were there during the dry season. Check where the flamingos are before deciding on which lake to go to. Bogoria may be a better option.
I guess the biggest disappointment was the general money grabbingness of the whole country, It felt like it had been completely tainted by rich Americans throwing their money around and skewing local peoples expectations...even our driver was grumpy with us because we didn't want to visit the Masai, or buy souvineers which I assume he would have gotten commission for.
Also some of the prices were crazy, some curio shops wanted 50 USD for a t-shirt.....souvineers were so overpriced in many places that I didn't see anyone buying anything in any of the shops we went into.
There is a lot of hassle in Kenya, I've traveled a lot, and found Kenya some of the worst I've ever experienced. The unbelievable hassle in the curio markets in Nairobi, and being surrounded by dozens of Masai women shoving their tat in your face, and won't go away no matter what you say was quite a surprise.
As people photography is a hobby of mine, I was also really disappointed in the attitude of every person we asked towards photos. They all seem to think that if you are taking photos of them, that you are going to be making money from the photos. Unfortunately they always wanted money and a lot of it, in places like India where if people want money, it's usually around 10 rupiah, I have no problem giving it, but people often wanted 10-20 dollars and up for a photo. We ended up getting almost no photos of Kenyans the whole time we were there.
I would recommend going to Kenya, but it does seem to have been heavily tainted by rich tourists which is a shame.
Oct 5, 2012 9:44 AM
1Just a few comments on your post, mattyboy:
I think you may have judged the Maasai a bit harshly based on a few encounters you had with them during an organized village tour. These special tourist stops exist for the sole purpose of making money, and you can find them all over the developing world, from Peru to Mongolia. A $50 admission fee is ridiculous of course, but in Kenya, if you talk patiently with the people in charge they will often ask you what you think is a reasonable price and come down to that. I speak from much experience there.
There are plenty of Maasai places that an independent traveler can visit free of charge. I have stayed in Maasai villages that are points on the map just like any other, have no admission fee and have cheap guesthouses and friendly canteens and watering holes. Unfortunately, on an organized tour you would not have been told about that.
I share your frustration with the outlandish prices being asked, but a little good-natured haggling can quickly bring them down 50 or even 75 percent. Did you try this? Rich tourists do make it worse, but I am not so sure that the Americans alone are to blame. Germans, Italians and British are just as common in northern Kenya as Americans. As for your experience in Nairobi, rather than trying to make all the Maasai women go away, you had an opportunity there to exercise your buying power and make them reduce their prices. You could try moving on (with a smile), then coming back a little later to see which women are really interested in selling. You can even try holding up some money representing what you want to pay and seeing if any of them will take it. I've seen that work.
As for photos, Maasai are probably the most photographed tribe in the world and they are well aware of that. But again, I sense that you did not play your cards entirely right. There are various ways around a high fee, such as spreading it across a group of people or asking for multiple poses. Anything you can say to keep the negotiation going helps, whereas "no" tends to dampen things.
Anyway, good on you for visiting. What I've written here will hopefully come in useful for anyone else reading this thread as they plan their trip.
Oct 5, 2012 10:23 AM
Thanks for your comments, I can appreciate there are Masai in areas not affected by tourism, but it wasn't just one place that we met the Masai and they behaved appallingly, it was everywhere we went...of course, we were in the touristy areas...but then tourists are usually.
We didn't haggle a lot to be honest, because we didn't really want to buy anything, but that didn't stop people from seriously hounding us. In other countries, I've always been able to explain politely that I wasn't interested, and they were wasting their time...it just didn't work here...even when I was explaining they were being very disrespectful...they continued to shove their tat in my face, stand in front of us, and not let us get away. We ended up not buying a single thing in Kenya, some of the curios, I am sure I can buy cheaper in African art shops here in Europe.
As for photos, it certainly wasn't just Masai, it was every man and his dog wanted money for photos, even when we asked our guide if we could stop and ask some locals for photos, he didn't want us to...he said we could only take photos in the villages, and only pay the chief...I guess again because so he would get his commission. We felt in the country, we were just there to be fleeced to be honest.
I've been to a lot of countries around the world, and it's not my first time in Sub-Saharan Africa...I was genuinely shocked how tainted by tourism Kenya was.
Actually, anyone know, is Uganda, Rwanda...Ethiopia better people wise? Obviously Kenya/Tanzania are the place to go to see wild life at it's best.
Anyway, it certainly didn't ruin the trip, it's a beautiful country, with incredible wild life....I was just very surprised at how money grabbing everyone was.
Oct 5, 2012 11:15 AM
3I think all Chris's comments are spot-on, but yours are fair, too, matty. Couple of things to point out: this is an incredibly tough time for tourism in Kenya, numbers are down and people are struggling, which means competition for sales, irritation and bad first impressions. The other thing is the company you went with. On a safari you're only as welcome as the driver you're with, and if that person or company has a history of shafting locals as he carries his valuable tourist cargo around, then he'll be very unwelcome and you'll certainly feel that vibe, no matter how good and helpful he is to you.
There are companies, and camps where all the money you pay for a village visit goes direct to the village ($20 is the going rate incidentally, throughout Maasailand) and where the village has explicitly agreed not to harass visitors or try to sell them anything at all. Gamewatchers and Kicheche camps operate tourist-Maasai relations in this way, and it seems to work. You can take as many pictures as you like. Then, at some point during your stay in the camp, Maasai traders will visit you to offer their crafts. This system seems to work really well. In fact Porini camps (Gamewatchers) often have an informal shop set up with fixed prices and every item labelled with its maker so they get paid the full value.
Oct 5, 2012 11:34 AM
4Unfortunately this is worse in TNZ than Kenya; I was shocked last year how the Tanzanians had changed since my last visit in ?2004 ... Have many friends desperate to move to Kenya where it was easier ... I was in Ethiopia about 2 years ago & it wasn't too bad, possibly a little worse than Kenya but certainly no where as bad as TNZ!
As Richard says, the tourism market is being affected but it'll get worse in E.Africa if people hear about these reports.
Hopefully this will all work it's way through ... if the economic crisis elsewhere doesn't get any worse!
Oct 5, 2012 12:21 PM
We actually spent longer in Tanzania this trip than Kenya, and found it less hassle, I guess it comes down to being in the wrong place at the wrong time sometimes.
Although in Tanzania, they were just as bad in regards to photos.
In the end, I guess it comes down to, I'm more of a traveler, going to very much a tourist country.
Oct 5, 2012 3:59 PM
6In the last 7 years I have been to both Kenya and Tanzania 5 time - so I think I have some understanding of the current situation. The GFC did affect tourism (particularly from Western Europe and US) in East Africa far more than non-locals realise and tourism accounts for between 25-35% of the foreign currency income for both Tanzania and Kenya. I also agree that Samburu is an eye opener for those who have not been to the semi-arid area of Kenya.
As for the Masaai/Samburu people - whilst they are great people in general their way of life has been so greatly affected by loss of country to graze their cattle and sheep/goats that the only option left is income from tourists. If your driver is one who is open and honest in his dealings from the villagers then they are more friendly towards the tour groups. If he has ripped them off, cheated them then there is a likely problem. Yes they will ask for an entry fee (usually $20-25 US), but at least this money goes directly to the people. Whilst you are expected to buy trinkets, artifacts (and yes the initial asking prices are astronomic) - but if don't buy then the families may not eat!! Charging for photos of the Masaai or Samburu men in the cerimonial dress has been the norm for as long as I have been going to East Africa and I think Richard even comments on it in his early tour guide books. A fee of around $10 US per man is the norm - but you may be asked for $20 - so be prepared to haggle.
I have not been to the Mara since 2007 so am not fully up to date. However I have read the local press and the Masaai have become a lot more economically and politically active. Trying to increase their share of the income the country obtains from the Masaai Mara Game Reserve, as replacement for the loss of grazing land. Their main problem is with the Nairobi Govt and causing trouble for the tourists is their only way to get some notice and thus some action. Unfortunately the tourists know very little of the background and the guides don't take the time to inform them. So if you are going to either country and want to see the Masaai be prepared.
Oct 6, 2012 1:31 AM
7I also think you are being harsh on the Maasai people or maybe you were just unlucky in the village you visited. I've been many times, with groups of various ages and only once can I recall my friends having problems with aggressive and pushy touting. That was actually at a village in Amboseli not the Mara. Mostly everyone thoroughly enjoys the experience and its often a highlight of any trip. Personally I never tire of visiting them.
Also, maybe you need to practice haggling before you visit again. I'm not particularly good I have to say. I've been known to go up instead of down (which confuses people no end). Now I just enjoy the whole game and at the end of the day if I think its a fair price I'm happy and so are the villagers. What I also tend to do now is take an amount of money I'm willing to donate to the village and buy whatever I can with that. I usually give the stuff away when I get home but buying their goods is a much better way of supporting them than just donating money.
Edited by: wigstan
Oct 6, 2012 7:35 AM
8I was in Uganda at the beginning of the year, there seemed to be no hassle at all there, it was lovely!
From previous experiences such as yours, I no longer bother even asking if I can take people's photos, unless I have made friends with them first.
Last year a Maasai group came to my town (in UK) and we went to see the show they were doing at a local church. The show was great, but afterwards they had a small stall selling various trinkets - the prices they were asking were completely outrageous and they were not interested in bargaining at all.
I was happy to pay £10 to watch the show, but £10 for a small beaded bracelet? No thanks!
Oct 12, 2012 2:55 PM
9I have said this before - and I will say it again:
Many of these so called "villages" are stage managed with a view to fleecing the unsuspecting, excited tourist, who is itching to take pictures of, or mingle with what they think is a genuine Maasai. Several are just plain, street-wise Kikuyus who have dressed up for the act.
As I look at it they are just ordinary people like myself, and if I am not going to be excited by my neighbour's house on Heath Road in Hounslow, I see no reason why I should be excited by another human being's house 5000 miles away!
Oct 12, 2012 3:12 PM
10You have indeed said it before, but repeating it yet again doesn't make it any more true, Mwenjeji. There's not a single "state managed" Maasai village in Kenya (the state doesn't go in for much managing of any kind in Kenya, and it certainly doesn't get involved in tourism). Give a single source for this bizarre suggestion and TT users might take it more seriously. As for the idea that "street-wise Kikuyus" might have dressed up for the act. Please… I'm assuming you're not talking about the cultural shows at Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, but you're trying to say there are fake Maasai villages in Maasailand. Please name one.
Of course, you're right, they're all people. But the fact that you're not excited by your neighbour's house in the UK is your business. It doesn't mean that plenty of people wouldn't be very interested to visit a Maasai village in Kenya - including, presumably, the original poster, which was part of the point of his post. Especially a village where the visitor made a payment that went entirely to the village, where they were welcome to take as many pictures as they liked, and where there was no pressure to buy anything, or indeed nothing to be bought.
A bit less hyped-up cynicism and a bit more practical advice would be good, don't you think?
Oct 12, 2012 4:49 PM
11There is another way to get some interesting photos of "tribals", but you'll need a powerful zoom lens and patience. The discussion has focused on getting people to pose for close-up photos, but the last time I traveled the north I spent some time sitting on the porch of my guest house and discreetly snapped scenes of ordinary life.
The subjects were quite far away and did not notice I was photographing them. I have to say, though, that if they had found out, things might have got awkward. To avoid drawing attention to myself, I rested the camera on my lap and pretended I was reviewing images. And of course no one was looking over my shoulder
Another trick is to act as if you are focusing on a distant landscape such as a mountain, then shift the camera slightly and zoom in on your human subject.
These images won't win any awards but I like them for their candid quality, which you could never get with a posed image.
BTW the top image was taken in Wamba. The other was snapped in Diani of all places. These Maasai men were waiting for Sunday mass at the cathedral.
Oct 12, 2012 11:33 PM
12The easiest way to take pictures of people in their traditional dresses is when you walk around with a guide. I did it in Samburu area, Masai land and Turkana area and it was no problem. Of course, I did not go too close to them but with a zoom (eg from the other side of the road) it's no problem. Also, if you have the chance to be in Loyangalani mid May there is Lake Turkana Festival with lot's of dancing and you could take plenty of photos.
From inside a bus/matatu I also shot several photos and it worked.
Oct 13, 2012 2:12 AM
Oct 13, 2012 4:51 AM
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