Welcome to Kenya

kenyaTourism is the largest source of foreign exchange revenue in Kenya. It dominates the service sector of its economy which makes up 62% of its GDP. If you think it is all about safaris, you are wrong. While Kenya is probably the best destination in the world for photo safaris with 19 national parks and game reserves, it is also attracting visitors to its beaches along the Indian Ocean, mosques in Mombasa, view of Kilimanjaro across the border with Tanzania, Great Rift Valley and its spectacular sceneries and coffee plantations at Thika. Tourists from Germany and United Kingdom are among the most common visitors.

Before deciding to visit Kenya, it is good to know some basic facts. Geographically, Kenya is a part of the East Africa, the region of Great African lakes. It is has a diverse terrain. In the west there are high plateaus and mountains including Mount Kenya, the second highest mountain in Africa, and lakes including famous Lake Victoria. Eastern parts are generally lower, and on the south east there is Indian Ocean coast with the large coastal city of Mombasa. Climate varies from hot and humid tropical climate in the low and coastal regions, to relatively cool climate at higher elevations, and arid climate towards the north and deeper inland.

Kenya does not have a single culture that identifies it. Like many other African countries it consists of many different ethnicities that speak different languages and have separate cultures. However, there is a sense of national unity, because all the peoples of Kenya participated together in their fight for freedom against the British Empire. Kenya gained its independence in 1963. After that time it had many different regimes and today it’s a representative democracy. People in Kenya are generally optimistic about the future and there has been some progress in recent years.

Most of the people are Christians, mainly Protestants (47.7%) and Catholics (23.5%). There are also 11.2% Muslims, living mostly in coastal regions and some followers of traditional religions. Official languages are English and Swahili.

If you walk through the center of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, you might get the impression that you are in a rich country. Indeed, Nairobi is becoming very important economically and there are headquarters of many domestic and international companies and organizations. However, Kenya is a land of big economic inequality. While urban elites enjoy comfortable life, a large percentage of population still lives in poverty. Still, Kenya has the strongest economy of all the Central and South-Eastern African countries, and it also experiences greater political and economic stability than most of its neighbors.

nairobiPolitical stability, unfortunately, does not mean the absence of crime. Nairobi is quite dangerous city, with high frequency of robberies, con artists and even elaborate scams involving sometimes up to 10 people. That’s why it got the nickname “Nairobbery”.  The beggars, however, are not as common as in other African cities, due to the pride of Kenyan people. Also, the north of the country, near the borders with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia is known for its lawlessness and it is best to avoid it, because of the frequency of armed robberies and abductions. Other dangers in Kenya include diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever, as well as HIV/AIDS. As much is 6% of population is HIV positive. So before traveling, inform yourself about all the needed vaccines and do not practice unprotected sex in Kenya. In spite of all these concerns, Kenya is one of the most popular touristic destinations in Africa, and if you follow all the necessary precautions, you can safely visit it, and have a great time!

A typical touristic arrangement would include at least one safari in one of Kenya’s national parks. The most popular is Maasai Mara National Reserve, because it has a large amount of big cats including lions and cheetahs as well as huge variety of birds. In fact it is one of the most popular and well known safari locations in entire Africa. Not surprisingly, game viewing is the most popular activity there, and you will enjoy watching not only big cats but also elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, etc. The most famous sight in the reserve is a massive migration of animals called the Great Migration which occurs in July and August every year.

Lake Nakuru national park is also very famous, and one of the two premium national parks in Kenya. It is a paradise for bird lovers, with 400 different bird species and over 50 species of mammals, of which the most common are African buffalos, waterbucks, white rhinos, zebras, impalas, olive baboons, Rothschild giraffes, and vervet monkeys.

Of the big cities, Mombasa is most popular for tourists, due to its coastal location and vicinity to many beach resorts. Its greatest attractions are Fort Jesus, built by Portuguese in 1593, the Old City and its numerous mosques. The oldest one, Mandhry Mosque, dates back to 1570. Mix of Portuguese and Islamic architecture and influences gives it a very cosmopolitan character.

As mentioned in the beginning, those are just some of the most famous attractions in Kenya. If you want to see them all you’ll have to run around the country, and maybe that’s the reason why Kenya has the best distance runners in the world. Jokes aside, distance athletics is one of the most recognizable things about Kenya. To see how dominant Kenya is in these disciplines, you can simply check the first three places of the last Boston marathon. Both in male and female categories they were all from Kenya.

So, if you are ready for some adventure, don’t wait, come, no, run to Kenya now!

Experiencing the Great Migration

great migrationOne of the most spectacular sites in the world takes place in Africa. Tanzania is one of the places called home to an event known, in the animal world, as The Great Migration. If you are the person looking for a super adventure then catching a glimpse of these millions of animals running wild could be the trip for you. This actually happens all year round so any time can make for a great adventure. From Tanzania to Kenya and back again, these migrating animals always provide an outstanding sight to be seen.

Tanzania in January is always full of new animal life. At this point the Grumeti River is teaming with crocodiles and being crossed by millions of migrating creatures. Lions will prey on these young making this the time and place to view the ferocity of a lion attack. If you are brave enough to camp along this river then you will be rewarded with some of the most aggressive and amazing acts in nature. There are camps and camp sites available to provide a little extra safety if you aren’t the type to wander into the bush alone.

The Serengeti around June teams with millions of zebra and hundreds of thousands of other animals. These animals are running a massive circle in search of food and water. With this being the end of rainy season these animals may prove to be incredibly difficult to follow. Over 5,000 square miles of open national park for the animals and you to explore, Africa proves the adventure of a lifetime. Combining danger and excitement with once-in-a-life sights most people will only see in pictures. Many places offer guided tours for those who wish not to explore the wild alone. It is even possible to hire a guide to drive you around to spots where specific animals have been seen.

Kenya is home to the Mara River where the migrating animals must charge the currents and cross dangerous waters. Around September all of the zebra and wildebeest are crossing the deep and fast waters here. Camping along this river ensures you the ability to see both the worst and best that Mother Nature has to offer. The Mara River is the least visited of the Great Migration viewers. When looking to go on that road less traveled then this is for you. Other places offer resorts and housing for those who would rather sleep in a bed with walls than the dirt with lions.

Here’s a great video of the Serengeti migration:

Thousands of miles with millions of animals for you to see are waiting in Africa. The Great Migration offers a sight to be seen all year round. Depending on how adventurous you are feeling, you can camp in a tent or stay in a cabin. Stay with a group and guide for safety or take the road less traveled for a once in a lifetime exploration. No two zebra are identical making viewing always unique. Thousands of miles to explore make an adventure of watching the Great Migration in Africa a favorite place to visit.

Introduction to Nigeria

nigeriaFor anyone wanting to explore and understand the real Africa, Nigeria will prove to be one of the most interesting countries. It is located on the Gulf of Guinea in the Western Africa, one of the most populous and diverse African regions and the region from which most of the slaves were taken during the times of African slave trade.  Nigeria is the most populous African country with more than 150 million people and the second largest economy in Africa, after South Africa. It is considered to be a regional power and one of the most important emerging economies. Its territory is twice as large as California.  Culturally, it is a very divided country. North of the country is almost exclusively Islamic, with strict forms of sharia law being applied, while the south is predominately Christian and somewhat more liberal. Around 50% of people are Muslims, 40% Christians, and the rest adheres to tribal religions.

The religious division follows the climatological and geographic one: the north experiences arid climate and consists mostly of savannah, while the south experiences much more humid tropical and equatorial climates and is filled with tropical rainforests.

History of Nigeria can be divided in three periods: pre-colonial era, colonial era and post independence period. Pre-colonial era covers the history of many indigenous tribes and kingdoms from around 1000 till 1800s, and in some regions well into early 20th century. The most important kingdoms from that period are Hausa kingdoms of Kano and Katsina in the north, Yoruba kingdoms of Ife and Oyo in the southwest, Kingdom of Nri of Igbo people, and Fulani Empire in the north which lasted till 1903. The northern kingdoms were Islamic and there were organized as caliphates. Colonial era is marked by influence of European powers, and especially British Empire, and covers the period from 1800 to 1960.

Nigeria gained independence from British Empire in 1960 and the subsequent period is marked by alteration of democratic governments and military dictatorships. One of the significant events of post-independence era was Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) when Biafra tried to secede from the country. The result of the war was Nigerian victory, so the country remained united, but there were as many as 1 to 3 million civilian casualties. The last shift to democracy occurred in 1999 and since that time Nigeria is making significant progress towards democratization and stability.

nigeria2The most populous ethnic groups in Nigeria are Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo and Fulani peoples. They comprise around 70 percent of the population, while the remaining 30 percent is comprised of numerous other groups. Native languages of most of the population are local ethnic languages. The total number of documented languages in Nigeria is 521. The official language is English, but it is spoken only by upper classes. The language that serves as lingua franca between different tribes and peoples is Nigerian pidgin, which is based on English, and most of the people speak it as a second language.

Nigeria is not a very safe place for casual tourists, especially its northern and central regions. There are cases of ethnic violence, as well as fighting between government and militant groups. Also, there are extremist Islamic groups such as Boko Haram which try to enforce strict sharia law, and you can be severely punished for alcohol consumption and public display of affection, etc. Homosexuality is illegal in entire country, and in the northern Islamic parts both gays and lesbians are executed. There have also been cases of kidnappings of foreign oil workers.

Southern parts are much safer for tourists and the chances of getting in trouble are very low. The former colonial capital Lagos is a cosmopolitan metropolis with places catering to all tastes, and it is very tourist friendly. However, as any large city it has a high crime rate, so it is always good to be cautious. Driving is also chaotic, and it is recommended to rent cars, because they often come with local drivers who are proficient in the knowledge of the local rules and roads, so you’re much safer with the local driver than on your own.

One of the most interesting and appealing things about Nigeria is its music and film industry. Nigerian film production is known as Nollywood (a play on American Hollywood and Indian Bollywood). Nigeria is today the second largest film producer in the world, by the number of films produced annually, ahead of the United States, and behind India. It produces around 1000 movies each year and it is 3.5 billion dollars industry. The themes of films, however, are different from those of Western countries. The films usually depict moral dilemmas that modern Nigerians face, and some of them are evangelical in nature, and they promote Christian or Islamic faith. Other films promote values of tolerance and good inter-religious relations.

Nigerian music influenced the development of many musical genres such as Afrobeat, West African Highlife, Palm Wine music, etc. Some Nigerian musicians combined the elements of indigenous music with American influences such as jazz and soul and it also influenced the development of modern hip-hop.

Majestic Mount Kilimanjaro

kilimanjaroMount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa sits more than 19,000 feet above sea level. This is the tallest mountain in the world that you can actually walk the trails to the top. Plan carefully because this hike will take near a week. This adventure is so intense that a person is not permitted to climb these trails without a guide. With so much variation in climates and with so much distance to travel you must be prepared for a hike like this. Getting a checkup from your doctor to make sure you are capable of doing something like this is a great starting point.

Mount Kilimanjaro is known as the roof of Africa because of the massive elevation. The mountain has 5 zones of different climatic categories. High season for this trek is in January to March, September and October. In those 5 months, the weather is the most permitting for this long hike. Temperature at the peak of this mountain can be so cold that batteries will not work. This mountain doesn’t always give access to drinkable water but there are some streams said to be safe for drinking. Many people become inflicted with altitude sickness from taking the shorter routes and trying to reach the peak too quickly. Make sure the guide has all the things needed for anything that could happen miles above sea level.

Planning for an adventure up Mount Kilimanjaro starts with picking the trails or paths that you wish to hike. After you pick the trail it is time to pick a guide and then start packing. Towering above the world at more than 19,000 feet above sea level, Mount Kilimanjaro will cause a person to get altitude sickness if ascended to rapidly. If you are planning to reach the peak it is best to make a week long adventure to avoid altitude sickness. For a hiking trip nearing a week, or even more, you will need to bring water and enough nonperishable food for every day. You will need to stay hydrated and eating well for the energy to complete a hike at this place. Tents and backpacks filled with things are not needed if you only plan to go a small distance for a less than a day trip.

Guides are always required before you start to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. There are many types of guided tours here. You can sign up for one person to take you to the top or a person can join a group that has multiple guides who can help with different things. Some guides will take you to the top of the mountain without speaking for the person who wants to feel alone where a solo hike is not permitted. Many of these tours also offer rentals for gear and jackets although renting gear can end up with you receiving a ripped sleeping bag or even worse.  You can find a guide on Mount Kilimanjaro to take you to the top or even just an hour long tour to learn about the area.

After you decide when, where and how you will take on this hike it is time to pack the bag and set out on this epic adventure. Remember that this is the tallest mountain in the world that you can hike to the peak so just be prepared. Water and food for every day of the trip will be needed with all the clothing and gear you have. Talking to a guide and doing a little reading will help ensure you the ability to create a checklist of the things needed. Setting out on Mount Kilimanjaro for an adventure can be just the thing for relaxation and getting in touch with nature.

I’ll leave you with an amazing video showing the beauty of Kilimanjaro:

Enjoying the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally

sturgisThe Sturgis Motorcycle Rally takes place in the state of South Dakota. During the first week of August, Sturgis, South Dakota comes alive with bikers and motorcycle lovers from all over the world. This has happened every year since all the way back in 1938 with the exceptions of the gas shortage during world war two. Racing motorcycles and showing off with stunts are some of the reasons these bikers show up in waves and flocks. Other than competitions and showing off skills and custom bikes, the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is one of the best events in America to meet other riders. Many different biker organizations have representatives and stations for likeminded riders to join a club.

Joining a motorcycle club at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally will help ensure you meet many people who are into the same things. The organizations or associations and clubs for motorcycle riders create a community of bikers who enjoy the same aspects of the activity. The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has a group and area for all types of bikes and all types of riders. You can join a club that specializes in stunt bikes and helps you find competitions for you to show your stuff off in. Cross country clubs are popular at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally for those who love the long ride on an open road.

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has races for all types of bikes all week long during the beginning of August. Take your motorcycle for a quarter mile drag race down a closed off street for some instant fun. A rider can always race laps around a track to see who is faster. Some of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally races include a hill climb. Motorcycle racing uphill over stumps in the dirt may be a little on the extreme side but it sure is a great sport. For the biker who likes to show off while competing to see who is faster might find a drift race to be satisfactory at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

If you are the type of rider who is more about showing off than going fast or sliding around in the dirt then the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has events for you too. One at a time bikers will ride a wheelie with the front of the bike raised high into the air for as long as possible to see who can get farthest with only one tire on the ground. At night the town of Sturgis, South Dakota is brightened by the glows of thousands of custom lights on so many motorcycles. From a custom one of a kind seat to handle bars specially designed for the hand of the rider, this event has something for every rider out there.

Love this video of the event in 2013:

The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a premium event for any rider. Come to South Dakota for a week of showing off your custom ride. August’s first week a great time to get together with thousands of other bikers for days of racing however your style may be. Join a rally, organization, group or association for motorcycle riders to meet other people just like you. For people who love bikes the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is a must.  This event was started over 70 years ago by a motorcycle club called the Jackpine Gypsies to organize a massive group for races. Over the years this Sturgis Motorcycle Rally has become so large it generates near 800 million dollars for the state of South Dakota every year. Around a quarter of a million dollars of motorcycles are stolen every year here so remember to lock up, be safe and have fun.

Discovering Tunisia

tunisiaFor most of the people in the Western countries, Africa is an unknown and somewhat frightening continent. Before approaching its wild sub Saharan heart, it’s a good idea to explore its nearest and most approachable parts. Tunisia is a country on the Mediterranean Sea, in the extreme north of Africa, just 90 miles away from the Italian island of Sicily.

Tunisia has a long and rich history dating back to the times of Berber tribes and Ancient Carthage which fought the Rome for the domination of the Mediterranean. Since the times of Punic wars between Rome and Carthage the land where modern day Tunisia is located, was dominated by Romans, Arabs, Ottoman Turks and French. Each of these powers influenced the people and culture of Tunisia in its own unique way.

Today, the two most important influences are those of Arabs and Islam, on one hand, and the French colonialism on the other hand. The official language of Tunisia is Arabic, and the most prevalent religion is Islam, with 95 percent of people being Muslims. The French influence is felt mostly in architecture and the fact that French, despite not being an official language, is still widely used in education, business and publications. It’s estimated that 64 percent of Tunisians can speak French. Other languages with significant number of speakers are English and Italian.

Modern nation of Tunisia gained the independence from France in 1956. In 2011, as a part of the Arab Spring, the old autocratic government was overthrown and a young democracy was born. Today Tunisia has 10.8 million people, and it is one of the strongest African economies. Tourism is one of the strongest sectors of Tunisian economy. It suffered somewhat since the beginning of Arab Spring, due to concerns for safety. It’s now recovering slowly, but some caution is still needed and it’s advisable to avoid talking about politics and places where there are protests or demonstrations.

tunisia hotelTunisia is a very popular destination in Europe for summer vacations. No matter what your interest is, you’ll find it in Tunisia. If you just want to relax and re-charge your batteries, there is a wide selection of summer resort cities with comfortable and affordable hotels such as Yasmin Hammamet, Monastir, Sousse, etc. They all provide an excellent opportunity for a typical, relaxed summer vacation, and they are all family friendly as well. If you’re interested in archeology or ancient history, there are many remains of ancient cities, most notably Carthage that is located in the modern day city of Tunis, and cities of Monastir and Sousse, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architecture.

There are also some museums, such as Bardo museum of ancient mosaics. If you have more adventurous spirit you can enjoy safari in the Sahara desert or paragliding. You can also find attractions more geared towards children such as the amusement park called “Carthage Land”. If you are interested in modern Tunisian society and its culture, you will find many interesting sights in any major city, and especially in the capital city Tunis.

The influence of Islam and Arabic culture is mostly felt in the way women dress, the relative absence of women in cafes, and in traditional markets called medinas. In Tunisia it’s considered quite normal for men to stare into women, especially if they expose any part of their skin. For that reason western female tourists sometimes feel uncomfortable. Tunisian women are dressed in a way similar to Western women, but they usually don’t expose any part of their skin, and their hair is usually covered.

Also public life is still considered predominately male domain, so you can’t see many women alone in cafes. Sometimes they are in cafes with their husbands, but it’s also not very common. Arabic markets are still very traditional. You can find bewildering variety of products there, from hookahs, spices, cheap clothes, souvenirs, fruit and vegetables, many small hand-made products or cheap things imported from China.

Bargaining is very common, and if you don’t bargain you can end up paying as much as three times more than what would be a real or fair price. Sellers sometimes base prices on your looks, so if you wear anything expensive, they can automatically double the price.

French influences are very visible in architecture and urbanism. In the touristic cities there are long and broad boulevards, filled with hotels, very similar to promenades in French Riviera. Everything is large and clean and can seem richer than it really is. You can imagine the colonial past where all those cities served as resorts for wealthy French people.

Motorcycling in Utah

utahOne of the best motorcycle adventures a person can have is to travel around what is known as the Mighty Five. This is seven days of riding and 8 nights on the open roads around the state of Utah. Mapped out for a week filled will 300 mile rides each day accompanied with some of the best scenery that America has to offer. You will ride through five massive national parks and around the four corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. This is a trip that can be made alone or in a guided group depending on the preference of the rider. Many routes can be taken to ensure the rider has the best time on their motorcycle adventure.

Taking a guided motorcycle tour around the Mighty Five is the best way to get the most out of the adventure. You can choose to travel the roads leading to the most luxurious hotels and highest rated restaurants if you are the biker that likes to travel in style. For those who are on more of a limited budget, with gas prices and all, you can be shown routes for camping in the National Parks. Most guided tours only travel around 300 miles each day so if you are the type to spend hours upon hours on the open road then you might want to travel alone and map your own route. Many places that help find routes can also help find places to sleep and eat within the budget of the rider.

Picking the route for the motorcycle adventure is important. The Mighty Five can provide more than 2,000 miles of open road for the rider to choose a most fun adventure. To ensure the most out of the trip a rider might even double back to travel the same road twice. A guided tour of the Mighty Five can vary in price depending on what you want. If you need a support vehicle following with emergency supplies as well as meals and water then expect to pay more. These support vehicles can make the adventure millions of times better if the motorcycle you ride does not have saddle bags or other storage. With the chance of having the machine malfunction, this support vehicle can take you and the bike to the nearest shop or even just make waiting for help that much more comfortable.

Whatever you do, just remember to follow the rules of the road and wear a good helmet.  Too often do I see riders with inadequate helmets that will fail at the time of a crash.  If you’re unsure there are sites online to help you find the best motorcycle helmet for your needs.  Don’t forget it!

The Mighty Five is an adventure that will allow a rider to see the wonders of Yellowstone National Park, Beartooth Highway, the Grand Canyon, the Rockies and Sawtooth Mountains. With so much to see in what is usually a seven day adventure, this trip a must for every rider. This is a great way to see some cool things that Mother Nature has to offer or to scare the animals deep into the woods with the massive roar of riders in a large group. The routes range from very easy to extremely difficult. Choosing the right roads and trails for your ride depends on experience and skill level.

With a week of motorcycle riding and more than 2,000 miles to cover, the Mighty Five is a trip for any rider. Passing 300 miles every day gives time for you to observe the National Parks along the way. There are many routes that provide unique opportunities to make the trip even more eventful. Hotels or camping at sites are fun stops along the way while you ride alone on the open roads. If that isn’t your style than you can always travel in a guided group to ensure the most from your motorcycle adventure.  Passing forests, highways and scenic byways this motorcycle trip provides a sight for everyone from the new rider to the expert.