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some answers to random questions about travelling to kenya

2004-02-12 - 9:30 a.m.

Here's my Kenya diary based on my January Raptours trip headed by Bill Clark, author of A Field Guide to the Raptors of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa as well as several other leading guides. Part One can be found right here. Part Two can be found right here. Part Three can be found right here. Part Four is right here. And here's the bird list and the animal list.

giraffe overlooks the nairobi skyline
© 2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

I am by no means an expert on travelling to Africa based on a two week birding trip. I'd like to answer a few questions I've been asked in one convenient place, in case other people have the same questions, but you will need to investigate the current situation for the time and place you are visiting yourself.

steppe eagle
© 2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

Mosquitoes -- just how big and vicious were they?

We saw very few mosquitoes. I bought two spray bottles of concentrated DEET and ended up hauling them back home again. I'm not sure what to make of this fact. Maybe we just got lucky. Or maybe our multi-million dollar "mosquito control" programs in Louisiana have just succeeded in creating more powerful and more abundant strains of mosquito than you find in unsprayed areas. I just don't know.

What about malaria and other tropical diseases?

Malaria is sometimes active outside Nairobi, but it can be prevented by Lariam or doxycycline. If you sunburn easily, or you are prone to yeast infections, or you have had other side effects from long term use of tetracycline-like antibiotics, you are probably not a candidate for doxycycline. One person on our tour did take doxy, and he did sunburn rather vividly to my mind, but he didn't seem bothered by it. People with a history of depression should probably not take Lariam. Take it with food and water, preferably at breakfast rather than dinner, and don't take any weird dreams too seriously. There is a third malaria drug for people who can't take either Lariam or doxy, but it's more expensive and I know very little about it.

You are also supposed to have a yellow fever shot, but no one checked our yellow fever certificate. I'm assuming this means that yellow fever wasn't active during our stay. The shot is good for ten years so the cost can be amortized over several trips if you plan right.

zebra herd
© 2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

How's the food and water?

You can drink tap water in Nairobi, and that's exactly what I did. Contrary to myth and legend, it does not contain enough bacteria or whatever to shake loose any case of traveler's constipation from sitting too long in vehicles bouncing over bumpy roads. I'd been told to bring along plenty of Immodium for the opposite problem, but no one mentioned that I might actually need Ex-Lax instead. Live and learn. The first aid kit will be a little more varied next time.

Since I really never had a chance to hit a drugstore, I followed the Biblical advice of "a little wine for thy stomach's sake" and it really did seem to help. The local beer, Tusker, is served in huge bottles, so even one serving was a bit much for me. You more experienced beer drinkers won't have a problem. But any petite women travellers out there...don't be afraid to pass up the beer in favor of wine. The hotels and game parks serve some surprisingly drinkable South African reds. It wasn't like I was stuck drinking Franzia or something.

The food was British and often East Indian influenced, often very good, and provided in much too abundant quantities. Buffets were common, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. Boxed lunches were mini buffets in themselves, containing sandwiches, cold chicken, hard-boiled egg, cheese, crackers, roll, cake, and a variety of fruit. Whether you were vegetarian or Atkins, you could pick out what you wanted and leave the rest. Our driver then made up food boxes from the leftovers for families in need. I don't think they could reasonably be expected to do much more to cater to all the possible different diets.

© 2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

What about the terrorists?

Well, what about them? I'm a bit annoyed that the same federal government that tells us to go about our business and not to change our plans to travel to New York or Washington continues to recommend that Americans not travel to Kenya. It seems a tad counterproductive. These people are desperately poor, and when camps and roads are closed down for lack of tourists, we are not hurting the terrorists, we are giving them exactly what they want -- a chance to throw the nation back into the 6th century. The majority population in Kenya is Christian. And I'm guessing that most of the Muslim minority also wants peace and prosperity, as reasonable people do everywhere. You will have to keep an eye on news reports and decide for yourself if travel to Kenya is safe at the time you plan to visit, but I'm not going to allow a few woman-hating throwbacks to make my travel decisions for me. OK, rant over. Let's just point out that if you DO go, you can be sure that your money is making a difference to someone's standard of living -- and you are also giving the locals an economic incentive to protect their amazing wildlife and birdlife heritage.

pelican in flight
© 2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

There have been times in the recent past where British Airways cancelled some flights to Nairobi based on potential terrorist threats. It might seem unfair, but I avoided scheduling any legs of my trip on British Airways to minimize my chances of cancellation. You will have to watch the news for yourself to see which airlines are having problems when you plan to visit. But don't stress it. You have the same concerns when planning a trip to Paris or London, and no one hesitates to visit Europe because of the terrorists.

Important legal note: I am not responsible if you get eaten by a lion or blown up by a rocket launcher. Use your common sense, stay home, and get run over by an SUV instead.

warning sign
© by 2004 by Elaine Radford, all rights reserved

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