For me this was a trip of firsts. First trip that included a long haul flight. First trip going solo. First trip outside of Eurpose. First time overlanding. First time camping. When I got to Heathrow airport I sat in the departure lounge and wondered what madness had overcome me. But I am so glad that I went; I have been back two months now and still not a day goes by that my mind doesn't wander back to East Africa.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
Naturally, the mountain gorillas were truly magical. I was fortunate enough to get to track the Susa group (one of the largest families), and they certainly don't disappoint! You soon forget how hard the trek up there is when you finally get to see them and spend the next hour pinching yourself to make sure that you're not dreaming.
I did find the Masai Mara almost equally enthralling, it holds a different kind of magic from the gorillas. If you are into your wildlife (which I am assuming you are, beings you've clicked on this trip), the Masai Mara will give you so much to look at, that you simply won't know which way to turn. We saw a whole herd of elephants on our first afternoon drive and a mother lioness with two cubs. Then the next days full game drive we managed to see four of the big five (unfortuneately never got to see the elusive leopard!)
I would recommend doing the balloon trip if you can make your budget stretch that far, particularly if there are other members of the group doing it, it adds that extra little something if you are all going together as a group to enjoy it together.
I'm going to sound a little odd when I say this, but I actually really enjoyed the longer drives that we had. These seem to be a problem point for many, however for me, sitting looking out of the window and taking in the sights and sounds of the places that we were passing through only added to the experience. One of the recurring images of the trip that never fails to put a smile on my face is the children running through the fields alongside the road, waving and shouting "Mzungu! Mzungu!"
- What did you think of your group leader?
I have to admit, after seeing all the rave reviews about Often on the website, I was a little disappointed when his name was not on my welcome email. However, I couldn't imagine doing the trip with any leader other than Jacob and the rest of the crew now!
Jacob was absolutely lovely for the entire length of the tour, he always managed to make us laugh or smile, even when the mood on the trip had taken a turn for the worse (and the group weren't always easy to keep happy!) His knowledge of the countries from the wildlife to the politics was in depth and interesting, and he never seemed to tire of any questions that we could throw at him! I was particularly nervous about the trip and am naturally quite quiet, it took me a little while longer than others to settle in and adjust. Jacob picked up on my nerves within a couple of days, I remember him sitting with me at dinner one evening and unobtrusively making sure that I was alright and happy. I will always be grateful for this, it warmed the cockles of my heart!
I must of course also mention the rest of the crew: Peter, Jimmy and Odoyo as they were all equally as wonderful. I will forever be in awe of Odoyo's skill in manouvering that massive truck through some of the difficult terrain we encountered in Lake Nakuru National Park! Peter and Jimmy kept us well fed and even offered a few snippets of Swahili lessons over breakfast (to various levels of success). I can't fault a single one of them on any aspect of the trip.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
I went on this trip prepared in my mind for 'very' basic amenities indeed, and found myself to be pleasantly surprised. However there are others who were shocked in the other direction. It all depends on your own personal perspective and expectations. Please don't go expecting a hot shower every morning and electricity available at every turn, you will be disappointed!
When buying my sleeping bag, I didn't pay much attention to anything bar the pricetag (silly budget!) and I found that I got extremely cold at night in some places as a result. Shivering in a two man tent for hours on end does not lend itself to a good nights sleep, especially when you have a 5:30 wake up and a walk around a wet campsite with flip flops on! I really enjoyed the camping aspect of the trip (I would have spent the whole trip in a tent) but wished that I had payed more attention to my gear beforehand.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
I was very nervous about the trip in general before I left, particularly in regards to safety. I am a young female, and look even younger still (some people on the trip later admitted that they wondered if I was old enough to be on it!) However there was not a point on the trip where I felt unsafe at all.
If you feel that this trip may be for you, then just go for it! You won't regret a thing.