Diani Beach Kenya – It’s been a year since the deadly Nairobi hotel terrorism attack that took 21 lives. Kenya has had its share of terrorism over the past decade, mostly attributed to Al Shabab, an African Islamic group associated with Al Qaeda.
During this same year 40000 people died in the United States from gun-related violence.
I share this comparison not to advocate against guns but to make a point; media accounts of violence around the world create a fear of faraway places, even while violence at home is often just as severe.
It’s a dilemma to decide how to travel safely around the globe. And though we take our personal safety seriously, we do not believe we are in any more danger in Kenya, with its history of terrorist hits, than in the USA, with its history of domestic and international terrorism as well as rampant gun violence.
And so we came to Kenya – specifically Diani Beach Kenya.
Diani Beach Kenya is both a dilemma and a delight. This beautiful coastal town on the Indian Ocean has seen its own share of violence including murder and bombings.
The larger image of Kenya as a violent place over the past decade has been disastrous for the tourism industry, especially in Diani. Like other places we have visited (Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and Central America), war, coups, violent crimes and terrorism – and the media accounts of these- can devastate tourism overnight, and the damage takes decades to recover.
Think about it.
But what of places like Paris, Las Vegas, London or Boston? All places that have had terrorism attacks over the past few years but visitors still flock there. Why do we feel safer from terrorism in a “western” culture?
Diani Beach Kenya, touted as the most beautiful beach in Africa, deserves a chance to rebuild its tourism program. Within the 17 mile stretch of white sandy beach sit several abandoned hotels, bars and even an amusement park – places unable to hold on when the tourists stopped coming.
Today, and particularly during the holiday season when we were visiting, tourism is on an uptick. Europeans from Germany, Scandinavia and Britain were abundant on the beach, in restaurants and bars and in the shopping areas.
Convincing Americans to travel here will take more time, and hopefully there will be no more attacks. Meanwhile we feel safe and happy to have enjoyed this beautiful, affordable and incredibly friendly place.
We want the best for the Kenyan people and our new friends in Diani Beach. Hardworking people who for the most part want jobs to support their families and have a good life. Tourism is the vehicle for that and they want it to thrive once again.
So here are some recommendations from our three weeks in Diani, for you to consider when planning your Kenyan adventure.
Where to stay – Frangipani Cottages – very affordable, beautiful pool and 700 meters to the beach.
Our favorite bars and restaurants – Tiki Bar, Havana Bar, The Edge, Nomad Bar and Restaurant, Kokkos, Java House, Oasis Bar, Salty Squid, Piri Piri.
Namibia quickly became one of my favorite countries for its varied landscape, colorful cultures and interesting history. So although I did not see the entire country, Namibia Part II is an opportunity for me to share a bit about what I saw and learned during my fascinating ten days touring with Wild Wind Safaris. Namibia Part II – Oh the Places You’ll Go.
Only a few years ago Namibia never showed up in articles or blogs about travel destinations. But then all of the sudden there it was – stunning photos of dunes and mountains, animals and oceans. Article after article listing it as a must see destination of 2017 or an out of the way place to see before the crowds of tourists discover it.
The furthest south latitude at which the sun is directly overhead at the solstice.
And so, I wanted to be there. I wanted to see what few people had yet seen. Namibia was high on my list.
Don’t get me wrong – there are plenty of tourists, and plenty of tour operators and companies to help you find your way (check out the company we used and were so happy with: Wild Wind Safaris). But we didn’t meet any other Americans, and 99% of the tourists we met were German. Germans know about this place and flock here, partly because German is spoken here as is English, Afrikaans and tribal languages.
Most visitors come to go on safari in Etosha
National Park and it is a must of any visit to Namibia (see blog here). Etosha is not even remotely as crowded as the safari I did seven years ago in the Serengeti with about a million other people. Etosha was quiet and beautiful and amazing.
Sociable Weaver nest can House up to 200 birds
But a trip to Namibia really needs to include time to see and experience more than Etosha. I’ve come away from the country with an even greater appreciation of the remarkable geology of our earth, and an incredible insight to the importance of preserving cultures and not just objects and nature.
Our guide explains to Arne
Until 1990 Namibia was part of South Africa (and from 1884 until after WWI it was a German colony). Gaining its independence the country has embraced tourism but being such a new country it still has its share of problems. Like many places we have been, government corruption takes much away from the average person and tribal cultures suffer. But the roads were remarkably good (even though Namibia has the highest car accident death rate in the world) and the people we met (mostly in the service industry) were incredibly friendly both with each other and us. In fact some of the friendliest and most genuine people we have met anywhere in our travels are the Namibians. That really hit home. We never felt like we were unsafe or being cheated in anyway – although warnings of pick pockets we took seriously.
Himba women with mud hut
Namibia has 13 ethnic groups scattered about the country and the native people identify with an ancestral tribe even if they no longer live in the region where that group is. Our amazing tour guide “Seven” explained to us some of the differences and he could look at nearly every person and know immediately what ethnic group they were from. Since we didn’t see the entire country we missed learning about most tribes, including the Owambo of the north, the tribe Seven is from.
We did get to learn about two distinctive tribes – the Himba and the Damara as well as a little bit about the Herero, an offshoot of the Himba.
Little Himba girl
Using smoke to “wash” hair
One of my favorite experiences of the entire ten days was our short visit to a special Himba village where we were able to meet Himba women and children. Note the photos of these remarkable people. These are not costumes. This is the way they dress everyday. The hair style is really remarkable, and a female Himba begins wearing this hairstyle at puberty. The adornments are made partially of their real hair and animal hair and are updated every three months. Because of the shortage of water in the north of Namibia where the Himba people are found, they do not bath with water. Instead they daily “wash” their hair with smoke – literally holding their head as well as their underarms over a special perfumed smoke (similar to incense) that keeps bugs and (most) odor away. They also cover their bodies daily with a mixture of butter and ochre as a cleanser and repellant, this is what lends the red tone to their skin.
Me with ten-year old girl
The village we visited was a special place because all the children here are orphans. This is a place where Himba orphans are brought to be raised in the culture of their parents rather than being adopted out of the culture. The women here care for these children as if they are their own and there is a school here too. The people are sustained by raising goats and cattle and they have access to a well so water is available but their bathing customs remain the same.
As we visited the women let us take photos and then they wanted to look at the photos on our phones. They seem to very much like to see themselves in a photo. The women’s first question to us was if we had children. When we said we had grown sons they wanted to know if we had grandchildren. When I said not yet they wanted to know why not? Why had we not yet chosen wives for our sons? My answer that our sons would hopefully marry someday and have kids didn’t seem to satisfy them. Their entire existence and culture is wrapped around family, child-bearing and daily survival.
Once again I am reminded of how many people live every day hand to mouth.
Dancers at Damara village
We did not visit a Herero village but these people endured near genocide by the Germans who wanted their land and intended to eliminate the Herero race to have it and the 1904 Battle of Waterberg ensued. Half of the total Herero population was
killed. Luckily not all were massacred and today the women have developed a very unique dress that is a unique mix of Victorian gown and petticoat and a unique cloth headpiece that is designed to resemble the horns of a cow. Today the Herero people continue a battle in court with the German government for retribution for all they lost during the genocide period.
Damara man building fire
The Damara people, the other tribe we learned about, are the oldest tribe in Namibia. They came from the East and settled in the middle region of the country. This tribe was primarily hunter gatherers and pastoral, raising cattle and sheep and living off the land. The Damara have an incredibly unique language known as “click” language. The language uses a complicated system of mouth and tongue clicks and is very musical and fun to hear. The village we visited was a reproduction of how a village would have looked hundreds of years ago. Where the Himba live in huts made from wood, mud and cow dung, the Damara live in huts made of wood and thatch. The Damara dress was tied to the animals they raised creating clothing from
Damara Medicine Woman
sheepskins. The women use ochre on their cheeks much like we use blush today. Music and dance and making ornamental jewelry and carvings were a big part of their culture, where the women did domestic chores and the men tended the livestock.
Cape Cross Fur Seal colony
Pink Flamingoes in Walvis Bay
The geology and scenery of Namibia is as diverse as its ancient people. The incredibly beautiful red sand dunes of the Sossusvlei region are the oldest dunes in the world and the stark beauty of these dunes is remarkable. The turquoise blue water of the Atlantic Ocean at Swakopmund in contrast provides visitors and locals a cool get-away from the heat of the interior. Here on the Atlantic the fog settles every day and so do thousands and thousands of fur seals, flamingoes and other shore birds. Local seafood is a treat including the KingKlip and Kabaljou two of the most popular and most delicious fish caught locally and served everywhere.
From the ocean heading east within minutes you are back in the arid desert where the welwitschia plant grows – the only region in the world this unusual plant is found and growing as big as ten feet across and living as much as 2000 years I was reminded of Audrey Two in Little Shop of Horrors. The inhospitable environment has little greenery and almost no animals except birds. The valley of the moon and eroding mountain range are desolate yet beautiful in their own way – especially the interesting dolerite dike a natural phenomenon of black sunburnt rock that runs along the ridge of the mountains like the spine of a dragon. This area is home to the largest Uranium mine in the world.
Ancient rock etchings
ANcient rock etchings
Namibia’s storage hunter-gatherers and Bushman (San) people were nomadic and traveled the country wherever the animals were. Their history is written on stones in several regions and we visited two fascinating sights to learn more. The Twyfelfontein site is today a UNESCO Heritage site in the Kuene region. Guides take visitors on a walking tour of the hundreds of rock etchings estimated to be several thousands of years old. The etchings depict animals as well as human footprints and tell a story of the nomad life and the animals they followed for substenance. It is thought this place was both a message board and a spiritual gathering place for thousands of years.
“The White Lady” is the pale figure on the left
Even more amazing though was the preserved painting of “The White Lady” estimated to be 6000 years old. This painting is located in a very remote region of the Brandberg Mountain, Namibia’s highest mountain. It is a two mile hike to visit it. Not as many people see The White Lady because the trek and the heat make it difficult. I’m glad we endured it however in 100 degree temperatures. Very different than the rock etchings, these paintings are preserved because they are inside a cave and out of direct sunlight. Discovered in 1918 and now a protected heritage site, the White Lady is actually not a lady at all. Early anthropologists believed it to be an Egyptian women, but today archeologist know it is a local tribal shaman, painted with the traditional white a shaman would have on his legs and body from dust and mud. The painting includes other human figures and many animals all painted with ochre (red), egg, animals oils, charcoal and blood. The painting has luckily withstood the test of time, although since its discovery humans have touched it and thrown liquid on it to try and see it better and this has deteriorated it. Today though it is protected and can only be reached with a guide who makes sure no one does any damage to it. It was a beautiful and remarkable world heritage site to enjoy.
The Namibian people have a great deal to be proud of and I hope this beautiful country overcomes its problems and finds its strength in the world. It has so much to offer, charm and beauty, history and culture. I will never forget my time here and I can say with all seriousness it is by far my favorite African country of the seven I have been to.
Thank you Namibia. Thank you Wild Wind Safaris. Thank you Seven for showing us your remarkable home.
Once again I am astounded. Astounded by a place I knew so little about. I am so thankful we came to Namibia. Incredible
I know only three people who have been to this country. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was open to the adventure I thought it would provide. And I was not disappointed. Only lightly touched by tourism, Namibia is an astonishingly beautiful place and if you have the means you should see it now – because it will change. It always does.
This is an Oryx
There is so much to share about our ten days here, so I’ve decided two blogs are in order and I am starting with the most obvious and most well-known topic of Namibia – the Etosha National Park and the safari we did there.
Why did the giraffe cross the road?
I did a safari seven years ago in Tanzania with my son and sister, but this was a first for Arne and I really worried he might not get to see all the “big game” safaris are known for; elephants, zebras, lions, giraffes, rhinoceros. I needn’t have worried. Yes, we saw all of those and much, much more.
I booked our tour of Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris about six months ago. The tour was $4500 for the two of us for ten days. We could have seen Namibia on our own without a tour guide, the roads (although often gravel) are very good and easy to get around. But our guide “Seven” (a childhood nickname from his football number) provided us with what we learned to call “African eyes”, and the value of that can not be understated. He knew the answer to all of my endless questions and if he didn’t, he found the answer and got back to me within in minutes. He described
With our guide Seven
plants and geology, politics and population, and of course knew facts about animals and wildlife I would never possibly have known. I highly recommend both Seven and Wild Wind Safaris if you want a great experience in Namibia.
So this tour was an anniversary gift to ourselves and although definitely more than our usual $200 a day budget, it was worth every penny.
At the watering hole
The animals in Etosha National Park are varied and abundant. The park has supplemented the natural watering holes around Etosha with some manmade ones, providing constant water in this arid and hot environment. This way the animals stay within the park boundaries and are protected and visible to the guests.
There are still problems with poachers, who specifically target both the black and white rhinoceros in the park. They kill the animals and then cut off their
The beautiful and endangered black Rhinoceros
horns which are then smuggled and sold in the Chinese market. Although this is entirely illegal it is still a problem Namibia struggles with. In fact park officials regularly sedate and cut off the horns of the animals to keep the poachers from killing them. The horns grow back and are made of a material similar to fingernails so it doesn’t cause the animal pain.
Hunting is against the law throughout Namibia (except on some private game hunting reserves), which has changed the culture of many hunter-gatherer tribes and some of the people are extremely poor. But game is also farmed in Namibia and you will often find farmed
Springbok are abundant
game on the menu. Oryx is very popular and tastes just like beef.
With Seven’s guidance we spent our early morning searching for animals – a great time of day for successful sightings. We then would return to the lodge and relax, maybe take a nap or lay around the pool, before heading out again for a late afternoon game drive. You are not allowed to get out of the vehicle for any reason within the park, so having just Arne and I in the vehicle with Seven gave us lots of ability to view the wildlife and go everywhere in the park.
Zebra is the favorite meal for the lions
My photos tell the story of all the incredible creatures we encountered – but only to a point. It’s hard to describe the thrill of moment and how sudden and spontaneous and unplanned it all can be. So often it would just take your breath away. Let me tell you about a few of my favorite moments;
Our first early morning drive we set out with Seven feeling confident we would find lions. We had been out for about two hours and with his “African Eyes” he spotted the three “boys” he knew were often in the area. These lions cubs were about five months old, still young and cub-like but looking full-grown. We watched them from a distance of about 200 yards trot and gallop purposefully across a field,
ignoring all the animals they usually hunt in the area. They were intent on one thing. Mom. She lay about 30 yards ahead of us on the road. We positioned ourselves and watched in anticipation as the playful and loving reunion took place. The boys happy to be back from whatever adventure they had been on – back with mommy.
This same family we saw several times after that with the magnificent full-maned father (shown in the title photo) proudly watching over his pride. We watched the mating process (in fact got it on video) and these animals truly seemed like a family.
One of the five month old boys
We saw many lions during the rest of our visit but other “cats” were elusive, until one afternoon.
We were exploring several of the water holes in the car but hadn’t seen very many animals. But we noticed that at one water hole the giraffes seemed a bit on alert, staring off into the brush. We watched for a long time but nothing happened so just as we were rolling forward to turn around and leave I spotted a rhino coming out of the trees. So Seven parked the car at an angle where I could get some good photos and we watched. The rhino walked down to the water hole, but never drank – he turned and walked back to the woods. This seemed curious and just then I noticed a lion alone on the other side of the waterhole. “Seven there is a lion” I said. He looked and nearly jumped for
Hard to see from a distance but this is our leopard
joy! “That’s a leopard!” he nearly yelled. “Oh my god a leopard and we are the only ones here at the watering hole!” What a great moment that was. The leopard, though too far to get a really good photo of, was so well camouflaged I couldn’t believe it. He took his time drinking his fill and then quietly disappeared back into the brush. Only then did the rhino return to enjoy his own cool drink. A very rare sighting indeed.
Spotting the endangered Black Rhino was one of my goals as this animal had eluded me when I was in Tanzania. We actually saw many rhinos during our time in Etosha and they are huge, magnificent and very pre-historic looking creatures. But two special moments stand out.
As we were leaving the watering hole and chatting excitedly about our leopard encounter we came around a corner on the dusty gravel road and startled a lone
The beautiful black Rhino at the watering hole after dark
rhino very close to the road. He didn’t like being surprised and he charged our car. I’ll never forget the look on that gigantic creatures face as he lowered his head and charged, while Seven put the car in reverse and I fumbled to get my seatbelt on. He snorted and stared us down but never actually hit the car. Not an animal you want to mess with. Seven told us because he had his head down and was feeding as we came around the corner we had frightened him. Also, because of the poachers these intelligent animals have learned to be wary of vehicles and being snuck up on.
Later that night Arne and I went to the watering hole near our lodge. This hole is designed with night vision lighting that does not bother the animals, but allows people to view the animals from seats at a distance. Every night we went to see what was happening at the watering hole, and on this special night a mama rhino arrived with a teeny little baby.
Giraffe taking a sip
Watching the two of them, never more than a few inches from each other, was a special sight.
For as important as water is to all these animals, watching the effort it takes a giraffe to have a long cool drink is astonishing. Giraffes cannot hold their head down for very long because it cuts off their blood flow. It also puts them in a very vulnerable position to predators, so a giraffe takes a long time to consider its surrounding before finally spreading its long and skinny legs wide and dipping its camel-like face into the water. What a strange and beautiful beast.
Speaking of strange and beautiful, I have saved my favorite animal for last. We saw every animal from Impala to Zebra, Ostrich to Wildebeast, Jackal to Hyena, Warthog to
Tortoise and hundreds of birds. But my favorite always is the intelligent, magnificent, domestic and loving elephant. And we saw so many and have many memorable moments:
The elephant throws mud on itself in an effort to keep cool and keep off the insects. This creates what is known either as a white elephant or a black elephant depending on the mud. We watched as elephants sprayed the mud and played in the water. We saw elephants nearly pure white amongst the green leaves, we saw
My favorite photo of this bull at sunset
white elephants as the sun set looking just like a white concrete statue.
The younger male elephants (bachelors) roam together while the older males usually are associated with a matriarchal group, but don’t spend time together. The matriarchal group is made up of females and babies and “teenagers”. The male teens leave the group at about 15 years. The female elephants spend all their life together. Once again the watering hole provided us a spectacular venue to witness
these family ties.
One evening we arrived at the watering hole to find two males – one much older than the other. We watched as the younger male began vocalizing as the matriarchal group made its way out of the trees. The older male took this as his cue to exit right, while the younger male greeted both vocally and physically each female as she came near the water hole. The younger male, clearly part of this family, then left the females and youngsters to enjoy the water as he went on his way.
On another evening at the watering hole we watched a small fox running across the sand directly towards a giant elephant drinking. As the fox neared the feet of the elephant he reared up and sprayed water all over the fox – clearly showing who is the boss. The poor little fox scampered away.
The morning we were leaving the park, we had already checked out of our room and only gone about 100 yards down the road and Seven spotted elephants in the distance – with a brand
Our final sighting. Perfect.
new baby in tow. We turned immediately around and headed back to the lodge and the watering hole where we watched for twenty minutes as this new mother, another small male and this itsy bitsy newborn, no more that two or three days old, drank. The baby wanted to wallow around and the mama kept him near to her and out of the mud. Seven told us this was a young female, younger than usually reproduce, probably about ten years old. But she seemed to have a good maternal instinct and watching this
A front row seat
little group was a joyful and satisfying way to end our time in Etosha.
This blog was long, but we had such a great experience in Etosha and in Namibia. I hope you enjoyed reading about it. I’ll be writing more soon, about the people and places of this unique country, but in the meantime, the lion sleeps tonight.
It was a tough travel day. Maybe as I’m getting older those days are getting harder? Long travel days can take a toll, and some days on the Grand Adventure just aren’t Grand.
No flights direct to Namibia from Morocco. We flew from Casablanca to Doha Qatar. The nine-hour flight was fine. Full plane but 787 is a nice plane so comfortable. Three hour layover in Doha was fine. Eleven hour flight from Doha to Windhoek Namibia, also a 787, was strangely empty. So we
Welcome to Namibia
could stretch out and sleep. But then Arne started to feel poorly, and then really sick.
My husband never gets sick – it’s always me.
Landed in very hot Windhoek and began the six-hour drive on gravel road to our desert lodge. When we arrived at the beautiful lodge Arne immediately went to bed. Where he stayed for the next 24 hours.
Meanwhile I go to dinner with our guide (whose name is Seven)and the two other guests who are with us for only the first three days. We enjoyed
Our cabin at the beautiful Agama River lodge
dinner and a lovely native song and dance by the staff.
Woke up at 5:00am for our tour to the UNESCO site of the Namib Desert dunes but Arne was still sick. So I head off on the tour. About an hour down the road I am hit with a wave of nausea, cold sweat and shakes. We pull over and I dash behind a bush. Ugh.
Seven decides to take me a half an hour back to a clinic so I can rest there while they continue with
At the clinic
the tour. I felt bad and didn’t want the other guests to miss the tour so this seemed like a good solution. We were lucky to be near this clinic as the next one was hundreds of miles away.
I was the only person at the clinic where I was given some drugs for stomach virus and tucked into bed where I slept for nearly six hours before being retrieved by Seven and returned to the lodge. I found Arne still in bed but awake.
Now that we are feeling better, looking forward to seeing lots of wildlife
So we did not get to see the famous dunes, the world’s oldest. And we did not get to celebrate our wedding anniversary. But sometimes shit happens. We are still both not 100% but are eating again and back on the tour. Lots more to see in the next week so happy to be on the mend.
Mama said there would be days like this. Welcome to Namibia!
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