When Joro travel designer George set off on the two-week family trip to Kenya he’d carefully planned and executed in early 2021, he was prepared for an itinerary full of incredible wildlife interactions, epic scenery and eye-opening cultural experiences. What he didn’t expect was to end up living on the Kenyan coast for an additional month, working remotely for Joro and learning to kite surf during his lunch breaks, a new skill that would forever change the way he travels.
Matthews Mountain Range, Northern Kenya
After we arrived in Nairobi, my parents, sisters and I caught a light aircraft charter straight up to the Matthews Mountain Range in northern Kenya to get stuck into our family holiday. Our first stop was Namunyak Conservancy – home to Kenya’s second largest elephant population – where we checked into Sarara Camp for three nights.
This part of Kenya is simply incredible. The dramatic, craggy peaks of the mountains burst from vast plains of arid bush and thick forest, both dense with diverse wildlife. It’s a little wilder than other parts I’ve visited before, so camps are few and far between, making this a true escape to the wilderness for those wanting to get away from it all and push the boundaries of their safari experience. We spent the bulk of our time out on game drives and walking safaris with our local Samburu guide, who used their intimate knowledge of the land to lead us out each day to see the huge groups of giraffes and elephants that roam, as well as lions, hyenas, leopards and more.
Another wildlife highlight in northern Kenya – and a must for any animal and conservation enthusiasts visiting the region – was our trip to Reteti Elephant Sanctuary. The keepers here educated us on how these elephants come to be orphaned or need rescue, what the sanctuary is doing to help and provide for them, and how things can be improved with further conservation work. I enjoyed seeing the inspirational work that the Samburu keepers have been doing to save elephant lives in an increasingly threatened environment.
While in northern Kenya, we wanted to learn about and understand the traditions and history of the land and the Samburu people that call it home. We got the chance on our visit to the singing wells, an experience that I’ve been able to organise for clients before and was really looking forward to. The terrain here is so arid that the locals have to dig deep wells – some up to 10 metres deep – to get water for their cattle. By creating a human chain, water is brought up to the waiting animals to a chorus of singing, or chanting, to calm the animals and let them know that water is coming. This is an extremely guarded and spiritual ceremony during which, quite rightly, invited guests are not able to take photos or get in the way at all. I felt privileged to be able to share in this experience. We were able to learn about and appreciate the history and lives of the Samburu people – their traditions and gerontocracy, their connection to the land – in a way that felt authentic and respectful. It’s a day that will stick with me forever.
Mara North Conservancy
The next stop on our trip was Mara North Conservancy. Despite being one of the most densely wildlife-populated conservancies in the Mara ecosystem, this is one of the quietest areas in the Masai Mara when it comes to people, as there are only 12 camps – including Ngare Serian where we stayed – and visitor numbers are limited. Our guides took us out each day and we all but had the place to ourselves; we were unlucky if we saw one other vehicle all day.
The game here is spectacular – the North Conservancy is home to over 570 bird species and 95 mammal species, including one of the highest lion densities in the world – but one very special moment that has stuck with me is when we saw a lioness fiercely fight to protect her catch from a pack of cackling hyenas right in front of us. It felt like being part of an Attenborough documentary. Regardless of whether this is your first or 50th safari, the experiences and wildlife interactions available in this area won’t disappoint.
The second half of our Kenyan journey took us to the coast, to the beautiful beach villas of Alfajiri on Diani Beach, where we planned to rest and relax for a week. After early starts and late nights on safari over the past week, we were looking forward to a restful week on the Indian Ocean coast. This is where the trip took a wonderful and unexpected turn.
With the Covid situation worsening back in the UK (who can forget the intensity of winter lockdown 2021) we decided to make the best of our situation and extend our stay on the coast by a month. I set up a makeshift office to get stuck back into my Joro work remotely, and quickly sunk into the new pace of life. My dad and I both decided to try our hands at learning a new skill – his was diving, and mine kitesurfing. After completing my initial course, I spent any spare time I could honing my new skill, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this part of the trip forever changed how I’ll travel in the future. It’s a skill I’ll hopefully take with me for the rest of my life, and every trip I think about now must take into consideration whether I’ll be able to kite surf while I’m there. It’s something I’ve seen more and more from Joro clients wanting to immerse themselves in a new place with the aim of trying to better themselves and prove to themselves that they’re capable of learning a brand new skill.
George is a graduate of UCL where he gained a degree in Economics and Geography. It was during an 8-month stint travelling through South East Asia and South America that he decided to change career paths and work in an industry that he is genuinely passionate about. George takes every opportunity he can to get out and see the world. Having visited over 50 different countries he hopes to see a 100 before he turns 30.