Traveling Solo With A Sense Of Adventure

Into Africa. Two Trips, 15 Years Apart


Kara Gerson is the Executive Director of Voss Foundation, a charity dedicated to providing clean water access to Sub-Saharan African communities and raising awareness of the ongoing need in that region.

As our Guest Editor this week, she shares with us her diaries from two trips to Kenya. The first was made with her parents 15 years ago. The second trip in 2011 was in conjunction with her work for Voss Foundation. The two diaries she quotes from reveal both the changes in her and in the region. Part one of each diary appears this week. Part two will appear next week.



December 19-20, 1996

Left school early. Flew overnight to London. I am so tired! It’s really cold and rainy. But I still think I might rather stay here in civilization than go to Africa… I’m a little scared. Spent the day in town, went  back to Gatwick and left for 12-hour flight to Kenya.  Watched “Independence Day.”

December 21

Arrived in Nairobi, met Enoch, our guide. Drove around Nairobi, bought tons of bottled water because we can’t drink the water here. Nairobi is crowded and hot! All these people tried to sell stuff to us. Drove to Delamere in the Rift Valley. It is so beautiful! There’s a lake with flamingoes, gorgeous views. Staying in a hut-thing with a concrete floor with a sort of tent on top and a normal, nice bathroom in the back. Had lunch, tea, passion fruit juice – yum! Afternoon game drive. Hiked to watch sunset and eat appetizers at the top – they called it a “sundowner.” They served us impala, as we watched lives ones running in front of us! Ew. Nighttime game drive: saw buffalo, Thompson’s gazelle, impala and more. Dinner. When we got back, there was a hot water bottle in my bed – so nice!

December 22

Brushed our teeth with bottled water. It’s not even like Mexico – you can’t use water for anything! Left Rift Valley, saw coffee and tea plantations. We crossed equator 3 times!… Drove to Lewa Downs. Afternoon game drive: giraffe, zebra, Grant’s Gazelle, elephants, warthogs, monkeys, birds. Sat around campfire with people who told us about a rhino who lives there and his name means “he who cannot be trusted” in Swahili. His horn was cut off because he was too violent and now lives here! Scary!

December 25 – Christmas!

[Arusha] Chanting from the nearby mosque woke us up at like 5AM. A little different than Christmas morning at [my grandparents’]. Met Hegai, our new guide… Drove to Tarangire National Park. Beautiful! Hot! Too many tze-tze flies!!! Drove to campsite. Gorgeous sunset. Dinner: Estome made a Christmas cake for us – yum! Shared a tent with [my brother]: it’s really nice, they set it all up for us and we have real beds and chairs and tables. Mom and Dad have a tent and then there’s a shower tent, a latrine tent, and a dining tent. Estome is the cook and we have two helpers: Adam and Abu. They are really nice and they set up camp for us every day and boil water for our showers and washing and everything else (you have to boil water for everything here!) but Mom still makes us brush our teeth with bottled water and I can never get all the toothpaste out at the end – ew. But it’s really nice otherwise.

December 27 – Dad’s birthday!

Up at 6 for game drive. Not as buggy. Saw elephants shake a tree to get berries out. Afternoon game drive: more lions. FLIES! Saw a plover showing off – it was really funny. Rest, sunset, dinner. Estome made Daddy a birthday cake. I can’t believe they do all of this amazing cooking and baking at a campsite, especially when you have to boil water for every, every little thing…

December 29

Got up early to see 2 tribes in the area. First tribe were hunters: we saw where the women got water, went with the men to shoot a dik-dik and brought it back to cook. Saw how they make fire with sticks! And how they make arrowheads. Second tribe we visited were gatherers: women were half-naked, they thought my braces were funny. Huts were very small but… the women were very proud of them! Back to camp for lunch. Left for Ngorogoro Crater. Ngorogoro is the 2nd biggest caldera in the world!


January 20, 2011JFK – AMS – NBO. I love flying through Schipol – seriously best airport for transfers in Europe. Small, clean, good food and services, plus they have an XpressSpa. Can’t believe I’m going back to Kenya after 15 years… Arrived at Kenyatta Airport – seems much more modern than I remember! Jambo, Kenya!January 21

Met Cecilie and Anette [Voss Foundation European Representatives] and the Women Helping Women donors back at the airport… Flew to Laikipia, to the home of some Voss Foundation donors who have invited us there to acclimate before heading up to Samburuland. It’s especially good for the donors, many of whom have never been to a developing country before, so that the next part of the trip isn’t as much of a shock. It’s amazing – the guest houses are just like I remember all the tented camps were! Even down to the hot water bottles in the bed! But instead of sharing a “hut” with my brother, I am bunking with Anette.

January 22

…Shopped for crafts in Nanyuki – the most beautiful kikoys, bracelets, etc. I think our group may have bought out the town! At least we’re helping the local economy! Cecilie, Anette and I wonder if we couldn’t sell some of the crafts back in Oslo and New York as a Voss Foundation fundraiser… There is a rescued cheetah cub back at the ranch. I think I am in love… “Lala salama:” one of my favorite Swahili phrases that I remember from 15 years ago – it means “good night!”

January 23

…I can now say I’ve had my Jeep charged by an elephant twice! Can’t believe this happened again… Not any less scary the second time! Can’t wait to tell my family. We met a pet elephant at the neighbors’ that was much nicer though, and he let us sit on him! A great VF team photo!… Very impressed that I can still remember some Swahili! Sundowner cocktails as good as I remember them; sunsets even better. Anette and I could not keep the fire going in our cabin to save our lives… how are we going to make it out there in the bush??

January 24

Flight north: the ladies let me ride co-pilot! It is just unbelievable flying so low over the drought-ravaged landscape. I could see so many dried riverbeds and eroded patches – from above, you can literally see the distances from the communities to the rivers where they get water. Arrived in Samburuland. Warm “karibu” (welcome) from Helen and Pete, [the directors of our partner, Milgis Trust]. Lunch at their base camp; most incredible views of the dried Milgis riverbed (the Milgis “lugga”), that we’ll be walking on for the next 5 days. Set off walking to our first campsite – there are no roads here, and it’s too dangerous to drive, so we have to walk all the way to Ndonyo Nasipa [site of our 2010 Women Helping Women water project]. The guides and campmates follow us with camels carrying all of our stuff. Everyone got a walking stick, to help us on our trek. The sticks are made by Samburu and are decorated with beautiful beads. Got to camp… No latrine tent – just a shovel and a roll of toilet paper on a branch; no shower tent – a bag of boiled water hung from another branch. I’ve camped a bit before, so I think I can handle it. But I hope the donors can! It is so quiet and peaceful here…

January 25

Some coffee and a quick bite, and we were off walking in time to see the sun start to rise. It is unbelievably beautiful and serene. We’re just walking along the Milgis lugga, it’s like the freeway – we kept passing Samburu people going about their daily routines, walking their animals on the riverbanks, crowded around water holes, etc. Already terribly hot by 9 or 10AM when we stopped for a real breakfast, but too hot to eat much. These long walks are a great opportunity to talk to Helen, Pete, and the rest of the Milgis Trust crew about our projects – nice setting for business meetings! A little after noon, we came to our campsite – it gets too hot to walk at all! Everyone fell asleep in the shade immediately! Woke up and sat around with Helen and Pete, who told us so much about the lives of the Samburu, Turkana, and Rendille tribes in the area that they work with. It amazes me how people thrive in these conditions we consider so difficult. It’s always a good thing to be reminded of how lucky we are in developed countries…


To be continued….

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