Lonely planet guide to kenya


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Lonely planet guide to kenya

  1. 1. LONELY PLANET GUIDE TO KENYAPLACES TO SEELake MagadiThe most southerly of the Rift Valley lakes in Kenya, Lake Magadi is rarely visited by tourists because ofits remoteness, although it actually makes an easy day trip if you have a vehicle. The most mineral-rich ofthe soda lakes, it is almost entirely covered by a thick encrustation of soda that supports many birdspecies and gives the landscape a weird lunar appearance.A causeway leads across the most visually dramatic part of this strange landscape to a viewpoint on thewestern shore. Its worth a drive if you have a 4WD, otherwise you can head to the hot springs furthersouth. The springs arent particularly dramatic, but you can take a dip in the deeper pools, and there arelarge numbers of fish there that have adapted to survive in the hot water. You may run into localtribesmen, particularly Maasai, who will offer to show you the way and demonstrate everything for you fora fee.Hells Gate National ParkHells Gate is an experience indeed. The park is truly unique, as it allows you to walk or cycle unguidedacross its breadth. Sure you can still drive, but why would you? Senses are heightened tenfold whenyoure face to face with grazing zebras, towering giraffes, galloping gazelles and massive elandantelopes.Theres a 22km (13mi) round trip that can be done by car, bike or foot in a day, or you can hike off thebeaten track along the Buffalo Circuit. Camping is highly recommended.Kakamega Forest ReserveThis superb small slab of virgin tropical rainforest is home to a huge variety of birds and animals and isbecoming particularly popular with independent travellers. The wildlife is a major attraction, especially thebirdlife, with more than 330 species recorded. Tribal practices in the forest, such as circumcision rituals,persist.Official guides, trained by the Kakamega Biodiversity Conservation and Tour Operators Association, arewell worth the money. Not only do they prevent you from getting lost (many of the trail signs are missing),but most are excellent naturalists who can recognise birds by call alone and provide information aboutnumerous animals.
  2. 2. Gede RuinsThe Gede ruins are one of the principal historical monuments on the Kenyan coast. Hidden away in theforest, the ruins are a vast complex of houses, palaces and mosques, made all the more mysterious bythe fact that there are no records of Gedes existence in any historical texts.Excavations have uncovered Ming Chinese porcelain and glass, and glazed earthenware from Persia,indicating not only trade links, but a taste for luxury among Gedes Swahili elite. Within the compound areruins of ornate tombs and mosques including the regal ruins of a Swahili palace.Masai Mara National ReserveThis world-renowned reserve, which stretches over 1510 sq km (938 sq mi) of open rolling grasslands, isbacked by the spectacular Esoit Oloololo (Siria) Escarpment, watered by the Mara River and littered withan astonishing amount of wildlife.Of the big cats, lions are found in large prides everywhere, and it is not uncommon to see them hunting.Cheetahs and leopards are less visible, but still fairly common. Elephants, buffalos, zebras and hipposalso exist in large numbers.The ultimate attraction is undoubtedly the annual wildebeest migration in July and August, when millionsof these ungainly beasts move north from the Serengeti. While youre more likely to see endless columnsgrazing or trudging along rather than dramatic TV-style river fordings, it is nonetheless a staggeringexperience.EVENTSKenyas most spectacular annual event is organised by an unlikely group - wildebeests. Literally millionsof these ungainly antelopes move en masse in July and August from the Serengeti in search of lushgrass. They head south again around October. The best place to see this phenomenon is at the MasaiMara National Reserve. Kenyas more orthodox annual events include public holidays such as KenyattaDay (20 October) and Independence Day (12 December).PRE-DEPARTURE INFORMATIONWhen to go?The main tourist season is in January and February, since the hot, dry weather at this time of year isgenerally considered to be the most pleasant. Its also when Kenyas birdlife flocks to the Rift Valley lakesin great numbers. June to September could be called the shoulder season as the weather is still dry. Therains hit from March to May (and to a lesser extent from October to December). During these monthsthings are much quieter - places tend to have rooms available and prices drop. The rains generally dontaffect travellers ability to get around.
  3. 3. If youre planning to visit Lamu, you might want to time your visit to coincide with the centuries-old MaulidFestival.Travel Visa OverviewVisas are now required by almost all visitors to Kenya, including Europeans, Australians, NewZealanders, Americans and Canadians, although citizens from a few smaller Commonwealth countriesare exempt. Visas are valid for three months from the date of entry and can be obtained upon arrival atJomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi.Its also possible to get visas from Kenyan diplomatic missions overseas, but you should apply well inadvance, especially if youre doing it by mail. Visas are usually valid for entry within three months of thedate of issue. Applications for Kenyan visas are simple and straightforward in Tanzania and Uganda, andpayment is accepted in local currency. Visas can also be issued on arrival at the land borders withUganda and Tanzania.Electricity240V50HzElectrical PlugsBritish-style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding bladeHEALTH INFORMATIONMeningococcal meningitisNot every headache is likely to be meningitis. There is an effective vaccine available which is oftenrecommended for travel to epidemic areas. Generally, youre at pretty low risk of getting meningococcalmeningitis, unless an epidemic is ongoing, but the disease is important because it can be very seriousand rapidly fatal. You get infected by breathing in droplets coughed or sneezed into the air by sufferers or,more likely, by healthy carriers of the bacteria. Youre more at risk in crowded, poorly ventilated places,including public transport and eating places. The symptoms of meningitis are fever, severe headache,neck stiffness that prevents you from bending your head forward, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light,which makes you prefer the darkness. With meningococcal meningitis, you may get a widespread, blotchypurple rash before any other symptoms appear. Meningococcal meningitis is an extremely seriousdisease that can cause death within a few hours of you first feeling unwell. Seek medical help withoutdelay if you have any of the symptoms listed earlier, especially if you are in a risk area. If youve been inclose contact with a sufferer its best to seek medical advice.
  4. 4. TyphoidAlso known as enteric fever, Typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers,especially when theyre working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is causedby a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease. Thesymptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feelsvery similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confusedwith malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow forsomeone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains.You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Othersymptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur inabout one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of thegut contents into the abdominal cavity. Seek medical help for any fever (38C and higher) that does notimprove after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics arethe mainstay of treatment.HepatitisSeveral different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms inall forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains,followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces,jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes. Hepatitis A is transmitted by contaminatedfood and drinking water. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting,drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. Hepatitis E is transmitted in the same way ashepatitis A; it can be particularly serious in pregnant women. Hepatitis B is spread through contact withinfected blood, blood products or body fluids, for example through sexual contact, unsterilised needles(and shaving equipment) and blood transfusions, or contact with blood via small breaks in the skin. Thesymptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problemssuch as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. Hepatitis C and D are spread inthe same way as hepatitis B and can also lead to long-term complications. There are vaccines againsthepatitis A and B, but there are currently no vaccines against the other types. Following the basic rulesabout food and water (hepatitis A and E) and avoiding risk situations (hepatitis B, C and D) are importantpreventative measures.CholeraThis diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibriocholerae. Its transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of thedisease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans andshellfish, which get infected via sewage. Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personalhygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water inconditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
  5. 5. The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and fivedays. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. Its characteristically described as ricewaterdiarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, butfever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is theworst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form. Its a self-limiting illness,meaning that if you dont succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment. Youshould seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts.You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most importanttreatment strategy in cholera. Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafoodand having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as itprovides only limited protection for a short time.MalariaThis occurs throughout Kenya, even in Nairobi and other moderately high-altitude areas. It is alwaysextremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms rangefrom fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health.Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly becomemore serious and can be fatal. If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment.You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you. If you docontract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malariaparasites in your body even if you are symptom free. Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites atall times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleevedshirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse ofDEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten bydisease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave; use a mosquito net impregnated withmosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own, and impregnating clothes withpermethrin effectively deters mosquitoes and other insects.Schistosomiasis (bilharzia)Also known as bilharzia, this disease is carried in freshwater by tiny worms that enter through the skinand attach themselves to the intestines or bladder. The first symptom may be tingling and sometimes alight rash around the area where the worm entered. Weeks later, a high fever may develop. A generalunwell feeling may be the first symptom, or there may be no symptoms. Once the disease is established,abdominal pain and blood in the urine are other signs. The infection often causes no symptoms until thedisease is well established (several months to years after exposure), and damage to internal organs isirreversible. Avoid swimming or bathing in freshwater where bilharzia is present. Even deep water can beinfected. If you do get wet, dry off quickly and dry your clothes as well. A blood test is the most reliabletest, but it will not show positive until a number of weeks after exposure.
  6. 6. Yellow feverYellow fever is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. There is an effective vaccine againstyellow fever, so if you have been immunised, you can basically rule this disease out. Symptoms of yellowfever range from a mild fever which resolves over a few days to more serious forms with fever, headache,muscle pains, abdominal pain and vomiting. This can progress to bleeding, shock and liver and kidneyfailure. The liver failure causes jaundice, or yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes - hence thename. Theres no specific treatment but you should seek medical help urgently if you think you haveyellow fever.HIV/AIDSHIV (Human Immuno-deficiency Virus) develops into AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome),which is a fatal disease. Any exposure to blood, blood products or body fluids may put the individual atrisk. The disease is often transmitted through sexual contact or dirty needles - body piercing,acupuncture, tattooing and vaccinations can be potentially as dangerous as intravenous drug use. HIVand AIDS can also be spread via infected blood transfusions, but blood supplies in most reputablehospitals are now screened, so the risk from transfusions is low. If you do need an injection, ask to seethe syringe unwrapped in front of you, or take a needle and syringe pack with you. Fear of HIV infectionshould not preclude treatment for any serious medical conditions. Most countries have organisations andservices for HIV-positive folk and people with AIDS. For a list of organizations divided by country, plusdescriptions of their services, seewww.aidsmap.com.WEATHER INFORMATIONWith pleasant overall conditions all year round, Kenyas southern highlands and coastal lowlands see littlevariation in conditions; each has a wet season between March and May and a second one in Novemberand December. Temperatures are consistent throughout the year and cool for an equatorial region,ranging from high 20°Cs to low 30°Cs (80°Fs to low 90°Fs) on the coast, dropping slightly inland and thenraising again closer to Lake Victoria.HISTORY AND CULTURECultureThere are more than 70 tribal groups among the Africans in Kenya. Distinctions between many of themare blurred - western cultural values are becoming more ingrained and traditional values aredisintegrating. Yet, even though the average Kenyan may have outwardly drifted away from tribaltraditions, the first question asked when two of them meet is What tribe are you from?.English and Swahili are the languages taught throughout the country, but there are many other triballanguages. These include Kikuyu, Luhia, Luo and Kikamba as well as a plethora of minor tribal tongues.Its useful for the traveller to have a working knowledge of Swahili, especially outside the urban areas and
  7. 7. in remote parts of the country. Another language youll come across is Sheng, spoken almost exclusivelyby the younger members of society. A fairly recent development, Sheng is a mixture of Swahili andEnglish along with a fair sprinkling of other languages.Most Kenyans outside the coastal and eastern provinces are Christians of one sort or another, while mostof those on the coast and in the eastern part of the country are Muslim. Muslims make up some 30% ofthe population. In the more remote tribal areas youll find a mixture of Muslims, Christians and those whofollow their ancestral tribal beliefs.Kenyans love to party, and the music style known as benga is the contemporary dance music that rules. Itoriginated among the Luo people of western Kenya and became popular in the area in the 1950s. Somewell-known exponents of benga include Shirati Jazz, Victoria Kings, Globestyle and the Ambira Boys. Ifyoure not a jive bunny, your most likely experience of Kenya is the 1985 movie Out of Africa, starringMeryl Streep and Robert Redford.Kenyan cuisine generally consists of stodge filler with beans or a meat sauce. Its really just survivalfodder for the locals - maximum filling-up potential at minimum cost. If you had to name a national dish inKenya,nyama choma (barbecued meat, usually goat), would probably be it. Kenyan food is not exactlydesigned for gourmets - or vegetarians. Beer drinkers, on the other hand, are well supplied. Kenyans lovetheir beer almost as much as their dancing and theres a thriving local brewing industry.Pre-20th Centure HistoryThe first of many human footprints to be stamped on Kenyan soil were left way back in 2000 BC bynomadic Cushitic tribes from Ethiopia. A second group followed around 1000 BC and occupied much ofcentral Kenya. The rest of the ancestors of the countrys medley of tribes arrived from all over thecontinent between 500 BC and AD 500. The Bantu-speaking people (such as the Gusii, Kikuyu, Akambaand Meru) arrived from West Africa while the Nilotic speakers (Maasai, Luo, Samburu and Turkana) camefrom the Nile Valley in southern Sudan. As tribes migrated throughout the interior, Muslims from theArabian Peninsula and Shirazis from Persia (now Iran) settled along the East African coast from the 8thcentury AD onwards.Drawn by the whiff of spices and money, the Portuguese started sniffing around in the 15th century. Afterventuring further and further down the western coast of Africa, Vasco da Gama finally rounded the Capeof Good Hope and headed up the continents eastern coast in 1498. Seven years later, the Portugueseonslaught on the region began. By the 16th century, most of the indigenous Swahili trading towns,including Mombasa, had been either sacked or occupied by the Portuguese - marking the end of the Arabmonopoly of the Indian Ocean trade. The Portuguese settled in for a long period of harsh colonial rule,playing one sultan off against another. But their grip on the coast was always tenuous because theiroutposts had to be supplied from Goa in India. Control of the coast was won back by the Arabs in 1720.The remainder of the 18th century saw the Omani dynasties from the Persian Gulf dug in along the EastAfrican coast. The depredations of the Portuguese era and constant quarrels among the Arab governorscaused a decline in trade and prosperity, which meant that economic powerhouses such as Britain andGermany werent interested in grabbing a slice of East Africa until about the mid-19th century.
  8. 8. With Europeans suddenly tramping all over Africa in search of fame and fortune, even Kenyasintimidating interior was forced to give up its secrets to outsiders. Until the 1880s, the Rift Valley and theAberdare highlands remained the heartland of the proud warrior tribe, the Maasai. By the late 19thcentury, years of civil war between the Maasais two opposing factions had weakened the tribe. Diseaseand famine had also taken their toll. This opened the way for the English to negotiate a treaty with theMaasai laibon (chief, or spiritual leader) and begin work on the Mombasa-Uganda railway - which cutstraight through the Maasai grazing lands. The halfway point of this railway is roughly where Nairobistands today.It was downhill from here for the Maasai. As white settlers demanded more fertile land, the Maasai wereherded into smaller reserves. The Kikuyu, a Bantu agricultural tribe from the highlands west of Mt Kenya,also had vast tracts of land ripped from under their feet.Modern HistoryWhite settlement in the early 20th century was initially disastrous, but - once they bothered to learn a littleabout the land - the British succeeded in making their colony viable. Other European settlers soonestablished coffee plantations and by the 1950s the white-settler population had reached about 80,000.With little choice left but to hop on the economic hamster wheel created by the Europeans, tribes such asthe Kikuyu nonetheless maintained their rage. Harry Thuku, an early leader of the Kikuyu politicalassociation, was duly jailed by the British in 1922. His successor, Johnstone Kamau (later JomoKenyatta) was to become independent Kenyas first president.As opposition to colonial rule grew, the Kenya African Union (KAU) emerged and became strident in itsdemands. Other such societies soon added their voices to the cry for freedom, including the Mau Mau,whose members (mainly Kikuyu) vowed to drive white settlers out of Kenya. The ensuing Mau MauRebellion ended in 1956 with the defeat of the rebels. The death toll stood at over 13,500 Africans - MauMau guerrillas, civilians and troops - and just over 100 Europeans.Kenyatta spent years in jail or under house arrest but was freed in 1961 and became leader of thereincarnated KAU, the Kenya African National Union (KANU). He ushered in independence on 12December 1963, and under his presidency the country developed into one of Africas most stable andprosperous nations. Kenyatta was succeeded after his death in 1978 by Daniel Arap Moi, a member ofthe Tugen tribe.Mois rule was characterised by nepotism, rifts and dissension. He took criticism badly and as a resultoversaw the disbanding of tribal societies, disrupted universities and harassed opposition politicians. Acoup attempt by the Kenyan Air Force in 1982 was put down by forces loyal to Moi. With the winds ofdemocratic pluralism sweeping Africa in the late 1980s and early 1990s, international aid for Mois Kenyawas suspended.The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and major aid donors demanded that repressioncease and Mois political stranglehold ease. He conceded ground, but much to his delight, the oppositionin the 1993 election shot itself in the foot - The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was
  9. 9. unable to agree on a leader. By splitting into three parties, FORDs much-vaunted cause becamehopeless. Moi, the beneficiary of his oppositions vanity, won with just one-third of the vote.In 1995, a new party was launched in an attempt to unite the splintered opposition. The party was Safina,founded by Richard Leakey, famed anthropologist, elephant saviour and political activist. Elections wereheld in Kenya at the end of 1997. Despite widespread allegations of vote rigging and considerableintimidation of opposition candidates, Moi and KANU once again scraped home with a little over 40% ofthe vote. Although Moi promised to rid the government of corruption, this was met by an air of resignationin the country, with Kenyans sitting tight until the day when he retired. Then, in August 1998 terroristsbombed the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing over 250 people and injuring more than5000, illustrating Kenyas vulnerability to increased social and political turmoil.Recent HistoryIn 2002 Moi retired, and at the December 2002 elections, KANU was routed by the National RainbowCoalition, led by Mwai Kibaki.In December 2007, presidential elections were marred by serious irregularities but the ElectoralCommission declared Mwai Kibaki the winner, triggering a wave of violence across the country, stemmingfrom discontent and frustration at perceived tribal precedence. Areas afflicted by years of politicalmachination, previous election violence and large-scale displacement exploded in ugly ethnicconfrontations that left more than 1000 people dead and over 600,000 people homeless.After protracted negotiations a power-sharing agreement was signed in February 2008 between PresidentKibaki and Raila Odinga, the leader of the ODM opposition. The coalition provided for the establishmentof a prime ministerial position (to be filled by Raila Odinga) and a sharing of responsibilities.There are ongoing challenges for the coalition. Inflation is on the rise, fuel and food price rises are cuttingdeep, and the manufacturing sector has been forced to cut back due to insecurity. Can Kibaki and Odingawork together and maximise the huge potential of this vibrant and vital country?