Summer reading: a not-very-definitive list

My first (and last) English Christmas was a shock to many senses: there was snow (albeit very light, very dirty), there were Brussels sprouts (surely only the English consider them a celebratory food) and there was television.

As our Australian marketing machines constantly tell us, our Christmases are all about the beach, cricket and low-level sunburn. So to be huddled in front of the telly watching soap omnibuses seemed a curious way to spend the festive season.

It’s not quite television, and the weather here in Melbourne has been exemplary this year: not too hot, not too cold, but I’ve come over all Northern hemisphere and am catching up on a small mountain of unread fiction, with a travel bent, of course.

Here’s a little list of recent releases from Australian authors that have made a welcome appearance on the bedside table.

The most recent of the list is by prolific South Australian author Fiona McIntosh, who I have long admired for her adult fantasy series (think Lord of the Rings fantasy, not the other type, smutsters). She has turned out a fast-paced romance set in WWI Cairo, Gallipoli and post-war London. Nightingale ticks all the boxes, with handsome men, golden women and love found and lost in traumatic times. Does the girl get her man? It’s over to you… (Penguin Books, $29.99)

Action seekers know Matthew Reilly is the man to turn to when you want to be left breathless from reading (to give you a suggestion of his pace, the Sydney writer drives DeLorean DMC-12 – the car from Back to the Future). His latest book, The Great Zoo of China is, as the title indicates, set in China and has an absolute cracker of a premise, which I just can’t tell you about. His heroine, CJ Cameron, is a tad too tough, tenacious and intelligent for wimpy me to relate to, but I could not put this book down. That was a week of lost sleep (Pan Macmillan, $39.99)

And finally (not in the picture, as it’s already been nabbed by my mum), Stateless is the second in the Heritage trilogy about the evolution of the State of Israel. Written by Alan Gold and Mike Jones, it caused a ruckus in our house with the highly controversial throw-away line that the Egyptian army is known to be cowardly. Eeep! Otherwise, Stateless races along with plenty of secret plots and dastardly tyrants from Roman-occupied Jerusalem to post-WWII Russia. The first in the trilogy is called Bloodline, I’ll be seeking it out. (Simon & Schuster Australia, $29.99)

The next on the list is Tony Park‘s The Hunter (‘A missing woman, a serial killer at large… man is the most dangerous predator of all’). I’m not that into murder as entertainment, but this book moves from South Africa to Zimbabwe and the Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya, which I love. And in the appendices, Park also shares travel tips from his extensive experience of travelling in Africa (Pan Macmillan, $29.99)

I hope you’re all enjoying a great summer read, or if you’re further north and not nose-in-book, the plotlines in the soaps have improved.

See you all in 2015!

Belle

Deals: relaxation on a Malaysian vacation

Giraffe Manor, Kenya

Breakfast with well-mannered giraffes in Kenya, motor across the USA, sleep like a king in Malaysia… what’s your mood this week? 

On the home front, it’s freshwater lakes on Fraser Island, going remote up at the Kimberley’s Faraway Bay or exploring Kakadu in all its green glory.

GO NOW
MALAYSIA
Modelled on a 17th-century Malay palace, the recently
refreshed Tanjon Jara Resort is on Malaysia’s east coast. Normally from
$350 a night, costs from $276 including all meals until March 31,
minimum two nights. tanjongjararesort.com.
QUEENSLAND
Take a dip in pristine freshwater lakes or swim in the Coral
Sea on Fraser Island. Save $126 on a two-night stay at Eurong Beach
Resort, with vehicle barge transfers included (normally $106), until
April 17. From $310 for two nights, quote “summer days”. 1800 111 808, eurong.com.

GO SOON

Motor across the USA with Apollo motorhomes.

US
Motor in the US for up to 18 days for the cost of fuel only
in an Apollo Motorhome from March 31-April 5, May 6-9 and June 2-6. Pick
up from Forest City, Iowa, and relocate to four cities, including Las
Vegas and San Francisco. April travellers also get $US500 ($570) towards
fuel. 1800 777 779, apollorv.com.
SINGAPORE
Book two nights in a club room in the new Rendezvous Hotel
Singapore by March 16 and save 30 per cent. Included is the mini bar,
internet, airport lounge access, airport transfers and a city tour. From
$185 a night. stayfareast.com/launch30.

GO LATER
KENYA
Go on safari for five nights at Sala’s Camp, Sasaab or Solio
Lodge and get one night free at the Giraffe Manor, outside Nairobi. Book
by February 28, stay until December 15 (excluding June 1-October 31).
From $503 a person a night, +254 (020) 502 0888, thesafaricollection.com.
WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Stay at the Kimberley’s Faraway Bay and save 20 per cent with
a free night in Kununurra or Darwin until April 30. Book by February
28, from $3464 a person three nights, includes meals, tours and flights
ex-Kununurra. 0419 918 953, farawaybay.com.au.

Ancient Athens

Explore the archaeology and culture of Athens, from the
crowd-pleasing Acropolis and the Agorato to Marathon, the shrines of
mysterious cults and the isle of Aigina in the Saronic Gulf.
Promenade Plaka, the city’s Old Town. The walking tour, led
by two archaeologists, also explores the city’s best museums and its
top tables, and your five-star accommodation looks out to the Acropolis.
The tour runs June 1-8, 2014. Costs $4210 a person, twin share. See petersommer.com.

KIDS

Explore art caves, spot wildlife and
watch the sun set with the kids over a remarkable, remote slice of Australia. Kakadu
is glowing green right now, and kids under 12 stay and eat free at the Gagudju
Crocodile Hotel. Stay three, pay for just two nights and get half-price Yellow
Water cruises and other tour discounts until February 28. The hotel is 3.5
hours’ drive from Darwin on sealed roads and up to two kids can share their
parents’ room. Costs $300 a room, three nights, 1800 500 401, gagudju-dreaming.com.

 

This column by Belinda Jackson was published in Sydney’s Sun-Herald newspaper.

Find the romance of Persia or follow the Great Migration: travel deals 10 March 2013

Ancient cities, warm hospitality, wild landscapes: the romance of Persia is calling. Closer to home, get fabulous in northern NSW or Thailand, or follow the Great Migration across the Serengeti and Masai Mara.


TASMANIA
Walking is the new cycling, which is of course the new golf, and one of the best walking destinations in the country is Tassie. The new Three Capes walk hugs the sea cliffs of the Tasman peninsula and out to Cape Raoul. This three-day tour also includes a visit to Port Arthur and a jet boat wilderness cruise (yes, you read that right). Normally $1095, book before March 23 and save 15 per cent on the April 24 departure.  Costs $930 a person, three days. 1300 666 856, tasmanianexpeditions.com.au.


Toulouse-Lautrec, Canberra.

AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY

Travelling to Canberra to see the best of Toulouse Lautrec is a whole lot cheaper than hauling off to Paris. Stay at the Hyatt Hotel Canberra during the boho Paris exhibition and you’ll get overnight accommodation in a Park Room as well as two tickets to the Toulouse Lautrec exhibition, breakfast and free parking. The offer runs until April 2, quote code ‘TOUL’. Costs from $345 per room. 131 234, canberra.park.hyatt.com.
VICTORIA

Golf aficionados head far west for a putt in the sun, and non-golfing spouses will enjoy the diversion of staying a houseboat on the Murray River. Stay four nights on a deluxe houseboat and play Mildura’s two 18-hole courses, including buggy hire and get full breakfast provisions, dinner at the Gol Gol hotel and a gourmet barbeque. Normally from $900 a person, save $350. Costs from $550. 1800 800 842, willandrahouseboats.com.au.


WESTERN AUSTRALIA
It’s billed as the ultimate fishing safari, and when you spot the barramundi lurking in the shadows of the waters around the Kimberley Coastal Camp, you’ll have to agree. The remote camp is on the Kimberley’s Admiralty Gulf, and is offering half-price fishing safaris from March 19-22 or March 22-25. Includes air transfers from Kununurra, a scenic flight over the magnificent Mitchell Falls, all meals, accommodation and fishing tackle use. Costs from $3382 a person. 0417 902 006,  kimberleycoastalcamp.com.au.


NEW SOUTH WALES

Cabarita Ocean Spa, NSW

You’re a healthier you, on the NSW far north coast.  Book a health retreat at Cabarita Ocean Spa with a friend and save 25 per cent on all stays until March 23, and singles get 15 per cent off. Expect surfing and stand-up paddling, as befits an ocean retreat that’s moments from the coastline, as well as lashings of organic, locally sourced food and Sodashi in the spa. Costs from $1650 a person, twin share, three nights. (02) 6674 3111, cabaritaoceanretreat.com.au.

EUROPE 
Canny backpackers have long known that an overnight train journey saves on the cost of accommodation. Do it in style and save, as Rail Europe celebrates its 18th birthday with up to 65 per cent off City Night Line trains, which operate in eight countries including Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic. Book by April 2, travel by June 30. Costs from $59 in couchette, $70 in double sleeper economy. raileurope.com.au.
INDONESIA
Bali bargain hunters alert. Fly with Virgin Australia from Sydney to Denpasar and stay seven nights for the price of five in a deluxe pool view room at the Kuta Lagoon Resort, on Jalan Legian. The offer includes breakfast, airport transfers and regular shuttle buses to the surf and bangle sellers at Kuta Beach. Book until 3pm June 7 for travel from April 28 to June 14. Costs from $1,079 a person, twin share. 1300 130 485, travel.com.au.
CHINA
It’s time to get your skates on, literally, to catch an earlybird ski bargain. Club Med’s Early Bird Ski Booking deals knock up to 30 per cent off all bookings made by July 1, including five nights in Yabuli, China as well as Europe and Japan. Packages include ski passes, lessons, all meals, open bar and snacks as well as travel insurance. Valid for travel from December 1 to April 7, 2014. Costs from $1033 for adults, $584 for children, five nights. 1800 258 263, clubmed.com.au.
Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary, Koh Samui, Thailand

THAILAND
Heal thyself: at a discount price, at Kamalaya Wellness Sanctuary on Koh Samui’s south coast. First-time guests can stay four nights, pay for three until April 30. Repeat guests are not forgotten, with a stay five, pay four deal until May 31. Includes airport transfers, all meals and treatments in your wellness program as well as an initial wellness consultation and holistic activities. Costs from $3500 for seven nights on a wellness program, or accommodation only from $224 a night.  +66 (0) 77 429 800, kamalaya.com
KENYA & TANZANIA
Follow the migration paths of wilderbeest and zebras across Tanzania and Kenya, across the Masai Mara and the Serengeti. This package includes eight nights’ accommodation in luxury tented camps and a treehouse, as well as game drives and a visit to the Ngorongoro crater. Book until March 31 for travel until March 24, then May 1 – May 24 and save $1840 a person. Costs from $6629 a person. 1300 320 795, www.adventureworld.com.au.
TOURWATCH
Wind towers, Iran.

Blow the myths out of the water and discover one of the friendliest countries on earth: Iran. This tour departs from Shiraz, reached easily from Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where there’s no drinking wine, but plenty of beautiful gardens and the astonishing ancient city of Persepolis. Highlights include the romantic desert city of Yazd and one of the world’s largest plazas, Naksh-e Jahan Square, in bejewelled Isfahan. There are hill villages, palaces and fine museums as well as plenty of tea stops and fine Iranian cooking to be sampled. The 18-day Highlights of Persia tour departs October 1. Costs from $3850 a person, twin share. (02) 9418 7803, byroads.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald newspaper

Animal antics in Africa and Adelaide: travel deals 25 November 2012


Discover the Way of the Panda in Adelaide, go gorilla-tastic in Africa, or hitch a ride on a camel in Broome in this week’s best international and domestic travel deals.

TASMANIA
Stepping into summer, it’s shaping up as peak walking
time for Tasmania’s hills and mountains. Yes, you can camp, but it’s so much
nicer to fall into a hot tub after a day trekking the highlands. Cradle
Mountain Chateau is knocking its rates almost in half until December 20, quote
booking code ‘PT004’. Normally from $105 a person, costs from $65 a person. 1800
420 155 www.puretasmania.com.au
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL
TERRITORY
Canberra celebrates its centenary in 2013, with a
year-long calendar of events, with indigenous cultural explorations, art
exhibitions and sporting face-offs, canberra100.com.au. Stay at the 4½-star Pavilion on
Northbourne in a deluxe room  with the
big buffet brekky, and save up to $286 a night. Valid for stays until February
2013, quote ‘Canberra Sale Special’. Costs from $140 a night. 1300 88 7979, wotif.com/hotelW6953.
WESTERN
AUSTRALIA
Where else can you ride a camel along the beach but
in Broome? Soak up that golden WA sun on Cable Beach and save up to 30 per cent
off your room at the 4.5-star Oaks Cable Beach Sanctuary, curled around a
lagoon-style swimming pool. Book by November 30 for travel until April 30,
2013. Costs from $139 a night for two in a studio room or stay five and save 40
per cent, from $595 for five nights. 1300 888 180, zuji.com.au.
SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Let Wang Wang and Funi show you ‘The Way of the Panda.’
Adelaide Zoo’s two pandas are one of the city’s great drawcards for kids and
adults, set in eight hectares of botanic gardens. The zoo is a pleasant walk
(ok, five minutes in a cab) to BreakFree Adelaide, in Hindley St, which is offering
the fourth night free for families who stay three nights in a two-bed apartment
until March 27, 2013. On top of that, stay before January 18, 2013, get a
two-for-one Gray Line Barossa Valley tour. Costs from $615 for three nights.  132 007, breakfree.com.au.
VICTORIA
The few weeks before Christmas is when bargain hunters
slip in a sneaky getaway: take San Remo, 
for example. Just over an hour south of Melbourne, the sleepy town is
the gateway for Phillip Island, and the place for fish and chips on empty,
windswept beaches, visiting tiny cellar doors and shopping the weekend produce
markets. Stay two nights, get 10 per cent off, or stay three or more and get 20
per cent off at Silverwater Resort on stays until December 20 quote code
‘Santa12’. Costs from $278 a room, for two nights. 1800 033 403,
silverwaterresort.com.au
TRANS-AUSTRALIA
It’s time to break out the iconic Aussie songs,
Gangagang’s ‘Sounds of Then (This is
Australia)’ and
of course Icehouse’s ‘Great Southern Land’ – you come over all patriotic when
you’re crossing our country’s Red Centre. 
Save up to $611pp on The Ghan, travelling from Adelaide
to Darwin or vice versa. Book before December 24 for travel until March 31,
2013. Was $2116, costs from $1505 a person, Gold Service, and was $3210, now
$2259 a person, Platinum Service. 13 21 47, greatsouthernrail.com.au.
The Dipan Resort Villa & Spa, Seminyak, Bali
BALI
Seminyak is
Bali’s hip and beating heart, with the best boutiques, bars, spas and
restaurants on the island. Stay in The Dipan Resort Villa and Spa, a
22-suite hotel in the pinnacle of Seminyak hip, Petitenget, for half the price,
but still get breakfast, wi-fi and a welcome massage. Stay four night and get a
dinner in the resort restaurant as well. Book now for travel until July 3,
2013. Costs from $130 a night in a hotel room, or $241 a night in a one-bedroom
villa. 1300 85 95 65, cantikbalivillas.com.
Flamingoes on Lake Nakuru, Kenya.
KENYA
Kids travel free
when they’re with two adults on an eight-day Kenya Highlights package. Each
couple can have one child under 12, who stays in the same accommodation and the
deal includes all meals and sightseeing. Highlights include meeting the Maasai
and the masses of flamingos on Lake Nakuru. Costs from $1895 a person, twin share.
1300 195 873, benchinternational.com.au.
CHILE & ARGENTINA
With a BMW F650 GS between your legs and the panorama of
snow-capped volcanos before you, is there any more beautiful place in the world
than the Andes? This nine-day tour by road bike starts and ends in Santiago and
covers 2100km, travelling south into Patagonia, where you cross the Andes to
Argentina and beautiful Bariloche. Compass Expeditions is offering US$800 off
for the rider and $400 for co-riders. Tour departs 28 December, 2012. Includes
bike hire, fuel and 10 nights’ accommodation. Costs from $3490, $2190 for
pillion. 1300 887 327, compassexpeditions.com.
AFRICA
Spend 20 days visiting the gorillas of Africa in some of
the continent’s most spectacular scenery, including Masai Mara, Victoria Falls
and Tanzania’s Lake Manyara and the Serengeti. There’s mountain gorilla
trekking in Rwanda, game drives, a boma dining experience beneath the
stars. Travel Associates is offering one free return economy flight with South
African Airways when two people book together. Book by December 31 for travel
on May 31, 2013, includes all internal flights and up to eight game park
drives. Costs from $16595 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066, travel-associates.com.au
TOURWATCH: SWEDEN
The low Swedish coastline was surely designed for
kayaking, and the new West Coast Sweden: Bohuslän Archipelago journey with
Southern Sea Ventures is a girl’s or boy’s own adventure writ large. The
itinerary includes beach camping and stays in snug lodges, paddling through
thousands of granite islands while observed by seals and seagulls. You’ll be
led by Swedish seakayaker Ulrika Larsson, who started her paddling career in
the Stockholm archipelago and has paddled the Swedish coastline solo. The
10-day trip includes eight days’ kayaking, and has a moderate grading, so some
paddling experience is necessary, and it helps if you’ve seen the inside of a
tent before. Departs August 25, 2013 from Gothenburg, in southern Sweden, and
includes all kayaking equipment. Costs from $2250 a person. (02) 8901 3287, southernseaventures.com

Travel deals 26 August 2012


Masai
Mara tribe, Kenya

Meet the Masai, the 12 Apostles or the hamlets of the Nullabor Plains on an epic trans-Australian journey.

QUEENSLAND
Pay $111 a night – a discount of 33 per cent – when you
book three nights at the Novotel Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast until
December 20. Located close to beaches and popular attractions like Australia
Zoo and Aussie World, the resort also provides free catamarans, kayaks, bikes
and mini putt putt golf, plus a water trampoline on the resort’s man-made
lagoon. Kids’ Club and babysitting services are available. 1800 072 277,
novoteltwinwatersresort.com.au.

VICTORIA
For many, the highlight of Victoria’s beloved Great Ocean
Road are the 12 Apostles near Apollo Bay. For others, it’s the local waterfalls
and rainforest walks. Check into the YHA and grab a winter special: stay three
nights, pay for two, saving $95. Costs $190 a double/twin room for three night stays
before September 20. (03) 5237 7899, yha.com.au.

NSW
Tootle down to Merimbula, on the south coast, to
rediscover what holidays used to be like when you were a kid. Cute villages,
broad sweeps of empty beach, jetties for dropping a line off and dolphins and
whales cruising by. Book two nights in an apartment or townhouse at the
4.5-star Coast Resort before September 21 and save almost 50 per cent. Facilities
include heated pools, tennis courts and big balconies. Costs from $360 for two
nights. 1300 130 483, travel.com.au.  

WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Quay West Resort, Bunker Bay

Trade your Weet-Bix and morning news for views of Bunker
Bay, three hours south of Perth in the Margaret River region. The vista from
the terrace of the Quay West Resort is of the blue waters of the Indian Ocean,
and brekky is drawn from local produce, with a splash of sparkling wine, as
befits the locale. Save $65 on bookings before September 30. Costs from $478
for two nights for two people, midweek (Sun-Thurs), includes breakfast for two.
13 15 15, quaywestresortbunkerbay.com.

TRANS-AUSTRALIA

Cross the continent in four days, from Perth to Sydney on
The Ghan, stopping at historic crossroads and watching the scenery of desert,
mountains and the Nullarbor Plain pass your window. Red Sleeper cabins sleep
two, with beds that fold into day lounges, and the trains feature newly
refurbished Matilda Cafés and new Red Gum lounges. Take a friend for free when
booking Perth to Sydney in a Red Sleeper before October 31. Costs $1510 for two
people, 132 147, greatsouthernrail.com.au.

TASMANIA

One of the country’s top lodges, Saffire Freycinet, on
the Freycinet peninsula, comprises just 20 beautiful suites looking out to the
Hazards Mountains. Book a deluxe suite for four nights, pay for three and get
all meals and dinner drinks, activities including guided walks, fishing,  golf, wine tasting, canoeing, cooking demos
and learn to mix the perfect cocktail. 
The deal also includes $100 to spend in the spa until end September.
Costs $5400 a suite, 1800 723 347, saffire-freycinet.com.au.




Slick and sweet: Eurostar

FRANCE
It’s easy to slip a little ski weekend in on your British
adventures – the Eurostar runs from London to over 40 ski resorts in the French
Alps, including Courchevel, Tignes, and Les Arcs. Book now for travel between
December 21, 2012 – April 13, 2013. Costs from $123 a person (standard class)
or $190 (standard premium class). Travel agents or raileurope.com.au. 

THAILAND

Stay eight nights, pay for just four at the Kata Palm
Resort & Spa, in southern Phuket, down past Karon Beach, and you’ll also
get breakfast daily, return airport transfers, one dinner and a 30 minute
traditional Thai massage for each person. The deal runs until October 31, in a
superior pool view room. Costs from $245 a person, twin share. 1300 138 755,
travelindochina.com.au. 

FIJI
You deserve sun: specifically, you
deserve Fijian sun. Book five nights at The Westin Resort & Spa and save up
to 50 per cent. Includes return flights with Air Pacific, airport transfers and
daily breakfast. Book by September 28, stay between November 1-December 27 and
January 6-March 31. Costs from $1169 a person for five nights, twin share,
including flights. 1300 358 382, coralseas.com.au.

ENGLAND

Though the Olympics are now over, London will always have
Wimbledon, from June 24, 2013. Book before November 30 and get 5 per cent off
three-night packages, which include a reserved seat for two days at The
Championships on Centre and No. 1 court, three nights’ accommodation, breakfast
daily, London Travel cards, programs, admission into the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis
Museum and lunch at The Wimbledon Experience Club. Costs from $2049 a person,
twin share, 1300 730 023, keithprowse.com.au

SOUTHERN
AFRICA

Wildebeest migrating across the Masai Mara, flamingos on
Lake Nakuru, sunrise over Mt Kilimanjaro. Scenic Tours’ ultimate African small
group tours spend 31 days on a Grand African Adventure, from Cape Town to
Jo’berg via Tanzania and Kenya. Save up to $1600 a couple on 2013 tours when booked
by December 31. Costs from $15,695 a person, twin share. 1300 723 642, scenictours.com.au.

TOURWATCH: TRANS-SIBERIAN
RAILWAY ADVENTURE

High on many people’s hit list, the Trans-Siberian
railway crosses from Vladivostok, in Russia’s far east, to the capital, Moscow,
over 15 days. The Golden Eagle is a luxury train that covers the epic 10,600-kilometer
journey, its highlights including the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral in
Moscow and Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest lake, in remote Siberia. Forget
rough sleepers – cabins have underfloor heating, DVD players, power showers and
there’s fine dining in the restaurant. The package includes $700 air credit per
person, two nights’ accommodation before the trip, tour guides in nine stops,
all meals, transfers and tipping. Costs from Book before November 30, 2012 for
travel on February 24, 2013. $14,495 a person, twin share. 1800 044 066, www.travel-associates.com.au.

Source: Belinda Jackson, Sun Herald

Trunk calls; night of the long noses in Bali

Room with a view.

It’s been a while since I’ve been woken up by an elephant. The last time was in the wilds of Kenya, when a massive bull elephant was busily ripping the forest outside my safari tent.

The second time was last night, and the location is central Bali. This time, however, the elephant was tethered, and it woke me by clanking its chain over and over again. Finally, risking being called a nuisance journalist who complains about everything (‘the birdsong is too loud in the morning!’), I rang reception who said they would immediately contact their mahout on call. Two minutes later: peaceful elephant, peaceful journalist.

Taro Elephant Safari Park is home to 30 Sumatran elephants, the world’s smallest elephant. However, they’re still seriously big beasts, and the view from my lodge room was of eight elephants, busily eating, snoozing and peeing, which sounds like a burst fire hydrant. The brief spurt of clanking aside, it was surprisingly quiet, sleeping beside eight elephants, save the occasional long, nasal snort.

Hats off to founders Nigel and Yanie Mason, who not only rescued the elephants from devastated landscapes and logging camps, but also envisaged such ideas as stepping out of your room and into a teak elephant seat, atop an elephant headed out for a night safari beneath the stars. A beautiful park and a wonderful chance to meet happy, healthy pachyderms.

Kenyan drought sees tribes go walkabout

The four Maasi tribeswomen are keen to talk. Sitting on the bare ground as red dust swirls around us, they tell how the drought across the East African country of Kenya has affected them.

Twenty men from the 110-strong village of Elerai, on the Kenya-Tanzania border have taken their cattle and are droving them on foot across the country in search of grass. Last the village heard, the men were near the capital of Nairobi.

“They’ve been gone two months now,” says Menteine Mparkepu, a senior woman in the village. They don’t know when the men will be back. If they stay on this dry, dusty land, the cattle will grow thinner and weaker, and even the renowned fighting skills of the Maasi won’t be able to protect them from predatory lions.

Their story is a common one across Kenya, a country in the throes of severe drought as the long rains have failed to arrive for the past three years. Experts say the country stands to lose half its cattle and goat populations during the extended drought.

The country’s main source of foreign currency is the export of agricultural goods – Kenya is the world’s biggest exporter of black tea and 75% of its population works in the agriculture sector, most as subsistence farmers.

With inflation unofficially at 30%, the price of the staple food, maize, has doubled, and the next harvest’s yields expected to be nearly a third lower than normal, according to the UN’s World Food Programme. The programme, which supports almost one in 10 Kenyans through food aid packages, estimates that 31 percent of Kenya’s total population is undernourished. It is currently appealing for money to provide emergency food assistance to nearly 4 million Kenyans hit by the drought.

Where there should be fields of tall, flourishing maize, the ground is bare save a few stunted stubs. Cattle, weakened from a lack of feed, lie dying on the roadside, unable to keep up with the herd. Wildlife workers in Tsavo East, Kenya’s largest national park, tell of the five elephants they have found in the past 14 days alone, dead from starvation, and rangers have resorted to hand feeding their wild hippopotamus populations to halt the animals’ deaths – an expensive activity with no end in sight.

However, there are still small doses of good news: such as the safari camp near Elerai village establishing a community project to train the local Maasi population in tourism. Currently, many young Maasi men are employed as security guards protecting the wildlife camps from wild animals – it’s a good job for those with little education, especially during times of drought when their cattle herds are in decline. The Satao Elerai camp aims to be completely run by the local population and is establishing a local school for the Maasi children. The nearest primary school is 1½ hours’ walk from the village.

The women make beaded jewellery to sell to passing tourists to raise money for food and hope that their children will be able to receive an education.

“Our cattle and goats are dying,” says Menteine. “We need the school so we can change our lives.”

It’s a long-term view, but Kenyans must yet survive in the short term.

http://www.sataoelerai.com
RTE World Report

Farewell to coconuts and mangos

Mombasssssa, Mombasa, baby. Where coconuts wash up on the shore and there are three different kinds of arrowroot on the breakfast buffet. The very name of this city conjures up white sand and tropical rhythms.

It’s only when you leave the game parks and return to Kenya’s cities that you realise how poor this country is. Sandals made from used car tyres are standard, houses are cobbled together with timber, iron sheets, mudbrick with thatch roofs and occasionally a few sturdy homes made of local stone.

Our entire trip saw us coasting along the southernmost border of Kenya and Tanzania down from Nairobi to Mombasa. Driving from the last national park, Tsavo East to Mombasa on the south coast, we started to see coconut palms and mango trees, and the air distinctly more humid with a taste of salt.

Mombasa is where much of Kenya’s Muslim population lives, influenced by the Arabian Gulf across the Indian Ocean. Traders from Oman have plied these waters with their dhows for centuries – brought in and out of the deep harbour by the trade winds that dictated their lives. Men wander around in dishdashas (the long white robes) wearing Omani-style embroidered caps and mosques, woman covering their heads with scarves and goat and camel meat are sold in the pungent open-air meat markets alongside massive hands of bananas and great tins full of colourful spices.

It’s the second biggest port in Africa after Durban, and this afternoon, Mombasa was besieged by steamy rains. Most tourists use it as a launching pad over to Zanzibar, though savvy Kenyans said the north coast of Kenya has better beaches and better prices.

Mombasa was the end of my Kenyan trip and the beginning of my journey home to Cairo, flying Mombasa-Nairobi-Khartoum-Cairo. I drank wine on the second leg and slept on the last, sprawled across three seats, only to be woken up by us hitting the tarmac! No ‘seats upright, belts on’ crap on Kenyan Air, Pride of Africa! No siree! The two large, jovial Kenyan women opposite laughed their heads as they watched me jerk bolt upright as the plane screeched to a stop: I’m pleased I could give something back to Kenya.

A horn for a horn

Poaching in one of Kenya’s premier national parks, Amboseli, is at 20-year highs, says the African Wildlife Foundation, which reported in April that 703kg of whole or partially chopped elephant tusks were confiscated from poachers in the park. That’s about 50 elephants worth of tusks. Apparently they’re reaching US$38/kg on the Chinese market. Wholesale price, of course. You can only guess at the tusks’ street value.

So when we travelled from the excellent park into its neighbour, Tsavo West, we had an armed guard of cheerful young Kenyan boys wielding Russian-made rifles to guard from unscrupulous poachers who, on a quiet day, have been known to lift a few fat Western wallets, though my guide Mwasy stresses that the last time this happened was a very long time ago. Years, in fact.

The night at Satoa Elerai camp was one of the highlights of my trip. The entire camp is just nine tents and four suites. The words ‘tents’ and ‘suites’ are so boring.

The suites are luxury cottages with thatched roofs, deep baths and enormous, romantic beds swathed in snow-white mosquito nets, and look out onto Amboseli National Park, renowned for its elephants. The tents are canvas affairs, but the massive beds look straight out onto Mt Kilimanjaro in neighbouring Tanzania, about 20km away, and the highest mountain in Africa.

Notes from meetings with the Maasi

During an afternoon siesta in my tent in The Mara, I hear the cluck and warble of two little Maasi herdboys at play. Their cattle are grazing on the opposite side of the River Talek, tales swishing against the low vegetation. I know the two boys are sitting in a little grove opposite my tent. I can feel them observing me as I step outside. As they emerge from their hiding place, they cup their hands together and whistle a bird’s call to catch my eye, and wave – big, open-handed children’s waves –then follow the herd back into the scrub.

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I sit down to breakfast of coffee, fresh pineapple and hot pancakes. All the while, a Maasi guard in full regalia stands behind me, employed solely to chase away vervet monkeys, which eye my pineapple with avarice.

The Maasi wears two thin red and white printed cloths called kangas, one tied around his shoulders, the other around his waist. Beaded bracelets are tied above his knees, his ears are pierced with a large hole maybe two inches long. Strings of necklaces are tied around his upper body and black rubber sandals – formerly car tyres – are on his feet. At his waist hangs a sheathed knife and he carries a long, straight stick which he shakes vigorously at the monkeys when they come too close.

Before you jump on me with accusations of cultural imperialism, many young Maasi guys are employed at the lodges as security guards and runners – it’s good employment for those with little education, especially during times of drought when their cattle herds are in decline, and they are as curious about us foreigners as we are about them.

Eventually the monkeys know they will not win against the hawk-eyed man behind me, and slink off to squabble, fight and flea each other in a nearby sprawling sycamore fig. This is the daily work of a Masai Mara monkey and man.
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Moses is a young Maasi and like most of his tribe, which are said to number around 900,000 on both sides of the Tanzanian-Kenyan border – is most comfortable in traditional dress.

He lives in a village 1½ hours’ walk from my lodge. When he was eight or 10, he can’t remember which, the outer ridge of his ears were sliced, but left intact on his head. They were then twisted around the remainder of the ear so that his ears are woven into two complex knots on the side of his head.

“Did it hurt?”

“Yeah.”

“Did you cry?”

“Yeah.”

“Really?”

“Really! Yeah!”

I never thought I’d hear a man of the warrior Maasi tribes, who lions are said to fear, admit he cried.