Clutching my boarding pass in one hand, passport in the other, I walk through Heathrow airport in London. In nine hours I’d be landing in Nairobi – the biggest and busiest airport in East Africa to kick off my 12-day East African Safari.
East Africa is home to the greatest concentration and variety of large mammals in the world. We’d be visiting the Maasai Mara in Kenya and the Serengeti in Tanzania – catching a glimpse and hopefully some photos of the big five.
Little did I know, that many of my favorite moments would have nothing at all to do with animals. The moments of connection with people who on the surface are so different from me. The feeling of inclusion in a place where my existence as a queer woman is far from celebrated.
Visiting Kenya and Tanzania was challenging. It made me uncomfortable, it made me dig deep and challenge myself on many levels. I felt joy and connection – and I also felt guilt. So many travelers come to East Africa for the safari, but it’s the people, rich culture and deep history that left their mark for me.
Here are some of my biggest highlights…
Check out the coffee, beaches and cities
Visiting any region of the world and limiting yourself to one activity is short-sighted. Yes, going on an East African safari is mind-blowing but what about visiting a coffee farm? In Mochi you can explore and taste some of the world’s best beans.
In Zanzibar, you can watch the crystal-blue water wash over white sand beaches and explore the narrow streets in the region’s largest port, Mombasa. Make time to explore a bit more even if that means just taking a few days before or after your safari.
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We sailed on traditional wooden Dhows through the crystal clear ocean sails flapping in the wind. A few dolphins popping up in the distance announcing their presence just long enough for our whole boat to scurry to one side completely throwing off the balance. While our local guide, who’s self confidence was enviable hacked away at coconuts, pineapples and watermelon with a machete. – – I jumped off the edge of that boat dozens of times. Dug in the sand and chased after fish with a rapidly filling snorkel mask. Most of all just took time to play, for a whole day. No Rules. No work. Just playing like a kid on her own deserted island, a feeling I never want to forget. – – So here’s a reminder for anyone that needs to hear it. Make time to play. Surround yourself with people who encourage it. There is no substitute. – – #zanzibar #zanzibarisland #zanzibarbeach #roamtheolanet #discoverafrica #exploremore #welltraveled #queerhair #tomboy #gaystagram #oneofthem #androgynous #androgyn #lgbttravelers #queertraveler
East African food is amazing
Truth be told, I didn’t know what to expect from the food. What I found was a cuisine packed with flavor and international influence (yes, from colonialism). Ugali an absolute staple. It’s boiled cornmeal served with nearly every meal. You eat it with your hands and us it to scoop up rich stews.
Another favorite is goat or beef barbecue. You’ll see many roadside butcher shops selling select cuts. The meat is grilled and often served with salt to dip the fattier bits into. I also loved the samosas, chapati and stewed green bananas.
It's one of the most colourful parts of the world
You might be picturing a million shades of khaki but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The market streets are lined with clothing and jewelry for sale in a vibrant rainbow of colours.
One of the most visually stunning moments of the trip was watching a group of Maasai men moving their herd of goats from one side of the valley to another, each wearing a bright red checkered ‘shukra’ against the dusty, tan background. The only thing brighter than the Maasai beadwork are the awe-inspiring sunsets that seem to close out each evening game drive. Seeing the national park bathed in that light left our group speechless every night.
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Thinking about that ginger soda back at the hotel or thinking about which painting I’m going to take home with me? – – I’m not usually a big fan of the traditional tourist gift shops. Being able to stand and watch these artists creating the works we’d be taking home was a completely unique experience. Pro tip: make sure you’re prepared to haggle for what you want. As a rule of thumb usually start by offering half of the original price. – – #contiki #noregrets #eastafricansafari #tanzania #kenya #contikiafrica #supportlocalartists #traveltocreate #curatelife #lifecurated #queertraveler #lgbtqtraveler #travelblogger #iamtb #theinvisibletomboy #tomgirl #tomboy #andronation
English is widely spoken
In fact it’s the official language in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. While you’ll hear Swahili spoken much more frequently many people do know some English. This is the case for two major reasons, the first and largest being colonialism. The second reason being the importance of the tourism industry in this region. After being invited to visit a local village we learned that primary school is taught in Swahili and secondary school in taught in English. With so many cultural differences being about to communicate allows for such a deeper level of understanding.
Time is REALLY flexible here
Saying, “We’ll arrive at 2pm” means more like, “we’ll arrive some time between one and four.” Dirt roads, goat crossings and just an overall laidback attitude lead to what is affectionately referred to as “African time”.
Ask a guide what time anything is going to happen and you’ll probably get a shy smile and a time range. Schedules are flexible. So, it’s probably best to just adopt the slow pace and go with the flow. If you need to catch a flight, just give yourself ample time to get there!
The accommodations are incredible
You can share your breakfast table with giraffes, if you have the budget! While a night’s stay at some of Kenya’s most exclusive hotels is out of reach for many of us, the quality of the more budget-friendly accommodation is insane. Tent camps right in the Serengeti where you have hot running water is totally possible.
The two main types of accommodation on our trip were the safari lodge, which is more of a hotel-style, and tent camps. Both have their charm and staying in a mix of both makes for the ideal trip. All accommodations serve buffet-style meals for breakfast and dinner and it was a great way to try multiple local dishes in a single meal.
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When we walked to our tent one night the Masai man escorting us said “don’t come outside in the middle of the night for any reason, there are bunch of hyenas right here. – – I slept in tents always wondering what animals the thin walls were separating me from, I sat on wooden porches watching giraffes wander by, swam in a pool that often doubles as a elephant watering hole during the dry season and watched sunrises creep over the horizon from the breakfast table nearly every morning. – – The accommodations on this trip were some of the most unique and exciting places I’ve ever laid my head. That really good balance between adventure and outlets, camping and king size beds. – – – #contiki #noregrets #contikisafari #eastafricansafari #kenya #tanzania #travelblogger #travelgram #creativetravel #travellife #lgbtq #queerfashion #tomboylook #tomboylookbook #girlswithshorthair #tomboystyle #queertravel #genderless
The people are eager to share their passion for the region
People want to talk, they want you to experience and fall in love with their country. Many regions have been hit with a dip in international tourism and that is directly affecting people’s ability to make a living. You’ll quickly learn that people genuinely want to share their country with you.
But you can’t be in this region of the world and ignore that poverty exists. That income disparity does create some situations where people are directly or indirectly asking for money. While those exchanges can be uncomfortable or often leave you with feelings of guilt. Ask questions, treat people with respect, be open minded and you’ll be blown any by what you will learn.
You’re going to be off the grid but not as often as you think
For just a few dollars you can purchase a SIM card with service that even reached a few places in the remote national parks. All of the accommodations had wifi in the reception area. In an area where access to clean drinking water is limited, I truly didn’t expect to be as connected as we were.
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When I’m feeling a little nervous about visiting a new place I obsess over what I’m going to pack. On one hand in places like Kenya and Tanzania is important to understand how my clothing choices impact peoples perception of my gender. On the other it keeps my mind busy. I figured I’d put all that to good use in a massive packing guide, spoiler these white socks didn’t make the cut.- – – – – # – #contiki #noregrets #eastafricansafari #lestomboy #tomboyish #tomboygrls #andronation #androgyn #andro #tomboylookbook #tomboystreetstyle #tanzania #girlsinhats #thatgirljames #gaygirl #genderfluid