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Africa Odyssey Blog

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Reminiscing about running in the wild!

With the Safaricom Lewa marathon taking place this weekend – we thought it would be good to write about this amazing event from our personal experiences of 2015 and 2014…. each year I seem to get progressively slower!

THE SAFARICOM MARATHON. LEWA DOWNS.

We arrive early and there is already a buzz in the air. Excitement all around and nervous anticipation can be seen in the faces of all the runners who are about to embark on one of the world’s toughest marathons (or half marathon as the case maybe for the majority!). The sun is just rising – a beautiful orange – shining through a haze of dust created by the 1,400 or so runners making their way along dirt roads and tracks to the start line. We are about to run a half marathon through the 62,000acre Lewa Downs wildlife conservancy. One of Africa’s most incredible conservation success stories and a UNESCO world heritage site.

Two helicopters buzz overhead and the hear the whir of light aircraft in the distance – “they’ll be clearing the wildlife from the course before we start” a friend informs me! I hope that is indeed the case, Lewa is teeming with game – large herds of elephants and buffalo roam freely in the conservancy, a healthy number of lions and East Africa’s largest population of both black and white rhino … it adds to the challenge and reinforces why this is such a special event to be a part off. Running in the wild, with wildlife and most importantly, for wildlife.

Even at 6:30 the sun is already impossibly high and getting hotter. I feel like I’m on the set of an action film – walking towards the starting post through hundreds of khaki safari tents set up for the specifically for the event in a stunning grove of Acacia and Yellow Fever trees – it reminds me of an old military encampment. The colours of thousands of supporters and runners are a wonderful contrast to the traditional Khaki; bright greens and reds and blues and whites, Kenyan flags fly in a gentle breeze and the banners of the event sponsors, Safaricom and Tusk Trust seen everywhere – a DJ on a raised platform is playing a mixture of traditional African and inspirational music which adds to the carnival atmosphere.

The 10 second count down begins, everyone cheering – and we’re off, like a stampede of wildebeest crossing the Mara River; being squashed and funneled from an open plain onto a thin dirt road. The first 5 mins is total chaos – 1,400 runners sprinting and pushing to get in position, quad bikes racing past and helicopters overhead! Adrenaline pumping, a long line of colour stretches its way out in front of me (as well as a little bit behind!) snaking its way up and around one of the large hills of Lewa that needs to be climbed! How have those incredible Kenyan athletes got so far ahead in 10 mins!?

Underfoot is a dirt track, littered with rocks, every step taken creates a small cloud of dust, it is hot – and only getting hotter. The altitude of 6,000ft (the same height as the ski resort Courchevel in the French Alps) makes my lungs burn! And yet – I am thoroughly enjoying myself! Running through some of the most stunning landscapes in East Africa takes your mind off the grueling 21km’s with nearly a 2000m climb! The water stations at 2.5km intervals are a welcome break! Enthusiastic crowds gather and cheer us on offering us water and isotonic drinks as we enviously look on at their delicious bush breakfasts, champagne, bloody Marys and Tusker beers!

We push on past the river banks of the stunning Sirikoi Valley, up steep hills and through the stunning savannah interspersed with typical Acacia and Balanites Trees. We pass zebra and numerous antelope who look on curiously – I’m sure wandering what the cause of the stampede is! Up more hills and passing more spectators. The snow-capped peaks of Mount Kenya loom over us from the Conservancy’s southern boundary. The rolling hills are seemingly endless, with the Mathews Mountains and the iconic Mount Ole Lolokwe dramatically rising to the North. The sheer beauty of this place coupled with the supporter’s generosity and the fellow runner’s keen spirt takes your mind from the aching knees, tired muscles and tight(ening) lungs.

Finally reaching the top of the last hill and seeing the tents of the camp and the Safaricom and Tusk Trust flags flying near the finish line! Whoops from other runners echo around me, I’m exhausted and it still looks like a fair distance to go… the final push. Down a horrible hill which jars already painful legs and an arduous final 5km to the finish line…
The 200 uber –fit and slightly insane runners, who have to endure the full marathon, turn right to complete another circuit, I thankfully head left and hear the roar of a crowd coming closer. Thousands of local children revel in the amazing atmosphere cheering us on into the finish line, a medal, massage and cold beer at Lewa Safari Camp await!
The Safaricom Lewa marathon is without a doubt an enjoyable experience shared by competitors and spectators alike, a wonderful up-beat atmosphere that welcomes people from all over the world. But it is important to not lose sight of what the Lewa Marathon stands for. Since its conception in 2000 the Lewa Marathon has raised over $5 million for conservation and grown into an internationally acclaimed event, one of Kenya’s major sporting events and listed in Runners World as “top ten must do marathons”. Last year more than £400,000 was raised to support different projects across Kenya. The main three are all essential in the protecting our worlds natural and wild places; Supporting communities, promoting education and protecting wildlife. All three go hand in hand. Wildlife conservation can be used as a catalyst to alleviate poverty, reduce conflict, and improve education and livelihoods in rural areas rich in biodiversity. And of course that in turn aids the protection of wildlife, especially the endangered and targeted elephant and rhino.

What an experience, running wild, for wildlife and helping to secure a future for wild places in Africa.
The Lewa Marathon will be held this year on the 25 of June 2016. Registration for the 2017 Marathon (also held in June) will open in February 2017. Lewa is situated at 5,550ft above sea level and the course records are 2:18:42 for the full marathon and 1:05:00 for the half marathon.

Reminiscing about running in the wild!The start of the Safaricom Lewa Marathon; through a stunning grove of Yellow Fever Trees.

Photo Credit:  Tusk Trust.

 

Reminiscing about running in the wild!The front runners making headway during the Safaricom Lewa Marathon.

Photo Credit: Safaricom.

 

The International Mountain Explorers Connection

Africa and Tanzania Odyssey is proud to be in partnership with THE INTERNATIONAL MOUNTAIN EXPLORERS CONNECTION, which focus on improving the working conditions of porters on Kilimanjaro and in Nepal.

With our specific focus on Africa’s highest Mountain; Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, it is incredibly important to us that our clients who attempt this summit do so responsibly, whilst creating sustainable connections with the people of developing mountain regions.

 

The International Mountain Explorers Connection The International Mountain Explorers Connection

Partnership with the Seychelles Tourism Board

We are delighted to announce that we have formed a partnership with the Seychelles Tourism Board.  They offer useful  advice for any of our clients travelling to any of the Islands in the Seychelles.  We will work together to create unbelievable, tailor made holidays to this stunning destination.

Mulberry Mongoose

Introducing Mulberry Mongoose

Mulberry Mongoose is a Zambian business that creates handcrafted, accessories, which capture elements of the African bush and way of life whilst investing in the conservation of the South Luangwa. Their handcrafted pieces are sold worldwide.

The name Mulberry Mongoose is partly inspired by the banded mongoose, an animal often seen in large family groups ‘talking’ incessantly to one another! The social cohesiveness of these mongooses reflects the level of social care the business is striving towards. Mulberry is a distinctive English fruit as well as a colour, and a reminder to Kate, the company’s designer, of her roots and her love of fashion. Mulberry Mongoose will always aspire to create designer accessories that people love to wear…but each piece will also embody positive, conscientious change.

Mulberry Mongoose

From working with local carpenters who create hand carved wooden beads and seeds, to supplementing local farmers’ income by buying guinea fowl feathers and ordering countless chitenge gift bags from local tailors, Mulberry Mongoose aims to give back through generating local business. They also pride themselves on hiring local artisans, particularly women, and investing in staff training and development; the aim is for the artisans’ skills to grow with the business.

Mulberry Mongoose

The impact of Mulberry Mongoose’s ambitions can already be felt; their much-celebrated Snare Wire Jewellery Collection has so far raised $50,000, in just over three years, to help fund critical anti snare patrols in the South Luangwa Valley. U.S. President Bill Clinton, Richard Branson, Sting and Leo DiCaprio have all sported a Mulberry Mongoose snare bracelet.

Snare wire and coils

 

Mulberry Mongoose uses snare wire collected in by the Conservation South Luangwa (CSL) who collaborate closely with the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP). Conservation South Luangwa organizes strategic anti snare patrols to collect the illegal and lethal snare wire set around the South Luangwa National Park and surrounding buffer zones. Poachers lay snares to trap bush meat but the wire is an indiscriminate killer of iconic wildlife including elephant, giraffe, lion, leopard and the endangered wild dog.

Mulberry Mongoose then transforms the wire from something brutal into something beautiful. With the sale of each piece of jewellery money is donated back to funding more patrols; the same instrument set down to destroy wildlife is transformed into a tool to ensure their future.

Mulberry Mongoose has worldwide stockists and sells their jewellery online.

 

 

A guide to the best beaches in the Indian Ocean

We have stayed in probably all of the finest recommended beach lodges from the Seychelles to Madagascar, down the coast and islands of Kenya and Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and Mauritius. It is fair to say that we know what is good and, quite frankly, what is not. A guide to the best beaches in the Indian Ocean

The truth is that pictures can lie. Or at least tell only a very small part of the story. And truthful, unbiased opinion counts for a lot in this new age of information. If you are to ascertain what a location is actually like from the private marketing copy supplied by an individual lodge you should analyse what is not said as much as what is; for example, if a lodge organises daily free picnic outings and snorkelling trips, you could fairly surmise that their beach is tidal and/or awful. It is a mystery beyond understanding why many so-called beach locations have appalling beaches.

Tripadvisor can be useful, but falls short of providing relative, objective information, people tend to have a good time and write a good review wherever they are, especially if they are on honeymoon, and only go back to complain online if something goes calamitously wrong. There is no function on Tripadvisor to tell you about a better beach down the coast/ on a nearby island/ closer to the safari action, because all those reviews are subjective to the (often) one visit.

So this is a guide to unearthing the best beaches in the Indian Ocean, from an expert perspective. These are the questions that we ask, on our mission for sublime beach joy.

What is the tidal movement ?
Tides may fluctuate by up to 500 metres – making swimming impossible for the majority of your day, and often water too shallow for a proper swim even when the tide is in. And as a follow up question we would ask if the hotel has a pool to compensate for those low tide moments.

What is the quality of the beach sand?
Ideally we would be imagining powder white coral sand, but there are beaches with silty yellow sand, or rocks, razor clams, anemones, etc necessitating jelly shoes to navigate a path to the sea. We want to know if beaches have seaweed, and if so is that seasonal, or cleared by the hotel each day. Some of our favourite and most beautiful locations have a number of beaches with different aspects so when one is subject to seaweed, the other is fine.

Waves or snorkelling, swimming or surfing?
The mainland coast tends to have deeper water and big waves, whereas shallower island beaches tend to have better snorkelling. (This is a generalisation, but often true!)

How big is the hotel?
Again a generalisation, but small rustic lodges tend to be airy and natural and the larger lodges tend to be better equipped with mod cons. Think about what matters most to you; would you like black-out blinds, aircon that works, an isolated aspect or a kids’ club? If you are travelling with children you might consider if the area is malarial, are their inter-connecting rooms, how far you are prepared to fly them.

So… where then?
The million dollar question. But the answer is not simple… it is dependent on a wide range of factors, including all the answers to the above questions, budget, time of year and how far you are prepared to travel from your safari. Below is a very oversimplified analysis of the main locations:

The Seychelles
If you have deep pockets, then North Island wins hands down with its glorious, non-tidal beaches, a small, beautifully appointed and well run lodge. BUT it does cost about E2200 per person per night (pppn). Also up there in the private island stakes are Denis and DesRoches, both private islands and far more sensibly priced, but these can be difficult to get to. The Seychelles definitely fulfils all private island dreams, but otherwise the best and most beautiful beaches on the main islands of Mahe and Praslin tend to be part of the big hotels. The Seychelles are also hard to get to and from, especially from mainland Africa.

Tanzania
Still unspoilt, Tanzania is a great safari country with some very lovely Indian Ocean beach options that are easy to tack on and reasonably priced. Zanzibar has a wide range of small and large hotels, some on good breaches, some not, with good boat-based snorkelling and diving. The other main islands of Pemba and Mafia are better dive locations than they are swimming locations. Mnemba, Thanda and Fanjove are superb private islands with amazing beaches and the latter is not prohibitively expensive. Our great favourite is the tiny, rustic chic Ras Kutani, a superb beach lodge on the mainland but no diving or snorkelling.

Northern Mozambique
Hard and expensive to get to nowadays and usually accessed from Tanzania, there are a number of islands near Pemba in the Quirimbas archipelago that are worth travelling for! The jewel in the crown is Vamizi – a small lodge with a wonderful beach (though not cheap). Quilalea is more of a snorkelling or diving location, and we don’t think the mainland beach lodges are worth the expense and effort to get to

Southern Mozambique
Not the easiest or cheapest to get to, most easily accessible from Johannesburg or Kruger National Park. The mainland beaches are fine yellow sand with waves, and with good diving and snorkelling – a particular favourite is White Pearl, south of Maputo. Most of the lodges, though, are in the Bazaruto archipelago on the islands of Benguerra or Bazarutu. Generally these lodges are great, but they are expensive and the beaches not amazing and are very tidal. Seriously good snorkelling, diving and fishing, however.

Mauritius                                                                                                                                                                              

The domain of large hotels, buffet suppers and kids clubs. Some beautiful beaches but some very mediocre beaches too. Time of year is important here, as the East tends to be wetter and windier than the West… and there is no such thing as a small, bijou Mauritian hotel!

Madagascar
The new kid on the block and much more accessible now with the new service from Johannesburg straight to Nosy Be. The infrastructure in Madagascar is still frustrating, but avoiding Antananarivo makes travelling here a lot better. Madagascar has great beaches and simple accommodation, although there are a few high end lodges being finished up as we write. Of particular note is the private island haven of Tsarabanjina, which is hotly anticipated as our next great favourite!

The Maldives
Not really accessible from Africa, the Maldives are a holiday destination in their own right (or combined with Southern India). Regardless of price, the different Maldivian islands tend to have everything that we dream of for our ultimate African island. The Maldives have an abundance of amazing, soft, white powdery sand, off the beach snorkelling, and many very fine lodges here are not outrageously expensive. The down sides are that many island lodges have a lot of rooms crammed onto a small island, and there are a lot of chain hotels (although there are some charming smaller lodges too).

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