Why a Trip to The Belgian Grand Prix Should Be Your First Formula 1 Experience

Why a Trip to The Belgian Grand Prix Should Be Your First Formula 1 Experience

Original article written for Yakondi, available here.

When it comes to ticking things off one’s Bucket List, there is little that compares to the thrill of a Formula 1 Grand Prix. As a lifelong fan of Formula 1 fan, I had been looking forward to my first Grand Prix experience for a long time, having driven around the Monaco Grand Prix street circuit earlier this year. In the aftermath of this casual drive (the Monaco Grand Prix takes place on public roads,) the urge to see one of the 20 races on the calendar was stronger than ever.

I chose to experience the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa Francorchamps, as one of the races closest to Copenhagen, where I live, and faced by exorbitant accommodation prices in and around Liege, Belgium, I ended up spending 2 days in one of the best Airbnb stays I’ve been on in the border region of Eiffel, Germany.

Here are some of my tips and tricks for how to get to and experience the Belgian Grand Prix, for anyone who wants to experience a Formula 1 race – fans and newbies alike.I visited The Belgian Grand Prix with my family and we sat on The Kemmel Straight

I visited The Belgian Grand Prix with my family and we sat on The Kemmel Straight @Kortbaek_Travels

The Belgian Grand Prix in a Nutshell

The Belgian Grand Prix is one of the quintessential classics on the F1 calendar, snaking through lush forests in The Ardennes Forest for around 7 kilometres, thereby making it the longest circuit in the series.

Unlike some of the more modern circuits, Spa retains a rustic appeal that gives it an iconic, festival-esque feel. Spa is all about Pommes Frites, sausages and an overdose of Mayonnaise in changing weather conditions where the sun shines on one part of the circuit while there’s a downpour on the other. For this reason, pack your bag with essentials such as brollies, rain anoraks and wellies – it has rained at Spa at some point or other in each race for many years now.Fans galore: Spa Francorchamps is all about mingling with the fans of other racing teams

Fans galore: Spa Francorchamps is all about mingling with the fans of other racing teams @ Kortbaek_Travels

Beverages and refreshments at Spa are very pricey for what’s on offer (a small portion of Pommes Frites, for example, costs 7 Euros, while a micro-cup of coffee retails for 5.5 Euros). Packing light snacks and refreshments of your own is, therefore, a good idea, just make sure they are in plastic, not glass containers if you want to get let past security.

Spa’s proximity to The Netherlands also means that the event is visited by legions of Max Verstappen fans, clad in the orange colours of Holland or Red Bull Racing’s distinct dark blue shade. Personally, I’m a Mercedes fan and support Lewis Hamilton but there is an undeniably special feeling of sportsmanship between the fans of different teams at Spa Francorchamps.There are Dutch Formula 1 fans aplenty at The Belgian Grand Prix

There are Dutch Formula 1 fans aplenty at The Belgian Grand Prix @Kortbaek_Travels

Where to Stay & How to get there

Even if you are early, accommodation prices at Spa skyrocket around the time of the annual Formula 1 race. Everything tends to get fully booked very quickly so your best option, rather than struggling to find somewhere to stay in Liege or the surrounding area is to look in neighbouring Germany (if you’re travelling by car).

We found one of the best Airbnb stays (Charmantes Ferienhaus) I’ve had the pleasure of buying – located in Simmerath, in the middle of the lush Eifel National Park. Located a mere 43 km away in the mountains, our Airbnb stay was the perfect antidote to the roars and skids of motors at Spa. Do yourself a favour and explore the Eifel National Park area while you’re there – it is one of Germany’s undiscovered pearls!

As we drove from Denmark, a trip down the autobahn was the easiest way to get to Spa. A tip for travellers coming from Scandinavia and Northern Europe would be to avoid hitting Hamburg and the Elb Tunnel area on a Friday, which tends to be one of the peak traffic days, particularly during the summer, when roadworks slow things down even more.

For those flying – Brussels or Cologne are the closest airports to Spa and I can recommend finding tickets via the convenient and easy-to-use metasearch tool, Momondo, who are also a really cool company when it comes to pushing for a more open and tolerant world through travel. You can also use Momondo to find hotel stays and car hire.

Find a flight with Momondo

Find a hotel with Momondo

Rent a car via Momondo

Getting tickets for The Belgian Grand Prix

Starting with the basics – Formula 1 tickets can be bought directly from the official Formula 1 webpage and in the case of The Belgian Grand Prix, retail for 125 EUR for Bronze tickets valid for the whole weekend. Since I drove there by car, we also included parking tickets for all days of the Grand Prix – which, including postage of the tickets and payment charges, ended up at 174 EUR per person.  Some would argue otherwise, but I think that Bronze tickets (there are also silver and Gold available) are more than ideal when it comes to experiencing a race at Spa Francorchamps.

Where to sit at The Belgian Grand Prix

Blink and you'll miss it. A Mercedes racer streaks past The Kemmel Straight at over 300 Kph!

Blink and you’ll miss it. A Mercedes racer streaks past The Kemmel Straight at over 300 Kph! @Kortbaek_Travels

Spa Francorchamps has many different seating options for all ticket holders. As it’s a long circuit, it can take time to navigate from one area of the track to another, so have a good idea of where you would like to sit before race day.

Bronze tickets give you access to all race sessions from Friday through to Sunday so there is ample time to check out different areas of the circuit. Wherever you do sit though, I recommend that you have a  good view of one of the many giant broadcast screens so you can follow the race on the rest of the circuit.

I personally recommend sitting on the famous Kemmel Straight, just after the high-speed turns of Eau Rouge and Raidillon – two of the best corners in Formula 1, where downforce levels on the cars can be up to five times their weight (Eau Rouge.) The Kemmel Straight is one of the main overtaking opportunities at The Belgian Grand Prix, where speeds of up to 340 kph are clocked, with the drivers on full throttle for 20 seconds, so expect action on this part of the circuit.

Other good spots to sit at for Bronze ticket holders include the grassy hill at Pouhon and the Bus Stop chicane, which feeds into the pit lane entry.One of the Renaults' whizzes by on The Kemmel Straight

One of the Renaults’ whizzes by on The Kemmel Straight @Kortbaek_Travels

Parking at The Belgium Grand Prix

Parking tickets are a must if you are to get the most of your Spa experience and come included in your ticket price if you select them as add-ons. We parked close to the circuit entry by Combes Gate. There are four entry Gates to Spa in total -be prepared for waiting times and security checks as you go through them.

Dismal parking administration once the race is done means that you should be prepared to spend up to 3 hours waiting to get out of the parking lot itself, as Europe’s best “every man for himself get out of the parking spot” contest kicks in, with each car squirming for the same outlet. While Spa’s rustic charm has its merits, this is one the elements of this experience we could have done without and something that the organisers must look to address in future years.Parking chaos at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix

Parking chaos at the 2018 Belgian Grand Prix @Kortbaek_Travels

What session to attend?

A Formula 1 weekend packs experiences of all sorts in for the entire family. In addition to race day, you will probably also want to see some of the practice sessions on Friday and Saturday and of course, qualifying on Saturday. There are also Formula 3000 and GP2 races (seeding series for Formula 1 where some of tomorrow’s stars are doing their best to carve a name for themselves in motorsport). It goes without saying that on race day, the best seats in the house belong to the early birds, so get up in good time and find your spot.

This being Spa, be prepared to walk some distance to take a leak every now and again as things fill up very quickly. I can also advise bringing or buying something to sit on – either camping chairs or simply foam plates, as it can be wet, muddy and uncomfortable to sit at some areas of Spa. The build-up to the race is also an event in itself. As such, get your lunch well before the Driver’s parade around the track (the closest most people will ever come to their racing idols) so you can also experience this element of the race.Mercede's Lewis Hamilton waves to the ground during the driver's parade

Mercede’s Lewis Hamilton waves to the ground during the driver’s parade @Kortbaek_Travels

We were unfortunate enough to have Disc Jockey, two Twerkers and a very bad MC across the track from us who, tasked with warming the crowd up, did a very poor job of churning out a mix of cheesy requests, loud, unbearable hard dance music and dance moves that should probably never have seen the light of day. This dynamic quartet also managed to disconnect the sound from the paddock and race commentary and were eventually booed off by most of the spectators.

A full map of the track can be found below or via the link in the caption.Map Courtesy of Spa Francorchamps.be

Map Courtesy of Spa Francorchamps.be

The Belgium Grand Prix 2018 – a Roundup

Renault had a bad race at Spa, with Nico Hulkenberg causing a turn 1 melee at the start of the race

Renault had a bad race at Spa, with Nico Hulkenberg causing a turn 1 melee at the start of the race @Kortbaek_Travels

After a tense Saturday qualifying session which saw the rain wreak havoc late on in the session, Mercedes were well-poised to put in a strong showing at The Belgian Grand Prix. Come race day on Sunday, however, and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had other plans. Powered by the best-performing engine of all the cars in the field, he took the lead on The Kemmel Straight early on, flying past Lewis Hamilton and going on to build an unassailable advantage lap by lap.

Further down the advancing pack, Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg missed his braking point by some distance into the first corner, sending Fernando Alonso’s Orange McLaren hurtling over the Sauber of Charles Leclerc – an incident that brought out the yellow flags and spiced things up for the spectators. Vettel went on to win, followed by Hamilton and Max Verstappen in his Red Bull racer, some distance off the pace but on the podium in front of his legions nonetheless.

What to bring with you on your trip to Spa Francorchamps

Be prepared for a bit of everything at The Belgian Grand Prix!

Be prepared for a bit of everything at The Belgian Grand Prix! @Kortbaek_Travels

Last but not least, as with most of the content I will be producing, here is a list of what to bring with you on your trip:

  • An anorak / waterproof jacket
  • Wellington boots for the fainthearted
  • Camping seats or foam pads for your bum
  • Sunglasses
  • A good camera
  • Earplugs
  • Snacks and beverages
  • Merch to support your favourite team (obviously)

The Seychelles – What to see and do on the islands of The Seychelles

The Seychelles are a truly spectacular group of islands off the coast of Africa. Life here is placid and free of the stress and fusiness of Western civillasation yet it’s also a nation with one of the highest GDP per capita in Africa.

A country that defies the stereotypes and often lives in the shadow of other wrongfully hyped destinations such as The Maldives, The Seychelles were a natural travel choice after my trip to Hawaii. Here is a video from my journey to The Seychelles, plus a few pictures from paradise. I explored the islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, each of which brim with their own distinct personality and panache.

Scroll to the bottom for  flight links.

Anse Severe – La Digue Island

La Digue is my favourite of the islands in The Seychelles. This small island paradise contains very few cars and most people use bikes to get from A to B. With almost no theft here, it’s not even neccessary to lock one’s bike. Anse Severe, on the Northeastern shore  of La Digue, not so far from the endearing Takamaka Cafe, is probably the best of all the many snorkelling spots on La Digue.

Recommendations for where to eat on La Digue:

Fish Trap Restaurant & Bar – La Passe

This establishment is located by the beach (in fact some of its tables are in the sand, hence its charm). Meals are plentiful and well-cooked but prepare to pay handsomely for them. The service is highly commendable and the bar area is quite cosy.

Cafe Takamaka

This family- run shack serves some of the best octopus i’ve eaten anywhere in the world, at a decent price and with all the crudeness, love and quirky touches you’d expect.

There are also cheap sandwiches and several other hot meals on offer. Beachside seating and a passing Aldabra tortoise on the side of the road added even more charm to this quaint place.

Gala Takeaway

This quaint takeaway serves up a riveting selection of dishes at great prices. We had the tuna salad and an avocado salad, both of which tasted great! The ladies in the kitchen know their stuff.

Ice cream scoops for a cool 15 rupees.

Where to stay on La Digue:

La Diguoise

Anse Gaulettes – La Digue Island

Venture north from Anse Severe and experience the rocky, untamed wilderness of this part of the island. Look out for wild Giant Aldabra Tortoises that wander the narrow roads (please don’t sit on them).

Anse Source D’Argent – La Digue Island

Anse Source D’Argent is the sort of place you’d shoot a Bacardi commercial – and many have been made here. This slice of paradise offers one of the Seychelles’ best and most picturesque beaches.

Wade around the rocks at the southern fringe of the beach around midday and you’ll end up on  Anse Pierrot which you will probably have all for yourself. Be sure to wander back up through the shallows before the tide comes in the afternoon or you’ll end up having to swim.

Anse Source D’Argent is part of L’Union Estate so you’ll have to pay a small fee to enter the area. Stop by the Giant Aldabra Tortoise enclosure where you’ll see some of these magnificent reptiles in action, quite literally.

If you’re thirsty, there’s a small beach bar at the start of the beach that serves a refreshing selection of fruit drinks and cocktails.

Grand Anse, La Digue Island

At some times of the year, Grand Anse is a great surfing spot as the waves hit the beach with verve. When I was here, however, the waves broke right by the beach and faded into the steep bank almost immediately. This didn’t stop the local body boarders from riding their luck at dusk though.

If you’re feeling adventurous, clamber over the rocks and make your way to Petite Anse, a more exposed beach that you can also access by following the rocky trail between the two beaches.

Getting to Grand Anse is only possible by bike and the path winds up and down the hillside so pedal carefully lest your chain fall off (speaking from experience 😉 .) You’ll also find a decent restaurant at Grand Anse.

Beau Vallon, Mahe Island

Mahe is the biggest of the islands of The Seychelles and Beau Vallon is to its capital what Copacabana is to Rio – a lively, riveting stretch of sand that everyone seems to love. Beau Vallon was the first beach I set foot on as I did away with my jet lag with an all-day snooze. Head to the hills to watch the sun dip over Silhoutte island in the distance at the end of each day.

Where to stay in Beau Vallon:

Villa Roscia

My girlfriend and I arrived at Mahe airport in the morning, where Paulo was on hand to pick us up. He’s attentive, flexible, amicable and goes the extra mile to ensure his guests are informed and have what they need at all times.

The property itself is modern, clean and even a tad edgy, with a small swimming pool at the bottom of the garden. A lot of attention has been paid to the details – USB and European power sockets being but a couple of observations of note.

Paulo’s wife and kids live on the ground floor and are very friendly ,making it an unparralled homestay with all the modcons you’d usually have to fork out a small fortune for at large hotels and resorts.

Do yourself a favour and sample the breakfast platter – fruits, bread, fresh crossaints, tea / coffee, yoghurt and lots more. There’s also tea / coffee on the balcony from 5 pm on, where you can watch the sun drop serenely over the ocean horizon.

Villa Roscia is located a stone’s throw away from the less touristy end of the endearing Beau Vallon beach. Jetty transfers (ferry to Praslin) also available at a fair fee. Highly recommended.

Anse Major Nature Trail, Mahe Island

There are hikes galore on many of the islands in The Seychelles and The Anse Major Nature Trail is one of Mahe Island’s most endearing.

Catch the bus from Beau Vallon police station to the small settlement of Danzilles and walk up to the end of the road from there. Watch out for Batman Studios on your left as you enter the trail (a tourist trap that lures bypassers in for a sight at their caged bats). The trail is easy to walk and is graced with lush vegetation on all sides as well as jaw-dropping vistas of Silhoutte island in the distance.

The tranquil Anse Major beach awaits you at the end of the trail. Grab a water taxi back to Beau Vallon for the full Anse Major Nature Trail experience.

Read more about the Anse Major Nature Trail here.

Anse Major, Mahe Island

Anse Lazio, Praslin Island

Praslin Island is the second-largest of the islands of The Seychelles. Life here is more quiet and sedate than it is in Mahe and its smaller size means that everything is much closer and easier to get to.

Anse Lazio is probably the most beautiful beach i’ve ever set foot on. This spectacular gem of a beach is best reached by car (or taxi) and is located on the north of Praslin. Crystalline waters, smooth (rounded) boulders and silky white sands give it a distinct look and feel.

Beneath these placid waters you will find all manner of colourful fish and marine life- tame  as they are in these parts. The left and right-hand sides Anse Lazio are best for snorkeling but watch out for sharks in the deeper waters.

I came within 12 feet of a Grey reef shark and though the odds of a shark attack are very low, being rounded by a 2-3 metre giant of the sea was a hair-raising if not unforgetable experience. Stay out of the water if you have even the slightest of cuts and treat the marine life with respect.

Where to eat on Praslin:

Pirogue Restaurant & Bar, Cote D’or

As the most centrally located restaurant in the small town, Pirogue pulls a crowd and serves up some decent dishes. It’s a great place – lunch offers are pretty decent, for dinner – prepare to wait for a table (or book in advance)

Where to stay on Praslin:

Villa Bedier, Cote D’or

Villa Beddier has all the amenties and mod cons you’ll need for a stay in C’ot D’or, Praslin. Book via their own webpage for the best prices but expect to pay in cash at the end of your stay. Look out for the complementary jetty drop-off at the end of your stay.

The rooms are well furnished and very spacious – spanning a long balcony, Master bedroom, toilet, kitchen and living room.

Located by the beach and in the heart of the little village, guests are endowed with several supermarkets, restaurants, ATMs and souvenir shops in close range.

Vallée de Mai, Praslin Island

If you’re looking for the garden of Eden – this is it. A giant palm forest that takes you back to the days when Africa was known as the massive continent of Gondwana, the place feels like a cross between Jurassic Park (minus the dinasaurs) and The Amazon.

The giant Coco De Mer palms are endemic to The Seychelles and bear a striking resemblance to both male and female genitalia.

Cote D’or Beach – Praslin Island

Cote   D’or Beach is an uderstated stretch of beach along the shore of the adjacent town, which is home to several cafes, restaurants and accomodation options.

Find a flight to The Seychelles with momondo & follow me on Instagram for more travel inspiration and tips

Kenya & Tanzania: Memoirs

Africa rarely ceases to amaze, for better or for worse.  In July 2015, along with my partner in crime Lars – Ulrik Nielsen, I visited Tanzania and Kenya for one month to shoot a documentary film in the former and visit friends and family in the latter. I was last on the continent 5 years ago – a singular visit to the place that I grew up on in one decade.

Those who have lived in or visited Africa will contend that it’s a place of contrasts and constant change. Like the Sahara sounds of the North, the scenery, people, sites and sounds of this continent are constantly shifting; an eternal ballad with the fierce winds of time that carry with them all manner of emotions-hope, despair, warmth and wisdom.

This is my feeble attempt to capture some of what I experienced and chart my path through the many miles of road that I covered. It is an even more feeble ploy to attract the attention of the privileged world to some of the problems of the less-endowed and more importantly, on what can be done, however minimal, to help out with such issues. Crucially, in the age of selfies and selflessness in which we live – an epoch that my generation can stake our claim on as that in which social disparity is at its highest, this article is a call to arms that I hope, illustrates that small actions from those in positions of privilege can have major lasting impacts on the lives of others who do not have access to human rights.

If you have the patience to read through this article, you will note that there are many links (highlighted in green), which can be explored through a single mouse click. These links open in a new window.


Khalifa and I sample fruits that these amicable Maasai children shared with us on the hilltop overlooking Mlembule village, Northern Tanzania. We sat here for hours, able to communicate solely through laughter and gestures.

The story of my travels began earlier this year with a call from a close friend who approached me with the idea of starting a Non – Governmental Organisation that could lend a helping hand to communities in need in Tanzania. I jumped on board and helped form Jengo– an organisation whose aim is that of helping improve the lives of underpriviledged communities in the north of this beautiful East African country.

Our vision of going to Tanzania to gain a better overview of some of the problems that we wish to ameliorate via Jengo became a reality shortly after the attainment of the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Verdenslegat) grant. This generous scheme covers all travel expenses and production costs associated with the shooting of a short 8-minute documentary that sheds light on specific problems in third-world countries. Considering the nature of our deadline-day application, we met the news of our grant accreditation with amusement and surprise. Days after the reality of what we’d achieved sunk in, we began the process of planning the logistics of a two-week trip to the north of Tanzania that would involve not merely shooting footage for our proposed film, but also entail work for our NGO, Jengo, independently of our movie work.

Many reams of red tape later, we found ourselves on our way to Tanzania, to sow the first seeds of hope for various communities in the Northern part of the country. The mission?

  1. Commence the construction of a school in the outskirts of the village of Mlembule, near Mombo, that will serve as a hub for the education of young Maasai girls in coming years and help protect Albinos confronted by persecution based on unfortunate prejudices within their communities.
  2. Shoot an 8-minute documentary on women’s rights in the Maasai culture, centred on the lives of two couples in two different Maasai villages.
  3. Gather information concerning the nature and scope of various problems faced by communities of interest to Jengo.

This is my animated diary of our two weeks on the road:

Skærmbillede 2015-08-30 kl. 19.12.13

The costs of building a school for the children of Mlembule. We have raised funds for the first 2500 USD, with which a foundation was constructed whilst we were on our voyage in Tanzania. More is needed though – find out more about how you can contribute.

4th – 6th July 2015: From Paul McCartney to Amsterdam and Dar Es Salaam


All set for the trip: Lars Ulrik Nielsen and I shortly before take-off from Kastrup airport on the hottest day of the year in Denmark. 

The hottest day of the year in Denmark. I began it amidst a furore of fireworks and music, flanked by thousands of revellers at Roskilde Festival. The Orange stage was awash with bright red, purple and yellow flames from the fireworks show that cut the sky like blades through butter as Paul McCartney rolled back the years. My train ride home took an eternity and my sleep was no different to that of a sedated beast.

Hours later and I found myself bound on a KLM flight that stopped in Amsterdam and later Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania’s largest city and the most populous Swahili speaking city in the world. Home to between 4 and 5 million people, up to 70 per cent of Dar’s population live in slum areas with poor access to basic amenities such as water and electricity. The city greets you with a warm, sweltering rush of air that smells of salt and seaweed. It is uncomfortably humid at best.

After an hour of filling out Visa forms (the procedure is ridiculously slow), Lars Ulrik and I hitched a taxi bound for the city centre. As with many airports, it is wise to take official taxis and even in this case, do not accept the start price, as you will probably be overcharged.  Instead, verse yourself with the nudge and grudge of negotiation-a skill that you will need in many situations in Africa.

We commenced our stay by checking in at the Safari Inn . Twin beds with air conditioning (a welcome help against a backdrop of sweltering humidity) will set you back a cool 10 – 20 USD per night. The staff are friendly and the property is secure: a popular pay-for-what-you-get location amongst tourists and the ideal stopover for a night.

7th July Dar es Salaam to Mombo at The Crack of Dawn


Arrival in Mlembule: The arrival of guests from afar for many an African village is an elaborate affair that tends to involve quite a few people.

We began our day brutally early as Jengo vice chairman Tambwe Tumbwa and his brother Hamisi drove us to our morning bus at 4 am.  The air was heavy with the scent of sea salt and the back of my neck felt warm and wet.  Two vital Airtel sim cards with pre-loaded credits are handed to us; -absolute necessities on any trip as roaming costs are nothing short of daylight robbery. Getting cash proved to be a challenge as we visited one empty ATM before getting lucky at a second.

Being that It was a public holiday and the bus terminal was crammed with a mix of commuters, porters of stock and baggage, adroit touts and eager ticket vendors. Coming here on one’s own, without the help of a local friend, is unadvisable.

We streaked through the darkness amidst a flurry of shouting and early morning hustle and bustle. The bags on our backs were heavy and uncomfortable – crammed with donations for our work here from partners such as Derma and GAME Denmark. More than once, we came close to falling, as we trudged and stumbled through the mud left by the night’s drizzle. Carts of stock driven by irritable men hissed and nudged us out of the way – we were cumbersome boulders in a sea of early morning hustle.  I followed the bulky mass of baggage and man in front of me as best I could until we finally reached our destnination, the Dar Express bound for Arusha.   A cut above other bus options, this company will take you safely from A to B and keep you entertained (or perpetually bothered, depending on your outlook) with dramatic local soap operas and music videos at full volume for the entire duration of your journey. You will also get a small packet of glucose biscuits and a soda but don’t expect extra legroom.

Daylight found us aboard our bus as we snaked through a sea of combustion engines prompted by commuters heading out of the city for the Eid celebrations. As a high percentage of Tanzanians are Muslim, this holiday is fairly significant – many establishments are closed and the drone of Mosque prayers shoots through the evening air at many a township over the course of the holidays. The scenery shifts from messy urban sprawl to palm-tree strewn suburbia and quaint rice paddies that resemble those in Asia as we rise up into the hills and up to the north. The air here is clear and calming, a stark contrast to the congestion and heat of Dar Es Salaam.

We reached Mombo in the afternoon and were confronted by a horde of overly eager bus touts and idlers in search of a quick buck, some of whom attempted to carry our rucksacks despite overt No’s from our part.  My Swahili came in handy as I made it clear that we were not interested in whatever services they had to offer. After a few more confrontations with the inhabitants of this unpleasant outpost, one of whom was worryingly sloshed, our local partner, Khalifa from the Friends of Usambara association arrived to our rescue. We had a local buffet lunch at the well-priced Liverpool hotel on the highway heading out of Mombo, before heading to the first Maasai village on our itinerary, Mlembule.

Our arrival in Mlembule was greeted by a mix of stares and laughs from pretty much every adult and child in the village at that particular time. There is rarely a low-key arrival in Africa when guests from abroad are in town.  Some may be put-off or taken aback by the experience but for many from the Western world, arriving in a small African town will probably one of the most welcoming experiences they endure in their lifetime. Having stowed our luggage in our Manyattas (huts), we toured the village and its environs – guided all the while by Chief Daudi – a wise old man who I gained respect for over the course of our stay.

Night fell and the sounds of the Savannah rang out cacophonously. I realised how much I  had missed these sounds the concerto of crickets and other insects and occasionally, the chilling roar of some wild and unidentifiable beast. Jet-lagged, worn and weary from days of traveling, I shut my eyes in the cool, pacifying confines of my Manyatta (hut).


Chief Daudi from Mlembule village – an excellent host and gentleman who is at home clad in traditional Maasai attire (as shown here) or in conventional Western clothing that he frequently dons during his diplomatic visits to communities outside of his village.

7th – 8th July: The Wedding in Mlembule

IMG_3855The groom to-be, Johanna, on the left of the picture, a few hours before his wedding day.

The first of two wedding appearances on our trip. As with many other weddings around the world, there is a lingering undertone of anticipation and bit of unplanned comedy. Maasai weddings are far simpler than many Western ones can be and involve far less logistics, which makes them less stressful to be a part of. One of the highlights of this particular wedding was the birth of a goat kid amidst the sea of cattle in the village boma (enclosure) just before the ceremony began. Eager to film the spectacle, I approached the scene and began to record, at which point one of the chief’s brothers pitched up and performed what I can only describe as a very impressive caesarean section. Once done, he proceeded to very calmly ask me if I had a buck or two for his efforts, which I responded that I did not. His hustling continued for the remainder of our stay, despite a telling-off from his brother – it all got rather amusing an the end of it all.

The rest of the wedding went along smoothly and was over and done in the matter of a few hours. Part of this ceremony involved a rather intimate squeeze into one of the huts, where a ritualistic exchange of blessings from parents took place, briefly and without undue fuss.

One of the challenges that faces Maasai communities particularly in Tanzania is that of teenage marriage, whereby young girls are often wedded off to men who are much older than themselves in return for accumulations of wealth in the form of cattle. The fact that polygamy is in many areas not just accepted, but a sign of virility and status exacerbate this. For the sceptics reading this, the reason for the existence of widespread polygamy in many African communities is logical if we talk in terms of cultural relativism. In previous times, chiefs marrying the women of other tribes and creating children with them was one of the most effective ways of preventing conflicts and wars amongst different tribes and clans. Though this argument is not as relevant today as it has been, it goes some way towards explaining the historical roots of African polygamy. There are, it goes without saying, numerous other socio-political factors that can account for the prevalence of this practice.

This particular wedding did not raise any eyebrows per se, though we did, as part of our work with our NGO, interview a 15-year-old girl, Nayaki, who has been married for two years to a husband with whom she has a child. Part of the reason for the persistence of such problems lies in the lack of educational opportunities within numerous Maasai communities and though the practice is in decline, there is much work to be done, as Chief Daudi admitted to us in an interview we had with him later in the day. For him, education is the way out of many of the socioeconomic problems of his village- he believes that the construction of a school is a fundamental tool in creating awareness and opportunities amongst and for the youth.


Nayaki, aged fifteen is married to a man much older than herself with whom she has a child. Teenage pregnancy is one of the challenges in Maasai societies that Jengo hopes to mitigate through the construction of a school and the creation of educational opportunities.

We ended a day of many impressions with bucket – list experience material in the form of dancing with some of the young “morans” (teens and young adults who have not yet completed the rite de passage to full adulthood). Jumping in the darkness of the chilly savannah surrounded by the shrill screams and croaks of a tribe that has walked the lands of Africa for thousands of years remains an unforgettable experience, etched in my memory like shards of glass scraped onto a brick wall.

9th July: A Day of Down-tempo Persuasions

The next day was quiet and sedate compared to the previous ones. Now accustomed to our presence, the children of Mlembule seemed less curious and more at ease in our company. We donated footballs and frisbees (compliments of a partnership with GAME Denmark, where both Lars-Ulrik and myself work from time to time) to an initially apprehensive group of boys.  Despite their initial hesitation, once they started playing football, they didn’t stop until only the cover of darkness deterred them from their newfound thrill. The sight of a community engaging in sport, particularly in a grassroots area like Mlembule is immensely rewarding. The competitive and sometimes elitist nature of sports distracts us from enjoying its power as a tool that is indispensable in the context of social bonding.

On this day, we also had the pleasure of meeting Khachichu, one of the few albinos in the area. Albinos in Africa face a dire and worrying threat of persecution and death due to ancient myths that maintain that their body parts have magical powers. For a young boy like Khachichu, this means that he cannot go anywhere unaccompanied by his parents. Another challenge facing Albino populations in Africa is the damaging effect that the sun has on their skin, which, due to a lack of pigment, is easily burned and damaged. Tanzania has the highest concentration of Albinos within its population demography – the problems that I speak of are real and severe. Khachichu was understandably shy if not shocked initially-strangers are not usually people he associates with and he seemed naturally suspicious of us from the start. Compliments of another of our partners, Derma, we donated sun cream to Khachichu in the hope that it will help protect him from the intense rays of the sun. Though wary, he thanked us with a reassuring glance – a mixture of bemusement, caution and appreciation that remains, like so many other memories, an engraved fixture in the back of my mind.

We ended our day in Chief Daudi’s hut where yet another elaborate dinner came our way. True to his hospitable nature, Daudi handed Lars-Ulrik and myself a series of gifts, all handmade.

11700598_1606041059671951_4554395392709983716_oKhachichu, aged 7 is one of several children with Albinism in the areas that we visited. Thanks to a donation of sun cream from Derma, he will now be able to play outside with greater ease, as there is less of a risk of getting sun burned. Find out how you can contribute to helping children like Khachichu here

9th -10th July: From Mlembule to the Mountains

We left Mlembule around noon, after some unexpected delays. The road to the Usambara mountains from the plains near Mombo rises steeply into the sky and the air cools with every road turn. Given that July is the coldest month in these parts, the sun was a rarity and the ground was wet and murky compliments of the rainy weather. The road to Lushoto was built by the Germans back when Tanzania was a colony and despite many a blind corner, remains functional if not entertaining to drive on. Upon our arrival in Lushoto we visited our local partner organisation, the Friends of Usambara society, where we interviewed the NGO’s leader, Yacin, who educated us on the problems of Albino-based discrimination in the country.  The Friends of Usambara Society is a grassroots organization that uses sustainable tourism to conserve the nature and culture of the Usambara Mountains region. Through Jengo, we chose them as partners due to their professionalism and impressive knowledge of the local area and its environs.

Substituting our diet of traditional Maasai staples with a meal of a European standard at the Irente Farm Lodge , Lars-Ulrik a I took time to plan the rest of our trip and take stock of all the numerous experiences we’d had hitherto. Our nights henceforth would be spent at a nearby orphanage – in a room where the aggressive purr of voracious mosquitos whizzing close to our mosquito nets made for a stark contrast to the breezy, insect-free evenings in our manyattas in Mlembule.

11855636_10153553013914450_9202319897244458828_nCool, damp land masses, the Usambara mountains contain diverse flora and fauna, like this particular plant pictured here

10th – 13th July: The Mountains

Our stay in Lushoto was more relaxing than our adventures in Mombo albeit less exciting as a result. Whilst in the Usambara mountains we visited Irente school for the blind where we donated more gifts from our heavy rucksacks. Mama Ruben, the school’s leader is a stalwart woman who is proud of her institution and the discipline of its students, all of whom wander freely around its campus despite being partially or fully blind. We also visited a family of two Albinos in the area. The perils of being an Albino in this part of the country are not as severe as they are in others and the foggy nature of the Usambara mountains means that skin-related complications affecting Albinos in this area are not as prevalent either. This notwithstanding, we donated more sun cream tubes from our Derma sponsorship and strengthened our knowledge on the subject of challenges facing Albinos.

Whilst in Lushoto we also had the opportunity to take a hike through the mountains, as part of the eco-tourism opportunities offered by the Friends of Usambara Society. Our guide, Khalifa was exceptionally knowledgeable when it came to the flora and fauna of the area. Without his guidance, however, we did run into several incidents with flycatchers who posed as friends that were keen in helping us along our way, only to lead us to sites such as viewpoints where we were required to pay for the pleasure of partaking in the breathtaking (and ultimately legally free scenery). A flycatcher is a term borrowed from The Lonely Planet that describes conmen of the aforementioned nature, who most often pose as travel buddies but ultimately work for larger travel companies and local establishments from whom they get a commission per number of tourists led into the trap. The practice is outlawed and illegal but prevalent in numerous areas in Tanzania and the rest of the world for that matter.

At one of the viewpoints visited, we paid a fee to the local hotel who had planted their establishment in such a way that it was almost impossible to access the summit of the hill through any other route. Despite this, we were presented with a hefty receipt by two shady-looking types posing as artists after we’d been sat on the rock ledge for long enough for them to pull off such a sneaky trick. All the while, a young man who’d followed us from a field close to the hotel entrance and pretended to be a loyal friend conveniently disappeared as soon as payments were made. I did negotiate the price from to a figure that was lower than the ludicrous quantity that had originally been mentioned and made a mention of my distaste of the whole process. Our negotiations were, however, complicated by the presence of what could only have been a very disturbed individual or an additional ploy in the con game whose goal was to scare those who didn’t comply with the process. This character, sat next to us on the ledge at the viewpoint overlooking the Mombo plains, proceeded to talk to himself in a language I didn’t quite grasp, save for a few Swahili words in the form of insults and threats to us. His eyes bore a rasping quality that I wasn’t keen on engaging a few feet away from a steep fall that dropped thousands of metres down into the misty sky.

We later found out that not only are such fees legally incorrect, the hotel, which markets its fee payments with the promise of a free soda, failed to offer us a beverage of any sort. The moral of this particular episode: Sadly, many parts of Tanzania (and other areas of the world where social inequality is prevalent) are places in which such trickery will always invariably exist. Negotiation tactics and the help of a local friend are indispensable.


A “Simba all you can see is yours” moment at the pride rock-esque viewpoint near Lushoto. Expect flycatchers and shady schemes that will try to extract money from your pockets.

13th July: From the Mountains to Ngorongoro

Chapter 3 of our trip proved to be the most exciting and the most controversial yet. Poor communication between ourselves and our contacts in the northern frontier of Tanzania resulted in us boarding a bus from Mombo without knowing where exactly we were going to stay and what our final destination would be. We began the day taking photographs of the building of the concrete foundation for the school in Mlembule, where we drove down to from the mountains around noon. It was rewarding to see the fruits of our labour and the beauty of a dream coming to life before our eyes. The foundation has been completed following our return to Denmark.

11791766_10206821170945370_1157837110_n 11778209_10206821170785366_255126063_n

Genesis: Work commences on the construction of the foundation for a school just outside the Maasai village of Mlembule.

The Eid holiday festivities complicated our search for a decent bus so we ended up on one in which there was space for a couple of tourists who’d pay at premium , as opposed to one that would get us from A to B safely. This particular jalopy was crammed to the brim with passengers, some of whom were sat on dusty cushions above the engine. The talkative tout and ticket manager, devoid of space to sit, were forced to stand in a corner by the front door, where the former managed to snooze in a full upright position with his arms sprawled on a railing by the front window. Quite how the bus passed the weight checks along the seemingly unending highway remains a mystery though a fair bit of winking and smiles did take place between the bus driver and several initially cocky traffic cops.

Whilst on the bus, we received word from our contact, who saved us a trip to Karatu (our initial last minute solution planned destination). We met Ndoros Birika and his driver and business associate, Francis in Arusha from which we travelled north in the former’s Toyota Noah. Its sliding rear doors and polished upholstery and cabin were a welcome upgrade to the noisy, crammed bus we’d spent the last five hours in. Our rucksacks and our clothes were generously coated in a layer of thick dust, with the latter having spent the trip in a boot that had a large and uncanny hole with a prime view of the rolling asphalt below.

Ndoros is the brother of a Danish-Tanzanian friend of mine and hails from the village of Eswira, which we visited whilst in NgoroNgoro. He is one of the forces behind Maasai living, an eco-tourism initiative that aims to share the culture of the Maasai of the Ngorongoro conservation area with the rest of the world in a sustainable manner.

We stopped at a roadside inn in Karatu where we devoured a shared meal of chicken and chips served on a large platter layered with a delicious curry paste that kicked our taste buds and filled our travel-ridden stomachs. This done, Ndoros drove us to Kudu Lodge where we paid a meagre 10 dollars per evening for a night at their campsite (using equipment rented in Arusha). Kudu lodge is one of many tourist accommodation options in Karatu that offers great a 25 dollar buffet that is on par with most high-end dining. Its campsite is spacious and frequented by a mix of overlander safari tourists (budget tourists who usually travel in a modified rented truck) and keen adventurers in their SUVs.

14th July: Ngorongoro

We left Kudo lodge and the rather unpleasant outpost of Karatu and headed north towards Ngorongoro crater, a Unesco World Heritage Site and the site of one of Africa’s seven wonders – the largest unbroken caldera in the world. Whilst in Karatu, we spent the morning discussing the formalities of our trip with Ndoros, who hails from the village of Esirwa, near Endulen on just under the crater rim. To this effect, we purchased stationery and foodstuffs which we would later donate to the women and children of the area.

The cost of entering the crater is an astronomic 200 USD per vehicle. This buys a one-day permit and does not include the fee that you end up paying the driver (assuming you don’t drive yourself). Once past the gate – a site of the usual haggling and inefficiency that denotes most government-run affairs (mingled with affluent oriental tourists taking selfies of their surgical face masks), more pleasant sites lie ahead. Ngorongoro rises steeply as one drives through a refreshing mist that cools the senses with irreproachable panache. The road to the crater rim is muddy and lined with herds of buffalo sporting blank expressions and a disinterested demeanour.  The crater viewpoint, though breathtaking, is awfully touristic and crammed with the selfie hordes and their over excited mannerisms.  Once this is left behind, the wilderness opens, like a ream of rolling paper in the wind. Our driver floored the Land Rover across the alpine tundra terrain with a vengeance, clocking over 80 kph as we whizzed past herds of zebra and the occasional Maasai clad in the brilliant red attire and elaborate jewellery that singles them out against the grassy backdrop of shrubbery and stunted trees.

IMG_3887Looking down at the crater floor: The mist on Ngongoro crater sweeps through in gentle bouts, cooling everything it touches with a witty sophistication, before slithering gently down into the valley below.

The village of Esirwa (near the town of Endulen) lies on a ridge overlooking Lake Eyasi – a salt lake at the base of the Serengeti plateau. Above Esirwa, the land rises gently towards the Ngorongoro crater rim. One of many small villages and hamlets that dot the alpine tundra landscape with small pockets of thatched huts and cattle bomas (enclosures), this is a place of immense beauty, with soothing views of the surrounding areas.

Skærmbillede 2015-08-28 kl. 14.22.38Esirwa lies just south of the settlement of Endulen, pictured here by Google Earth

We reached Esirwa at noon, to yet another elaborate welcoming. By contrast to our arrival in Mlembule, there was a designated welcoming committee consisting of just under 100 men and women from surrounding villages who formed long, elaborate chains as they broke out in traditional song and dance. A goat was slaughtered in our honour and roasted on a fire made by rubbing dried twigs onto metal – a process that involves 3-4 people and takes time to ignite. The Maasai of Ngorongoro, isolated from the rest of the country as they are, have maintained a way of life that is unique in many aspects. For example, the Ngorongoro conservation area is home to a dense lion population that lives in relative harmony with the Maasai of this area. Both man and beast share a mutual fear of and respect for each other, avoiding confrontation where necessary. In the past, some Maasai traditions dictated that killing a lion marked the passage into adulthood for young men. Such customs are, however, out-dated, at least as far as this particular area we visited are concerned. However, there are many who have had various run-ins with lions and other wild animals, the results of which have sometimes resulted in casualties on both sides.

On the topic of wild animals – having chosen to sleep in a tent on the edge of the village, I was rudely awaken at some uncouth hour of the evening by the barks of some of the village mongrels who seemed agitated. The barking intensified to the point at which whimpers of fear and groans of panic that tend to signify imminent danger broke out all around our tent. Unable to see anything from the inside of the tent, I checked my mobile phone and noted that there was no signal. The dogs grew increasingly vocal and paced up and down with a vengeance, snarling at whatever wild creature lurked in the unforgiving darkness beyond. From the goat boma (enclosure), the sound of sneezing and shuffling – a tell-tale giveaway of there being something amiss did little to quell the tension. There was a hunter in our midst and whatever it was, it was quite unrelenting. Unarmed, out of mobile phone coverage and unable to see what was going on outside, I drew comfort in the loud flapping of our flimsy tent, which buckled and heaved in the chilly evening wind. It was dawn by the time the dogs calmed down.

The next day we discovered that the village had been visited by a predator, most probably a leopard, going by the verdict that most of those we spoke to about the racket gave. Dogs in particular have a dislike and fear of leopards, a foe against whom they stand very little chance. Recounting my experiences as a child in my dad’s military cottage on the edge of Mount Kenya’s forest, I recalled with some distaste that many of our dogs were frequently mauled by an invasive leopard. Their cries for help as they shot under the cottage in the hope that an advancing leopard would not engage them in such tight confines were not that different to what we’d heard the previous evening in Esirwa.  We spent the rest of our stay here in Ndoros’ hut, which he lent us with a grin on his face as he contended that there had indeed been something wild prowling the village environs the previous evening.


Song and dance : The Maasai of Esirwa welcomed us to their village with verve and colour. Seldom have I seen such a display of generousity.

15th July : A Second Wedding

The sun rose against the NgoroNgoro escarpment, chasing away the morning mist that had settled on its tip; an elaborate changing of the guard that demarcated yet a rare beautiful sunrise.

We commenced this day with a trip to the local makeshift school. Formerly a ranger’s hut, the Maasai of Esirwa have transformed this building set on a ridge on the descent to Lake Eyasi, into a singular class school that is over packed with many of the village kids. Education is a right that many Maasai are deprived of in many parts of Tanzania and the problem is particularly significant in this area as I will elaborate a bit later. We handed out sweets and the stationary we’d bought in Karatu to a group of beaming kids, who ushered us with various songs. Ndoros then departed for Arusha to take care of some business that had come up and left us under the care of Mackay, his younger brother.


Handing out sweets  and school stationary to the Maasai kids of Esirwa. Access to education is yet another challenge hampering the wellbeing of this area.

The day continued with our second Maasai wedding in a week, which, having already attended one in Mlembule a few days ago, was now a procedure that we were quite familiar with. One of the highlights of this wedding was standing in the middle of a hut crammed with over 30 chanting Maasai. The dark, smoky confines of the hut accentuated the sensorial immersion in what I can only describe as a great and incredible experience of human bonding. In the gadget-laden material world in which many of us live, such experiences have become a sought-after rarity. The Maasai, with their far simpler lifestyles and clan society gel with each other remarkably during such situations, with little anxiety or awkwardness. We can learn so much from a society that, in material terms, has so little.

IMG_4023Bride, groom and the ensemble of dancing men and women in Eswirwa (Lake Eyasi spreads like a cloth over the horizon, many miles below)

With the formalities of the wedding behind us, we conducted interviews with Mackay, our host with whom we wandered many kilometres into the wilderness, keen on discovering the surrounding area with our own eyes.

The Maasai of Ngorongoro face a dire and imminent threat to their way of life and to their welfare from the very same Tanzanian government that uses them as part of their marketing gimmickry to attract tourists to the crater area. Recent legislation has made it illegal for the Maasai to cultivate crops in this area, be it on a subsistence level. The governments justification for this is the preservation of the land, given its significance as a world heritage site. However, this argument seems void in the face of two factors :

  1. The exorbitant park entry fees charged to tourists who visit the area and more importantly their distribution. Despite having set up a fund for the provision of grain to communities living inside the Ngorongoro conservation area, no funds have been appropriated to the Maasai. Where grain has been provided, it has been of sub-par, subsidised quality in measly quantities that do not address the requirements of the population.
  2. The prioritization of tourism in the area via the construction of more lodges and the arrival of more tourists. The consumption requirements  and environmental impact of both of the aforementioned far exceed those of any Maasai of the Ngorongoro conservation area, even if subsistence farming is plugged into the equation.

Complicating this systematic exclusion of a minority group from social and political agency, the very same Tanzanian government set up a pastoralists council to preside over democratic concerns on the part of the Maasai. The aim of this organisation was to give a voice to the Maasai such that they gained political representation and had a say in the governance and management of the land in which they live and have lived for many years now. As you might have expected, this organisation is in fact a mere mouthpiece – lip service to human rights and democracy that falsely casts the government in a positive light for anyone who does a bit of light research on the problem at hand. Moreover, the government does little to provide communities within the Ngorongoro area with access to human rights such as water, health and education. In the case of Esirwa, the distance to drinkable water is a whooping 5 kilometres- a walk down and up a steep hillside that is made, most lamentably, almost always by the women of the village.

When fused, these factors in effect imply that the Maasai of the Ngorongoro crater area are a starving population, forced to eat their cattle (status symbols in their culture) and robbed of rights to education and clean water.  Whatever protests that they have made against this plight have been quelled by false promises from the government and penalties for cultivating crops have resulted in prison sentences for many Maasai. Those Maasai who have left the area in search of other opportunities are often confronted by the realities of not having had an education that gives them the opportunity to acquire jobs within a broad spectrum of interests. Instead, most end up as night watchmen and other odd jobs, compounding the exclusion of the Maasai from the social narrative.

Let’s add a further element of complication to this messy weave of injustice shall we ? Having conducted interviews with several Maasai of the NgoroNgoro area, I was relieved to hear that DANIDA (The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs) had been in this area for over a decade in which they had worked proactively and effectively to help the local community with its development needs. However, for reasons that nobody seemed able to articulate, they departed from the area and, as is the case with many an NGO, one has to ask the question “Was the area better off before they intervened or not ?” Undoubtedly their efforts were significant for the time they lasted, however, the departure of a major aid donor from an area that is otherwise paralysed due to inaction from its shady government, leaves a void that stands out as an ulcer on clean flesh. I have to date failed to established why DANIDA left Ngorongoro crater but then again, I do disagree vehemently with the quantitative modus operandi of many NGO’s and governments for that matter, much of which involves the achievement of concrete short-term goals and has little room for longer-term, non-quantifiable focus that entails a more detailed and comprehensive presence in areas afflicted by human rights deficiencies. My perplexed state was and still hasn’t been eased by the fact that it was DANIDA that sent us to this area in the first place (having sponsored us via its verdenslegat scholarship which I mentioned at the start of this article).

As the sun dipped beneath the dusty horizon and the sky burned in an awe-striking allure of red and grey, we headed to bed with heavy hearts. Lars-Ulrik animatedly suggested that we stage a demonstration at the Ngongoro conservation ara entry gate, flanked by the Maasai of the area. I liked the romanticism behind it but it seemed, at least then, to be an idea that would require a tremendous amount of planning and there is no doubt that the Tanzanian government would be quick to get word of such an amassment of people and act in a manner that would deter it, using their technical and legislative superiority. On the other hand, I had no suggestions as to what else could be done. I want to help a community who have treated me with the utmost respect, a community who warmed to the fact that my Kenyan grandmother is in fact, a Maasai by birth (she was later kidnapped by the Kamba tribe with which the Maasai were at loggerheads with in the days before British imperialism had its heyday). Both Lars-Ulrik and I have been embraced by the Maasai in whatever capacity we have engaged with them. Unlike the rest of Tanzania, where one has to maintain constant vigil when it comes to ones possessions, in Maasailand, we were able to leave our possessions anywhere we chose, secure in the knowledge that they would not be pilfered. Why wouldn’t we want to help this community ? Why wouldn’t we be touched to the point of tears and anger when it came to hearing of the incredulity and incompetence of the Tanzanian government ?


A great and noble people; a culture of song, dance, festivity – colour. The Tanzanian government seems keen on using the Maasai to market tourism. The very same government is systematically starving this minority group by denying them farming rights and robbing them of the profits gained through tourism in the area

16th – 17th July: The Rest of Ngorongoro

We slept much better in the airy hut that Ndoros gave us when compared to our vulnerable snooze the previous evening in the billowing mess of a tent that littered the pristine view of the village below us. During our stay in Ngorongoro I befriended a young pup that looked certain to die of malnutrition within a week. Whilst the Maasai are adept pastoralists who share an impenetrable bond with their livestock, their skills with domestic (or semi-domestic as you will) animals are not as refined. Without passing any judgement, I often took pity on the harsh treatment handed out to some of the dogs and cats we encountered on the trip (and no, I am not an animal-rights activist, but having grown up as the only child of my age surrounded by cats and dogs, I do have a special affinity to them, particularly as concerns the latter.) I am also well aware of the plight of the Maasai of this area – they are starving, systematically excluded from agency by their pathetic government – what little food they do have surely must be shared and more often than not, there is not enough to go around, let alone to feed dogs.

I plucked ticks from the pups shaggy hair and where possible, gave him scraps of fat and bone from my plate of food (in small doses initially as his state of malnutrition was such that he would easily have thrown up as his small stomach was not used to large quantities of food). He was also fond of milky tea, which I cooled for him before serving it in a disused lid. All of this was of course hidden from the gaze of our hosts.  The pup grew strong as the days passed and his misty eyes lit up with the canine joie de vivre that is a gift to any dog aficionado. At night, as the seething wind ripped its cold fangs into anything it could get a hold of, he sneakily dug a passageway under the front door of the hut through which he could crawl. His evenings were spent either snuggled at the foot of the bed or outside our door, where even at a young age, he displayed attractive traits of loyalty, obedience and gratitude.


Making friends with the local pooch- this little chap provided companionship and security in return for a few scraps of food and milky tea

Our day began with a trek down to the village water source – a trip that took hours and involved a tricky ascent on the return leg. I was shocked to bear witness to how long it took to foot it back and forth and could only imagine what it must be like to have to make this trip daily with 20 or more kilos of water in a jerrycan strapped to ones head as the women we encountered at the stream do.  This water source has, in recent years, wandered further downstream due to poor rains and a falling water table. It is also a water body that is shared by the wild animals of the area, elephants included, so coming here after dusk is an absolute no-go. The sense of its remote location was accentuated by various spoor including the unmistakable pattern of a snake slither, less than a couple of hours old. The serpent to whom the tracks belonged was surely a full-grown adult, judging by the worryingly thick tracks. Of all of the solutions to the water predicaments of this area, that of building a tank at the village base and piping down to a pump at the water source seems the most logical. The construction of a well is also worth researching. However, these things take time and money – a mere surveillance of the area is in itself a costly affair. Where to start and which problems are more important than others ?


The long trip to fetch water from the spring in one of the ravines leading down to Lake Eyasi. Women such as the ones pictured here struggle with heavy loads like these on a daily basis.

Tired from the morning walk, we spent the rest of the day relaxing and chatting in the village. For the first time, I began to see how the relaxed, lethargic pace of things could lead to boredom. As I spotted numerous vodka sachets strewn across the edges of the village, I became aware that for some of this village, the vice of alcohol addiction is surely also another challenge that faces this community.

We drifted off to bed amidst the distant roar of a prowling lion against the voracious darkness of a night sky decorated with picture-perfect starlight.

17th July : Our last day in Esirwa

A sedate day compared to the previous ones, today involved a trip to Endulen, where the weekly market was in full swing. The Land Rover that we’d hired upon our entry into the crater the first day returned with its hustling driver, who kept on offering what seemed like genuine offers such as a trip into the crater base. I smelled a rat and declined most of them, knowing that he would most certainly add them as extras to the already exorbitant fee he slapped us with at the end of our trip.

Endulen market was a mix of grilled meat spread on converted metal camp beds and an array of wares such as household items, spices, fruits and vegetables lay strewn over a square kilometre or so of brilliant red,  black and blue – the colours of the attire of the Maasai. An overloaded truck packed with all manner of goods that dangled over its sides snaked into the mass of colour and looked close to tipping as it turned sharply to evade the sprawl of wares below it. The scene resembled a medieval bazaar, devoid of any sophistication whatsoever. Lars-Ulrik and I stood out like blood on white paper amongst the masses of well-dressed Maasai, many of whom had made the extra effort of wearing their finest blankets, shoes and embellishments.

On the way back, we stopped by an old tree that is regarded as sacred by the Maasai and threw several flowers by its base, as tradition dictates.  The rest of the day and evening seemed to drag on endlessly. We processed and sorted hours of footage from all of our recent exploits and shut eye rather early.

18th July: From Ngorongoro to Arusha

We left Esirwa early in the morning, just as the sun was coming up and drove into the effervescent, smoky mist at the crater rim, passing herds of disinterested grazing buffalo on the way. After haggling over the price (and all manner of ludicrous additions that were not part of our original agreement), we paid our driver and parted ways with him in Karatu. I was glad to bid farewell to this town and its touristy feel and all the hustling that confronts one at every corner. We drove south to Arusha and checked into the Kibo Palace hotel where we stayed for the next two nights in pristine poolside comfort, certainly compared with the basic living that had demarcated our experience hitherto. Compliments of a deal that my mum managed to work out with Mr Lasgwai, the earnest and generous owner of this establishment, we managed to get two free nights here, during which we were able to relax and recount our experiences from the last two weeks.

Whilst in Arusha, we did an interview with Alais Morindat, an exceptionally bright man of Maasai origin who has worked in development for over a quarter of a century. Alais shed light on the exact nature of the Ngorongoro predicament, adding an academic articulation to the problem that brought him close to tears. From so many perspectives, the predicament of the Maasai of NgoroNgoro is one that seems unjust and unreasonable. What’s even more worrying is the fact that many of the tourists who visit Ngorongoro crater are blissfully unaware of it – for them, the smiling Maasai and their dapper make for formidable pictures that they can show their friends back home- part and parcel of an aesthetically pleasing view but nothing else.

19th-20th July: The End of The Road

We left Arusha early in the morning of the 19th and made the tedious 10-hour bus trip to Dar Es Salaam. The countryside rolled out like an eternal carpet before us and the trip seemed endless. The soggy unpleasantness of Dar smacked us head-on as we sat stuck in traffic queues on the city outskirts despite the fact that it was Sunday. We stayed at the safari inn again and left frightfully early the next morning. Lars-Ulrik jetted off to Denmark with all the footage and equipment from our trip and I took a short flight to Kenya, where I would spend the next couple of weeks with my family. Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, stood out brilliantly on the left of the Kenya Airways plane as I flew towards Nairobi, flanked by the steep Mount Meru, near Arusha further on. I was shocked to see just how little snow is left on Kilimanjaro’s summit-years of climate change have eaten away at what once was a generous coating of snow and glacial ice and what little is left will almost certainly disappear within the next decade.


Where to next ? The challenges we encountered on our trips are numerous and complex, but nothing that cannot be solved with a bit of effort and patience.

As I reached the end of my trip, I recapped on a monumental two weeks amongst some of the most generous people I have had the pleasure of meeting. The plight of the Maasai in Tanzania is a matter of concern not merely for Jengo and the work that we engage in but also on a personal level. I went to Tanzania to shoot an 8-minute documentary for DANIDA and commence the building of a school and came back with enough material and impressions to make two films, the second of which, I hope, will shed light on the NgoroNgoro conservation area and the challenges that face the Maasai in this region.  The helplessness of this situation lies in the fact that a minority group is being systematically starved of its rights and devoid of significant democratic representation, they cannot articulate the problems that they face – they are bereft of the ability to scream; to draw attention to their plight. In the case of Mlembule, I would say that the problems at hand at more direct and easier to solve. Infrastructurally the area is easier to get to and there are others like Jengo who work with local communities to create social change.

So where do we go from here ? I wrote this lengthy article in the hope of answering a question that many have posed, regarding my trip. “How was it ?” – Well, it was mind-blowing, moving, riveting, you name it. It was also an opportunity to illustrate how small actions can have big impacts and that you don’t need to be millionaire philanthropist to make a change. I hope that the films that will be made over the next year or so can help shed light on some of the issues I’ve mentioned here and I am also very hopeful that we can complete the school we have started building in Mlembule, with your help and support.

Find out how you can donate and what your money is used for here and feel free to give us feedback regarding our work in Tanzania. We are also on the lookout for voluntary help for our NGO.

Skærmbillede 2015-08-30 kl. 14.53.19 

Tanzania: Living Amongst The Maasai – Lessons Learned

Been living amongst the Maasai for the last week or so. It has been an emotional experience. The foundations of the school we are building in the Lushoto district have been laid and we have acquainted ourselves with many of the broader issues that confront the Maasai, particularly in the Ngorongoro crater area. Our NGO, Jengo is committed to addressing some of these issues, with support from local partners operating at the grassroots level in this country. Thanks to everyone who’s contributed so far !






Kenya’s Numerous Facades: The Tribal Spectrum.

Kenya has long been elucidated as a land of contrasts by many. Geographically, the nation boasts everything from jagged, snow-capped peaks and alpine glaciers, desert and semi arid landscapes particularly in the North and East of the state, tropical rainforest in the West of the land and sandy, coral-fringed beaches along its coast. From expansive savannah grassland to rugged volcanic terrain sprinkled with moon-like rock outcrops that create a foreboding and awe-inducing feel, Kenya beams with a diversity that few nations can offer.

This diversity extends to Kenya’s cultural profile, a sophisticated kaleidoscope of numerous tribes and clans each with their own traditions, cultural tendencies and beliefs. There are over 70 tribal groups in the country although distinctions between many of these groups are becoming less and less important due to rural-urban migration and the erosion of traditional culture by western values. For a country with so many distinct cultural affiliations, Kenya has, up until very recently had few major cultural conflicts, standing out as shining example to the rest of the world in matters of race and cuture relations. The construction of the Uganda railway at the start of the 19th century gave rise to a large scale migration of Indian workers who were contracted to help build the railway line by the British Empire, the descendants of whom comprise a significant deal of the Indian population in the nation at present. Other people’s from commonwealth nations such as Nubian soldiers used by the British Empire in global conflicts and their families were also settled in Kenya whilst the nation was under colonial rule, adding further variation to an already diverse country.

Major tribes in Kenya
The Kikuyu :
The Kikuyu comprise Kenya’s largest tribal group, at 20% of the overall population. This dominion extends to matters of politics, within which the kikuyu remain the most politically influential tribe (due in part to the influence and status of Kenya’s first president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta) The Kikuyu are renowned for putting up fierce resistance to the British colonial rule, spearheading the Mau Mau rebellion on the 1950’s, a protest that has been classified as a major factor behind the collapse of British rule in Kenya and the consequent attainment of independence. Though widely distributed throughout the nation, the heartland of the Kikuyu tribe surrounds the slopes of Mt Keny


The Luo
The luo make up 12% of Kenya’s population, comprising the 3rd largest tribal group. This tribal group inhabits the area around Lake Victoria, to the west of the country and descends from Nilotic populations from Southern Sudan. Family virtues are of particular emphasis within the luo tribe, who stand out from other Kenyan tribes inasmuch as they do not practice circumcision for either sex. Barack Obama’s father was of the luo sect and Obama himself is regarded by many as a true son of the tribe.
The Maasai
The Maasai’s are regarded as a major cultural symbol of Kenya, with a reputation as fierce, proud warriors preceding them. Like the Luo, The Maasai are descendants of the Nilotic peoples of Sudan. The Maasai tribe has maintained a great deal of its traditions and practices by staying out of the development of the nation and clinging to their beliefs and virtues, a feature that has contributed to their global renown.
The Akamba :
Famous for their wood carvings and trade acumen, the Akamba inhabit the region east of Nairobi and down towards Tsavo national park, a homeland they call Ukambani. The Akamba are of Bantu descent and migrated to their current location from around Southern Africa several centuries ago. During colonial times the British Empire valued the aptitude and fighting skills of the Akamba and were as such drafted in large numbers into the British army.
The Luhya
The Luhya are Kenya’s second largest tribal group after the Kikuyu yet occupy a relatively small area in Western Kenya, around Kakamega. Concurrently, the population density of this tribe in this region is one of the highest in the nation. Most luhya are farmers, specialising in the cultivation of groundnuts, sesame, maize and other crops. Many members of the luhya tribe, particularly those that tend to be more traditional hold superstitious beliefs and notions centered around witchcraft although to the passing traveller, this is rarely obvious.
The Kalenjin
Formely known collectively as the Nandi, the Kalenjin inhabit the Western edge of the central Rift Valley region, around the tea highlands of Kericho and beyond. The Kalenjin are descendants of Nilot populations from Southern Sudan and comprise the Nandi, Kipsigis, Eleyo, Marakwet, Pokot and Tugen sub-groups. The Nandi sub-group of this tribe developed an admirable military reputation during the late 19th century for their efforts in impeding the construction of the Uganda railway for more than a decade, until their chief at the time (Koitalel) was killed. The Kalenjin are also famous for producing many of Kenya’s elite atheletes, such as Paul Tergat, Wilson Kipeketer, Tegla Loroupe and Moses Tanui, many of whom hold global records in numerous disciplines.
The Kisii
The Kisii are a bantu tribe that inhabit the western edge of Kenya, along and around the shores of Lake Victoria where they settled many years ago following migration from The Congo. Their geographical distribution is unique amongst the bantu tribes as they were surrounded by hostile Nilotic tribes at the time they migrated. The Kisii developed a reputation for self defence and toughness over time as they laid claim to their land, which remains one of the most densely populated areas in Kenya today.
The Meru
The Meru live in the area northeast of Mt Kenya and arrived there from coastal areas around the 14th century as they fleed invasions from Somali tribes from the north. Many Merus are farmers of one sort or another and cultivate the fertile pastures on which they dwell. Sub groups within the Meru tribe include the Chukas, the Igembes, the Tharakas, the Muthambis, the Tiganias and the Imenti.
Meru tribe traditional dancers entertain guests during the Lewa Marathon at the Lewa wildlife conservancy near Isiolo

Kenya – Kibera Feature


I’m starting to get used to the eccentricities of everyday life in these parts, peculiarities that once were rather normal phenomena in the course of the daily workings of my life.

Nairobi remains as vibrant, active, and electric as she’s always been, a bustling hub of activities under the equatorial sun. It’s heartening to note the progress that has been made here in terms of infrastructure and architecture as I stated yesterday. Similarly, it’s rather disquieting to note the exacerbation of several fundamental factors that are central to the long term development of Kenya.

My focus in this article is on one of the most controversial housing projects in the history of the African continent, the slum settlement of Kibera, home to over 250’000 people who live in or close to abject poverty. I drove past Kibera yesterday around rush hour, confronted on both sides by the rush of pedestrians on their way home to the slum back from work. The road was teeming with one swank SUV after another, a colourful parade of the toys of the wealthy in the faces of the poorest of the poor. On either side of the car expressions of desperation and suffering were the order of the day, etched irrefutably candidly on the fatigued faces of the masses of oncoming pedestrians as they trekked home to their misery after slaving away for the interests of the rich. One has to be extraordinarily inhuman or blind not to have sensed the tremendously potent undertone of untold suffering in the air, and this was merely on the outskirts of Kibera.

The History of Kibera

Kibera is Africa’s second largest slum settlement after South Africa’s Soweto and was originally created by the colonialist British government as a settlement for Nubian soldiers returning from the first world war. The status of these ex war soldiers as former servants of the British crown coupled with the fact that they laid no claim to “native reserves” by virtue of the fact that they were “detribalized natives” meant that the British government of the time negated to interfere in the development of the settlement. This punctuated the commencement of the sprawl of Kibera, as local tribes migrated to the area to rent affordable housing from the resident Nubian population. Kenya’s attainment of independence in 1963 saw Kibera declared an illegal settlement by the new government. Notwithstanding, migration to the settlement continued relatively unabated such that by 1974 the Nubian population’s status as the dominant ethnic group in Kibera was ousted by the influx of members of the Kikuyu tribe who took over administrative control via political patronage.

The ethnic makeup of the slum has altered over time such that most ethnic groups in Kenya are numerically represented to one extent or another the way things stand at present, though the Luo and Luya tribes constitute the dominant population. The implications of this dominion in the context of the fact that the prime minister of Kenya, (Raila Odinga) is himself both a Luo and a member of parliament for the area that Kibera is situated in have had worrying undertones for ethnic conflict in the nation inasmuch by providing him with access to a sizeable demonstration force from within the Kibera community. The aforesaid force has been used frequently as a tool to upset harmony in the nation via violent expressions of the political agendas of the prime minister. It has to be said that the political agendas of the president (Mwai Kibaki) have also been represented in similar fashion albeit from within support groups within other slum areas such as Kibera’s neighbouring slum quarter, Mathare Valley where the dominant population is of the Kikuyu tribe, just like the president himself. In both cases, the political and ideological conflicts of both leaders have been wrongfullly translated into a conflict based on ethnic grounds, as controversial and as ironic as such a misconception may be, reflecting a tragic, prevalent cancer that has hacked away at Africa’s spinal chord for centuries.

The Dynamics of Kibera

Kibera lies approximately 5 km’s from Nairobi’s city centre in the southwest of the city. The southern fringe of the settlement borders the Nairobi Dam, and the Nairobi river. The affordable housing prices in the slum area attract Kenya’s poor from far and wide many of whom migrate from rural areas plagued by chronic underdevelopment and lack of opportunities. Tragically however, the hell they leave is not replaced by the heaven they seek in any way. Living conditions in Kibera are some of the harshest in the world, characterised by a lack of sewage systems, the use of flying toilets (paper bags containing fecal material that are deposited or hurled onto rooftops, garbage heaps or simply as far away from ones home as possible) poor access to safe driking water and abject impoverishment. Crime typically thrives under such fertile conditions. Kibera is rife with incidents of both violent and petty crime, exacerbated by the lack of any form of police presence in the area implying that law and order, like any other government-provided services are completely and totally non existent and based on power inequalities that exploit the powerless and furnish the powerful.

The definition of anarchy could not possibly be epitomised in a more quintessential capacity than by the tragedy of Kibera, a tragedy that has not been tackled in any tangible manner by any government or ruling power in the history of Kenya. Ironically however, many of Kibera’s residents constitute the working class majority that slaves away selflessly for the interests of the upper echelons of Kenyan society, to whom their political rights and liberties are trusted needless to say to to imminent avail and with no sustainable effect. The dire plight of Africa’s second largest slum area has been wrongfully and sadistically exploited by Kenya’s politicians who have used its problems as a fertile breeding ground for their ideological ethos , exploiting ethnic differences to champion their political statuses and dividing an entire city and nation in the process. And hence, as another day comes to pass, Kibera’s problems get a little bit more grave, a little more pronounced and far more tragic. Invariably, Kibera’s tragedy is not its own alone, but that of an entire nation and indeed of an entire continent. The repression of the lowest of the low in the social system for the benefit of upper society who continue to wallow away in their materialistic grandiloquence is no stranger to Africa. The question is when will it ever end ? Will it ever end ?