43 ways to (almost) free world travel

Matador/Traveller’s Notebook dug up 31 intriguing grant opportunities to take your studies abroad while Wisebread.com published 11 ways to volunteer abroad for nearly nothing. But, both lists missed the opportunity I found that took me on safari over half-way around the world for a fraction of what it should have cost. Below, Idea #43, the first part of a long story about my summer safari in Kenya helping to restore mangrove ecosystems with a diverse bunch of folks from all over the world.

I usually don’t take the time to read advertisements in the back of magazines. Somehow, I noticed one run by Travelocity some months ago. They were promoting their “Travel for Good” program where they give $5000 to people to partake in, what they call, a “volunteer vacation” through one of their five partner non profit organizations. I was delighted to discover that Earthwatch was one of the five – I’d known about Earthwatch since my early undergraduate days and always thought it would be interesting (and prohibitively expensive) to go on one of their trips. I knew I probably wouldn’t actually win, but had to give it a shot. The deadline was the very next day so I quickly wrote out answers to their essay questions and sent it in. Months passed and I forgot about the whole thing until a woman called me out of the blue one day saying I was a winner.

I chose the Tidal Forests of Kenya project out of the hundreds available to me for many reasons. Because it was in Africa, I got the typhoid, hepatitis A, and yellow fever vaccinations. The doc also gave me a variety of anti-diarrheal meds, a common antibiotic in case of simple infections, and malaria prophylaxis (Malarone). I packed only absolute necessities, including my Canon Powershot S5 IS and a less powerful point-and-shoot that I didn’t mind losing which I used to take the photos that I’ll be sharing here.

I left the comfort of my Honolulu home at 3 am on Saturday, August 16, 2008 to catch the first of many flights to East Africa. I arrived in Nairobi (Jomo Kenyatta Intl Airport) at 9 pm Tuesday, August 19 after spending two days in London stretching my legs and flew out the next morning on an Air Kenya propeller plane from the small commuter Wilson Airport to Moi Airport in Mombasa.

After meeting up with the rest of the volunteer group in Mombasa, we packed into a matatu (passenger van used for transportation; the word originates from the Kiswahili word for “three”, mtatu, because it originally cost 3 Kenyan shillings (Ksh) for a ride; today it usually costs 50-100+ Ksh depending on how far you’re going) and took the Likoni ferry south to a fishing village near Gazi Bay.

Here is the Google satellite imagery for our general project area. The village I stayed in for 10 days is directly under the word “Gazi”:

Below, a close up aerial view of the village. If you look on Google, you can even see fishing boats in the bay, the coconut plantation fields surrounding the village, and the many mangroves! The path that connects the village to Gazi Bay is the one I walked to swim in the Indian Ocean for the first time. The village school buildings are the last you pass on this walk to the beach. There are a couple of beach-front structures that local fishermen cram into at night to sleep so they can wake before dawn to prepare for their day on the water.

I plan on posting one picture per post, about once a week. The first, below, shows Gazi Bay at dawn:

I woke on the last day of my stay in Gazi Village to a knocking on my door, promptly at 5 am. It was Neil, my British neighbor. We left in the dark with a crappy wind-up flashlight and cell phone to walk through the village to the beach to watch the sun rise. I kept wondering if any troublemakers would follow us while he wondered whether we were going the right way. We made it there fine but, unfortunately, the sun didn’t rise till after 6 am. We watched fisherman appear from nowhere before dawn, get into their solid (and heavy) wooden boats with poles and buckets, and disappear over the horizon of the Indian Ocean. Many other fisherman (15+) came out of two beach front houses just as the sun was rising to prepare for their day on the water, loading long wooden poles (to move the boats), plastic buckets (to hold their catch), wooden paddles (similar to outrigger canoe paddles we use here at home in Hawaii…wonder how heavy?), and other stuff into the boats.

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