Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

Until we open our eyes more to a country’s glories and blind ourselves to its scars, I’m of the view that the art of traveling is nothing else but just a lifeless bucket-list.

I have seen some new mornings in the past couple of months; mornings that are made up of chirping birds, dancing waves of untouched lakes, magma sparks, cold cities, lush green wilderness, endless road trips and unending discoveries. It’s been almost three months that I have packed my luggage with travel diaries, cameras and photographic equipment, traveler’s shoes and outfits and left home to travel the depths and breadths of Africa.

In these three months, I have crossed the Republic of Rwanda, from Kigali to Gisenyi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Goma to Kinshasa. One of the places that has moved me is the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre, located in the heart of Kigali.

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Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

I shed teas as I walked inside the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. While traveling into the Rwanda, the posh green forests, the soulful landscapes and the smiles that people wear on their faces would make it impossible to even think that this country has underwent a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi by the members of the Hutu.

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Over 800, 000 Rwandans were killed in less than one year and over 2, 000, 000 were displaced.

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The political leadership of the Honorable Paul Kagame has significantly ended this genocide, when his party took control of the country.  Beside the political will to bring these human tragedies to an end, the Rwandans have demonstrated great strength and faith.

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The country, in the process of rebuilding itself, has come a long way and the rise of Rwanda will continue for their scars are now their reference points that remind them to pursue the construction of a new Rwanda.

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Make coffee, not war

Moshi is the smallest municipality in the Kilimanjaro Region and it is principally inhabited by the Chagga and Pare ethnic groups. This part of the world is still untouched by technology and prides itself for conserving its biodiversity. I was drawn by the solace of nature, the slow pace of life of the place, the peaceful cohabitation between human and animals and the aromatic scent of ground coffee escaping from the countless coffee processing plants.

I had the immense privilege to visit an organic coffee processing plant – Arisi Coffee. Lying in the heart of an undisturbed forest, Arisi Coffee is a small and eco-friendly coffee processing plant run by the locals who hold the candid interest of promoting their local coffee to the world through tourism.

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The people who worked there were full of life. Their cheerful faces showed how much they were in love with their jobs. The lush green surroundings were to die for and the fresh oxygen of the place made me feel even more alive.

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I walked in with an open mind to learn the coffee-making steps – from freshly plucked coffee beans to a hot cup of black coffee.  I was told that the coffee is grown in the volcanic soil around the Kilimanjaro region and as such, the resulting cup of coffee is always incredibly delicious. After harvesting the cherries, the coffee beans are sun-dried.

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Step 1: Harvesting the cherries and sun-drying the beans

The dried beans are then inserted in a wooden pulping machine to roughly separate the parchment layer (endocarp) from the beans. A second round of sorting is then manually performed for a finer result.

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Step 2: The dried beans are crushed to separate the beans from the parchment layer (endocarp).

The beans are inserted in a big wooden mortar and are crushed. While crushing the coffee beans, the persons there clap loudly and sing melodiously until the process is completed. I was told that good music uplifts the soul and fills the body with energy to crush the beans, which is a laborious process. I participated in the process too as, beside learning, I knew I was preparing my own good cup of coffee.

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Step 3: The beans are crushed until they turn into the size of black pepper.

The coffee beans are placed in a recipient over fire and stirred around for a couple of minutes until they turn dark roasted.

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Step 4: The coffee beans are then roasted for some minutes

The scent of the roasted coffee beans proved to be addictive as it dispersed into the air.

One of the fellows explained to me the lightness or darkness of the roasted coffee beans describes the degree and duration of the roasting. The color of the roasted coffee beans also determines, to some extent, the level of caffeine present in them. I smiled when I saw the roasted beans being taken out of the recipient as they turned quite dark; meaning that the coffee would be irresistibly strong.

The coffee beans is then ground thoroughly in the wooden mortar until they turn into powder. As usual, this process was accompanied by some uplifting music.

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Step 5: The beans are crushed into powder

The powder is then filtered for a finer result. I was told that some coffee lovers do prefer the rough coffee powder but to prepare their coffee with it, they have to boil it a little longer compared to the finer powder.

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Step 6: The powder is then filtered for a finer result

Finally, after these six steps, the coffee was made and it was the best coffee I ever tasted so far. In Moshi, we believe in one thing: “Make coffee, not war

If you have decided to explore the lengths and breadths of Tanzania one day, you should certainly not miss one good cup of coffee at Arisi Coffee, in Moshi.

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Inside Zanzibar

In my mid-twenties, when I was sojourning in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a great man told me “Once you drink the water in Africa, you will come back again”. I had little or almost no idea of what those words meant when they were being uttered but on the 3rd of September 2016, those words echoed again in my mind and they began to make sense. I was in Zanzibar – an extraordinary island lying off the coast of Tanzania and teeming with its historic heritage, intricate architectures and rich culture. The boat trip from Dar es Salaam was long but not boring as the endless blue ocean was a real feast to the eyes and a deep source for contemplation. After almost three hours of boat ride, Zanzibar showed itself in vivid detail.

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The moment I walked through the Zanzibar Ferry Terminal, I felt that the island had a unique and artistic character of its own, and this became evident as I explored the island.

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Zanzibar is an island of contrast and art. Some streets were occupied and disorganized while some were devoid of commercial activities and people.

The locals were welcoming and seemed to be proud of their country. They have all the reasons to feel so. I pursued the enriching walk and noticed how people were engrossed in their own activities. I saw a young man immersed in reading the newspaper by the side of the road. Nothing appeared to be disturbing him; neither the noisy horn of vehicles nor the giggles of the college students. Not too far away, I saw three elderly men engaged in a conversation by the side of a calmer road.

The most impressive and distinctive aspect of the island is how well it has kept its history alive through its prominent structures and architectures; boasting themselves in the lap of the Stone Town. The paths between the old buildings were narrow and the cables were hanging loose all over the building. I was flabbergasted by the wooden carved doors. I walked close to one of the doors and placed my hand gently on its surface that has turned rough over the course of time but that still bears testimony of the colonization era by the Arab traders.

I toured around Stone Town for almost an hour until I arrived at the Al Johari hotel. Al Johari is a decent hotel but one should not expect good internet connection in the room as wireless internet connection was available only at the restaurant located on the last floor of the hotel.

But Zanzibar is so breathtaking that having internet connection in room will be just a trivial concern. There’s so much to see on the island. After a long day touring around the island, the view from the hotel’s restaurant soothes the soul.

I spent two unforgettable days of my life on this island. One is bound to fall in love with this piece of heaven resting peacefully in the lap of the Indian Ocean.

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Glimpses of Dar es Salaam

As a child, I used to walk along the beach and looked at the bare horizon; wondering whether it was the boundary of my world or the beginning of another. I never found the answer until I began travelling in 2011. I thought it would be an exploration of boundaries and an expedition of territories, but it was more. Travelling turned out to be an institution that shapes us in a way or another.

I could feel the burnout after months of intense office works and after competing in the highly challenging law exams. Apart from works and studies, I had few more subtle reasons why I felt the urge to halt everything and to turn more inward. Like every year, I filled my loyal backpack and set out in quest of stories that few would have to share.

But this time, there was something exceptional and meaningful about the voyage: my father was my travel-buddy. Our chosen destinations were the majestic Tanzania and Kenya. It was a dream coming true. Two years have elapsed since I have last travelled to Africa.

We spent few weeks preparing for this trip: from watching a series of revealing documentaries on the colours and contrasts of these countries to getting immersed in devising the most convenient travel plan. Additionally, I made a checklist of the things I should obligatorily carry with me while travelling. I would highly recommend you to prepare a detailed checklist if you are travelling too. Your checklist should be reflective of your destination.

Here are a few things that my checklist included:

  • Travel documents including reservations, tickets and passport
  • Credit cards
  • Contact information of hotels and the tour operator
  • Emergency contacts
  • Creams including sunscreens, organic aloe vera serum and pain-relief cream
  • A basic first-aid kit comprising of bandages, antiseptic ointments, paracetamol and other essential items
  • Medicines including eye drops, ear drops, insect repellant, fever relievers and anti-malaria
  • Book (Mayada: Daughter of Iraq, a book by Jean Sasson)
  • Travel journal and pen
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Shampoo and conditioner; especially to maintain my curly hair 
  • Photography accessories including lenses (70 – 300 mm, 50 mm and 18 – 105 mm), cleaning kit, memory cards, battery grip, spare battery and charger
  • Macbook Pro and headphones 
  • GoPro Hero3
  • Selfie stick
  • Travel watch

As far as possible, I tried to adhere to the checklist but after all I’m human and I tend to forget things too. Can you guess what have I forgotten from the checklist? One of the most important items: the anti-malaria medicine. Consequently, I am strictly using the insect repellant and the mosquito nets to protect myself. Cross fingers.

The most awaited day finally arrived when we had to pursue our adventures on the African territories. We departed from Mauritius at 08:40 a.m. to land in Dar es Salaam at around 11:20 a.m. Our eyes remained glued on the spectacular topography of Dar es Salaam as we looked down through the window of the plane few minutes prior to landing.

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Upon arrival in Dar es Salaam, I walked inside the airport with conscious pride and gratitude. My eyes could not cease to scan the surrounding. I proceeded to the international arrivals concourse and surprisingly, VISA requirement was not imposed on me. The official, at the arrival counter, stamped my passport with a blue entry stamp and said “Jambo” (salutation in Swahili) while wearing a wide smile on her face. No mention of VISA requirement was made. I stood stunned as I remember having been informed by the Consulate of Tanzania of the VISA requirement for Mauritians to enter the country. But I masked my surprise, smiled back at the official and exited the Julius Nyerere International Airport. Everything was new to me. I was walking in a place where no one knew my name and I loved that feeling. Unplugging from the common world and connecting to a quieter inner world was the best gift I could offer myself at this point in time of life.

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I stayed at the Transit Motels, a small but comfy hotel located 400 m from the Julius Nyerere International Airport. If you aren’t carrying heavy luggages, you can easily walk to the hotel. This place is good for an overnight stay. The rooms were simple and clean. Mosquito nets were provided. Free WI-FI was available too. The hotel staffs were friendly and readily responded to my queries. Coffee and tea are freely available at any time. There’s something I would not recommend you though. If you are intending to explore the city, I’ll advise you not to go with the hotel’s drivers. They’ll overcharge you. The best thing to do is catch a bus outside. It’s not only cheap but it’s the most authentic way of living life as a local in Dar es Salaam.

 

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After settling in the hotel, we preferred to have lunch outside as it served as an excuse to explore the city too in the little time we had in Dar es Salaam. The temperature outside was warm but not inconvenient for a walk.

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Our driver recommended us several shopping malls but being quite exhausted after hours of flight, I chose the closest one which was the Quality Centre Mall, one of the popular and highly frequented shopping malls in Dar es Salaam. The mall is situated at Nyerere Road. From entertainment to healthcare services, it is a one-stop shop where you shall find a wide chain of products and services.

We had lunch at an affordable restaurant found on the first storey of the mall. I forgot the name of the restaurant though. We paid 6000 Tanzanian Shillings per person for an open buffet.

I could not leave without meeting people and understanding their stories, as this remains the focus of all my travels. I walked in the compound of the mall and indulged in deep conversations with strangers. They all had to something to share: from their struggles to their dreams. From my experience, people in Dar es Salaam are approachable and good.

In the evening, we took a walk in the surrounding of the Transit Motels and again, our focus was people. We met a lot of strangers and some even invited us to visit their homes. This touched my heart. I was on the brink of accepting one invitation but time was not in my favour; I had to politely decline. If ever you are landing in Dar es Salaam and you have enough time to visit around, then you should not bother about going too far. There are a number of villages around the area. Just walk around, meet people and create stories.

As the night drew to an end, we walked to the Flamingo Restaurant which is found in the Julius Nyerere International Airport and it is open to the public. Though the food was expensive, it was a tasty treat to the stomach.

 

Behind the hustle and bustle of Dar es Salaam, there’s a lot of stories awaiting to be lived. If you are heading to this beautiful part of Planet Earth, I hope this blog post will give you some ideas about where to stay, where to go for lunch and dinner and how to make your stay meaningful.

 

 

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In the lap of Le Bouchon

In the course of my travels, I have come across hundreds of enthusiastic travellers who have Mauritius featuring in their bucket list but there’s something funny too: many have no idea about Mauritius. They have neither heard nor read about it. But, are they to be blamed? I think no. We have an important role to play too in educating the rest of the world about this part of the world. I write about my travels also for this reason- to tell stories that few might live, to promulgate the colours and contrasts of places and to help people soak in different cultures.

Mauritius is not only about the sunbaths and the playful children absorbed in building sand dunes on the beach. It is not only about the star-filled sky. It is not only about the shopping malls. It is about green villages tucked away from the busy cities too. It is about the struggling hawkers too. It is about the chirping birds that render the alarm clock useless in the morning too. And, it is about Le Bouchon too.

I was made aware about a rescue operation that began at Le Bouchon after the Liberian vessel, Lib MV Benita, was shipwrecked near the coast. On the bright Saturday morning of the 23rd July 2016, I decided to travel to Le Bouchon to witness this scene. I had no idea about what I would be seeing. I drove from Pamplemousses, a village located in the northern region of the island, to Le Bouchon, situated in the south east coast. It took me nearly one hour’s drive to reach the destination. I’d recommend you to pack some bottle of waters and eatables.

There’s a reason behind everything; even behind the shipwreck of Lib MV Benita. It was not just a mere coincidence. I think it was meant to be. It was a call to the people of Mauritius who have perhaps closed their eyes to this mesmerising place.

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I walked through the rocky terrain with my camera hanged around my neck. My eyes weren’t tired of scanning the place. I saw few cows grazing grass in the surrounding.

Lib MV Benita did not seem to be boasting its pride but rather, it was resting serenely in the lap of the ocean. I had to take a picture of the helicopter while it was unloading the goods from the ship but in the gist of the moment, I totally forgot. Nevertheless, I may not have pictures of it but I have the memories, for my eyes have observed and my heart has felt.

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The rescue team was so engrossed in their operation. Everything was so neatly coordinated. They seemed not to be disturbed by the onlookers.

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The place wasn’t crowded but as time flew, more and more people came. I looked around and caught a glimpse of two children. The picture speaks for itself.

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Not too far away from this scene, I saw an old man sitting on a stone with his fingers interlaced and his attention unswerving from the ship. I could not decipher what he was contemplating upon but something was apparent: there was something that he was confiding to Lib MV Benita. 

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I toured around the place and met the inhabitants of the locality. I love spontaneous conversations with strangers. There’s always something to learn from them. Le Bouchon is more than just a public beach for some people. It’s their workplace. I met this determined lady who was selling fruit salads.

Until Benita is here, I am earning more“, the lady said.

A deep line, isn’t it? Can you imagine how?

Le Bouchon is not much frequented but since the shipwreck of Lib MV Benita, more and more people have been visiting this beach. Lib MV Benita has been a blessing in disguise for the few hawkers who have been toiling hard under the scorching sun. They have been selling more that they usually do.

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I could not resist the fruit salads. I’m sure you would also not have left this place without tasting the salads. I ate some and then walked leisurely to the other extreme of the beach. It took me around seven minutes to reach there. It was a lot more greener and calmer compared to this side.

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I kept clicking as many pictures as I could, but I also made sure to put my camera down from time to time and to feel the magic of the place.

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I spent nearly two hours in the lap Le Bouchon. It was the first time I’ve been there and I’m sure that it won’t be the last time. I’ll visit this place again in the future. I hope that the outstanding natural beauty of this place will not be interfered with.

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I still remember the tales from Dubreuil

Travelling isn’t about the miles we cover with our vehicles; it is the miles we cover with our soul.

On Wednesday, 6 June 2016, I woke up with no plan for the day and ended up trusting the road to guide me. Tank filled with fuel, oil level verified and tire pressure checked; I embarked on another adventure into the unknown. This time, I wasn’t alone. I was accompanied by two like-minded brothers, who added the sense of humour to the trip.

“Where are we heading to?”, asked one of them curiosity in his eyes.

“The road will answer this”, I replied cheerfully.

The enthusiastic chit-chatting began to die as time flew by, and as lethargy permeated in the air, no voices could be heard coming from the back seat. Uneven rumbles of the tyres on the road surface and the soft music in the car, were all that could be heard.

After almost an hour’s drive, we travelled through a road lined with green trees on both sides; as if it was the road to paradise. I did not pursue the trip any further until I took a walk down the street. The air was filled with the scent of the wild herbs and flowers. The spectacular scene of the light beams piercing through the green foliage was a real feast to the eyes.

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My brothers and I, we are usually high-spirited but we can also become very quiet too. They could not resist the scene either. While they were happily capturing some pictures of the place which turned out to be jaw-dropping, I was silently walking down the lane. The wild flowers bought me somewhere in their world and made me think. Trapped in the clutches of wild shrubs and plants, they could have yearned for squishy soil to grow but they choose rather to blossom in their own little ways. The wilderness keeps stifling them but they keep forgiving the trees, the shrubs and the herbs for robbing them of their spaces and composure. As I was contemplating on making sense of the little things around me, my brothers too accompanied me in the walk; speaking less and living more.

We refilled our energy reserves and continued our adventure. Few minutes later, Dubreuil came into view; a green village tucked away from the hustle and bustle. I feel deeply connected to this undisturbed part of the world because some chapters of my childhood were etched here. I still remember the tales from Dubreuil. I used to spend sleepless nights listening to the scary and spooky tales narrated vehemently by my aunt.

The innocent and playful walks in my uncle’s farms are still vivid in my memory. I could not explore Dubreuil without visiting them.

After some time spent with them, we set off again and keenly drove through the tea fields surrounded by silent hills and neatly trimmed tea plants. The scene was to die for. The narrow pathway leading to the field was covered with mud but this did not prevent me from venturing inside.

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I stopped the car and took a walk in the lush green fields despite the muddy paths. It sounds exciting but one has to be careful as the risk of slipping is high in such places.

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While touring around, I found some wild raspberries hiding away beneath large guava leaves. I could easily distinguish them by their leaves and consumed a handful of them. I must admit that they are not tasteful but nevertheless, they managed to quench my light hunger at that time.

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The journey continued; from picking raspberries to basking in the country’s glories. I have too many stories but too few words to narrate them.

 

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The beauty of becoming

The dynamics of my life taught me some noteworthy lessons lately. I buried some secrets deep inside for years – I have loved. The darkness of this world is so terrifying that I had to nurture this love in the light of my heart. I loved quietly through my fears and tears. It took me years to muster a resolute courage and to eventually confess my deepest truth to a world filled of lies. I presumed I would be respected for my honesty rather than being judged for loving, but the contrary happened. I learned hence to bury some pains in my heart, to wipe my tears and to confide to none but the universe. I walked out with a heart filled with scars – each telling a profound story. I thought I was fighting the whole world to protect my emotions but when I stopped and questioned myself, I understood that I was at war with myself. I needed a trustworthy friend to listen to the echoes of my mind and the silent screams of my heart; not necessarily to solve the quandaries of my life. I traveled outside and inside; looking for a glimmer of hope.

The beauty of becoming

I found none until I gazed at the grandeur of the wide blue sky. It stole something from me as I stared deeper at it; and that was my agony. I conversed for hours with the universe and to my surprise, it would listen and even answer. I found some answers though I am yet to find more. From nurturing fears to unleashing love, I was becoming something every day throughout this battle – something greater than myself. Have you ever come across a tree laden with ripe fruits? It does not submit to the inner and outer changes so easily; to a point that it even agrees to bend low. Nevertheless, it dies every day knowing that its fruits shall eventually fall and gradually vanish. The little deaths that consume the tree ever day somehow shape it to become something sturdier. I die every day too but my deaths make me; they don’t break me. I die knowing that I hide nothing within. I die knowing that I have spoken my truth. I die knowing that I am pure in spirit. I therefore die fulfilled and thus, I become something greater than myself.

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Embracing the Great Rift Valley, Kenya

Travelling is more than just backpacking and sightseeing. There is something deeper about it. It is about embracing. In July 2013, I escaped my busy life to follow my passion. I traveled to the Great Rift Valley – a piece of paradise that appears to be undisturbed for ages.

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The valleys were nicely garlanded with colors and lights. The white clouds were dancing at the summit of the hills. I could not take my eyes off from the landscape – mountains, flowers, greenery and lakes. It took me only minutes to grow in love with the irresistible scenery of the Great Rift Valley.
As I walked closer to the valleys, I traveled to the pages of my past and recollected a lesson learned – life is all about choices. I then chose not just to collect snaps but to collect stories few will have to share. I closed my eyes and extended my arms to embrace the majesty of the Great Rift Valley. I could feel the balance with everything around me and within me. I stood still for some minutes and in the echoes of my mind, I paid attention to my thoughts. I was conscious. I felt being alive. Nothing could have been better.
I made a promise to the Great Rift Valley too. I will not reveal the promise at this point in time though.

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From Le Pétrin to Grande Rivière Noire – a trail never to forget

This Sunday, 28th of June 2015, I did something different. I went for trekking.

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At the earliest hours of the morning, I woke up to the call of my name and to the dim rays of sun seeping through the brown curtains of my room. I opened my eyes to see my brother calling my name. I knew the night has passed and the day has arrived – a day unlike others. I collected myself and woke up minutes later.

I filled my backpack with my travel journal, pen, some books, my digital camera and all its lenses, a vacuum-insulated thermos filled with coffee, an outdoor pullover, some mint candies, my sunglasses and a ripe avocado. Even though the weather outside was rainy and gave me enough reasons not to venture outside, I reminded myself that I have a purpose and that purpose cannot be defeated by mere drops of rain. The exhilaration of my companions, throughout the expedition, convinced me that I made the right decision by embarking on this adventure.

The trail began at Le Pétrin to end at Grande Rivière Noire, Mauritius. The team demonstrated determination throughout the journey. We had long conversations that would never end and needless to say, we took hundreds of pictures that would keep the memories alive. The scenery was to die for.

I felt like a child seeing things for the first time. I wandered into the unknown and found my way back. I felt complete and alive. Undoubtedly, I will come back again.

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A heavenly boat trip along Lake Naivasha

Heaven exists. I have been there.

Lake Naivasha, a freshwater lake in Kenya, is a splendid piece of paradise far from the cacophony of the world. On the 22nd of September 2013, I packed everything and walked out in the pursuit of tales few would have to tell. Even though I journeyed to Lake Naivasha before, the call of its splendors remains tempting. I enjoyed the road trip from Nairobi to Naivasha. The serenity of the desolate villages, the scenic landscapes with grazing cows, herd of cattle and the Massai, the stunning valleys, the dancing clouds, and the freshness of the air were enough to inspire the poet in me. I could fill my travel journal with words.

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In an enthusiasm to arrive at my destination, I did not fail to do justice with my journey. I always make sense of both the journey and the destination. Both are revealing and important. I clearly recall having stopped by a restaurant on the way to taste the typical onion soup. Needless to say, it was delicious.
On arriving at the lake, I walked around and greeted the locals. I soon recollected myself and embarked on a boat trip on the lake. I discovered that the lake was home to thousands of flamingos and hippos. On the shore, I found antelopes, zebras and giraffes. The sky was garlanded with thousands of colorful birds. After nearly an hour’s boat ride, the sky turned grey and it started raining. I soaked my hands in the water. I felt the cold rain on my skin and smiled to myself as I recalled a promise made to someone. I witnessed the majestic rainbow settling over the lake. I presumed that Naivasha smiled at me.

The boat trip soon drew to an end and I walked away with a promise to come back.