Stunning Wildlife, Culture and Landscape of Kenya, Madagascar and Ethiopia

Samburu_Night Skies_Stars_Kellie Netherwood.jpgWhen I arrived in Africa four months ago, I planned to update my blog from Kenya, Madagascar and Ethiopia on a regular basis. It didn’t quite go to plan. In fact, I’ve only shared five posts over a period of seventeen weeks. So what happened?

Africa happened.

I shouldn’t be surprised. My first experience on this beautiful, diverse, complicated, culturally fascinating and naturally rich continent left a mark on me six years ago which has continued to deepen with each subsequent visit.

Giraffe at sunset_masai mara_kenya_Kellie Netherwood-7.jpgI found myself writing posts in my head on a regular basis over the past four months: some were triggered by a random moment, others by an entertaining local encounter, many by a spectacular scene or wildlife encounter and all with a desire to share a little of this incredible continent with those who have been, those who are planning to or those who may never have the opportunity.

But every time I sat down to write, I found myself distracted by all the other things I could be doing.

Africa got under my skin – again.

leopard with prey_masai mara_kenya_Kellie Netherwood-2.jpg

I still plan to share my photographs and experiences in retrospect, so stay tuned if you are interested. In the meantime, here are some of my favourite images, as I reflect on the stunning wildlife, culture and landscape of Kenya, Madagascar and Ethiopia and the incredible four months I’ve just enjoyed.

Kenya

Impala at sunrise_Masai Mara_Kenya_Kellie Netherwood.jpgI started my travels with a week in the Masai Mara, planning to spend the rest of my time in Madagascar and Ethiopia. But sometimes the best moments happen when things don’t go according to plan and I found myself back in the country for my last couple of weeks, enjoying an unplanned return to the Masai Mara and a first time visit to Samburu.

cheetah cubs_masai mara_kenya_Kellie Netherwood.jpgI arrived in the Masai Mara during one of the greatest wildlife spectacles in the world – the Great Migration. Thousands of wildebeest were making their annual stampede towards new-growth grasses, a perilous journey from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara. And whilst I was very disappointed to be one of the few people to visit in the month of August and NOT see a major river crossing, thanks to unpredictable and late rains, the experience remained spectacular.

lions_masai mara_kenya_Kellie Netherwood-11.jpgAnd returning in the quieter (and wetter) month of December proved to be one of the best decisions I made on my trip. The wildebeest and zebra had left, but the big cats remained, many with young cubs. Throw in some dramatic stormy skies and less safari vehicles and you have one of the highlights of my trip.

hippo flip_masai mara_kenya_Kellie Netherwood-4.jpgAlthough the focus of my time in Kenya was wildlife photography, a constant of my trip was the friendliness of the locals with their warm welcome and genuine smiles.

Put simply, Kenya blew me away and has become a destination I hope to return to again and again.

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Madagascar

avenue of baobabs_madagascar_Kellie Netherwood-8.jpgI arrived in Madagascar with high expectations. I left with them exceeded. The wildlife was unique, the landscape diverse, the culture fascinating and the people warm, friendly and incredibly welcoming.

breaching humpback whale_ile set marie_madagascar_Kellie Netherwood.jpgI constantly felt like I was starring in my own wildlife documentary with breaching humpback whales, a rare sighting of a fosa, countless chameleons, frogs, spiders and insects and of course the stars of the country – the lemurs – of which I was lucky to see twenty different species.

milky way_madagascar_Kellie Netherwood-6.jpgI learned that Madagascar is the oldest island in the world with the geographical and climatic diversity of a small continent. I learned that it’s home to more than 200,000 species of wildlife, the majority of which are endemic to the island. I was surprised to learn that despite its close proximity to the African mainland, the country’s population original descended from Indonesian/Malayan migrants. I was sad to learn it remains one of the poorest countries in the world and that only 10-20% of its original forestation remains. I was intrigued to learn about the traditional beliefs of the local population that drives fascinating cultural practices that have survived the test of time.

Every moment in Madagascar was unforgettable.

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Ethiopia

I arrived in Ethiopia for a nine week volunteering assignment in the Omo Valley, working and living with the Hamar tribe. As an overall experience, it was incredibly unique and I never lost sight of the amazing opportunity I had, learning more about their fascinating culture through relationships developed beyond the typical tourist experience.

hamar water_omo valley_ethiopia_Kellie Netherwood-5.jpgLiving in the area for a period of nine weeks also allowed me to make some amazing local friends, visit some of the other tribes in the Omo Valley and take the time to slow down and soak up my beautiful and tranquil surroundings.

hamar maza_omo valley_ethiopia_Kellie Netherwood-9.jpgBut not every day was a great day. The remoteness of our surroundings presented logistical challenges: lack of hot water and electricity, little relief from the stifling hot weather, limited food and transport options. And being there during the early stages of the project presented teething problems that whilst not unexpected, can prove challenging to a volunteer who is there for an extended period of time.

milky way_Hamar_Omo Valley_Ethiopia_Kellie Netherwood.jpgI left the Omo Valley grateful for the experience, fascinated by the Hamar culture and with great memories that will stay with me forever.

But I also left with more questions than answers, some of which feel conflicted, uncomfortable and at times, hypocritical.

Is tourism having a negative impact on the Omo Valley or does potential still exist for local communities to benefit from it? Do these tribes really want foreign volunteers working with them or do volunteers get more out of the experience than the communities? Do the tribes of the Omo Valley perceive outside involvement as help or interference? How can we balance the photographic benefit of documenting a rich and interesting culture with the human zoo mentality it has the potential to create? And will these tribes survive the test of time, taking advantage of modern developments whilst maintaining their rich culture?

Hamar women_omo valley_ethiopia_Kellie Netherwood-10.jpgThese questions are not unique to me as a traveller and not unique to the Omo Valley as a destination. And they don’t suggest I’ve had a negative experience. On the contrary, they remind me that one of the reasons I love to travel is that it has the ability to challenge my opinions with thought-provoking experiences.

It gives me the opportunity to learn more about other cultures and meet people with different lifestyles, backgrounds and beliefs. It helps me embrace diversity instead of fearing it. It teaches me to exercise tolerance instead of judgement. It brings interesting and enriching people into my life.

Travel teaches me – about the world, about other people and about myself.  It continues to be my greatest and most influential teacher.

Travel makes me feel alive.  Africa makes me feel alive.

This is why I travel, this why I’ll keep travelling and this is why I’ll return to Africa.

It’s been an incredible fourth months – thank you Kenya, Madagascar and Ethiopia!

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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com

Comments

  1. I’m glad you had such an amazing experience (and great photo opportunities too)! I’ve never been able to blog while travelling, I get too caught up in the experience to do more than journal in the evenings.

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