Written by Vik Chege
Remember that old school band Blink 182? Apparently the name comes from the fact that time’s moving so fast that you blink and half a year is gone. 182 is how many days there are in 6 months. Well we’re barely even four months into the year and already it feels like a lot is happening and its happening often. We had that World War III scare in January and now everyone is living out an episode of Contagion. So in case it was as much of a blur to you as its been to lots of us, here’s a catchup on what’s been happening since January.
1. Up, Up, and Away
First the sky. In January low cost regional carrier Jambo Jet announced an insane deal with tickets going for 2020 to select destinations. Just thinking about how expensive it is to travel in Africa makes me want to open the cabin doors and pull the ripcord and plummet straight to the ground in a splat of tomato sauce and whatever that white goo I imagine covers brains. It’s like $400 return to get to Tanzania which is about 14 hours by road and, get this, $1200 to Tokyo which is 22 hours by flight. Was it a good decision? No; it was a great one. What I’m trying to say is that there are lots of sites out there that will let you find the cheapest flights. Turn off your cookies first.
b) Still on the sky stuff, Kenya extended its deadline for its new generation passports until the first of March 2021. They’re blue and apparently better in some techy security kind of way. You can get the new generation passports by going online and applying on the E-citizen platform. https://www.ecitizen.go.ke/. Afterwards you have got to print everything out and head to the issuance centers in Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisii, Eldoret and Embu. They’ll take your picture and your fingerprints and then you wait. Word to the wise, don’t wear a t-shirt when you’re going to have your picture taken. They like collars for these types of things and will refuse to take a picture and you might have to come back another day. You don’t want that.
2. Pay to Play
Still on things you pay for, Kenya’s tourism fund has introduced a service called eLevy. What it does is make the 2% tourism levy payment easier and quicker. Not only can you pay, but you can also register an establishment on the site, pay your arears and download a receipt. https://tourismfund.go.ke/our-services/ . Btw, the tourism levy is a 2% tax collected from a bunch of players in the tourism and hospitality industry. The money goes to finance the development of the tourism industry in Kenya.
A lot of travellers are understandably frustrated and the words to say to them are don’t cancel, postpone. The UNWTO has rolled out a campaign dubbed Travel Tomorrow. They’ve even got a hashtag. Its #TravelTomorrow. This cause is supposed to raise awareness that we should minimize movement to avoid being part of the Rona problem.
b) Kenya had a campaign already rolled out courtesy of the team over at Magical Kenya that came to an end in February.They were raising awareness using the quaintly ungrammatical hashtag #MeILoveToTembea. Magical Kenya even gave us a glimpse of the tourism outlook for 2020. There is a lot in there from how attractive Gen Z is as a customer base to what’s called augmented travel. For now though, you can almost feel the FOMO in the air as everyone posts pictures of places they’ve been to and places they’ll hit immediately the shackles come off. Seven travel enthusiasts were awarded for consistently using the hashtags and were even called over to the main offices to meet the Magical Kenya Team. Glad Nelly represented OTGE! Way to go!
4. Mountain Kenya
We’re still on the trail and this one goes straight to the top of the world. At the very least to 5,199 meters above the sea. In January, Mount Kenya was one of 52 places to visit in 2020 in a list curated by the New York Times. You really should get a move on if you’re planning to summit it though. The science says that the permanent ice on it could disappear by 2030. In other news, global warming is real and you should definitely switch to renewables even if you don’t like permanent ice.
5. Beach Partaaay
Now to something hotter than the rising core temperature of the earth is the Diani Regatta Festival. This happened in January. Legend has it that is the only event in the South Coast which showcases traditional local culture. It’s a definite beach party with boat races, dancing, food, music, and now an increasing following that has people planning their vacations around it. The festival is currently in its 8th year and you can catch the next one on January 10th 2021.
6. Checking In
Hope you’ve got all your luggage because in January, the Pride Inn group of hotels took up a revenue sharing management contract with the Azure Hotel with a possibility of fully acquiring it within the course of this year. The new addition brings the group’s hotels to 9. I wonder if they’ll do that thing where you mash up names. Like Branjelina or Kimye.
b)As these doors open, the ones to the Southern Sun Mayfair are closing. The hotel is owned by the Tsogo Sun group based out of south Africa and they announced in January that they were closing down their 171 room hotel and exit Kenya entirely in another 10 years. On the other hand, Covid 19 has closed dozens of hotels in the country like Weston, all the Serena’s, Eneshipai, Ole-Sereni, really a lot of hotels. What this means is that thousands of jobs have been lost.
Now for some massive and sad news. This year, Tim the Elephant, who was thought to be one of the biggest elephants in Africa died of natural causes at the Amboseli National Park. He was part of a breed called “tuskers” which have exceptionally large tusks. Tim was 50 at the time of his passing. Here’s to hoping that all elephants go to heaven.
b) Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. This year also saw the deaths of Kenya’s only female white giraffe and her calf. The two were killed by poachers in what is a massive blow to Kenya’s wildlife genetic catalogue. Giraffes are mostly poached for their tails, their meat, and their hide.
8. Lamu Attacks
The global terror machine started off 2020 with several bangs. In Kenya in January, Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an attack in Lamu on a military base used by US and Kenyan military personnel. This happened in January. 3 people died that day. In February, attackers believed to be Al-Shabaab militants burnt two construction vehicles. Lamu happens to be near the Boni forest which the fighters use to hide out.
Lamu also had the Lamu Yoga Festival in March. I’ve never been to one of those but I bet you unlock all kinds of chakras and learn how to fold your hands in the prayer position behind your back. The festival has been happening once a year for seven years and it takes 5 days at over 12 locations. On offer this year was something called Aerial Yoga where you hang from the ceiling as you contort.
Lamu truly is a beautiful gem of Kenya’s ocean-side topography. Fun fact, because of the layout of the place, the streets are narrow and cars can’t get through. If you want to get around, you’d probably need to get on a boda boda or even a donkey. True story.
Coronaaah virus. Say it in the voice. You know which one. Hurricane Corona made landfall in Kenya and took us all on a journey of self-discovery. A mental journey now that you’re not supposed to leave the house. The pandemic has closed off entire countries and all you could do was hope a lockdown order didn’t come when you were on the wrong side of the border. You can’t eat out, you can’t be out after 7 pm and you definitely should have stopped shaking hands by now. Tourism and hospitality will be some of the hardest-hit industries once all the chips are down. Public gatherings are banned, air traffic is dicey and getting dicier, and a lot of hotels have had to close their doors. The only thing to do now is sanitized and bide your time indoors. Just bear it for now brave travellers and soon we’ll have the world back.
10. World Wildlife Day
Finally, to jumpstart the beast inside is the World Wildlife Day. This happens on the 3rd of March and this year’s theme was Sustaining All Life On Earth. Truth be told, the planet is in a bit of a jam when it comes to our wildlife. We are currently in the middle of Earth’s 6th mass extinction event. The planet is currently experiencing an extinction crisis largely due to the exploitation of the planet by people. Ironically, Rona is actually playing a part in slowing this down. Because everyone is indoors, seismic activity is slowing down which will mean fewer earthquakes. Hopefully the lockdowns will also mean that illegal wildlife trade will slow down. Either way, this is a chance to truly map the effect that civilization has on animals.