Traveling with the Bishop – a unique experience in Kenya
Have you ever met a Bishop in person? Me neither. But last month I had the pleasure of traveling around Kenya with the “wild bishop”. Bishop Virgilio Pante is the head of the Catholic Diocese of Maralal – and he was our personal tour guide and chauffeur in Kenyas remote north for 10 days.
But first things first. Kenya was the first destination this year for my newest “baby”. Together with my partner, I organize the Cause Photo Travels, for a good cause.
Most tourists head to the Masai Mara to experience wildlife in Kenya. Our aim is different. We wanted to visit the north, Samburu County, to get in touch with remote villages and learn more about the Samburu and Turkana tribes, in order to organize our Cause Photo Travels in Kenya. These photo travels have a humanitarian background. The images produced on these travels will help our NGO Partners, like the Diocese of Maralal, to raise funds for their projects (building schools, supply materials etc.) and in addition, we bring Clothes, Shoes and more materials directly into the villages.
From Nairobi, we traveled up north, in the 4x4 Toyota of the Bishop, with him behind the steering wheel. First stop was his house in the mission of Maralal, his base and office. The Bishop has been in this area for over 40 years – first as a missionary and since 2001 as Bishop. He is a part of the Missioni della Consolata in Italy.
Never would we have guessed to have him as a tourguide, and even more surprising: he was terrific as tourguide. He told us interesting informations about all the areas, historical facts and named all the animals we saw along the way.
His luggage mainly consisted of many bottles of water. At least 5-6l per day. While on the road, we stopped from time to time when we met farmers on the way. While we engaged with the people and taking images, the bishop gave them water to drink. In these areas, running water is scarce, so farmers usually walk for miles to get water for themselves.
Traveling in the north of Kenya is not too easy. One hour from Nairobi and you are already very remote. Dirt roads in not the best conditions and no traffic signs whatsoever. So, without the bishop who knew all roads by heart, we surely would have gotten lost.
Our travel saw small towns and villages like Baragoi, South Horr, Tuum and Sererit, towns hardly known to usual tourists. Mzungu, a word we heard many times a day. White person! Most of these areas have not seen white people in years (or at all), except for the missionaries maybe. Babies usually started crying or staring at us in disbelieve when seeing us first, but the curiosity quickly took over and then they engaged with us. When they saw their images on our cameras, the smiles and laughter started, and the happiness spread quickly. I am always amazed how these smiles and expressions go directly into your heart. Most of the people were a bit shy at first but very friendly and warm after talking to them But of course, there are also the people who start throwing stones at you when aiming the camera at them. For this reason, the bishop strongly advised us to not take pictures of the farmers carrying guns. And there were quite many of them, all ages.
Having the Bishop with us all the way had another bonus – he is fluent not only in kisuaheli but also in the Samburu dialect, helping us with translations. He brought us to his parishes and we have been blessed to meet other missionaries who dedicated their life to help the people in Africa. The biggest surprise was Sererit. Far away from anything and no phone network, the mission in Sererit swept us off our feet. The whole mission has been built by Aldo Giuliani, the missionary on duty, including the chapel, the gardens from which they harvest all their fruits and veggies up to the many kilometers of water pipeline from the mountains to the mission and the village. But he also built the roads and schools in the area. He is now 78 and is working on a second water pipeline from the (mostly dry) river to the village, as a backup.
The Bishop opened up a new world and an amazing experience to us. We got to visit places we would not have had access to as normal tourists, we stayed in missions and convents and had lunch and dinner with priests and nuns. But most of all, we had the pleasure to meet this “wild” bishop with a deep love for Kenya and the people, who turns a Sunday mass at church into a happening and who can tell you exactly where to get the best food or which nun to ask for homemade mango icecream. Kenya for sure was an unforgettable experience and also changed my view on missionary work and the catholic church.
What is your opinion on missionaries or the church? Can you relate to my experiences? Leave me a comment, I am curious to hear more
India - explosion of colours
I love colours! I love travels! I love food! India combines all of these and is definitely worth a visit.
Through the years, I have been to India twice (so far), and have seen my fair share of the country. The mundane maharaja inheritance of the north in Rajasthan, the mountainous north-west of Darjeeling, the warm coastal south of Kerala as well as the lush nature of south-eastern Nilgiri area. Every corner of India is different, but equally beautiful. And did I mention the food?
But of course, a country with that many inhabitants also has their share of problems. Poverty is the biggest one of those. If you travel to India, you will not be able to NOT understand this problem. Especially in the bigger cities, you will see people living and sleeping on the streets, very close to rich people’s houses. You will see dedicated slum areas, where people live in cardboard box houses with tin roofs and for sure, you will see many people beg on the streets. You have seen Slumdog millionaire and thought it was the usual Hollywood exaggeration? Go to India and you will know it is not, it is in fact the opposite. When you travel there, you will have to decide before, if you want to support these gangs, exploiting kids to beg for money. But be prepared that either way, this will break your heart!
But let’s not talk about this. Yes, people are poor, but they are also very generous, friendly and extremely happy to see you, not only because they now they can get money out of you.
When I first was there, my friend and I felt like superstars. Everybody wanted to take pictures with us. Of course, two white women travelling alone is not the usual sight.
Kids wanted to know everything, where we are from, what we do and most of all, they always asked me if they can touch my blond hair, followed by the question if I have a pen for them. I did bring some stuff to give away, but it was not nearly enough. So, we ended up buying more stuff in local shops to give out to the ones who were so friendly with us.
India is a place where everyone finds something they like:
So, now you know where to go. Everywhere, right? No matter how much you have travelled before, India is completely different to anything you have experienced.
The chaotic (but pretty well working) hustle of traffic in the big cities can be an overwhelming challenge to travellers. Where else will you see roads shared by cars, buses, horse carriages, bikes, bicycles, pedestrians, tuktuks AND elephants all at the same time? Only in India. And there is no way to really prepare for this. You know what you will see, but you will not know, what this does to you before you experience it. You either love it and dive right in, or you hate it and you instantly want to go back home.
And did you hear of Delhi Belly? It is the Indian version of Mexico’s Montezuma’s Revenge, also known as Diarreah. Everybody says, you have not been to India if you did not experience this. I did not believe it; my stomach is usually pretty strong and I am careful to not drink from glasses washed in the street. But my first time in India, Delhi Belly hit me the last 3 days I was there. And it hit me hard… Since that experience, I have medication like Imodium with me wherever I travel. I don’t mind getting this, but I don’t want it to ruin my vacation by keeping me in my hotel room all day.
But I don’t want to scare you, besides all these points (or maybe because of them), India is for sure one of the most fascinating destinations you will ever experience. Andi t will stick with you for a lifetime. I can still smell all these smells from the many spice markets, I can hear the honking of tuktuks, and most of all, I miss those vibrant colours you see everywhere. You will know what I mean if you go there in winter time and come back to Europe to see everybody wearing grey and black.
India is amazing and has a special place in my heart. I will always say YES to anyone asking me to go there again.
Have you ever been to India? What are your experiences? Or you plan to go there? What will you visit?
Why Bolivia has no mirrors but is absolutely worth a visit
Bolivia is maybe one of the last countries where not every single cm is „discovered“. The most stunning discovery for me was that they seem to have no mirrors.
Recently I had to chance to spend 2 weeks in Bolivia, and they were surprising and amazing. In the whole time I travelled around the country, I have only seen one mirror in one of the hostels bathrooms. All the other places - even private places - did not have them. My mind was intrigued. What was the deal with that? Is it something cultural or religious? Are mirrors bad and taking your soul? Are Bolivians vampires?
To be honest, I still don’t know for sure what it was, but it was actually very refreshing not to worry or care about appearance for 2 weeks. The most realistic guess about the mirrors I have, is that they are just too expensive. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, more than half of the 11 Million inhabitants live in poverty with less than USD 2 a day. 4 Millions are under 18 and a shocking number of 400’000 of them have experienced physical and/or sexual violence.
Yes, this is not the usual information you get as a tourist. But you know me, I am not the usual tourist, I like to go somewhere where I can help and do something to make it better. In Bolivia, I even went so far as to leave them my iPhone. Ok, it got stolen, but still…
The second week in Bolivia I spent with Bolivia Digna, an NGO in Cochabamba that has the sole purpose to let kids be kids and care for their wellbeing. I was there again with the NGO Photographers Alliance, so our aim was to document the works of the NGO in order to help them raise more funds through quality images. You might remember my time in Ecuador with the same Alliance earlier this year. You’ll find a blog article about it here.
Bolivia Digna has 2 community centres in poor areas of Cochabamba. One of these communities still has no basic services like electricity or water, they live in small shacks close to the community centre. The NGO is present at the two centres every afternoon for 2 h, providing lessons, crafting and sports and allows the kids to be kids for 2 h a day. These kids have too many responsibilities already, some need to work or care for their younger siblings… all things a normal kid should not be forced to worry about.
The NGO only functions with volunteers, so in case you want to see Bolivia from a different kind of view, join them for some time.
Before my time in Cochabamba, I travelled around the Altiplano, in small villages near the Sajama volcano. Also here, not many tourists know about it, as most people go for the salt flats or Titicaca Lake. But you should consider the Sajama region, and bring warm clothes. This was the second big surprise in Bolivia. I knew nights will be a bit fresh since the Altiplano is over 3000 m high. But I was literally FREEZING every night there… I slept in thermal underwear under 3 blankets. And when I went out in the evenings to see the stars, I wore about 10 layers. So be prepared!
Sajama is an inactive volcano, around 6600 m high, it is the highest mountain in Bolivia ad one of the highest volcanos on earth. Since its base is on the altiplano at around 4200 m, it does not look that high though. In the area you have some hot springs and there are some climbers who go all the way up to the summit.
I chose not to do that. I mean I am Swiss and am used to mountains and heights, but any activity on 4200 m is very exhausting. And the path up to the first base camp was straight upwards…. So I decided to try the hot springs instead. It is very weird to walk about half an hour, right after sunrise, still covered in 6-7 layers, freezing - and then to just undress and get into the hot water… But that half hour in the sunlight was enough to get warm again and after the dip in that awesome natural pool, everything seemed warm. And the scenery was just awesome.
In general, the sceneries in Bolivia are breathtaking. The whole time there, the words of the Star Trek Intro kept ringing in my head: „Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It's continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and civilisations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.“
Ok, I admit it, I am a geek… but try to stand on a flat mountaintop in the altiplano with 360 degree view of remote, hardly touched land and not be completely in awe. The only sounds you hear are birds, bugs and some distant Llama or Alpaca noises.
And did I mention the colours? Even though it was very dry (more than usually at this time of year), the colours were amazing. The ground had all colours due to minerals and metals like iron or copper, mountains were striped in red, yellow and green… And then the people, with all these colourful blankets and everything. And then you get back to Europe, winter is coming and everyone is wearing black and grey, only the trees put on their best Indian summer autumn spectacle to lighten up your mood.
So, to make a long story short: No mirrors, no problems!
Have you ever been to Bolivia? What are your experiences?
I am a swiss photographer (www.fmphotography.ch),
a travel, wildlife, volunteer and outdoors addict who cares about zero waste, the environment and simply our planet.