Travel is Essential

Karibu Kenya. It’s dusk, an isolated storm is rolling over the vast plains trawling a curtain of rain across the wilds below, framed by layered mountain ranges and dramatically illuminated by the lingering last light of the day. The moment feels like a segment from a Netflix special, or a Nat Geo documentary, it deserves the flawless narration of Sir David Attenborough. The prevailing winds carry the chilled scent of the distant storm up the hill to our camp, spiked with woodsmoke from the roaring bonfire as it passed. The soundtrack of crickets in the grass and a strong distant rumble of thunder aligns the senses. Down by the fire is a hum of chatter, although indistinguishable in its details it is clear what I am hearing – it is the sound of travelling teachers, conversations between people of different cultures and beliefs. The sense of adventure and wellbeing is powerful and immediate. Not even the greatest of imaginations could have dreamed a more impressive opening. The stage was set for the first expedition on foreign soil in over a year. Africa had delivered…… now it was our turn.

The sense of adventure and wellbeing is powerful and immediate.

Panoramic view from the top of Camp Tsavo - Kenya

“Who is your player…Messi, Ronaldo or Mbappe?” This was the question Tariq and I were asked from 2 young local students as we filled our water butts from the pump which was shaded by an Acacia tree behind the secondary school building. We guessed the lads (one wearing a Chelsea shirt and one in a Bayern Munich top) made a swift escape from Sunday service at the local church adjacent, from which a deafening chorus of passionately delivered Swahili hymns, filled the humid air. We continued to discuss the best players in the world a short while after the containers were full. The water wasn’t for drinking, it was to make cement with the goal of building a safe step up to one of the classrooms previously built by hundreds of young Camps International travellers in years gone by.

The hot Kenyan sun beaded our necks with sweat and the faint aroma of paint being applied to the indoor walls by the other team members lingered as we kneaded the cement mixture into a wet dough-like viscosity with shovels. With a comforting nod of approval by our experienced project manager Ibahimu, we poured the cement into place, stepped backed and assessed our handy work. In just a day, the team had successfully built a step that ran the length of the building, removing the risk of students potentially injuring themselves by falling. We painted both the interior and exterior walls of the building in the colours of the school uniform – pastel pink, green and white. While this may seem minimal, it was an important contribution to Itinyi School, and step forward (pardon the pun) on the near 20-year journey of Camps International working alongside the local community to improve the quality of education.

As we stroll back towards the truck through the empty school field, we felt very accomplished in our day’s efforts. With our cement splattered boots collecting a layer of red soil, I can’t help but long for the day that this space is filled with life again, busy with laughing students, both local and foreign, sharing, learning…living.

I can’t help but long for the day that this space is filled with life again, busy with laughing students, both local and foreign, sharing, learning…living.

Perched on the slopes of Marungu Hills, Camp Tsavo is a natural outpost situated at the edge of Tsavo National Park, the largest of its kind in Kenya – spanning nearly 22,000km2. A life-size sculpture of an African elephant made wholly from wild animal snares sits at the base of Camp Tsavo. It stands as a profoundly beautiful yet hauntingly stark reminder of the endless fight to eradicate poaching in Africa.

The traditional Bandas that serve as sleeping quarters, complete with clean, comfortable beds and electricity to charge your excessively used camera, are flanked by shower and bathroom facilities and separated by one wide natural path that runs from the campfire up to the beautifully placed communal dining area, overlooking the entire camp and wilderness beyond…bliss. Neighboured by the vast Rukinga Wildlife Sanctuary and just a handful of local goat farmers, Camp Tsavo delivers in its goal of offering a sense of remote disconnect, freedom from the fast paced life the majority of us lead. At the bottom of camp is the community centre, built by Camps International, and home to the Tumaini Women’s Group. Run by the inspirational Mama Mercy, it has been a force of good for over 20 years offering women of the local community and wider regions to come together with the goal of empowering each other to source means of independent sustainable income. With the addition of its immense surroundings that seem to trigger a sort of primal emotional reaction it really does feel like a very…very special place.


With an effortless slap of the foot on the red dirt below and a self-encouraging yelp, Michael propelled upwards to what seemed an impossible height.

It was the begging to the end of a day full of cultural wonder, from lunch in the natural caves of Marungu Hills offering panoramic views of African plains patterned with the shade of the clouds above, to Safari where we were graced with the presence, amongst a host of other wildlife, of the majestic African elephant in its natural habitat of endless grasslands and watering holes.

Michael was joined by male and female members of his tribe. One by one the men came forward, attempting to out-jump their predecessor as the women sang a chorus of traditional song, the small children were enthusiastically imitating their elders. It was an onslaught of colour and culture and one that was more emotional than expected. Their history dates back to the 17th Century and many, if not all, traditions remain securely engrained in their daily lives. The Maasai way of life is the epitome of necessity and sustainability, using only natural resources to build their huts and tending to their livestock for income and food. If it wasn’t for the single train track not far away, you would be forgiven for thinking we had travelled back in time.

As I sit at the top of Camp Tsavo with a warm cup of local tea in hand, I find myself willing a small dark cloud to bubble up into a storm, offering me a show similar to that which I witnessed on the first evening in camp, perhaps subconsciously wanting to start this incredible trip all over again. As my mind wonders, it becomes clear how fortunate I am to be in this position, but also how hard Camps International have worked to make this expedition a success. The team on ground are local, knowledgeable, and experienced, and they are complete ambassadors to their people and their company. Heightened hygiene practices promoted confidence in safety throughout the entire trip, facilitating PCR tests with authorised labs within Camp Tsavo made the process of more complex travel a stress-free task and the close relationship CI has with the local community meant they were aware of what was expected in terms of social distancing during visits.

Now more than ever it has become clear that travel is beyond the novelty of adding stamps to our passports. It is removing ourselves from our comfort zone, allowing us to be vulnerable which in turn opens the floodgates to self-development and wellbeing. It gives perspective and stimulates the senses, offering a platform for education and creativity. Travel supports and improves the livelihoods of the communities we work alongside and keeps their culture thriving through exposure to others. Travel is a prescription for self-care and should be undertaken with responsibility and care, with a clear purpose and goal.

Travel is life in its purist form and when we live it, we should do so with the aim of creating a long lasting, sustainable impact.

– Chris Negus

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