Turn-Up Travel: Of ‘Freedom & Fireflies’ In All Things Travel

 

  • – This is a story about two travel enthusiasts, a bromance and a passion turned into business –

Muthuri Kinyamu and Brian Gatimu are the co-founders of ‘Turn-Up Travel’, a creative tour agency whose mandate is ‘people first over everything’.

The two are like brothers in a pod.

We’re seated at a balcony over-looking the beautiful sunset at Metta Nairobi’s HQ, the convergence of Nairobi’s business market ideas. Muthuri is perched to my right, with Brian to my left. They come dressed in distinctive wear; Brian in casual t-shirt and jeans and Muthuri in an African-embroided white shirt that attracts the attention of passers-by.

But that’s not the only attention they’ve garnered over the past six months.

The duo has managed to create a buzz on social media from their unique travel agency, ‘Turn-Up Travel’. From trips on the Lunatic Express to exploring Turkana to creating a Nairobi Instagram tour, they seem to have done it all. An exquisite record to say the least, but that’s just the beginning.

“Traveling – It’s Freedom and Fireflies!” exclaims Muthuri.

The idea of a travel agency bore fruit in a room at Heritage’s Voyager Beach Resort in Mombasa. Muthuri was a part of #TeamTwendeMara, a group of four travel ambassadors chosen by the Kenya Tourism Board to showcase Kenya as the ultimate global travel destination.

As part of the travel itinerary was the #MombasaRaha trip to Voyager Beach Resort, hosted by Ndeithi Kariuki, also known as ‘Captain of the VBR Cruise Ship’. Brian happened to be one of the photographers in a girls-filled trip and as they were the only guys in the trip (Muthuri and he), it only made sense that they shared a room together.

Escapades from the trip; comprising of a sunset dhow at Moorings Floating Restaurant, a trip to the Butterfly Pavilion, the Chris Brown live concert, a tour through Fort Jesus and Mombasa Old Town, an all-inclusive VBR package and the perfect gang to experience the entire trip with from beginning to end, motivated them to get into the travel business and show people a good time. Hence the urban phrase, ‘Turn-Up’.

I sat with the two to learn more about their inspiration and journey, and the reasons as to why ‘turning down’ is not an existing phrase in their travel dictionary.

“Our first trip was with the Lunatic Express and we didn’t even know that this was the last trip with the old train. It was a great experience!” says Muthuri, “Imagine a 15 hour ride with about 30 people. You’ve got food from Kitchen and drinks from Famous Grouse. And even though we hadn’t met half of the people before, our goal was to make everyone feel at home.”

“You should be comfortable enough to come to our trips and not feel alienated,” adds Brian, “that’s what it’s about. We’re a family. It’s seen in the manner that we market our trips, that draws a particular crowd of people – who are naturally inclined to spontaneously make relationships.”

Turn-Up Travel has so far been able to organize quite a few intricate trips to tick off your bucket list. They’ve been to the Murera Springs Eco Lodge, Meru for a ‘Cabin In The Woods’ theme; Had a ‘Castle Crashers’ adventure at Le Chateau in Malindi; Took the Lunatic Express to Distant Relatives in Kilifi, Explored Turkana; Participated in ‘Photography In The Wild’ at the Nairobi National Park; Rode the SGR Madaraka Express to Voyager Beach Resort; Went for white water rafting in Sagana; a Watamu Reboot; and hosted the famous ‘Nairobae IG Tour and Pub Crawl’.


Water-rafting at Sagana


The gang at Watamu Reboot

Turkana, as they reveal, was hands-down the best trip that they’ve had so far, simply because it was Turkana. Each day was a new opportunity to be blown away, an 8-day journey to one of the most beautiful places in the country.

“Central Island in Turkana, I’ll never forget that place,” says a reminiscent Brian. “It’s clean, it’s pristine, and it’s different…”


Central Island, Turkana


Sunset sails, Turkana

“It’s like a crater lake,” interrupts Muthuri, “it’s some place you just hike up and (upon reaching the top and looking down below), suddenly realize wow  – here’s this lake with a clean beach that you didn’t see coming. Turkana is a hidden beauty.  I remember the trip to Central Island; I thought we were lost, almost telling the driver turudi (we go back). And then (much to our surprise), we see an amazing white beach and still water.”

“I saw that lake and felt ashamed for being so ignorant about my country,” uttered Brian. “Here’s a lake I used to see as a strip on the Northern edge of the map of Kenya that I had ignored, simply because I was so vain and shallow towards a place that I call my home. This is the narrative we’re looking to demystify across the whole continent. People love Kenya, but we want them to love Kenya so much so that they explore it whenever they have the chance.”

The ‘Nairobae IG Tour and Pub Crawl’ was another experience like no other in Nairobi. It was a documentation of Nairobi as the love of the city dwellers, hence the term ‘Nairobae’, depicted through lenses and tapes of videos and photographs.

The tour comprised of 40 people, where the dawn-to-dusk tour included a series of sunsets, breakfast at Nyama Mama, strolling down Nairobi’s architectural streets and boat rides through Uhuru Park to cocktails at Four Points by Sheraton, a beer and wine tour at Brew Bistro and lastly, the pub crawl from Budhaa Bar to Mwendwa’s in town, with Uber coming in as the main transport sponsor.


(L-R) Muthuri and Brian, with the ladies from Bars Kenya at Brew Bistro, Fortis Towers

Turn-Up trips are mainly catered to the millennials, aged 18 to 40 years. But the two have noticed that their clientele so far has been the median 28 to 34-year old who’s open to spending on experience. They’ve also got packages for younger guys who find significance in value-added trips, whose pockets may not allow for luxury trips.

The core-message to their trips is the ‘I was there factor’ for the Turn-Up family experience.


Brian, taking in the magnificence of the ocean, at Voyager Beach Resort

“Our trips are curated from ideas that people often think of but have no way of exercising them. A pub crawl sounds like a crazy one-time idea to many, so why not do it? It’s also about the person who looks for but lacks a fun crew to go boat riding at Uhuru-Park with; so we provide both – the squad and the experience,” laughs Muthuri.

One of the most interesting things about Turn-Up Travel is that the idea was initially intended to be just that, an idea to simply travel and have fun. Their intention was to mirror the #MombasaRaha concept. Turns out the two had no clue of the massive growth that they would have, leading to the creation of a travel agency.

“Wherever you go, take more from the experience and let go, that’s the whole point of our trips. As a travel agency, we want you to let loose, have fun, spread good vibes and be yourself,” says a passionate Brian.

“It’s Freedom and Fireflies,” adds Muthuri. “Watu hawajakuja kuota moto (people didn’t just come to idly assemble by the fireside). They want value for their money. We go an extra mile to chase your travel goals. We’re crazy about important details like your preference to white wine as opposed to red, special requirements and micro-moments. That’s what essentially makes our clients choose Turn-Up Travel as the only company that works for them.”


At the core of Turning-Up

The difference between Turn-Up Travel and other travel agencies is the ‘family-factor’. It’s in the way they make their passion contagious that precedes their professionalism, with word-of-mouth and social media as their marketing tools and of course, the guts to propose out-of-the-norm ideas.

It’s also a no-brainer really, that they’ve been able to work with renown companies in the industry such as: The Kenya Tourism Board, Turkana County, The Kenya Film Classification Board, The Kenya Railways, Uber, Tecno, Famous Grouse, Heritage Hotels, Four Points By Sheraton, Distant Relatives Kilifi, Brew Bistro, Nyama Mama, Metta and Urban Kichen, just to mention a few.

Be sure to catch them on and be a part of their next trip, the #MombasaIGTour, hosted by Mombasa-based BAKE Winner and Blogger, Jammy El Jabry. And for the luxury lovers, an upcoming trip to Lamu for the Lamu Festival.

 

 

 

 

Lose Yourself To The Alabaster White Smooth Sinking Sands In Diani

Our arrival itinerary at the world-renown Leopard Resort Beach & Spa was at about 3pm.

Right on time for the wedding; the guards informed us. Wedding? We wondered. Apparently there was a wedding going on at the hotel.

We’re here as guests – we informed them.

The thought of a beach wedding some few steps from where we would be staying for the weekend was enough to send excitement thrills up my spine. Yippee! That was the sound of the holiday mood kicking in.

Fast forward to our check in at the Dakarai Villa, an all en suite house with three lavish bedrooms and state of the art living room, adjacent to a gorgeous dining set overlooking your very own personalized infinity pool beyond the glass doors.

As one might imagine, the entire hotel is one world; Big. The feel of the ocean waves is magnificent and the entire place is so large that it’s impossible to do a complete tour in one sitting. Nonetheless, the food is great and the ambience is to live for.

Day II

The next day got us sightseeing the wonderful town that is Diani. There’s only one word that can describe Diani, Serenity. The people are friendly, the temperature is cool, the food is spectacular, the air is peaceful, the ambience is quiet and the place is as clean as a whistle!

I finally got to understand the fuss behind Diani white sands; the water is clear as day and the sands as white as milk. So at home is the place that it could be quite tempting to simply sit down, have a meal and an entire meditation about life and how you’ll be quitting your job soon just to sit by the beach all day looking into the horizon and literally do nothing for the rest of your life.

Day III

We were on a glass boat trip, where the locals took us a water tour to view the ocean bed and the jungle of life that lives underneath the ocean. My favorite part was sighting an actual star fish! It was so red and pretty that I just wanted to take it home with me. Then we anchored on a sandy island literally in the middle of the ocean. We swam till we couldn’t anymore, took loads of pics and swore that for real, there was a God or spiritual being up there because ain’t no way this wonderful feeling was man-made!

Then we headed out to a local famous restaurant by the ocean – Bidi Badu – and had some delish chicken biryani (you can’t go to the South Coast and miss on this) and a platter-full of fresh sea food; some lobsters, prawns, Nile perch and a bunch of other tasty finger-licking fishes.

Day IV

We were chilling by the hotel, where we got to talk to the hotel manager, who gave us insights about Leopard Beach Resort & Spa – of how it’s one of the most acclaimed beach hotels in Diani and of the numerous awards they’ve gotten.

5pm got us feeling nostalgic as we had to leave this place of a paradise an back to our old mundane ways of living back in the city… sigh. But one thing’s for sure – DIANI ROCKS!

I’m definitely coming back for a sundowner or four. To sip on some chilled white Sauvignon Blanc wine and laze by the Forty Thieves bar, legs up on a random tree branch by the beach, hat and yellow sun dress on and have a ball!

Images by: Dan Waiharo & Jean Wandimi

Of Breathtaking Views From Angama Mara

Imagine seated by a fireplace sipping on some hot masala tea, overlooking the vast view of the Maasai Mara Triangle. Seems spectacular, right? Just when I thought I had come across and seen all that luxury hotels have to offer, in comes Angama Mara – creating a whole different experience that leaves you feeling as though you were left suspended in mid-air.

Because that’s the meaning of Angama, in Swahili that is; To Suspend.

Angama is a pure experience, one that leaves you feeling as though you were floating somewhere right in the middle of heaven and earth; Angama is a spectacular place, because the hotel is literally perched at the very top of an escarpment, specifically to offer awe-inspiring views of the Maasai Mara; Angama is also a way of life, because the service at Angama is notably high end, one whose status has been placed high and beyond.

Game Drive

Our game drive begun at about 9am, and we were an eager bunch of six, ready and prepped to sight some cats and most of all, the Great Wildebeest Migration. Our first animals were a fleet of giraffes lazily having their morning snack, followed by a herd of zebras and wildebeests.

Soon enough, we got to sight a female cheetah seated under a tree observing her prey and later on, a lioness actually catching her prey.


Peace signs with Douglas, Angama Mara guide

As though by chance, our guide Douglas got wind that the Wildebeest Migration was about to happen, and so we dashed to the Mara River to witness this rare spectacular that few have the privilege to catch the Seventh Wonder of the World. Here we were, perched right by the river bank, patiently seated for about 30 minutes waiting for the great cross. And just when we were beginning to get weary thinking that the animals were cowardly and weren’t actually going to go through with it, then it happened!

The much anticipated Wildebeest Migration

Thousands upon thousands of herds of wildebeests and zebras fled through the wild scary coffee-waters to cross towards the other side, placing their fear of the fat crocodiles lazing around aside to save their lives.  A baby wildebeest was not as lucky as the others unfortunately, as it got caught by a crocodile!


An excited lot at the Maasai Manyatta

The Mara adventure then proceeded to a Maasai Manyatta, where we got to see the day-to-day activities of the Maasai Community who were keen on showing us their lifestyle.

Sundowners and Maasai Ambush

Our trip ended on a high note with sundowner moments at Angama and a Maasai dance ambush, the hospitality that is the Angama staff, a warm hug from Nikki Fitzgerald, owner and co-founder of Angama, a ginger toffee from their daughter Kate Fitzgerald to help my clogged nose and watery eyes that were probably as a result of the change in weather, and a great wave of goodbyes from Azei, Douglas and Terry from Angama!

Soaring High

As they say back at Angama, Keep Soaring High!

I would definitely recommend this place to you, your boss, your entire extended family and most specially, your lover. You’ll need some warmth to chase the Mara cold away. And if you just happen to be alone, then the Angama bed warmers will suit just fine.

(All Images Courtesy: Martin Muraguri)

       

 

Of Kenya’s Rich Historical Culture, As Laid Out At The Nairobi National Museum

Quite the Intro…

A rich historical culture lives within these walls. Walls that hold carvings centuries of centuries old; Carvings that tell of a lifetime of a people, for their generations and the next; Carvings that are now the cultural heritage of the Kenyan people; Carvings whose children of the present awe upon in wonder, pondering how their great ancestors lived such strong lives – without all the modern age complexities that technology has come to bring.

They shrug and shake their heads in defeat, this present generation. Because deep down they realize that they have never been as great as their predecessors. Nor as strong. Their eyes well up in tears. Tears of wonder, of joy and of hope. Because this new generation of a people now understand that if their ancestors were that great; then they should have such greatness somewhere deep in them too. After all, blood is surely thicker than water.

Getting into the Museum

This is the feeling that one gets upon arrival at the Nairobi National Museum – situated along road Museum Hill Road. It’s the largest museum in Kenya and holds volumes of information about the 42 tribes that make the Kenyan heritage.

The first salutation upon arrival at the museum is a stone sculpture of what could be believed to be a dinosaur – representing the ages of years passed of evolution. A trip into the interior of the museum then greets you with a tree of African calabashes – ones that signify the foundation and continuity of African life.

The Cradle of Humankind & the King’s African Rifles


Without a doubt, the most interesting part of the museum itself is the ‘Cradle of Mankind’, with sculptures of human beings showcasing just how much we as the Homo sapiens have developed over centuries. A quick detour to the top right hand side of the museum then shows an in depth journey dedicated to the Kenyan History – of slavery, World War II, brave African soldiers serving the British army, and statues full of praise of the African community elders.

African jewelry and decor


The museum is full of delicately crafted African décor and traditional art craft, traditionally made by women as per the African culture, as well as boasts a rich legacy of the bush game that Kenya has to offer – especially when it comes to the big five animals: Lion, Leopard, Buffalo, Elephant and the Rhino.

Of crawling creatures

Situated towards the lower bend of the Museum is the all-famous Snake Park, hosting about 15 different types of snakes. They are safely tucked behind strong compact glass holdings, meaning that they can cause no harm to people. It’s interesting to note that for some snakes such as the Puff Adder (pictured above) notoriously known as Africa’s most dangerous snake, can spit saliva up to a distance of 5 meters, and once they spit on your eyes, then you’re instantly blinded. Also be on the look out for lazying crocodiles and ever-mating tortoises.

Not forgetting the ever-green botanical garden

For the picnic lovers is the beautiful botanical garden, hosting at least 20 of the most exotic of plants. The botanical garden compliments the entire experience almost perfectly, as it creates a well-balanced ecosystem to the museum surroundings. It is also situated in the middle of a circular delicately-carved marble ground, which glitters under the sun and illuminates the green from the plants.

And Vogue Café

The Museum also hosts a small cozy café called ‘Vogue Café’, a perfect little spot to have a quick hot cup of coffee and a light snack, overlooking lash vegetation and offers a serene aura to your dining. It has an in-door sitting area for those that would want some peace and quiet while offering the option of dining by the patio with the scenic view while feeling the cool outdoor breeze.

The wind up

All in all, the Nairobi National Museum does a fantastic job at aiming to interpret Kenya’s rich heritage, offering a one-stop shop for domestic and international visitors alike to sample Kenya’s rich cultural roots. As a fortress that is at least 23 years old, the National Museum of Kenya celebrates great collections of a people’s true history – binding them in true blood, unity, peace and liberty.

Let’s Talk Skin Bleaching, And Khaligraph Jones

The meme spread round like wildfire. Like an untamable STI.

Rapper Khaligraph Jones was the topic of discussion this time, and thankfully not Vera Sidika. In an interview with Larry Madowo on NTV’s ‘The Trend’, Khaligraph looked quite eerr… light.

Now this is a brother hailing from the roots of Kayole streets, or UK (United Kayole), as he prefers us to know. And we all know our Kayole brothers are as dark as they come. Not to state that being dark is a bad thing, or a hustler thing, I’m quite dark-skinned, if I may say so. But the implication that your skin changes in monetary hierarchy, is what is being implied here.

See Khaligraph came from the mtaa. A couple of successful hits and rap videos later, not only has his accent changed, but so has his skin too. His face got him looking like Huddah, but his hands like Akothee, so the memes so explicitly implied.

Khaligraph blamed the look on his makeup artist, claiming that she had used a lighter foundation to his skin, but the public court had already judged him guilty of skin enlightenment.

But is it such a bad thing?

We’ve got socialites in Kenya such as Vera Sidika, Huddah Monroe and Nairobi Diaries’ Bridget, who out rightly came clean that they had ‘bleached’ or rather, endured skin enhancement.

Does this grant us the right to judge, mock or simply make fun of them? We too pull stunts to make us feel better about ourselves.

For instance, I’m trying to play mind tricks on my brain that I’m enjoying my iced Earl Grey green tea so that I can lose weight. And I’m not gonna lie, I’ve also been deliberating with the idea of purchasing slim tea. The Before/After Ads from success stories of girls who’ve worshiped slim tea are beginning to seem more and more convincing.

And because I try to enhance my body, I’m hoping that it doesn’t make me a bad person, and that neither does it set me apart from something like skin bleaching.

True, it’s important to accept yourself as you are. That we are all molded beautifully and wonderfully by God. We get it. But did you ever stop to consider that maybe; most people are fooling themselves by pretending that they are indeed happy? And what possible harm could a little skin enlightenment or fat loss make? I mean, it’s not like the nay-sayers are paying for the injections or the pills or the slim tea-bags.

So should we crucify Khaligraph for something that he felt would enhance his career? Absolutely not. If he wants to be a light-skinned rapper, let him be. At least now the fake accent will match the fake skin, right?

The point here is that people should be left to do as they please. The whole ‘Appreciate yourself as you are’ movement should focus more on their success stories, of influential people who are proud of their dark melanin as opposed to shifting the spotlight on innocent celebrities who want to enhance their lifestyles as they deem fit.

You may also argue that such so-called celebs have young fans that look up to them and try to be like them. Well, I believe that the world always brings balance in life. What is meant to happen will be. And so if it was destined for some of the fans to follow suit, they would have still bleached, with or without their celeb’s influence.

We’ve also heard of the possible side-effects of bleaching, but that’s a personal decision made by the skin bleachers.

To each, their own cross.

To you the antagonist, sip your tea quietly and mind your own business.

 

Of Unusual Adventures: From Mombasa to Ukunda In A Tuk-Tuk

We paid Khalid and his colleague a total of four thousand shillings to take us (we were four excited tourists from Nairobi), from the Modern Coast bus terminal in Mombasa, to Leopard Beach Resort & Spa in Diani, Ukunda.

In retrospect, we might have been conned of our cash. An Uber would’ve cost us a thao less, but we wouldn’t have gained the tourist experience Khalid so freely offered.

So off we went, Khalid showing us the delectable sights and sound of Mombasa. I can’t remember the other Tuk Tuk driver’s name; he wasn’t as animated as Khalid. Khalid drove us past Mombasa town, through legendary shops and to Likoni. When we got to the ferry, he paid the guards 50 shillings to let the 2 tuk tuks through. I had a feeling it cost more than that, but Khalid looked like a man of the people. One wink from him was enough to make you agree to his conditions, whether they were in your favor or not.

On the ferry, he talked to one of the guards to let us out and enjoy the ocean breeze. Apparently this is illegal. The law maintains that passengers remain in their vehicles. But we weren’t in a car now, were we?  Khalid’s words, not mine. We also took selfies from the ferry, which was prohibited as well, allegedly.

So we head to Diani. By now we’re pretty tired. Imagine coming from an 8 hour drive overnight from Nairobi to Mombasa, only to go through a very treacherous and bumpy ride from Mombasa to Ukunda.

But Khalid was having none of it.

He’d stir us up and tell us of his escapades in the Coast; of how the rich and gorgeous Ukunda wives (whose husbands are too busy for them) call onto men like him to please them. We burst out laughing, Muthuri and I. We were the 2 lucky tourists who got to ride with Khalid. I asked him what he meant by the phrase ‘men like him’. Turns out he meant men in his profession, who, sometimes, ‘taking a break’ would imply ‘visiting’ the ladies. To each with his own money-making business, Au Sio? He disguised and laughed.

He had a deep and warm laugh, Khalid. Inviting and smile-inducing.

So we relaxed and enjoyed the breeze, felt the wind on our backs and inhaled the sea from a far. Aaah, we could feel our heavy and long overdue Nairobi stress ooze out from our bodies and get replaced by the silence of the Ukunda palm breeze.

About 10 meters from our residential hotel, we took a ciggie break. Well, Muthuri and Khalid took a ciggie break. I was left to man our belongings. Khalid swore that no one would steal our valuables, that I could have stretch if I needed one. He could tell I needed one. But I’m Nairobian by nature, so I opted to stay in the tuk tuk. We don’t trust anyone, us children of the big city.

So as everyone else took a break, I sat alone looking around, when a supposedly Coastarian Kanjo came with the intention to haul Khalid’s and his friend’s tuk tuks. But Khalid is a sharp man. He apologized quickly and instead blamed it on us, “Hawa wa bara walidai kuchukua break, officer.”

I laughed quietly to myself, all the while feigning an innocent look on my face. Muthuri had been busy looking for sunglasses as he’d forgotten to carry his. Khalid then excused himself from the kanjo guy to go get ‘my mzee’, alias Muthuri. He knew Muthuri was just my colleague, but he knew the Kanjo didn’t. The officer then gave me a sly smile and whispered that I was too beautiful a lady to be ferried around by my man in a tuk tuk. I smiled and thanked him.

On arrival to our destination, the guards stopped us at the gate. How dare we come into a 5 star in tuk tuks? Could we even afford the place? They inquired if we had plans to attend the day’s ongoing wedding. We informed them that we were indeed staying there for the weekend. You could easily tell from their looks of confusion, that they were busy judging our credibility; up until the actual car that was meant to take us to Ukunda showed up.

See, we had initially paid for an SUV to drop us off at the hotel, but the driver had been late, drunk and plain rude to us about his lateness. So we had instead opted to take tuk tuks, for the fun of it.  But that’s another story for another day.

For now, we have been left with Khalid’s Tuk Tuk experience; which I believe was the best welcome-in-disguise-gift to Ukunda.