Volunteering in Kenya Part 2

The best experience of my life followed by the worst

Where was I? oh yeh on an island off the coast of Kenya in the middle of the Indian ocean with no electricity or running water. As I explained in part 1,  A part of the volunteering was marine research. Which was my favourite as I loved going out on the boat and surveying dolphins. One of my days off myself and another volunteer decided to go out on one of the tourist dhow boats for a try dive and snorkelling.

The majority of the tourists would come for the day from Diani and go out on these Dhow boats and go snorkelling at the coral reef at the Kisite Mpunguti Marine Park, you also had the option of doing a trying out scuba diving. This sounded like a lot of fun so we were up super early and given a quick introduction on the scuba diving gear and were off for the day.

I love being in the water and had a brief go at the basics of diving in a local swimming pool a few years previously so I couldn’t wait to get going. (I’ve since got my padi open water scuba diving licence which I got while in Bali – but that’s another story). It wasn’t very deep about 7metres and it was just myself, my friend and the instructor. The reef was incredible, it was liking something out of blue planet, I couldn’t believe the colours I was seeing before me and the fish swirling around me.

Scuba diving in Kenya
Ready to get my diving on!


It was then one of the best experiences of my life happened. From out of the dark blue we were joined by a group of dolphins. They came right up to us and swam around and beneath us for ten minutes or so. I can’t even begin to describe the emotions that were running through me, it was this rush of euphoria and I had to struggle to stop myself from grinning (you can’t smile with a mask on as it lets the water in). Even now writing this ten years later I’m still filled with this incredible feeling of joy and I can remember the aching in my cheeks from trying to stop smiling.

As graceful as dolphins seem when you view from a boat, to be with them swimming underwater in their world, you truly appreciate what majestic animals they are. Then to make it even more special as I turned to my friend to try and communicate our excitement through just our eyes, a hawksbill turtle swam by.

To have this experience happen naturally with wild dolphins is beyond exciting. There are so many places where you can “swim with dolphins” and although these experiences are wonderful for the people involved they are rarely the choice of the dolphin. There is a view that dolphins are friendly and enjoy “human company” and we too easily forget that they are wild animals and should be respected as such. So to have a wild animal, and one which I had already got so much pleasure out of studying, choose to come and swim with us was an incredibly rewarding experience. ( I have such a massive grin on my face right now!)


When we came up to the surface, we couldn’t stop laughing and talking, even our instructor said it was special and that they rarely come that close. We spent the rest of the day snorkelling and spending way to much time out in the sun, my back got so burnt! But the reef was so beautiful we didn’t want to leave until the very last moment. The rest of the day was spent eating the most incredible lunch and chatting with the tourist about the work we were doing. I have to say I was quite smug at how envious they were that we were living in “paradise”.

That evening on the mainland, I went to the local “bar” ie it had a few tables and warm beer and spent a few hours laughing and joking with the rest of the volunteers and some locals. Walking back that night to our mainland camp, there was not a light anywhere and the stars were like nothing I had ever seen,  I actually fell over numerous times from walking with my head tilted up starting at the stars (and not from the warm beer – I swear…). It was an incredible day and one that will always remain one of my most favourite travel experiences. Like the best experiences, you couldn’t plan a day so perfect if you tried!



Unfortunately, this amazing experience was quickly followed by one of the worst. “Deli beli” ie an upset stomach is a common occurrence where we were living. On our first day training in the forest my stomach wasn’t feeling the best and by the afternoon I was spending it in the toilet. If you’re even slightly unwell you can’t do the forest surveying, the heat and being in the middle of nowhere meant if anything happened, you were in trouble. After a day or two, I was feeling much better and just in time as we had a full weekend off and we were all going to Diani, the tourist area a few hours away.

Volunteering in Kenya, the paradise of Diani Beach
Diani Beach – a moment in paradise!



I won’t lie I was so excited about “going out” to the local beach bar that evening. Mainly because I could get dressed up a bit and put on makeup. Oh makeup, I missed it so much! It wasn’t so much the transformative power of it, I didn’t really care about how I looked, it was the procedure and routine of it I missed. This might make no sense to some of you and perfect sense to others. I just love makeup and I will not apologise for it! Not that it really mattered what I had on, most of it had sweated off in 5 minutes.

It was a good evening but my stomach still wasn’t feeling great so it was early to bed for me ( For those that know me, going to bed early on a night out really means I’m not well!) I couldn’t complain too much I had lovely private room, with air conditioning and hot water!!!! Oh, the luxury. Earlier that day I had been to the medical centre/hospital to get my stomach checked out and been given antibiotics just in case. So I thought I would I would be grand in a few days maximum.


Then one morning I got up (at 5am) to start breakfast and I was not in good shape, the rest of the breakfast group took one look at me and sent me back to bed. The next few hours were some of the worst of my life, I was up and down to the toilet (remember the toilet is a hole in the ground). I was trying to drink my water with my hydration salts in it but everything just kept coming straight back up again.

Sometime in the afternoon one of the leaders came to check on me and found me not making much sense. If you’ve ever suffered from severe dehydration you’ll know how much of a horrible experience it is. My hands had cramped up and locked in this claw type position and I couldn’t move them. It’s terrifying looking at a part of your body trying to make it move and nothing happens. I started panicking then and retching uncontrollably. I was in agony with stomach cramps and I couldn’t physically stand up. It was about 37 degrees but I had stopped sweating as there was no moisture left in my body.


It was obviously decided I had to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. Luckily it was the day there was a visiting nurse on the island, who gave me a shot to stop me throwing up and an IV so I could get a bit of energy for what was the longest walk / being carried to the boat. Of course, the tide was out so we had to go the long way around. I thought I was going to die on the boat, the sea was quite rough so there were waves crashing over us. I remember thinking my whole body was going to explode.

When we eventually got to the mainland, I was put into the back of the van and off to Diani, where the nearest hospital was. Kenyan back roads aren’t the most comfortable of drives when your feeling fine, but your sick every jolt and bump feels like your about to be split in half.


After what felt like an eternity (about 2 hours) we made it to the hospital and I was whisked away and given emergency fluids and more shots to stop my body “expelling” what little water it had. They couldn’t do much till my hydrations levels came back up. I remember lying there in this hospital bed, cursing myself for “wanting to go on an adventure” and would have given anything to have been home or at least had my parents there to look after me.

Luckily as the hospital was a “tourist” hospital it was super nice. I had my own room and bathroom (with hot water and a bath!), a fridge, tv, dvd player and later I discovered a balcony. It was nicer than many hotel rooms. The first few hours were hell, I was in so much pain with my stomach but they couldn’t give me anything for it until I was re-hydrated. Eventually, after I had been through so many IV bags, they started me on strong antibiotics and gave me a sedative to relax my muscles and I passed out for 12 hours, even though nurse kept coming in to check my blood pressure etc I was dead to the world.


I was in the hospital for about 4 days, they decided that I had a bad stomach infection which resulted in severe dehydration. Now I’m someone who loves an excuse to laze around and I can quite happily spend a day or two in bed but by day 4 I was bored senseless and needed to get out of there! I was let out on the condition that I was to be very careful about what I eat and finish my course of antibiotics. I was delighted to get back to camp.

I spent a few days on the mainland, staying in the wonderful Shimoni reef hotel, which was on the mainland camp ( In part 1 I said I would come to love it) and slowly got back into the swing of things. What annoyed me the most was the air conditioning of the hospital had ruined my climatization to the heat so I had to get used to it again. But on a positive note, I wasn’t allowed near the food prep so that meant no more cooking duty (which I think everyone was happier about..)

Of course, I would have preferred not to have gotten sick but travel is about new experiences, both positive and negative. It’s about pushing the boundaries of your comfort and at least I have a good story!

Stay tuned for the third and last part, where I travel inland and have a toilet (well a shack) that looks out on to Mount Kilimanjaro.




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3 Responses

  1. As someone who has been to Kenya several times in the past, this is a real interesting read.Did I mention I`m traveling to Kenya this April? yes this has been my choice vacation destination for years.
    This time it will be in the Mombasa south coast, I like the place as it`s not too touristy.The only side I do not like in Mombasa south coast is crossing the ferry to reach the hotel.

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