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Adventure #7: Amboseli National Park

When I last wrote, I was in the UK recovering from an ankle injury. Sadly I’m still there! If you know me well, you probably know I suffer from the following problem:

fernweh

In other words, I get itchy feet and dislike being in one place for long periods of time….the good news is that I’ve made a lot of progress in that I am now off the extreme cocktail of painkillers and my ankle is now able to bear weight. I am now walking but with the aid of crutches and I have been working from home. I’ve been on these bad boys for over 8 weeks now…trust me, they are not fun! I literally cannot wait to be back on my feet, and dancing azonto!

This is my best friend Esli who came to visit me in Dorset. See my crutches! Oh and the beautiful coastline....

This is my best friend Esli who came to visit me in Dorset and I. She’s a sweetie. See my crutches, and the beautiful coastline….

Since I’m missing Kenya and Africa so much, I thought I’d reminisce and write a post on one of my recent African adventures…..

On a bank holiday weekend in June we decided to visit Amboseli National Park in southern Kenya, close to the Tanzania border. Amboseli is famous for its huge herds of elephants and its stunning views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Just to reiterate what I said in my last blog post, I’m definitely not ready to climb Kilimanjaro…least of all with this ankle injury!  For practical information, the park entry fee (24 hours) is 1,200 Kenya Shillings (around £8) for residents and $80 for non-residents. Certainly not cheap if you are a tourist but I would probably say that the views and experience are worth the money!

So our weekend didn’t get off to a great start…leaving at 10am didn’t happen and the vehicle we intended to travel in had a flat tyre! We ended up leaving Nairobi around 2.30pm, hoping and praying we would get to the park before nightfall since our accommodation for the night was inside the park. Oh and since we didn’t have time to purchase and fit a new tyre on the 4×4, we decided to travel in my boyfriend’s Nissan saloon car. Massive error. The road from Nairobi to Kenya is pretty smooth although make sure you have ID on you as there are a few police checkpoints along it. However, once you turn left at Namanga, that road disappears and you pretty much find yourself driving along a dirt track. Even though the park gate is only 75km away- it took us well over 2 hours. Oh and since we were worried about the park closing, we decided to try and travel at 80kmph and ended up breaking the boot. Lesson learnt: shoe laces are really strong enough to secure a boot! The road was also ridiculously dusty so make sure you have air conditioning as having the windows open isn’t really an option.

Sorry car!

Sorry car!

Amboseli National Park

Amboseli National Park

Anyway, so we arrived at the park around 6.30/6.45pm and thankfully, despite the park had ‘officially’ closed, we were allowed in. One of the rangers also helped us ‘fix’ the boot with some rope. The view of Mount Kilimanjaro as we waited to enter the park was incredible as the sun had just set. We were so happy to make it to the park that it didn’t quite dawn on us that we had another 40km to cover before we would reach the accommodation. Ohhhhh dear. And the road in the park was just as bad, if not worse, than the road we had just used from Namanga. Oh and there were wild animals roaming about. Seeing the tusks of elephants in the dark was quite the experience but we were lucky – none of them approached the vehicle. After another hour and a half, we finally reached the accommodation – Kenya Wildlife Services’ bandas (lodges), at 4000 Kenya Shillings (£25) a night – trust me this is cheap for lodges inside a park. I’ll definitely be staying at a KWS lodge in the future at other parks. After having some dinner (thankfully that was something we had organised as there was no restaurant to eat at), it was time to sleep under the mosquito nets and be grateful we hadn’t had to sleep in the car!

This definitely has to be one of the best views I’ve even woken up to -and perhaps one of the only reasons I was able to force myself to get up at 5am. It was absolutely breathtaking and there was no cloud in sight.

Beautiful Mount Kilimanjaro

Beautiful Mount Kilimanjaro

After taking a few photos, it was time to head off on safari! Unlike the scenery at other parks I’ve visited, such as the Masaai Mara, Amboseli was refreshingly different and varied. As well as the typical savannah backdrops, not only did you have the view of Mount Kilimanjaro (until about 10am) but there are also patches of water in and around the lake bed, at least during rainy season anyway. There is also a viewpoint offering stunning views over the park – called Observation Hill. I would really recommend venturing up there to have a panoramic view of the park.

That view.

At the top of Observation Hill

THAT view.

THAT view.

Obligatory group photo

Obligatory group photo (L-R: Me, Felix, Valen and Molly)

Mount Kilimanjaro #selfie

Mount Kilimanjaro #selfie – it would be rude not to, right?

We were lucky enough to see wildebeest, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, a number of different birds (including secretary birds), antelopes, hippos, zebra…here are just a few of the photos I took:

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Wildebeests chilling in the sun

Baby elephant!

There are no words to describe how cute this baby elephant was.

I love Secretary birds!

Secretary birds are just hilarious.

Hungry hippo!

A real life hungry hippo, chomping away.

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Best of all though, we saw a hyena. This was the first time I had seen a hyena and upon seeing it, I finally realised why hyenas were one of the worst baddies in the Lion King. They are very ugly in real life! It was amazing to see one in the wild, although we were a bit scared as the windows were slightly rolled down!

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Is it just me or was Disney kind?!

hyenas lion king

It was also amazing to see so many elephants, particularly with the backdrop of Kilimanjaro.

We were also lucky enough to see an elephant washing itself, something I hadn’t seen since my trip to Ghana in January 2013. Sadly we didn’t see a lion up-close but I didn’t mind so much since I had seen lions and other big cats at the Masaai Mara and at Nairobi National Park. The vehicle once again proved a mistake as not only did we have to travel slowly (due to the broken boot), it’s also a low vehicle so you couldn’t really have the windows open. Next time we’re definitely hiring a jeep or a 4×4!

Our visit to Amboseli was short and sweet- arriving one evening, leaving the next afternoon but I will never forget those beautiful views of Mount Kilimanjaro. Even the video doesn’t do it justice!

How is this real?

How is this real?

Speaking of videos, I made another one yesterday. I know there are a lot of reasons not to take part in the ALS #IceBucketChallenge but since I think such campaigns are a great way of raising awareness of a cause, not to mention making donations soar….I decided to take part in the #IceBucketChallenge my way. I chose to take my challenge in the sea, to avoid wasting clean drinking water – something that around 16 million do not have access to in Kenya,. In fact, 768 million people globally lack access to clean water so please think about that when you’re taking part in the challenge.  I have donated to WaterAid as well as the Motor Neurone Disease Association. Oh and yes I know there was no ice but this video was filmed in Dorset so I can assure you that the water was really cold!

Anyhow I better sign off for now, but I want to leave you with my favourite track at the moment. I should probably save this for my post on Uganda since the artist is Ugandan but I can’t wait ’til then. ‘Sitya Loss’ by Eddy Kenzo…this song is so infectious and I guarantee it will brighten your spirits if you’re having a bad day. The video is also amazing, look at those kids dance! You might recognise the music from my #IceBucketChallenge video too.

Until next time,

Abbie x

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Adventure #6: Climbing Mount Longonot

One of the great things about living in Nairobi is that there are just so many places that you can visit over a weekend or on a day trip. Without your own vehicle you’re basically screwed though as “public transport”, ie. matatus are hardly reliable and there is no direct route to the majority of tourist spots.

One weekend, some friends and I decided to climb Mount Longonot, a dormant volcano that is situated about 70km from Nairobi, not too far from Lake Naivasha. It rises 2560m above sea level and it is thought that it last erupted in the 1860s. The fact that you can just go and climb a volcano at the weekend is just incredible. A bit more adventurous than many of the weekends I’ve spent in the UK and whilst living overseas…

Twende...

Twende…

In all honestly, I don’t think I’d ever climbed a volcano before, and looking back, I certainly wasn’t mentally or physically prepared to do so. So after lots of “How far away are we? Is it Long Or Not?” jokes and arriving a little bit later than planned– blame the combination of both Kenyan and Spanish time, we began our ascent. I’m not going to lie, after about 5 minutes of hiking, I was ready to take a short break…my calves ached because I had exercised so much that week already. This is when I learnt that everyone climbs mountains in a different way, at their own pace. Whilst I like climbing relatively slowly and taking in my surroundings, the rest of the group’s motto seemed to be “race to the top”. Put it this way, I will certainly rethink my hiking buddies next time!  Sorry guys. But apart from feeling very wimpy and unfit, with the help of a few more pace-friendly hikers (or those that perhaps just felt sorry for me), I did it! It did start raining just as we reached the peak but my, the views were stunning.

We made it!

We made it!

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A view of Lake Naivasha

A view of Lake Naivasha

We had lunch at the top of Mount Longonot before heading down. There was also of course time for a few selfies (that’s the only reason anyone travels anywhere right?). Some of my friends were even eager to run down too but I just went slowly and took a few photos. Sadly we were did not have enough time to walk around the crater as that would have taken at least another 2-3 hours. We were up and down within about 2 hours which is pretty swift. DSCF5342

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One thing I would say is that the climb to the peak of Mount Longonot is really steep, and quite rocky. Some of the trail is really quite precarious and as much as I was teased, I was happy to have my walking pole with me. Also, although I preferred the walk down (for obvious reasons), it was actually a lot harder as you really had to watch your step, whereas on the way up I just had to watch my breath. Ha.

Pretty steeep.

Pretty steeep.

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My trusty walking stick...

My trusty walking stick…

Mount Kilimanjaro, I’m ready…

…or maybe not. I would absolutely love to climb Mount Kilimanjaro one day but it would definitely require a lot of determination and training. Maybe one day!

Just to update you- I am back in the UK temporarily as I have badly sprained my ankle (torn ligament) and I am on crutches. When I last posted I was about to leave for Uganda for a workshop. On my way back from Entebbe, I managed to fall as I was stepping off the plane. No I wasn’t drunk and no I wasn’t wearing stupid shoes, or dancing azonto. I was being sensible, promise! I’ve had many more ‘I miss the NHS’ moments since then, and it turns out that the Kenyan doctors made my injury even worse but that’s for another blog post….but thankfully I am now (hopefully) on the road to recovery. Sadly all this has meant missing my graduation and catching up with many of my friends in London. I’m pretty gutted but these things happen….my time resting is obviously being spent wisely: playing Words with Friends, getting hooked on ‘Orange is the New Black’, pigging out, watching hundreds of vines daily and of course spending time with my family. I occassionally venture out of my bedroom and lie on the sofa but if my foot isn’t elevated for a few hours, it goes all puffy and swollen so I can’t do much. I’m also dosed up on painkillers so my brain isn’t functioning properly (hence the short blog post). In other news, my mum retired(!) so congratulations to her!

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Congratulations Maman!

Today, I would also like to express my condolences to the families of the passengers and staff of MH17. I couldn’t believe it when I heard the news. My heart also goes out to everyone affected by what’s happening in Gaza right now and my mind is on all the innocent civilians killed. I also want to express my condolences to everyone affected by the death of Castro Destroyer, a popular Ghanaian hiplife artist who is believed to have drowned whilst jet skiing in Ada, Volta Region. I was lucky enough to see Castro perform in December 2013 during my stay in Accra. He had such much energy and really stole the show away.

Castro performing at December 2 Remember

Castro performing at December 2 Remember, Accra

I urge everyone to listen to ‘Odo pa’, which is one of his hit songs, that features Asomoah Gyan, captain of the Ghana football team. It’s one of my favourite tracks and is no doubt being over-played all across Ghana right now.

Enjoy.

See you next time x

 

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Adventure #5: Overlanding in South Africa (Part 2)

My 3 week trip in South Africa in April was pretty amazing. However, I had so much to write that I decided to split the post into 2 parts. Welcome to Part 2 of Adventure #5: Overlanding in South Africa. In case you’re interested, you can find the first part here.

Off we go…

Stormsriver / Tsitsikamma National Park

By the time we arrived in Stormsriver village, around  Tsitsikamma National Park, it was absolutely pissing it down! I’m sorry but there was no way I was a) putting my tent up in that and b) sleeping in a tent that leaks overnight in the pouring rain. Thankfully, the campers had the chance to upgrade to a decent hostel dorm for just $6 a night (Tube ‘n Axe). A warm bed with a real duvet, a shower with hot water, just a few footsteps from a bar serving cocktails…it would have been rude not to really. Since the weather the following day was just as bad, a few of us opted for a hot chocolate followed by a short hike to the suspension bridge whilst others chose to do a number of different hikes. The scenery was still stunning and on a clear day, if you’re lucky you are able to see dolphins and whales. Sadly, we weren’t lucky but it was still worth visiting despite the weather.

Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park

Looking a bit wet by this point...

Looking a bit wet by this point…

Suspension bridges

Suspension bridges

Knysna / Plettenberg Bay 

It was another relatively early start as one of the members of our tour was going to bungee jump off the Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest commercial bridge bungy at 216 metres. I wish I wasn’t so scared of heights otherwise I may have also given it a go…maybe one day!

Bungee jumping anyone?!

Bungee jumping anyone?!

Our next destination was Plettenberg Bay – apparently one of the most beautiful beaches in South Africa. Sadly for us – it was raining, again. I guess that’s what happens when you travel in low season though; the weather in South Africa in Autumn and Winter can be really unpredictable. That afternoon we visited Knysna and walked to a viewpoint with amazing views. The parts of Knysna town we visited however, were a bit of a dive! Thankfully we were staying in a hotel in Plettenberg Bay so we didn’t have to camp in the rain. Phew!

Knysna

Knysna

The team!

The team! (well the majority of us)

'Cos Gugu and I 'got swag'

With Gugu (our lovely cook)

Oudtshoorn

Our first stop in Oudtshoorn was to the famous Cango Caves, that are over 20 million years old. I’ve visited a few caves in different parts of the world but these were among the best – quite spectacular really. Next up was the ostrich farm where we were told we would have an opportunity to actually ride an ostrich. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try this for ethical reasons but since the ground was too wet, it wasn’t possible anyway. However, I did get a hug from an ostrich (pretty scary, I couldn’t move) and an ostrich massage (essentially 5 ostriches feeding from a bucket I held in front of me). For the final night of the tour, the others decided to have a braai (a South African BBQ) and eat ostrich meat – apparently it is tasty and extremely healthy but being vegetarian, I am perhaps not the best person to ask!

Inside the Cango Caves

Inside the Cango Caves

Ostrich #selfie

Ostrich #selfie (please don’t peck me!)

Sitting on ostrich eggs...

Time for a spot of yoga on some ostrich eggs…

An ostrich massage - more terrifying than relaxing!

An ostrich massage – more terrifying than relaxing!

Stellenbosch

The drive from Oudtshoorn to Stellenbosch took almost all day. If you look on a map, the two places don’t look very far from each other so I suppose that just shows how huge South Africa is. We didn’t spend too much time in Stellenbosch and sadly the wine tasting we went for was quite disappointing. I was expecting to be shown around the vineyard and find out how the wine is produced but it simply was sitting at a table tasting wine! The wine was delicious though. In reality, the highlight of my time in Stellenbosch was visiting a cheetah refuge where I got to pet a real life cheetah. Amazingly, cheetahs purr just like cats do.

Vineyards in Stellenbosch

Vineyards in Stellenbosch

At the wine tasting.

At the wine tasting.

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It's not everyday...

It’s not everyday…

What a beauty!

What a beauty!

Hi  Aleksandr!

Hi Aleksandr!

The other obvious highlight was the champagne breakfast at the hotel…what a way to end the tour!

Scrumptious!

Scrumptious!

Cape Town

Cape Town. I’d always asked the question – what’s the fuss all about? I didn’t get what was so special about the city, or Table Mountain. Now I know…Table Mountain is stunning and the sunsets are phenomenal. There is also so much to do and see in Cape Town and its environs. I could have easily spent a week there. Sadly I only had a few days so I had to cram in as much as possible. As my a friend at the hostel put it, I did the ‘Cape Town sightseeing marathon’! On the first day, I walked to the Green Market, just off Long Street (where everyone goes to party at night). It was certainly the cheapest place I found to buy souvenirs and I also got to practice my Swahili since half the market sellers were from either Tanzania or Kenya. Speaking the lingo also definitely helped secure a few bargains too!

Green market

Green market

On the second day, I woke up early and headed straight to the beautiful Victoria & Alfred Waterfront to catch the boat to Robben Island. It was quite a walk – around 4km – but I always think the best way to explore a city is on foot (even if you get lost)! The boat to Robben Island was packed – it was definitely worth booking our tickets in advance. The sky was absolutely divine – not a cloud in sight. The boat ride to Robben Island was around 30-40 minutes, quite pleasant on a nice day. Upon arrival on Robben Island, you take a bus as part of the tour and are shown different parts of the island, it was really informative and interesting. We then visited the prisons themselves (including Nelson Mandela’s cell of course) and we were shown round by an ex-prisoner who knew Mandela. It was quite incredible to be able to hear about Robben Island prison first hand. I learnt a lot too – including the fact that visitors were typically only able to come every 6 months, and for just half an hour.

V&A Waterfront

V&A Waterfront

En route to Robben Island

En route to Robben Island

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"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears" - Nelson Mandela

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears” – Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela's cell

Nelson Mandela’s cell

With Jeanine, Danny and Rianne

With Jeanine, Danny and Rianne

When we got back to the mainland, after a quick bite to eat on the waterfront, I headed straight to the Citysightseeing bus – at 150 Rand (£8.50) a ticket, it’s quite good value since some of the places it takes you to are reachable by taxi only (ie. Table Mountain). It’s a great way to see and learn about the city, particularly if you are travelling solo and don’t have a lot of time to bum around the hostel as you might like to at the end of an overland tour. Going up in the cable car to Table Mountain was pretty scary since you don’t realise how high up you go – the floor of the cable car also rotates! Since it was a clear day, the views from the top were out of this world – mountains, the city of Cape Town itself and the sea. Breathtaking. I spent a little time at the top before racing down (the queues to get back down were extremely long) and I was to take the last bus to catch the sun set over Camps Bay and Clifton Beach. I would heartily recommend doing this – the views (as you can see from the photos below) are well worth it. I went out clubbing that night with another girl from the tour, Marieke, who had just arrived in Cape Town. The club we went to was called the Assembly, near District Six. Hip hop / dance music and a very mixed crowd. It was great to go out and dance!

It's a long way down!

Yikes..

On top of Table Mountain

On top of Table Mountain

Watching the sun set...

Watching the sun set over Camps Bay

Paradise?

Paradise?

The next day I headed to Boulders Beach – where the penguins live! Since all the tours I’d heard about were a little pricey, I decided to take the train to Simonstown (which cost peanuts – about £1) then walk 3-4km walk from the train station to Boulders. I actually could have stayed there all day, watching the penguins waddle about and go swimming. Unfortunately it’s no longer possible to swim with the penguins and pet them, but you can still get pretty close if you fight your way to the front of the boardwalk (as I had to, since it was a bank holiday). On the way back, I met Marieke who had been surfing in Muizenberg – another popular surf spot.

Taking the train to Simonstown

Taking the train to Simonstown with Marieke

Penguins!

Penguins!

Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach

Penguin #selfie

Penguin #selfie

Muizenberg beach

Muizenberg beach

On my last day in Cape Town, I had hoped to visit the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point but sadly the weather was once again, awful. More rain! Instead, Marieke and I took this opportunity to do some more shopping at Green Market, eat lunch at an amazing food bazaar, visit the District Six museum (well worth it) and eat cupcakes from Charly’s Bakery. That evening, I attended a session led by scholars from my former department at the University of Manchester, at a hotel somewhere in town. It almost felt like I was back living in Manchester…quite surreal.

With our new friends from Zanzibar at the Green Market

With our new friends from Zanzibar at the Green Market

District Six museum

District Six museum

Cupcake time at Charly's Bakery

Cupcake time at Charly’s Bakery

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Cape Town – see you soon I hope!

Johannesburg

I decided to spend one day in Jo’berg before flying back to Nairobi. No, it’s not Cape Town, and yes, there are security issues. However, I felt it was worth the visit – if only to spend some time at the Apartheid Museum. The museum itself was perhaps one of the best museums I’ve been to; extremely informative and visually stimulating. Brought to life with film, text, images and audio, learning about South Africa’s history of segregation and the struggle towards democracy is pretty harrowing. I kind of wish I had visited this museum at the beginning of the trip as it really helps you understand the inequalities still present today.

The Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum

:)

🙂

I used the City Sightseeing bus again to explore the city a little bit, if you’re only in Jo’berg one day, I’d really recommend taking this bus as it’s a really easy, safe and informative way to see the city and visit the tourist attractions. In terms of security, I could feel the tension in the air. I also was asked repeatedly by a number of security guards if I was sure about taking a minibus taxi when I wanted to visit Eastgate shopping mall. I think they thought I was mad! I attempted to explain to them that I live in Nairobi and that I had taken a minibus taxi that same morning but they were still flabbergasted that a mzungu wanted to use the same transport as the common man…. I found the stage (bus stop) in the end though.

Jo'berg's skyline

Jo’berg’s skyline

Downtown Jo'berg

Downtown Jo’berg

So that’s my South African adventure in a nutshell…I think there’s still lots to see there – such as Kruger – so I’ll definitely be back there again one day!

Overlanding with Nomad

I didn’t really know what to expect from my overland tour with Nomad since I had never really gone on an organised tour before and I have always been a believer in DIY travel, rather than package holidays. On this occasion, I think it was the best option for me. Travelling in Africa can be really expensive and I actually think doing this trip as a solo traveller saved money, and a lot of hassle and stress. I also got to see a lot of South Africa (and Lesotho) in a ridiculously short space of time – if I had opted for the Baz Bus or even DIY travel via public transport, due to the timings, it just wouldn’t have been possible to see everything in 2 weeks. I would really recommend going on a Nomad tour as you’ll meet great people, you’ll visit amazing places and it’s a real stress-free travel option.

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A township on the outskirts of Cape Town

A township on the outskirts of Cape Town

Tents

Okay, so I decided to camp. Part of me regretted this decision for a number of reasons:

1. It was freezing cold and my sleeping bag is a joke

2. The majority of people on my truck went for the accommodation option, so whilst I was freezing my pants off wearing all my clothes or getting up in the night to go to the toilet (in the dark), they were under a warm cosy duvet.

3. Camping meant having to put up my tent and put it down…normally in the dark. Thank god for my headtorch!

However, there were pros of camping.

1. It was significantly cheaper

2. You were always close to the truck which meant easy access to your bag and locker

3. It was more of an adventure.

Yes okay, waking up at 5am to put my tent down and crawling about on the muddy grass was certainly not a highlight of my trip but overall, I think camping was worth the hassle. It was also possible to upgrade for a small fee (depending on where you were) and on the rare occasion everyone stayed in a hotel – it felt like absolute luxury!

Putting up the tents!

Putting up the tents! I was always the slowest…

Food

As well as a driver and guide, we also had our own cook. Gugu would have breakfast ready before we left the campsite/accommodation, it was typically toast with jam or eggy bread. One day we had pancakes though! Amazing. For lunch we’d typically have burgers in buns, hot dogs or sandwiches, with salad. Sometimes with fruit for dessert. We also had packed lunches when we would be out for the day. Then for dinner, it could be anything from pap and stew, to rice and curry…. It was always freshly prepared. To be honest, I ate better on the tour than I do in Nairobi! It was quite amazing the way in which the side of the truck housed all our food supplies and a stove, a table and chairs. Occasionally we would just stop on the side of the road and cook lunch. Quite the experience!

An average lunch (these are veggie sausages of course!)

An average lunch – hot dogs and salad (these are veggie sausages of course!)

Truck

I love travelling solo but the one thing I hate is arriving in a new place, with every single valuable on you (or your back) and worrying about getting robbed. I can’t even imagine what an ordeal that would be, or how one would cope! It doesn’t bear thinking about. In terms of security, the truck was also locked at night and everyone had their own locker (big enough to store a large 65L backpack) which you can secure with a padlock. This just meant that I never had to travel with all my valuables on me. The truck was reasonably comfortable with an overhead shelf and a plug point for campers to charge their electronics. This again was a great benefit of camping with Nomad, rather than camping alone – I never had to worry about my camera or phone running out of charge as I could always charge them overnight.

Stopping for lunch at the side of the road en route to Lesotho

Stopping for lunch at the side of the road en route to Lesotho

Fancy doing an overland adventure yourself? Check out Nomad’s website.

Oh and I did mention that I might also make a video to accompany my blog…..amazingly, I actually sat down the other night and made this:

It’s a little short and I wish I had filmed more videos in South Africa but hey ho… Anyway, if you like the video, and would want to see more in the future – please give the video a thumbs up on Youtube or let me know! I am really enjoying recording short clips whilst I am travelling at the moment and this could potentially be something I try to include with every ‘Adventure’ blog post. Let me know what you think.

Sadly I’m still not feeling well, and I have spent almost 3 full days at the hospital this week doing tests. It’s another ‘I miss the NHS’ moment I’m afraid…I am also really disappointed that Ghana are out of the World Cup…*sobs* But it’s all good as I’ve just finished baking some choc-chip and macadamia nut cookies and I’ll be back in the UK in 10 days time on leave. I know it’s very sad but I can’t wait to stock up on all my favourite goodies: CHEESE, vegetarian sausages, real Cadburys chocolate, gluten-free pasta, etc, etc. Catch me in Tesco looking like an excited child very soon…

Anyway, I’m flying out to Uganda tomorrow for a few days with work and I didn’t start packing yet so I better wrap this up now.

See you next time x

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Adventure #5: Overlanding in South Africa (Part 1)

In April, I went to South Africa for 3 weeks. It was a last-minute affair (as per) and I realised I had only taken 1 day leave this year and that there were 3 bank holidays between mid-April and early May. Perfect excuse for a holiday! Since I still haven’t forgotten my student ways, I went onto Skyscanner and started comparing flights. Unlike Europe, flights are really expensive in Africa since the market just isn’t there. Often, there is only one airline flying to a destination and since airlines know that the ‘rich’ are the only ones who can afford to fly, prices are sky high (if you pardon the pun)! For example, you can easily find return flights to almost any city in Western Europe for well under £100, normally under £50 (depending on when you fly). Here, it’s a different story. For example, even though both Kampala, Uganda and Dar-El-Salaam, Tanzania are around an hour away by plane from Nairobi, you’d be lucky to find a return flight for under £150. Anyway, so Johannesburg was one of the cheaper Skyscanner options…

passport abbie bigger

Off we go!

South Africa has never been a ‘top’ travel destination of mine but the more I read about it, and the more photos I saw – my mind was set. Yes, travelling solo does have its share of disadvantages (e.g. you may get lonely) but it also has a lot of advantages (e.g. you can do whatever you want, when you want). I toyed between a DIY backpacking trip or a budget overlanding tour. The overlanding option won when I found a really reasonable 13-day tour via African Budget Safaris, with a South African travel operator called Nomad. For just over £600, I would travel from Durban to Cape Town via Lesotho. Accommodation (ie. tents), most meals, transport and a wide range of activities (e.g. entry to national parks) was included. It seemed too good to be true! N.B. For the record, thankfully it wasn’t! I also decided to tag on 1 day in Durban, 3 days in Cape Town (it would be rude not to) and 1 day in Johannesburg. Somehow, I managed to wangle 3 weeks off work – goodness knows how and if I’ll be able to do that again. Oh and the masses of tasks in my mailbox upon my return to the office….well, put it this way, I’d certainly think twice before booking such a long holiday.

Anyhow…let us begin my South African adventure. Since providing a day-by-day account could be a little tedious, I’ll write a little bit on each of the destinations I travelled to and a little on the tour itself for those interested in overlanding in Africa.

Nairobi – Johannesburg – Durban

I arrived in Johannesburg around 10/11pm and headed straight to the hostel in Kensington (a suburb of Jo’berg). My pick up wasn’t there when I got to the airport so that was a little scary since I had heard a lot about insecurity in Jo’berg. Thankfully, I arrived without any issues and headed straight to bed. I had to wake up at 6am to travel to Durban the next day, via the Intercape coach. Having arrived in the dark, in the taxi to Park Station in the morning, I was able really ‘see’ Jo’berg and it’s surrounds. It was very different to the Africa I knew – with a stunning skyline and almost perfect roads. It reminded me of Amsterdam, or maybe even New York but then as we approached the CBD, there was a darker side to the city. Everyone had told me about the stark inequality but seeing the level of development you’d expect of a first world country then dozens of people living on the street, it was clear that development had left a lot of people behind.  It was quite chilling. At Park Station, I boarded the bus to Durban, looking forward to seeing the country. I’m not going to lie but it was a very long (and boring) 8.5 hour journey, it reminded me of driving around in Canada, where you travel for miles and miles and there is almost nothing to see. Luckily I managed to sleep quite a bit.

On the Intercape munching away on Simba crisps..

On the Intercape  coach munching away on Simba crisps and reading a good book

After arriving at the bus terminal in Durban, I checked into my hostel in Durban, which was just a 5-minute walk from the beach (Happy Hippo Lodge). Since I had no adaptor (nightmare!) and I was starving, I went straight to the UShaka Marine World shopping mall and grabbed dinner from a South African takeaway.

Pap, mashed butter squash and beans. Yum!

Pap, beans and mashed butternut squash. Yum!

Within minutes of sitting down to eat at the hostel, I was joined by two other travellers. Advantage 1 of travelling alone, you meet people extremely easily. Before I knew it, I was out at a restaurant with 7 other people- drinking delicious South African wine, at just £4 a bottle! We then went out in Florida Road which I didn’t rate too highly but apparently it’s the place to go out in Durban.

Since I only had one full day in Durban, I decided to make the most of it. Firstly, I visited the Moses Mabhida Stadium and I went up to the viewing platform via the Skycar which provided absolutely stunning views of the city.

A view of Durban from the SkyCar, Moses Mabhida Stadium

A view of Durban from the SkyCar, Moses Mabhida Stadium

Bliss.

Beach times

I also went downtown to buy adaptors (I didn’t have any luck the night before) and get some lunch. When I found a Nandos, with a veggie burger, chips and a drink for £2.50, I was in heaven! Trust me, I think you only appreciate the wide range of food available in the UK when you live overseas. Finally, I sunbathed on the beach and then went and sipped a mocktail in a restaurant/bar on the pier as I saw the sun set behind Durban’s skyline….bliss. That evening was full of games, including spoons and sardines – definitely one of the best evenings of the trip.

Traditional zulu dancers, Durban

Traditional Zulu dancers, Durban

Take me back here, please.

Take me back here, please.

Playing spoons

Playing spoons

Drakensberg

So the tour began and our first stop, after we stocked up on food and drinks at a huge mall outside of Durban, was in the Drakensberg Mountains where we would hike.

Stocking up before we hit the road

Stocking up before hitting the road

On the first day, we just relaxed at the camp after putting up our tents by playing mini golf and trampolining (yes I really am 25 years old).

Yes.

Weeeeeeeeee!

The next day we drove into the UNESCO heritage site where we visited traditional cave paintings before beginning our hike. The landscape was just superb. As soon as we started hiking- I realised I had a blister….far from the ideal start. It was quite a lengthy walk, approximately 8km each way, and there were lots of rocks to clamber over and the terrain varied immensely. Nevertheless, the views were worth it and the geological scenery was stunning. Obviously we rewarded ourselves with ice cold cider and beer, and some of us even went for a dip in the Jacuzzi at the campsite -absolutely perfect! Well it would have been if it hadn’t started tipping it down and we hadn’t have had to run back to our tents on the other side of the campsite….we did steal a Coca Cola umbrella from the poolside though which kept us marginally dry.

Traditional cave paintings

Traditional cave paintings

What a view.

What a view.

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I just love butterflies…

#SELFIE

Hiking #selfie

Time for a nice cold cider! This was my home for the 2 weeks by the way.

Time for a nice cold cider! This was my home for the 2 weeks by the way.

Lesotho

After a very cold and wet night (of course, my tent had a hole in its roof), we hit the road and began our long drive to Lesotho. Driving through Golden Gate National Park was quite amazing.

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Golden Gate National Park

Golden Gate National Park

Sunflowers

Sunflowers

Getting across the border into Lesotho was quite painless; however as soon as we left the capital city, we encountered 2 different police check points within 15 minutes of each other where we had to present our passports. I thought Lesotho would no different than South Africa since it is a landlocked country, completely surrounded by South Africa. I was so wrong! It was a lot poorer and the roads were of a lesser quality – it certainly wasn’t as developed. People were holding umbrellas to shelter themselves from the sun as they went about their daily business whilst farmers wore thick blankets (it’s a very mountainous country and the weather can change at anytime) and wellington boots.

Beautiful Lesotho

Beautiful Lesotho

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It is very rural and quite green, most of the houses are made of brick and are quite basic and there seemed to be very little in the way of services. We stayed in Malalea village, which was up in the mountains – since winter was just around the corner; it was pretty cold (around 0 degrees Celsius at night). As I’ve mentioned before, I can no longer cope with cold temperatures so I decided to upgrade and stay in a little lodge…I didn’t fancy catching pneumonia!

Our hut in Lesotho

Our huts in Lesotho

Sadly we only spent one full day in Lesotho. In the morning we had the opportunity to walk around the village and meet some of the local people. Tourism and agriculture are the country’s only sources of income. Some of the other members of the group had bought the children colouring books and clay to play with – it was nice seeing their faces light up but I did feel a little bit uneasy about being shown around the village on a tour…what I must say though is that the landscape was absolutely superb, it didn’t even look real. It was so unspoilt and perfect.

Giving gifts

Giving gifts

A young farmer in Lesotho

A young farmer in Lesotho

After the walk, I then went “pony trekking” with a few of the other people on the tour – it was a little different to how I had imagined, it was more like horse riding down a cliff rather than a quiet ride on a pony on a dirt track! At the beginning, I really struggled to control my horse, which wasn’t that surprising considering I had never ridden a horse before. We were to travel to the waterfall which involved going down a cliff, crossing a river, then climbing a mountain. Going downhill was terrifying, particularly as my horse was quite energetic. I actually thought I was going to fall off at one point! It really was a chance of a lifetime though – the views were phenomenal. After 2 and a half hours of trekking, we arrived at the waterfall where we ate lunch. The trek back to camp was a lot faster mainly as the horses were behaving. Needless to say, I was exhausted after the 4 hour trek so it was time for a beer! We also had the chance to see some Basotho singers and a band perform.

Pony trekking

Pony trekking

Traditional Basotho band

Traditional Basotho band

At the waterfall

At the waterfall

Those views!

Those views!

Horse #selfie

Horse #selfie

Time for a beer

Time for a beer

Cintsa

Our next stop was Cintsa, East London. We stayed at a place called Areena Riverside Resort, which was packed since it was the Easter weekend. There were so many different activities to get involved in. South Africa is an amazing destination for family holidays – everywhere you go there are countless things to do. Here we had the option of quad biking, canoeing, kayaking, Segway, etc. A number of us from the tour decided to canoe down to the mouth of the River Kwelera, to the beach.

At the beach in Cintsa, East London

At the beach in Cintsa, East London

It was by no means an easy task since it was a 5km round trip…just under an hour paddling in a 2-man canoe each way. I also learnt that I suck at paddling! Oops. The other issue is that the water was really quite shallow and rocky in parts so you kept on getting stuck. I was quite glad to learn that sharks are often found in those waters after our canoeing adventure. The beach was lovely though, and almost empty-  sadly the water was freezing, more like the sea in England compared with the warm Indian ocean waters you find on the Kenyan coast. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and eating ice cream, which was lovely after the intense days of travelling we’d had in previous days.

Canoe #selfie

Canoe #selfie

Group photo!

Group photo

Addo Elephant National Park

Another very early start and we were off to Addo Elephant National Park. Sadly we weren’t that lucky with the wildlife- apparently the park is normally full of elephants! We did see some though, as well as buffalos, monkeys, zebra, a tortoise, kudu (the largest antelope in Africa), vultures, jackals, etc.

Alright mate

Alright mate

Kudu

Kudu

Someone got old on the wrong side of bed this morning...

Someone got out on the wrong side of bed this morning…

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It was disappointing that we didn’t see any big cats but it’s simply just the luck of the draw with safaris. The problem (well probably a good thing for the wildlife) is that you have to stick on the track, you can’t just drive anywhere you want like you can in some of the parks in Kenya. This obviously means that you can get really close to the animals. It also didn’t help that our guide didn’t know the park inside out – not always practical but park guides are often radioing their colleagues so as soon as animals are spotted, your driver knows about it and will drive as fast as they can (within reason) to get you there. This is typical in the Masaai Mara in Kenya. Overall I enjoyed the park but an afternoon drive simply wasn’t long enough, it was great seeing the sun set over the park though.

Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park

Hiya.

Hiya.

The entire tour group at Addo

The entire Nomad tour group at Addo  (including our guide Johannes, our cook Gugu and trainee guide Preston – THANK YOU!)

I love sunsets...

I love sunsets…

Jefferys Bay

Even though it wasn’t on the itinerary, we were lucky enough to make a brief stop en route to Tsitsikamma National Park in Jefferys Bay – the most popular surf destination in Africa (apparently anyway). Sadly the weather wasn’t great but that didn’t stop me bodyboarding. I would have loved to surf but I’ll have to save that one for another day!

Bodyboarding in Jeffreys Bay

Bodyboarding in Jeffreys Bay

Right, so I think I may have gone a little overboard with this blog….I’ve written over 4,500 words on my trip South Africa. Oops! I hope you haven’t gotten bored. Part 2 will be coming in the next week, perhaps with a video to accompany it. Just to update you on my current situation, I was diagnosed with an intestinal parasite last week so needless to say I feel crappy, work has gone a little crazy (which hopefully excuses the lack of blog posts) and the security situation is deteriorating here in Kenya. My heart goes out to everyone that has been affected by recent attacks. On the bright side though, I’m loving the World Cup, I just wish I didn’t have to watch it indoors. C’mon Blackstars! #LetsGoalGhana

As always, I like to leave you with a song. This song is called ‘Happiness’ and it’s by Mafikizolo (a South African group) featuring Nigerian artist May D. Enjoy!

See you next time,

Abbie x

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Adventure #4: Ghana at Christmas time

As per usual, apologies for the lack of updates…this is a late post but nonetheless one that had to be written! I hope it allows you to understand (to some extent) why I love Ghana so much.

Rather than head back to the UK for Christmas, I opted to stay in Africa and enjoy the sunshine. It’s funny how you adapt so easily to different climates – I now complain when it’s below 15 degrees celsius, a mild temperature for British Summer Time! Since I had very few friends in Kenya and no invitations when I decided to book (sob!), I bought a ticket to Accra, Ghana.  Even though I’m one for visiting new places and ticking off countries (I’ve been competing against my dad on who can visit the most), ever since I travelled there in January 2013, I’ve fallen more and more in love with the country and I was desperate to go back. Anyone that knows me can testify to this since I never shut up about the place! In fact, some people even say I’m Ghanaian inside.

Let’s be honest, I thought I’d built in up in my head and that I would be disappointed. I’m a bit of an idealist so this does tend to happen. Amazingly, everything was how I remembered I felt like I was home and I could just feel this huge grin on my face as soon as I stepped out of the airport. I was pretty shattered from the flight though. Since I still haven’t got over my student spending habits, I went for the cheaper indirect option (saving over £250!) with RwandAir which meant flying via Kigali, with a stop-over in Lagos. Sadly I didn’t have a chance to explore Rwanda or Nigeria but some of the views from the aircraft were stunning. Both countries are still high up on my list to visit!

Hi Ghana.

Hi Ghana.

Right back to my adventure in Ghana….

Since I was there for two weeks, I’m not going to give a day by day account of my stay there (to be frank, I spent a lot of time relaxing!) but instead, I’ll provide a snapshot of the highlights of my trip and the top 5 reasons why I love Ghana.

Trip highlights:

Christmas Day

This was my first Christmas away from my family, and in a hot country. To be honest, it didn’t really feel like Christmas – it just felt like a regular day, and in a way it was kinda nice. There was no real build up to Christmas in Kenya either, to be honest it was good to escape all the adverts, decorations absolutely everywhere and the crazed shoppers. It was quite refreshing in a way and also meant that there was no anti-climax. It was weird though, it was 35 degrees Celsius, I was sweating buckets (sorry but I was) and lots of people were wearing and selling santa hats. Since I couldn’t spend Christmas with my family, I decided I would spend time with individuals that perhaps didn’t have a family to celebrate with. I headed to Achimota, to the Street Girls Aid refuge who I worked with when I undertook some research for my Masters dissertation last year. Street Girls Aid is a charity that supports children living and/or working on the streets of Accra, particularly pregnant girls. They are a partner of StreetInvest, a UK-based NGO that supports investments in street-connected children so that their rights, needs and potential can be fulfilled. I love the work I do now but I will always have a soft spot for organisations that work with street-connected children and one day, I hope to set up my own social enterprise initiative to support such vulnerable yet resourceful individuals.

Anyway, when I arrived, I introduced myself to everyone and I was asked to help out with preparing lunch – fufu with groundnut stew. Yesss! They were so kind and made me a special version as they knew I didn’t eat meat. I was pretty useless at pounding fufu, it’s quite the skill so I was then told to dance for everyone (I’d shown one of the street workers one of my azonto videos) – this went down superbly. Other than helping prepare the goody bags for everyone to take away, I spent most of the day dancing and chatting to both girls currently at the refuge, and girls who had either stayed at the refuge during pregnancy, or had received vocational training in dressmaking, hairdressing, etc. The fact that all these girls chose to spend Christmas day there, regardless of their current situations, just demonstrated how grateful they were for Street Girls’ Aid’s support when they were in need.

Pounding fufu

Pounding fufu

Chop time!

Chop time!

Let's dance!

Let’s dance!

Akosombo dam

 I decided to travel out of Accra to the Akosombo dam in the Volta region – the dam that created Lake Volta, the world’s largest artificial lake . I’d heard a lot about it but I didn’t get a chance to visit last time. Since I didn’t want to miss out on the array of concerts happening in Accra, I travelled there and back in a day, which is definitely do-able providing you set off early. I left for Tema station in downtown Accra around 7.30am and by 8am, I was on a bus to Ho. It didn’t cost much at all, if I recall correctly it was between 10 and 15 cedi, which is less than £5 (one way). At Atimpoku, I alighted and got another tro tro to Akosombo, I then had to find a taxi driver that would take me to the dam itself. Since it was the Christmas holidays and I was in Africa after all, obviously no one could visit the dam. Anyway, the driver took me to a viewpoint where I could see the dam (essentially a hotel’s restaurant/bar).

Akosombo dam

Akosombo dam

Everyone carries EVERYTHING on their heads in Ghana...

Everyone carries EVERYTHING on their heads in Ghana…

However, after reading a few bits and bobs online the night before, I was set on spending an hour or so on the lake, in a fisherman’s boat. Unfortunately, this was much harder than expected to organise although it did happen in the end. I was driven to the Akosombo port area where there was a market by the lakeside, a hotel with a garden restaurant and a few fisherman out on the lake. I managed to convince some guys to take me out in their boat for an hour or so for 10 cedi. I’m not going to lie, the boat didn’t feel terribly stable and I did think I was going to fall in on more than one occasion but it was definitely an experience. One of the guys laid out the net whilst the other paddled. It was so relaxing (when I didn’t think I was going to fall out) just sitting in the boat in such a tranquil environment. If you do get the chance to do this – I would really recommend it. Once I had finished my little boat trip, I headed back to Akosombo where I bought some lunch (mmm…plantain) and had a wander round the market. I left Atimpoku around 3.30pm and I was back in Accra before nightfall.

The video below depicts my experience of the boat trip:

Lake volta selfie

Lake volta selfie

Catching Tilapia

Catching Tilapia

Party in the slums

When I came to Ghana the first time, I was a penniless Masters student, working several jobs and living off baked beans. I self-funded my trip so needless to say, I had absolutely no money to spare. This time I decided I would do something for some of the children that live and work on the streets in Accra. As they would all have to work on Christmas day, they had planned to have a party on Sunday 29th December. I decided to sponsor this party. The money I used went towards homemade meat pies and soda for around 150 children. Not very nutritional I know, but since there were so many of them, a proper feast of fufu, stew and meat would have been quite expensive. As the kids had been in awe of my dancing on Christmas day, this party was seen as an opportunity to showcase my azonto and an azonto dance battle was held. Let me tell you, dancing in Accra’s full heat and humidity at midday was tough! Many of the children had never seen an obroni before, let alone see an obroni dance to all their favourite tracks. For me, it just illustrated the way in which music and dance not only connect people but transcend language and cultural barriers.

At the party

At the party

Balloons!

Balloons!

Time to pose!

Time to pose!

Top 5 reasons why I love Ghana (in no particular order):

  1. MUSIC/CONCERTS

Almost no matter where you go in Ghana, you’ll be able to hear music blasting from speakers. On the street, from houses, mobile stereos on the back of a motorbike….you name it. In some cases, it’s enough to deafen you, and half the time it seems like there’s a competition going on in the neighbourhood- whose speakers go the loudest?!!! It gets a bit of getting used to, but I absolutely love it (most of the time). It just really adds to the atmosphere and for someone that loves dancing (see reason number 2), it just means that I can get away with dancing and singing along to my favourite tracks wherever I am. I’m not sure about anyone else, I know I’m bias, but Ghanaian music and Afrobeats in general just puts me in a really happy mood. It doesn’t matter if I’m having a bad day, or I’m stressed out, if I hear one of my favourite tracks – it’s like all my problems just disappear and all I can focus is on that beat. An example is ‘Dancehall King’ by Shatta Wale (posted below). Hope this song puts a smile on your face like it does mine.

So concerts…apparently Christmas is the best time for music concerts and shows in Ghana. When I found this out, I was ecstatic. In fact, within 2 hours of stepping off that plane – I was at Sarkodie’s album launch (Sarkodie is probably the most famous rapper in Ghana at present). Let’s just say I was grinning from ear to ear. Unlike some of the Afrobeats shows I’ve attended in the UK (sorry but it’s true), to my surprise, most of the shows I went to were really organised. For those of you that are in the know, in the space of 2 weeks, I saw Sarkodie, Fuse ODG, Stonebwoy, Keche, Itz Tiffany, Joey B, Castro Destroyer, Dee Money, R2bees, E.L, D-Black and many many more. I attended the Sarkodie ‘Sarkology’ launch, December 2 Remember, Ghana Rocks, a 4syte pool party and the Bojo beach New Year’s Day party. There was almost an event every night! Such a treat. In the UK, we’re lucky if there’s an event like that every 2 months and in Kenya, we have Naija Nite which happens once a year. Ahhh Ghana.

Joey B and Sarkodie performing #TONGA at Ghana Rocks

Joey B and Sarkodie performing #TONGA at Ghana Rocks

E.L performing at December 2 Remember

E.L performing at December 2 Remember

2. DANCING

As I mentioned above, these days I fancy myself as a bit of a dancer. An azonto-dancer specifically. Before I went to Ghana in January 2013, I detested dancing and didn’t think I could dance. Oh how times have changed…over Christmas, not a day went by when I didn’t perform in some way. Whether it was dancing for the kids who live on the same road as where I stayed in Kotobabi Down, dancing for the girls at Street Girls’ Aid refuge in Achimota on Christmas Day, performing live on stage at the Bojo beach party on New Years’ day or stealing the spotlight from the likes of E.L. at the Accra International Conference Centre…I was dancing. In fact, in Akosombo, I even performed in a market in front of hundreds of people. Don’t ask me how that happened…it just did! The look of surprise on everyone’s faces just makes me want to dance even more, they could never believe an obroni could dance so well and some recognised me from YouTube. I would then always say something in Twi to shock them further. What’s worth pointing out though, azonto is no longer that popular in Ghana, it’s all about Alkayida (please note, this has nothing to do with the terrorist group). Here are a few snippets of me dancing in Ghana:

Dancing at the New Year’s Party on Bojo Beach:

A few snippets of me dancing at the party in the slums I sponsored in late December:

N.B. The facial expressions aren’t obligatory, they just happen…

  1. FOOD

Even thinking about the food in Ghana makes my stomach rumble. I appreciate that it isn’t for everyone, it perhaps isn’t that healthy and there aren’t a tonne of vegetarian options but I absolutely adore it!

These are my favourite Ghanaian foodstuffs:

  • Red red (AKA plantain and bean stew): This is probably my favourite dish, and I tend to eat it for breakfast/brunch although it can be eaten at any time of the day really. This dish is a mixture of black-eyed peas, gari (ground up cassava) and palm oil. The palm oil makes it red and the gari binds it all together. It is served with fried plantain….mmmmm, sorry excuse me drooling!
Red red

Red red

  • Fufu and groundnut soup: Definitely an acquired taste for some…fufu is a starch, pounded cassava and plantain or pounded yam and plantain, or pounded cocoyam – it looks like a ball of dough. Groundnut soup is essentially a peanut soup that you eat with the fufu, it’s pretty tasty although can sometimes be a little bit oily. Most people would eat this dish with some meat too.
  • FanYogurt / FanChoco (yes I know it’s not really a food group but it’s yummy): incredibly refreshing desserts available at almost every street corner for about 25p (1 GHS) – just look for the guy with the white coolbox on wheels. FanYogurt is frozen strawberry flavoured yogurt and FanChoco is frozen chocolate flavoured milk.

    Fanchoco

    Fanchoco

  • Jollof rice: spicy rice with vegetables, often served with chicken (I normally have it with a boiled egg)
I need jollof...

I need jollof…

  • Eggs with bread: what my obroni friends in Kotobabi call ‘the Ghanaian Big Mac’, vegetable (onions, peppers) omelette in a fried bread sandwich…I tend to eat at least one of these a day. Yummy!

4. TAILORMADE CLOTHES IN BEAUTIFUL AFRICAN PRINTS

My addiction

My addiction

I’m not going to lie, I think I’ve got a bit of an addiction. I absolutely adore buying fabric, picking a design out, getting measured and having a unique piece of clothing…all at an affordable price too! Backpackers, forget Vietnam, get a dress/suit made in Ghana! When I was in Accra over Christmas, I paid 15 cedi for a skirt, 20 for a shirt and 20-25 for a dress to be made. I’m not sure what the exchange rate is now but 20 Ghana cedi was a £5 back in January. Imagine that – that’s cheaper than a dress in Primark! Ghana also (arguably) has the best fabric in Africa. Yes, I know, I know, I’m biased but it is true. Wherever you go in Africa, they’re importing fabric from Ghana. My tailor here in Kenya regularly imports it. What’s good too is that you can get amazing quality stuff, which is obviously a bit pricier but you can also get relatively good quality material for peanuts. Where to buy? I personally like Makola market or around Rawlings Park in downtown Accra. Just make sure you check the quality before you buy, check it’s sturdy and doesn’t look like it would tear easily. Brands such as Davida, Woodin, GTP and High Target are popular (although I think High Target is actually Nigerian). What’s also great is that I always try to use tailors that were once living and working on the street, who were supported by NGOs to undertake training in dress-making and now have their own businesses. Elisabeth is just one of these individuals. Anyway, enough of me talking about it see for yourself. Below are just some of the items I had made in Ghana:

Kente print dress

Kente print dress

Modelling my High Target peplum top with a colleague in Addis Ababa

Modelling my High Target peplum top with a colleague in Addis Ababa

Kente print skirt

Kente print skirt

N.B. I do get things made in Kenya but it’s at least 3 times the price and the quality of material isn’t as good. That said, I met a lady this who revamps old pairs of shoes/bags and covers them in African print. I think these are perhaps the most beautiful shoes I have ever seen, and best of all, they’re mine!

My beautiful shoes

My beautiful shoes

5. FEELING SAFE

As most people know, Nairobi isn’t the safest place to be at the moment and personal security is an issue. I love Kenya but sometimes I do miss my freedom. Yes I do walk home from work regularly (mostly because the traffic drives me nuts) but that doesn’t mean I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder or expecting my phone to get nicked. No, Ghana isn’t completely safe and you do need to be sensible (don’t wear flashy jewellery, don’t carry your passport around, etc.) but it’s supposedly one of the safer, more peaceful countries in Africa. The fact that I can walk around alone in the day and not have to worry (too much) and pop to the shop across the street at night to buy food or a drink just makes life that bit easier. And less stressful! Here in Nairobi, as soon as it’s dark, I wouldn’t dream of even crossing the street and on the occasion I do go out, I take taxis and tend to stick with my Kenyan friends. That’s another thing actually, rather than being reliant on several unreliable (but security-approved) taxi firms, I can just hail any old taxi and get in – it’s always worthwhile to check your driver is sober though, I’ve made that mistake before! We also have the possibility of carjacking here, sadly it’s very real. 

Right time to sign off, this post is almost 3,000 words and I am starving. Expect more posts to follow, including one about my recent holiday in South Africa. Not much news to report other than that, work is just as busy as ever. I am planning to come back to the UK for a week or two in July though if I can get time off…for graduation and just to catch up with family & friends. I’ll keep you posted on that one. Hope you liked the videos this time, I am going to try and film more whilst I’m on my travels – I think it really helps you remember certain moments or journeys, they say a picture is worth a thousand words but in my eyes, a video is worth a lot more! I won’t leave you with a song this time since there are quite a few videos to watch above. See you in the next post!

Sending lots of love from Nairobi x

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Adventure #3: Nairobi National Park and the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Ok so this is becoming more of a monthly thing but perhaps that’s more realistic? I’m still behind in posting about my adventures…so to update you, since I last wrote: I ended up on hospital on a drip because of food poisoning (it was bound to happen eventually), I spent a week in Ethiopia and then 2 weeks in the UK. Although it wasn’t African, the 4-day safety training course I did in Surrey for working in fragile and conflict-affected states was quite the adventure! The scenarios were, let’s say, quite realistic and now I’m even more paranoid than I was before. Still, better be safe than sorry! Once again, as you can imagine, all this travel and work involved going to meetings within hours of 9-hour international flights, writing presentations at 4am and various other stresses. Since I got back to Nairobi though, I’m trying to maintain more of a work/life balance. This was working well until “half-day Friday” (today) ended up being longer than a normal day with no lunch break. I suppose I can’t complain that I’m bored and at least I’m enjoying the work. Oh and I also travelled out of the city the weekend before last to Crescent Island, which is a beautiful game park you can walk around freely near to Naivasha (blog post to come). Tomorrow the plan is to hike up Mount Longonot, a dormant volcano located in the Rift Valley. If it’s a nice day, the views should be stunning. Fingers crossed!

So let’s move on to my next “adventure” to the Nairobi national park. Just 7km from the centre of Nairobi, this park is unique; it is the only protected area in the world close to a capital city. It’s quite amazing that you can see lions, rhinos, giraffes, etc. without even leaving the city. It’s also said to be one of the cheapest safaris in the world because compared to the Masaai Mara and the like, it’s a bargain to get in (although still pricey for non-residents), you don’t have to spend hours getting there and you don’t have to make an overnight stay. So obviously, in typical ‘This is Africa’ fashion, getting there is disastrous and I had found out the night before there was no point even going to the park without a car, as it is difficult to find a vehicle at the park entrance. Apparently you’re meant to go on a tour if you don’t have a car… So we arrive at 7am, having gotten a lift from my friend who happened to be going to the airport. We are told that there is normally a bus ran by Kenya Wildlife Services but it’s not running because of the rain. Of course. But there is the possibility of hiring the VIP vehicle for 7000 KSH, around £50. We have travelled that far and can’t be bothered to wait anymore, it’s a bit pricey but we say we’ll take it. The vehicle arrives after about 30min -it feels like an eternity, we haven’t eaten yet or slept properly and of course all the restaurants around the park entrance aren’t open yet. We are then told that the vehicle is to be used by the President today. Not sure we appreciated just how VIP this vehicle was then…quite amazing really! It was a bank holiday so that is apparently how the President spends his time off. Fair play to him. So anyway, we are then stuck at the park without a vehicle. We try asking minibus drivers carrying passengers to take us (thinking that they would jump at the chance to make a bit more money from their empty seats) but everyone seemed reluctant. By this point, we just wanted to get in the park so the last option is to pay for a taxi, which seemed somewhat risky given the adverse weather conditions (there had been lots of heavy rain the past week). Anyway we decide to run the risk and ask one of the ticket staff to find us a taxi. The guy assures us that the driver knows the park well and that way we will be sure to see animals. N.B. Although it’s great that you can just drive around in some of these parks without a guide, it is not seen as advisable since you won’t know where the animals are and you may take a wrong turn and end up getting stuck in mud or something. The car that turns up is what can only be described as a ‘clap-trap’, to be honest, I’m surprised it’s still on the road. One of the doors doesn’t open, one of the windows has to be pushed down to open it and the suspension has almost definitely gone. Ah well, better than nothing! Time to safari. Twende!

So yeah, we drove through this...

So yeah, we drove through this…

In this.... (the 'clap trap')

In this…. the ‘clap trap’

I can’t remember the order in which we saw the animals but I know we were extremely lucky that day! We saw rhino, giraffes, (different types of) antelopes, buffalo, ostriches and hippos. And best of all, 2 lions! There are apparently only 10 lions in the park so to see 2 was amazing, I wasn’t expecting to see any. To see all of the big 5: elephant, leopard, lion, buffalo and rhino, just 2 months in and doing 2 safaris is not that bad going really! What’s incredible about the park is that it actually is like the photos you see of Nairobi on Google Images, you really can see a rhino in the wild with skyscrapers in the background. It certainly isn’t the same experience you get of the “open” wilderness you get in other parks but a definite photo opportunity. Scary moments of the safari drive included driving through huge puddles/lakes (I honestly didn’t think the car was going to make it) and having a gun pointed at my face (yes…a ranger got in the car to help us find the lions and happened to just hold it in that position). It was well worth it though. If you’re only in Nairobi for a short while, and don’t have time to travel out to any of the big game parks, I would definitely recommend visiting the park here. It’s a morning or afternoon well-spent!

Giraffes!

Giraffes!

Quite possibly one of the best photos I've ever taken...

Quite possibly one of the best photos I’ve ever taken…

'The' photo opportunity, and my first spot of a Rhino

‘The’ photo opportunity, and my first spot of a Rhino

As well as the park, we visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, also known as the ‘elephant orphanage’, just on the outskirts of Nairobi national park (although not reachable from the park itself). For just 500KSH (about £3.50), you can see orphaned baby elephants being bottle-fed milk up close. In one word: adorable! Here, elephant calves orphaned (particularly by poaching), receive specialised treatment from staff at the Trust who provide them with the care and attention they need. I actually wasn’t aware before, but young elephants will die without their mothers’ milk. Once the calves are old enough (and well enough), they are moved to Tsavo national park, in where they are carefully reintroduced into wild herds So the centre is open to the public each morning (11am-12pm). You hear each of the elephant’s stories and see them interact with each other. For anyone visiting, I would stress that you need to arrive at the centre at 10.45am at the latest otherwise you will miss the ‘event’. It’s not a show per se but it has a set start and finish time. Unfortunately for us, the heavens opened bang on 11am so we got pretty wet. My friend Jo (who was visiting at the time) hilariously had accidentally bought waterproof trousers instead of a jacket to Kenya so needless to say, she was drenched. It made for a good photo though! A trip to the orphanage is an absolute must for animal lovers and families. You are also supporting a great cause. It’s possible to actually foster one of the elephants (they all have an individual profile on the site) and receive updates as well as other benefits including exclusive visits to the park. You can find more about fostering an elephant and the initiative in general on the website.

A selfie in the rain

A selfie in the rain

This cheeky elephant was eager to be fed!

Orphanned elephants drinking milk from the bottle = ADORABLE

Orphanned elephants drinking milk from the bottle = ADORABLE

A lesson learnt...

A lesson learnt…

So I guess this post shows that it is possible to have an “adventure” without even really leaving Nairobi. For now, I better pack my bag and prepare for tomorrow’s trek up Mount Longonot. I’m just grateful that my legs have recovered from the intense work-outs my colleague and I have been doing this week (yes I’m talking lunches with weights and sit-ups). Two days ago I was staggering around the office in pain. Always awkward when people think you have actually injured yourself but you are actually just unfit! Oh and today, we went to yoga (there’s a free class on Friday evenings in our apartment block). It was enjoyable but possibly the weirdest yoga session I’ve ever done, not only were we ‘exercising’ to rock music for the most part, we then ventured outside and literally ‘hung off’ garden furniture by the pool. So once again, apologies for the delay in writing – I know it’s been a while. I’m not even gonna promise to write again soon because it’s not a vow I can keep. As per usual, here’s a favourite track of mine, this time by an up-and-coming Kenyan band I had the pleasure of seeing live last month. They are called Elani and actually are good friends of a friend of mine (sorry, that means this is a shameless plug but oh well). I think they’re great!

Finally, since it’s #FundraisingFriday, this is a plea to sponsor my lovely sister Laura. I am incredibly proud to say that she will be going to Bolivia in April for 3 months to volunteer for International Service as part of the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme. She will be working directly with a charity called UpClose, a family-run charity which aims to improve the lives of disadvantaged children through care and education. The ICS programme is organised and funded by the UK government and she is required to raise a minimum of £800 in order to secure her place. The money you donate will not go directly to the overseas placement she will be working on but instead to the programme as a whole. It will ensure this opportunity continues to be available for young people like her, who wish to contribute to something worthwhile and make positive changes in the lives of others by having the chance to volunteer in developing countries. So if you are able to help her at all, to support this great cause – please donate HERE. I believe the minimum donation is £2 so even if that’s all you can spare, every little helps. And think about it – £2 is less than a pint of beer, or a coffee from a popular coffeehouse! Many thanks in advance 🙂

Asante sana for reading. Until next time,

Abbie x

PS. In other news, I am officially a RESIDENT of Kenya so I can stop paying ridiculous mzungu rates. Wahey!

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Adventure #2: Diani and Mombasa

I know I started my last two posts with an apology so this makes it a hat trick…but I still want to apologise for the lack of updates. Sorry! I don’t even know where the time has gone. We’re in 2014 now, that’s just crazy. Oh, happy new year by the way! Essentially though, following my Masters dissertation submission I went on a short break to the Kenyan coast then I had two relatively busy weeks at work  and a guest to stay (sorry Jo, we had a lot of fun didn’t we?). I then travelled to Ghana just before Christmas and arrived back in Nairobi to deadlines and stress last Sunday. I actually just finished work, and it’s 10pm on a Saturday night. Far from ideal…

Anyhow, let me not talk about my work load, today I want write about my second “adventure”, a trip to the beautiful Kenyan coast. Wednesday morning, 2 days after my dissertation was submitted (hell yes I deserved a break), my friends and I flew to Mombasa. FYI, we decided to fly out of convenience since only had 5 days off and had we taken a bus, it would have taken 12 hours to get there and 12 hours to get back. In essence then, I forced myself to remember that I have a job with an actual salary now and I could afford to actually spend money when I was on holiday…thankfully for my bank balance though, this mindset didn’t last long (I’m still a penniless student at heart). The journey was relatively smooth despite the plane not being much more than a bus with wings(!) and we were picked up from the airport by a driver (booked in advance) who drove us straight to Diani. Stepping out that plane was incredible. We left a cold and miserable Nairobi (those bloody short rains) for blue skies, sunshine and temperatures of 30°C. BLISS. The lack of sleep (of course in typical fashion I was packing until 3am and our flight was at 6am) didn’t seem so bad. Mombasa also felt a lot less Westernised than Nairobi, it felt more like ‘real’ Africa. In fact, it almost felt like a different country to Nairobi. It was certainly a welcome change of scenery.

Our bus with wings...

Our bus with wings…

Diani 

Diani is a beach resort located about 20 miles South of Mombasa. To reach there, you have to take this crazy ferry that is essentially a floating platform filled with people and cars. Totally safe *ahem*.

The ferry. Yep, totally safe…

Diani was recommended to us by a number of people. As soon as we reached the beach, it was not difficult to see why. This place was PARADISE. Glorious white sand beaches, blue skies, clear and warm water (Indian Ocean), coral reefs, palm trees and (almost) no one around. I say ‘almost’ since there were lots of irritating men hassling you to buy things and trying to make friends with you. I found out later that many of them are actually male prostitutes. You got used to them though and they tended to leave you alone if you spoke a bit of Swahili, ie. Hapana, meaning ‘No’. Anyway, the environment was too beautiful to let one of them put you in a bad mood.

Take me back.

Take me back.

Good times.

Good times.

See how clear the water is...

See how clear the water is…

We didn’t do much on the first day, just chilled out on the beach. I stupidly burnt my back. Yes, I did put suncream on but obviously not enough considering it was around 35°C and Kenya is right on the equator. My bad. On the second day however, we went on a little boat trip and went snorkelling. Easily the highlight of the trip. We paid £10 each for almost a 4 hour trip which included the snorkelling gear. Even before we went snorkelling our guide had picked out sea urchins, star fish and a sea slug (disgusting) from the sea for us to look at. The snorkelling was enjoyable although I had completely forgotten how to breathe using a snorkel and only worked out how to do it towards the end of the session. This is why I should never go scuba diving. The coral reefs were quite impressive and I saw some interesting fish including one that looked like a huge brown rock (good detailed scientific description I know). I also saw a sea horse which was about the size of my thumb, I honestly didn’t realise how small they were in real life! It didn’t compare to the colourful reefs in Koh Phangan, Thailand but it was still definitely worth doing. We then sailed (is that even the right word?) to the sand bank which was incredibly picturesque. On the last day *sobs* we visited a monkey sanctuary called the Colobus Trust. They are doing some great work in Diani to protect endangered monkeys in the area (Colobus monkeys in particular). The tour wasn’t spectacular and we didn’t see as many monkeys as I hoped but it was extremely interesting. You can find out more about the work that they do here. On the last day, Jo and I also took a little camel ride on the beach  too.

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Peace out

Peace out

Sadly, we were only in Diani for 3 days and 2 nights (next time I will definitely go for longer) but we stayed in a lovely eco-lodge. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. It’s called Stilts and consists of large tree-houses in the forest, located less than a 10 minute walk from the beach. We had our own private room (£7 a night each) and a little veranda with monkeys and bush babies for neighbours. Not sure I’d ever seen a bush baby before but they are incredibly cute and like being fed bananas. There is also a bar/restaurant that serves tasty and very reasonably priced meals (£2 and up) and even hot showers. It was so relaxing there; I would go back tomorrow if I could!

We were loving it.

We were loving it.

Paradise.

Paradise.

Starfish!

Starfish!

Hakuna matata.

Hakuna matata.

Wahey

Wahey

Mombasa

Our next and final stop (too short a trip I know) was Mombasa itself. Our driver got completely lost on the way (he thought we were staying at a different hostel) so it took us around 2 hours to get there since it was also rush hour on a Friday. We got there eventually though. We stayed at a hostel called Backpackers Nirvana, this place definitely wasn’t made for the sort of people that fly when they can get a bus for the fraction of the price (see second paragraph). There were 10 of us in one room, all sharing one bathroom. Needless to say, it was cosy. This would have been fine had there been air conditioning.  That night I was definitely regretting going budget, I could barely sleep. The people were friendly though, the staff were extremely helpful and it cost £8 a night (including breakfast) so you couldn’t really complain. It was just a bit err….sweaty.

Fabrics galore on Biashara Street

Fabrics galore on Biashara Street

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Inside the spice market

We only had one full day in Mombasa but I would say it was enough for a holiday – the city is far from relaxing. The words busy, bustling and crazy provide a much more apt description. We first decided to explore Biashara street which was recommended to me by a colleague for the best place to buy fabric. I probably went a bit overboard as I had already bought some fabric on the beach in Diani but I can’t get enough of it (I bought even more in Ghana), it’s just sooo pretty! Next we went to the spice market as the temple we planned to visit (recommended in the guide) is no longer open to the public. I bought some curry powder but we were being hassled left right and centre and the heat was sweltering so we decided to make a move. We went for lunch at a little local joint and I had

Masala chips

Masala chips

masala chips (no other vegetarian dishes had been cooked yet), essentially chips covered in curry sauce, yummy! Once we had eaten and taken a moment to rest (not used to that kind of heat at all), we headed for Fort Jesus. Built in 1591 Fort Jesus is a Portuguese for King Philip I of Portugal, then ruler of the joint Portuguese and Spanish Kingdoms. It was intended to guard the Old Port of Mombasa. You have the chance to look around the fort, visit the torture rooms, etc, and there’s also a museum. It’s definitely worth a visit and you have a nice view from the top of the fort. We then had a walk around the old town which was really nice and very different from the town itself. We took a tuk tuk (yes they have tuk tuks at the coast) then a matatu back to the hostel. I honestly wish they had tuk tuks here in Nairobi, they are so much fun! It reminded me of being in Bangkok, Thailand. Ah, memories. Since we were leaving the next morning, we also decided to visit Nyali beach which was a short walk from our hostel. The beach had a completely different feel to Diani and it was absolutely PACKED in comparison (I suppose it was a Saturday afternoon). Most people were swimming but the water wasn’t as clear as it was in Diani, it was a nice atmosphere though and a nice way to relax after sightseeing. We spent our last evening in a restaurant in a mall, with a view of the car park. Hmmm, hardly the beach view we had enjoyed in Diani. Very odd recommendation from our hostel considering we had eaten by candlelight in a romantic rooftop restaurant the night before. Still, at least the food was good. In fact, better than good – it was probably the best food I’ve eaten in Nairobi since I arrived!

DSCF3890

The spice market

Fort Jesus

Fort Jesus

The old town

The old town

Sweaty tuk tuk ride

Sweaty tuk tuk ride

Nyali beach

Nyali beach

Jo, Holly and I at the beach

Jo, Holly and I at the beach

Right, I had better sign off (I have to work tomorrow and my eyes are getting tired) but just to update you on a few things:

  1. Some of you may have already seen photos but I got braids. This time around I got Senegalese twists. Check out my Instagram (on the right hand side of the page) and let me know what you think!
  2. For all my Ghanaians reading, please keep an eye out on TV, probably Viasat 1, I’ve made it onto your TV screens again. I performed at an event at Bojo Beach on Christmas day and was interviewed by three different TV channels. Kw33rrr!
  3. I’m off to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia next week with work for an event I’ve planned. I’ll be spending the weekend before the event there to explore so expect a future blog post on that.
  4. For all my UK people, I’ll be back in the UK for 2 weeks for some training as of 25th January. Hope to catch up with some of you face to face!

Until next time,

Abbie x

PS. Do you think I got enough fabric?

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PPS. Almost forgot to leave you with a song. This is my other favourite Kenyan song. It’s called ‘Kipepeo’, which means ‘Butterfly in Swahili. It’s about a guy who loves a girl so much he feels like flying. Cute huh? It’s sung by an artist called Jaguar. It’s infectious! Hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I do.

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