South Africa: The Rainbow Nation

On May 10, 1994, South Africa emerged back onto the world scene, as the man known as Madiba, stood atop the dais, waiting to be sworn in to become the first democratically elected African president of the Rainbow Nation. He was a man that captured the world with the way he carried himself as much as by what he said. We’d learned a lot about South Africa in history class, the good, the bad and the ugly. Mark had watched the All Blacks go toe to toe with the Springboks since he was a young tike, and there feels a kinship has been forged between the 2 countries as a result. We both had heard so much about the country, we were both aflutter about the opportunity to explore Africa’s Southern land.

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Kruger National Park

“There’s nowhere like Kruger!” affirmed the owners of our hostel, just outside the gates, and to be honest it’s hard to argue. We say this not just because of our African game reserve novice status, but because the scope of the park and the fact that you can explore it on your own are truly remarkable. Whether it’s the immaculate roads, of which they have a purported 6000kms, or the fact you can get a reasonable priced cafe breakfast whilst overlooking Sabie river. While you’re sipping your flat white, elephants sip water at the banks, all at the same price as you’d pay anywhere else in South Africa, they even offer craft beer in the park!

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The Long Road South

Long bus trips are part and parcel with travel, but we were looking forward to the “freedoms” i.e. ability to stand up, and go to the restroom when you have to, that train travel offered. With this in mind we boarded our bus in Kigali, bound for Dodoma, the sleepy capital of Tanzania from where – supposedly – a train runs to Lusaka. So started a fairly tortuous journey towards South Africa, where a ‘no train situation’, border crossing issues, surprisingly good coffee, and a chance to catch up with friends coalesced to an interesting journey southward.

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Rwanda & Some Gorillas

Rwanda, it conjures memories of one of the darkest chapters in recent history, when the world forgot, or worse, ignored, the absolute horror that was taking place in the heart of central Africa. While the UN condemned what was going on, in the same breath they pulled back. The maundering Interahamwe went on a 100 day reign of terror, killing an estimated 1’000’000, mainly Tutsi, but also moderate Hutu civilians. After the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front), led by current president Paul Kagame, moved in and took control in 1994, modern Rwanda has emerged from its tumultuous past as a beacon of how to pull a country back from the brink.

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Uganda: Pearl Of Africa

A chimp gets stuck into some figs in Kibale National Park

Winston Churchill probably summed it up best in his book “My African Journey” when he said of Uganda “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly “the Pearl of Africa.”

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Kenya: Wildlife Paradise

A zebra stares across the plains of the Mara

Suffice to say that as the plane banked over the Nairobi national park just outside the aforementioned capital of Kenya, we had mixed feelings, well, we would have if we weren’t sleeping on account of the 0320 departure. Everything we’d heard or read replaced Nairobi with “Nairobbery” and Mombasa with “Mug-basa” and made it seem like a formality we’d be robbed in broad daylight by a glue sniffing youngster. Couple the recent terror attacks and the fact we’d already had to fly to avoid the border tensions so we were unsure what to expect.

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Ethiopia: Coffee with Lucy and Hiking With Monkeys

Sunrise at Blue Nile Falls

As the plane banked for its final descent into Addis Ababa, we looked down at the dry arid landscape below, with a mixture of excitement and apprehension at what might greet us on the other side of the immigration queue. What we found was a country bustling with a sense of eager anticipation about what might lay ahead. Friendly people with big smiles, whether you’re wandering into a shop, attempting (badly) to dance the local dance, or attempting to squeeze into a minibus meant for 12, but has double that, (naturally, everyone will know your name by the end of the journey). Open and inquisitive locals who want nothing in return other than to say hello while you sip on your aromatic coffee, freshly brewed before your eyes. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its challenges, but would we come back? In a heartbeat. Welcome to Ethiopia!

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Into Africa

First stroll in Addis Ababa

It isn’t a leap to say that Africa is a captivating continent, a place that can’t be pigeonholed, as diverse as it is vast, and believe us it’s large, able to fit the US, India, China and most of Europe with a few gaps to fill for good measure. Looking at maps when we were young there was a pull to find out about this huge landmass, get beyond the unfortunate headlines and stereotypes and see what it’s (at least part of it) is like. From desert to verdant green tropical rain forest, man eating lions to the gentle mountain gorillas, the worlds newest nation to the oldest civilizations known to humankind, it is a truly magical place.

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Sri Lanka: The Real Deal

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Traditional Sri Lankan fishing stilts 

Sri Lanka is a country on the rise, and in terms of tourism going through a bit of a boom period. Thanks to its lush highlands where scenic hiking spots compete with 100m waterfalls for attention, world-class tea estates giving tours and free samples, sights like the cave Buddhas and Sigiriya, plentiful beaches perfect for relaxation or surfing with beach side restaurants delivering fresh seafood. Add to that the seemingly endless line of Lonely Planet, Tripadvisor, BBC travel or just about any other travel magazines Must visit in 2018 lists, Sri Lanka is home to people spanning the spectrum from wealthy resort seekers to families, backpackers on their first trip to seasoned veterans and more frequently people over-using #wanderlust and claiming to be an “influencer”. Sri Lanka has something for everyone, so you might as well get your credit card out now and book a flight. Continue reading

India: A Sojourn South

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The Southern most tip of India, Kanyakumari

Sighing a breath of relief after we had to race to the station in Mumbai, owing to Mark’s clerical error, we made the platform just as our train came into view we were able to sit back and relax, we had no other choice really, we were going to be stuck on a train for the next 30 hours after all. Taking in the ambiguous culinary options on offer and washing them down with a chai are among your only recourse. But heading to the south of India brings with it a sort if wind change in operations, things immediately seem to be more relaxed, the food changes, the people seem to be laid back and it is instantly noticeable how many more women are involved in civic life through your interactions with store owners through to station managers. Kerala is, as locals will proudly point out, the most educated part of the country, not that that mattered to us as we pulled into Varkala, we were just looking forward to hitting the beach. Continue reading