Life after Africa

My African adventure is over and after only two weeks at home I’m back into a routine.

During my three months in Africa I ticked lots of things off my bucket list but there’s still so much to see and do.  My list is now longer than it was before I left.

There’s something about Africa… it gets under your skin (literally), three months was a great trip but not even close to long enough and I can’t wait to go back!

Back at home I’ve had an opportunity to reflect.  I’m a very lucky lady and am incredibly grateful to all the people that let me into their lives while I was away.  To Aunty and the Ghanaian Times team, my guide Moses on Mt Kenya, to all the Kili crew and James in Uganda, the staff and my fellow guests at Mnemba Island and Ngala Private Reserve and also to all the random travellers, aid workers and African enthusiasts I met along the way – thank you!  I had the time of my life!

There wasn’t any one experience I can say was ‘the highlight’.  Even when pushed to list my top three I can’t.  So in no particular order these are my top five:

  1. Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro (and making it to the top) knowing that our group had raised over $55,000 for Cure Cancer
  2. Sharing an hour in the forest with a family of 8 mountain gorillas in Uganda
  3. Getting to know the cocoa farmers in Ayiem, Ghana and trying to wrap my head around the challenges farmers in West Africa face
  4. Relaxing on Mnemba Island where I swam with dolphins, saw turtles laying and hatching and experienced the best service I have ever had

    First night sundowner in front of #2

  5. Getting to the stage where I am 100% comfortable to walk into a restaurant and ask for “a table for one”

To everyone involved with my top five thank you – they wouldn’t have been the same without you!

I also want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who helped me get to Africa.  To all the people who donated to Cure Cancer, to my Safari Soiree sponsors, to my friends and family who endured hours of planning and deliberations without ever telling me to shut up, I really appreciate all your support.  Thank you!

So finally I guess the question is where to from here?

Firstly I need to write all the stories from this awesome adventure and secondly… I’ll start to plan a trip back to Africa.

In the interim I’ll keep updating this blog with the stories I get published, local adventures and interesting African things I come across… so don’t delete the link from your favourites just yet.

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More Cape Town… love this city!

So I’ve been in Cape Town almost 10-days and despite the fact I’m heading home tomorrow I still don’t feel like I’ve seen enough.  This is a city of eating, drinking and working on your tan… my kind of place and significantly more relaxed (and cheaper) than Sydney.

Here are some of my Cape Town highlights:

  • Horseriding on the beach in Noordhoek where the wind whipped up a swell of

    Love riding on the beach! Thanks Paddy!

    around 2.5m.  A super-sized wave crashed onto the beach as we were getting ready to take some photos and scared the horses.  The horses bolted up the dunes away from the ocean and into sinking sand.  After my 17-hand mount Paddy finished tap-dancing on the spot to stop himself sinking deeper than his knees, we managed to get a couple of reasonable shots.

  • Driving through the Cape Flats townships accidentally while trying to get from the Cape Peninsula to Stellenbosch… I quickly found the highway again and whizzing past at 120km/hr I realised how big the townships are and started to get an appreciation for how many people live in conditions so different to the Constantia and Atlantic coast towns I’d spent most of my time in

Cape Flats township

  • Lunching in the gardens of Boschendal vineyard where they were re-thatching the roof of the cafe.  Sitting in the shade and sipping a perfectly chilled blanc de noir while finishing my book… tough way to spend an afternoon!
  • Sundowners at La Med at Clifton where the service was so slow that after

Sundowners at La Med

90mins I’d seen the sunset, taken pictures of table mountain with clouds coming over the top like an overflowing schooner and still hadn’t received my G&T.  Oh well, I got one of the best sunset views without having to spend a cent… not bad!

  • Having coffee with Terrence & Kalina at Giovanni’s in Green Point – apparently the best coffee in Cape Town, and at the time I would have agreed.  After my morning caffeine hit this morning the award for the best espresso now goes to Haas Coffee Collective in Bo-Kaap. They opened 2-weeks ago they roast their own beans and make the best coffee I’ve had in Africa!  One thing though, nowhere in South Africa serves soy… all fellow soy flat white drinkers beware, you’ll need to switch to black coffee or regular milk.

Haas coffee house... best coffee in Cape Town!

  • Dinner at the Noon Gun Tearoom on Lions Head where the wind was howling in true Cape Town style.  Leaving my rental car parked on a 45-degree slope I was constantly looking out the window expecting to see it rolling down the hill.  The family run restaurant serves traditional cape malay meals and the view of the city lights was spectacular.
  • High tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel where there were lamingtons as part of the spread.  The mint green tea was delicious and came with an egg-timer so the leaves only steeped for 3-mins.

There’s so much more I could write about Cape Town but I’m off to be pampered thanks to the wonderful AK and Tash before deciding on where to go for my last dinner in this foodie’s paradise!

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The Cape Argus & my hire car

Heading to Camps Bay to check out ‘the real Cape Town’ (according to one of my trusty Cape Town advisors) was much harder than I expected.  Not because Cape Town is difficult to navigate, but because the day I set out was the Cape Argus cycle tour.

The Cape Argus is  South Africa’s largest cycling event and this year there were 35,000 competitors.  As the world’s biggest, individually timed cycle race for professional and amateur bikers it was pretty much all I’d heard about since arriving in the city.

I’d met a few of the reported 2,500 international entrants during my travels – mostly from Germany or Italy.  All were excited and most were competing in their first international cycle tour, taking a few extra days either side to enjoy Cape Town.

On the day of the big race, the rest of Cape Town basically doesn’t move.  So many of the streets are closed – but I guess that’s to be expected for a 109km road race that circles the Cape, from the city right down to the national park near the Cape of Good Hope and then back along Chapman’s Peak.

A tip for non-cycling tourists… don’t set out with a hire car on the day of the Argus.

After over an hour in first gear I’d checked out the back streets (on ‘detour’), watched the mist being burnt off the cliffs and listened to every Cape Town radio station.  All before arriving in Camps Bay, 10km from where I picked up my rental.

The main road in Camps Bay was closed but the cafes and restaurants overlooking the race and the beach were doing a roaring trade so I opted for coffee and a comfy view of the passing lycra.

Cape Argus coming through Camps Bay

What a parade!  From cows on bikes to couples on tandems and a guy in a green Borat-style unitard it was a sight to be seen.   For those from Sydney, it was kind of like watching the City to Surf on wheels.

Feeling decidedly lazy on the sidelines it was time for me to get moving and check out the rest of the coast.  Well that wasn’t quite as easy as I’d expected… but then again I clearly hadn’t thought through my route for the day… I was wanting to drive almost the exact route of the race, just in reverse.

In the CBD there are backstreets, but down the Atlantic cost there aren’t.  It was back into town and around Table Mountain on the other side to try and get down to my hotel in Haut Bay.

During my beautiful and winding drive around the other side of Table Mountain I met cyclists riding home after the race, a semi-trailer hauling what looked like a small forest of trees and a lot of European 4-wheel drives with very dark tinted windows.  I was in the country, 20mins from the CBD.

The traffic getting into Haut Bay should have tipped me off that I might have issues getting through, but for some reason it didn’t register and I kept on driving into town.  About 2km from the beach (and my hotel) the streets were cordoned off and the not-so-

Freezing and too much weed... max temp 16-degrees

friendly policeman working the barricade told me I could walk in but the car needed to stay where it was.  He clearly hadn’t seen what was in my boot. There was no way I was lugging all my badly packed luggage accross town.

Along more backstreets I circled through Haut Bay, past heavily fenced properties with either Chubb or ADT Armed Response signs reinforcing the gap between the have’s and the have not’s.  Some of the houses in Haut Bay are enormous but they all have a proportionate level of security… not something I’d be that keen to have on my holiday home.

By the time I reached the base of Table Mountain again the message had gotten through to the part of my brain doing the navigation… “avoid the cycle route”.  I headed for the opposite side of the Cape. They were pulling down barricades and roads were slowly reopening.  Success!

To give the roads more time to open up I spent a couple of hours wandering along the pier and through the antique and art stores of Kalk Bay, stopping for a drink at Cape to Cuba.  Feeling refreshed and quite proud of myself for not having purchased anything I got back in the car and kept heading south.

They were driving... slowly, but still!

Just out of Simon’s Town I saw the first sign that I might encounter wildlife… “Baboons!” And encounter I did, they were everywhere on the verge, in the middle of the road, and unluckily for the car in front of me,  on the roof of their car.  Only in Africa!

Heading back into the national park there was less visible wildlife.  At least until I reached the Cape of Good Hope where there were thousands of birds.  On the beach, on the rocks and riding the waves… they were everywhere!

By the time I’d taken photo’s at the Cape and the lighthouse the sun was starting to sinking and the wind had really picked up.  I was keen to get to the Chapman’s Peak Hotel for the legendary calamari on the deck watching sunset (and to check in).  I needed to hit the road again.

Remnants of the race remained along the road to Haut Bay.  Lots of port-a-loos and baricades but surprisingly very little rubbish.  Driving north along Chapman’s Peak Drive as the sun was starting to set over the water was one of the best photo opportunities I’ve had in South Africa… shame I didn’t bring my tripod.  I’ll chalk it up as another reason to

Hard to concentrate on the road when this is the view!

come back!

With 20mins till sunset I was safely checked in, with a Sauvignon Blanc in hand and a plate of the softest and tastiest calamari in front of me.  The vibe on the beach-side deck was relaxed and most people were talking about the Argus.  Sipping my wine I added “cycle the Cape Argus” to my bucket list… I needed to be that specific because somehow, without trying I’d driven the route, albeit backwards.


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First days in Cape Town

Arriving in Cape Town after a couple of days in the bush at Ngala Safari Lodge and I realised my time in Africa was quickly coming to an end.

After 10-weeks without road rules, countless marriage proposals and having honed my “don’t approach me with whatever it is you’re selling” look I’m back in a big city.

View to Cape Town from the bottom of the cable car stationThe rules of social interaction are different here and I’m glad I’ve got time to readjust before being thrown back into the Sydney scene.  Cape Town blends cosmopolitan city (and a foodie paradise) with African culture (and all the corresponding development issues) better than anywhere else I’ve been on the continent.

I spent my first few nights on Long Street – full of restaurants, bars and backpacker’s.  My hotel, The Daddy Long Legs, was quirky and the concept is one I’d like to see take off in more places around the world.  Each room was designed by a local artist.  I spent my first night in the “Room with a view” and the second in “The Emergency Room”, complete with x-ray light-box, nurses outfit and bedpan.

Anything I write about Cape Town needs a couple of big thank you’s – Lynette and Stef Chinn, Camilla, Claire from Mnemba and Terrence from Ngala – thank you for your Cape Town tips, lists of things to do and general advice!  I’ve tried to cover off as many as possible and am putting on kilo’s in the process!

Covering off the big ticket tourist items first I headed to the V&A Waterfront and then

Our group walking through to Mandela's cell block

over to Robben Island to see the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 27yrs.  My tour was led by Jama, a former political prisoner who spent 5yrs there from age 19.  He spoke openly about his experiences and when asked if it was difficult for him to do this job he replied,

“I never wanted to come back, but I had to.  I couldn’t get a job and this was one I was qualified for.  At the beginning I didn’t like it but now it’s ok.”

Tough, if you ask me… to re-live every day (three times a day) experiences you’d rather forget.  He did a great job and patiently answered all our questions.

Feeling a lot less exhausted than those who walked up!

On day 2 I went up Table Mountain.  After summiting Kili  had all the best intentions of walking up… I mean at 1085m it’d be a walk in the park.  When it came to the crunch, sensibility reigned and all the advice not to try it on your own because of the risk of being mugged meant I took the cable car.  Also a good experience but I did feel like I’d cheated a little!

The view from the top was stunning and since I hadn’t walked up, I decided to do the full “table circumference walk”.  Along the way I picked up Italian Alberto, a local guide and a Belgian business man.  We all finished the circle together and our local guide told us we’d walked approx. 8km… it didn’t feel that long, but maybe I’m just getting more used to walking than I realised.

After working up an appetite on Table Mountain I headed to the Neighbourgood Market at the Old Biscuit Mill.  With retro-chic stalls and two tents of gourmet food I’d found my new favourite place in Cape Town.

There were jazz buskers, loads of people chilling out with glasses of wine and large boards of pizza, families feeding their kids new and exciting delicacies and lots of tourists taking photos.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

After an ostrich burger, a micro-brewed cider and the most indulgent crepe I’ve ever eaten I was in need of another walk and headed to the Kirstenbosch Gardens.  An oasis in the city I walked off my enormous brunch the finished my book on the grass in the sun.

So far my Cape Town experiences have been centred on the city, and if I’m to believe some of the locals, that’s not Cape Town.  Apparently I need to head to Camps Bay and the Atlantic seaboard… so that’s where I’m headed next.


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Ngala Private Reserve – South Africa

Last week I went on safari at Ngala, a private reserve that borders the Kruger National Park in South Africa without fences. It was another amazing African experience!

My 24yr old guide, Andrew, has worked at the park for a year.  He says it started as his ‘year in the bush’, but he’s not planning on leaving any time soon.  That’s a relief for future guests because his ability to chat to guests of all types and ages is impressive and he’s more knowledgeable than I could ever hope to be.

Andrew could look a bird flying so high that I couldn’t tell if it was brown or black and say, “that’s a brown snake eagle” or “that’s a yellow billed hornbill”.

How he knew what he was looking at is a mystery to me and if we hadn’t had Englishman Gordon (who’s spent his life chronicling birds of Africa and the Middle East) in the vehicle I’d have thought he was spinning sh*t.

Our tracker was Herbert. How he managed to differentiate between the hundreds of indentations in the sand it beyond me.  Apparently it’s easy to tell if a track is fresh in the morning – there are insects pressed into the dew within the footprint.

Of course, so simple to tell from 1.5m up on the Land Rover and travelling at 20km/hr!

I spent around 8hrs a day in the safari vehicle starting a morning game drive that at 5.15am and allowed us to see the sunrise.

On the first morning not only did I gain an appreciation for birds of prey and see some great zebra, including a male who had had his tail bitten off by a lion, but we were surprised by the Ngala staff.  Being served pancakes in a dry river bed after searching for the wild dogs we’d seen the night before made up for the fact that we hadn’t seen these highly endangered animals in daylight.

Over the course of the 4 game drives I went on I saw all of the Big 5 (Rhino, buffalo, elephant, lion and leopard).  Of them all I think elephants are my favourite and the lion and leopard cubs were definitely the cutest.

Having stayed at the Giraffe Manor in Nairobi a few weeks earlier I thought it’d be hard to be impressed by giraffe… I was wrong.  Spotting them across the plain with their heads poking above the trees felt like I was watching a scene in a movie.  Almost missing one less than 5m from my side of the vehicle also confirmed just how effective their camouflage is (and that I shouldn’t consider giving up my day job to become a tracker).

Here is a selection of photos from Ngala… thank you to Andrew and Herbert for spotting this amazing selection of birds and animals, I wouldn’t have seen 1/10th of this without you!

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Another story and photos published in Australia

I submitted a story and photos about the Ugandan mountain gorillas and the Ugandan elections a couple of weeks ago… it was published today on Reportage Online

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Johannesburg – my first taste of South Africa

I’ve lost count of number of people that told me not to spend any time in Johannesburg.  Going against their advice I’m here for 3-nights before heading north to Ngala, a private game reserve that borders Kruger National Park.

My first night in Jo’Burg was uneventful.  Staying at the Brown Sugar Backpackers I was collected from the airport and deposited safely in the hostel complex.  Some of the stories I’d heard about this city had obviously gotten to me – as I pfaffed for around an hour figuring out how and where to hide credit cards, passports etc in my private room, secured by thick steel grills on both doors and windows.

I spent Sunday doing a city tour.  We drove through the deserted CBD were apparently the government is negotiating with European businesses to re-open their offices in an attempt to breath some life back into the city centre.

view of Johannesburg from the "Top of Africa"From the “Top of Africa” viewpoint we could see the whole city.  The 2010 World Cup legacy is still strong with footballs as the ferris wheel compartments at Gold Reef City amusement park, football billboards everywhere and the 90,000 capacity Soccer City stadium looming large on the horizon.

Leaving the CBD behind we arrived in Soweto, South Africa’s most famous township.

On first impressions it could have been any suburb in Middle America or Western Sydney.  The houses were brick, with satellite dishes and fenced gardens.  Gone were the razor wire topped fences and CCTV cameras that were on every house in the street where I’m staying.

According to our guide Chris, the Soweto community looks out for each other and if there’s a crime committed the community usually address it before the police can arrive.

Those in Soweto’s moneyed class are known as ‘black diamonds’ and there are footballers, musicians and politicians all living in the township of 3.5million.  Not all are as fortunate and the divide between “have’s” and “have not’s” in this community is almost as big as I saw in Nairobi, Kampala and Accra.

At the poverty end of the spectrum unemployment, HIV and boredom are a vicious cycle.  There are heaps of funeral services advertisements and with a 40% HIV rate, numerous shootings and car accidents they are much in demand businesses.

The only white people that live in Soweto are volunteers – mostly in the hospitals and schools – and despite a burgeoning tourism industry, we were still a novelty in our car and drew stares and comments from the locals as we drove through.

These girls have only known Soweto and their mother looking for work

We did a short walking tour through one of the poorer areas where many new arrivals try to find a place to stay.  There is no electricity or running water and the residents use generators or solar panels to power their TVs and radios.  It’s gas burners for cooking and most houses have a small veggie patch.

We met one resident who lived in a two-room house with her husband and four children.  The kids all slept in the kitchen/TV/Bedroom and the second room doubled as the master bedroom, communal wardrobe, pantry and storage room.

What surprised me was the quality of the bed linen – everything was colour coordinated and the cleanliness of the entire space.  They family have lived in the same house for 17 years and the mother has been looking for work the entire time.  I asked her what she would like to do and she said “cleaning, anything”… if the state of her house was anything to go by, she’d be an excellent addition to a family needing domestic help.

Before leaving Soweto we stopped at 8115 Vilakazi St, Nelson Mandela’s house, where the exhibits of original furniture, clothes and letters were only just overshadowed by the quotes written around the tiny home.

I love this quote!

Not far from Mandela’s house was the Hector Pieterson Memorial and museum.  The museum’s photo, newspaper and video displays detail the events of 16th June 1976 when students of Soweto clashed with police during a demonstration against the change to teaching in Afrikaans in schools.

After Soweto we went to the Apartheid museum.  With impressive, modern architecture, this museum had me close to tears.  After going through the ‘whites only’ entrance, the museum chronicles the political and social history of apartheid in South Africa.   Using installations, photos, video and a huge amount of text the exhibits took around 2hrs to get through and I was mentally exhausted when I got back into the car.

I haven’t been to any other museums this trip that have moved me as much as those in Johannesburg.  At the end of the Apartheid museum, before the obligatory souvenir shop there’s a garden of reflection.

After my day in Johannesburg, trying to understand the elements of recent history that until how hadn’t really had an impact on me, I found myself reflecting on the role of journalism in development and the maintenance of basic human rights… maybe something I’ll look at for my masters thesis…

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