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Assignment: Zambia

Beautiful Zambia: the "smoke that thunders"

Beautiful Zambia: the “Smoke That Thunders”, Victoria Falls

Well, no sooner was I back from my wonderful road trip in the States than I got a call from a BBC contact about a new assignment – in Zambia! With barely a week in the UK – and most of my stuff still packed in my suitcase! – I was suddenly skidding back to Heathrow and flying south towards Jo’burg, then on to Lusaka.

My last trip to Zambia, maybe 3 years ago, was an unforgettable journey, entering the country’s western border via Namibia’s Caprivi Strip and driving up through Livingstone with a stop-off to gaze in awe at the mighty Victoria Falls before exploring the endless delights of the Zambezi River. Coming back to Zambia, this time for work, has been an altogether different kind of experience – though no less memorable!

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location: shooting with the Zambian TV crew

I’ve been working as Consultant Producer on a UK AID/DFID-funded documentary being made by a Zambian documentary crew. I’ve had the privilege of working with this small team of local film-makers, seeing how they work and advising them on technical and creative aspects of the production. I can assure you, it’s been a learning curve for all of us! And working with them has once again afforded me the chance to see a country in a different way from your average tourist or traveller.

Filming in all kinds of locations from remote maize farms to local downtown markets and back-street nshima (Zambia’s staple dish) restaurants, we’ve met an amazing cross-section of people in a very short space of time. As ever, I’ve been struck by how little people survive on here in Africa, but how happy they are regardless – and wondered at the poverty that still exists, even in the heart of big developed cities like Lusaka.

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels

Exploring Lusaka on two wheels: not for the faint-hearted!

And of course, it wouldn’t be a proper trip without some forays out on two wheels. On my weekends off, I’ve been exploring under my own steam on a little Chinese-made 125cc bike that goes like a bomb and is great for dodging Lusaka’s burgeoning traffic – though nerves of steel and lightning-quick reflexes have been required on many an occasion: the combination of sudden pot-holes and things you wouldn’t expect to see shuffling across the tarmac (where did that one-legged woman come from?!) certainly made me feel well and truly alive out there on the road!

So it’s been work combined with a little bit of pleasure and, all too soon, my three-week stint here is coming to an end. I have a feeling I’ll be back here very soon, though. One way or another, Africa just keeps a-calling! :)

 
 

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US Adventure – The Grand Circle

Monument Valley - like a huge movie set!

Monument Valley – like a huge movie set!

Well what an amazing time I’ve had on my latest adventure here in the United States! Five days hiking the Grand Canyon in Arizona, a few days down at the 2014 Overland Expo – presenting my African Film Adventure and taking part in a couple of roundtable sessions, talking all things adventure – and ten days on the road touring “The Grand Circle” in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

Hiking the Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon

As ever, it was great to hook up with adventurous friends old and new at the Overland Expo. I had a blast presenting my African Film Adventure (last year’s Uganda expedition) – the session was pleasingly well-attended and it was such a boost to get positive feedback and questions from folks afterwards. Moderating the Africa/Middle East roundtable was also great fun, corralling speakers including Rene Cormier, Ron and Viv Moon and Fred Cook, as well as participating in the How To Integrate Travel Into Your Daily Life session (my key piece of advice, as it turned out, was “F*** it, just get out there!” which caused much mirth from the assembled crowd!). Huge thanks to the organisers for another fantastic event, and for inviting me to speak.

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southern Colorado

Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings in southern Colorado

Hitting the road after the Expo was what I’d been craving. I’ve always wanted to explore “The Grand Circle”, which apparently has the USA’s highest concentration of National Parks – and it certainly didn’t disappoint. I covered well over 1,500 miles and although every day presented a new and amazing vista, stand-outs for me were Monument Valley (Thelma and Louise country!), Utah’s Grand Staircase (which was like crossing a vast, empty alien planet), and Mesa Verde in Colorado, an archaeologist’s dream containing hundreds of amazingly-preserved Ancestral Puebloan villages dating from c.1200 AD. Incredible, all of it. 

Standing simultaneously in 4 states - Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

Standing simultaneously in 4 states – Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona!

As usual, I could have kept going forever – there’s something about being on the road, just travelling where you feel like from day to day, that’s incredibly freeing. But with just a few days of my trip left, it’s time to turn my wheels around and head back to Phoenix, and then I’m London-bound.

Once again, the US has delivered those wide open spaces I was seeking – and a whole lot more besides. I’ll be back soon, I’m sure of it. :)

 

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Adventures With Comic Relief

Capturing a story in Africa

Capturing a story in Africa

After coming back to the UK for a couple of weeks to consider my next move, I got an offer I couldn’t refuse: six weeks working as a Freelance Journalist for Comic Relief. This high-profile charity supports projects in the UK and overseas, mainly in Africa, and my job in the coming weeks is to gather stories from some of those projects to show how fundraisers’ money is being spent.

With Comic Relief’s Sport Relief 2014 campaign coming up (21st-23rd March), it’s a great opportunity to get some “good news stories” out there and I’m excited at the chance to be part of it.

My Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My regulation Comic Relief coffee mug :)

My first week has already been fantastically busy. I’ve interviewed a Ghanaian woman from a remote African village who pulled herself out of poverty to become President of one of the most successful Fairtrade cocoa farming co-operatives in Africa. I’ve covered a story about women being saved from the Nairobi slums by a project that promotes boxing as a way to combat social problems. And I’ve talked to a doctor in Ghana who’s at the forefront of delivering life-saving vaccines to remote village communities via the “cold chain” process. (Remember Ewan McGregor’s recent UNICEF Cold Chain Mission documentary on the BBC? It’s the same kind of thing.) Diverse work indeed – and I’m loving it!

After my 4 months in Uganda setting up Film Africa, a community film project for local people to share their stories using video, it’s fascinating seeing charity work from a different perspective and realising what’s involved, not just in the projects themselves, but in promoting awareness of their work. And as someone with a passion for Africa, I’m pleased to see so many people there benefitting from Comic Relief-funded programs.

So I’m throwing myself into the next few weeks. Apart from anything else, it’s a good opportunity to put some money in my pocket to help fund my next adventures. Because yes, as ever I’m cooking up some more overlanding exploits for 2014: more on that to come very soon… :-)

To find out more about what Comic Relief does and see how you can get involved in this year’s Sport Relief campaign: http://www.comicrelief.com.

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2014 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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African Film Adventure: The Final Week

Well, here I am at Kigali Airport, Rwanda, looking back over my final week in Uganda with Film Africa. Yes, after an incredible three months in Rubuguri, the last week has gone in a flash – and what a week it’s been!

Film Africa's first graduation ceremony

L to R: James, Justus, Amos, Kobs – here I am with Film Africa’s first graduates!

My first four Ugandan film trainees graduated with flying colours, becoming Film Ambassadors who will spread skills throughout their local community, as well as making their own short films. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved, and although it’s time for me to go, I’ll be remaining as Film Africa’s Project Director, so I can keep raising funds, equipment and awareness of the initiative, no matter where I am in the world!

In a second ceremony, the “stretcher groups” I’ve been teaching First Aid and disease prevention to also got their certificates. It was a wonderful community event and I felt so proud to have contributed something else in addition to the Film Africa work I’ve been doing – health education is desperately needed in this far-flung community and their appreciation of my teaching was so heartfelt. A wonderful day.

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

This fella was a natural poser for the camera!

I also went gorilla tracking in the gorgeous Mgahinga National Park right on the border with DR Congo – another one of those life experiences I will never forget. Scrambling around in the steep muddy rainforest to find the gorillas, accompanied by trackers hacking their way through the foliage with machetes, was memorable enough (!) – but finally coming across the gorillas in their natural habitat was surreal. The group were sitting up in the trees feeding, including a huge silverback, and unbelievably they seemed happy to pose for photos while we just sat down below observing them. The physical exertion it took to find these amazing creatures was more Bear Grylls than David Attenborough, it has to be said – but wow, was it worth it!

Saying goodbye to some of the kids

Saying goodbye to some of the local children

All up, my three months in rural Uganda has been an incredible experience and the people I’ve met here – fellow volunteers and locals – have been wonderful to work with. Very sad to leave…but I know I’ll be back!

And so, what next? Well, the plan is to head to London Heathrow via Doha, pick up my motorbike gear, and then go back to beautiful Andalucia, southern Spain, to plan my next adventure… See you on the other side!!

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Road Trip To The Ssese Islands

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

At the Equator, 100km from Kampala

After five weeks of pretty hard work setting up the Film Africa project here in Uganda, I decided it was time to take off for a few days and see what else this amazing country has to offer. And craving to see open water again, I decided on a trip overland to Lake Victoria to spend a few days in the glorious Ssese Islands.

With only a few days to spare, fellow volunteer Louise and I decided to split the cost to hire a car and driver. A wonderful guy called Godfrey, who’d driven us from the Rwandan border to our new home in Rubuguri, said he’d do the trip to and from Kampala/Entebbe ferry port for 1 million Ugandan shillings (about £250), which sounded like a bargain to us. So at 7am on Thursday morning, we hauled our luggage into Godfrey’s battered Toyota Corona and set off for the long haul northwards.

For the first two hours to Kabale, we enjoyed the notorious “African massage” as we bumped along precarious dirt tracks through the mountains around Bwindi. Early-morning cloud hung in the trees, giving everywhere a magical feel – we truly were “Muzungus in the mist”! When we finally hit tarmac – the first we’d seen for 5 weeks! – there was elation at the smoothness of the ride. The 10-hour journey overland to Kampala was a profusion of roadworks, dusty bustling towns, markets teeming with produce, and occasional wildlife-spotting.

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

The MV Kalangala to Buggala Island

After a night in bustling Kampala, we battled through the capital’s chaotic traffic to the Entebbe ferry port, to pick up the MV Kalangala across Lake Victoria to the Ssese Islands. The ferry was crammed with people, goats and all manner of produce – our First Class tickets afforded us a cushioned seat rather than just a wooden one, but otherwise we were squashed in alongside dozens of other passengers.

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Buggala, Ssese Islands

Three and a half hours later, here we are on gorgeous Buggala Island, the largest of the 84 Ssese Islands. I’m writing this by the lakeshore, sitting on a pristine white-sand beach with the soporific noise of the tide washing in and out. How wonderful it is to be back by water again!

The bird life here is extraordinary – I’ve already seen shoebills, herons, storks and dozens of other varieties in the past 24 hours (apparently there are 240 bird species here!). Vervet monkeys scamper all around us, watching us cheekily from high branches. The Mirembe Beach Resort we are staying in is basic but clean, and the overwhelming sensation here is of enjoying unspoilt natural beauty.

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Vervet monkeys scamper round the cottage

Looking out across the vastness of Lake Victoria, our home down in the mountains of the southwest seems a world away…

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2013 in Adventure Travel

 

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A Fork In The Road

Hey, hey. Well a week since my last post, it’s been all systems go as I start packing up my Melbourne apartment, ready to move on. Life’s become a whirlwind of op shop runs, Cash Converters dashes, and other cross-city errands to sell, trade or otherwise offload the vast majority of my material possessions. Furniture, car, household goods…all are gradually being “re-located” to new owners. And all I can think is: How the hell did I end up with so much stuff?!

Which way next?

Which way next?

Happily, Volty’s been keeping me sane – regular daily rides down the coast are my “Happy Pill”, as I feel the sea breeze through my helmet and riding jacket, and enjoy the sensation of freedom on the road all over again.

I’m making the most of these rides. I’m still undecided about whether to do a cross-Oz trip on the bike or head to Spain to cook up a whole new two-wheeled adventure exploring Europe and Africa. But right now, it has to be said, Europe’s looking like the more viable – and cost-effective – option. And that being the case… it means I’ll have to sell my beloved Suzuki in a couple of weeks. This is of course gutting – regular readers will know how much I love my TU250X – but having looked into shipping/freighting options, I just don’t think I can afford to take the bike with me. :(

On the up-side, once I’m in Andalucía I’ll hopefully be able to buy the new bike I’ve already got my eye on – the sturdy, characterful Suzuki Van Van – which hopefully will be the start of lots of new moto adventures! :)

At this fork in the road, I’m excited about what’s to come but also rather trepidatious about which road to take. It’ll be another week or so before I finally make up my mind – I’m going to enjoy the Adventure Travel Film Festival next weekend and then see how I feel after mingling with the great and good of the adventure world!

Whichever path I choose, I can’t wait to be out in the world again, exploring new places, meeting new people, and soaking up lots of fresh life experiences. Bring it on! 

 
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Posted by on February 8, 2013 in Adventure Travel, Motorcycling

 

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Cape Town and beyond…

Table Mountain at dawn, 1st Jan 2012

New Year’s Day 2012 and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than right here in beautiful Cape Town again. I’m typing this from the wonderful Victoria and Alfred Hotel, as the sun rises over majestic Table Mountain – surely one of the world’s great hotel-room views.

Last night, the waterfront throbbed with New Year’s Eve revellers – including me – soaking up the incredible backdrop amid a colourful melee of African singers, marimba players and, at midnight, the loudest and most prolonged firework display I think I’ve ever seen, right over the harbour.

For me, this is the start of my latest road trip adventure in Africa. In a couple of days, I’ll be heading north from the Mother City towards Springbok, then over the South African border into Namibia to cross the Namib Desert and explore the mighty dunes and – if I can make it that far – the mythical Skeleton Coast in the far North West of the country. It’ll be my third trip in Namibia and I can’t wait to be back there exploring its furthest reaches and really getting off the beaten track again.

Meantime, a rented 250cc motorbike is proving to be a fabulous way of exploring Cape Town and its environs. I’m heading down to Cape Point today, taking in some of my favourite haunts and hiking in the National Park at the southernmost tip of Africa. This really is the place for outdoor adventures and I intend to make the most if it.

Happy New Year, y’all – and here’s to a 2012 filled with adventures great or small! Must dash, Africa awaits… :)

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in Adventure Travel

 

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