Tag Archives: road trip

No Fixed Abode: 18 Months Living Out Of A Suitcase

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia

Soaking up the sun in Andalucia, southern Spain

As many of you know, in March 2013 I left Melbourne – quit my job and my rented apartment, sold all my stuff including my car and beloved Suzuki motorbike – and, with no “Grand Plan” or itinerary in mind, threw myself, for better or worse, into the big wide world. Armed with a suitcase and some savings, my self-appointed remit was simply “to live a little”. Eighteen months on, I’m sitting here in a little cafe on the sunny Andalucian coast, sipping an Americano and looking back on what a year and a half it’s been.

Gorgeous Granada

Gorgeous Granada

I kicked things off last year with a couple of months in beautiful Granada, soaking up its gorgeous Moorish architecture and ambience, indulging in tapas and southern Spanish wines, and generally living la vida loca for a bit. All very nice – but soon I was itching to DO something and, after heading to London in the hope of scoring some casual work with a charity such as UNICEF, I found just the challenge I’d been looking for…

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Getting to grips with a Ugandan boda boda!

Bring on 4 months in the farthest reaches of Uganda and Rwanda, near the border with the Congo, working with a small British NGO to set up a community film initiative for local people, teaching them video skills to enable them to tell their own stories about their lives, culture and key issues like health and education. I was plunged into a surreal and challenging life in a remote town with no running water or electricity. I filmed with a local pygmy tribe, had a heap of adventures involving 125cc Chinese motorbikes and some of the roughest terrain I’ve ever been on, and helped pioneer “pedal power cinema” (screening films in remote areas where, in the absence of electricity, you use a common or garden pushbike attached to a dynamo to generate power to run a DVD player!). Not to mention spending time with gorillas…

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

With the Comic Relief crew in Ghana

Coming back into “civilisation” after all that made me all the more appreciative of the simple things in life (light switches, showers, internet, Suzuki motorbikes…) and Christmas back in Granada saw me making the most of all these things and more! Early in the New Year, I landed some freelance work at Comic Relief‘s London HQ – and barely a week into the job, they posted me out to Ghana to oversee some vloggers making YouTube films about some of the charities Comic Relief funds in the capital, Accra, and in remote Tamale, near the Guinea border. I was the proverbial “pig in shit”, loving being back in Africa so soon and enjoying, once again, being able to act as a mentor, this time to two young film-makers.

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

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

After some work on the Sport Relief 2014 campaign and a few months overseeing, amongst other things, a documentary about the Street Child World Cup, shot in Brazil, India and Tanzania, it was time to hit the road again – this time in the good old US of A, yeeha! I’d been invited to be a presenter at the Overland Expo in Arizona, speaking about my Uganda/Rwanda Film Adventure, and decided to combine this with a road trip through some of the surrounding states for a few weeks. After a great time catching up with fellow travellers at the Expo, I spent some time hiking through the mighty Grand Canyon before hitting the road to travel through Utah, Colorado and New Mexico and some of the most memorable and challenging scenery I’ve ever encountered.

On location with the Zambian TV crew

On location with the Zambian TV crew

All too soon, my money was starting to run out again and it was time to look for some more work. Back in London, though, work was proving pretty tough to find – until yet again, the travel gods smiled, and a contact at the BBC emailed me about an opportunity to consultant produce on a series of documentaries being made in Zambia. Again, this was an offer too good to miss –  I found myself winging my way to Lusaka for a few weeks to work with a local Zambian documentary team on a UK Aid/DFID-funded film. It was very challenging work but after delivering a first film that “exceeded expectations”, they asked me back to oversee a second documentary – so back I went to Zambia!

Jeanie at Grand Canyon 2013

There’s adventure out there somewhere…

All of which brings things pretty much up to date and finds me here in Spain, sitting by the Mediterranean Sea, contemplating what’s going to happen next. Looking back on the last year and a half, it’s been a roller-coaster of unforeseen opportunities and adventures that I could not have imagined before leaving Australia last March. I won’t lie, though – as a wise man (or woman?!) once said, “you can’t have the ups without the downs”: there have been more than a few hairy moments when I’ve had to stretch my money to the max and tighten the old belt considerably to make ends meet. Plus, living out of a suitcase as I have been – staying with friends, in cheap B&Bs, remote African village with no amenities (!), calling home “wherever I lay my hat” – is not always as glamorous and fancy-free as it sounds: sometimes you just want to be “home” somewhere, surrounded by all your own “stuff” again. But as all you long-term travellers out there well know, once you get a taste for “life on the road” – the freedom, the feeling of being truly “alive”, the chance that there’ll be another adventure just round the next corner – it’s pretty addictive.

So what next? Well, like I said at the beginning, there’s no itinerary and no “Grand Plan.” The next chapter is, quite literally, waiting to be written. What I can say is that it will take just one phone call, one chance email, or one random encounter, to set me on the road to the next adventure. Can’t wait to see how it’s gonna turn out…! 🙂

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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…

Adventures In Andalucía

Well after a whirlwind exit from Melbourne and with everything I own either sold, in storage or in the suitcase I’m now travelling with, I find myself in gorgeous Granada. It’s been a few weeks of good living here as my great friend Paula and I have made the most of everything that’s so wonderful about Spain – tapas, vino tinto, picture-postcard scenery, fascinating history, and the quintessentially Iberian laid-back approach to life.

Cadiz, city of intrigue

Cadiz, city of intrigue

I’m missing my motorbike, of course – but happily we’ve got a car for a bit and have been doing some great road-trips to some of Andalucía’s most beautiful areas. We drove via Gibraltar and Tarifa to Cádiz in the west of the province – a magical city where the cobbled lamp-lit alleyways and fading centuries-old buildings reek of sailor’s stories and shenanigans from times gone by.

Following a tip-off from a friend, we then headed north to El Puerto de Santa Maria to seek out the Bodegas Obregón and sample their extraordinary sherries – fino, amontillado, and my favourite, the “Oloroso.

Mmmm, sherry....

Mmmm, sherry….

Warmed by a few tipples – and with a case in the boot! – we then drove the incredible Pueblos Blancos (White Villages) route, along precarious twisty roads climbing up through steep mountain passes leading to gorgeous whitewashed villages like Grazalema and Ronda.

The road to Grazalema

The road to Grazalema

After getting hopelessly lost as darkness descended, we arrived late to friends with a villa in La Viñuela, a tiny village somewhere north-east of Málaga and shared sherry, cheese and stories from the road with them until the small hours. Next morning, we woke to the sound of birds and the sight of more green rolling hills generously dotted with little white cottages. Bliss.

So as you can probably tell, it’s all good here in Spain! It’s still winter here, with chilly temperatures and a lot of rain, so I’ve already made a conscious decision to hold off getting a bike until the weather improves a bit. I also need to do more research into whether I’ll hire or buy and the places I want to explore, both here in Spain and further afield. I’ve seen a few Suzuki Van Vans but, having had a preview of the kinds of roads that are out there, I’m already starting to wonder if one would be cut out for Europe, North Africa and beyond.

Still, plenty of time to figure all that out. First, another fino and a generous helping of tapas, I think… 🙂

The Call Of The Open Road

My new pride and joy at a coffee stop on our first ride

As some of you already know, I received news at the weekend that UNICEF have had to cancel our India motorcycle adventure. This came out of the blue and for those of us on the team who were already getting excited about the trip, it’s been a huge blow. It was a hard decision for UNICEF, but ultimately they weren’t able to recruit enough team members to make the trip financially viable. Such a shame.

With uncanny timing, the news from UNICEF coincided with the day of delivery of my new Suzuki motorbike – a gorgeous new retro-style TU250X – and being back on two wheels again has compensated somewhat for the India trip being shelved.

A 100-km spin down the coast round Phillip Bay on a beautiful sunny Sunday was enough to get me out of my funk and remind me that the simple pleasures in life are really what count. A couple of hours on the bike and the world opened up to me again. It’s true what they say: motorcycling really is good for the soul. 

“Volty”‘s odometer on delivery – time to put some miles on that clock, eh?!

The Melbourne weather hasn’t exactly been conducive to riding this week – freezing temperatures, hailstones and gales: always favourites with the biker! But that hasn’t stopped me turning my thoughts already to longer trips on the motorbike. With India fading from my mind, new adventures are starting to fill my head, the maps are back out on the table, and my head is racing again with possibilities.

One adventure may have gone away, but rest assured another is already being warmed up. Watch this space… 🙂

Desert Road Trip: Namibia

On the road in Namibia, January 2012

Well here I am on the road yet again in glorious Namibia – an intriguing, vast and utterly remote country. And I’ve gotta say, I’m loving every moment of this challenging desert road trip.

Namibia’s gravel roads have proved – yet again – to be endless and unforgiving. I’ve already had a major tyre blowout crossing the Namib Desert. Thankfully I was able to limp the car on its three good wheels into a village about 15kms away called Bethanie, where a friendly white Namibian called Phillip spotted my problem and helped me change the mangled tyre in scorching 40-degree heat – watched by an ever-growing crowd of locals enjoying the ensuing excitement in their dusty, sleepy old town. It was a timely reminder that the desert needs respect at all times. I’d gotten confident driving on the gravel – picking up speed to lessen the shudder-effect of the corrugations – and one lapse of concentration combined with a moment of ill luck cost me dear this particular day.

Showing off my new set of wheels (!) at the Canon Roadhouse, Namib Desert

Back on the road, the desert’s charms have been captivating me just as they did on my first visit. Out here, it’s so quiet – apart from the sudden gusts of warm desert winds – and the remoteness is all the more striking for being out here on my own. It’s by turns exciting and terrifying to realise just how far from civilisation I am. Well worth a busted tyre any day of the week.

I could wax lyrical about the mighty Fish River Canyon, the sheer orange dunes of Sossuvlei, or the eerie, misty majesty of the Skeleton Coast, for they are indeed incredible natural wonders to behold. But in fact it’s the simple experience of crossing the desert – this raw land full of ever-changing colours and terrains – that is perhaps the most captivating of all. For sure, there are sights to see – albeit thousands of kilometres apart! – but more than anything I’m revelling in simply travelling across this remote desert wilderness, alone and unfettered. Just me and the mighty desert.

As usual, I’m hamstrung by time – the bane of all of us who must work to fund these sporadic adventures into the wilderness. After a few weeks on the road, it’s time for me to turn my wheels back towards South Africa to head back to Cape Town, and thence back to Australia. Till then, I’m going to savour these last days on the road – they’re what keep me alive when I’m office-bound once more.