Sometimes you shouldn’t know what you’re getting yourself in for

– This is my entry for the Travelstart Blogger Experience Contest – 

It all happened quite fast. One moment I was in my room doing a hypothetical search for ways to spend a few weeks overseas and the next I was applying for my grownup passport’s first visa, I was buying things I’d never needed before like a tent and a backpack and I was waving goodbye to my mom through the airport glass that separates the ones left home from the ones leaving.

I was young, fearless and off on what I could only imagine was going to be a grand adventure.

Yet I still didn’t quite know where I was going. I’d only heard of the island of Crete two weeks before when the headline ‘Sea turtle volunteering in Greece’ grabbed my attention on the millionth Google search page. I knew I was going to the outskirts of a small town on the coast of the island and I knew I was going to spend a month camping in a public campsite with people from all over the world. I knew there were two planes, one ferry, three buses and a bit of walking to do to get there but I didn’t know how these places looked and I hadn’t checked the names of the routes and the streets. I just went.

Thankfully I made it to the campsite okay. It was early morning when I arrived and there was no movement around the tents and caravans. I wandered slowly in between the trees, understandably tired after 48 hours spent travelling, and I found a sandy path that seemed to lead to a beach. The next moment I found myself surrounded by deserted white sand that didn’t seem to have an end, whichever way you looked. The Mediterranean sprawled out in front of me, and except for the gently rippling morning tide, there was complete silence. I was alone in a place I’d never even imagined and I couldn’t be happier.

I won’t share the details of the rest of the trip. Just know that there was early morning beach monitoring followed by freshly baked bread from the local bakery, there were seven different languages sharing tents and stories and a life lived in denim shorts and bikinis, all the while working to protect the endangered Loggerhead sea turtles. Just know that it was a trip of a lifetime.

It’s sometimes better not knowing what you’re getting yourself in for. I would never have had experienced that exact moment on the beach – and the many inspired moments to follow – if I’d planned everything down to the street names and I still think that there is no better way to travel. Too much planning causes too many frowns and too little fascination. It reveals all the breathtaking secrets of your destination before you even board the plane.

It’s four years later and whenever I find myself worrying about the logistical aspects of a trip – like where I’ll find my next taxi – I remember how I dived headfirst into that first trip and how everything wowed me. For now, just go, you can sort out the details when you get there.

greece

greece-2

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A grand adventure to Lake Malawi

When someone asks you where you’d go if you had £1000 to spend on a grand adventure, your mind instinctively goes to the furthest, most exotic place imaginable, because the further away you get from home, the more different the environment and its people, right? Well, not exactly.

When I got posed with this question of a Grand Adventure (supported by MoneySupermarket.com) anywhere in the world that needs to last as long as possible, without exceeding £1000, I could think of no better place than a tiny little country on my home continent of Africa – Malawi.
Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

In Cape Town we live in a fully functional (rather beautiful) city with cars, traffic lights, a very busy and successful business district, bars, hotels and anything else you might associate with a city. Although it’s still Africa, I can’t say that I truly know Africa. Therefore I would love to backpack up the coast of Lake Malawi, a 885km trip, stopping at the many beachside backpackers along the way. Not only is this something completely different from my home and all my previous travels, but I’ll be taking a responsible tourism trip, supporting the local communities, eating locally and using public transport. Isn’t that just the perfect pretext for a more than grand adventure?

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi takes up a third of this small inland country also known as the Warm Heart of Africa. The people here are incredibly friendly and happy to help a wandering backpacker. From what I hear, the transport is an adventure in itself. It ranges between buses, matolas (local minibus services), ferries and the back of pickup trucks and it’s guaranteed to always be filled over capacity with anything from people and their baggage to chickens and fresh produce.

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

I’ll start my journey in the south at Monkey Bay and Cape Maclear. The latter is said to be any backpacker’s ultimate paradise. Getting here I’ll take a bus from one of the major cities like Lilongwe or Blantyre. I’ll then join Kayak Africa on a trip to the completely uninhabited islands of Domwe and Mumbo, kayaking there, spending a night on each and missioning back. If I’m visiting at the right time, I’d love to go to Lake of Stars at this point. It’s a three day music, arts and culture festival and I hear it’s incredible. After this I’ll travel north to Kande Beach and on to Senga Bay where the woman who runs the local backpackers is also a nurse who helps out in the community. She encourages everyone visiting to donate blood and it sounds like the perfect way to give back. From here I’ll travel to the tiny Likoma Island and its single backpackers on the lake shores and then move on to the incredibly Nkhata Bay in the northern region of the lake.

Lake Malawi

The backpackers are all situated on the shores of the lake, with endless stretches of sand to laze on and every water sport you can think of. It’s also the cheapest place in the world to get your diving license which means endless adventurous opportunities. Most of the backpackers are situated within a village or community and many of them are eco-friendly. Getting from the southern regions to the north, I’ll take the iLala ferry where you can camp on the open deck if you don’t feel like the crowded main area.

Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

I’m not planning how many days to spend in each place. The places I’m planning to visit aren’t even final yet. I’m playing it by ear. If I hear of another beautiful spot up the coast then I’ll just slot it into my plan.

Lake Malawi

So here’s an estimate of how far I’ll get with my £1000

Bus to Monkey Bay – £7

Ilala Ferry – £8 max

Dorm bed at backpackers – £4 – £10

Food budget per day – £7

Domwe Island trip – £36

Mumbo Island trip – £120

Lake Malawi

This gives me at least a month to travel as I please. It also gives me the opportunity to travel the way I feel is the best way to travel – by taking my time. No rushing past a place, no single night sleepovers and no cramming a million activities into one day. I’ll have the chance to truly experience this lake and its surroundings, and who knows, I might even have money to spare to explore the capital or some of the other towns in Malawi.


 Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi

I’m excited just sitting here and I’m hoping that my new year’s resolution to see more of my own continent will finally come true. I’ll even make the promise to blog my way up the coast, keeping everyone at home updated about this sure-to-be-memorable adventure.

 This blog is my competition entry for MoneySupermarket’s A Grand Adventure project. Read more by clicking here.

Lake Malawi
Lake Malawi
Photos courtesy of Sarah Duff and Tyson Jopson

The best bookstore in the world so far: Shakespeare and Company

I’m a bit of a self-proclaimed book nerd. One of my most important missions in life is to one day have a room with wraparound bookcases filled to the brim with all kinds of amazing books. If you ever need to get rid of me, just drop me off at a bookstore.

So when my friendly friends had class one afternoon in Paris, they casually suggested I meet them at Shakespeare and Company afterward. I think this might’ve been my favourite activity in Paris.

paris

At that time I didn’t know the beautiful story of how the store started up, or that it actually dates back to 1951, but I just absolutely loved the feel of it. And the fact that I wanted to own every single book in there. I loved how they don’t have a separate (smallish) section for the classics but that these are shelved in between everything else. So this is where I bought my only souvenirs from Paris – two books and a tote bag. To remember the best bookstore that I’ve ever been to.

Things I eat part four – Paris

My trip to Paris really involved some delicious meals. My friends knew just where to go to find a meal that’s under 10 Euro but tasty at the same time. And although I’m usually someone who just walks into any place if it looks like it has a nice vibe to it, I’m glad we went on these little missions to find good food. It makes the meal more satisfying somehow.

First, there was Bob’s Kitchen, a cosy little spot where you can tuck into fresh, healthy and delicious food and freshly squeezed juices. We all had the veggie stew with roast veg, something that looked like barley, hummus, sesame seeds and other delicious things I can’t remember. This is a small stew (totally big enough for lunch) and it cost only 5.50 Euro. Even the New Yorkers working for Elle Magazine loved it. Check out their review here.

Next up was Paris’s Grande Mosque. Now I know I can see a mosque every day of the week – there are about three that are walking distance from my apartment – but this mosque is known for it’s cute little café and restaurant on the side. If you drink tea, you sit outside under the trees and watch the little birds flutter around. The mint tea is sweet, warm and yummy and the range of sweet treats is ridiculous. We didn’t know the name of any of it (and I still don’t) so here’s a picture. They were all pretty darn good.

And lastly, a baguette. You can’t go to paris and not have a baguette. This particular baguette was purchased in Montmartre. Paris hosts a very competitive baguette competition every year and the winning baguette gets served to the president at breakfast every morning. It’s quite a prestigious and sought after title. We picked out the 2011 winner, and although this particular sandwich is not the winning recipe, we bought a plain winner baguette too. Pretty good!

The people inside the Norte Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame de Paris is French for ‘Our lady of Paris‘ and it’s one of the first examples of French Gothic architecture. It’s truly a magnificent cathedral and it’s great to visit because it’s free, so you can take your time wandering along the aisles. I decided to experiment with taking pictures of the people exploring the cathedral – walking up and down, staring at the architecture and taking pictures of it. We visited in the afternoon, so the light shone beautifully through the stained glass windows. I like how the slow shutter speed made the people walking around into blurs.

paris france

paris france

paris france

paris france

paris france

paris france

Click here to check out an interesting view from the outside of the Norte Dame as well as the Eiffel Tower from the Seine River.

Things I eat part three – Paris

In Paris I happened to eat food that wasn’t necessarily typically French. But it was still pretty darn good. My friends have been staying there for a few months and they’ve either heard of, or visited, places that are either full of character and charm or places that serve delicious meals at an affordable price. I quickly had to get used to the idea that an affordable meal in Paris is around 10 Euro, but after that is was smooth sailing.

My first restaurant meal in Paris happened to be Cambodian. We went to Le Petit Cambodge and I loved the Bubon. It’s a hot and cold salad with everything from carrots and coleslaw to glass noodles, beef and nuts. Super yummy and very nutritious, compared to the things I’ve been eating the last week or so. A great find.

paris france

That evening, we went scouring for a vibrant little tea room in Le Marais district. It’s called Le noir dans le Therier and it’s a cosy spot where people seem to sit for hours, finishing up a pot of tea while tucking into a slice of cake. The range of teas are endless, but I can say with confidence that the Darjeeling was pretty memorable. The chocolate tart speaks for itself.

paris france

The next day I couldn’t help but stop at one of the tuck shop type of stores you find at almost every metro station. Coffee with milk was at the order of the day and I learnt that coffees here are much smaller (and stronger) that what I’m used to back home. I like that you always get a sweet or a cookie with your coffee.

paris france

An unexpected musical treat in Montmartre

You know you’ve arrived at Montmartre when you start climbing the steps that culminate in the beautiful Basilica of the Sacré Cœur. When the three of us finally arrived at the top we needed a moment to catch our breath before we were able to start exploring this vibrant hilltop district of the artists. While this was happening, one friend was clever enough to notice a band setting up on the last few steps leading up the Sacré Cœur. I’ll be lying if I say that I can remember their name, but they come from the UK and they had a great indie-folk vibe to them. Complete with banjo and double bass. It created the perfect mood for our wanderings and it was such a lovely and unexpected treat, especially considering the view. Definitely my highlight of Montmartre.

montmarte paris

montmarte paris

montmarte paris

montmarte paris

montmarte paris