6 ways to create summer holiday vibes in your living room during lockdown

I recently applied for a role with a brand that I love. I went above and beyond in making myself stand out at the application stage and I’m pleased to say that my efforts didn’t go unnoticed. I was one of 13 people chosen to attend an interview – of over 1,100 applicants – and although I made it through to the second round of interviews; unfortunately, I wasn’t successful this time around.

One of my interview pre-tasks was to write a short blog post about ‘How to create summer holiday vibes in your living room during lockdown.’ The blog post had to be 300 words or less and as I was writing for the brand’s website, I had to keep in mind their aesthetic and tone of voice. I’d like to share my final version with you here:

It’s November; we’re eight months into a global pandemic, the nights are pulling in, and if you’re like us, you haven’t had a summer holiday since what feels like 1992.

There’s nothing better, or more awesome than travelling. While we can’t travel (without a negative coronavirus test) for the foreseeable future, we can pop a brightly coloured, stripy and sand resistant towel over our shoulder and head into the living room. That’s right; we’re here to tell you how to create summer holiday vibes in the comfort of your own home!

  1. Create your own cabana – it’s like fort building, but for adults. Use your favourite towels to turn your sofa into something that looks like it wouldn’t look out of place on a beach in Bali.

  2. Listen to our Summer Holi-stay playlist – we’ve created the ultimate playlist for you to jam out too. Dance like you’re in Ibiza or, like no-ones watching. Listen here.
  3. Put together a fruit platter – is there anything better than fresh fruit on a beach in 30°C heat? Fresh pineapple, coconut, watermelon. DROOL!
  4. Cocktail making – we can’t promise unlimited alcohol or  even a bar, but making your own cocktails can be fun! Margaritas anyone? And if you don’t drink alcohol, there’s always Fanta Lemon.

  5. Transport yourself with flavour – why not re-create a meal from your favourite holiday, or try cooking something new. All else fails, there’s always a takeaway!
  6. Watch the perfect sunset – on YouTube, that is. Transport yourself to anywhere in the world and watch some of the best sunsets, from your sofa/newly built cabana. Santorini, South Africa, Australia – the (virtual) world is your oyster!

For more staycation inspiration, updates and offers, follow us on social media.

14 must-pack items for your Africa Overland trip

Packing for something that you’ve never done before can be tricky. For me, camping in Africa is the furthest of any travel experience I’ve had. I had this vision that I would be dressed head to toe in khaki, with binoculars around my neck. But, after splashing out on a 15-day overland tour of Southern Africa, I couldn’t afford a pair of binoculars, and I didn’t have the luxury of space in my 65L backpack.

So, through trial and error, here’s my list of what you should pack, before your undies:

  1. Sleeping bag – I haven’t owned a sleeping bag since I was seven and sleeping on the floor of my friends’ bedrooms, so I had to do a little research. Turns out there are a lot of variables when purchasing a sleeping bag, including its material, shape and temperature rating. As I was travelling in April/May (Fall into Winter), I went for one with a good nights sleep temperature of 10°C, and it worked perfectly. Any later in the year and I would suggest a sleeping bag liner too.
  2. Headtorch – I surprised myself with not only how often I used my headtorch, but also how much I relied on it. We weren’t always pitched close to the campsite toilets and so when you’re trying to find the bathrooms at 3 am, it’s good to know that it’s a group of greater kudu up ahead, and not a pack of lions – true story!
  3. Earplugs & sleep mask – If you’re travelling as part of a group like I was, there’s always the chance that there will be that one person that snores, and loud too. Also, as incredible as the birds in Africa are, their early morning songs will leave you wanting to throw a pillow over your head. The sleep mask is for the one morning you’re allowed to sleep past the rising of the sun!
  4. ‘Campsite’ shoes or flip flops – For ease of getting in and out of your tent and to/from the campfire/toilets.
  5. Quick-dry towel – If you’re travelling to Africa, or anywhere in the world, without a quick-dry towel, you’re doing it wrong. Since somebody gifted me a Dock and Bay quick-dry towel, I’ve not travelled without it. They’re light and compact so take up little space/weight in your backpack, they’re super absorbent, and they dry quick time, which means no more damp, smelly clothes when travelling!
  6. Water filtration bottle – Most travellers rely on their accommodation to provide filtered water or will buy plastic bottles (after plastic bottles) to ensure safe drinking water. The former isn’t convenient, while the latter does nothing good for the environment. Instead, I brought a Brita fill&go Active Water Bottle for my trip; however, I’ve also used Water-to-Go when travelling. It meant that I could fill up and pretty much instantly drink water from almost any source, including rivers. I’m happy to report I had no issues when using my filtration water bottle – no funny tummy or otherwise. Whatever water filtration bottle you choose,  just make sure you drink plenty.
  7. Camera with extra batteries & big data SD cards – I purchased a backup battery pack, especially for my trip to Africa. I knew that not only would I be using my camera more than usual (have you seen how photogenic Africa is?) but that I would be gutted if I missed out on an epic photograph because I was too busy charging other devices and neglected my camera. I also made sure that I had plenty of storage space because I didn’t want to scrimp on space for photos. I knew that once a herd of Elephants were in front of me, I wouldn’t hold back on clicking the shutter – and I can confirm that I didn’t!
  8. Long pants – I wish someone had told me how necessary long pants were before I left. I wore ¾ leggings when doing a walking safari in the Okavango Delta and came away with more than just incredible memories – bright red scratches all over my ankles/lower legs.
  9. Closed-toe shoes – For obvious reasons, I wore my closed-toe shoes when doing anything outside of the campsite. Ensure they’re comfortable as possible and are terrain friendly.
  10. Bum bag/fanny pack – My bum bag didn’t leave my waist the entire time I was travelling. Not only did it mean that I had easy access to my money, phone and GoPro, but that I wasn’t lugging a day pack everywhere I went.
  11. Personal entertainment – When doing an overland tour of Africa, bus travel is a large part of your travel experience. With wifi being intermittent throughout Africa, the best approach is to do all of your downloading before you leave home. Make sure your music is available offline and take advantage of Netflix and download an entire boxset to your phone. Fill up your kindle with the latest rom-com’s, keep a journal of your trip or try a podcast. Whatever you choose, just make sure you have enough entertainment to pass the time on the days where you’re on the road for eight or nine hours. Saying this, don’t forget to look out the window – you don’t know what you may miss!
  12. Power bank & convertors – Each seat on ‘The Lando’ came with its own USB charging point, and there were a set of plugs in the back for other/larger devices. However, my power bank ensured that my phone was always full of juice. Also, make sure you pack at least a couple of the appropriate plug convertors for the countries you’re visiting or invest in a universal plug adaptor, so you can have everything fully charged for the adventures.
  13. Hat & sunnies – You’ll be out in the sun a lot, and it’s hot, so bring a hat and sunnies to protect your face.
  14. First-aid kit – Travelling to remote towns and villages does mean that certain things will be scarce or just simply unavailable. It’s therefore essential to have reliable and direct access to basic things like antiseptic cream, bandaids, painkillers and anti-diarrhoea medication in the form of a small first aid kit. I made sure that my first aid kit included the following: lip balm with sunscreen, sunscreen, paracetamol, ibuprofen, bandaids, antihistamines, antibacterial wipes, alcohol-based hand gel, antiseptic cream, Imodium, rehydration powder and insect repellent. Sunscreen is expensive in Africa, so make sure you buy it before you leave.

Highlights of Jordan

I posted my second YouTube video today and I’d love for you to check it out. The four-minute ‘GoPro Shorts’ video features some of the experiences I had when travelling on the eight-day G Adventures Highlights of Jordan tour.

The tour is marketed as ‘ideal for the traveller who is short on time but wants to soak up the colours, culture and history’ of this small Middle Eastern country. It certainly did what it said on the tin – and then some.

We explored ancient sights and lost cities, camped overnight in a Bedouin tent. We took in Petra’s fascinating history and relaxed in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea.

Have you travelled to Jordan? Let me know in the comments below:

Five things I learnt from watching David Attenborough: A Life on our Planet

As soon as I discovered that David Attenborough’s new film ‘A Life on our Planet’ would have a limited cinema release, I booked myself a ticket. The world premiere event was scheduled to take place at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Thursday 16th April 2020 and would broadcast LIVE to cinemas across the UK and Europe. David Attenborough was then set to be joined live on stage by some special guests for a discussion on some of the most prevalent issues raised in the film.

This, of course, didn’t happen. Like many things, the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, five months later, the movie aired for one-night-only in cinemas across the UK.

The film tells the story of life on our planet by the man who has seen more of the natural world than any other. David Attenborough uses his lifetime to show us just how different the world is now from when he was born in 1926, and he is visibly saddened by his own vision for the future of our planet. However, he does offer hope for future generations.

So, what did I learn from watching this honest and revealing documentary, which serves as David Attenborough’s witness statement for the natural world? The familiar, soothing voice of a man that we all admire taught me:

  1. The world is not as wild as it once was. Since the 1950s, wild animal populations have more than halved. Humans have destroyed the non-human world.
  2. We’re replacing the wild with the tame. Half of the fertile land on earth is now farmland. 70% of the mass of birds are domestic birds, the vast majority of which are chickens. We, as humans, account for over 1/3 of the weight of mammals on earth. A further 60% are the animals that we raise to eat. The rest, from mice to whales, make up just 4%. This planet is now run by humankind – for humankind. There is little left for the rest of the living world.
  3. A sixth mass extinction event is well underway. Scientists predict that if nothing changes, we face a series of one-way doors, bringing irreversible change. Within the span of the next lifetime, the stability and security of the four seasons will be lost.
  4. Don’t waste anything, don’t waste electricity, don’t waste food, don’t waste power. Treat the natural world as though it’s precious, which it is, and don’t squander the bits that each of us have control of.
  5. We must re-wild the world. To restore stability to our planet, we must restore its biodiversity. The very thing that we as humans have removed.

David Attenborough: A Life on our Planet is available on Netflix from 4th October 2020.

Eastern Trail

I finally did it, I took the plunge and uploaded my first YouTube video! It’s nothing fancy, simply a GoPro short of my time travelling Eastern Europe with Contiki. I look forward to making more of these and eventually transitioning to ‘proper’ YouTube videos. In the meantime, you can check my first video out here:

The tour featured is the nine-day Eastern Trail, and takes in seven European countries: Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. The full itinerary can be found here.

Gateway to India

Like many, I have spent much of lockdown dreaming of not only when I can travel again, but where I will travel too. Stunning images of destinations near and far have filled my Instagram feed; Turkey, Greece, Hawaii, Vietnam, Australia. Although unlike ‘before’ many of the images are from locals rather than tourists and I have to say, I’m rather enjoying seeing a destination from a locals perspective. It’s refreshing for my explore page to be filled with authentic images rather than those that are staged for the ultimate amount of likes and comments.

One destination that has come up, again and again, is India. A destination that has been pretty low on my travel bucket list, until now. The India that is my imagination; colourful, chaotic and exotic exists alongside tigers, temples, palaces and bazaars. However, it’s the everyday side of India that has caught my imagination; here are the Instagram accounts of some of my favourite locals:

Harswaroop captures a different view of the Pink City with the intricate beauty of this doorway found in the capital of India’s Rajasthan state. Jaipur evokes the royal family that once ruled the region and the City Palace and Hawa Mahal (Jaipur’s most-distinctive landmark) dominate social media feeds. However, it’s the marvellous doors of the inner courtyard of the City Palace that caught my attention. Pictured here is the Lehariya Gate, the vivid green represents the green of Spring season and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha.

Jalebis, captured by Shourya, is a sweet snack found all over India and are made by deep-frying maida flour batter in pretzel or circular shapes, it’s then soaked in sugar syrup, and can be served warm or cold.

Located in Kolkata, the Mallick Ghat Flower Market is the largest in the whole of India. The flower market is over 130 years old, and people travel from all over the city and suburbs to sell flowers here. It is primarily for people who want to pick up flowers for temple offerings and prayers. This image, captured by Jyoti, captures the organised chaos of the market perfectly.

This image from Ashwani highlights just one of the many modes of transport available to locals in India. Captured in Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state, this bus transports locals daily from their homes to their place of employment.

Dhobi Ghat is Mumbai‘s 140-year-old, open-air laundromat and it is estimated that each day over half a million pieces of clothing are sent here from hotels, hospitals, and homes, for the over 200 traditional laundrymen to wash. It’s an impressive operation and one that warrants hard work, which Navya has captured well with this photo.

Khari Baoli Wale, located in Delhi, is the largest spice market in the whole of Asia. Narrow lanes, covered by hessian sacks, are packed with huge parcels of herbs and spices. Electric red chillies, vibrant yellow turmeric and bright green cardamoms are just some of the spices included in the eye-catching displays. However, there is more to the market than large crowds and an overwhelming abundance of smells, like the sunset from the market’s rooftop as captured by Deepak.

It’s hard not to visit the Taj Mahal and capture an ‘Instagram’ photo. Other than the fact that it wasn’t, the building was built for Instagram. I’m sure, like mine, that your feed is filled with the signature image of the Taj Mahal – tourists sat on the iconic bench in front of the Taj Mahal. While that’s great and a must-do, it’s so refreshing to see a different angle of the Taj Mahal, like this one from Romita from North East India. The lighting cast on the exterior of the building is perfect, and the detail featured shows off the immaculate building, built to serve as a memorial for Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631.

Thanks to these locals, India has made it’s to the top of my list of planned travel destinations for 2021. Being such a large country, I know I won’t cover it all. If you’ve made it to India before, where do you recommend I don’t miss? Let me know in the comments below!

Rio Carnival 101

When I booked my Rio Carnival 2020 holiday in late 2018, it was somewhat a spur of the moment thing. I was working on a Rio Carnival creative piece at work and my friend and then colleague, Kim, was getting excited for her own upcoming trip to Brazil. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with my local independent travel agent, securing a space on a tour that I hadn’t done any research on!

Now, if you’re a friend of mine you’ll know that I’m typically an avid planner. Having worked in the travel industry for a number of years, I know how to research and plan a trip, and I know how to do it well. Saying this, I just didn’t have the motivation or urge to want to research much ahead of this particular trip. In retrospect, I think it was because I was part of a small group tour and knew that I’d have the help on the ground if I needed it.

Being a solo female traveller, I always knew I wanted the security of a group while experiencing Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and Carnival. I had travelled with G Adventures previously and had had a wonderful time, and so it just made sense that I book my Carnival experience with them.

Fast forward 12 months. A new job, a new home and a new relationship meant that I was no longer a solo female traveller. During our first date, my boyfriend and I discovered that we were both travelling to Brazil in 2020 for Carnival. We were both departing from London on the same day, at the same time, on the SAME FLIGHT! (I mean what are the chances?) We joked that it would be an awkward flight if things didn’t work out, but luckily for me (and I like to think for him too), they did. We decided that as I was already confirmed on a tour, he would simply add himself on and we’d experience Carnival together with G Adventures.

Fast forward to March 2020, and we’re home from what was an incredible trip. Carnival really is everything that everyone says it is – and so much more. I don’t think there are enough words to describe just how phenomenal the experience was. It’s something that I think everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.

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As we were part of a small group tour, the stress of purchasing Carnival tickets and organising other elements was taken away. Nonetheless, I learnt a lot and wanted to share my experiences with you so that whether you’re travelling independently or as part of a small group tour, you get the best out of Carnival! 

The Main Event
Did you know that the main Carnival parades actually form part of a ticketed event? Prior to finding this out, I believed that floats passed through the streets of Rio de Janeiro while bystanders cheered them on from the sidewalk – somewhat like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. But that’s not actually the case. It’s held in the Sambadrome, located on the outskirts of the city centre. Each year, on the Sunday and Monday before Ash Wednesday, the top 12 Rio de Janeiro samba schools compete in front of 90,000 spectators in a taught competition for the Carnival title. Each school picks a theme, which is expressed through their performance and elaborate costumes, and between 200 and 400 drummers help by beating a quick, hypnotic rhythm that draws the crowd into the school’s compelling scene. The whole thing is honestly just magical!

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Sambadrome Seating
The Sambadrome is divided into various sections, numbered from one to 13, and are located on both sides of the Samba runway. We were seated in section 11 and honestly, it was perfect! We were directly across from the judges, where each school pauses to give the judges time to, well judge. With this in mind, consider looking at tickets in sections 10 (behind the judges) or 11 (across from the judges). If you’re purchasing tickets in the grandstands, seating is in the form of concrete bleachers and so isn’t comfortable. You will find vendors selling foam pads however, you can bring in your own cushion/pillow. Seating is on a first come first serve basis and as you can imagine, everyone tries to sit at the front of their section. So, if you want the best seat, it’s advised that you arrive early to claim your spot (the Sambadrome opens at 18:00 while the first parade states at 21:00).

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Timings
The first samba school begins their procession at 21:00 – or thereabouts. Each school has approximately 85 minutes to complete their entire procession (points are actually deducted from a samba school’s overall score if the procession runs shorter or goes longer than the allotted time). With six schools performing per night, at 85 minutes each, it’s a long night. The last samba school begins their procession at approximately 04:30, finishing around 06:00!

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Costumes
Carnival is known for its over the top costumes however, dressing up is not obligatory. Whether you decide to wear a swimsuit, accessorised with glitter and sequins, or shorts and a t-shirt, you won’t look out of place in the Sambadrome. You will be hot and sweaty though, so keep that in mind when choosing what to wear and be sure to wear comfortable shoes! Depending on the weather forecast, you may want to incorporate a raincoat into your costume. The Sambadrome is an open-air venue and so if it rains – you’re getting wet! 

Note: If you arrive in Rio and want to spice up your original outfit, or find a whole new one, there are plenty of shops selling costume accessories. If you plan on wearing a headpiece – be mindful of those behind you as they’ll want to be able to see the parade.

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Photography and Video
I took my iPhone, Canon and GoPro with me into the sambadrome and had no concerns over safety. I positioned myself right at the front of our section and got some fabulous footage of the floats/dancers as they passed by. I’ve read from multiple sources that the Sambadrome is considered one of the safest places during Carnival and I couldn’t agree more. I never felt unsafe or that my belongings were at risk of being stolen.

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Food and Drink
You’re allowed to bring two 500ml plastic bottles of water and two items of food per person into the Sambadrome, but like any event, you’ll find plenty of fast food trucks. There were also men circling the stands selling water, alcohol and ice cream so you never need to miss out on any of the action! Note: be sure to take plenty of cash as the cash machines are known to run out.

Toilets
There are toilets located in the Sambadrome however, be aware that there are 90,000 other spectators. It’s known that toilet paper runs out by the end of the performances; therefore, it is advisable to bring an extra roll from your hotel with you just in case…

Transport
As a part of our small group tour, we had round trip transport included. We were picked up from our accommodation and dropped off right outside the entrance to the Sambadrome – it was seamless and made the experience stress free! If you’re travelling independently, I would recommend pre-booking a return shuttle from your hotel. Bear in mind that there will be street parties happening with tens of thousands of people in attendance, so factor in major traffic delays. If you’re happy using public transport, take the metro to Praça Onze and walk for around 15 minutes from here. It’s well signposted – and you can enjoy some of the street celebrations along the way.

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And finally, Blocos
Blocos are the street parties of Rio Carnival. They’re much more casual than the parades in the Sambadrome however they’re considered the heart and soul of Rio Carnival. Each bloco writes a theme song and has a live band to play the music – typically from the top of a moving bus! There are numerous blocos located around the city of Rio de Janeiro in the days leading up to Carnival, but also during the days after. Blocos can be as small as a couple of hundred people or as large as 400,000 people, so it’s best to plan which bloco you wish to attend ahead of time. The best way to get to a bloco is by using the subway. A one-way ticket costs R$4.30 (£0.64GBP/$0.83USD) and you’ll find that there is typically a subway station within a block or two from a bloco. Blocos are a pickpockets dream, so ensure you’re carrying the bare minimum – I always wore a bum bag (fanny pack) and had no issues! Once you’ve decided on your blocos, planned your costume and your transport route – be prepared to party into the small hours of the morning. Blocos last all day and night!

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Regardless of whether you’re attending Carnival independently or as part of a small group tour, you’re guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime. To try and put into words the quality of the costumes, the elaborateness of the floats and the atmosphere of the Sambadrome is close to impossible! If you’re heading to Rio Carnival in 2021, let me know in the comments below and keep your eyes peeled for my next blog: The City of God.

Notes: I experienced Rio Carnival as part of a small group adventure tour with G Adventures. Rio Carnival: Sequins & the Sambadrome is a limited edition, six-day guided tour with a maximum group size of 16 however, there are ‘multiple departures’ and so you’ll be exploring Rio with a bigger group. Prices start from £899 excluding flights. This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and images are my own.

 

To the moon and back

Jordan. The name of a culturally rich Middle Eastern country, filled with landscapes the colour of honeycomb, but also that of my obnoxious ex-boyfriend.
I had the preconception that the highlight of my trip to Jordan would be Petra, one of the most precious cultural properties in the world. However, I walked away at the end of my eight-day journey with a greater comprehension for the land that I had explored, and an altogether disparate highlight.

As I step off the plane in Amman I am greeted by a surge of dry heat, one that every Brit takes pleasure in when arriving in a foreign land. The short journey from the airport to the city is filled with hillsides blanketed in box homes in various hues of ecru. But Amman is just the starting point of my small group tour. From Amman, we journey to the ruins of Jerash, Jordan’s largest Roman site, and to the famed Dead Sea, where we have time to float in the therapeutic waters. From here we head further south, to Petra, home of one of the seven new wonders of the world.

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City of Amman from the Citadel
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The best falafel and hummus in Amman, Hashem Restaurant
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Jerash, Jordan’s largest and most interesting Roman site
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Floating in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea
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An all over mud mask at the Dead Sea
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Mount Nebo, where Moses was granted a view of the promised land

We arrive at the entrance to Petra just as the sun is rising and embark on a journey that takes us between narrow gorges the colour of caramel. Our guide, a local man named Zuhair, tells us tales of bygone times; of the Nabateans, the Arab Bedouin tribe that once called Petra home. “And, if we all jump here at the exact same time, you’ll see the ground shake. 1, 2, 3…” We all jumped. Nothing. “Now look up” proclaims Zuhair. I don’t know why we all fell for such foolery, or even believed that we could make the ground move; but there, highlighted by the first rays of the day’s sunshine, the Treasury of Petra. As if in unison, a sound of awe comes from the group.

At this time of the morning, before the swarms of tourists arrive, the Treasury is peaceful. I take time capturing different angles of the magnificent facade before breaking away from the group. I settle myself in a quiet corner and observe the comings and goings happening around me. Bedouin men at work, shopkeepers setting up their stalls, tourists taking selfies, camels yawning.

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The first rays of sunlight hitting the treasury
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Close up of the Treasury facade
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Looking back at the Treasury
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The entrance to Petra at sundown

We venture deeper into Petra, past bazaars selling souvenirs; frankincense and traditional Jordanian scarfs. Past coffee houses serving fragrant Bedouin Coffee and Limonada, a Jordanian drink made of lemon juice and fresh mint leaves.

Following Zuhair’s recommendation, myself and a number of the group decide to take on the Monastery route. It doesn’t take long for us to realise that climbing an uneven, ancient rock-cut path, made of more than 800 steps, in the intense midday heat is a bad idea. The route is long and taxing, however, this soon slips my mind as we turn the final corner and are met by the impressive and imposing facade of the Monastery.

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The impressive facade of the Monastery
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The Cave Bar at the Monastery, a welcome respite from the sun
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The Monastery route
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Sunset over Petra from hotel rooftop

My Lonely Planet guidebook had somewhat prepared me for the beauty of the Treasury, with its ornate carvings and intricate detailing; but standing here in front of the 48-metre high exterior of the Monastery, I am blown away. At first glance, it looks much like the Treasury, just less ornate. However, the shapely curves, in varying shades of butterscotch, and the enormity of the rock-cut Nabataean tomb leave me speechless. I had found the highlight of my trip to Jordan, or so I thought.

The next morning we leave the ancient town of Petra and head south towards Wadi Rum. We exchange our minivan for several 4×4 vehicles and head out into a vast landscape of ancient river beds and stunning rock formations. We climb burnt orange sand dunes and visit landmarks made famous by blockbuster movies.

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Wadi Rum 4×4
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Wadi Rum 4×4
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Climbing a sand dune, Wadi Rum
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CEO Zuhair and Bedouin guides, Wadi Rum
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One of the many naturally formed arches, Wadi Rum
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Climbing one of the many naturally formed arches, Wadi Rum

We journey further into the desert. In the distance, we spot the silhouette of a group of Bedouins and their caravan (group) of camels – our final mode of transport for the day. I inelegantly mount one of the larger camels in the group and hold tight onto the reins, leaning back, waiting for the inevitable. The camel forces himself up off the ground, tipping me gently forward and then suddenly jerking me back, all before throwing me forward again – it’s an awkward affair!

The sunsets in a blaze over the sands as we reach our destination, an isolated Bedouin camp, just in time for dinner. We dismount our camels, deposit our belongings in the goat-haired tents that we will call home for the night, and head towards the traditionally decorated central tent. Dinner has been prepared in a customary fashion – underground in an earth oven. We gather around as a three-tiered grill, arranged with various kinds of meat and vegetables, is pulled from a hole in the sand.

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Camel ride through the Valley of the Moon, Wadi Rum
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Camel selfie, Wadi Rum
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Setting sun casting long shadows across the desert
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CEO Zuhair and myself, Wadi Rum

Our group fills their plates, and slowly their tummies. The hum of conversation fills the tent, and soon the space around the campfire. Members of the group share stories of their individual travel experiences and we discuss our day exploring the ‘Valley of the Moon’.

As the fire loses its light, the sky darkens and the stars come out in an abundance. I spot the Ursa Major and Northern Cross constellations and as my eyes adjust, the dusty white Milky Way is smeared across the sky. I stand in awe – the view is simply breathtaking. In the clear air of the desert, feeling a thousand miles away from the rush of everyday life, I make a decision to not sleep in the stifling hot tent made of goats-hair, but to sleep under the stars. It is then, as a shooting star passes overhead, and my eyes fall heavy that I know that this is my highlight of Jordan.

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Traditional Bedouin dinner
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CEO Zuhair sleeping under the stars, Wadi Rum
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Isolated Bedouin camp, Wadi Rum
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Packing up camp after a night under the stars, Wadi Rum

Now, when I utter the word ‘Jordan’ I no longer think of my obnoxious ex-boyfriend, but of an inspiring country. One filled with inspirational treasures, stunning desert landscapes, delectable dishes and some of the most kind-hearted people I’ve met while travelling.

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Sunset in Amman on the final night of the tour

Notes: I discovered Jordan as part of a small group adventure tour with G Adventures. Highlights of Jordan is an eight-day guided tour with a maximum group size of 16. As a solo female traveller, I found this the best way to explore the country while not missing any of the key attractions. Prices start from £879 excluding flights. This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and images are my own.

Let me know if you’ve ever been to Jordan or if you’re considering it!

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G Adventures group with CEO Zuhair

The lone bull

The mokoro glides through the shallow, murky waters of the delta and onto land. I climb out, firmly gripping my camera; not ready to let go of what I have just captured. As the rest of my group head back to camp to tell those that stayed behind what we encountered, I linger by the shore. I close my eyes, in an attempt to relive my encounter when I’m disturbed by a partition in the tall, unkempt grass across the bank.

As we trundle down the dirt road out of the campsite, the truck sends a vortex of dust into the previously stagnant air. We pass by huts crouched in the shadows, encompassed by grazing cattle and the bright faces of locals, before arriving at the entryway to the Okavango Delta, Africa’s biggest oasis.

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Okavango Delta Drop Off

After some lawless commotion, we’re assigned a poler and a mokoro; a traditional canoe. I clamber inside and before I lose my balance, I sit back. We push off and I find myself listening intently to the sound of the mokoro passing through reed beds and water lilies, somewhere between a swish and wizz. I discuss life on the delta with my poler, a local guy named Shoes. He tells us stories of his childhood, of the delta itself and how he came to earn the name Shoes. I’m hanging on his every word but we’ve reached our campsite. 

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Okavango Delta

Once tents are erected, firewood collected and the toilet dug (there are no luxuries in the middle of Africa); Shoes offers to guide me deeper into the delta. I hurriedly locate my camera and follow Shoes down to the mokoro. Others in the group have caught wind of my proposal and follow suit. After only a short time on the water, Shoes’ hand shoots into the air, silencing the group. He’s spotted something. I crane my neck, trying to catch a glimpse of what it is that he can see. 

Out of the tree line lumbers a lone elephant, a bull. Paying us no attention, he continues his quest for food, stretching his weathered trunk to reach the higher branches of a fragrant marula tree; completely oblivious to the impact his presence has on the group. I feel an overwhelming sense of exhilaration. We linger, in a trance-like state, until the elephant has taken what he can from the tree and wanders back into the bush and out of sight. 

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Male elephant attempting to reach a marula tree.

Shoes gets us safely back to camp and while the rest of the group wander in purposefully, armed with stories of our encounter, I’m just not ready to share mine so I stay close to the water’s edge. I gaze out into the delta, thinking of my late grandmother and how she would have cherished my recollection of this moment.

Abruptly, I’m brought back to the present by movement from across the bank. I study the long grass, waiting on tenterhooks – after all, I am in Africa. Suddenly, yet at the same time in slow motion, the grass parts and there he is. The lone bull. 

At an almost sloth-like pace, I bring my camera towards my eye, attempting to capture everything that this moment is. Only then, as tears are falling, do I realise that happiness is pouring out of me like sunshine through fine white linen, pure and light. 

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The Lone Bull
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Myself and the amazing Shoes

The elusive diva of the north

In March 2018, National Geographic Traveller asked their readers to submit a great piece of travel writing in a bid to discover the very best untapped talent. The prize, a two-week Thailand Hike, Bike and Kayak Adventure courtesy of G Adventures. They, of course, received hundreds of entries, however, had to whittle these down to just three compelling tales that would be published in the October issue of the magazine. The winning piece; Uganda: Songs for Elephants by Dom Tulett was a compelling read and left a lasting impression with its reader. Of course, I was a little enervated at not being published; nonetheless I have decided to post my entry here:

We have spent the past five days traversing northern Norway; wolf encounters in Narvik, reindeer spotting on the North Cape and husky sledging through Alta. Each night we’ve waited patiently to catch a glimpse of what the locals call the ‘diva of the north’; however she has yet to make an appearance and so tonight, our last night, is our last chance.

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Wolf Encounter at Polar Park, Narvik

We were due to be flying further north to Spitsbergen, the crown of Arctic Norway. However, the vast blanket of white that is engulfing the city, swallowing distant objects, means our plane has been grounded, and we’re going nowhere. Although disheartened at the missed opportunity of scouring the horizons of Svalbard for polar bears, we are determined to make the most of our extra night in Tromsø, the gateway to the Arctic.

As dusk falls over the city, we wander the historic centre, delighting in the traditional architecture, imagining what stories live within the chestnut red and burnt yellow walls. I look out across the steel grey Tromsøysundet strait, and admire the iconic Arctic Cathedral, built in the 1960’s the triangular structure stretches skyward, imitating the hulking snow-capped mountains behind.

We cross over the Tromsø Bridge, toward the mainland and take a cable car to the top of Mount Storsteinen where we are rewarded with a sweeping view of the city. Beneath the canopy of the night sky, Tromsø appears almost as though it’s been dusted with glitter; for the city is alive with lights. Our guide, a professor at the city’s university, draws our attention to the emerging constellations from the palette of stars above; the Little Dipper, the Northern Cross and a lone orbiting satellite.

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Tromsø from Mount Storsteinen, 421 metres above sea level.

Inside, I take a bite of my reindeer burger and listen intently as the professor tells me of his encounters with the ‘diva of the north’. He recounts the variety of forms, colours and intensities that she can take on. Suddenly, as though she knows she’s being spoken about, she teases the sky with the first hint of her approach and the excitable buzz of chatter in the restaurant increases in volume. I find the nearest exit, hoping this is it; the moment I’ve been waiting for.

I look up at the night sky. At first, it appears indistinct, a light smudge behind a bank of clouds. The smudge starts to glow and gather into tormented twists of ethereal green. It is indisputable now, the elusive diva of the north as arrived. The Northern Lights dance across the sky in a sequence that only Mother Nature could choreograph. I gasp as a halo of vibrating violet light explodes almost directly above my head. I am speechless, awestruck. Bursts of white, green and purple continue to splash themselves against the canvas of the sky, as though being formed by the brushstrokes of a haphazard hand. There is nothing inexpert about this artist, though; every touch is calculated, every motion nuances the breathtaking final masterpiece.

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Aurora Borealis from Storsteinen

And then, as swiftly as it began, the spectacle above me dissolves into nothing, and I’m sure the natural phenomena has departed. But then, instantaneously she forms on another horizon, dancing onwards, swirling streams of colour amid the craggy peaks. She continues late into the night, the diva of the north, the sensation of the sky, has given us the performance of a lifetime.