Monthly Archives: October 2014

Cruising down the Nile: Walking alongside Murchison Falls

We sat and stood on a boat, cruising along the River Nile, cameras ready and eyes peeled for wildlife in the surrounding riverine forest, savannah and woodland. I stood with my close friends, excited to see some crocs and elephants.

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Murchison approached and little did we know about the beautiful big falls behind this narrow gorge! We had to get off the boat and start hiking on the trails, to get to this beautiful falls, highlighted with a rainbow.

The Murchison National park is suited in the northern part of Albertine Rift Valley. The park is one of Uganda’s well protected areas, and it was one of the most memorable areas for me in Uganda.

Hiking towards the falls in my horrible color coded outfit.

Hiking towards the falls in my horrible color coded outfit.

A little lookout which had us climbing carefully over rocks... giving us a preview of what was yet to come.

A little lookout which had us climbing carefully over rocks… giving us a preview of what was yet to come.

I remember walking in my awful seasoned non-hiking cotton green cheap shoes and trying not to fall to my death over the slipper rocks!.. And it was well worth the effort for it entitled me this awesome picture!

The picture i worked really hard for. Like my green shoes? I chucked them in a mud house on my way out of Africa.

The picture i worked really hard for. Like my green shoes?
I chucked them in a mud house on my way out of Africa.

Hello Murchison! We have almost reached the source of this placid river.

Hello Murchison! We have almost reached the source of this placid river.

I am ashamed to admit that my photography skills were at an all time low at this point of time. These photos do not capture the beauty of this falls.

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The only other non-Brit on this trip, besides me.

The only other non-Brit on this trip, besides me.

Uganda is definitely a great introduction to the continent of Africa! Particularly to the East and West, in my opinion. The North comprising of Morocco and South consisting of Cape Town are superbly different. A landlocked country, its a tough fight with Kenya.

Africa is a place far from our lists I expect, especially for Asians. Its a continent so unbelievably vast, I could not comprehend how big it actually was until I was travelling for hours on the road. Even if I had mixed feelings about my month long trip, casting away the negativity, deep in my heart I knew I would be back. Africa has my heart.

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Living With Locals: Emerging Humble and Sensitive

The car turned into a wide road and mins after I saw the sign “Vung Tau”, I was in my first home on my trip to Vietnam. I was greeted by a a tall building, a hotel at the bottom with rows of apartments above.

Livingwithlocals is not a first time experience, so I was well excited by what I would discover about real vietnamese food and lifestyle. I was also prepared, (from previous experience), to be patient and withdraw from the mindset of becoming” an eager tourist”.

The pretty shoreline of Vung Tau.

The pretty shoreline of Vung Tau.

“An eager tourist”, to me is the mindset of wanting to visit all the sights there is to see, eat all the good food there is, spend every waking hour from dawn till 10pm wandering the streets and getting all “out there” to see as much as possible. After all, time is precious on a holiday right?

On the contrary, Ive experienced the complete opposite when living with locals. Of course, some of the main observations, you would have to keep to the so called itinerary of the locals. I could hardly insist on going everywhere e.g. climbing to that top of the hill to see the statue, when my friend’s parents have planned to go have porridge in a roadside stall cant I? I could of course, suggest to stop and take some photos but naturally I didnt want to be a burdensome foreign friend by insisting to do more than what they have originally planned. If the family wanted to stay in for the afternoon because it was too sunny outside, I had no right to demand for everyone to go out. Of course, I could go off and wander by myself but I decided that I could spend the day in to catch up with my friend instead.

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I feel like there is a lot of sensitivity when staying with friends, because you do not want to seem like a demanding person, making yourself too “at home”, it might imply rudeness and could offend the elders of the household. I spent my last day of this little homestay, staying at a friend’s aunt’s house, watching TV, napping and practically doing all the things I could be doing at home.. but in Ho Chin Minh. Does this mean I was wasting my time? Does it mean I was like a loser, wanting to talk about the exciting things I did with locals but I didnt do shit?

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I felt conflicted. A friend of mine I got in touch with gave me the assurance “You’re on holiday what! So just chill, its what you’re doing, chilling”. In my mind, I guess a lot of people would have been criticising my lack of adventure and thinking ” what sort of trip is this?!”

I pushed those thoughts away and instead, took to really taking a nap and just enjoying the comforts of a foreign home, grateful that I had a place to stay in, with hosts that were so caring. I took to looking at immersing myself in their lifestyle. I lived as they lived. So what if I took a nap or watched MasterChef in Vietnam, I considered myself vietnamese temporarily.

In the end, I took away so much more than I could ask for! I got to try local food (silken tofu) sold by authentic elders knocking on everyones’s doors. Her family took so much care of me, feeding me by the hour, made me extremely comfortable. I didnt need to be going on all about HCM like a maniac, trying to get my best bargains at Ben Thanh Market or visiting the war museums to make my trip fulfilling.

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I felt that same fulfilment or probably even more, from catching up with my friend, really getting to know what Ive missed in the past four years of being apart, from constant translations between her mum and me about food and my life in Africa (they were very amused that I could go without showering for 6 days a week), from going grocery shopping with the family and watching her mum cut 1/4 of a jackfruit which seemed to me incredibly enormous and wondering where on earth their appetites surfaced. I spent my first afternoon lazing around the dining table, stuffing myself with jackfruit apples and grapes, listening to French music with her sister.

Sometimes vacationing also imply doing nothing, doing things you would be doing at home, but in a different place. This is especially so for me, when living with locals. I had to deal with a lot of conflicting and impatient thoughts in my mind. I emerged a more relaxed, patient, sensitive and humble person.

Vietnam: What took me away and got me hooked

White Sand Dunes

White Sand Dunes

Most people, when thinking about Vietnam think of a first world country that is still poorly developed. On my latest trip, I visited with anticipation,curiosity and a little trepidation in my heart.

I would have to be honest and confess that a small part of the reason for my trip was because of my friendships with two vietnamese friends. Having locals as friends in any part of the world is a perfectly good reason for visiting!

The rest of the reason was plainly to satisfy my hunger for travel after a 4 month drought of constant working. And of course, to tick yet more places off my travel list. (a note here to mention my list is completely long and it will probably never end)

So imagine my shock when I came across the white dunes in Mui Ne, to the southeast of Vietnam. A place settled a small distance from fishing villages in the coastal area. One thing that was incredible was the change of landscapes so drastic in a mere 10 hour road trip.

A mini oasis if you'd like.

A mini oasis if you’d like.

Think of Ho Chin Minh/Saigon as a completely wild, exciting and seemingly fearful city full of noise, vehicles and constant bustle, you move on to horrendously jammed two lane roads leading to the highway (which causes about 3 hours of your trip out of town), which you then enter rural Vietnam.

Outskirts of HCM: Towns are lesser packed, and it becomes quieter. Further on and you enter this vast area full of fields filled with trees. Trees that are used agriculturally, lined up in multiple rows and rows. I immediately set up in my little sleeper cot and looked out the window.

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The following day to the dunes was on this spectacular stretch of road hugging the coastline. Past the fishing village, we were clearly on a lesser traversed route. Going towards to the dunes on this road highlighted the breaking waves at dawn, it was around 630am.

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Locals were there to accompany us on ATV bike rides. One local to each person. It was extremely exciting going up and down the dunes! Difficult to capture on camera, the dunes actually dip down, some to a very great height. I was so afraid i was going to fall off, my wrist gripped around my local guy’s waist as he happily zoomed at the maximum speed down, getting happier everytime i screamed my head off. After a bit of ‘fake’ scares, i got used to it and 15 mins later I was zooming down down down dunes- one hand grabbing his waist, the other with a cigarette in hand. I was a lean mean ATV biker.

Racer Melly

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That day, as I sat in the sand looking out on this exquisite landscape I knew I was hooked. Vietnam is truly undiscovered and underrated. It has so much to offer and we only have to reach out and explore.