Category Archives: Travel

The Great Ocean Walk

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We set off from Adelaide towards the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, South-East Australia. We were not going there to stop along the various lookout points and sample some of the activities along the way. Neither were we going there to admire the view from the car window.  We were going there to be a part of it, and explore it from the inside.  The Great Ocean Walk (GOW) is 97.1km in total and can be completed in five to eight days.  Hikers can also choose to do shorter walks, over fewer days.  Carrying a full backpack; with the tent, clothes, food, and supplies wasn’t easy, but I was looking forward to the challenge.

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Apollo Bay to Elliot Ridge

Our adventure began at the Great Ocean Road Visitor Centre.  We took an expensive taxi ride there, from the Princetown Recreation Reserve, where our car was parked.  Essentially, the aim was to walk back to the car. The beginning involved walking through the town. We stood out from everyone else, as we carried our big backpacks through a small market place.   It was a 9.8 Km walk in total, no major hills yet.  Approaching the Shelley Beach picnic area, we decided to take the beach walk, to avoid an uphill climb. There was a scary section, where we had to cross over a gap between the rocks.  This was tricky to negotiate with our heavy backpacks.  We had seconds to cross before the waves hit. I crossed just as a huge wave came in, crashing against the rocks.  The map clearly marks out the areas that should only be crossed during low tide. Not being experts on tides and waves, we certainly didn’t have a scientific approach to determine safety. We just went for it, anything to avoid those hills. Be cautious and refer to the map when in doubt. Walking up a hill would have been a lot safer.

The Elliot Ridge campground was our first stop. Unfortunately, just before entering the campground there was a steep uphill climb that seemed to go on forever, especially as it was our first climb. You may not feel good while climbing it, but you certainly feel good when it’s over.  There were many more of these to come.   Upon entering the campground we heard a strange noise.  It sounded like a wild pig, I immediately wondered if they had these in Victoria. Is it alright to run from these? I asked myself, do they chase?  Thankfully, one didn’t come charging out from the bushes to attack us.  I thought it could also be a motorcycle engine, but we were deep into the rainforest. It was confusing to say the least. We were surrounded by tall eucalyptus trees, which created a shaded and mystic environment. We then saw a Koala half way up a tree, the first of many. Later, we discovered it was the Koala making the strange noise. We had no idea they made this bizarre sound. You usually don’t hear a peep from them at home.  All night in our tent, we could hear the Koalas up in the trees, making a collective sound.

 

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An Echidna

 

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Elliot Ridge to Cape Otway

The following day was our first double day. Instead of camping at Blanket Bay, we had lunch there and continued our journey towards Cape Otway. In total we walked 22.5km. Along the way we saw Wallabies.  They would stare at us for a few moments, before hopping off through the heavy shrubbery. We wondered how they managed to do that so comfortably, without getting hurt.  There was one Wallaby that didn’t hop off straightaway.  As we approached it, we wondered why it wasn’t scared and became a little concerned. Then he appeared to hop away in slow motion. He was an old fellow.

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The Elderly Wallaby

We  passed a lot of cattle, which may have explained why we were harassed endlessly by flies.  They would cling to our backpacks and fly into our faces. Fighting them off was utterly futile.  They would go away momentarily, and come straight back. It was as if there was a magnetic force, pulling them towards us.  We had to learn to accept them; I even took my fly net off after a while.  We stopped at the lookouts at Parker Inlet to admire the stunning views of the Ocean. Stopping became problematic, as the flies took it as an opportunity to pounce on us.

We reached the Lighthouse just as it was closing. We didn’t mind because we had been hiking all day, and climbing a long flight of stairs didn’t appeal to us.  Besides, we were feeling self-conscious about the flies that were following us. I took a chance and entered, to buy a drink. Thankfully, as soon as I went through the doorway, the flies left. Of course they were waiting for us outside like stalkers.

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Cape Otway to Johanna Beach

From Cape Otway, we embarked on yet another double day. We felt stronger and better prepared for the uphill climbs. When hiking, the first couple of days are always the toughest, but your body gets use to it as you progress.  We didn’t see any other backpackers along the trail at this point; we were alone for most of the walk. As we were doing double days, we had already gone ahead of people.  The stillness, and silence was peaceful. Use to travelling to busy places, full of tourists; we experienced a quiet contrast on the GOW. There was just the two of us and an occasional wallaby, echidna or snake. Perhaps the beginning of summer was not the most popular time of year. There were certainly some hot days, but it was usually cool in the mornings and rained heavily on occasion. We were well prepared for the different conditions, carrying warm and waterproof clothing just in case.  Bringing a small tripod was handy because there wasn’t anyone we could ask to  take a picture of us.  Our tripod had straps, so we would tie it to a tree to position the camera.

The walk started with an uphill climb, although it wasn’t as bad as I expected.  We then reached a road that seemed to go on forever, with no bench or log to sit on.  Going downhill was no picnic either; the pressure on the knees was intense at times, especially with a heavy backpack.  Crossing the Aire River was a mini adventure for me; I took my shoes off and stepped into the cool crisp water. It was very refreshing. We crossed a bridge and stopped to have lunch at the Aire River Campsite.   There were tourists stopping at the various lookout points, this was in contrast to the isolation we had experienced before this point.

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From the Aire River campsite to Johanna Beach, we experienced what felt like the longest beach walk in history.  Every step resulted in my feet getting buried in the soft sand, it was horrendous. Even the stunning views of the ocean didn’t distract me from the tedious and bitter task of simply walking on the beach. All we could do was try to find wet sand to walk on, when possible.  The waves along this section were gigantic. An explanation as to why it was deserted.  There certainly wouldn’t be any surfing or swimming in those conditions.   Watching the waves crash was a stunning sight.  Part of the beach was sectioned off to protect the endangered Hooded Plover birds.  Towards the end of this stretch, we had to negotiate passing in between a giant wave, crashing on the shore.  We took our shoes off and went for it.

As we approached the Johanna Beach campsite, some locals told us where the Kangaroos come out to feed at dusk.  We were the only ones at the campsite so we had the pick of the plots. We chose the one with a spectacular sea view.  We set up camp and took a short walk up a hill and through a gate, to see the Kangaroos.  We saw three or four on the field below.  That night we learned that  having a sea view came at a price.  Our tent was totally exposed during a very stormy evening.  We thought  it would be blown away, with us in it.  Thankfully it held up and we survived the night.

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Johanna’s Beach to Ryan’s Den

Rain greeted us the next morning. We waited before setting off and had breakfast and tea under the shelter.  Then we had to reside ourselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to stop raining. Johanna’s Beach to Ryan’s Den was the most difficult hike of the trip so far.  From the onset, there was a great deal of elevation.  We walked up towards the Melanesia Track and had a close up view of the Kangaroos, peeping at us from behind the grass. Although this day was more difficult than both double days, it was one of the most beautiful hikes.  The challenge was more mental than physical. As soon as we reached the top of a hill, we had to come straight back down, then up again. As the trail led us through the rainforest, I would have chosen walking on soft sand in a heartbeat.  Meanwhile, we saw a scary snake for the third time during the trip. A  distraction from constantly asking myself; “are we there yet?”

Take in the views and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere, while rising to the challenge of the hike.  There were nice places to take breaks along the way. Towards the end, there were a number of timber staircases.  A stair lift would have really come in handy at this point.  Arriving at Ryan’s Den, we didn’t make the same mistake twice.  We camped behind a tree to provide a barrier against the strong winds.  This was a nice campsite, with communal areas on a hilltop to admire the views.

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Ryan’s Den to Devil’s Kitchen

The plan was to go to Devil’s Kitchen the next day.  This certainly was the most difficult day of the hike. There were many steep climbs up to the cliffs, and downhill walks into the valleys. It was both mentally and physically challenging, but this did not diminish the beauty of our surroundings. We entered the Great Otway National Park and walked through the Moonlight Valley. There were day hikers and tourists doing the Great Ocean Road and going to The Gables Lookout. We felt really under-dressed at this point.  The Gables Lookout provided awesome views of the Ocean and cliffs.

Unfortunately, due to a knee injury, we decided to stop at the Gables Car Park to call a Taxi. We had planned to walk from the Devil’s kitchen campsite to the Princetown Recreational Reserve, where our car was parked. We were going to leave our backpacks in the car and walk the rest of the way, towards the 12 Apostles. Then we would have walked back to the car. That would have been a very long day. I’m glad we drove there instead! The 12 Apostles were great, but we saw many more beautiful sites; through the rainforest, along the cliffs, in the valleys and on the beaches. Everyone told us we had seen the best parts of the walk and not to feel too bad about not doing the last day.  If you want to see the area in all its glory, I would recommend doing the walk. Even a shorter 3 day hike would be worth it. Get out of the car and put your hiking boots on.

 

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Kitchen and Shelter

Have you done the GOW? Share your experiences below.

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Camping in Central Australia

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After recently buying a car, we decided to head to the Outback, and go on our first camping trip in Australia.  We took off from Adelaide and made our way towards Alice Springs, stopping at places along the way.  Coober Pedy was our first stop.  Famous for its Opal mining, there are tours available for finding your own opals and learning about the workings of the mines.  We stayed there overnight, in a unique underground campground.

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We continued along the Stuart Highway towards Alice Springs.  We stayed there overnight,  in a well equipped campsite that had a supermarket, bar, restaurant and showers.  It was an ideal place for passing through.  The next day, we continued towards the Western MacDonnell Ranges, National Park.  This is a 644km stretch of mountain ranges. The scenery is stunning throughout, with views of the spectacular gorges and gaps contained in the mountain ranges. This National Park is home to the famous Ayers Rock (or Uluru).  The Visitor Centre has many exhibitions of Aboriginal Artwork, and information about the historical and cultural significance of area.

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The first campsite we stayed at was in Ormiston Gorge. The area for tents was along the Larapinta Trail. This is a world-renowned, long distance bush walk, that is 223 kilometres long.  It is a two-week hike that requires a lot of planning.  It wasn’t feasible for us to do it, but we plan to come back to do this hike another time.

We started off with a short 1 hour trail – The Pound Walk, just as a warm up. The main walk of the day was the 3-4 hour, Ormiston Gorge walk.  The first thing that struck me, was how rough the terrain was. There were a lot of large rocks and boulders to walk over, throughout the trail. It was a beautiful hike and worth doing.

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The Terrain

The Terrain

Later in the day, we did another short hike.  These are always worthwhile, you never know what you might discover along the way.  We walked to the Gorge and saw some brave people trying to swim in the ice-cold water. They didn’t stay in the water for very long.  On the way back we saw a Black-flanked Rock-wallaby heading up the mountain. I was very excited about this, because up until that point, we really didn’t see many wild animals.  We only saw some dead Kangaroos along the side of the road and some wild Emus in the distance, while driving.

Spot the Wallaby

Spot the Wallaby

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Heading towards the King’s Canyon we stayed at the King’s Creek’s Station. This was the only campsite that allowed us to make a fire. My previous camping experience was in the Grand Canyon, Arizona, where camp fires were not allowed.  So this was my first camp fire, and we had to collect our own fire wood.  It gets very cold at night in the Outback, so it was nice to have a warm, cosy fire.

Camp Fire

Camp Fire

Base Walk

Base Walk

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The next day, we hiked in Witarka, and completed the 3-4 hours Canyon Rim Walk.  This was a pleasant walk, we managed to complete it in two and a half hours. The only tough part was the very beginning, which was a steep uphill climb. After that, it becomes less strenuous. Again, the terrain was quite rough, but we were use to it by then. The views of the Canyon were amazing!

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Uluru/ Ayers Rock

We watched  the sunset, and sunrise, on different days.  It was nice to see how the mountain changed colour, depending on the position of the sun.  We did the same at Kata Tjuta, and enjoyed sitting in a picnic area with a couple of other people.  The best time to arrive for the sunrise was about 6:30am, as the sky began to change colour at that time.

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Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta

Climbing Uluru

We did a short, 1 hour hike, with a ranger. He explained the cultural significance of the gorges and gaps in the rocks.  He also explained the medicinal and practical uses of different trees and plants.  Then he covered the reasons why the indigenous people didn’t want tourists climbing Uluru.  They consider it to be sacred, with religious and cultural significance. Also, 35 people have died climbing Uluru, since the 1960s. Uluru is opened to the public to climb at various times during the day, depending on the weather conditions.  Once you know all the facts, it is up to you to decide whether or not your want to climb it.

Sunset at Uluru

Sunset at Uluru

The beginning of the climb is quite steep, and very exposed.  There is a chain for climbers to hold onto, for the first hour, or so.  You will also see people coming down as you go up.  This is a good opportunity to get further information from people, about the climb. They would usually tell you the bad news that what was ahead, was actually a false summit and there was a lot further to go.  Take plenty of water, stay close to the chain and take your time.  You will see people of different ages climbing, including children.  You can climb it to the halfway point if you prefer.

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Camping Essentials

Sleeping bags: the Outback gets very cold at night. So if you are sleeping in a tent, a good sleeping bag is essential. We used the Sea to Summit, Trek TK II sleeping bags. They are designed to withstand temperatures as low as -25 degrees celsius. These certainly kept us warm at night and they insulate well.  When you set up camp, put the sleeping bags out straight away and leave them out all day.  The longer they are left out, the more air gets into them, and the better they insulate.

Food: Tasty Bite vegetable curries and couscous. These curries are 100% natural, which is rarely found in packaged food.  This meal is very simple to make. Heat the curry in the plastic bag it came in, and boil for five minutes.  For the couscous, just add boiled water, and leave to stand for a couple of minutes. Super easy, and healthy!  These can be purchased in Coles.

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Tuna: drain free tuna keeps you from making a mess! This is an excellent addition to any meal, for added protein.

Soap Bar: I used the MacDougall’s Natural Soap.  Light weight and super convenient for travelling. Shower gels often leak and create a mess. This brand is made with natural ingredients and doesn’t dry out your skin.

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Dangers

Dingos! They don’t attack but they steal shoes! Keep your shoes in your car or tent. I saw one man tie his shoes up in a tree, not taking any chances.

Driving: on a more serious note; the Stuart Highway is considered one the most boring highways in the country. It seems to go on forever and you can drive for miles without seeing another vehicle on the road.  If you get tired, take a break!  There are plenty of rest stops with various facilities, along the way. Take your favourite CDs with you as well, to pass the time.

Camping hairstyle

Two strand twists, pinned up into a bun. Very simple and convenient for camping.

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Fly Nets

The flies in the Outback are relentless. If you are easily annoyed by flies and insects, I would suggest getting a fly net to wear on the hikes. Some areas are worse than others, so it’s good to have one on you, just in case.

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Fees

Take note that the prices listed in the Lonely Planet book, do not specify whether they are per person, or per site.  We were surprised that most places charged per person. So if you are travelling in groups, bear that in mind, or you will have unexpected expenses.

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Wherever you live, camping is an economical way to travel and explore remote places.  There are many activities to do, depending on where you go, such as: hiking, fishing, bike riding, swimming and, simply relaxing in beautiful surroundings. 

For specific information about the campgrounds and their prices, or for general information; email us at naturalfantastic1@gmail.com.

Have you camped in Central Australia? Share your experiences below.

Natural Hair in Australia

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What is it like to live in a country that doesn’t have an endless supply of black hair care products and numerous salons that cater to black hair?

The City of Adelaide
So I arrived in Adelaide, Australia last month and will be here for the foreseeable future. Adelaide is the capital city of South Australia and the fifth largest city in the country. It isn’t huge but still has all of benefits of a big city, yet maintains a level of calm about it. I did arrive during the festival period which was a lot of fun. There was an African festival across the road from my hotel which had some excellent live performances of traditional African music. One of the first things I observed when I arrived in Australia was how diverse the people are.
In Adelaide there is a wide choice of restaurants, from Asian restaurants in China Town, to Sudanese restaurants in the outskirts of the city. Quite clearly Adelaide has a growing African community which consists of those from countries in East and South Africa. Over the last two decades, Africans have come to Australia either as migrants through Australia‘s skilled and family reunion programs, and as refugees through Australia‘s humanitarian program. Other communities that live in Australia include those from the Polynesian islands such as Samoa, economic migrants and refugees from countries in Asia, and of course the indigenous aboriginal community. Australia is a nation of immigrants, other than the indigenous aboriginal community everyone there is likely to have connections to other parts of the world.

Rymill Park, Adelaide

Rymill Park, Adelaide

Somerton Beach, Glenelg

Somerton Beach, Glenelg

Adelaide Zoo

Adelaide Zoo

Natural hair community?
It is a wonderful country that I cannot wait to explore. I couldn’t wait to interview some of the African women about life in Australia and to find out whether or not they have heard about the natural hair community, that is prevalent on YouTube and on internet blogs or forums. Of course it has taken off in the U.S.A in a big way and continues to grow in the UK as well. One thing I also noticed is that black beauty products are not readily available like they are in the United States; it reminded me of the UK ten years ago. Growing up in London, I had to go to specialist afro hair and beauty shops to purchase beauty products that catered to my hair and skin tone. In the United States they sell these products in regular stores such a Wal-Mart or Target. The availability of products has improved greatly in the UK but in Australia this simply doesn’t exist. For instance they have Target in Australia but when I browsed through the makeup section I noticed that the darkest color available was caramel.  There certainly wasn’t any black hair care products either. I didn’t see any black hair care shops like Paks Cosmetics in the UK. Fortunately, in America you could go to a regular beauty supply like Sally’s and pick up products that cater to afro hair and those specifically for natural hair.

So I was curious to find out where I could go to get my hair done. Fortunately, since going natural and even before, I have learned to do my own hair and I no longer rely on going to the salon. My hair also thrives with basic products such as Shea butter, coconut oil and plain water. I have learned good hair care practices, so the health of my hair is not dependant on product brands. Therefore I wasn’t panicking because I had moved to a country where I couldn’t pick up any Shea Moisture products or any other popular brands that are freely available in the U.S. However, I still wanted to know where the African women in Adelaide go to buy hair products and if there were black hair salons.
Looking around I saw that many of them wore weaves and braid extensions. The first girl I interviewed said that she mainly relied on a family member to do her hair and she visited the salon occasionally. She told me about the areas where the African shops were and reassured me that there were black hair care shops and salons, you just have to know where to go. Surprisingly, she had never heard of the natural hair community on YouTube. She wore weaves a lot and her hair was relaxed, although she didn’t relax it very frequently. There was also a beautiful young lady from Kenya that I interviewed with immaculate braids, again she had never heard of the natural hair community. Only one person I spoke to was aware of it and she had considered going natural but said she loves her weaves. :D. I explained to her that she could still be natural and wear weaves.

I did see a couple of girls with natural hair though. Two had cute TWAs (teeny weenie afros) and another had two-strand twists. So there are women there that wear their hair natural and I’m sure there is some knowledge about natural hair but it is yet to grow in Australia. It doesn’t appear to have taken off here and I couldn’t find any Australian natural hair, YouTube vloggers.  I am use to seeing blogs and vlogs from women in the UK, Nigeria and the US.  If you know of any or have natural hair and live in Australia, please drop by on this blog and let us know about your experience so far.

Check out Miranda's story on BGLH

Click to check out Miranda’s story on BGLH

Update: here is a link to Miranda’s blog: http://www.StyleGallivanter.com

Good hair care practice
If you have recently gone natural, focus on good hair care practice as opposed to products brands. It is good hair care practice that will promote the health of your hair, not necessarily the products you use. You never know when you may no longer have access to your favorite products or may need to save your money at that particular time. Besides, I find that my twists outs come out beautiful by simply using water and Shea butter. In fact some of the products I’ve tried made my hair too frizzy and were not suitable for twist-outs.

Do you live in a country that doesn’t provide much choice for black hair care and beauty products? How have you adapted to this? Share your experiences below.

Has Southeast Asia become too touristy?

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Thailand, Laos and Cambodia

Vang Vieng -  the view from our guesthouse.

Vang Vieng, Laos – the view from our guesthouse.

Every time I travel, I always consider going to a country in Southeast Asia.  When I was a school teacher I would travel during my six weeks vacation. Thailand was the first country I visited, where I went alone. I intended to go to Vietnam and Laos on that trip but ran out of money. Also, I thought as I was travelling by myself it was probably best to stick to Thailand, Laos seemed a lot more hardcore to me back then. Well four years later, when my husband and are I were deciding where to go, we both agreed that we should go to Laos and Cambodia.  Neither of us had been to those countries before.  We went in October to November 2012.

We started off in Thailand and spent only two nights in Bangkok. We didn’t get off to a great start as my husband left his bank card in the cash machine at the airport! We realized when we got back to the hotel. Thankfully someone was kind enough to hand it in at the bank. Whoever you are, thank you! After that rocky start, we made our way to Laos and planned to do a lot of outdoor activities. Our first night was in Luang Prabang. This was a nice city that has a night market and a lot of good restaurants.  We particularly liked the stews in Laos; the Mekong Fish Stew was our favorite.

We planned a three day trekking trip with Tiger Trails, our guide was a very nice man and we met some cool people along the way. We stayed at two villages and visited three in total. We slept in a bamboo hut just like the other villagers. There was a mat on the floor with a blanket and a mosquito net. There were also outside toilets (the traditional Laos toilets) and a cold water shower. There was electricity for the outside lights that went off at 10pm; the electricity was generated by a tractor. Throughout the three day trip we did: biking, hiking, kayaking and elephant riding. It was pretty intensive but if you were reasonably fit, it was not a problem. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience but my only disappointment was that there was not much interaction with the villagers. To be honest they didn’t seem that interested in our presence and I was always cautious about intruding on their privacy or disturbing them.  In total there were 7 tourists there. However, our guide told us that during peak season there could be up to 40 tourists. It seemed funny to me that even visiting the village (that many people do to experience the remote regions of Laos and interact with the true locals), could be ‘very touristy’.

Beautiful Mountains

Beautiful Mountains

Beautiful mountains in the background

The Villiage

The village

We decided to go to Vang Vieng for our next trip. We were horrified at the stories people told us. About how at least one tourist every month died as a result of drug or alcohol related accidents or overdoses.   We had no idea Vang Vieng was known as; ‘the party capital of Southeast Asia’. I guess we were kind of out of the loop, to say the least.   We heard that the bars along the river and the ‘partying’ activities had completely shut down due to the frequent deaths.   We really wanted to try the outdoors activities that were available there so we decided to go. We were never interested in the party scene so it didn’t bother us that everything was shut down.  We had a great time; we cycled to the Blue Lagoon (which was a very bumpy ride and quite uncomfortable) and saw the cave there and went swimming. We also climbed to the top of mount Pha Ngeun.  It was only a 45 minute climb but it was uphill all the way.    The Lonely Planet book talks about children coming to greet you, which did not happen with us. We also did Rock climbing for the first time, with Green Discovery. This was excellent, we were fortunate to be the first ones there and had nearly finished, when about 4 other group of climbers came and the place was packed. If we had come later I would not have enjoyed it as much because the area became very crowded and people would watch you climb.  We also did the infamous tubing down the river, no drunken people in sight and you could see all the empty bars along the way that had been shut down.  Only one or two were open. It was a very relaxing experience.  Just watch out for the kids at the end that offer to guide your tube to the shore and expect a tip for it. They are very insistent. It was quite funny though.

Rock Climbing

Rock Climbing

Laos was very touristy, much more than we expected. Quite frankly I believe many Westerners are flocking there because it is extremely inexpensive. The two of us were able to eat out for under five dollars. Alcohol is also very cheap there, so you can imagine the scene.  Laos appears to attract many young people who are on a break from college or  are probably on their first trip abroad since graduating from University. I’m sure we could have found more remote parts that were less touristy but we simply didn’t have the time as we were also going to Cambodia.

What can I say about Cambodia? It was an experience like no other, and for all the wrong reasons! This was our own fault though. We went to the super touristy parts and I’m sure if we had visited the countryside, it would have been a different story.  Angkor Wat didn’t disappoint in terms of seeing the excellent craftsmanship of all the different temples. If you are into buildings, religious and historical sites you will be impressed.  It was all very Indiana Jones.  However, the vendors around the different temples kind of ruin the experience with their constant harassing you to buy their ‘cold drinks’, random books, scarves or whatever else they are selling. We can laugh about it now but at the time it became very tiresome.

Then we went to Sihanoukville’s Serendipity Beach. This was a nightmare from the onset. Trying to lay down and sunbathe is impossible, as you will soon be surrounded by sellers, many of whom include young children.  I made the mistake of nodding when one seller told me that I should come to him if I wanted a bracelet. Not exactly a promise, just a nod in my frantic attempt to get him to go away.  Then I made the mistake of buying a bracelet from another seller (again in an effort to get her to go away). Well, when the guy I nodded at saw me wearing a bracelet, he proceeded to tell  me off for buying a bracelet from someone else. Well this was the final straw; we decided we had to get out of that place.  We only went to the beach because we were exhausted from all the outdoor activities and wanted the last part of our trip to be more relaxing. It was anything but relaxing!  Even when sitting down to have breakfast at our beach hut restaurant, there would be waiters and waitresses coming up to you, trying to sell you an Island hopping boat trip. These were people that worked at our guesthouse, so there was no escaping them.

We were told about a quieter beach called Otres Beach and stayed at the Mushrooms Point. The food there was brilliant and the owners are super nice! The staff was also very friendly. This beach was quieter and there were fewer sellers there. Fortunately they were also much less aggressive in their approach. They would usually leave on the third ‘no thank you’. Whereas the others on Serendipity beach just didn’t give up!  The only thing I would say about this beach is the surrounding areas were pretty dirty. When you are driving up to the beach it is quite concerning seeing it.  Anyway, we were able to do some relaxing for the last couple of days and we met some really cool people.

A sucessful fishing trip in Cambodia

A successful fishing trip in Cambodia

It is unlikely that we will return to Cambodia and if we do, we will make every effort to travel to the remote countryside.

Next time we travel to Southeast Asia, we will do things differently. This is what we learned from our trip:

  • If you are travelling for a couple of weeks (we had three weeks in total) do not try to cram in three different countries. I would advise you to stick to one. If we had just concentrated on Laos, we could have explored it further and visited more villages.  We had planned to go to the North-West regions but we didn’t have enough time. If we had simply concentrated on Cambodia, we probably would have visited the countryside and more remote areas and would not have left with such a bad impression.

Thailand

  • Southeast Asia is touristy but I still believe that you can always find the non touristy parts. For example when I went to Thailand I was there during the peak season but I avoided the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan (not my thing) and went to the Bottled Beach, which I found to be super quiet and serene. It was much further out than the other beaches and you had to take an extra boat or two to get there but it was worth it. The North of Thailand is also beautiful; places like Pye are worth visiting.

Cambodia

  • When in the touristy parts of Cambodia, do not think that the sellers are genuinely interested in you. They only care about your money, so do not engage in any form of conversation with them or they will not leave you alone. Just keep saying, no thank you. Whatever they say to you respond with no thank you. If they say they will come back later, just say ‘no thank you,’ or they will take it as a ‘promise’ to buy something from them later. Bear in mind that any children selling should be in school. Education is free up to high school in Cambodia. So buying from child sellers will just encourage them to stay on the beach all day, instead of going to school.
  • I would advise you not eat at the stalls set up around Angkor Wat. These outdoor ‘restaurants ‘have no nearby bathrooms or running water to wash your hands. So the people serving you food do not have access to soap and water either. We noticed, as we were eating that the people preparing the food would go into the nearby forest to pee. Needless to say we didn’t finish our food and politely left. ‘Cringe!’

Laos

  • In Laos we found that the locals are quite reserved so in order to interact with them, you would have to make an extra effort. They really appreciate this and we found that they are super nice when you initiate a conversation with them.
  • In our opinion Laos had the most beautiful scenery, especially if you like mountains. It would have been better to spend more time there to explore it  throughly.

Guidebooks

  • Lonely Planet’s; Southeast Asia on a Shoestring is only suitable as a general outline of Southeast Asia. It highlights the main touristy areas of every country featured in the book. If you want to find out about less obvious remote regions, then purchase the individual guidebook for that country. Also, do your own research on the internet; do not rely on the guidebook alone.

What do you think about Southeast Asia? My favorite part is still the Philippines! But I am yet to visit many other countries. Share your experiences and top tips below.

Turkey

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What happens when you avoid the touristy parts?

My first experience of travelling to Turkey was before I discovered Lonely Planet books and backpacking. This was my first trip ever and I went with a three of my friends. We booked an all-inclusive packaged holiday to Olu Deniz.   It was in a very touristic area what we saw mainly was the beautiful hotel and pool as oppose to really seeing the country and the people of Turkey.  We booked a couple of excursions, a jeep ride and a horse riding trip, both were a lot of fun. We would lounge by the pool of our 4 star hotel. A pretty nice trip overall and of course we met some nice people and got to know the staff at the hotel and the vendors on the strip leading up to the beach. We soon came to realised that the Turks were very friendly and welcoming people. A year after that, with the same group of friends we went to Spain on another packaged holiday. It didn’t compare to our trip to Turkey and I couldn’t help but wonder what it would have been like to explore different parts of Turkey more thoroughly. I decided next time I travelled I was going to do it differently.

A few years later that’s exactly what I did. I discovered how to travel on a budget and see more of a country.  It also meant that I met a lot more people, most of whom were doing the same thing. It beat merely conversing with people by the hotel pool. I usually traveled alone as most of my friends preferred packaged holidays and didn’t have the same holiday time as me, since I was a school teacher. I have since travelled to countries such as Thailand, the Philippines (where I met my husband), Hong Kong and The Grand Canyon in Arizona U.S.A, to name a few.

So when I got married in August my husband and I decided to go to Turkey.  We were living in the UK at the time so this seemed the most economical option and he had never been to Turkey before and I always said I wanted to go back. Reading about Turkey we knew we were not going to have a conventional type of honeymoon at a five-star resort. We wanted to explore as much of Turkey as possible in the little time we had. We decided to focus on the eastern part of Turkey and avoid the touristy parts in the West.  Of course we wanted to have time of relaxation and do some of the tourist activities but our priority was to avoid the two weeks going by without really seeing much. We have the same ethos when it comes to travelling so it worked out really well.

So what happens when you go to the non-touristy parts of Turkey? Well we started off in Istanbul and stayed for one night. We planned part of our trip from there, which basically involved deciding where to go next and how to get there.  I was taken by surprise when a lady and her son stopped me and asked me to take a picture with them.  I complied because they were both really friendly. It can’t be because I’m black I thought, there are black people here in the city, surely? There were, not many but they were there. I didn’t give it any more thought and just laughed it off. Well, soon I would realise that this would not be the first time this happened to me in Turkey.

We took the train and then a bus to Malatya. There wasn’t anything specific we wanted to see there but it was a place we had to pass through to make our way to Goreme, a town in Cappadocia. We stayed there for a couple of nights in a pretty decent hotel. We went to the night market and one of the locals stopped us and took us to his shop where he gave us all this free food, result!  We got an invitation to dinner at his brother’s house but unfortunately we had already booked a bus to go to Goreme. Well again I noticed that a lot of people were staring at me just as I was walking down the street. I certainly didn’t see any other black people there for the two days I was there so I presumed I just stood out to people.  We saw one elderly man literally stop in the middle of the street to stare at me. I began to really consider the possibility that some of these people have never met a black person before in real life.

In Olu Deniz my friends and I got a lot of attention but most of the western women did whatever race they were. It soon became apparent that in the parts of Turkey my husband and I travelled to, there were not many tourists and I didn’t see any black people.   However when we got to Goreme, there were plenty of tourists. This is a touristy area because people come from all over the world to see the famous statues on the summit of Mount Nemrut,  that were discovered in 1883. Although there were more tourists here it certainly wasn’t a typical tourist area like the beached holiday in Olu Deniz . It attracted people who were there for the history of the place. I totally forgot about my experience in Malayta, while in Goreme I didn’t stand out as much. We met an Australian couple on the bus. This guy’s hair was multicoloured and divided into five huge spikes. I told my husband that if we hang out with them, fewer people would stare at me!

Mount Nemrut

So we went to see the Nemrut statues and watched the sunset. We spent one more night in Goreme, going on a horse riding trip. This was the first time my husband had ever been on a horse. Of course he had to get the crazy horse that would gallop for no reason and go off course.  It completely ignored the instructor when he tried to pull him by the reigns to get back on course.  I had a nice time but I don’t think my husband will be getting back on a horse any time soon.

The next day we travelled the Derinkuyi Underground City, this was a 30 minute bus ride from Goreme. This was  caves that were expanded over centuries and consisted of stables, cellars, storage rooms, churches and wineries etc.  There was even a missionary school and study rooms.  It is 85m deep and there is a 55m air vent that runs through it. You have to be prepared for a lot of climbing and uphill walking once you begin exploring.  There are a lot of closed spaces so be aware that  it may feel claustrophobic at times.  It was amazing to see the complicated network of passages, tunnels, stepped pits and inclined corridors. The small details were taken care of with the building of wells, chimneys for air circulation, niches for oil lamps, stores, water tanks, stables and even temporary graves. There were moving stones that acted as doors that could quickly be closed to block the corridors in the event of an attack.  It was wonderful to see how people lived there and carried on with everyday life.

Derinkuyi Underground City

Hubby

Our next stop was a trip to Derende, a district of Malatya. While waiting for a bus the manager of the bus station told us he would take us to where we wanted to go in his car and he wanted us to meet his wife. Basically, his wife came to the bus station and we all got in his car. The roads in Turkey are a little unnerving but not too bad. We drove to Derende. We were quite disappointed with how man-made everything appeared to be. Even the water fall we were looking forward to seeing had a restaurant built around it. I had never seen anything like this before. It was kind of like hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and finding a shopping mall there! It was nice to spend the day with this couple, although we did feel a little bit at their mercy at times because we had no idea where we were or where we were going. I wouldn’t recommend doing this ordinarily but it was an interesting experience overall.

Another long bus ride and we ended up in Urfa and went to a district called Haran.  This place has a lot of history and is believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in the history of the earth. It is mentioned in Genesis 11:32 in the bible.  It includes sites such as Abraham’s tomb and relics connected to Job and the first ever university.  We met one guy who thought we were really cool for doing this on our honeymoon, we felt like explorers.  The chaos started all over again. One afternoon we sat down to have a glass of water. It was Ramadan so food was not being served in most places and we felt inconsiderate stuffing our faces amongst people who were fasting.  I then got my first insight into what it must feel like to be famous. This was such a funny experience. First a few kids surrounded me and asked if I would take pictures with them. I said yes but then more kids came! I just continued taking pictures with them. Then some of them started taking pictures of me on their mobile phones!! Then adults came and wanted to take pictures, I saw some other tourists looking over and smiling. My husband had to get into bodyguard mode and said to the crowd, no more pictures! This was such a bizarre experience for me and made me wonder why anyone would want to be famous!!

Ruins of the first university

Getting the ‘celebrity treatment’

The same thing happened to me the next day when a group of ladies surrounded me for pictures. One practically pushed my husband out the way. It was all in good fun though.   Never did I feel threatened by this. Everyone was really friendly. I think it was only once I noticed a man taking a picture of me on his mobile phone but apart from that everyone who came up to me had asked to take a picture with me and my husband on many occasions. They loved the fact that he was American. They kept asking him about president Obama. We didn’t really share our political views, which would have killed the mood!

Then there was the time a group of kids started chatting to us and decided to give us a tour of their area, all in Turkish of course. But it’s amazing how much communicating you can do with people who don’t speak the same language as you. There was a lot of pointing and nodding for instance. We had a great time with the kids and met all their friends and some of their family members. We enjoyed the tour and couldn’t believe our luck at getting two guided tours in one week, completely free of charge.

So how did this compare to my previous trip to Turkey? Well there is certainly a time and a place for lazing by the pool, definitely! However, when you really want to see a lot and meet the people it’s good to get your guide book and make a rough plan of where you want to go. Then see what happens. I think you will have a lot more adventures doing this. We even considered crossing the border to go to Iraq (this side of the border is free from conflict) however we decided against it as it was likely that no one there would speak a word of English and  it probably would not have been  wise to go on this occasion.

I have travelled to Thailand and the Philippines alone and felt totally safe. However going to non touristy parts of Turkey alone I would not recommend for a female. Getting all that attention and being alone may be quite overwhelming and intimidating. But hey, with friends or your spouse I would definitely encourage you to be less conventional when it comes to travelling to Turkey. The people are super friendly, in fact I would say they are the friendliest out of all the countries I’ve been to. So see where you end up and share your story.

Natural hair in Nigeria – a review of the ‘Curls Allowed’ article written in the Guardian.

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While on the internet I came across an article by Monica Mark written for the Guardian Newspaper called Curls allowed? No say Nigerian women. Click here for the link to the original article.  Being Nigerian myself it immediately caught my attention.  We often talk about the challenges black women face living in a western society. Growing up in the UK,  I soon came to realise what was considered  beautiful and what was not. Of course women of all races grow up with insecurities but it certainly  didn’t help when every time you turned on the TV or opened a magazine there were very few representations of girls or women like yourself.

Children are very impressionable and when one of your favourite toys is a Barbie doll it isn’t long before you want to look like her.  It is not a person’s idea of beauty that’s the problem. There is nothing wrong with having a certain preference or individual taste. However, it’s when our idea of beauty causes us to be biased or discriminatory against others that don’t fit those ideals, that causes problems. If society dictates that long flowing hair is beautiful where does that leave those who have coily, kinky curly hair? As a result people who don’t fit the western ideas of beauty may end up being made to feel inferior or may even be discriminated against.

So it may come as a surprise to some people that these same ideas of beauty could exist in Africa and that African women face discrimination from other African women and men. The article by Monica Mark highlighted the attitudes in Nigeria towards women with natural hair. It was almost as if natural hair was considered to be uncivilised or unkept.  They refer to it as village hair for instance.   I remember when I first went natural, my mum presumed I didn’t have money to do my hair.  I often had to explain to people that my hairstyle was deliberate and no, my hair didn’t break off.  It was like they were conflicted because on one hand they would compliment me on how thick and healthy my hair looked but on the other hand they would still ask me when I was going to get my hair done. The funny thing was that having a really bad weave was acceptable but having your hair natural wasn’t.

Something that struck me from the article was a comparison made between the attitudes of South African and Nigerian women.  Salon owner Abogo Ugwokegbe said:

“South Africans like natural hair because they’re not fashion-conscious, but Nigerian women like the latest fashion,”

So having natural hair was not considered fashionable.  Perhaps it’s not that South African women are not fashion conscious but that they  are less ‘western conscious’.  When you consider the history of South Africa, it is understandable that the women want to embrace their identities as black women, natural hair and all, as opposed to seeing western culture and identity as superior.  That was the main point of the article. The fact that in Nigeria straight, European hair is considered better than kinky afro hair. The people interviewed in the article were brutally honest and extremely frank.  Getting a weave was considered essential in order to be taken seriously in the workplace and even to attract a future husband.

“No rich man will marry a girl with village [unstraightened] hair,” declared Esther, 18, a rural migrant to the capital, Abuja.

These attitudes exist because many see western culture (especially American culture) as superior and a step in the right direction.  For example many aspects of the American culture are copied, from music, fashion to even the accent. This includes the ‘western look’.  I think this is a shame. I believe people excel when they embrace who they are rather than trying to be carbon copies of others.   For example one thing they do well in Nigeria is braids. When I get braids done I like to go to an African hairdresser because I know that they will do it well.  Braids are a part of African culture and they are a good way of managing our hair. When other naturals were interviewed for this article, one of them explained how girls have never been taught how to manage their natural hair. I think this is definitely at the root of the problem.

We admire the convenience of other hair types and enjoy that convenience when we wear weaves and relax our hair. Of course the burnt scalps and the traction alopecia that some women experience, when these styles are not done safely or too much, certainly isn’t convenient.  It’s good to see more women going natural because it means that more of us will learn how to manage our hair and then teach it to our kids.  I personally don’t like to see western culture ( and usually the negative aspects) copied and replicated into a very poor version.   Articles like the one written in the Guardian will help to highlight these problems and encourage people to consider why these attitudes exist in Nigeria.

Follow the link and read it for yourself. What do you think about the attitudes towards natural hair? Where do you think these attitudes come from?