After 2 months of great adventures, of wonderful experiences in 2 African countries, armed 2800 photos I sat down to work out how to share all this. No one wants to see thousands of photos – well, just me – so I set myself the task of choosing just 5 pictures to sum it all up so here they are!
Most of my trip was focused on volunteering and as usual, I had signed up for a building project. This year my challenge was to immerse myself in hut building for families affected by AIDS in rural west Zambia. When I say ‘immerse’ I really mean it as there is no way to avoid getting covered in termite mud and gloves don’t work so it’s a real hands-on experience.
The huts are made of wood, mud with a metal roof and we used shovels, saws, hammers and people power as there is no electricity anywhere near the site. It’s satisfying, hard work, especially when the villagers joined the volunteers and the local building crew to speed on the work. Sometimes it felt like it would take forever to finish a house on a baking hot sun filled day but knowing about the people who will move into the houses makes it worth it as they are families who have taken in children orphaned by AIDS, currently living in very poor conditions.
Here I am filling the wooden structure with mud balls:
After 5 weeks of building mud huts I was very fit and ready for some adventures so I set off for Livingstone to take on one of the more extreme ways to visit the Victoria Falls. 6 years ago we had explored the Falls from the Zimbabwe side and I had seen the microlights buzzing around and decided I wanted to have a go only to discover that they fly on the Zambian side, not the Zimbabwean. So, finding myself back in the area, a microlight flight was top of my list to sign up for. I was a bit nervous as we waited at the take-off site for my turn to come round but as soon as I sat down I felt safe. The microlight itself was robust, the pilot was excellent and once you are in the air the sight of the Falls takes your breath away. It was just a 15-minute flight but well worth it and another one ticked off my bucket list.
Photo 2 shows me in mid-flight over Victoria Falls with Craig my excellent pilot.
Zambia is a big country and I was in danger of just seeing a small slice so I took a 6-hour bus ride to Lusaka – or rather seven and a half hours because the bus broke down and we had to wait for another to come along and squeeze us all in. I gained a better sense of the countryside, the typical village and the floods the suddenly swamp the roads in the rainy season. I was on my way to a safari in the little known South Luangwa National Park which is in the east part of Zambia and required a small plane ride to reach it to avoid an even longer bus ride.
It was well worth the journey as in just 2 days I saw plenty of zebra, elephant, giraffe, even a leopard walking on the path and several lions as well as many small less ‘glamorous’ animals. We watched one pride of lions being chased off a stretch of land by a large herd of deafening, trumpeting elephants and 3 lionesses sat by the road for over half an hour watching the elephants and watching us so I experienced the rare treat of making eye contact with a lioness who was just a few yards away. I was a little nervous, fearing her making a single leap into the open-sided safari vehicle but she was not interested in me and went back to staring at the elephants.
Here is my lioness:
My next destination was Sudan to join an organised tour and learn about this country which I knew very little about beyond Gordon, Kitchener, the Nile and Darfur. When I announced I had booked to go there, I was greeted with more than a few raised eyebrows and mostly asked ‘is it safe?’ Yes, it is. There are very few tourists and once you venture beyond the banks of the Nile there are miles and miles of empty barren desert. The people are very friendly once they got over the shock of seeing a foreigner and I was delighted to find their first words are invariably ‘welcome’ and I did truly feel welcomed.
The children are particularly fascinated by a white woman with red hair and on one visit to some impressive ruins (at the wonderfully named Western Deffufa!) we were to become the centre of attention for a group of excited schoolgirls who had huge fun posing for pictures with us. They were also pretty skilled photographers, somehow…
The schoolgirls and the tourist:
Nubia is northern Sudan and our tour was centred here. The numerous ruins are impressive although often very ruined and little excavated. Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt and they shared the many dynasties of Pharaohs for centuries so the sculptures and carvings are of shared gods and symbols, except for the lion-headed god which is only found in Sudan. What is not shared with many of Egypt’s great sights are the crowds as we had most of the sites to ourselves which gives them a special magic.
The busiest of the archaeological wonders were the pyramids of Meroe as there was a BBC America film crew installed, making a documentary of the area so watch out for programme coming out later in the year which should be aired in the UK as well. Sadly they did not film me arriving at the pyramids on a camel but it was very Lawrence of Arabia I can assure you.
Pyramids of Meroe, Sudan
I could write enough and post enough pictures to fill scores of blog posts but I have stuck to my discipline of just 5 photos to illustrate my African adventure of 2016 accompanied by some short text to give you a just flavour of it all. I hope you enjoyed reading this and if you ever want to hear more, do let me know!
Back to London-based blogs next week…