Botswana: Okavanga Delta

JUST AFTER dawn, I go for a walk. Low on the horizon, the sun is gathering strength for what will soon be another shimmering day. The ground underneath is sandy, with ankle-grabbing holes hidden by long, dry grass and broken up by tall termite mounds. Thorns of all shapes and sizes grab at my clothing from the shrubs and trees that dot the landscape. A giant baobab – the “upside-down tree” – thrusts its stumpy limbs into a cloudless sky. Used to the dull, grey skies of Europe, my spirit soars to see the heavens so open above me. Continue reading “Botswana: Okavanga Delta”

Sierra Leone: Rough Diamond

I HAVE been in Sierra Leone only an hour and am already having a party. I am staying at the airport hotel, following the advice of the guidebooks and British Foreign Office who advise against making the long crossing to Freetown, the capital, by night: “None of the options for transferring between the international airport at Lungi and Freetown is risk-free.” Continue reading “Sierra Leone: Rough Diamond”

Morocco: Imperial Cities

IT IS always easy to get lost in Fes. The narrow alleys lined with shops at the center of the medina give way to even narrower cobbled paths that meander, take sudden right-angled turns or end suddenly at a wall. Of course I can ask anyone for directions and they will happily point me the way or even show me to my door – perhaps at the cost of a detour to their cousin’s shop. A cousin who will not take “no” for an answer. “If I didn’t try to sell a carpet to everyone who says they do not want one, I would never sell a carpet,” as one salesman says. Continue reading “Morocco: Imperial Cities”

Zanzibar: Island Life

THE STREETS of Zanzibar’s Stone Town are a maze of meandering alleys that lead you in circles. The best you can hope for is to emerge from their dark shadow, squinting against the bright sun, at an unexpected corner of the shore. Around the central tourist area, they are lined with shops whose shaded interiors hide mostly crafts – beads, paintings, fabrics and souvenir T-shirts. Further back, they start to supply more local needs: charcoal, soap powder, shoes and bread. Continue reading “Zanzibar: Island Life”

Sierra Leone: Lion Awakes

 

I WAKE in the night, clammy with sweat, itchy with insect repellent. A branch cracks suddenly, falling to the forest floor near my tent. Monkeys howl. I gulp warm water, wonder if my bladder will hold until daylight, and pull my damp sarong about me as I toss and turn. This is the side of paradise they don’t tell you about. Continue reading “Sierra Leone: Lion Awakes”

Zanzibar: Ancient ways

ZANZIBAR is one of those names – such as Casablanca or Marrakesh – that conjures up a romantic image of adventure and travel. We’ve all heard of it, though most of us might be hard-put to find it on a map.

The Spice Island, to give it one of its titles, is actually two small islands, Unguja and Pemba, just off the eastern coast of Africa. Politically a part of Tanzania, it has been linked through trade and history, by dhow and trade winds, to India and the Gulf States. Continue reading “Zanzibar: Ancient ways”

Cape Town: Outpost of style

SO I AM sitting on a verandah, finishing off the best crème brûlée I’ve ever tasted, watching the warm African sun set slowly over the scenic expanses of beautiful, rolling vineyards and asking myself: ‘Why do I live in London, exactly?’ Another few glasses of South Africa’s finest wines and I’ve not only forgotten the answer, I’ve even forgotten the question.

Cape Town was the place Europeans first set foot in Southern Africa and its vibrant mixture of cultures is very evident in the faces on the streets, in the cuisine – borrowing influences from India, Africa and Holland – and in the way of life. It seems very remote, not only from Europe and the troubles of Africa, but even from the rest of South Africa itself. Continue reading “Cape Town: Outpost of style”

Ethiopia: Land of legend

MY FIRST reaction is: ‘Why have a I never heard of this place?’ Axum, in the extreme north of Ethiopia, is the country’s oldest city and was its ancient capital. In the heart of Tigray province, the roots of modern Ethiopia lie in the Axumite Empire that was once one of the world’s four greatest powers, along with Persia, China and Rome. From 200 BC to 700 AD, its empire traded across the Red Sea as far as India and China and had its own alphabet. Continue reading “Ethiopia: Land of legend”

Ethiopia: Rock of ages

IT’S BARELY DAWN and I’m cold, tired and hungry. Last night it seemed like a good idea to get up at 5am to see a Sunday service in one of Ethiopia’s famed rock churches, here in Lalibela.

This morning, despite the inevitable grumbles, it feels like an even better one. Not that very much is happening; a cluster of priests sit on carpets in one corner of the courtyard; a group of worshippers gather round the church door. If you go in, you can’t leave until the service is over. And since that might take three hours, it’s better to be outside. Continue reading “Ethiopia: Rock of ages”