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Travel Throwback Thursday

I’ve hijacked #tbt and turned it into #ttbt so I can tell stories about old photos of my past adventures. This time: I can’t believe it’s been a whoooooole year since I went to Africa.


Possibly one of the nicest pictures I’ve ever taken.

This is the best picture I took in Africa. But let me tell you what was going on here, because I was immensely overheated, exhausted, and uncomfortable. The most ideal looking thing is often very different in reality.

We were spending the day in the Okavango Delta in Botswana and had set up camp in a lovely spot on a wee island. We’d been poled out in these mokoros in the morning along with all our stuff. But on that trip, we had our camp mattress pad things crammed up into seats in the boats, so despite being crazy hot, it was super comfortable and relaxing gliding through the water reclining on our piles of backpacks and hiding from the sun under to cheap plastic umbrellas we’d bought in Maun.


The trip out in the morning. Super chill.

After swimming and listening to each others’ music all day in camp, we piled back into the mokoros to be taken to another island for a game walk. This time there was nothing to sit on, so it was slightly more rough and ready. And the guy poling the boat I took in the evening was a fan of plowing through the reeds, which really hurt. It was also SO. SO. SO. HOT. We went for the hottest walk I think I’ve ever been on. We saw very few animals because animals are smart and they weren’t hanging around where there was no cover from the sun like us silly humans were.

Hottest walk of my life

Hottest walk of my life

Of all the things we did on this trip, I’d have to say this walk was the furthest from a highlight. However, I don’t regret it. Because: Africa.

Plus, on the way back we got this perfectly timed, amazing view of the sunset over the Delta. And it just so happened that the boat I was in was behind Ben and Gary’s boat, which was lucky because the shot would pretty dull and forgettable if it was just the sunset on its own.

When we got back to camp, there was dinner and singing and dancing and drunken stargazing at the most stunning night sky with zero light pollution to a soundtrack of the most bizarre and wonderful clinky-sounding frogs. Completely un-capturable on camera as the best experiences often are. It was great.

Put that on the card

You know. Like they tell you NOT to do.

Sunset on the Okavango Delta

Worth the interest.

I have mentioned before that I paid for my big trip to Africa largely on credit. And I said I’d get into that later, so here I am. I know conventional wisdom states that the last thing in the world you’re supposed to do when Sorting Out Your Life is to solve the problem by paying in credit, so this is going to be wildly unpopular advice. But I say you know yourself well enough to know what you can handle financially as well as physically and emotionally and all the other -lys.

That trip was something I really wanted to do. I knew it would be a game-changer (though not precisely how so). I also knew that I would be able to pay it off by the end of the year because I had a job to handle it and I did the math.

I’m not at all saying that you should put every little thing you want to do on a credit card just because you want it. But cards exist for a reason, and I think that gets skipped over because this financial expert or that doesn’t believe normal people can handle it anymore.

There are very few people who keep their credit immaculate. It’s hard. There are surprises in life and there are impulses you can’t or don’t want to ignore. Until about 3 years ago I almost never carried a balance, and then life threw me a curveball during which I learned that A: no emergency fund is ever really big enough, and B: it’s impossible to be prepared for EVERYTHING, no matter how much of a control freak you are.

The last thing I needed right then was the guilt of not being able to keep my credit super-clean. That’s way too much pressure. The cards were there to pull the weight when I could not. Your best intentions are no match for the reality of life, and that’s why these things exist. Give yourself a friggin’ break. I wish current me could have told past me that, but, you know, LEARNING.

Of course it’s a privilege to have the flexibility of credit, and abusing it is just going to stress you out or get you in trouble in the long-run, but there is a balanced view to take here. It’s just money. You can make more money. Not that it’s always easy, but you can.

You can’t, however, make chances. You can’t turn back time. (Even with money, as Jay Gatsby has so shown us.)

Since that’s all the case, I believe that since you can lean on credit in rough times, you should absolutely be able to make use of it for the good times as well.

In a tiny plane over the Okavango Delta

14.9%’s got nothing on this.

I could have waited an extra 6 months to book that trip to Africa if I wanted to be ultra-responsible. But it was meant to be a celebration and a reward and all sorts of other intangible things as well as a trip. It was the right time, so I went for it. And I spent a lot more money than I expected to while actually ON the trip. (It’s hard to say no to things you may never get a chance to do again. So no regrets.) As I throw about £300 at that balance every month, it doesn’t feel too bad, because I remember what it’s for.

I don’t want to spend my whole life catching up to my credit balance though, so that’s why I AM waiting the extra year for the Trans-Siberian. That and it’s not really smart to go off for months at a time without a good cushion of cash.

If you can pay up front for these things, it’s always better. But if money is the ONLY thing holding you back, and you can come up with a workable plan to manage that when you get back, that is what credit is made for. There is such thing as using it responsibly. Trust yourself.

…and think about getting the frequent flier mile bonus card BEFORE you spend loads of money on going to Africa, so you don’t, like me, come back and kick yourself on the could’ve-been-billions-of-bonus-miles-on-top-of-your-amazing-holiday you just missed out on. But more on that some other time.

Jules teaching us to do Springbok shots

Money can’t buy a lesson in Springbok shot-taking, but for everything else there’s MasterCard.

Travel Throwback Thursday

I’ve hijacked #tbt and turned it into #ttbt so I can tell stories about old photos of my past adventures. This time: Madinda, the elephant that did her own thing (and therefore the BEST elephant).

Madinda the elephant

Trunk up! And yes, that is elephant drool on my trousers.

When most people in our group chose to go walk with Lions, my tentmate Tori and I chose to ride an elephant, and it was the greatest. We chose the elephant with a rebellious streak. Or, we ended up with her anyway. She was the biggest and I think most of the other people were a bit scared.

The minute we got on Madinda, she broke right away from the rest of the elephants lumbering along happily in a line, and shot straight for the tastiest looking tree. This made for a bit of a bumpy start. Tori was a little worried, particularly considering this ride was turning out to be the most unique hangover cure ever, but I was loving it.

Once our generous ride got her fill of that particular tree, she rejoined the herd. BUT NOT FOR LONG! The whole way, we were treated to all sorts of detours and disobedience of the guide. Never dangerous mind you, just ‘eff that, I’m not following those guys, there are way better snacks over here and I’m havin’ ’em!’

A lady after my own heart.

After our ride, we got to give Madinda loads of treats and have a little chat with her. She was absolutely lovely and I’m glad we got the standout of the herd.

Also, just so you know, the place we did this was very good. The elephants are actually free to go off and do whatever they want when they’re not doing their ride in the morning. They come back of their own free will. They’re clearly treated very, very well. And they seem to enjoy the whole thing (and the extra snacks of course).

Elephant chomping a tree

Another tasty tree. YES PLEASE.

Tough question

If we are the guardians of the environment, obligated to do our very best to protect the natural world—if that natural world, increasingly, exists only at our pleasure and as the result of much hard work and vigilance, are we not also our brothers’ keepers? Where is that line, that balance between the needs of man and that of the incredible, graceful, terrible, gorgeous creatures who still manage to survive in what passes for the wild?

I sure as Hell don’t know.

-Anthony Bourdain
from a great post on uncomfortable questions raised in the course of travel

World Rhino Day!


Straight chillin’

There were a million reasons I chose to go to Africa at the start of the year, but one of the top three was to see rhinos in the wild. While I still have the chance. I don’t like that modifier, but if I’m being realistic, it’s probably necessary.

Wildlife conservation is something I think about an awful lot. There are so many dilemmas there. I don’t believe that humans control the success or demise of a species, or even the world itself. In all the talk about saving the planet, I’m firmly in the camp that the planet does not need saving and that it’s awfully self-important of us as a species to think it does. HUMANS need saving. If we continue to fuck with the planet, it will purge us and re-balance itself. The planet will be fine. We’re only taking ourselves down when we act irresponsibly. But to take animals down WITH us? It’s unfair. Perhaps inevitable, but it’s my argument for being a defender of animal welfare.

I do think that in the normal course of life, species will go extinct. That’s sad but at a certain point it’s the natural order of things. But when it’s largely human actions pushing any species to extinction, that’s when I do agree that we try our damndest to turn it around. Even when it seems impossible.

(There’s a really great, recent episode of Radiolab on Galapagos that pokes at a lot of these issues. If you’re interested in this sort of thing, it’s a good listen.)

I don’t really remember when or how rhinos became one of my favourites. I love pretty much all animals but for some reason, I just think rhinos are awesome. I was lucky enough to see White Rhinos on two separate occasions on my trip. But rhinos are so threatened that they’re guarded by rangers with guns and shoot-to-kill permission. I had an ongoing debate with one of the guys in the group over whether these animals were actually wild because of how heavily protected they were. I do think they still count as wild. It’s not as though they’re in a zoo, they’re just monitored as closely as possible. And even with all that protection, they still get poached.

The biggest threat to rhinos is poaching. Something that is completely the fault of human attitude, and could be eradicated if only people decided to stop. It’s not that easy of course, but it still blows my mind that we are selfish enough as a species to think of an autonomous living creature as the kind of property we can just pick apart because we’ve decided (wrongly, although that barely matters) that a part of it has some property that heals various minor ailments. Or that it’s a status symbol.

I mean, really, who do we think we are?!

The first time I saw a picture of a rhino that had it’s face cut off for its horn, I wasn’t expecting it. It was in a World Wildlife Fund mailer about the current problems in Africa. I cried. It’s one of the most horrible things I’ve ever seen. I still get really upset when I see pictures of it.

Rhino horns are made of keratin – the same thing human nails and hair are made of. It doesn’t heal anything or make you better at anything. And the even more frustrating thing is that you CAN cut a rhino’s horn off without killing it. They do it on the reserves to deter poachers. But demand is so high and ridiculous that rhinos whose horns have been trimmed down STILL get poached for the wee bit left. Poachers just hack off their face and leave them for dead. And they have technology and helicopters and automatic weapons. Poaching is big business.

I can’t even begin to explain all the problems and the frustrations of rhino conservation here, but Save the Rhino details them well. The reason I’m writing about this now is that today is World Rhino Day, and rhinos are my cause. So if you’re moved by any of this, read about the problem. Learn the issues and donate a bit so that rangers on the reserves get more help, or the programmes for public education in the countries demanding rhino horn can grow. It’s so hard to fight against the organised crime of poaching, but we have to try. Even if you never personally get to see a rhino in the wild, wouldn’t it be nice to know they’re safely there, going about their rhino business? I think so.

Not a professional job in the least, but it's the thought that counts.

Not a professional job in the least, but it’s the thought that counts.

I’ve painted my nails as part of Save the Rhino’s Nail It For Rhinos campaign and I’ll be telling people about it all day. If you’re reading this, I nominate you to donate! And paint your nails if you’re into that. I never EVER paint my nails, so it was quite an endeavour for me. And I fully realise that putting a bit of polish on my nails isn’t directly going to save a rhino, but it helps start a conversation, and that’s how you start a change on the simplest level.

In the UK, you can text NAIL14 £3 to 70070. Everywhere else, donate online. Every little bit helps!

Rhinos can’t thank you, but they can go on being rhinos. And I can thank you for reading and for helping out.

Travel prep: immunisations

I know, I know. SUPER FUN. Also: PRICEY. But then, it’s pretty hard to put a price on your health once you start thinking about it.

Sunrise and coffee at Big Cave, Zimbabwe

Not visible: the mosquitoes (and their diseases) I was not worrying about because I was prepared.

I recently scheduled my Hepatitis A booster so that the barrage of jabs I had before heading to Africa could be that much closer to fully effective. Once boosted, I will be covered for Hep A for 10 years. And 5 for Hep B, but I need to wait until January for that. I know this is utterly thrilling discourse but I like to see it as an excuse to take MORE TRIPS. Get my money’s worth. But let me back up a little.

When I booked my first trip that involved places where protecting your immune system was a prerequisite to being let in to the country, I knew it was gonna cost me, but I did NOT research much ahead. And that shit added up quick. Even with the straightforward, non-marketing-led advice of the doctors and nurses at the NHS travel clinic (‘You absolutely need THIS, don’t bother with this one, this other one is probably smart to have in your circumstances…’) I felt like it wasn’t something I should skimp on.

Some things were free on the NHS (I love you, NHS):

  • Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria booster
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A (including a booster 6 months later)

Some things were very not-free:

  • Hepatitis B series – series of 3 (not including booster in January 2015) – £46.79
  • Yellow Fever – £52.50
  • Rabies – Series of 3 intradermal at £21 each – £63
  • Malaria prophylactics – Malarone for entire trip plus 7 days after – £70.56

The good news is, a lot of these cover me for a long time. Yellow Fever and Hep A give you ten years. Hep B apparently gives you five.

Rabies protection isn’t necessary for another 10 years for travelers unless you’re going to a high-risk area. The rabies vaccine wasn’t mandatory, but since I was going to be camping, occasionally remotely, and around wild animals (yay!), I decided it was worth the extra protection. It doesn’t prevent the disease completely, it just gives you extra time to get to treatment if you get a bite. And the fatality rate of rabies is fucking 100% so, time is good.

Typhoid is only good for one year, but luckily it’s free. And the Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria booster should technically be the last one I need, but if they recommended it at some point, it’s not like I’d say no.

In any case, that’s all £232.85. That does not include the cost of the buses (so many buses) to get back and forth to the million appointments at which all these were administered. It also doesn’t include things like hardcore mosquito repellant and a personal first-aid kit. That stuff maybe altogether cost around £40. And while I was lucky enough to not have to use much, I’m glad I had it.

One first-aid kit thing I would absolutely recommend saying yes to at the travel clinic is a pack of Ciprofloxacin. It cost me £10.50, and I did not have any gastrointestinal issues on my whole trip. I can honestly say that one or two times, that was thanks to this stuff. You basically take one dose the minute you feel any inkling that your insides might betray you, and it sorts you right out. And it REALLY DOES. So. Worth it.

Anyway, for Africa alone, this makes medical costs alone equal the cost of a European city break. And I imagine all of this is even more expensive in the US where you have to contend with medical insurance and jerkface pharmaceutical companies. But again, you have to weigh the cost against the potential of something nasty ruining your holiday. Or your life. Do the research ahead of time and budget it in and you won’t be quite so shocked as I was.

I did moan a bit about the cost to begin with, but honestly, the more annoying part was the logistics of all the appointments and timings of when doses needed to happen. Forget the money – if you’re going somewhere exotic, start scheduling your jabs as far ahead of time as possible so as not to suffer running around like mad in the entire two-month run-up to your departure.

The good news is, along with other pre-trip anxieties, the mad rushing about and the receipts with big numbers on them fade quite nicely into the hazy bits of the past that don’t matter once you’re on that trip. Because you took care of that stuff so you don’t NEED to think about it.

Next time around, obviously the longer the trip means the more I’ll have to figure out ahead of time. But at least I know to start now.