Lamu Island: part 2

On our second day in Lamu we took a traditional dhow boat trip to neighbouring Manda island. As a tourist, you are offered boat trips approximately every 2 minutes as you walk along the Lamu foreshore so eventually we cracked. The boat operators were pretty desperate given the huge lack of tourists because of the impending election.

Despite lots of competition we ended up with a pretty lacklustre crew, I seem to have bad luck with boat trips! We were overcharged at the end of the trip and had to wait around at the start of the day for them to be ready, standard stuff. It was still a fun day though and it was pretty magical to be sailing between small Kenyan islands.

Waiting on the foreshore for our crew to (finally) be ready to go

Sarah and Andy on the dhow

Andy

It was pretty impressive watching the guys sail the dhow. Keeping it evenly weighted was quite the balancing act. LOL.

This guy keeping the weight even

We zigzagged along the water between the two islands, passing Shela beach along the way.

Shela

Shela

We reached Manda and headed for the sand to relax nearby empty mansions.

Andy and I

Some of the large homes seemed to have housekeepers, others appeared abandoned. It was kind of eerie. Or maybe I think it’s eerie now I know that in 2011 a French woman was abducted from Manda beach by Somali pirates

We ate a lunch of fish and rice on the boat, which was surprisingly good.

Manda Island

Eventually the wind and sand’s exfoliating effect got a bit old, so we headed back to hang out at our amazing AirBnb.

Looking down into our private courtyard

Looking into the main courtyard

Chilling in the lounge room

Coconut by the pool

Another evening of cards and fresh seafood.

Shufflin’

I went for the lobsters and chapati, it was delicious.

The following morning I joined Sarah for sunrise on the balcony.

We are extremely close as sisters but haven’t lived in the same place for about a decade now, so time together is sacred and very special.

For our last morning we checked out the Lamu museum, which had a lot of information about Swahili architecture, furniture and crafts.

We had the museum to ourselves. The building itself had great views down onto the streets below.

The main square

We explored inside the old fort in the main square.

Always stay curious

The fort had even better views!

Donkeys ❤

Inside the market

We decided to take a motor boat to Shela for a swim and to have Peponi’s ice cream one more time.

The most amazing sand dunes sit so close to the water.

Andy walked up one and took this sneaky paparazzi photo:

The ice cream was as tantalisingly good as the day before:

After getting our fix we got a boat back to Lamu Old Town ahead of our boat to the airport and then flight to Nairobi. For what would be the first of many times on our trip, Sarah and I were dressed hilariously alike:

Proving geography has absolutely nothing on our sisterly closeness!

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The new way I pack for travelling

On a rooftop in Lamu, Kenya

Black jeans, black & white striped t shirts and converse trainers. This was pretty much the uniform for my last big trip. I had obsessed so much over packing a monotone wardrobe so everything went together that I completely forgot about that thing called ‘colour’. Then somewhere on the road between Montana and new Mexico, I realised that dressing exclusively in dreary tones was doing nothing for my mood, let alone my travel snaps.

For my recent East Africa trip, I packed a bright red patterned Mister Zimi dress. I love the colours and I love how good wearing something fun makes you feel.  I still packed lots of monochrome, which I tried to balance out with bright lipstick and earrings, but they mostly stayed in my bag due to laziness. When I did make an effort to wear something bright and cheerful, my mood instantly matched.

My new packing tip? Take only clothes you love wearing.

How do you pack for your holidays?

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Lamu Island: part 1

My sister booked our entire East Africa trip. I want to get it out there early that I can take exactly zero credit for the great time we had! Andy and I literally just turned up and enjoyed the heck out of our five week vacation. So while I had an idea of what the safari and some of our destinations might be like, many places were a complete surprise.

The first big surprise was the island of Lamu in Kenya. Lamu Old Town is one of the oldest Swahili settlements in East Africa. The old port there was founded by Arab traders around the 14th century and so the place looks like something out of Aladdin.

We stayed in the most incredible AirBnb. It was all white washed walls, ornately carved wooden doors, heavy carpets (the non magical kind), traditional Swahili furniture and lush plants. To get there we had to wind through tiny alleyways, passing donkeys, women selling fruit, cats and kids playing in tiny courtyards. I don’t think I’ve ever been so enchanted by a place and I’m frustrated the photos don’t seem to do it justice.

Looking up from the courtyard in our AirBnb

The view from our bed into the room

The sitting room at our AirBnb

Breakfast

My sister Sarah and Andy at breakfast

The view from the roof

Sarah in the balcony area off our room

Sarah and I

The weather wasn’t great on our first day but that meant it wasn’t too hot as we set out to explore the alleyways.

Because we were there in the lead-up to the Kenyan election we were some of the very few tourists on the island. Elections and their associated protests can be an unstable time to visit.

The market place

We stayed in the Old Town but the main spot for tourists is Shela, so we rebuffed the thousands of boat ride offers and walked there along the foreshore.

Stopping to pose with bougainvillaea along the way

At one point we passed a group of women and children, one of the women proffered her young son and said “he’s for sale!” before bursting into hysterics as he screamed in terror as if the slave trade is still alive in Lamu. It was so funny! Travelling in a place where people speak English makes such a difference because of the availability of those tiny interactions; you can share a joke or chat about anything from the weather to politics and instantly feel more connected to those around you.

I loved all the doors

Shela was definitely fancier and cleaner, with many more accommodation options than the Old Town. We explored for a bit and then took a dip.

Shela beach

We got a tiny bit of blue sky and managed to run into a hotel restaurant before the rain came. The hotel happened to be the well known establishment of Peponi’s.

Amazing juice

There was alcohol on the menu but we didn’t actually drink on Lamu at all. It’s a Muslim island and none of the restaurants in the Old Town served it. Instead we had delicious and dirt cheap tropical juices every day.

Salad, dip and samosas

The ice cream was next level amazing.

We walked back, detouring inland at one point because the tide was in.

Shela

Photo bombed by a donkey

That night we played cards and feasted on fresh seafood on the waterfront. More to come…

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Nairobi, Kenya

Nairobi was the first stop on our five week East African adventure. We flew with Qatar Airways from Melbourne to Doha and then Doha to Nairobi. Before leaving I had researched whether or not you can obtain the East African visa (for Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) on arrival and couldn’t find any reliable information. So I’d like to state that at September 16, 2017 you CAN get the EAC visa on arrival! It costs $US100 and you need cash. Just in case you ever need that information!

After getting our visas we purchased pre paid SIM cards at the airport, ordered an Uber and drove through reasonable traffic to Beth and Grant’s apartment in Westlands. Beth and Grant are friend’s of my sister’s. My sister lives in Rwanda and has many lovely (conventiently located!) mates across East Africa. After over 24 hours of travel it was lovely to arrive in their beautiful apartment, shower, be fed delicious risotto and hop into bed!

The next morning Beth and Grant were delivering a huge bundle of bread donated from a fancy bakery to a facility for homeless boys, so we joined them. A lot of the boys left home and came to Nairobi looking for work or to be less of a burden on their families. They were all very sweet and introduced themselves in between lining up for loaves of artisanal sourdough and french pastries. One kid did an adorable happy dance after receiving a chocolate eclair. They welcomed us into their dormitory which was an eye opening and important experience. It was very rough but I was glad these guys had a place to sleep. After hanging out for a bit and patting cute stray puppies we left.

After having a very grounding, check-your-privilege kind of experience it was a bit jarring to head straight to a tourist hot spot. But off we went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage where young, sick, injured and orphaned elephants are looked after and rehabilitated. It was pretty damn cute!


After watching the elephants feeding and frolicking around in the mud we headed to the Giraffe Centre, which is a similar conservation facility.

At the Giraffe Centre you can feed the giraffes small pellets, which they lick out of your hands with their weird long grey tongues. Some people hold the pellet between their lips and let the giraffe lick it out of their mouth… I was not tempted to try it!

Giraffes are truly the weirdest, prettiest animals. They have gorgeous long lashes and adorable faces but move so strangely, I can’t quite figure them out. Their necks are really strong and if you stood next to them for a photo they might try and headbutt you.

The following day we walked to a fancy brunch place called Le Grenier A Pain but unfortunately the altitude got the better of me and I was sick. So we walked home.

After I recovered we walked back to the apartment, grabbing some fruit from a street stand on the way. That night my sister Sarah arrived from Europe! We went out for Indian with Beth at a place called Chow Patty. It was the best Indian I’ve ever had, a definitely must if you’re going to Nairobi.

Equality + curry = two of my favourite things

The following day we escorted my sister on a thrilling trip to the Australian High Commission. We weren’t allowed inside while Sarah got some documents for her wedding (!!!) so we hung around outside and I chatted to Charles, a heavily armed guard and former Masai man.

Waiting for Sarah outside the Australian High Commission

First photo of my sister and I for the trip!

That afternoon we flew to our first destination, the island of Lamu, our adventure just beginning…

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Packing for my holiday

I’ve got sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a rain coat, a swimsuit, and a Panama hat that will inevitably end up squished. I’ve got leg coverings in all forms including long leggings, short leggings, shorts, culottes and trousers. I’ve got white tops and I’ve got black tops. Do I need two kinds of runners and hiking boots? Do I need more dresses? Is six pairs of novelty oversized earrings too many?

These are the questions I’ve been asking myself all week as I pack for my East African adventure. We fly out on Friday! How do you decide what to pack for vacations?

Check out my 8 essential items for long term travel and 10 tips for looking good while travelling.

Illustration by Mari Andrew

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A drive from Melbourne: Mount Buffalo

Back in 2015, before our Big Trip, I remember feeling extremely burdened by the familiar. I drove down the same streets to the same office every day. I knew where all my usual groceries sat in the store and would traipse almost the exact same path, weaving through the aisles, to buy them as I did the time before and the time before that. I really longed for newness and to refresh my eyes with an unfamiliar scene, even something as mundane as a new place to buy bread.

Part of the problem was I lived somewhere pretty small and it was hard to drastically change things up. Now that I live in a big city, I can explore new neighbourhoods and shops, but it’s easy to fall back into a routine that eventually becomes stale.

I think it’s important to keep exploring the unfamiliar, even if it’s inconvenient. An easy way to do this is a weekend drive. Not long ago Andy and I spent a couple of hours exploring Mount Buffalo in Victoria, about 3.5 hours from Melbourne.

It was beautiful and cold and the mountain air felt so cleansing to breathe in.

We pulled the car over and wandered up a snowy path.

Then we drove up to the lookout, where I had the strangest sense of deja vu.

Australia’s version of the hotel from The Shining

It wasn’t until seeing the creepy old lodge that I realised I’d been there before. My quest for the new had led me back to somewhere I’d been when I was 16, on a trip with my then boyfriend’s family. So much has changed since then, and as I reflected on this I thought maybe revisiting the familiar is not such a bad thing! Like when people go back and knock on the door of a house they once lived in, asking to be shown around. Have you ever done that?

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Friday Fun

TGIF my friends. SO glad it’s the weekend. Especially since I no longer work from 5:30am on Saturdays! Absolutely life changing. What do you have planned for the weekend? I’m going to prepare for our East Africa trip which is just two weeks away, go to a housewarming party and make dad breakfast for Father’s Day.

Here are some fun links for your Friday:

Someone has started a hilarious Tumblr called That Blue Off-The-Shoulder Dress from Zara (yes, that one I’m wearing in the photo above!). It documents the many, many times you see women getting around in the dress. The captions are on point.

Taylor Swift’s new tune has been out for a week now and I already know all the words. Have you seen the video? I’ve read so many articles on all the hidden meanings within it from the name written on the tombstone to the single dollar bill in the bathtub. Here are 13 things you might have missed

I am so intrigued and tempted by the simplicity of Tiny Houses. We drove right near this amazing one in California on our USA road trip.

I found a new blog through this post ‘Things That Helped‘ (when the writers’ father passed away) and I’m hooked, I plan to binge read it this weekend.

This list has me drooling.

Listening to this will instantly cheer you up (I was driving to work and suddenly burst into happy tears at THE moment).

Speaking of being cheered up, sometimes there’s just nothing you can physically do and that’s OK… Some VIPs in my life are going through a hard time right now and I want to let them know I’m thinking of them xx

Have a great weekend.

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What’s the best thing you’ve ever done?

Wistfully staring into a Greek Islands sunset, August 2016

I turned 29 a little over a week ago and already I feel like I’m hurtling at breakneck speed towards 30. So lately I’ve been thinking if I should do one of those ’30 before 30′ bucket lists. The only problem is I can’t think of 30 things I’d like to achieve or do and really, why should 30 be a cut off date?! I feel like we focus so much on the things we’d like to do and the places we want to go, we rarely pause to think about what we have achieved.

A few weeks ago I caught up with a wonderful friend from my exchange student days. As we reflected on our semester of exploring Viennese castles, scoring ridiculously good opera seats and partying far too much, we both agreed that doing a university semester abroad was one of the best things we’d ever done.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes, but there are things in my life that I just know were the right thing to do. That despite the risk, the financial or emotional cost, turned out to be some of the best things I’ve ever done.

Things like leaving Melbourne to move almost 3000 kilometres to Kalgoorlie; a small mining town on the edge of the West Australian desert. That place was my home for three and a half years, it gave me lifelong friends, valuable work experiences, bizarre and amazing life moments. Oh, and my relationship with Andy! This experience completely challenged and changed my perspective and I know I’m better for it.

Quitting my job and selling most of my possessions to travel the world for 16 months is an obvious best. When I sit at my desk at work, with photos from the trip plastered all over my cubicle, I still can’t quite believe Andy and I pulled it off. That we went so many places and had so many experiences.

Going back to uni after my poorly executed ‘gap year’ (read: year of boring office work and two internships) was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

I’ve picked fairly grandiose examples but the small or intangible things count. I love that I’ve maintained such amazing relationships with both my parents and my siblings. I’m proud that at one point in my life, I got really damn good at making cheesecakes.

While it might seem self indulgent to sit and think about all your wins, it sure is a nice break from constantly looking forward.

So what’s the best thing you’ve ever done?

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12 things you’ll know if you’ve done a USA road trip

‘Right on red’ is genius

In the States, if it’s safe to do so you can turn right if you’re stopped at a red light. It’s kind of the equivalent of having slip lanes to turn left in Australia but you can do it at every traffic light or intersection unless there’s a sign saying not to. It saves waiting for no reason when the way is clear to turn. Love it!

Arizona

No one does the speed limit

Despite signs saying radar is being used, everybody drives at least 5-20 miles over the the speed limit. It definitely took some time to get used to this! In Australia there are speed cameras and police officers enforcing speed limits EVERYWHERE. It is almost impossible to get away with speeding so nobody does it. There are hefty fines for getting caught or you could lose your car or licence. Speed limits are definitely more of a general guide in America!

Speaking of speed limits, in some States we could barely get up to the signposted speed. We drove along a road in Montana that indicated you could do 90 miles per hour, that’s about 145km p/h! Not a comfortable travelling speed for us Aussies.

Love me a good state sign

The roads have numbers, not names 

In Australia we tend to call a road by its name; “Take the Hume Highway to Seymour”. I take the eastern freeway to work. I find it weird that Google Maps GPS even says the road number when I get directions here. But in the States we’d be told to “Take the I-5 north”. Which meant having to learn the road numbers a and Never Eat Soggy Weetbix (or which way is north, south, east or west). The only highway name I remember hearing was the Pacific Coast Highway, usually just PCH.

Utah

The excitement of seeing a state sign never wears off

Our state signs in Australia are really lame. The amount of dangerous u-turns we took across major highways to drive back and photograph the state sign was a bit nuts. The novelty never wore off for me, as you can probably tell by all the photos in this post.

Coming into Montana from Canada

Fuel prices vary wildly between states

Cheapest being in Texas (are you surprised?!), the most expensive being in environmentally conscious California.

SAMSUNG CSC

Texan roads are the most challenging 

Of the almost 30 states I’ve driven though, none of the roads quite compared to those in Texas. As they say, ‘everything is bigger in Texas!’ including the spaghetti-esque mess of roads. It’s annoying enough to miss your exit on a highway, but in Texas your exit will probably split into three separate roads which you won’t realise until it’s too late and hurtling down the wrong one. Our GPS literally could not keep up. Quite the adventure!

Texas licence plate

America is built for road tripping

Ever since those vacationing yanks set out to drive Route 66 in the 50s and 60s, the journey has become the destination. And they are well equipped for it. In Australia you often can’t risk leaving it too long to fill up with petrol in case you don’t see another service station for a few hundred kilometres. Not the case in the US. You’ll think you’re in the middle of nowhere, then suddenly there’s a gas station like a shining air-conditioned beacon on the horizon. There are also plenty of restrooms, motels and roadside attractions (see further down) along the way.

Big Sur

You meet some amazing locals along the way

Americans are super friendly, especially when they hear an accent. We had some great chats to the drive-thru attendants at Macdonald’s and Starbucks. “Are y’all from England?!” one of them asked when we pulled up to the window. Another time an elderly Idahoan couple invited us into their ginormous RV for a modest camping breakfast of blueberry pancakes, bacon and home fries. Delicious breakfast aside it was worth it just to see the inside of one of those things, with all the mod-cons who knows why they even bothered to leave home?!

The toll stations and turnpikes are relentless

Especially on the north east coast. I swear you stop every 50km to pay someone along the way. Pretty sure we paid about $15 to cross a bridge and then from New Jersey into New York. Luckily we always had cash! Also, the turnpike attendant might give you a sort of ticket thing that you have to hold onto and hand to the next attendant… I never quite understood it but always went into a mad panic trying to find where I’d put the ticket.

Mississippi

You’ll stop for all kinds of weird roadside attractions 

The States is really made for driving holidays. And what better way to break up a long drive than to pull over and stare at a bunch of Cadillacs mounted into the ground?! Or pose next to a giant dinosaur statue?! America has plenty of odd spots (including one in Santa Cruz, literally called ‘The Odd Spot’) which will tempt you with signs dotted along the way letting you know you’re only 50 miles… 40 miles… 30 miles… 20… miles from said attraction. By the time you get there you’re so irritated by the damn signs you just have to stop and see what it’s all about. That’s how they get you.

Cadillac Ranch in Texas

Near Dinosaur National Monument in Utah

Motels vary wildly from ‘horror movie set’ to luxury

Those aforementioned motels vary hugely in comfort. The one we stayed in in Flagstaff, Arizona was heaven. We’d just camped for something like 50 nights and then paid $50 for a motel that was modern, had great wifi and a rainfall shower. On the east coast there are two motels, one in Virginia the other in Connecticut, that will forever haunt my dreams. Actually there was another one in Mississippi that stank of cigarettes and had people open carrying their guns in the lobby… that was probably the worst!

Virginia City, Montana

Drive through coffee is regional 

First of all, having drive through coffee everywhere; what a dream. If there’s one thing I like about coffee it’s not having to get out of the car for it. Secondly, thought it was just Starbucks everywhere? Wrong! In Northern California and Oregon you’ll probably get Peet’s Coffee. On the east coast they swear Dunkin Donuts has the best coffee money can buy. And yes, there are plenty of Starbucks shops to go around. But who knew coffee was regional in the US?! Not me.

Arches National Park, Utah

There’s a reason the Great American Road Trip is such an iconic (if not slightly cliched) adventure immortalised in popular movies and songs over so many years. It’s some of the best fun you can have which is what kept us going for over 47,000km!

 

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Would you date someone shorter than you?

Taylor Swift presents a VMA to Bruno Mars onstage during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. (Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images for MTV)

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine was showing me her Tinder matches. Hunched over her phone, we poured over the photos, attempting to gauge the height of her potential suitors by comparing them to nearby landmarks and other people in the photo. She didn’t want to agree to a date, only to show up and see someone shorter in stature. Not long after that, over drinks with a group of ladies the conversation turned to online dating and the height thing came up again “I would never date a guy shorter than me!” came the responses.

I understand where some women get their height obsession from. The heteronormative world view has long told us men should be tall and strong and women should be dainty and take up as little space as possible. As a tall woman, I’ve definitely had moments of feeling ungainly. But literally, only moments! I often forget I tower over some of my friends, realising only if we happen to be stood next to each other in front of a reflective surface. “Wow! You only come up to my shoulder!” style.

I’ve never minded being taller than a romantic partner. It’s just not really a thing for me. Andy and I are exactly the same height, so when I wear heels I’m always taller. It makes me feel statuesque.

When I was a teenager my dad’s girlfriend at the time made some random comment about supermodels always being taller than their boyfriends. “You think a man with Elle Macpherson on his arm would mind being shorter?!” she remarked. I have done zero research in the field of supermodels and their height relative to their romantic partner’s (female, male or otherwise). But this always stuck with me; that tallness in women is glamorous. Sure she meant in the context of being attractive to men which is fraught with other issues but I’m sticking to the take home message of not stressing over height. It’s impossible to make yourself shorter without some fairly hideous slouching, which is frankly unacceptable. Shoulders back, heads high ladies.

Would you date someone shorter than you?

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