I currently find myself in a sun-drenched hotel room in Paris where my view consists of old brick buildings and spired domes, piercing the skyline. The windows are open and summer really feels as if it has arrived in Paris. Bliss.
The past three months have been a whirlwind of travel, faces, places and ever-changing horizons. I left my Bondi home in March and flew to Paris where I started work immediately. I launched myself into Parisian life – with a warm coat, a woollen beret and plenty of wine and cheese to ease the transition from Sydney summer to a rather icy winter. I spring-boarded between Venice, Monaco, Naples, Newport, Verona and Paris in the build-up to the events that I was to be working on: the America’s Cup World Series in Naples, the Louis Vuitton Classic – a classic car rally from Monaco through France and Switzerland to Italy, and finally the America’s Cup World Series in Venice which saw super modern boats sailing against one of the world’s most ancient backdrops. It was like sailing in a painting.
I have met so many amazing people these past months, have paddled canals on gondolas, driven through snow-covered mountain passes while skiers fly by, watched yachts racing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvio, wound my way along the shores of Lake Garda at sunset, walked to work each day past the Louvre with the Eiffel Tower twinkling in the background, and island-hopped through the waters of Venice. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to see if it’s all real but I have been lucky enough to share it with a cast of wonderful characters along the way who help to keep things real amidst the madness.
So now another page is turning. I am soon to be moving to San Francisco which is to become my home for the next 18 months. I am looking forward to setting up a life there, to wandering the winding streets, exploring bookshops, finding my local cafe and discovering another corner of the world in a city I love so much.
And, as I am always one for contrasts, I have just booked flights from the next regatta in Newport back to my African home – yes, I’m going back to Uganda. It’s only for two and a half weeks this time but every second I can have in the village is better than none. I am so incredibly excited to be reunited with Dominic and Rose and all the amazing people at KAASO and what makes it all the more special is that I will be with Cherie and Kirsty. The three of us haven’t been together since Kirsty flew out of Zanzibar in August 2009 so it will be a reunion to rival no other. I can’t wait to see the progress that has been made at the school and to be surrounded by the love and warmth of my Ugandan family once more.
Life really has been a beach of late. We arrived in Zanzibar intending to stay five days; two weeks later we finally dragged ourselves away. It is an island that can quite simply be described as paradise and I loved every minute of our white sand, palm fringed, tropical breeze existence. After wandering the streets of Stone Town, we made our way to the east coast to a beach called Matemwe where the waves crashed on the outer coral reef and the sand was so white it was like talcum powder. We met up with new-found friends from our safari and headed out on a dug-out canoe to go snorkelling on the reef. The colours were spectacular, the water so turquoise it was almost luminous.
We were joined by a couple of English friends we’d picked up along the way for Kirsty’s final night – a giant punch party complete with tropical juices and local gin. The tiny restaurant that was hosting us soon cleared out as we moved back the tables and danced to the ‘Jambo Jambo’ CD Kirsty had bought in Dar. We danced and drank our punch under the stars and it was a wonderful farewell to an amazing friend. We tearfully put Kirsty on the ferry the next day, trying to get our heads around the fact that the three musketeers were now down to two.
More time in paradise was urgently needed.
We spent most of our time at a spectacular beach further down the coast called Paje – aka Paradise. I’m not sure it means that but it should. I’ve never been anywhere so breathtaking and lying under palm fringed umbrellas on the beach having massages from local women and sipping gin and tonics with the sweetest Zanzibari limes I’ve ever tasted was heaven. I managed to find a guitar from the local Rasta guys and sat on the beach writing a song as the local children came and danced before me, swaying in the sand. I couldn’t help but smile.
Mambo Jambo from the spice islands, the Indian Ocean, the land where palm trees sway, where dhows glide blissfully across the horizon, where the sun sets spectacularly and the call to prayer is frequent – Zanzibar!
It is difficult to believe how quickly you can go from village to genocide memorial to big city to safari to paradise islands… Well, when I say quickly, there were some of the most epic bus trips of my life along the way… We left Kigali on what was meant to be a 12 hour bus trip across the border into Tanzania. If only life here was so simple. We ended up dumped in some end-of-the-earth taxi park in a town called Nzega, told the bus was coming ‘soon’. How soon? Three minutes. Great.
Two hours later, still no sign of any kind of bus (although one did come into the taxi park called the “Virgin Express” – it wasn’t going our way though…).
Finally, after dark, the bus arrived, packed with people and no spare seats. It was only a four hour trip so we said we’d stand. We were desperate. At one point I was sitting on the knee of some boy wearing a t-shirt that said WEAR CONDOMS! (he worked for an AIDS awareness organisation), Cherie was being burnt from sitting on the engine and when Kirsty tried to close her eyes to sleep the guy I was sitting on told her to keep her eyes open because if we stopped suddenly she’d be thrown through the windscreen and would need to be looking out to brace herself. Life was good. We finally made it to Mwanza, a Tanzanian town on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, long after dark and were guided by a friendly local guy to a place to stay. 18 hours of chaotic African travel – we slept well that night!
In Mwanza we decided that given everyone but us comes to Africa to see the animals, we should splash out and do the same – safari! We spent three incredible days travelling through the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater where zebras, giraffes, elephants, gazelle, baboons, buffalos and lions roam… It was truly spectacular.
The Serengeti is what you dream about when you think of Africa – dry plains stretch forever with acacia trees punctuating the landscape and wild animals wander. I think I took more photos of trees than animals but to be standing with your head out the roof of a 4WD in the middle of Africa watching giraffes and elephants roam takes your breath away.