Thursday, July 31, 2014

My Travels Part One!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a long time and I’m sorry it’s taken so long. I guess I haven’t
really known where to start. My travels…. They were so incredibly meaningful and life-changing that it’s hard to sum up the most amazing experience in a blog post. But I’m going to try…

In February of this year my sister (Jess), her boyfriend (Sam) and me (Sam) and my boyfriend (Jesse) flew to Cape Town, South Africa to start out overland adventure. Now the name thing will probably get confusing…. I guess if I’m speaking about myself I’ll just say ‘me’. Jesse will always be my man, Jess will always be my sister and Sam will always be ‘boy Sam’, Jess’s man. It is rather confusing.. sorry! We had booked a 42 day tour with Africa Travel Co who I should point out were absolutely amazing. We had one short day on arriving in Cape Town to look around the city. Jess and Sam were too jetlagged to come up to Table Mountain with Jesse and I to see the sunset which was a shame but we’re really glad we made time for it. It was incredibly spectacular! Table Mountain – such an amazing landmark. Simply beautiful.

The next morning we set off on our tour. We had a reasonably small group – us (the four Kiwis), an Aussie girl, a Spanish guy and two Swiss guys. It was a very cool group. On top of that we had three amazing African crew – the tour guide and the driver who were from Zimbabwe and the chef who was from Namibia. Then we also had three trainees. Two very cool South African girls who were training to be chefs/tour guides and one South African guy who was training to be a driver. We were a very tight knit group and honestly, being with those people made the tour that much better.

Our tour started on a Township Tour of Cape Town. This was heart breaking. I had no idea the huge divide that existed between the rich and the poor in South Africa. We met a family that lived in a tin shack just off the highway. I remember so vividly one thing the father said – “We fear for our lives every day. A car could crash off the highway flattening us all, or if a fire started, the whole township would be gone. We have thieves who spray fumes into our homes to knock us unconscious and then they take everything we have.” Then he said, “We wouldn’t want to leave though. This is our community. These are our friends and our family. We wouldn’t want to leave our people.” It was very humbling to see. They have so little, yet they’re very happy, very kind hearted, they will give whatever they have to make someone’s day a little brighter…. 

On this township tour we also visited a witch doctor, tried homebrew beer and were taken to the Township’s “food hall” where we tried sheep’s head/tongue and played pool with the locals. I should point out at this point given I don’t eat any part of sheep or cow in usual circumstance there is no way I was going near the sheep head. Jesse said it tasted like beef. Jess said it wasn’t too bad, yet she hasn’t eaten meat since. Eating that sheep head turned her into a vegetarian! Ha! 

Once our township tour was up we started on our journey, driving up into the Cedarburg region of South Africa. This was basically just a pit stop but a great chance to get to know the rest of the group. The following day we headed toward Orange River on the border of South Africa and Namibia. Such an incredibly beautiful location, the camp we stayed at was right on the river, we could jump straight in from the floating wharf and given it was the middle of summer it was hugely refreshing. That night ended up being a big party night, getting to meet the Nomad tour group who were taking a similar route from Cape Town to Vic Falls. 

Most of the group woke up the next day with extremely sore heads (I’m not really a drinker so I was right as rain!) yet they still were up bright and early to go on a canoe trip down the river. Once they returned (I decided to stay behind and sunbathe!) we jumped back in our truck and headed further up into Namibia. It was hot. Namibia is hugely a desert country and oh my goodness. It was the first time I have ever experienced 52 degree Celsius heat. We were using fast melting ice cubes to try and cool us down! It didn’t help that we were stopped at a road block in the heat of the day for over an hour!

Namibia was by far my favourite country on our trip. On our first days in Namibia we watched the sun set over Fish River Canyon which is the second biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon and we swam… a lot! The first animals we saw were zebras… that was exciting! Oh and then an Ostrich! I love the way they run! One of the highlights of this point was the Namib Naukluft National Park which is full of brick red sand dunes. They’re incredible. We hiked to the top of one and caught the end of the sunrise which was amazing. It was so hot though! We had brunch sitting at the base of the sand dune and it truly felt so peaceful. We were even visited by a sprinbox and a jackal! Both really beautiful creatures.

After brunch we headed out to Sossusvlei and in particular the Deadvlei– my gosh what an incredible sight. The Deadvlei is a clay pan right by the “Big Daddy” sand dune. The ground is entirely white and the trees have been scorched for hundreds of years and their skeletons remain. The blue sky and the sun reflects on the white ground and everything seems like it’s hyper-coloured. The sky gets so blue, the brick red sand is so red… it’s amazing.

After the desert we headed to the coastal town of Swakopmund where we could do some shopping at the markets, Jesse and I did a township tour which was even more heart-breaking than the first one, especially the orphanage where we met a small boy with a giant tumour sticking out his head… and no money to get it removed L. I spent SO much money at the township craft store which they were very thankful for… Jesse was so confused why I came out with a maraca…. I’m sure it’ll come in handy some day! We also went sandboarding and quad biking which was very cool. Such a fun place! Our two Swiss boys ended their tour here which was sad and they were replaced by two more Aussies.

Our awesome Jabulani group at Tropic of Capricorn

Our faithful truck!
Being schooled on how to dance by the local kids on the Swakopmund Township Tour

Over the next few days we headed north and stopped over at a Cheetah farm where the owners were
rehabilitating injured cheetahs. We got to pet them which was so incredible. I did slightly freak out at one stage when one went for my shoes! But they were lovely and beautiful animals. Following that we headed up to Etosha National Park… and oh the things we saw! The giraffes were actually my favourite. Incredibly graceful creatures they are. Although the lions were pretty cool too. There were plenty of springbox, impala, zebra, oryx, wildebeest, dik-diks, antelope and so much bird life. There were three big highlights for us in the park. The first was seeing a black rhino (they’re super rare!) and a white rhino go head to head over territory at a watering hole. Normally a black rhino would win but this was a reasonably young black rhino. After staring at each other for a while the white rhino claimed the territory and started to drink. Black rhino wasn’t so happy about that, so they stared each other down a bit longer then decided to become friends and drunk side by side. No kidding!

The second highlight was seeing a zebra give birth!
 It was such a beautiful thing! We watched the whole thing right from mummy dear pushing with all her might to the first steps taken by the baby zebra. We even named it, it was so cute! Unfortunately this is Africa… and you know, circle of life. Half an hour later a lion got a bit hungry and dragged the new baby zebra off for a feed. It broke us!

The third highlight came early the next morning. We took a drive through the park and came across a giraffe hanging out with an group of impala. Suddenly the impalas went on alert and started making this clicking noise. The giraffe bolted and then out of the hedges came a leopard! It walked around for a while before realising there were too many impala to make a move so it stalked off. In its wake came a pack of hyena. Those lazy hyena are too lazy to make their own kill so they follow leopards around hoping to steal whatever they’ve killed that day. 
The hyenas then faced off with some wildebeest but decided not to make a move. It was VERY tense!

Family photo! Jess and I at the salt pan
After our crazy nail biting morning we did something a little more low key and visited the salt pan of Etosha. The Salt pan forms part of the Kalahari Basin (Speaking of Kalahari, YA author Jessica Khoury has a book coming out next year set in the Kalahari region. Funnily enough it's called Kalahari. I can't wait, it's going to transport me straight back to this incredible place. In my head of course! Add it to your 'to read' pile, now now now! So anyway, the salt pan forms part of the Kalahari Basin and is a 120km long lakebed which is pretty much completely dry... well sort of. It's like dry mud coated with salt (which means you do sink straight down into the ground as you walk on it. All good fun! Anyway, it's quite a sight, some of the girls even got down and gave it a lick to see if it tasted like salt. Verdict? Yes it did. But had a slight after taste of mud.

Jabulani at the salt pan

Magestic giraffe taking a drink!

After Etosha we headed up to Botswana where we took a river cruise and saw some hippos. I really don’t like hippos. Do you know they’re the most dangerous animal in Africa? They will charge at you, snap you in half and then drop you to let you rot…. They’re vegetarians. They’re not killing you because they’re hungry.

They’re just killing you because they see you as a threat. Pretty awful. One walked through our camp once, was pretty scary. There are funny though. They ‘laugh’…. I don’t know how I can describe the noise they make but it’s like .. meh..he..he..he….heeee. It’s hilarious.

From there we headed to the Okavango Delta. Oh my goodness the beauty!! We were taken into the delta in mokoros which are dug out canoes, poled by locals. It was so relaxing. Every single one of our group managed to fall asleep in the hour and a half journey. We were guided between the reeds ….. it was just magical. We spent the next few nights bush camping under the stars. 

We kept a fire going at all times to keep the animals away from our camp (although we’ve heard stories of lions, elephants and hyenas all visiting the camps!) and by night we watched the fireflies dance. We did quite a few walking safaris through the Delta which was awesome – saw more hippos, a giraffe (including a giraffe skeleton), warthog (PUMBA!!!), Zebras, wildebeests, and lots of birds. I saw a hyena too. Eagle eyes they called me. (Only me and the guide managed to spot him). On our final night the locals performed some songs for us around the campfire and we all performed songs from our home countries. It was very cool.

After our time at the Delta we headed up to Chobe National Park where we did another overnight bush camp in the middle of the park. A little scary to be honest! We had an elephant visit us for dinner which was an experience. I love elephants but if they feel threatened …. They’ll charge! Luckily she was just wandering past. 

We saw a lot of elephants in Chobe. It’s the place to be to see elephants! We also saw Cape Buffalo meaning we’d seen all of the Big 5, a plenty of baboons. The Lilac breasted roller was my favourite bird, and we saw lots of hippos, eagles, giraffes… so many animals honestly it’s hard to remember all their names!

Chobe was awesome, a great place to visit. From there we headed on up to Victoria Falls. Such a beautiful place. The falls are incredibly impressive. We also went elephant back riding (it’s safe for the elephants, not like the ones in Thailand that really hurt the elephants). 

 Earlier that morning we'd gone walking with lions (they’re lions that are part of a breeding programme to help get the dwindling population of lions back up. All money raised goes to the programme) and zip lining – oh my gosh I was so scared! It was a lot of fun though. We had quite a few nights of partying as well as it was out last time with our amazing group. We’d called ourselves Jabulani, which was the name of our truck and means happiness in Afrikans. I miss them all terribly!

You can see the sheer terror in my face!
Jesse got really sick in Vic Falls. He’d been sick for a while after eating dodgy chicken at KFC in Kasani,
Botswana. He didn’t get to come to Chobe with us the first time around, spending all his time vomiting instead which was crappy. By the time we got to Vic Falls he was still quite unwell. We ended up having to go to a doctor in case he’d picked up Malaria –he hadn’t. It was scary though… and those third world doctors, wowee it was an experience. Especially the chemist where we picked up the medicines, it was like a back alley drug deal, so crazy.

Meanwhile my sister dances across the flying fox like there is nothing to fear....

So that brings us to the end of the first part of the tour. Stay tuned for part two next week! :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a super-awesome-cool-fun blog hop created by Jaime and Erin to help writers keep in touch with each other. If you want to take part, head over to either of their pages to check it out!

What I'm Reading
I'm currently reading While We Run which I'm LOVING! It's the sequel to When We Wake which was also excellent. I really love the Karen Healey's writing style and the story is so real and so possible... it just reels me in.

What I'm Writing
As I mentioned on my post on Monday I'm taking a bit of time away from my WIP now that I've finished my first revision while I wait for feedback. It's a little nerve wracking! In the meantime I'm playing with a few tentative ideas for my next book which is quite exciting but that's very much in the early early stages!

What Inspires Me Right Now
To be honest I'm not particularly inspired right now. I want to say exactly what I said last week, as what is inspiring me at the very minimum would be the summer weather and getting out of London City. The thing is, I read the news and everyday it's like a punch in the gut. The Malaysian Air disaster, the Palestine troubles, the problems in Gaza... what is the state of the world?! Where has humanity gone? How can a human look in the eyes of an innocent child and put a bullet into his head? How can a human detonate a bomb on a beach where there are children playing, or shoot down a plane without knowing for sure that it's the intended target? It breaks my heart to see this and in the last week in particular I've really been struggling. My Facebook newsfeed is likes doomsday. All the fighting, all the hatred... and then I get sad about the animal cruelty that's alive and well around the world. My newsfeed is filled with awful pictures of poor elephants, leopards, lions, rhinos.... beautiful creatures shot and killed by poachers who want to make money at the expense of a life. Baby animals left orphaned and ill when their parents are so heartlessly taken from them. Circus animals being whipped and chained.... the last remaining captive polar bear in Argentina who is sick and struggling in the completely inappropriate conditions. I'm finding it really hard to find inspiration around me when we're just dragging the world and all inhabitants down with us. It breaks my heart the amount of pain and suffering that's going on at the moment... *rant*. So that's uninspiring, although the people who are stepping up and doing something about it are really inspiring so I guess that's something!

What Else Have I Been Up To?
I've been going to so many job interviews. And they're no easy. One of them was three and a half hours long, another involved a presentation, another felt like I was being interrogated! It's soul destroying but something will come of it. Then I get really rude recruiters who find my CV online and call me about jobs .... they could at least be a little bit nice when they call!

Aside from that Jesse and I have been taking a few day trips. We went out to Brighton on a very hot sunny day which was really lovely. I got sunburnt, we ate fish and chips by the beach and listened to the waves crash on the shore. It's a pebble beach which is crappy but I didn't care enough... it was just so nice to be by the ocean again. I should move to Brighton. I really loved it out there. I really don't think I'm a big city girl. That fact is starting to really sink in! I should've forged a career around something that allows me to live in a sleepy town within easy reach of a bigger city. Maybe if my dreams come true and I get a book deal I might be able to do that....! We also went to the Museum of London which is really interesting, lots of information there about the development of the city, and we went to the Old Spitafields Market which was nice.

Yesterday we checked out Highgate Cemetery which was creepy and beautiful at the same time and had a lovely lunch at Kenwood House - the house from the film Belle if you've seen that (great movie!) and we walked around Hampstead Heath which was nice! It's nice getting out of our tiny little studio room for a while! You can go a bit stir crazy in here!!

We also went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. I didn't particularly enjoy the stage version to be honest.... it felt very.... slow and uninteresting, but others love it I'm sure! This week we're heading to see Skylight which has Bill Nighy and Carrie Mulligan! Very excited about that! How's your weeks going? :)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Just a quick note....

So a few weeks back I mentioned I had just finished my new draft of my WIP (for those of you that had been following, I finished my first draft over New Year and decided to scrap the whole thing. That was fun... not! Anyway, I finished about two weeks ago and have now just finished my first edit. I've sent it out to three people who I trust to give me their honest opinion on anything and everything from the style, plot, characters and general feel of the book. To say I'm nervous is a bit of an understatement!

Now I sit, my fingers fidgeting in anticipation for them all to get through the chapters and give me their feedback.

What is the process you take when you finish a first draft? What is your revising and reviewing process?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's Up Wednesday

What's Up Wednesday is a super-awesome-cool-fun blog hop created by Jaime and Erin to help writers keep in touch with each other. If you want to take part, head over to either of their pages to check it out!

What I'm Reading
I've just finished reading Hollow City, the second in the Miss Peregrine series. Now I've started on the latest book in the Pretty Little Liars series, Toxic. *sigh* Those books just keep coming and coming and I'm getting sick of them but I really need to know what happens!!! I'm also reading Salt, Sugar, Fat; How the Food Giants Hooked Us which is really interesting, informative and scary!!

What I'm Writing
Before I took my blog hiatus, I worked my ass off to get two - three posts up a week. Part of the reason I stopped it because I just couldn't sustain that any more. I was writing my blog instead of writing my book and my book is the whole reason for my blog in the first place! So when I came back to my blog I decided I would post when I could and when I wanted to but not feel the pressure to have to post all the time, and it's helpful. So i'm still working away on my WIP, the one I finished and then completely rewrote. If all goes well I should have my first draft finished by the end of day!!! *cue applause* so fingers crossed!

What Inspires Me Right Now
Two things - adventure and summer. I'm trying to make the most of the weather by exploring the UK, seeing what's in and around London and heading out of the city for day trips. Last weekend we headed to Epping Forest and took a walk through the trees (unfortunately summer didn't come to the party and we had a picnic in the rain) but even still! For me, it was very inspiring as the scene I was about to go home and write involved a forest. How convenient!

What Else Have I Been Up To?
I'm still unemployed. It's VERY depressing. The UK job market is tough to crack into! So it's been really hard but I've been looking and applying for jobs an awful lot! I also have been making an effort to get out and do as much as I can (as given the job situation I don't know how long i'll realistically be able to stay in London...). SO a week ago I headed into Trafalgar Square where they put on this free event called West End Live. Stars from all the Broadway shows came out and sung numbers from their shows! It was so great! While Les Miserables and Wicked are my all time favourite, I loved seeing the performances from the upcoming revamp of Miss Saigon. The Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia songs got the whole crowd on their feet dancing. It was fun!!

I also went to a creative writing course with my man (who has finally decided to unleash his creative writing potential and write his own book!) The course was on intricate storylines and while it was interesting it was more geared at those who hadn't started writing their book and possibly didn't even have an idea in mind. So for me I didn't find it particularly helpful at this point in time but I think Jesse did. There was also a lot of workshopping which I wasn't a huge fan of.... just lecture me!

I checked out a performance of The Drowned Man which is put on by Punchdrunk of Sleep No More fame. It was really good! It had a similar style to Sleep No More - four floors of set, audience members wear masks and they're free to wander as they want to follow the stories they choose to follow. It was really complicated but a great show. If you've seen Sleep No More.... think bigger - bigger cast, bigger (and way more) storylines.... bigger. It was awesome

We also went to the Southbank Philharmonia Concert on Friday where they performed 'screen themes'. We're talking theme songs from the favourites - Indiana Jones, Ghost Busters, James Bond, Batman, Superman and so many more. Then they ended with a few songs from their new Abba album which had everyone up on their feet. Best Orchestral concert I've ever been to!

The week ended at Wimbledon where we sat for many hours watching an empty court in the rain (and totally not dressed for the cold!) but then finally got to see some quality action. We saw Serena Williams defeated by Alize Cornet. Wowza it was an epic game. Pretty sad actually too, I was cheering for Serena but almost everyone else in the crowd was going for Alize.

So that's pretty much me! How's your weeks been? I'm going to leave you with this little picture as I thought it was quite clever....