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Friday 26 April 2019

The Gambia and Senegal...Beautiful Beaches and Safari for the Uninitiated...Part 1

Dear Readers,

It is your Hapless Blogger once more.  Not again!  I hear you cry…Unfortunately, yes.  This time, your Hapless Blogger is joined by her Intrepid Mother.  Terrifying. 

Today, we are going to explore two travel trends in one trip.  Firstly, we are going to talk about African beach holidays, and secondly, in Part Deux, I am going to expose you to the delights (questionable) of safari in Senegal…You’ll feel sorry for the animals…

Just a bit of geography to start off with:  mainly as I knew vaguely where the Gambia was, but I have to admit, my knowledge of African countries is hazy at best.  The Gambia is a long, very thin country, positioned, interestingly, within Senegal.  It basically skirts the River Gambie, which runs right from the Atlantic coast, inland. 

Let’s start our trip on a very small aeroplane:  my mother said one day, darling, we’re off to the Gambia.  It’s such fun.  She’d been before.  I was clearly having some sort of mid-twenties crisis and she decided that it would be “good for you, darling” to get some Winter sun in the Gambia.  Note here, dear Readers, that nothing was mentioned about safaris in Senegal…Now something I have to remark at this stage is that if you want some Winter sun, the Gambia is the place to go.  We went in November and it was glorious.  Mind you, the sun is mega hot.  If you are not native, or very, very dark skinned, you will BURN.  I am dark skinned but even I peeled like anything, so make sure you use Factor 50 all the way. 

Be warned.  The plane is small.  The flight is about 6 and a bit hours.  Oddly enough, the Gambia is only one hour behind the UK, which feels a bit weird really, as you have been on a (very small) plane for so long.  You fly into Banjul “International” Airport, which is a bit of a stretch, but probably the maddest airport I have ever been to, and if you’ve read my other Blog posts, my dear Readers, you’ll know that I’ve been to some pretty strange places…I don’t need to tell you this, but just in case:  prepare for the heat.  Most of you will be leaving the UK in November at about 10 degrees being generous.  When 30 degrees of dry heat hits you, it hits you hard.  Fortunately, and something else to note, dear Readers, is that it is a dry heat.  Often, it’s the humidity which nearly kills you, but a dry heat, one can usually handle.  So knuckle down and try not to get swept away by the madness of the airport.  Something else which struck me, was the volume of Brits there.  It seems that Brits have enjoyed holidaying in the Gambia for many, many years, and I can really see why!  I loved it, dear Readers! 

Once you clear the crazy airport, normally packed into a small people-carrier, you are shipped out to your various resorts.  This is great fun in itself.  It seems to me, with this sort of travelling and indeed holiday, you have two choices:  you can either hate every minute of it, as it’s not comfortable, too hot, too dirty, too foreign, or in true public school girl, head girl (my mother, not me, although we did go to the same school, I was more likely to get caught smoking behind the CDT block, rather than being captain of the netball team…sigh), jolly hockey sticks-style, embrace it.  And embrace it we did, dear Readers.  In the words of my mother (and also Miranda’s mother in “Miranda” if you watch it) “such fun, darling”.  And it really was.  A lot of the Brits we got talking to were off to their timeshares in the Kololi Beach Club (www.kololi.com) which looks lovely.  We were off to Kombo Beach (www.kombobeachhotel.gm), which was equally lovely.  No, Readers, it wasn’t posh, but it was hardly basic either.  The ground were lush and green with beautiful palm trees, but the main feature, and having been to many, many beaches, as I am sure you have, dear Readers, has to be the beach.  The “smiling coast” I think they term it, and you couldn’t not smile.  Honestly it is just beautiful.

I suppose a lot of people prefer to stay in their resort, as there really is everything there.  A lovely restaurant with local and international cuisine and even aqua aerobics if you really want…It’s a great place to chill out, read your book and re-charge as they say.  Being beach people we embraced it, although I will warn you now, dear Readers, of two slightly problematic issues:  the former is slightly more important than the latter, which is, quite frankly, #firstworldproblems.

Number one, and this might bother some people:  you get a hell of a lot of “hassle”.  I had blonde hair at the time which only made matters worse.  You do not get that level of hassle if you are male.  We took it completely in our stride, but I can imagine some people could actually get quite upset about it.  Really, it starts as soon as you emerge onto the beach on your sun lounger.  Should you remain relatively close to the resort, the staff there see off anyone trying to sell you something/talk to you etc etc pretty quickly.  However, as you begin to bake, you may want to take a dip in the Atlantic.  You then have to leave the relative safety of your lounger and run the gauntlet to the sea.  Once in the sea, they don’t really bother you.  For the first few days, and due to your inbuilt British politeness you either suffer or feel very, very rude.  But after a while you get used to it.  Best not to make eye contact.  And don’t buy anything.  Should you wish to take a lovely stroll up or down the beach, which we both very much enjoy doing, again, be prepared. 

Number two is this:  you are jumping straight into the Atlantic.  It’s much warmer than you think, but very, very wavy.  Jumping the waves has always been a favourite pastime, fortunately, but I would warn you that they are strong and vicious and will come out of nowhere, and knock you clean over.  But it’s SO MUCH FUN!  I would also warn you that it’s extremely salty and takes its toll on your bikinis very quickly, so if they are not particularly robust, or have seen better days before you go, think on, dear Readers, think on.  They will dissolve.  You have been warned!

Again, some people would just stay in their resort and refuse to go out at night to eat on the basis that it’s not safe.  No true.  You’ll be fine.  If Jolly Hockeysticks and I survived, then you will, too…We decided to venture out, mainly because Jolly Hockeysticks had been there before, and in typical my mother fashion, knew EVERYTHING about it already.  I’m not sure quite how much you know about Gambian food…yassa and fufu are popular sort of stews, and goat is a favourite along with beautiful seafood and fish.  We ventured out to a fabulous little place called “Boss Lady’s” as it’s pretty close to the resort and very, very traditional.  Now, Jolly Hockeysticks doesn’t mind a bit of rough and ready, but I found the hard boiled eggs and raw onion on top of yassa and rice a bit challenging, especially when you’re not quite sure what the meat actually was…but guess what, have enough local brew and you don’t really care anymore, it’s all about the experience.  Another resto of note is “Sailor Beach Bar and Restaurant” which you get to down a very dark bit of street.  Once the sun goes down in the Gambia, that’s it, pitch black.  Jolly Hockeysticks is not a streetwise person, so we had a full on posh-girls’ argument about how dangerous (me) it was and how I was overreacting (her).  Let’s face it, dear Readers, any potential threat would have run a mile anyway, and it turned out she was right (as always).  This is one of the best fish restaurants I have ever been to.  Fresh, BBQd fish and seafood.  Cheap as chips and wonderful.  Only slight drawback was the lighting, in that you pretty much ended up eating in the dark, but that was fine…

We are not “entertainment” people, but even we enjoyed the entertainment at the Kombo Beach.  It wasn’t cheesy, but in contrast, extremely interesting with local dance and costumes, and the participants obviously enjoyed it, and were extremely skilled.  In the picture below you’ll see a less willing participant:  white girls can’t shake their booty like the natives!!

Having bedded in nicely, with the tan coming along, and the stress leaving me, Jolly Hockeysticks, who likes to spring things on me at the best of times, announced we were leaving the following morning to go on safari in Senegal…”it’ll be such fun, darling”…famous last words?  Read Part Deux to find out!

And on that cliffhanger, dear Readers, I shall leave you.

Would I recommend the Gambia?  Absolutely.  Cheap as chips, welcoming as anything, and beautiful beaches.  Perfect for Winter sun, so put it on your list.


Sunday 14 April 2019

Family and Nomadic Sabbaticals - Are you crazy or inspired?

In line with our travel trends theme, and certainly in light of our travelling-the-world posts, it seems appropriate now, dear Readers, to consider the mechanics of travel.  As we have touched on before, we’re not all (or certainly not now) the classic “backpacking age”.  Many of us have missed out on the traditional “gap year” or indeed, when they were young, needed to work, not saunter off into the sunset without a care in the world…

In this post, we consider the different options available to more mature travelers, especially those with families….

What is a sabbatical?  Traditionally, a sabbatical is taking a year off, with pay, every seven years from work.  Generally it’s something we consider for those who work in higher education:  prominent educators who are at the top of their fields who take a year off to study, research or write.   Fortunately, the idea isn't confined to that particular sector of society any longer.  People from all walks of life are deciding to take sabbaticals.  It's doubtful their companies are willing to pay them to have an extended holiday, but a growing number of people are doing it anyway.  They sell up and move out, leaving behind their usually slightly unhappy and stressful lives.  Should you do this, of course, it doesn’t mean you’re tied to a year, sabbaticals, therefore, can be for any length of time.  Naturally, that brings its own set of problems and worries.  Basically, if you want to do it, you have to have the right mindset and attitude.  In other words, dear Readers: you only live once.

Financing Your Trip

The most common obstacle to taking a sabbatical is money.  How are you are going to survive without a permanent job or fixed income coming in?  There are different ways to finance your trip, you can sell the house and car, take out a loan and never come back or freelance and work remotely.  Having said that, some people will have savings to finance their time out.  The nature of work has changed over the years, and there are many more opportunities to work remotely, online, to ease those financial worries.  Anyway, anyone who is considering a sabbatical shouldn’t do it unless they are confident that they can cover their costs.


Those who choose to take a sabbatical or a more nomadic type of life (and is actually far more popular than you may realise) and have kids come up against other problems.  Taking kids out of school for a short or extended period will almost certainly cause problems with the educational authorities.  Granted, that they have your children's welfare in mind, but you might run up against opposition or legal restrictions.  One way around this is to assure the authorities that the children will be 'homeschooled' for the period that they are away.  Of course, if you don't have plans to return your kids to the same school or are going for the more nomadic approach, you can just take them out of school and go.

Home Schooling

Homeschooling is an increasing trend because many parents are unsatisfied with the quality of education their children are receiving.  Many children find school curriculums stressful, with the many different subjects they forced to study.  Whether or not your children attend state-run or private schools, the education system is based on results.  The quality of your child's education is measured primarily on test results, certainly once they reach senior school age.  Many children learn subjects by rote just to get through the exams, without understanding or interest.  This is where homeschooling rates above the other kind because you can control what your child learns and the amount of time spent studying.  On a sabbatical or extended trip, you are responsible for your children's education and this involvement may prove to be very rewarding, as by spending more time with your children, you learn more about them, and your relationship can strengthen.

Teenage Objections

On the other hand, sabbaticals with children could potentially be a nightmare…To go anywhere with your kids, you need their cooperation.  Your children need to appreciate the idea of going to travelling, especially if it's a foreign country and far away.  Little children have less understanding and certainly no say in the matter, but older children are another issue entirely.  Most children don't like the idea of leaving their school or their friends.  Teenagers are even worse, their world revolves around their friends and what is trending in their 'clic' at the moment.  If your children aren't eager and willing, your sabbatical could turn into a living hell!

The Rewards

The most rewarding part of having your kids with you are shared experiences.  You can explore new places together and share the wonders.  It is said that travel broadens the mind and that is very true.  Older children are a contradiction, part conservative and part impressionable.  Like all of us, they are bound by a particular set of rules that their set or group of friends live by and generally agree on, but they are also impressionable to the extent that they are lacking in experience and absorb new lessons better than adults.  Children are also very adaptable, willing to fit in wherever home is at the moment.

Expanding Your Children’s Minds

Whether the sabbatical is in your home country or abroad, both parents and children will be exposed to cultural differences, even moving from one part of your country to another.  People outside of your home environment may view the world differently from how you do and this is good for kids, as this broadens their minds.  If the sabbatical takes you to foreign countries, the impact of the change is even more significant.  All of you will have to deal with different customs and languages.  You will all be experiencing the same changes and differences, but together, as a family, creating greater bonds between you.  Younger children rarely have the same prejudices as older ones or adults.  They are more willing to be inclusive, instead of exclusive.  They accept others more willingly, despite colour or creed.  Children from different backgrounds or cultures can play together, their acceptance and friendliness overcoming language barriers.  Going somewhere entirely different will help your children become more socially adaptable and probably socially conscious too.  Not only that, but your children will grow more self-confident.

Building Self-Confidence

Parents who take their children on trips, long or small, sabbatical or nomadic are opening their minds and encouraging them to explore the world both mentally and physically.  It will undoubtedly broaden their interests and promote greater investigation.  These parents are teaching their children to become citizens of the world, not just of one country.

In conclusion, if you get the chance to take a sabbatical or an extended trip, take it.  Maybe reluctantly at first, but your children will adapt.  Homeschooling on the road or wherever you go will erase the divide between education and family, it all becomes family time, if you’re up for it.  You may be amazed at the abilities and interests your children show when they aren't forced into the straight-jacket of imposed learning.  However, there are many arguments for systemized learning, and perhaps, depending on your situation, one may argue that it’s better to take your sabbatical before your children reach senior school age.

In fact, dear readers, there is no barrier, no age limit, nor financial limit.  If you really, really want to travel, then you will.  If your children are young, they’ll love it.  If they’re older, you have more to consider regards exams etc, and if they're grown up, what the hell are you waiting for!


Wednesday 3 April 2019

Travelling the Indonesian Islands - Part II - This Time In Style

Luxe Travel in Indonesia

Dear Readers, until now, we have erred on the side of the backpacker/traveller in terms of experience and location.  Today, we are going to examine the luxury end of the spectrum, and give you an overview of the very best and exclusive places to go in Indonesia.

The question must be posed:  does expensive necessarily mean best?  And if so, how much better is best?  Is it really about the location at all?  Or is it more about the level of accommodation, opportunities and service?

As we said in our last post, Indonesia is an enormous place, and although we would love to examine each island separately, we would end up going on forever!  So we are going to pick the best of the best.

We’re actually going to start off in the same place as we did in our previous post, on Java, where you find the capital, Jakarta.  On the same island is of course, Borobudur, the World’s largest Buddhist temple.  We of course took you there in the last Blog post, where we were all suitably blown away.  So if you want to blow your budget as well, you might as well go big or go home:  Amanjiwo is built with Borobudur as your backdrop (www.aman.com)  One of the most significant and historical monuments in the World as you backdrop is undoubtedly pretty cool, and in fact, you can walk there in 25 minutes…The residence itself is built to resonate and revere its location, as a sort of temple-like destination made entirely from local paras Jogja limestone which is a sort of blush colour which of course looks amazing at sunrise and sunset.  The suites are clearly made to make the most of the architecture and surroundings with a chilled, temple-like theme at all times.  If you fancied the Dalem Jiwo Suite, with Borobudur views, personal butler, private entrance and driveway, private 15m green Javanese stone swimming pool, personal bar, bathrooms with sunken outdoor baths, etc etc etc it’s yours from £2,967 a night.  In fairness, they have some great ideas when it comes to dining:  private picnics by the riverbank or even a private Indonesian BBQ served at a candlelit, rose petal strewn table in your suite on in an isolated spot in the grounds…

Next, we visit Sumba Island, and so to Nihi Sumba (www.nihi.com).  This won best hotel in the World 2016 and 2017, and would appeal perhaps to the slightly younger traveller, looking for physical activities.  With a more laid back vibe, and certainly a big push towards eco-friendly, you can visit the island’s villages and ancient sites, but also go on spa safari, swim beneath a waterfall or go horse riding if you wanted to.  Also, it’s a mecca for surfers, Sumba being famous for its “left hand wave”.  Their strapline is “the edge of wildness”, with Nihi Sumba meaning “a destination with meaning”.  It’s all about the experience, and if you wished to experience the whole five villa Mandaka estate at the heart of the resort, it’ll cost you £9,397 per night, but that is for 5 villas, so it’s not as scary as it seems…They also have luxury tree houses which look tremendous fun, and villas right on the beach, to catch the famous wave.  All meals are included and you can eat with your feet in the sand and a relaxed, laid back vibe.  The whole place looks a dream.

Next we return to the Aman group, but this time Amankila in Bali.  This is a secluded seaside resort nestled next to the Lombok Strait.  Aman resorts are known for their destinations within destinations, and like our visit to Amanjiwo and its incredible location within walking distance of Borobudur, Amankila is located in Karangasem, an extremely traditional area of Bali (far away from the backpackers, one might hasten to add) so you can access the region’s Royal past, untouched countryside and local crafts without stumbling over too many drunken Brits…).  Regarded as the best hotel in Bali, Amankila means “peaceful hill”.  A recurring theme with Aman Resorts is that they try and emulate the architecture of the surroundings, so this time, expect to find thatched-roof suites on stilts and a three-tier infinity pool “spilling down the hillside like a cascading rice paddy”.  Should you wish to take the Amankila suite, overlooking the beach and Amuk Bay with private butler, large terrace and private pool, you’re looking at the same price as its sister resort in Java.   Amongst the stunning spa and multitude of activities there is also various options for dining, including a private dinner for two, right on the beach.

Staying in Bali, we’re going next to the Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran Bay (www.fourseasons.com).  Occupying 35 acres of beachfront, you can get onto the beach from the resort (which we always thought was a pre-requisite but you have to watch out for these, as many traveller have made this mistake when booking:  beachfront with no access to the beach isn’t as rare as you might think…we digress).  The villas each have a private plunge pool and are located in tropical gardens.  You clearly have a choice, but they are beautiful, very private with indoor/outdoor living a theme.  Like all the above resorts, you can also have a three or four bedroom villa with private butler, yogi, dining etc etc but you have to ring them to get prices, so one can’t really make a proper comparison, but for a normal villa, you’re looking at about £1,704 a night.  Dining is an exciting prospect, with the opportunity to watch 9 chefs prepare local cuisine at the same time in front of you at 9 different stations which looks great fun.  You also have the option of in-villa dining, sunrise breakfast, and of course, a very cool beach club.

No luxury blog would be complete without the obligatory “private island”.  This time it’s Bawah Private Island (www.bawahreserve.com) which you’ll find is 150 miles North of Singapore and accessible by seaplane.  The island only accepts 70 guests at a time and is in fact 6 islands containing 13 white sand beaches, 3 lagoons and 300 hectares.  Its whole philosophy is integration and love for the environment, in a luxurious way, of course, plus its own amphibious seaplane looks pretty cool.  It’s an all-inclusive experience (apart from alcohol and diving, plus only one spa treatment per day) but it seems pretty flexible in terms of your options, from picnics on the beach to fine dining.  You really want to go for an overwater bungalow where on one side you get the sunrise and on the other, the sunset…literally paradise.  You’re looking at about £1,913 per night.  If you fancy a cocktail in the tree canopies, head to their Jules Verne Bar and pretend you’re an explorer.  They also have other options such as fine dining, a relaxed beach bar, or indeed, private dining.  Your whole experience is completely customised to you and what you want to do, so whether you’re active, or if you prefer a spa, or to just do nothing, it’s tailored to your needs.

Alila Purnama
So chaps, we could go on all day, but we won’t (check out the 6 star floating ship called Alila Purnama (www.alilahotels.com) at Komodo Island that will take you on a cruise with a difference, too).  There you have it.  A flavour of the very best, most luxurious, top residences in Indonesia.  We do admit that perhaps we were a little reticent at the start of this Blog post, the thinking being that if you’re already in such a beautiful place, do you really need to spend thousands to stay at some swanky resort?  Surely the place alone is enough?  And although perhaps we still agree with that assumption, having researched these mind-blowing places, a little part of us is very sold.  If you’re going to do it, and you can afford it, then do it properly.  Even if you save up and it’s a once in a lifetime trip, or even if you were to go to this magical place and perhaps just spend a few nights at one of these resorts, we might, in fact, have changed our own minds.  Something that really stood out, was the conscience of these resorts, and how they are so keen to be eco-friendly as well.  This, especially in such a largely unspoiled place as Indonesia, is so important.

So what about you?  A private island?  A villa with a butler and a yogi?  Or would you still prefer a youth hostel on a beach?