Argentina – away from the city

Argentina – away from the city

 

Argentina – away from the city

 

After eight years sailing the seven seas, there are only a few coastal regions of the world I haven’t visited, although escaping into the interiors of countries has eluded me. But not in Argentina!

The stage show Evita has a lot to answer for…

There are a few places in the world that have always fascinated me. The Egypt of the Pharaohs, the China of the Dynasties – and Argentina. I must admit that the stage show Evita has a lot to answer for in that respect. From her humble beginnings as an illegitimate child in Los Toldos, to her rise as the First Lady of Argentina, the story of María Eva Duarte de Perón fascinated me. So it was no surprise that I made it my mission to get there!

Of course, I had to see the Casa Rosada, the pink palace in the centre of Buenos Aires from where Evita held court, and the cemetery at Recoleta where she was buried, in October 1976. This was 24 years after she died and her body was removed from its resting place, travelled around Argentina, to Milan, Madrid and finally back to Los Olivos where it was restored before going on public view beside that of her recently deceased husband. In Recoleta (pictured above) it was finally placed in her family’s mausoleum, where she lies five metres underground, in a crypt fortified like a nuclear bunker, so that no one should ever again be able to disturb the remains of Argentina’s most controversial First Lady.

Although Buenos Aires is home to many a fascinating story based around the Peronistas and the coup that deposed Evita’s husband, President Juan Peron, there is more than just the city.

 

San Antonio de Areco is an 18th century town just under two hours outside of Buenos Aires, a pretty town in the Pampas, on the Areco River. Famous for its links to the Gaucho and Criollo traditions, it still provides a valuable insight into their lives, with museums and artisans who still provide fine silverwork and saddlery for the horsemen and women. And if you’re there in November you can catch the at the “Día de la Tradición” when they ride through the town in all their finery, with their horses adorned by the local crafts.

I started my day in San Antonio de Areco at the home of Paula Mendez Carreras, a local chef who runs cookery courses. The space was light and open, and I was with a group of seven others some who liked to cook and some, like the guys, who never cooked. On our lesson plan for the day, we had empanadas, alfajores, and chipas.

Traditionally, alfajores, which are a huge part of Argentine culture dating back to the 19th century, are two crumbly biscuits filled with of dulce de leche but you also see them rolled in coconut or covered with chocolate or glazed sugar. The alfajor is the most common snack for schoolchildren and adults alike. There is no ‘right’ time to eat alfajores… any time is the right time to indulge!

Empanadas are a small version of a pasty really, but filled typically with a variety meat, cheese or vegetables. To be honest any combination would work, if you love it, the sky is the limit! Traditionally oven baked or fried, they can be prepared in advance and served as an appetizer, snack or as a meal in their own right.

And chipas… I ate these little cheese buns constantly, usually while sitting in one of their many sunny parks thinking of the rain in London, so it was great to learn how to make them. Especially as they were also gluten free which, unfortunately, is a must for me.

 

As the dough needed to prove for the empanadas we had a chance to wander, which is how I came upon the Draghi Museum, a unique, fascinating view into the family history of one of the world’s most prolific silversmiths.

Señor Juan José Draghi was on hand to show me around the museum, which features all types of silver inlaid Gaucho implements from belts to spurs, whips, knives, mates, bombillas, horse bridles and stirrup work. He also showed us the traditional processes, how the silver is worked and some of the original designs of pieces that were made for heads of state, such as a belt buckle design for President George W Bush while he was in office.

Then it was back to Paula to see how the dough was! Within the hour, we were sat around the table enjoying the delights of our lesson.

I could have spent longer in this beautiful historic setting, an ideal stepping stone to the Pampas and perhaps riding with the Gauchos, or for further travels across to the wine regions of Mendoza’s high altitude Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. I’ll save that for my next visit here!

If you’d like to embark on your own Argentinian adventure, take a look at our Highlights of Argentina and Patagonia Deluxe holidays – or talk to us about tailor-made.

Tackling my fears on my first safari

Tackling my fears on my first safari

Tackling my fears on my first safari

When you’ve always been a beach holiday type of traveller, and you are faced with something completely outside of your comfort zone, you know it is going to be a love it or hate it experience. And that was me…

I grew up camping, so that didn’t worry me in the least, it’s something I am very comfortable with. But in Scotland, and not Africa. I was heading to Nairobi in Kenya for a travel trade show, and this was the ideal time for me to experience a safari. Although right up until I arrived in the country, I still wasn’t too convinced.

My itinerary included one night at Loldia House on Lake Naivasha and three nights at Governors Main Camp in the Masai Mara, home of the BBC series, Big Cat Diaries and the Discovery series Big Cat Tales. We were travelling by road to Loldia House, a journey of about 2 hours from Nairobi, then by light aircraft to Governors Camp and back to Nairobi. I learnt that Safari literally means a journey in Swahili. And this was a journey I will not forget.

Driving to Lake Navaisha wasn’t as bad as I expected, the road was good until we turned off for Loldia House, but the traffic wasn’t great. Fridays in Nairobi are like no other city I can remember in so far as the roads are gridlocked. But once out of the city, we stopped, and it was our first opportunity to look out at some of the vast vistas you will see in Kenya. Even a wet and misty morning couldn’t detract from the sheer size and variety of terrain the Rift Valley had to show us from our high vantage point.

From here we descended into the valley, stopping at Ubuntu Life, a non-profit business set up to help local women and children with life-changing therapies and medical care for those who needed it, suffering from neurological issues and stigmatised in the local community. Once the special needs of the children had been met, the mothers were looking for a productive outlet for their time and energies, and Ubuntu gave them this.

These maker mums now have their products sold throughout Kenya as well as the world empowering them through the employment opportunities they now have. And did I mention…great handmade espadrilles, bags, bracelets and other fabric and leather goods!

Image: Loldia House

It was half an hour from here to Loldia House. A single storey property which houses the lounge, bar, dining room and a couple of rooms, overlooking a lush green lawn that sweeps down to the waters edge, although this is fenced off to protect the guests from the hippos.

Lunch was taken on the lawns, and particularly good! And then we were taken to our rooms. The guest houses are in three pairs of two in the gardens, with a further house located up the hill, a pool and a spa room. They are large and airy and offer great facilities. Although not a tremendous amount of game, the lodge is close to the Eburru forest and there is an opportunity to go out on a night drive.

This is a great place to stay for a night or two, to relax after your long journey. The food is good, and you certainly do not want for anything.

The following morning after a hearty breakfast, we were taken to the airstrip, just a short 10 minutes’ drive away. The flight was a little late, but as it was operated by Governors Air, it didn’t really affect us. After just a quick 45 minutes in the air we landed at the airstrip, 10 minutes from Governors Camp and right in the Masai Mara! Until this point, I was still not convinced…. And then we drove into camp! Past herds of zebra and Blue Jean antelope, baboons, buffalo and wart hogs. And I started to get it.

We dropped our bags into our tents and headed for lunch overlooking the Mara river, but none of our minds were on lunch, as below us we had 15 hippos just basking in the sun while mainly submerged in the water. For three days this was our home.

I had thought that I wouldn’t want to be up at 5.45am to go out on a game drive, but when asked at dinner if we wanted a wake-up call, and if we wanted tea or coffee, I immediately said yes.

I never go to bed early at home, but by 9pm I was tucked up so that I knew I would get up.

The sun rising over the Masai Mara is simply stunning as are the sunsets, and no matter what time of day the array of animals is incredible.

I really do not have the words to describe how seeing a herd of elephants crossing in front of your 4×4 makes you feel and, with the sky on fire at sunset, your breath is simply taken away.

My highlight was the sheer number of cats we saw. The Marsh and Rhino Ridge prides of lion, the cheetah and the leopard, just hanging in a tree, occasionally opening her eyes to see if we were still there, before dropping her head as if there wasn’t anything to be worried about!

The male lions are a little harder to find often, but we saw two, just half a mile from each other. One quite alert, and the other, lying on his back, legs in the air without a care, before rolling over, looking at his audience and flopping back to sleep.

Yes, your first thought is “take a picture”. But after a while, you put the camera down and just allow yourself to experience the moment. Giraffe with their babies, and wart hogs… not the prettiest but when seeing a mum with her piglets, they are strangely endearing.

My biggest fear was seeing a kill. I hate watching TV shows where the animals are injured or killed, and I thought that this would be upsetting for me.

We sat in the back of our 4X4 one afternoon and watched two lionesses try and take down an injured buffalo. They didn’t manage it as the buffalo herd closed ranks and the cats decided that perhaps it was safer to abandon the chase.

But the next morning, in the clear red glow of dawn, the Marsh pride caught their breakfast, a sizeable zebra. We watched the pride eat their fill to be followed by the jackals and the hyenas who finished off the remnants. And it was now I truly took onboard that this is all part of the rich patterns of life that are part and parcel of life in the Mara!

After Loldia House, I stayed at Governors Main Camp which was an amazing experience with 37 en-suite tents for double, or twin occupancy and family tents. For a little more luxury there is Little Governors with 17 tents and upgraded soft furnishings, while Il Moran has yet further luxuries on offer in its 10 tents. All have superb wildlife on their doorsteps, and all accessed by Governors Air, making it so easy to visit them.

Image: Little Governors Camp

Would I go back? Absolutely! I have now a completely different view of a safari, my expectations were met and exceeded. The sheer volume of wildlife on view in its natural habitat is phenomenal. I admit it, I am converted. I only wish that I have let go of my preconceived ideas many years ago.

If Jo’s experiences have inspired you to want to enjoy a Kenya safari, you’ll find plenty to inspire you in our Kenya pages:

And, of course, our friendly, expert Africa consultants are always delighted to talk safari with you and help you plan your dream trip. Or, like Jo, to tackle your safari fears!

All images other than Loldia House and Governor’s Camp © Jo Colman-Bown.

Jambo Zanzibar!

Jambo Zanzibar!

Jambo Zanzibar!

Beach image © Shutterstock – Kjersti Joergensen

Market image  © Shutterstock – Magdalena Paluchowska

 

It’s been 27 years since I last set foot on the island of Zanzibar and it has changed a lot. I think there was one hotel when I was originally there, and now there are closer to 500! I started off in Stone Town and, with an amazing driver, headed around the island, staying at hotels of different styles and sizes over 10 nights.

Here are my top ten highlights, in no particular order.

Image: Swahili House, Zanzibar

© Shutterstock – pearl_diver

“The Stone Town tour – one of my top ten.”

Best Bed

Everybody needs a comfortable bed! After 15 hours of travel all I wanted was a shower and to sleep. Thankfully The Swahili House in Stone Town was very welcoming. The staff were great, and the bed the most comfortable I slept in for the ten nights.

Stone Town tour

Seeing the Slave Market and the position of the Anglican Cathedral gave me food for thought. Don’t miss this in Stone Town; it’s a chilling reminder of the slave trade. My guide Mohamed was excellent at explaining the history and the impact this slave market had. We also saw the Old Fort, The Palace Museum and the House of Wonders (which was unfortunately closed for refurbishment).

A little monkeying around

The island is home to Black Tail monkeys and Red Colobus monkeys. The Red Colobus monkeys are quite shy. As you drive through or around Jozani forest you get a chance to see them, but in the hotels it’s the Black Tails that cause mischief! Don’t put your drink down as they will try and steal your fruit, don’t leave your rooms open as they will play with the contents of your suitcase and run off with them, and don’t stand under a tree wearing a baseball cap  where they are playing as you may just lose it off your head… as I nearly did!

 

Red Colobus monkeys, Jozani Forest. © Shutterstock – Ralf Liebhold

A true beach paradise

There are some really beautiful beaches on Zanzibar. The west side of the island is less tidal than the east. On the east, the tide goes so far out you can walk to the pink coral reef and look in the rock pools at sea anemone, star fish and octopus waiting patiently for the tide to return. In the south of the island the waters can be a little rough. But in the north, Kendwa has a beautiful beach. The tide doesn’t go too far out so it’s perfect to go to take a swim. Gold Beach House & Spa sits right on this pristine beach, a perfect place to relax and recharge.

A Taste of Zanzibar

All the hotels use local produce to support the farmers and fisherman of the island. At Tulia Zanzibar, there is always a catch of the day on the menu, and the chef certainly does it justice. Beautifully prepared and served, I had barracuda for the first time. While at Fumba Beach Lodge, lobster was on the menu. It’s an additional cost to their half board menu, but be prepared… the biggest lobster I have ever seen arrived on my plate. It would have fed two… but I wouldn’t let it defeat me!

 

 

 

Image: Gold Beach House & Spa, Zanzibar

Image: Tulia Zanzibar

© Shutterstock – Magdalena Paluchowska

 

Image – Tulia Zanzibar

“For a relaxing massage the spa at Tulia Zanzibar came out tops.”

Shop like a local

The main market in Stone Town is Darajani market and close by there is the fabric market. In Darajani everything is for sale. Watch as the locals barter for chickens or fish and vegetables, all sat alongside household good and electronics. Just a five-minute walk away is the fabric market. Head here to buy the traditional Kangas worn by the woman of the island, at a fraction of the cost of those you will see in the resorts. The sounds, smells, colours and choice in these markets will astound you!

Spa time

All the hotels I visited had spas, some small, some large, so of course, in the name of research I had to try out some treatments. For a relaxing massage the spa at Tulia Zanzibar came out tops, for a deep tissue massage I had to award tops marks to Essque Zalu. They found knots on knots that I didn’t know I had. They also offer a unique Masai ritual that is about 2.5 hours long.

Be as active as you want

Or in my case, as inactive as you wish! This island makes you want to forget about TV and being hooked up to technology. There are plenty of places to stroll to. Most hotels offer the opportunity to visit the local villages that they help support through various initiatives, and some offer the opportunity to take a bicycle and head to the village. My favourite for this is The Residence, a stunning luxury hotel in the south of the island, which assigns bikes to every suite. And they have all sizes, for ladies, men and children.

 

© shutterstock – SAPhoto

Feeding the Bush Babies

I knew nothing of these strange tiny creatures with bushy tails, big eyes and big ears, until staying at Matemwe Beach Lodge and wondered what was jumping around in the bushes while I ate dinner. These are shy nocturnal animals but can be persuaded to come and say hello with the offering of a banana or two and at Matemwe Lodge there is the opportunity to see them up close in the evenings. They also like playing in the rafters of the rooms here in the evenings, so don’t be alarmed!

Get away from it all

Across the island there are some stunning properties. At the top of the list is Elewana Kilindi on the north western side of the island and The Residence at the southern end. Gold Zanzibar is beautiful and offers something for everyone, and Tulia Zanzibar is intimate and a fabulous location for couples. But is you want something traditional, that’s a more authentic Zanzibari experience, then Unguja Lodge is the place! Makuti roofs on large airy open bandas that open to the sea or the surrounding forest… No TVs, no local shows, limited wi-fi, this is the place to relax. There’s beach access, diving from an onsite dive shop, a small pool, restaurant and bar and local food. With only six guests when I was there, the menu was put away and the chef cooked to order.

 

Unguja Lodge

My only thought now is where to stay next time I go! This is a great destination for after a safari and highly recommended, but with its location in the Indian Ocean this is a standalone destination, with friendly islanders who just want to please. Until next time Zanzibar, asante sana!

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Let us whisk you away to Zanzibar!

Tribes and our sister company Tanzania Specialists have some amazing Zanzibari itineraries for you to choose from, including a classic, six-day Zanzibar beach holiday

Combining a beach holiday on Zanzibar with a safari adventure on the mainland makes for a fantastic vacation, with the beach element the perfect way to recharge your batteries after the excitement of safari. After all, if you’ve flown to Tanzania, why wouldn’t you make the most of it?!

Safari and beach itineraries include:

And, of coure, we can always tailor-made the perfect itinerary just for you, whether that’s a total chillax-fest on Zanzibar or something a little more active – with or without safari!

 

Gluten-free in Zanzibar

Gluten-free in Zanzibar

Gluten-free in Zanzibar

 

With Coeliac Disease a gluten-free diet is a necessity not a choice. So a trip to Zanzibar – though enticing in so many ways – did fill me with some trepidation…

…wondering if I was going to be able to eat for 12 nights.

I am always nervous when travelling, not for the sake of travelling, but when you are travelling with a specific dietary requirement it can be pretty much hit or miss. It can be tricky trying to explain your needs to a waiter than knows only a few words of English, whether you are vegan, gluten-free or kosher. In my case, its gluten-free; not from choice or any desire to diet, but because a gluten-free diet is the only way to manage Coeliac Disease.

Whereas once a gluten-free diet was unheard of, now it has become a celebrity diet. I will not complain because it has meant more products available for us than ever before, but the result is also that many places think of it as a fad, an allergy or an intolerance. It can be all those things, but to me its much more! Eating a strict diet is my only way of staying well.

So, there I was, bound for Zanzibar wondering if I was going to be able to eat for 12 nights. I always take some supplies. My hand luggage always contains some basics that I can eat on the flight such as bread rolls and cheese, biscuits or chocolate. Do check that the country you are flying to has no restrictions on food as some are very strict and you may only be able to take enough for that flight, or certain products.

My first hotel was a small hotel in Zanzibar, in Stone Town. As expected, the waiting staff were not very knowledgeable on gluten-free and looked at me slightly confused. I explained as best I could, and they very kindly said they would get the chef for me so that we could discuss what I could have and be safe.

In fact, every hotel I stayed in from then on, I explained to the staff that I had this issue and maybe it would be best to speak to the chef. The result was some amazing meals throughout my stay on the island.

Fresh food cooked to order -what’s not to like?

As most hotels have limited set menus that are changed daily based on available produce, you know what you are getting is fresh. And in the smaller hotels, everything is made to order so nothing is wasted. Results were a lobster dinner big enough for 2 people, and amazing steak with a specially made brandy and peppercorn sauce, and a beautiful piece of barracuda, which I had never eaten before, in a saffron sauce. I always had options of rice and fresh vegetables, and the desserts… well! These ranged from pannacottas with fresh berries and sauces to flambé bananas with caramel sauce and ice cream. The bread wasn’t great, but then, it often isn’t and when you have such beautiful meals it’s not needed. At breakfast there was always choices of fruits and cooked options. Eggs whichever way you wanted them, bacon, and one hotel went out of its way to get gluten-free flour to do pancakes for breakfast and make bread so that I didn’t feel left out. That’s service!

So, would I recommend a stay on the island to anyone with particular dietary needs? Absolutely. My thanks to The Swahili House, Matemwe Lodge, Tulia Zanzibar, Breezes Beach Resort & Spa, Unguja Lodge and Fumba Beach Lodge for keeping me safe and healthy. Fresh food cooked to order and plenty of it. What’s not to like?