Ruzizi Lodge, Akagera Rwanda

I’ve been fortunate to take two trips to Akagera National Park in Rwanda and stay at the chilled and stunning Ruzizi lodge on the banks of lake Ihema that boarders Tanzania in the east of Rwanda. Everything at the lodge is relaxing and scenic — from the walkways that connect the lodge, the outdoors dining area and the tents to the monkeys swinging through the trees in the morning. Just a 2 hour drive from Kigali you can find yourself in the Park on a game drive and after a long hot day in the park its a perfect retreat kicking back in your bed just gazing out to the lake and listening to nature.

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One of the best parts about the lodge is that there are only 9 tents so its never too busy. You have your own private patio area at the front of your tent.

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The lodge prides itself on being eco-conscious and is entirely solar powered. The dining location is unbeatable for a view of sunrise over the lake. Dinner and breakfast are a real treat – watching from a raised platform that serves as a dining room. The hippos sometimes pop their heads up to say hello, the monkeys playing, and the many bird species at the end of the day settling into the trees for the night.

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The raised wooden pathways are gently woven into the trees un-interrupting nature and just letting it get on with itself lead to the tents that are hidden amongst the trees.

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Visited by monkeys in the morning swinging through the trees – if you leave the window shades to the tent and door shades up you can watch them from your bed running around the front of the tent and swinging across the trees.

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Likewise at night you may get visited by a hungry hippo – don’t panic the tents are raised and so they can’t get to you. Although I have to admit with the complete stillness of the night and the noise they make it can be quite exciting. We were fortunate enough to have one come up around the lodge after dinner so we could watch it grazing on the grass and then another was around our tent crashing about in and out of the lake for a while at night so we got to watch it as well.

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The park itself is monitored by African Parks. The park has flourished since my last visit “Animal numbers have doubled since the first aerial census in 2010, when estimations put fewer than 6,000 large mammals in the park. The most recent 2015 census counted over 12,000 large mammals, revealing that populations of elephant, buffalo, waterbuck, zebra, topi, warthog, roan antelope and our newly reintroduced lion have all increased!” Amazing!

Lions were released into the park just a few days after my last trip in 2015. It has been amazing to follow their progress and reintroduction back  which is an exciting re-addition for Rwanda and Akagera. Their population has already doubled, births of seven cubs in 2016 and have even been spotted climbing trees!

The views around the park are stunning, especially from some of the higher spots in the park looking down over the lake. If you’re headed to Rwanda this is a great place for a weekend getaway, its a lot cheaper than many other safaris on the continent at just $35 usd for international travellers. For more information on the park and getting there visit African Parks website.

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Exploring Lalibela with Mika

In May we decided it was time to take on our first real adventure as a team – Mika and I. We headed to Lalibela, Mika in the backpack, for a long weekend with a friend visiting Ethiopia, Jenn, who I had taught with in India and Chris a friend and colleague from school in Addis.

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Standing in front of St George Church

It was certainly a different experience for me and I was grateful to help friends to help us out along the way as I developed my new skills of how to travel rough with a baby. Lucky for me Mika is such a social wee girl, loves being in the backpack and is up for as much as an adventure as I am.

 

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Mika sitting in the entrance to one of the churches

It was a great weekend exploring the city and churches and I was glad for the company and support to help carry Mika around in the heat. She loved the priests and their crosses.

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Making friends everywhere

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The markets are always one of my favourite places when I travel. I love seeing what is for sale, how people go about their sales and trades, the movement and conversations. This market did not disappoint it was bustling with so much activity and friendly faces welcoming us.

On Sunday morning Jenn and I got up early to head down to one of the cluster of churches to see how busy it would be when service was happening. We weren’t disappointed, around every corner there were floods of people praying, priests blessing people and movement in and out of the churches.

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Young girl we met outside one of the churches

 

We had a great weekend exploring the town, churches and markets — this girl is always smiling, always waving, always happy… thank you Lalibela for your warmth and beautiful people just like my little Habesha.

My Harari Adventure

I first came to Ethiopia in 2010… I only had a month to adventure around this incredible country, it wasn’t long enough!  Extending my visa seemed like too much effort and I left absolutely gutted to not get to Harar.  I thought about coming back to Ethiopia for years just to go see what I had missed.  However, when I decided to move here last year I knew I would be able to finally go and a few weeks ago my dream came true. I will admit I was worried I had built it up in my mind and might be disappointed… was I? Not at all… it was amazing!

One of the original gates to the city daily hosts a busy colourful market

One of the original gates to the city daily hosts a busy colourful market

I think my best decision was to drive the 500km from Addis Ababa to Harar…

“You’re driving? Why not fly?”
“You’re going on your own? You should fly! ”

This was what I was asked time and time again before the trip…

Here’s what you don’t get when you fly…

You don’t get the cool mountain air blowing in the window as you steam across passes. You don’t get the smell of eucalyptus trees on a plane, you can’t hear the children yelling “you you Faranji”, or see the smiles, waves and heads turn as you drive past. You don’t get the waves or the yells and whistles from the truck drivers as you pass them in blocked up villages. You don’t get the chance to harness your driving skills to dodge cows, goats, sheep, donkeys and camels, while young boys who can barely see over the backs of the cows pull their tails to drag them back off the road. You don’t see that every second man has a huge bag of khat (qat) and have them try to fling at you. You miss the chance to be sold birds, charcoal and wood as well. You can’t see the rolling hills and the deep valleys. You miss the women taking the donkeys with jerry cans to wait in a huge line at the village well to fill up with water for the daily chores. You miss it all on a plane – there is no sensory feast like I got… so when I can I will take the road – the journey is as good as (sometimes better than) the destination !

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The journey east can take anywhere from 7-9 hours depending on your luck with khat trucks, buses, camels, overloaded donkeys, and other life stock crossing the road. The drive once you are past Awash is amazing as you enter the drive up through the Chercher and Abra Gugu mountains and finally down into Harar where the gates to the walled city greet you filled with colour and movement. I managed a 8 hour drive over and a quick 7 hour trip back with a quick stop in Awash for petrol and a coke.

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Termed the ‘City of Saints’, Harar is a predominantly considered a muslim city with over 80 mosques hidden in its alleyways and considered by many to be the 4th holy city of Islam. Despite its Muslim appearance in 2003 UNESCO awarded Harar the City of Peace prize for existing with all of its varied religious group in harmony for so long. In the center of the city you can come across the grand mosque, a Catholic church and an Orthodox Church all within a stone throw from one another.

One of the many mosques hidden int he alleyways of the city

One of the many mosques hidden int he alleyways of the city

Its a maze of 368 alleyways inside the walls and a fun place to get lost – although you can always find your way back to the center. The alleyways are filled with people and activity and around any of the gates you will find busy markets in the late afternoon.

Children playing while women are busy carrying goods off to the market

Children playing while women are busy carrying goods off to the market

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I would have had little chance navigating the alleyways as behind many gates were hidden sites to check out.  I was recommended Biniyam from a friend at work, not someone who usually takes a guide I worried that he may not get what I was about and try to take me go and see things I really wasn’t interested in. This was not the case and we immediately hit it off talking like old friends, joking and enjoying each others company.

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She knew how to work the camera

We spent some time while walking with my polaroid camera taking photos and giving them to the children we met. We found some real characters along the way who knew how to work the camera with no prompting!

My great guide Biniyam using the polaroid camera so we could print out some pictures for the young girls

My awesome guide Biniyam using the polaroid camera so we could print out some pictures for the young girls.

So much character

So much character!

The best smile we met for sure

The best smile we met for sure

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Yellows

I loved just picking a spot by the gate and sitting watching the women dressed so birightly going about their business and shopping. They were happy (through translation) to engage in conversation, many of them were not from the city but had walked a long way to come in and sell their goods and would after sunset be taking the walk home.

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Busy market

Busy market

Chillies

Chillies

They say no trip to Harar is complete without meeting the ‘Hyena man’ – Yusuf. We drove along the wall of the city and then headed for a few minutes off road past Yusuf’s house and into a field. As we approached the lights from the car shone and we could see a lot of eyes shinning back, amongst all the eyes a man and a young boy sitting feeding the twenty hyenas who had gathered. We were the only ones there and Biniyam informed me that the hyena man came out every night to feed the hyenas even if there were no tourists. If he doesn’t then they come to his house and hang about waiting to be fed.

Biniyam shows me how its done - just a casual hyena on your back being fed!

Biniyam shows me how its done – just a casual hyena on your back being fed!

Yusuf has been doing this for years and they way he handles the hyenas immediately sets you at ease. They respond to his scolding and he pushes them off like misbehaving dogs, once I had watched him for a few minutes I felt more than confident being in their presence despite the fact they are wild animals. It was interesting to watch the dominant females feed while the others had to wait around for scraps to be thrown their way – they didn’t dare challenge the bosses of the pack.

Eye contact while I squat down only a meter from this hyena

Eye contact while I squat down only a meter from this hyena

I took some adventures outside of the city of Harar as well and I highly recommend Biniyam if you are looking for a guide on your adventure to Harar. He will tailor your experience to meet your needs, which may include taking in all the ‘tourist’ spots or just sitting in a market watching life move around you. His email is feresmegala@gmail.com – send him a message and let him know when you are heading over!

Wanderlust… travel… adventure…

Why do I travel? To make the world a smaller place!

“I haven’t been everywhere but its on my list” – Susan Sontag

Botswana

Botswana

Wanderlust: An irresistible desire to travel to understand ones very own existence

Burma

Burma

I’m in love with the cities I have never been to and the people I have never met

DRC

DRC

“We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us” – Anonymous

Namibia

Namibia

“Not all those who wander are lost” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Rwanda

Rwanda

And then I realised adventures are the best way to learn…

India

India

“Travel. It leaves you speechless then turns you into a storyteller” – Ibn Battuta

China

China

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
– Lao Tzu

Tanzania

Tanzania

“I would rather own little and see the world than own the world and see little of it”
– Alexander Sattler

Tibet

Tibet

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving”
– Lao Tzu

Burma

Burma

Travel: The one thing you buy that makes you richer.

India

India

“Happiness to not a state to arrive at but a manner of traveling”
– Margaret Lee Runbeck

India

India

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,
but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Peru

Peru

“People don’t take trips. Trips take people” – John Steinbeck

Uganda

Uganda

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”
– Gustave Flaubert

Thailand

Thailand

“Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” – Anita Desai

Sri lanka

Sri lanka

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself” – Danny Kaye

Nepal

Nepal

“A nomad I will remain for life in love with distant and uncharted places”
– Isabelle Eberhardt

Bhutan

Bhutan

“We lean forward to the next crazy adventure beneath the skies” – Jack Kerouac

When your friends have kids…

I love having friends/ family to shoot spontaneous pictures of their children for them. I have no ability to direct a photoshoot so pretty much gave up on that idea after one attempt of that. I do love it when friends are just playing and enjoying their kids – thats when the magic appears!

P.S. I love B&W

Growing up on  a farm in New Zealand is the life

Growing up on a farm in New Zealand is the life

Family fun

Family fun

Bubbles & Mum - bliss!

Bubbles & Mum – bliss!

Water play in the Philippines... its hot outside

Water play in the Philippines… its hot outside

The best smile in the world... this guy

The best smile in the world… this guy, Rwanda

This boy has some serious style

This boy has some serious style, Mr Rwanda

Heroes come in all sizes

Heroes come in all sizes

At the beach in Hong Kong

At the beach in Hong Kong

Windy Hong Kong day

Windy Hong Kong day

Musicians in India

Musicians in India

Fun on the farm, New Zealand

Fun on the farm, New Zealand

A kiwi summer

A kiwi summer

2014… its been a journey

When I look back on 2014 I realise just how many opportunities I have had, amazing people I have met, the new friends I have made, and lands I have walked. Always feel super privileged to see and do all of it…. not without some challenges but these are character building and make 2015 another year to look forward to. Get out there and see the world, meet people, break down stereotypes and change peoples views!
Adventure is out there waiting!

The year that was 2014

The year that was 2014

My home in New Zealand

A beautiful evening on the beach at my hometown in New Zealand (January 2014)

View from up Mount Maunganui looking down over the beach, New Zealand

View from up Mount Maunganui looking down over the beach, New Zealand (January 2014)

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Children in peak out of a makeshift school tent following Typhoon Yolanda, Philippines (February 2014)

Roofless, Homeless but not HOPELESS, Tacloban Philippines

Roofless, Homeless but not HOPELESS, Tacloban Philippines (February 2014)

Rodolfo (73) sat with his wife Guadalupe outside their newly built home and explained to me how he survived Typhoon Yolanda. With his wife away visiting family in Manila, he stayed in their home only 30 meters from the shoreline until he saw the water level rising too high and then evacuated to the Elementary school. During the typhoon he tried to wade back through waist deep water to save some rice and supplies from his house but saw his house was flattened by coconut trees and under water. Thankful for the support to rebuild their home from external donors & a community effort led by Marie Ann Corsino they were surround by family and happy to still have one another Luan Village Leyte, Philippines.

Rodolfo (73) sat with his wife Guadalupe outside their newly built home and explained to me how he survived Typhoon Yolanda. With his wife away visiting family in Manila, he stayed in their home only 30 meters from the shoreline until he saw the water level rising too high and then evacuated to the Elementary school. During the typhoon he tried to wade back through waist deep water to save some rice and supplies from his house but saw his house was flattened by coconut trees and under water. Thankful for the support to rebuild their home from external donors & a community effort led by Marie Ann Corsino they were surround by family and happy to still have one another Luan Village Leyte, Philippines. (February 2014)

Small things make a huge difference. Children celebrate receiving new shoes after Typhoon Yolanda, Philippines (February 2014)

Small things make a huge difference. Children celebrate receiving new shoes after Typhoon Yolanda, Philippines (February 2014)

Testing out a camera with children at a school in Arusha, Tanzania (March 2014)

Testing out a camera with children at a school in Arusha, Tanzania (March 2014)

Happy faces at a school in Arusha, Tanzania (March 2014)

Happy faces at a school in Arusha, Tanzania (March 2014)

Shy schoolgirl hides her smile, Arusha, Tanzania (March 2014)

Shy schoolgirl hides her smile, Arusha, Tanzania (March 2014)

Hong Kong Harbour as the sun goes down (iPHONEOGRAPHY) April 2014

Star Ferry crosses Hong Kong Harbour as the sun goes down (iPHONEOGRAPHY) (April 2014)

Two of my favourite boys kicking back having a laugh, Rwanda (June 2014)

Two of my favourite boys kicking back having a laugh, Rwanda (June 2014)

Back at the No.41 House (check them out www.no41.org) Rwanda (July 2014)

Back at the No.41 House, Rwanda (July 2014)

Check out No41 here www.no41.org

A sweet young girl who came walking up all curious outside a local school (iPHONEOGRAPHY) Rwanda (July 2014)

A sweet young girl who came walking up all curious outside a local school, Rwanda (iPHONEOGRAPHY) (July 2014)

The sun goes down over the land of 1000 hills, Rwanda (July 2014)

The sun goes down over the land of 1000 hills, Rwanda (July 2014)

I first met Scraggles and fell in love with her, my street dog in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (August 2014)

I first met Scraggles and fell in love with her, my street dog in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (August 2014)

Check out her transformation story, photos & video here… https://strengthinvulnerability.com/2014/11/17/scraggles-her-transformation/

Four friends at a school in Woliso, Ethiopia (September 2014)

Four friends at a school in Woliso, Ethiopia (September 2014)

Peaking out, schoolgirls in Woliso, Ethiopia (September 2014)

Peaking out, schoolgirls in Woliso, Ethiopia (September 2014)

Juggling down the beach, Zanzibar Tanzania (October 2014)

Juggling down the beach, Zanzibar Tanzania (October 2014)

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Friends help with smiles, Ethiopia (November 2014)

And as the sun goes down on 2014… I finish the year back home in New Zealand with friends and family before heading back to Ethiopia in a few weeks!

“Not all those who wander are lost”

Hope Global 2015 Calendar

I spent some time last year volunteering with Hope Global on their projects in both Kenya and Rwanda. They have groups that work with locals on the ground in many countries across Asia and Africa.

You can check out my Seeing is Believing blog which is about the time spent in Kenya doing eye screening and surgery.

This year they are selling a Calendar to help support their numerous projects in these countries, which I have been fortunate to witness first hand and see many children, teachers, families and others benefit from access to improved education and medical care.

A few of my images are part of the Calendar for 2015 – one shot even made the front cover!

You can make your order here, Great for Christmas gifts, while supporting children around the world!

http://www.hopeglobal.org/announcements/calendar

Hope Global Calendar 2015

Hope Global Calendar 2015

Below are some images from my time at Hope Global projects in Kenya and Rwanda.

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Beautiful happy student, Kenya

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Loving being in school, Kenya

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Checking out the visitors, Kenya

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Fruits of Hope School students, Rwanda

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Fruits of Hope School, Rwanda

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Fruits of Hope School, Rwanda

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Eye screening, Kenya

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Eye screening, Kenya

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Education, Nairobi Kenya

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Education, Nairobi Kenya