Destination West Africa: Travel Plans for 2016

These are the soporific, lazy days between Christmas and New Year when the leftovers seem never-ending; piles of chocolates and mince pies still adorn every surface; and everyone is in a slightly boozy state of relaxation. It seems like a good time to start thinking about the year ahead, as 2015 ambles to an unseasonably warm close. For me, it’s all about destination West Africa, as I prepare for two months based in Dakar, Senegal. Africa is a continent which has been calling me for a long time. I’ve worked as a film reviewer of African cinema, I’ve hosted an African series on this blog, I’ve completed a Masters in African film, and I’ve lived vicariously through friends’ experiences. But I’ve yet to really get to know any of the cultures or places first-hand. 2016 will change all of that, as I head to Dakar for a while. I’m planning to continue with education and research there, with classes in Wolof (the main language in Senegal besides French), meetings at the university, and lots of time watching films and researching cinema. But of course, plenty of travel will be involved as well. I’ll navigate the journey to Guinea-Bissau, one of the world’s least visited countries, perhaps via the Gambia, and I’ll spend some time in the Senegalese city of Saint-Louis, a UNESCO World Heritage site. I’m leaving on the last day of February, arriving in Dakar on the first day of March, with everything, except flights, to sort out before then. But I have always been a last minute sort of a traveller. As with all my big adventures,...

Thailand Tribulations: Mosquitoes, Monkeys & Motorbikes

Today’s post comes from Delia, a dear friend I met while judging an English competition in deepest, darkest Surrey, as you do. She has a wicked sense of humour and a fear of anything remotely rural (so the Surrey countryside was rather a challenge). Her latest adventures in Thailand make for a hysterical read. Enjoy! Last year I spent three weeks in Bangkok and got bitten by mosquitoes seventy times. Somehow, I still didn’t get Dengue Fever. It was with some reluctance then that I returned to Bangkok this year. I’d seen the film Final Destination and I knew how these things worked. I was pretty sure that there was a Dengue-riddled mosquito waiting for me at the airport. A mosquito that knew I should have been infected last year and was determined not to let me escape twice. However much I covered up, it would hone in on that tiny part of me that wasn’t soaked in DEET. As it turned, hiding from mosquitoes would be the least of my worries. Motorbike taxis are an everyday part of life for many in Bangkok. Women ride side saddle, often clutching bags of shopping and small children, without a care in the world. So when my friend assured me that it would only be a short trip down a few quiet sois (streets) to a café that would make it all worthwhile, I agreed, albeit with a huge amount of trepidation. My friend, a Bangkok resident, bounded onto his bike with all the enthusiasm of a toddler riding their first tricycle, while I boarded mine with the wariness of a...

On Two Legs in the Peak District

Buffeted by a blustery wind, I took in the burnished autumnal hues of the Peak District. A frisson of warmth in the last few days had painted the countryside, and the pockets of trees splashed russet, gold and auburn among the green pastures of the hills. The picturesque village of Castleton, built in grey Derbyshire stone, was dappled with sunlight and shadows as clouds drifted across the sky. I couldn’t imagine a place I’d rather be on a crisp, sunny, November day than at the top of Mam Tor. Mam Tor means Mother Hill; she’s also known as Shivering Mountain. Apparently, the name’s due to some landslips that caused this peak to tremble, but it seems apt for different reasons when you reach the summit and the wind whips wildly around you. Whatever you call her, she’s a majestic feature of the Peak District, with the high, wild Dark Peak in one direction, and the undulating, limestone White Peak landscape in the other. When I moved back to Sheffield just over a month ago, one of the things I was most looking forward to was having the Peaks right on my doorstep. It’s one of the UK’s most beautiful natural areas, and its oldest National Park. I live on the edge of the city, and it takes just minutes to leave urbanity behind and find myself on the winding roads of the Peak District. But for the last few weeks, I’ve had problems with my legs, so I’ve barely left my everyday surroundings of home and university.  I’ve found walking difficult and driving painful, and I can feel my...

The Story of Starry-Eyed Travels

It’s just a few days to Christmas; the presents are wrapped, the preparations are almost done. It’s time to take a breath, calm the already fraying nerves and reflect on the year gone by. So I thought I’d take a moment to write a Christmas message to you. Considering where I was this time last year, it’s hard to believe everything that’s happened in the intervening months. Starry-Eyed Travels didn’t exist – it was not even a twinkle. But last Christmas, I was, in a roundabout way, given the gift of a year. One year, to do absolutely anything I wanted with my life. More than anything, I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to travel. The logical step seemed to be travel-writing, so in January, I ventured a couple of articles to Kash at Europe Budget Guide and Margo at the Travel Belles. I fired off those emails in a tentative, nervous tone and waited for a response. I was hoping that my pieces might be published; what I got was far more than that. Both Kash and Margo turned out to be incredible mentors and dear friends – two entirely different people, but with equal measures of boundless energy, unsurpassed knowledge and a desire to help others succeed. I don’t know if it was luck or fate that practically the first pieces of travel-writing I ever did landed in their inboxes, but I can’t express how glad I am that they did. So I refined my craft, developed my knowledge around my new field of work and found my voice. Starry-Eyed Travels launched in April...
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