Another journey: the dawn

Travelling evokes a tremendous sense of satisfaction, yet simultaneously creates a certain restlessness. After Borneo, I was left with many wonderful memories and experiences but also an itch to get back on the road, to take to the skies and seas of the world. They call it the ‘travel bug’ and I, like my mother before me, am well and truly infected.
So, within a month of having returned to England, I found myself poring over maps spread over the kitchen counter, travelling continents with my fingertips, oceans with my eyes. Where to go? Everywhere. But I had to be realistic and I narrowed it down, first to Asia and then to the South East. At the beginning of January I had booked my flights: London to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Singapore to Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) and Kili back to Blighty. I had also booked a tour around Myanmar (Burma) for May, which started in Thailand, giving me effectively three months to get to Thailand. My vague plan was to travel up North through Vietnam, down through Laos, across Cambodia to Thailand, tour round Myanmar, then travel South through Thailand and across to Malaysia. Since returning from Borneo, my desire to climb Mt Kinabalu, for me an image from trek of perserverence and strength, had only grown and so I planned to include this in my travels. My adventure would be concluded with an eight-day climb of Mt Kilimanjaro with my family – standard family holiday. I would be away approximately six months.

I said goodbye to my family, and to York, on the 29th of January. The sun was shining as the train departed York railway station, reflecting the tears in my mother’s eyes, and in my own, through the open window (which I was politely asked to close). Waving goodbye made all my plans seem solid, less of an exotic fairytale, and I felt equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. Before I left the country, I had a fun weekend in London with a few of my best friends, some of whom would be joining me in a few months for some of my travels. It was the perfect way to spend my last few days in England.
When I left my friend’s flat in Barbican on Tuesday on foot with my huge backpack, the sky was still dark, the stars veiled by London’s shroud of pollution. I took a tube and two trains to the airport, where I met a several friends who would travel with me to Saigon. My first stop was Mumbai, India, where I would spend almost ten hours trying to sleep on cold marble benches in the airport’s ‘garden’ and being bitten by the flies that dwelt among the plants. It was a bit worrying that our flight to HCM wasn’t actually on the departures board and, on investigation, it transpired that we were actually travelling via Bangkok, Thailand. Nice of the airline for telling us.
It was a beautiful flight, although I slept for much of it (surprisingly: I never sleep on flights). Leaving Mumbai was like a scene in a travel documentary. Looking out of the window, I could see where the land met the sea, blurred by a soft blanket of mist. Flying over India, mountains rose gently above a swirl of cloud, which emmenated a golden glow in the morning sun. Watching this elegant landscape pass me by made me rather sad that I wasn’t visiting India, which is probably in my top five of countries that I wish to visit. When we arrived at Bangkok, we didn’t actually leave the plane, but sat, sleepily bemused as a purposeful-looking team of aircraft staff cleaned the plane around us in about ten minutes flat. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such cleaning efficiency; I was very impressed. As the plane lifted off again, I fell asleep, briefly waking up to an exquisite view of a shimmering network of rivers meandering like veins across an emerald province.

We touched down in Vietnam to the sight of the setting sun over a patchwork of paddyfields. Leaving the airport, we ran with our heavy bags to catch the bus to take us to our hostel, but it turned out that this was the last one, leaving us with no other option but to take a taxi. After several arguments with various taxi companies trying to charge us extortionate rates, we eventually managed to get ourselves some sort of discount (it still wasn’t a very good price but we were too tired by this point to haggle any more; we got them down by almost half). Half an hour later, we were standing at the mouth of an alleyway in a mostly deserted fruit and vegetable market, while traffic and people streamed by on the road behind us, a cacophony of car horns. The email from the hostel had told us to ‘get in the alley’ and, after a deep breath, we did so. When it came into sight, a few doors down, we gave a great whoop: we had finally arrived!

Good evening Vietnam
Good evening Vietnam
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The first sunrise, rain in Africa and the dead zebra.

The sky was lovely on our first morning drive. It was that early morning kind of lightness, which makes everything look surreally bright. The sky ahead of us was lavender-lilac as the hills dipped down, fading to a pale pink. As the sun rose higher in the sky, the light turned the grass and trees a rosy pink, which changed to a golden orange. Wisps of pale smoke twirled up into air from the site of the fire the night before and the air still carried a faint smoky smell. We sat with blankets heaped on top of us in the crisp morning breeze. 

We went to a neighbouring reserve that day. The owner must be pretty rich as he has wild dogs, cheetahs, elephants, rhinos – pretty much every African mammal you can think of apart from lions. Whilst there, we saw more rhino. FIVE RHINO. We are incredibly lucky on the rhino front, even if we haven’t yet seen a leopard!! Two of them stood protectively in front of the others for a few minutes. Their heavy front feet stamped into the ground, whirling up little eddies of dust which blew away in a soft gust of wind. After a while though, they lay down, watching us first with wary eyes then relaxing into the mud. Two others lounged in the background while one was set apart from the others, lying in the dappled shade next to an impala drinking from a trough. It was a serene, prolonged moment.
The next day, it rained. RAIN. In AFRICA. I was not terribly impressed. We drive around on an open top vehicle so there is no shelter from the pouring torrent which slaps your face a thousand times and makes you thoroughly soaked and miserable. Not the most fun day I’ve had here – I eventually wimped out and asked to go in the front, which was marginally better. On the bright side, we got a bag of free biltong (South African dry cured meat) as the reserve had caught some poachers stealing our cameras, so when we got them back we were given the biltong too. It’s a MARATHON to chew, but took my mind off the dreadful weather!!

The weather was better the next day – not warm, but not raining at least!! There was a nice view of Jozini dam as we drove to our sites for the day. There are abandoned buildings randomly dotted over the reserve. They are sad, lonely, empty things and we had lunch at one of these that day.


A week ago, we discovered a dead zebra on the hill behind our accommodation. It was a sorry sight, with the life faded from its button black eyes, but the stripes still as bold ebony as ever. We didn’t know the cause of death. Because it was lying in the middle of the road, we had to drag it to one side. It was incredibly heavy; literally a dead weight.
I’ve been running the last few days and I have to run past this zebra every day. It has been very informative about the decomposition process. A little too informative, perhaps. The first time, the eye had disappeared along with its bottom half. I tried to avert my eyes from the maggots and flies crawling all over its poor body. Something I cannot put into words is the smell. It gets worse day by day. My run several days ago was almost unbearable as I struggled to get my gag reflex under control. Someone or something had dragged it into the middle of the road again; it was awful. Yesterday’s drive revealed a mere pile of bones. The smell had not yet faded, unfortunately.

Home to York and the Yorkshire Wolds

So it’s been a while since I last posted anything and I apologise for this. As well as being a pretty stressful period of exams (and drinking after said exams), there hasn’t actually been an awful lot to write about. 

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However, I arrived home on Saturday and, since then, there has been much more to write about. On Saturday evening, my family and I went to a delicious little restaurant in York called Meltons. Food lovers of York: if you haven’t been, you must try it. As well as the food being sublime, they also try to source as much of their food as possible from the local area. The only downside is the cost, which is pretty hefty, although that wasn’t so much of an issue for me as my parents were paying (yes!!). But the food IS good – I started with scallops, then trout with mussels and samphire in a butter sauce, then panacotta with Yorkshire strawberries. The wine was also good.

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On the Sunday, my parents had planned a walk in the Yorkshire Wolds – the weather was good and we took a picnic (it was a brilliant picnic, my sister had gone rather all-out). We started from Millington, a small village, which is located in the Central Wolds. It has some beautiful scenery and is one of the few remaining wooded dales in the Wolds. It also is home to a number of highland cattle, whom we met on the walk. The walk was a circular one, which took us past Millington Woods, Millington Heights and Millington Pastures. The weather was fair, making for some good photography, as the light softly illuminated fields of yellow oilseed rape and purple lavender. The countryside here can truly be described as ‘rolling’ – the hills slowly climb and fall in the grass carpeted fields of the Wolds. Upon reaching the top of one hill, we could see a herd of highland cattle galloping down a hill on the opposite side of the valley, which was a pretty funny sight. We definitely felt we deserved our lunch when the time came (it was an almost 8 mile walk after all!!), and the food really tasted as good as it looked!! The weather managed to hold up all day, a fact for which I was grateful, as I hadn’t brought a waterproof. Overall, a lovely walk – I shall post a route if anyone would like to try it for themselves – it isn’t too challenging and you will be rewarded for your efforts with beautiful views.

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