Let’s go to Togo

The 124th smallest country in the World doesn’t have much of a tourism infrastructure, and being sandwiched between more popular destinations (Ghana and Benin) it appears to be overlooked as somewhere to visit in its own right.  Playing transport roulette away from the key arterial roads, and a need for basic French makes this a more challenging and yet rewarding destination.img_1197-2

The countryside is beautifully unspoilt, and zipping around experiencing the rural side of West Africa was a joy.  So much greenery and full to bursting with a variety of crops.  On a hike through small villages in the hills I saw too many to name, but I will call out the loofah plant, which is part of the courgette (or zucchini) family.  Surely loofahs are underwater crops?  No, apparently not.  Who knew?

Once abundant with wildlife numbers have sadly dropped, though this doesn’t appear to apply to snakes.  The dangerous mamba continues to thrive, and indeed there was a green mamba on the path during my hike.  I have to admit whilst the guide was urging me forward for a closer look, I did think that freezing on the spot was the best option.  Or perhaps my legs just forgot how to move….  There was no way I was getting my face close to a green mamba!!

As always it would be remiss if I don’t mention a few interesting snippets:

  • Travel is typically in shared taxis. Not so unusual.  However the seat you pay for isn’t

    Baby pineapple

    what I would actually call a seat, it’s more of a tiny portion of a seat.  In the front of a normal sized family car there are two passengers, and the back seat holds four passengers.  Add in the driver and overload with luggage which may, or may not, include wildlife.  Then cue a rather uncomfortable journey for the next two or three hours.

  • Palm wine is terrible. Enough to make your eyes water.  This didn’t stop people buying it at the bus station from an entrepreneur with a plastic jerrycan full of the noxious drink on the back of his motorbike.  It was not yet 10am!
  • Every year around Christmas time, the change in wind direction blows sand from the Sahara desert across the southern part of Western Africa. This dusty orange phenomenon is called the Harmattan.  During this time the sun is barely visible behind the thick dust, and distant features are hazy.
  • And lastly, pleasingly the government has recently launched an environmental scheme to reduce the amount of waste. They are advocating recycling to tackle the litter problem, particularly the plastic strewn along the roadside.  Great news!

Oh and voodoo is followed in Togo, though in a lesser extent than in Benin.  So I will cover this most interesting spiritual belief in my next blog.  Stay tuned…

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West Africa next…

Less than four weeks until I head off a new adventure.  This time West Africa. voodoo

Whilst I am in Benin it will be National Voodoo day, a religion practiced by 60% of the population.  My plan is to attend one of the many festivals here; where the roots of this truly cultural celebration began.  Away from the sensationalised films I am keen to see and understand how the locals celebrate the largest religious day in their calendar.

Additionally I am also hoping to learn the skill of retro-running, or in layman terms running backwards.  Ghana seems to excel at this, holding the World record of 13.6 seconds for 100m.  Perhaps though I need to improve my forward running first….

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Wonderful wonderful Copenhagen……

So the 1952 song goes.  This was my first visit to a Nordic country, and what a beautiful introduction to this part of the European continent.  Cobbled streets, tall slim colourful houses and an abundance of bicycles gave a step back in time vibe yet this is a country at the forefront of future thinking.2170

Denmark is simply leaps and bounds ahead of the game.  It is the World’s happiest nation, the most eco-friendly in terms of power production and boasts the highest gender equality rate to name but a few accolades.  Their Royal family are also often seen out and about enjoying the city, and attending festivals; I actually saw Princess Mary attending a fashion event during my short trip.

In terms of electricity generation Denmark holds the world record with a whopping 42% of their electricity being provided through wind power.  Each year the amount generated increases, enabling them to continually beat their own record.  Having now visited Denmark this fact is not a surprise, it was permanently gusty throughout my stay.  Not a destination for toupee wearers!

On the flip side there is a grittier, more interesting human edge to the city.  Roads were randomly closed and covered with grass to host a party including a DJ and free beer.  Skateboard competitions complete with camera crew whizzed past dangerously and one of the most beautiful city parks is actually a cemetery.2508

To understand more about Copenhagen and its inhabitants, I suggest you look towards the drawcard of the Little Mermaid statue.  It has recently been voted the third most overrated and disappointing landmark in the world.  For the record Manneken Pis in Brussels was first, which to be fair is definitely oversold.  Danish locals are unimpressed and believe that there is more to see in their capital city than this statue and right they are.  However being a tourist I just had to see the famous statue.

Continuing on with the Little Mermaid, she has had a rough time since being installed in 1913.  Often being the victim of vandalism, and on occasion used as a vehicle for political statements.  She has been decapitated twice, had an arm amputated and been blown up by explosives.  She has also been dressed in a burka, and on numerous times been dowsed in different colours of paint.  I wonder what Hans Christian Andersen would say….  Although apparently he was rather an interesting character himself.

And now for the more macabre but fascinating.  The worlds’ best preserved human remains are courtesy of Danish peat bogs.  I visited the body of Graubelle Man, who died in the late 3rd Century BC and was thrown into a peat bog.  Yes, over two thousand years ago!  He is however extraordinarily well preserved.  His skin and hair have survived the passage of time and all his features are clearly visible as is the sacrificial wound of his slit throat.  Scientists have even managed to take his fingerprints and analyse his stomach contents.  Amazing is what I say.

I definitely need to visit more of this region.  But firstly I need to save up, as it’s not a shoestring destination and secondly I need to invest in some warmer clothes!

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Expats beware!

Yet another survey in relation to travel, or more precisely living and working overseas. The Worlds most expensive places for expats to live…..images

I have never looked at this survey before, believing that Sydney must be at the top, or close to it.  But no. Sydney fails to even make the top 10, as does any Australian city.

The number one pricey place for expats to live is Hong Kong, where it costs an average of US$7.80 for a coffee and US$128 for a pair of jeans.  Hong Kong leapfrogged the regular title holder of “The Most Expensive Place for Expats to Live” – Luanda, Angola.  Who now stand second in the survey.

For those interested in all of the cities which make up the top 10.  In order of expensiveness they are:

  • Hong Kong
  • Luanda, Angola
  • Zurich, Switzerland
  • Singapore
  • Tokyo, Japan
  • Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Shanghai, China
  • Geneva, Switzerland
  • N’Djamena, Chad
  • Beijing, China
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Beware hypermobility…

Recently published European research has shown that hypermobility, or to use layman’s terms “frequent travel”, may have adverse psychological, emotional and physical effects.

Some of the facts from the study are of no great surprise such as an increase in the likelihood of deep vein thrombosis and sleep deprivation.  Apparently there are also higher levels of stress due to worrying about the number of emails to action on your return – does this really happen?!  Interesting point to note though that apparently in extreme cases, and I could be borderline, those prone to hypermobility can exceed the safe limit for human radiation!

Based on this research if I were a pilot or air stewardess I think I’d be tempted to ask for a pay rise.  However I am not, and shall keep merrily travelling where possible…..


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2013 visual snapshot…

.. a collection of some of my favourite photographs from last year.



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