See madonnas of all kinds
It’s completely unexpected. And completely expected too. Reunion is an unusual mix of Catholicism and Voodoo and somehow the two do mix there. Madonnas stand at town entrances to protect them from natural disasters and lava flows and locals claim they work a trick. Then decapitated Madonnas can sometimes also be found in roadside voodoo shrines, where someone has expressed severe annoyance.
There are black Madonnas too and white ones of course, but they are everywhere in this enigmatic mix that is Reunion island. Together they keep the nation happy and unified.
2. South Africa
See the floral fantasyland of spring daisy carpets.
From just outside Cape Town, all the way up the West Coast into Namaqualand and the Northern Cape is a floral explosion during August and September. Every year countless billions of colourful flowers show their faces to the sun in a riot of colours and kinds, in one of the greatest natural floral spectacles on earth. Just when the flowers start blooming and how good the bloom will be all depends on the winter rainfall in each area.
The Postberg section in the West Coast National Park is only open to the public for the two months of August and September, and during this time you can view wildlife grazing in fields of flowers.
The daisy carpets are so extensive they cover the surrounding hills and run all the way down to the sea. But wherever you travel along the West Coast during this time, there will be pockets of flowers in white, yellow, orange, red and blue.
Further north, the swathes of beauty continue into Namaqualand National Park and around the towns of Springbok, Okiep, Nababiep and Van Rhynsdorp – just to mention a few. The Goegap Nature Reserve near Springbok is another hotspot for riotous floral colour. Just call ahead to hear where the flowers are best, and when viewing them, keep the sun at your back – or their flower faces will be turned away from you, since they follow the sun throughout the day.
Trek mountain gorillas & honour Dian Fossey
The fact that populations of endangered mountain gorillas are stable and well protected in Rwanda today is largely credited to the pioneering conservation work of Dian Fossey. She took up residence in the Volcanoes National Park in the early sixties and fought tirelessly for the protection of these rare primates. A limited number of permits are issued annually to track and see mountain gorillas, and the experience for many is life-changing. They’re likely our closest relative and watching families interact and go about their lives is a bucket list wildlife experience for many. Dian Fossey’s grave is also in the Virunga Mountains and can be visited too. Her work continues today through the Karisoke Institute that she set up for mountain gorilla conservation.
Visit the White Lady rock painting
Deep in the Brandberg mountain of Damaraland is a very unusual rock painting on a panel – and it has been an archaeological dilemma for some time. It’s now believed to be about 2000 years old and is part of The White Lady group of paintings, which is in Maack Shelter. There are several human and oryx figures in the group.
The panel is over 8m² but The White Lady is the most detailed human figure of all and is about 40cm tall. She has white arms and legs and is said to be doing a ritual dance. Yes, it is a bit of a clamber to get there and the hike will take 45 minutes to an hour over rough terrain and along the gorge of the Tsisab River – but it’s usually dry.
Shop in the souk of Djema el Fna in Marrakech.
This is the quintessential shopper’s paradise, even for those who vehemently hate shopping. The maze of tiny stalls all linked together in a tangle draw you in, even if you are the most reluctant tourist. Goods are so unusual, so tantalising and so relatively inexpensive that you’ll happily empty your wallet and then head out to fill it up again for another round. Exquisite metal work, lamps, hand-made leather shoes, evocative clothing, meticulously crafted jewellery, artwork, stained glass, perfumes, colourful carpets, you name it and it’s there.
Then at night the square transforms into a massive food market of equally tiny stalls all selling freshly cooked Moroccan morsels. Locals pile in to eat supper together, many with a favourite stall and many eating as they walk and sampling from different cooks. It’s delicious and the best way to end a fantastic day of shopping for special items you’ll simply never find anywhere else.
Join women trekkers to see chimps
Kibale National Park is a special place. Not just for the magnificent landscape of forested mountains and the quirky and quizzy chimps that live there, but for the dedicated women trackers who guide guests to see these intelligent primates. There is something nurturing and gentle about communing with chimps in the company of a woman ranger, with knowledge, empathy and insight into the lives of these great apes.
Little can match walking silently through the forest, in single file, causing minimal disturbance and then seeing chimps in the trees overhead. You want to pinch yourself, it just seems too good to be true.
Visit the Temple of Hatshepsut.
This mortuary temple is an architectural wonder on the West Bank of the Nile to honour the magnanimous woman who commissioned it. Hatshepsut was one of ancient Egypt’s first female pharaohs and arguably remains the most well known. She ruled for over 20 years and died in 1458BC. Her tomb is in the Valley of the Kings. In an act of vengeance, her stepson Thutmose III crushed her statues, defaced her cartouche and tried his best to erase her memory completely. To little avail, as Hatshepsut is still loved and revered by Egyptians and history lovers the world over.
See dancing sifakas and listen to singing indris.
It’s natural theatre in the most peaceful setting of a forested stage. Indris are the biggest of the lemurs at about three foot tall. They’re piebald with wildly curious eyes and they purse their lips to sing. The sound they make is somewhere between a high pitched siren and whale song, and it bounces across the treetops of their natural home in central Madagascar. The singing is their way of marking territory and communicating with each other, but it’s quite esoteric and otherworldly all the same.
Sifakas can’t walk on level ground, as their feet are adapted for grasping branches. So when they alight from the trees where they live, they have to skip across open ground and then jump straight into the next tree. That skipping is their dance and they do it sideways, which makes for comical viewing. The quizzical looks on their faces makes the experience even more humourous.
Laze on the safe and sunny beaches
Safety is a big concern for all travellers, women especially. If a tropical beach holiday is on your travel list, Mauritius is a great option. Plus there are no rough edges often associated with Africa.
Here, you can laze on the beach, lie in the sun, swim all day and never be concerned about your personal safety – as long as you’re not doing this somewhere remote, but close to your resort. It’s a true holiday, relaxed and rejuvenating without a care in the world.
See hundreds of orchids in summer.
High up on the Nyika Plateau in northern Malawi, the grassy plains transform completely in summer. For most of the year the plateau looks like the highlands of Scotland, but in summer it’s a blaze of colour with wildflowers and thousands of orchids, yes thousands.
Over 200 species of orchid, from large to small, grow on the plateau and show their colours from mid-November each year. The spectacle is mind blowing and otherworldly as the ‘Scottish Highlands’ suddenly transforms into a tropical paradise.
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