A to Z of Adventure Travel: X is for Xai-Xai

26 06 2009

 

Dhow 2 mw

 

Xai-Xai, Mozambique is a bustling town on the banks of the Limpopo River, just 12 kilometres from Praia do Xai-Xai and its massive coral reef. Although this long, sweeping beach and its safe waters have been popular with tourists since Mozambique re-emerged onto the international scene after years of brutal civil war, like much of the country it is blissfully free of mass tourism and commercialism.

 

After almost 500 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Mozambique gained its independence in 1975 but fell into civil war just two years later. It was only in 1992 that the fighting ended and the country began to rebuild itself from the devastating violence. With little infrastructure for its own citizens let alone international visitors, only the most intrepid of travellers ventured to Mozambique during its early years. The one exception to this being some of the country’s islands located in the Indian Ocean along its pristine coastline which quickly attracted visitors looking for world class fishing, snorkelling and diving.

 

Located in south-east Africa and bordered by South Africa, Tanzania and Malawi amongst other countries, Mozambique is not a country to visit in search of wildlife. Much of the game the country had was destroyed or migrated to neighbouring countries during the independence struggle and civil war that followed. However, the advent of peace and the recent opening of the Transfrontier Peace Park which spans Mozambique and its neighbours has seen a steady and healthy increase in game. Although still not on a par with other southern African countries, Mozambique’s advantage is the lack of tourists who visit the country and the unique experiences that this still-emerging country offers to visitors.

 

Mozambique’s greatest draw is undoubtedly its coastline, however.  The country offers some of the most beautiful, pristine and picturesque coastline in Africa or indeed the world. Unspoiled by mass tourism, the coast still offers many idyllic resorts, usually small and luxurious rather than enormous and overblown. Think thatched roofs, hammocks in the sea breeze and excellent food. For those on a tighter budget there is far simpler accommodation that is still clean, safe and inexpensive enough to suit anyone’s budget. Regardless of the style of travel, the crystal clear waters offer superb snorkelling and scuba diving on the reefs, swimming or sea kayaking. There are lazy cruises on traditional dhows, or simply beach-flopping on the wide uncrowded stretches of sand.

 

Perhaps not the best destination for a first visit to Africa, Mozambique is a great extension to a longer tour or the perfect place for a second visit. If you have a sense of adventure, want to be amongst the first to explore a rebounding nation…or crave unspoiled beaches and crystal clear water, have a cool drink on the soft sand of Praia do Xai-Xai.

 

 

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009

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A to Z of Adventure Travel: J is for Jordan

19 03 2009

petra

 

Every time any list emerges of the greatest films ever made, “Lawrence of Arabia” ranks in the top ten. Not only is it a great and stirring story that’s truly worthy of the description “epic,” but it’s also a sweeping advertisement for wandering the Middle East, and especially Jordan.

 

While Jordan’s main cities have modernised, much of the countryside has remained relatively unchanged since the days of T.E. Lawrence – or at least since David Lean shot part of his masterpiece there. The red cliffs of Wadi Rum are still as red and spectacular as ever, and although more developed than a century ago, Aqaba remains a frontier town on the edge of the beautiful waters of the Red Sea.

 

Amman is a busy city that pulses with culture and tradition…as well as international hotels and great restaurants. Not only can visitors lose themselves in the Old City exploring the old souk and King Hussein Mosque, but they can use the country’s capital as their base to visit the nearby Dead Sea, Jerash and the desert castles.

 

The Dead Sea is so buoyant that even I probably couldn’t drown there – unless I was sporting concrete sandals – but unfortunately it’s shrinking at such a rate that some say it will be gone completely by the mid-point of the century. Until then, visitors can bob in its saline waters or cover themselves with the mud from the lowest point of dry land in the world before watching the spectacular sunsets.

 

Venturing further south through the starkly beautiful desert, there is Petra, the “…rose-red city half as old as time.” Arguably one of the most breathtaking man-made structures in the world, photos of its rock-hewn treasury glimpsed through the narrow gorge of the Siq are amongst the most evocative of any travel photos.  A short distance away from the World Heritage Site is Little Petra, a site sadly missed by the majority of travellers.

 

If deserts are your thing, Jordan is definitely for you. Endless sands, rolling dunes, colourful rock formations and rocky plains cover much of this wild country and are littered with remnants of history from Roman ruins to biblical sites and crusader castles. You can visit legendary spots like “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” or Mount Nebo from which Moses saw ‘The Promised Land’. And if you yearn for a bit more activity there are plenty of opportunities to head off on a 4-day trek through the wilds, a jeep safari to Wadi Rum or simply spending a night in a Bedouin camp.

 

When the time comes to wash the sand away from between your toes, how better to do so than snorkelling in the warm, clear waters of the Red Sea before wrapping your head in a white cotton scarf and preteneding to be Lawrence himself!

 

 

Post by: Simon Vaughan   

Photo by: Jordan Tourism Board





Bubble Boy Goes Snorkelling

27 05 2008

Red Sea 1

Self portrait with fingers

It’s not that I’d describe myself as particularly accident prone or especially susceptible to illness, but if there’s a good dose of drama on show, chances are I will be the star attraction.

 

My life at home is rather dull, ordinary and uneventful. But when I travel I tend to attract rare and exotic ailments or have encounters that cause friends to hire me to entertain dinner parties with tales of my international misfortune. Thankfully, nothing major has happened that hasn’t been cured with an IV, a few days in isolation or some indelicate and rather embarrassing questions from a Tropical Disease specialist. But I certainly do provide a source of amusement for my less sensitive friends…and a few doctors.

 

The Red Sea is one of the world’s best snorkelling spots and I just couldn’t resist the opportunity to slap on flippers and goggles for the first time ever…even though I can’t swim and am generally afraid of anything deeper than a saucer of milk. The sky was a flawless blue, the water was warm and crystal clear and the mountains of the arid Sinai Peninsula loomed over us to provide a glorious setting for my first aquatic adventure.

 

After strapping on my gear, I waddled over the jagged rocks and slipped into the water. A lifejacket ensured that I neither drowned nor was mistaken for anyone brave or naturally buoyant, and I rolled onto my stomach and kicked my legs with all the grace of a flailing octopus in a bowl of Jello. If the slap-slapping of my flippers on the top of the water wasn’t enough to scare all the fish onto land to begin evolution all over again, I’m sure my hyperventilation through the narrow plastic breathing tube certainly was.

 

I gradually swam further away from the shore. Bit by bit I gained some degree of coordination and confidence and actually began to enjoy myself – until the seabed suddenly dropped away beneath me into a bottomless abyss of murky blue perpetual darkness. My breathing went into overdrive, the rasping sound of panic became deafening and I desperately splattered back towards shore.

 

Despite my abject terror, the scenery was nothing short of spectacular. I drifted in the tide just off great cliffs of coral and marvelled at magnificently coloured sealife. It was a world I had never seen before and I was absolutely rapt. My confidence soon returned and I began to really enjoy myself.

 

Red Sea 2

With time almost up, I headed back to the wooden ladder and walkway that led to the shore. I bobbed in the water while others descended to the sea, awaiting my chance to climb out. As the lapping waves pushed me towards the sheer rock, I extended my hands to keep the jagged edges at bay…and suddenly felt the most searing pain in the index finger of my right hand. I yanked back instantly and clambered ashore.

 

Blood streamed from the tip of my finger. I wiped it clear and saw two pin-prick holes, each surrounded by perfect white circles and then angry red circles that grew before my eyes. My efforts at maintaining a steely calm evaporated when an Australian colleague screamed, in utter terror, “It’s a sea snake bite!!! A sea snake…you’re gonna di….”

 

…or something along those lines.

 

Someone ran off to get the divemaster and I was hurriedly raced to a tented shelter and plopped down on a floor of carpets and cushions. Our ebullient tour guide had turned ashen white and knew he’d lost at least one tip.

 

“It’s a sea snake…” the Australian wailed. “They’re the most deadly of al…” she added before I heard a muffled thump and she disappeared.

 

The divemaster poked and prodded my finger before removing a very big and very sharp knife from his dive belt…and thankfully placing it on the carpet. He stepped away and returned with a glass of boiling water and oil, grabbed my finger and plunged it into the glass. He pulled it out and squeezed and pressed and poked, before plunging it in again and again. I couldn’t quite determine which was more painful: the poison making its way up my hand, the utter mangling he was giving my finger or the third degree burn I was getting from the treatment.

 

“It’s a sea urchin,” he said. “two spines. I got the poison out. You’ll be okay.”

 

He sheathed his knife, and swaggered away.

 

I glanced at my mutilated and throbbing finger, removed my lifejacket and headed towards the jeep that had brought us to the dive site. The sun was low and casting long shadows over the sea. There was a cooling breeze and all was tranquil…until I felt the searing pain on the back of my left hand.

 

I spun around just in time to see the driver move his glowing cigarette tip away from my hand.

 

“Sorry” he said sheepishly.

 

 

Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008