After many months of turbulence, Egypt is now back on the travel map after the Foreign and Commonwealth Office relaxed its advice about travelling to this ancient and mysterious destination. From the colossal statues at Abu Simbel, to the Great Pyramids of Giza, to ancient, bustling Cairo and the tranquil Nile, Egypt is certainly a destination of contrasts. Adventure tour operator Exodus is offering tours to Egypt from January 2014. Here is a piece from Real Travel Magazine when I visited Cairo to coincide with the anniversary of Howard Carter’s opening of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, 26 November which also happens to be my birthday.
The average person gains 4lbs whilst on holiday. Read the July/August 2013 issue of Women’s Health Magazine UK for my top tips of what to eat when travelling. Travel comes as something of a double edged sword. Whilst you are clocking up the airmiles, it’s easy to find yourself clocking up the calories. Let’s face it, something happens when we reach the airport. We become richer (Duty Free has a lot to answer for), thinner (those great mirrors in the fitting rooms of Ted Baker) and above all, hungrier. My feature was on the cover of the Bikini Body Special of Women’s Health. And yes you can still indulge in the mini-bar!
I love this piece from a decade ago. My first research piece for Conde Nast Traveller. Hotels with cinemas are now ten a penny, but this piece celebrates the best of the best from London to New York via Bali, Dubai and Rome. From the fabulous, to the sublime to the rural. I’ve uploaded it on the eve of the 65th Festival de Cannes, the most glamorous red carpet event in the world.
One of Asia’s best kept secrets, I travelled to Taiwan three times in two years. I hosted journalists from The Times and The Telegraph and escorted the BBC on an epic eight day trip which resulted in just six minutes of prime time television. During my visits I got to know this tobacco leaf shaped island and the offshore archipelago well. I worked with the tourist board and interesting people I net along the way to engineer bespoke itineraries designed to veer away from the tourist trail.
Formerly known as Ilha Formosa (beautiful island), Taiwan has a fascinating history which is evidenced throughout the island. Some of the highlights of my visits included taking a dip in the natural springs of Yangmingshan National Park, marvelling at the marble grottos and waterfalls of Taroko Gorge, seeing sunrise over spring blossom at Alishan National Park and swimming lengths in an infinity pool which seemed to stretch across the horizon at The Lalu, Sun Moon Lake. I hung out with the surfers on Kenting Beach, sampled dim sum in Taipei, snorkeled the coral reefs of Green Island and gazed on a handful of the 696,000 treasures housed in the National Palace Museum. What I liked most about Taiwan was the commitment of the private and public sectors to celebrating and preserving cultural heritage. I met lantern makers who have been creating paper dreams for more than six decades, as well as calligraphers,storytellers and puppeteers who are recognised as masters of their art and ‘living cultural treasures’ by the ministry of tourism and culture. With centuries of history focused on this tiny island, it is reassuring to realise that not everything made in Taiwan has a shelf life of a few minutes.
It’s his handshake that tells his story. His grip is strong, and his palms have been toughened by years of hoisting bags, and clients, as they scramble over the icy scree and shale. By contrast, his voice is soft, almost sing-song and puts me at ease immediately. This is Florence, assistant guide, we are told. ‘Florence will be making sure you make it up the mountain’. For some reason, I am certain the statement is aimed squarely at me, and for a moment I don’t know whether to feel indignant or reassured so I settle on a combination of the two. Kilimanjaro is affectionately called the ‘Roof of Africa’ for one reason. Her highest point, Uhuru Peak sits in splendid isolation, bathed in clouds at some 5,895 meters above sea-level. Three miles above the level generally associated with holidays. Nowhere else on Earth is it possible to climb a mountain on such a grand scale without an ice-pick or a frost-flecked beard. I have neither beard nor ice-pick and throughout my climb I reminded myself that summiting Kilimanjaro is a test of endurance, not climbing ability. I prepared for the trip for two months, but some of my fellow climbers had been preparing mentally, as well as physically for over a year. Cardio-vascular workouts in the gym as well as long walks were highly recommended to get me into peak condition. Whilst you do not have to be hugely fit, physical wellness is essential. Oh, and as I found out pretty early on, those attempting Kili must really like walking… as up to 17 hours a day are spent placing one foot in front of the other! Travelling in a group of ten, each of us had our own reason to conquer the mountain. Mine was a personal ambition – part of my list of ‘things to do in my 30th year’. We were joined by a small army of guides and assistant guides, as well as an assortment of cooks and porters.
We took the lesser-known Rongai Route, the northern trail, which passes through rainforest, alpine desert, then over a landscape which could only be described as lunar before climaxing at the ice-capped summit. Minor ailments such as bruised toes, blisters and altitude headaches were all forgotten when morning breaks and the sheer beauty of the mountain is revealed. Our trip took six days and five nights which saw us strolling across beautiful trails, marching towards the jagged peaks of Mawenzi, the second of Kilimanjaro’s cones, followed by a day of crossing the saddle towards Kibo camp, a bleak, desolate site which is like the end of the earth. Kibo was our rest point before the final ascent. Finally, we reached Gilmans Point, at 5,685m, the stopping point, before we made the final push. It is an unwritten rule that you must not stop too long at Gilman’s in case you are discouraged by the couple of hours ahead before you reach Uhuru, the true peak. The sun began to rise and we saw the glacial rim begin to light up as if on fire. The heat gave us new energy as we pursued Uhuru which finally seemed within touching distance. Finally I reach the famous sign and have my picture taken next to the highest point. We have all made it – the perfect ten. I almost forget to smile, all I can think of is getting to the bottom and filling my lungs with delicious oxygen. One thing is for sure, I cannot spend much longer than 15 minutes at the top! I glance around the group of people I have spent the last week with and feel affection for them. How we’ve bonded since we’d met for the first time at the departure gate at Nairobi, bound for Kilimanjaro airport. I realise that the short time spent at Uhuru Peak are not the most significant. The highlights are the magical, small moments of the journey itself and the friendships which have been made. As I begin my descent with Florence at my side, helping me as my knees buckle under the strain, I smile as I pass the hoards of people heading in the opposite direction.
Natalie Amos climbed to raise funds for the Exodus & Friends of Conservation Porter Education Project. Exodus, Friends of Conservation and the Africa Walking Company operate three schools to teach English during the rainy seasons. They also provide porters with skills to help them progress in the local tourism industry.