Roots, History, Wildlife, and Other Adventures in Senegal and The Gambia

CheapOAir Miles Away. October 2019.

Senegal is one of West Africa’s most popular destinations, famous for its vibrant music scene, colorful architecture, and diverse culture. It’s also the safest country in the region with political stability, religious harmony, and no major health risks. The people are polite, welcoming, and proud of their teranga (which means hospitality in Wolof).

Most travelers combine a tour of Senegal and its neighbor The Gambia to learn about the history of the slave trade in West Africa and enjoy it’s diverse wildlife. Here are the most interesting things to do in Senegal and the Gambia for those seeking a trip full of history and adventure. Continue reading on CheapOAir Miles Away...

Travel Tips from Solo Women World Travelers

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. Oct 2018.

If you don’t want to wait around to sync schedules with your parents, family or friends, you don’t have to. With technology at their fingertips and transparency among travelers, women are more empowered than ever to travel the world on their own. Moreover, the rewards are a more enriching experience where you have time to self-reflect, meet locals and explore on your own time and terms.

Tuanni Price started traveling abroad once her kids were grown up, wanting to find herself. She booked herself a three-week trip to Spain in 2013 and is now moving to South Africa for her wine tour company. “I loved the fact that I could wake up and roam around randomly, eat when I wanted to and explore the small towns,” she recounts her stay in Barcelona. Price says she prefers to stay at Airbnbs so she can save money and stay longer at a destination. She also uses Airbnb experiences to meet people and share meals. Over a dinner party experience in Barcelona, she met a few singles and they ended up celebrating a fun New Year’s Eve together.

Tuanni Price of Zuri Wine Tasting holding a passport
Pictured: Tuanni Price

“You have to be careful about your location though,” she points out that she picks her accommodations in busy areas where there is always a security guard or doorman. The only time she felt unsafe was wandering through the streets of Paris late at night. “That is one place I would recommend staying in a nicer hotel or going with a companion,” she says referring to the mixed neighborhoods in bustling big cities.

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Price also uses Uber frequently and when she finds a good driver that she feels safe with, she hires them out for the day as it allows her the flexibility to visit several areas such as wineries around Cape Town at a negotiated rate.

At 6-feet tall, social impact consultant Tammy Freeman often stands out in a crowd when traveling abroad. When she first visited Singapore in 2000 for a study abroad program, she had culture shock. “No one told me that I will be stared at all the time like I was on TV. For us in the U.S., that is considered rude, but in some cultures it’s acceptable,” she says. She realized that the people didn’t mean any harm, so she simply smiled or waved back.

Freeman has been spending 2-3 months out of the year in Rio De Janeiro since 2016 running a social enterprise co-op.  She also owns Soul and Story, an online store that offers amazing handmade goods created by women around the world. “Rio gets a bad rap for violence, like any major city, but you need to have your wits about you. It is not the place to wear your fancy shoes and gold jewelry. Just try to blend in, wear casual clothing like shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops so you don’t stand out,” she advises on traveling to Brazil.

Social Impact Consultant Tammy Freeman in Kenya
Pictured: Tammy Freeman in Kenya

Kenya is another country that Freeman recommends visiting for its beaches, nightlife, food and markets. Instead of bars and nightclubs, Freeman prefers hotels, wine festivals, artisanal markets and malls, for they offer a more sophisticated and safe atmosphere for solo females. She also recommends visiting places that have good access to public transportation and are easy to navigate, such as Amsterdam, Istanbul, Cape Town and Amalfi Coast.

Mia Herman is a flight attendant and travel blogger (Travel with Mia) who has lived all over the world and traveled to 30+ countries. Though married, Herman still travels independently to focus on her writing and to meet locals.

“As a person of color, you need to research the political sentiment of the country,” she says and take extra care in countries that are politically unstable or where women are not given the highest regard. “Still I have never had a negative experience that has prevented me from traveling.” She notes that she received a lot of male attention in Istanbul, but it was harmless.

Her safety tip is to never share your accommodation location with strangers even in a casual conversation with people you know because you don’t know who is listening in. Also, never announce specifics about where you will be and at what time publicly.

Herman tries to find humor in every situation and not take offense to people of other cultures. When dining at an authentic restaurant in Kowloon, Herman found herself to be the only black female surrounded by all Asians who started taking pictures of her eating her noodle soup with chopsticks. Without hesitation, she just posed for them.

Travel Blogger Mia Herman eating noodles in Japan
Pictured: Mia Herman eating noodles in Japan

Herman’s favorite places as a solo traveler are the Czech Republic and Croatia as the “people are incredibly nice and welcoming” she affirms. For women who are traveling alone internationally for the first time, she advises starting with English speaking countries such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or going on a Mediterranean cruise so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier and can navigate more easily.

On my first solo trip, friends had warned me of Morocco’s famous con artists. I was on alert during my train ride from Rabat to Fez when someone approached, offering a tour and car service. My inner voice advised me not to book a tour on a moving train but instead, visit their office and verify the company’s legitimacy first. Still, I booked it hiding my money in my socks, wrapped a whistle around my wrist and was always ready with plan B.

Female instincts have come in handy more than once while traveling solo through 80 countries since then. Once, there was a sandstorm and I was stranded on the Israel-Jordan border. There was no other option but to take an overnight bus to Tel Aviv to make my flight back to Atlanta. The bus driver made all announcements in Hebrew as he or no one on the bus spoke any English. To make myself feel safer and not be left behind at restroom stops, I sat in the very front row and made sure the driver was aware of my presence.

Every traveler must follow certain rules about carrying little cash, keeping backup batteries, learning a few words of the local language, etc. But when it comes to women, it is even more important to be aware of your surroundings, do your research and always have a plan of where you are going and make sure somebody back home knows about it at all time.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine.

 

Essential Tips for Your First African Safari

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. February 2018. 

Kenya has some of the best-preserved wildlife and to see it with your own eyes is a dream come true. As I drove in a rustic jeep through the vast expanse of the Masai Mara watching, herds of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and prides of lions walk past me, it feels nothing short of being in a National Geographic documentary itself.

If you are planning a visit to see the African wildlife, here are a few things to know beforehand.

When to go?

June through October are the peak seasons to visit Kenya as rainfall is minimal and temperatures are cooler. While wildlife viewing is great throughout the year, you’ll see the most animals during the great migration, an annual event where hundreds of thousands of wildebeest cross the borders between Tanzania and Kenya in search of water and food.

Where to go?

If it’s your first game drive experience in Kenya, allot at least 7-10 days. International flights arrive in the capital city of Nairobi where you want to relax for a day or two after the long journey. In Nairobi, take the opportunity to learn how baby elephants are rescued at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage and kiss a giraffe at the world-famous Giraffe Center.

Head on to Naivasha, where you can see hippos from your luxury camp. This fresh water lake is also a good place to birdwatch. Walk among zebras, giraffes, and gazelles at the Crescent Island Game Park.

The Masai Mara is a 583 square-mile vast game reserve where you can spot the “Big 5” – lions, rhinos, elephants, leopards and buffaloes. Around the Mara, you can interact with the local Masai people. They often sell handmade crafts and jewelry, perform traditional dances and offer tours of their villages.

See thousands of flamingos, rhinos and more animals at Lake Nakuru National Park, then head west to President Barack Obama’s ancestral hometown, Nyang’oma Kogelo Village.

Where to stay?

There are only all-inclusive tented camp hotels (known as camps) located near game reserves ranging in luxury and price. Most of them are nicely decorated with hardwood floors, comfortable bedding and en-suite bathrooms with hot showers. There is generally no air conditioner or heater, and electricity is restricted to few hours in the night. Stay at Sekenani Camp if you want a romantic bathtub inside the tented room or follow the footsteps of the Obamas at Basecamp Masai Mara, where they stayed during a family vacation.

What to pack?

On a safari trip, it is best to pack light as you will be moving around in a jeep and staying at camps. Since you will spend a lot of time in the car, dress in comfortable camouflage and neutral color clothing that doesn’t attract the attention of animals and blends with surroundings. Layers are great to have as it can get chilly in the mornings and evenings. There are no stores in the reserve, so pack lots of insect repellant and sunscreen along with plenty of spare batteries and memory cards for the unforgettable panoramas you will take.

Who to go with?

A reputable tour operator and a knowledgeable safari guide can make or break your wildlife viewing experience. My driver/ guide, Danson Kahuria with The Village Experience is a native to Lake Nakuru. He grew up close to animals and knew where to spot them. He could predict their next move and would take us to the best spots to get close-ups. In a matter of few hours, I saw thousands of lions, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, buffaloes and more.

Kenya is perhaps the best starting point for an African wilderness getaway because everyone speaks English, the infrastructure is well developed and it is quite safe outside the cities. A visa can be obtained electronically through a simple process and there are no vaccinations required (advisable to check with CDC).

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. February 2018. 

When Curiosity Turns to Love in Tanzania

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. January 2018. 

I arrived in Dar es Salaam with Grace Odogbili, a Nigerian-American chef and caterer from Brooklyn. Having worked with New York’s top restaurants and caterers, Odogbili started her own business, Dining With Grace, in 2010 to offer people a chance to savor regional cuisines of the African diaspora. She teaches nutritional culinary arts workshops in Brooklyn’s public schools, introducing underserved communities to healthier lifestyles.

This was the first trip to East Africa for both of us. For the next several days, we explored the cuisine and culture of Tanzania, like a local, with a local. “When I started The African Table, a monthly pop-up dining series in 2013, I hosted “A Night in Zanzibar” dinner at a Brooklyn art gallery where we had a multi-course Tanzanian inspired meal with live music. That’s where I met Justa Lujwangana, who had recently started a Meetup group namedCurious on Tanzania (COT). She was my featured guest and since that day we decided we must go to Tanzania together, ” says Odogbili. Lujwangana is a Tanzania-born African who has lived in Uganda and New York. She also founded COT as an experiential travel company.

Grace-cooking-at-COT.jpgWe headed to Lujwangana’s house in the quiet suburbs of Dar which she calls “the COT house.” The two-story bungalow, with its five bedrooms, beautiful garden and spacious living room and kitchen, is a private guest house listed on Airbnb. Dressed in a brightly colored cotton dress called a kanga, Luiwangana welcomes us to the place she calls home for a few months each year. “Karibuni Tena!” (meaning welcome to Tanzania) she exclaims with a big smile. This is a greeting we got accustomed to hearing many times during our visit. Over a breakfast of smoked eggplant and tomato stew, steamed cassava, chapatti and ginger tea, she tells me how she started COT. “I wanted to give people the opportunity to hear the untold stories of Tanzania and go beyond the safaris,” she explains about bringing groups from New York to Tanzania on dance, music, sporting and culinary tours.

Lunch-in-Dar.jpgTogether we explored the cosmopolitan big city. During the day, busy streets clog traffic as street peddlers walk up to cars selling everything from chopping boards and wood carvings to fidget spinners. At night, restaurants and bars are alive with women dressed in long flowing Western dresses and men in sharp Western wear sipping on cocktails, enjoying the summer breeze. We frequent several upbeat neighborhoods, watch live music and enjoy late night dinners.

The next day we board a ferry to the island of Zanzibar, Lujwangana’s “second home.” Everyone seems to come greet her as we walk through the narrow cobblestone streets of Stone Town. We stay at the Mizinghani Seafront Hotel, a historical building that was originally built for newly married royal couples for their honeymoons.Ornate wood doors, wool tapestry and mosaic floors speak to the hundreds of years of Portuguese and Omani influences left on the island. The island is also home to a small Arab and Indian population.

Grace-tasting-Swahili-pizza.jpg

Our main reason for being here now is the Stone Town Food Festival. A celebration of local flavors featuring over 30 restaurants offering special prix fixe menus, it culminates at a two-day street fair at the island’s gathering spot, Forodhani Gardens. We pay anywhere from $1 to $5 for a tasting and feast on fried sardines, fish balls, beet salad, hummus, pita and more.  Odogbili and I are intrigued by “Zanzibar Pizza” signs that several food vendors display. Minced meat, bell peppers, eggs and cheese are stuffed into a crepe thin like pocket and fried with ghee. Served with hot sauce and mayo, it is not a traditional pizza but a popular local street food no less.

In the morning we head to the island’s oldest vegetable market for produce and then to the home of a Swahili family for a cooking class. All of the female extended relatives and neighbors gather to greet us and give us a change of traditional clothes for wearing at home, which is custom. Odogbili instantly takes charge of the outdoor kitchen while all the women chop, shred, and fry food over a charcoal stove. “Cooking with the Swahili women felt like being home with your tribe of sisters. Everyone must play their part so we can all eat together. It felt like nothing was rushed, it was life and it was sweeter when done in community,” she recalls. After several hours of cooking, we sat on the floor eating with our hands and sharing laughs and stories.

The turquoise blue waters of the Arabian Sea are dotted with dhows, traditional wooden sailing vessels operated by skillful sailors. On one of the days, Lujwangana organized a special sail to one of the most beautiful sand banks off Stone Town and a picnic on the beach. Surrounded by white sand and crystal-clear water, we feast on grilled lobster, prawns, calamari, fish, accompanied by kachumbari salad, French fries and steamed rice. We take turns swimming and snorkeling.

No visit to Zanzibar is complete without a visit to a spice farm. At Jumbo Spice Farm, we get to understand why Zanzibar is named the island of spices. Cardamom, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg – practically all of the spices I had ever heard of can be found here. We also got a chance to make our own masala chai blend and received beautiful handcrafted floral gifts and had a delicious farm-fresh lunch. “I’ve used the masala chai spice blend for everything from curries, desserts, dry rubs and more. I make an amazing carrot cake with masala chai cream cheese frosting. It’s delicious,” Odogbili says tempting me a few weeks after our trip.

We end our tour with a safari at Selous Game Reserve, one of the largest animal reserves in the world, where we stay at a tented camp overlooking a river and spot zebras, giraffes, buffalo, impala and a lion. Here, we had a chance to interact with Maasai tribes and bushmen, learning about their traditional dances.

“Tanzania is truly a beautiful country with so much rich history,” says Odogbili and I agree. It offers everything from beautiful beaches, quaint hotels and indigenous art, to diversity of flavors from Arabic, Portuguese, African and Indian traditions. With warm hospitable people who are always smiling and dancing, it is impossible not to fall in love with Tanzania.

Enjoy these recipes for Masala Coconut Caramel SpreadBoiled Cassava w/ Kachumbari and Spicy Beet & Coconut Salad courtesy of Grace Odogbili. For more information about Dining With Grace, visit www.diningwithgrace.com and for Curious on Tanzania, visit www.curiousontanzania.com.

Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. January 2018. 

This Is Where You Need to Start Your African Safari Adventure

For CheapOAir Miles Away Blog. November 2017. 

Ready to explore the enormous continent of Africa but don’t know where to start? There are 54 countries in Africa, offering amazing opportunities to immerse in the culture, as well as view nature and wildlife. Most travelers flock to South Africa, not realizing it is farther, more expensive, and already packed with tourists.

Read the full article on CheapOAir Miles Away Blog