The big 5 and the last blog

This is it folks….the end of the road, the final curtain…after 3 years of happily blogging about the trials and tribulations of my life in humanitarian mineclearance in Asia, Africa, Asia and back to Africa, I’m hanging up my blogging boots on the open world wide web.

Time now for Misshelen to ‘go underground’!

Just before I go…I’ve just been on holiday! Yes you did read that right, I’ve just taken a holiday – a short holiday but a holiday all the same.

I needed to escape Angola for a wee while and amazingly in all my time living in Mozambique I never made it to Kruger Park so took the opportunity to nip over for a quick break and some wild animal spotting.

An absolutely fantastic trip and highly recommended.

Want to see my holiday snaps??

Hippos are the coolest animals in the park! They submerge themselves under the water with just their searching eyes poking above the surface.

Just one of many beautiful waterholes in the park where you silently creep into a hide and watch the animals close up. In the bottom left of the picture is a ‘klipspringer’ (which means rock jumper in Afrikaans).

We watched this beautiful African antelope with its ‘salt and pepper’ coat perch on a rock watching the hippos lazing in the water.

We watched this family of elephants wade across the river with the mum giving her babies a shower as they went. You can tell the big elephant is a female as the females spent their lives in a tight knit group of mums, daughters, sisters and aunties where as the male elephants tend to live on their own. 

Thank goodness for camera zoom lenses – although mine paled in comparison to some of the super duper cameras we spotted in the park.

This is an African fish eagle flying high in the sky looking down into the vast expense of water for fish. Having spotted ‘lunch’ swimming in the water below, these eagles swoop down to catch their prey with their talons. Their distinctive cry is unmistakable and is said to be the sound of the spirit of Africa.

It’s breakfast time for this giraffe. It’s hard to get the scale of these animals from a photo but this one we spotted must have been nearly 4m tall!

These kudu antelope – with their distinctive long spiral horns and white stripes – are probably the most spectacular antelope in the park. Their horns can actually be used as musical instruments!

I do love a good tree – and Africa has them in abundance. The baobab tree is probably my favourite…well maybe the baobab and the marula!

These baobab trees are somethimes called the ‘tree of life’ or sometimes ‘the upside down tree’ because the roots of the tree are out of the ground on the branches and if you dig down into the ground under the tree you will find the leaves where the roots should be. ONLY JOKING!

Thanks world for reading my blog and for all your comments. Posts now are for family and friends.

So it’s over and out from Misshelen…

Gone surfing

…back soon.

No one likes a bragger

So I won’t labour the point but….I have just returned from an absolutely fabulous holiday back in the UK.

In brief…

Family fun in Wales to celebrate dad’s birthday…mountain biking, bbq’s, kayaking and good old fashioned British beach time (ie huddling on windy beaches wrapped in towels sipping disgraceful coffee from polystyrene cups!)


Even Looby got in on the bike riding expedition!

Celebrating Pops being 21 again! Realising how much I miss reading a real newspaper on a Sunday, and a Saturday, Monday, Tuesday…

Camping out in a wendy house with Ankles, mastering the art of surfing (well mastering the basics!) with lots of obligatory’ new surfer’ face planting into the ocean!

Getting lost in a rather wonderful way on a longer-than-planned coastal walk.

‘Al fresco’ camping (yes, as in camping without a tent!) – thank goodness for boy making ability to light a good fire!

Being tourists for a day and nosing round Agatha Christie’s house (I think I am the only person in the world who didn’t know this famous lady was also an archaeologist!).

Then trying to explain the basics of mineclearance on a beach with a pint of Devon’s finest cider in hand!

Ice-cream and a catch-up (read; gossip!) down by the river with my ole pal duggas then on to a highly entertaining lecture by no other than Sir Ranulph Fiennes – a man with a bone dry sense of humour and more lives than your average cat!

A sunshine day for the christening of my beautiful nephew…with hotdogs and cake to celebrate!

Lunch in the quietest cafe ever being probably the only people in the world not be at home watching the football. Great service though – thanks England!

Kangaroooooooo

Now I know if you are an aussie then seeing a kangaroo is about as exciting as me out in Africa seeing a monkey!

However I am neither aussie nor a regular sighter of kangaroos…so when I saw this big guy hopping past me I practically squealed with delight!

Just back from an awesome 2 weeks in Oz. The reason for my trip…Boots getting married!

So first stop was to see Boots (it’s unbelievably been 4 years since we were together in Scotland!) and to meet the 2 new men in her life…husband to be the lovely Trav and the gorgeous baby Archer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy family!

 

 

 

 

 

Boots & Bells back together again!

After a few days in Melbourne (and having been repeatedly beaten in an afternoon UNO contest!)

I nipped up north for a few days diving up on the Great Barrier Reef, staying in Port Douglas – the closest jumping off point for the barrier reef. It’s a quaint little town with the most beautiful sunsets.

It was just a week after a pretty bad cyclone PLUS its stinger season at the moment (the time of year jelly fish are out and about in their masses!) so it was to be an interesting scuba experience. Donning my very sexy lycra stinger suit we jumped in to find visibility about 3 times better what we expected…brilliant!

Then it was back to Melbourne for Boots and Trav’s wedding. Now Boots is quite a unique girl and in true fashion she had a totally unique wedding – it was certainly the first time I have ever been to a wedding in someone’s front room!

Actually Boots managed to pull off the small intimate wedding I think a heck of alot of ‘brides-to-be’ actually want….pre them being snowballed down the big white wedding route…

(although I should just say we did end up in one rather long discussion over which lights should be on to create the right ambience which we managed to get stuck on for about 2 hours!!). 

The whole evening was jolly good fun, by 9pm shoes were off, the champagne was flowing and the dancing had well and truly commenced…!

With some slightly foggy heads the next morning it was off to Boots’ mum’s house for a much needed big breakfast then I hit the road for an adventure down the great ocean road.

The road trip took me down to Lorne where I found a divine little tea house which rather handily was below a funky surfing lodge run by an aging ‘surf-dude’ who gave me a bed for the night. 

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The next day it was back on the road where I spotted my dream home…a lighthouse!

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then it was on to Bells beach to hang out at the world pro surfing championships before heading back to Melbourne.

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After a fabulous 2 weeks it was sadly time to head home to Mozambique…a big thanks to my antipodean pals, old and new, for a fantastic time down under!

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The 3 amigos…crocodile hunter, landmine clearer and semi-pro fisherman!

Living over here as an expatriate I meet many people who have no home.

I don’t mean homeless people, I mean expats who come from expat parents…born in Africa…left a country after independence or because a war started and have been on the move ever since.

It’s not like they flit from one place to the next as refugees, they live, work and settle…albeit temporarily…in which ever country they are in at that time but you ask where is home and they just chuckle and say ‘nowhere really’.

 Now I know some people think I’m flighty, some think I will never settle, some think I will never be happy in one place. Always on the move, an eternal gypsy! But one thing I am sure about when I am asked where is home I don’t hesitate for a second.

 Home is home…I just happen to be living away from there at the moment!

 This weekend was a friend’s 30th. I am at the preferred of my 2 locations in Moz – up at the lake – and so his birthday was to be spent having a camping / braai / chilled party at another friends lodge.

 I had had one heck of a week at work, colleagues who are just not pulling their weight, confusion and chaos deploying to the field, crashed cars, problems with kit…the list goes on.

 However on Saturday afternoon I met up with my pals to head off for this party. It seemed as if everyone had had as hassled a week as me. However we packed the coolboxes and launched the boat (we live on a lake so boats are the generally accepted number 1 choice of transportation!).  

With the cold beers open as we sped through the stunning gorge out into the open water we all agreed that no matter how much you think you are literally on the cusp of being broken by this ‘challenging’ country, after 5 mins on the beautiful expanse of the lake your entire attitude changes and life doesn’t seem quite so bad at all!

 Skipper ‘misshelen’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from the helm!

 

The evening spent was spent in good company, chewing the fat and with many celebratory toasts and speeches to the birthday boy. Waking up after a welcome long nights sleep to a truly stunning view of the lake, we cooked up a genuine South African breakfast (left over steak and potatoes, fried eggs etc) and headed off to visit the next door neighbours farm…a crocodile farm!

 

Hundreds and hundreds of handbags in the making Mum!

  

     

 Then it was back on the boats for everyone to head home.

As we jumped into the boats we noticed 2 baby crocs in the shallows. They must have just recently hatched and were basking in the sunshine. Our hosts were worried they had chosen their jetty as their home and would grow up to terrorise their many pet dogs so asked us to ‘relocate’ them on our journey back.  

We took them with us and finding a suitably nice looking rocky bay released our prehistoric looking friends into their new abode.

 

Caroline relocates the baby crocs!

       

  

After a worryingly dry rainy season, the rains have been coming slowly but surely and mini-waterfalls now spurt from many of the cracks and crevices of the gorge walls. Speeding past one we begged the skipper to stop and off we jumped to cool off for a while…taking our four-legged friend with us!

 

 

He’s only little so needed a bit of help climbing the waterfall

 

Later in the evening showered, changed and eating supper with Monday morning on the horizon, I sat there thinking how lucky I am that Sunday night blues really don’t exist in my world…we spend weekends just like this one having adventures before heading back to jobs we love…and I think I got some insight into why these eternal expats are happy to live the life that they do.

Lake of Stars

View from tent

This is the view from my tent!

Needing a (I think) well deserved break from the 40 degree desert minefield I have been living in for the past 3 weeks I decided it was time to break free from Moz and head over the border to Malawi.

It’s a place I have always fancied visiting and have heard great things about (no pressure then!) and before coming to Moz I read about an awesome looking music festival called Lake of Stars.

Live music definitely being a great love of mine and not having to work too hard to convince 2 friends to join me, we road tripped over the border and spent a long weekend at possibly the most beautifully set festival I have ever been to.

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The campsite was on the beach (not exactly the mud bath of Glasto!) and as the sun went down we listened to some great African sounds lazing on the sand drinking cold cold beer…a road trip well worth the 3 hours spent getting across the border! 

 

(this phone was a promotion by the local phone provider…it was in the sea and it actually did work! I reckon 2000 people went home with this exactly same photo of themselves!)

It’s all about the team dynamics

Table Mountain panoramic

Success! I have managed to get my first family member to visit Africa. On the way back (well kind of!) from a trip to New Zealand, baby sis and hubby dropped by South Africa. With another friend jumping on a flight from London to join us, we were all chinking beers bottles our rather trendy Cape Town boutique hotel before we knew it.

Cape Town – in fact probably the whole of South Africa – is definitely best enjoyed in the sunshine. They are a nation of ‘outdoorsy’ folk so the downpour which ensued for our entire arrival night and well into the following day was not a good omen.

There was a slight dip in the “group dynamics” as it started to look like the ‘Leach ticklist of stuff to do’ might not attain quite as many ticks as planned.

Luckily the pre-planned schedule of activities wasn’t laminated (phew!) so with slightly fuzzy heads from a night on Long Street and a few phone calls by baby-sis, we jumped ship from Cape Town and headed for Cape Point…NOT the most southern tip in Africa but definitely the most tourist friendly most southern tip in Africa.

We must have been following the sun and within a couple of hours we had clear blue sky. The tick list started getting ticked…penguins on Boulders beach, Cape Point light house, whales breaching in Hermanus, wine tasting in Stellenbosch…by the time we rolled back into Cape Town the sun had even beaten us there.

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Abandoning the boys to their rather smelly fish-chum boat trip to dive with sharks, baby sis and I headed to Simon’s Town. Donning what can only be described as the least flattering of wet suits ever (with a thickness which worryingly seemed more suited to the chilly waters of the British Isles) we went scuba diving! It was a first for baby-sis and she took to it like a ‘fish to water’ (sorry!). A few beers later and the boys turned up to entertain us with stories galore of the Jaws-esk day they had had.

The sun decided to stay for the rest of the week so we hiked up Table Mountain and took the obligatory tourist trip to Robben Island. Safe to say a few beers were sunk, unbelievable seafood was eaten and many MANY photos were taken (mostly by Mr Leach!).

I remain Cape Town’s biggest fan…

Final point…for comedy value…the award for best holiday snap goes to….drum roll…baby sis (sorry Mr Leach)!

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“Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…”

Beach huts

Being what they call an ‘expat’ (basically a Brit living abroad) I take my summer holidays in the UK…and that’s exactly what I’m doing at the moment. I have abandoned the troops over in Moz and am on my summer holidays…in Britain! 

Apparently with this credit crunch I’m not the only Brit holidaying in Britain, the difference for me being that in a week I go ‘home’ to Mozambique!

My holidays this year were timed to celebrate my Mama’s milestone birthday except my homecoming was a surprise visit so for my first few days back in Blighty I was “in hiding” down on the south coast with Ankles until it was time to journey north for the big birthday surprise.

What a great way to start my holidays…long walks down blustery beaches, surfing in chilly breath-snatching waters and a plentiful supply of white wine! As ever we had our usual Ankles & Bells eccletic mix of music to accompany us on our escapades and I sit and write this blog listening to Eddie Vedder’s beautiful songs from the movie “Into the Wild” from my ‘Soundtrack to Summer 09’ CD (thanks Ankles!)

Between myself and the sisters we somehow managed to keep my surprise arrival a secret until the big day when we celebrated Mama’s big day with a retro tennis themed afternoon tea party (hence the outfits!).

Tbuck lawn tennis

Obviously no visit home would be complete without a trip into the hills so after a quick pitstop in Edinburgh it was off for a few days tramping round the slightly soggy and wonderfully deserted Glencoe highlands with a quick detour via Wales to climb the busy little anthill of Snowdon.

With my much needed  ‘fix’ of hills to keep me going for the next wee while it was back home for shopping, brunching and generally just hanging out for my last few days of summer holiday.

So donning my fabulous new biker boots (it’s ALL about looking good in the minefield darling!) I head back out to Moz musing over just what chaos and confusao I was about to walk back into!

Pesky parasites

So I’ve been a little incommunicado recently…I have good reason!

Having left South Africa full of the joys of soon to be seeing the family plus absolutely convinced that now I had cracked sandboarding that snowboarding would be a breeze (!), I arrived in France feeling rough.

The next day I felt even more rough and the next day I announced I was officially dying. Something was wrong.

So without having even stepped foot inside the ski hire shop I headed back off the mountain and down to the doctors.

4 hours later this was to be my home for my weeks skiing holiday…

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I was admitted into Grenoble hospital with a pretty rough case of malaria. I’m not sure they get many cases of malaria 1000m up in the french mountains!

Apparently the family had a jolly nice holiday skiing and I met them at the airport to fly home without so much as even dipping my toe in the snowy waters of Oz en Oisans finest blues and reds!

I remember once half-joking with a fellow aid worker that you’re not a proper aid worker until you’ve had malaria…apparently I need to be more careful what I say!

3 peaks and more

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Running out of time to fit in my annual leave I decided to tag on a week ahead of my planned family ski holiday and pop down to South Africa. Back to Cape Town.

This time a rather generous friend had offered the loan of their rather beautiful flat, which is always nicer than being stuck in a souless hotel.

The South African’s are well known for their love of outdoor pursuits so ‘when in Rome’ as they say! There is an annual race in Cape Town called the 3 peaks…a race summitting the 3 mountains for Cape Town quel surprise…Devils Peak, Table Mountain and Lions Head.

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Sadly I wasnt around for the real deal but the whole thing sounded rather fun so I decided to create my own version!

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Now, they manage to fit it all in one day which involves a sunrise start time…I’m keen but not THAT keen…but not wanting to seem too feeble I decided to split it over 2 days but add in an extra ‘peak’…the 4th (much MUCH smaller) Signal hill.

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It was all good fun although full respect to the guys who do this in one day – after peak 2, Table Mountain, I was ready for a stiff drink and a good feed rather than being up for climbing peak 3!

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All in all the whole week was utterly fantastic. South Africa really is such an utterly brilliant place. Other highlights…an open air sunset concert in the botancial gardens,

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a rather boozy wine tour and a day of sandboarding!

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What a riot sandboarding is…you hike up the side of a sand dune, strap a plank to your feet and point your board down the dune….then off you go. At the bottom, unstrap your feet and start climbing again (no chair lifts here!)

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total-wipe-out

There were plenty of spectacular wipe outs and it’s just incredible the places you find sand literally days after ‘riding the dunes’

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