Of Medinas, Morrocans and Mad Adventures

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So my chickens, back on the blog again. Must mean the muse has seized me as I explore somewhere new and exciting.

It is true. I have a new job and it has taken me across the pond to what is known as the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa). I am going to blog for work purposes eventually, but for now, let’s keep this light and personal as you follow my first days here in Morocco!

Yup! Today marks my first 24 hours in Morocco’s national capital Rabat. And after seeing Facebook and news reports if 20 cms of snow in Ottawa overnight, I couldn’t be happier to escape this year’s never ending winter.

The path that has led me here has been both extremely short and agonizingly long. I applied for my current job for the first time in 2010. The interview process took me through multiple phone and email exchanges, at that point culminated in a week-long visit to Erbil, Iraq for a “trial” stint as a volunteer trainer in media relations for newly elected Members of Parliament. I am pretty sure I passed the test, but while I was there I got news from my old employer that the job I thought I didn’t get in Afghanistan was mine if I wanted it.

So yes, that means that 4 years ago I chose Kabul over Rabat and as some might say, the rest is history.

“When an armoured door closes, sometimes the gates to the Medina open”

After returning from Afghanistan in 2011, I stayed in touch with this organization and I have been lucky enough to work with my new employer on a short term basis in Kenya and South Sudan since then and recently this opportunity in Morocco came back on the table.

Needless to say, I was in there like a dirty shirt even after 4 years. The short road was the timeline between being asked to consider this post and my arrival here in Rabat yesterday.

That took, ummmm, 5 weeks at the most. But, here I am and loving every second if it.

Work hasn’t started yet and that will be a tough row to hoe.

The view from here

From a purely selfish point of view, I am blessed. Rabat is a sleepy Oceanside capital that may lack the fictional allure of Casablanca or the overwhelming draw of Marrakesh, but as I sit here in a beachside restaurant with a glass of wine in the warm embrace of a setting sun I say: that’ll do pig, that’ll do!

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After arriving yesterday afternoon I was taxied to my guesthouse. Apparently Secretary John Kerry is arriving in town next week and there wasn’t a hotel room to be found in the city except for the dodgy one by the train station that I declined politely. So, me, my two bags the size of Volkswagen Beetles, and two carry on bags walked in through the north gate to the Medina (old city/marketplace) over cobblestone alleys into my guesthouse.

Guesthouses known as Riads in Morocco are old, grand houses that reflect traditional Moroccan elite culture. Ornate tiles and fountains in the interior courtyards are complimented by soaring carved archways and rooftop terraces that overlook the Medina.

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By no means is this a reflection of how I will live while in Rabat. I will soon start the process of finding and securing a very pedestrian concrete box apartment in the appropriate part of town. My only hope is that after living here for a while, I will be able to swap my concrete box of convenience for something a little more interesting down the road.

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After arriving and performing the traditional “burning of the stinky, travel socks” ceremony, I showered, went walkabout and secured basic provisions for the next 48 hours: potato chips, a delightful discovery of Bounty Bar miniatures and roasted corn nuts for my room. And luckily I had packed two bottles of wine in my Volkswagon beetles, one thanks to a British sister-in-arms!

Upon return, I ate up the Riad’s generous wifi bandwidth to catch up with the world, especially my parents who are equally torn with words of encouragement and desire to join me. A true power base if one ever needs it.

Not my first time at the rodeo

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I was lucky enough to have been in Rabat a few weeks ago (bizarrely not with my current employer) and I had the great fortune to be introduced to a few folks living here. After only one evening together, they have been generous with their time and advice while I was back home and last night I was invited out to join one friend, let’s call her E, to another friend’s apartment for apperatifs. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant but I was keen to go out while I was still conscious and not hammered by jetlag.

I could not have been more delightfully surprised. Both French nationals, I was embraced into the family home of the friend for an evening of wine, baguette, cheese, sausage and good conversation. For those who know me, this is my happy place.

We chatted for a few hours but eventually the lack of sleep caught up with me and it was time to head home.

Aside from a taxi driver who spoke no French at all (the second/business language of Morocco) and tried to take me to Salé – the Gatineau equivalent of Rabat, across the river, I got home and promptly showed myself to bed.

12 hours later, let’s call it late morning to be generous, I woke up in my ornate, Harry Potter under the stairs closet sized room.

Blog posts should be short, full if images and leave you wanting more. So I will leave this here and let you join me next time for the continuing saga of Gingersnaptraveller in a brave new world next entry.

Thank you for following along with me, bonne journee á tous!!!

Xxxx

E
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🍁Happy Canada Day 🍁

If you ever get a chance to come to Canada, July 1st is our birthday and a chance to see us at our best. Until you get here, I have a little teaser from today’s festivities in the national capital and my home town, Ottawa.

Shared from me to you with true patriot love from Canada, a country glorious and free!!

Love to you all,

Ginger

Travelling Solo 101 – Sometimes you just swing and miss, sometimes you hit it out of the park!

Travelling Solo is an odd thing. The mix of experiences can alternately bowl you over with wonder or knock you out with dispassionate nonchalance.

I have travelled though countries that don’t respect women only to be brought into the heart of a stranger’s family and I have travelled to open-minded, free spirited lands only to be left sitting alone in a crowd of strangers.

Currently I am in a traveller’s paradise, a surf and party heaven complete with staff that provide any and all legal and illegal stimulants.

There are beach babes and surf dudes, young and old, French, German, Swiss, lots of Australians and the “odd” Kiwi thrown in for variety and as hook-ups for the Brazilians and Czechs passing through.

The nightly parties have ranged from Masked Hero to Bad Fashion Taste party. All slightly challenging for your average backpacker who travels with approximately 7 pieces of clothing for an extended period of time. Aside from slinging your sarong over your shoulders, braiding your hair a la dread-lock style, lighting a joint and declaring yourself Super-Hippie, these theme parties become not just challenging but down right depressing.

“In reality, the theme parities are not for the guests at the backpackers but for the clearly bored staff that endure a never-ending rotation of late-teen, early 20-something travellers looking for the next adrenaline rush. They paste on their smiles, give the same check-in tour-de-force: “And this is our bar, this is TK, he will hook you up with a tight cocktail anytime”.

So what to do if you are not an early 20s beach babe or a surfer dude, if your body fat percentage in completely proportionate to your age in such a situation? Well, you swing and miss a lot of the time. The beach is good for a walk, surf lessons fill your mornings, kill your afternoons with recovery and devastate your evenings when you succumb to exhaustion. So how do you not miss the pitch?

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Well, weirdly I do it by rolling a mean joint and I have little to no shame about sitting at the bar and talking to any and all who wander past!

I do drink, which is helpful at the bar, I don’t smoke weed myself. Tried it, would love it if it worked for me. I mean really, it is cheaper than booze and cigarettes back in Canada (okay, the illegal part is an issue that will linger in the back of one’s mind, but hey, don’t we all have something that niggles?).

But after learning to roll my own cigarettes in the UK many years ago it turns out that the skill of not just rolling, but being able to roll in a filter, is something the even veterans potheads cant seem to master.

So, I roll joints for the useless newbie traveller and the too-stoned-to-have-manual-dexterity types. I confess, while I can sit at the bar and chat as people come up and order, I can’t do the head-first entry into the newest arrivals by virtue of my latest bungy jump tale or the “Awesome 2 day pay to volunteer experience I have while not EVEN having access to a shower” hardship yarn….so rolling joints is where I hit it out of the park.

I guess some people knit or fashion necklaces out of thread and seashells, but I just had two people come up and chat to me because I was doing none of the above. They saw me writing this blog post alone at a table with a glass of wine in hand and chuckling to myself as I peck away at my keyboard.

So, Travelling Solo 101, do just what you want. When it works perfectly you find a community of friends and soulmates like I did at the Cardboard Box in Windhoek, Namibia. When it doesn’t, do what you feel like doing.

Oh, and smile a lot and having a lighter on the table in front of you (even if you don’t smoke), it helps. You may swing and miss a bit but when you connect it is a home run!!

p.s. A week of surf lessons has had me holding off on re-henna-ing my hair and for the first time on this trip I was reminded of the ‘age gap’ between me and the rest of the guests here (which is about 15 to 20 years). I don’t mind because after 10 minutes of conversation my gray roots aren’t the only thing that reveals a few telling differences. I will re-henna, not to fit in, but to look as young as I feel (Which is not so young to jump off a perfectly good bridge, for the record)!!

The cutest transients at any hostel!!

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One way to ensure that you know if someone is trying to fiddle your “passport”!!

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But at the end of the day, how can you complain when this is your view at sunrise?

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Placeholder Post

Hello Sports Fans!!

So as I haven’t posted in a while I thought I would tantalize you with a placeholder post until I finish the edits on my journeys through South Africa’s Garden Coast.

“Coming soon….Walking with Cheetahs, Surfs Up and a Walk through Wilderness and Natures Valley!!”

A bientot mes amies!!

Emma

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Top Ten things I have learnt travelling in Africa (so far)

1.) Toilets in Hostels are Hell on Earth – While the thought and actual doing of peeing as you hang off the bumper of your Land Rover seems undignified at first and getting out a shovel to wander into the bush for something more involved is scary at best, trust me, both are better than taking a wander into a hostel bathroom after 8 am !

2.) Roof Tents are Heaven on Earth – The uniquely African (in my experience) on-the-top of the car-roof tent is both practical and a rare moment of luxury in a long haul trip. Easy to pitch and cleverly positioned, you know, on the roof, the roof tent affords the overland traveller a Double or Queen size kingdom to relax in and observe the whole around you. It is easily bug-less with a few sprays of Doom, has clever pockets to hold your wine glass/coffee/mug/water/flashlight and other life necessities. There are great screen windows to watch the Hyena/Jackal/Elephant/Giraffe/thunder storm that passes through your campsite and I was lucky enough to have one that included lovely pillows, a duvet and someone who was willing to distract the local villagers at 6 am so I could pee hanging off the bumper in relative privacy first thing in the morning!

3.) The Best Seasoning is Hunger – Nothing tasted better than a meal at the end of a long day in the African sun. I ate steak and something most every night. A carnivore from way back, even I expected to tire of the same old meal every night, but when spiced with Braai salt, exhaustion and excitement, that steak was wonderful, filling and a treat. The corn/millie, Braai broodjes or potatoes and onion in foil were tasty and a triumph of inginuity over circumstance. Nic and I ate like Kings and snacked like princes as we travelled.

4.) Being Clean is Overrated – Days without showers can be dealt with by the odd dip in questionably green pools at lodges and campsites. Although nothing will beat the swim and clean in the Oxbow in Liuawa Plains. Clean clothes are a luxury and after the second week travelling with a (then) stranger, a distant memory. The dream at points is worth spending 3 boring (but yummy food-filled) days in a capital city with no Elephants in order to do laundry and/or dry cleaning according to that crazy bill. After a few filthy days in the bush you do end up wondering why you surrendered to civilization for so long.

5.) It Takes all Types – Travellers are a weird and mixd bunch. Some running from something, some running to something and some running around like chickens with their heads cut off. Smart, really dumb and everything in between. Somehow travelling gives you a patience and openness to remember that it takes all types. But there is a profound curiosity that lies in so many of us. To meet others that have taken the leap to follow that passion is inspiring and at times truly terrifying (because there are some weird and scary people out there). After all, some of the wildest things in Africa walk (nay stagger) on two legs not four!

6.) Being Humbled is Important – There raw reality of travelling overland in African means that many of us who take food, water and shelter for granted are reminded not only that we are amongst the weakest of the mammals but that those of us who can afford to travel like this are amongst the richest of our species. Life is hard in Africa for almost everyone. Life is hard for the people, the animals and the environment. If you get to come to Africa and feel the generousity and vitality of this place, then be humbled by that reality. Make your life count, be generous and vital in your spirit, respectful and frugal with your wealth and demands on those around you.

7.) The Kindness of Strangers – This is important but not at the expense of your plans. I have been extremely lucky to have been the recipient of the kindness offered by those I have met during my travels. But often, it is easy to be bowled over by the opinions, preconceived notions and alarmist prognostications of well-meaning people. I have been waylaid and delayed, suffered friends ill-met and been mildly ill-treated, but at every turn I had the power to “just say no” and re-finding this voice has helped me move on and continue to have the journey I had hoped and planned to have. There are lots of people out there who are ready to tell you what you can’t do. It often comes from their own insecurities and fears. The best you can do is to move forward in your own way while respecting their world and that their motivation comes from the best place they have. On the other hand, those that take you in, are genuinely interested in you and you in them will lift your heart and set you free again.

8.) Trust your Gut – It will sound silly, but in the decades of Oprah’s presence on TV and in popular culture, there was one thing she said that stuck in my head. Trust your gut. Call it a sixth sense, call it woman’s (or men’s) intuition or just the animal instinct we humans tend to ignore, but trusting my gut on this trip has saved my ass on more than one occasion. It has kept me up and in the tent when unwanted visitors came into my campsite, it has kept me back from joining new friends for a night out that ended poorly and it has led me to explore and experience things I never could have imagined when planning this trip. Trust your gut, it is usually right.

9.) You Can’t do it All – How did I ever think that 5 months in Southern Afica was enough to also see Rwanda, Mozambique, Malawi all of South Africa. Like any good travelling experience, I will leave here needing to come back. I have chosen to stay longer in some places which will demand that others are scratchd off the list. From Cape Town to Caprivi, Liuwa Plains to South Luanga, Lake Kariba to Livingstone, Chobe to Moremi, Maun to Windhoek and now Garden Coast back to Jo’burg, I have no regrets and only a desire to come back, see and experience more. So in my family’s rich tradition of wandering, this trip is a roaring success. Only to be added to in my next trip.

10.) It Really is the Journey, not the Destination – Days pass, thousands of kilometers are covered, landscapes change, each change brings a new adventure, a new ecosystem, every day has a Bush Baby in your tree at night or a giraffe at the edge of your campsite at sunrise. Friends are well met, hard to leave and pests are sidestepped or left behind. Mornings mean beauty at 5:45 am and thrills and chills at 2:00 am as the African residents come to you in the same relentless manner you chased them all day. Where you end the trip is not what matters, it is all the glory that lies in between.

Next steps are always the hardest

As I pulled out of the Intercape bus terminal in Windhoek I was moved to tears. The next steps are always the hardest and this next move in my trip is beyond bittersweet. By turn of circumstance I found myself n Windhoek unexpectantly and by even stranger turn of fate I stayed longer than I could have ever imagined.

34 days in a Cardboard Box have brought me happiness, calm, new friends, new expriences, more than a few front seat passes to interpersonal drama. I ad a night in the desert to see the full moon rise and 38 degree heat cooled by a crisp dip in the pool followed by a (okay a few) beers/wines/gin and tonics.

I arrived at the Cardboad Box a little shaken by my 10 week Land Rover trip through Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. Not sure what to do next, I hunkered down by the bar and slept a lot for the first few days. But the Box does not allow the space for one to feel sorry for themselves for very long. They can’t. The Box is just too overflowing with extroverts, oddballs, nosy parkers and straight up good people.

The Staff were the first to step into my mind haze. All there knowing my name and being nice, next the bar staff wanting to actually talk to me, and introduce me to the other guests. Next thing I knew I had met the racuous and motely crew of local Wind-hookers (my personal name for that rag tag group of patrons) and they decided that I fit in just right (which is a dubious honour) and opened their hearts and homes to me.

I can’t and shouldn’t chronicle every day, evening, afternoon, late night and early morning escapades, but suffice it to say that I did venture out to explore the city. I went to the National Art Gallery and the National History Museum, I shopped in the downtown core and drank at the famed Joe’s Beer House. And when I was done, I came back to the Cardboard Box to rejoin my friends.

After my fist post about the Box, you should know that I went on to be befriended by a fantastic British woman, doing her PHD in Theology, the Owner Chad who needs his large stature to carry around that huge and generous heart of his. The motley crew of locals expanded to include a lovelorn architect, a produce manager who struggles with the “difficult” problem of having too many people who love him and whom he loves and was witness to a string of dramas ranging from traveller on traveller theft (off the Box premises), a man gone mad on Christmas Day, a romance sparked and snuffed at light speed and a primer on how not to behave in a dorm room (including plastic bags at dawn and awkward amourous encounters amongst your 6 other roommates).

But in the end, I as blessed by the kindness of strangers who will both drive you out of their way to where you are going and drive you around the bend!

By no means did I expect to spend so long in Windhoek, I didn’t expect to be so deeply touched by the people I met. By no means as this part of the plan, but by all means, if you ever have the chance to spend a little time in Windhoek, Namibia, you cannot go wrong with Chad, Mona Lisa, the staff and of course Hagler and Kuiseb the 3 and 4 legged canine residents of the Cardboard Box.

As for the rotating menagerie of locals and travellers, I can only hope you are as lucky as I to meet such a wealth of characters and move on to your next adventure richer for the experience.

With so much love I almost burst,

xxxx

Emma

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Did you miss me? Well I am never really went away…

Hello my Chickens, did you miss me?

Well I never really went away, just went dark.

I know, I know, you thought I had forsaken you.

(With apologies to Train):

Maybe I went down in an airplane, got fried getting suntanned, fell in a cement mixer full of quicksand, met a shark under water, was caught in a mudslide, eaten by a lion, dried up in the desert, drowned in a hot tub!

Not so much! Since we last talked I have left Windhoek, took a 22 hour bus trip to Cape Town, been stranded in a gilded cage in the suburb of Muizenburg, explored the Southern suburbs and braved the Metro Train into Cape Town and survived.

I have a rental car, have driven around the Cape Peninsula, camped in gale force winds and had a scary looking but harmless Mole Snake slither past my on-the-ground-cross-legged-sitting-self not 3 feet away *hastily stands up* *zips tent firmly shut*!! Saw friends from a long lost but warmly cherished life and was sent off with love, a full belly and a sense of direction.

I am now in the Whale-watching captial of South Africa (at least until about a month ago ;-( ) Hermanus and I am staring down the last few weeks of my African adventure.

I can’t believe how time has flown, but I have been working on a few posts to catch you up. My photo posting capabilities are slightly compromised, so bear with me while I sort that out. For now you can imagine the dulcite tones of my voice talking to you and the iphone contributions that can be easily uploaded for your viewing pleasure.

Sorry I left you alone for so long, I am alive and kicking so watch out kids…..She’s baaaaccckk!

With much love and more cheekiness than ever, your intrepid Gingersnaptraveller, Emma

It’s a Christmas Miracle

So I haven’t updated the blog as promised, but for those who wanted to know what happened next, well, not much. I am still here in my Cardboard Box in Windhoek, Namibia. But I have finally gotten through on the phone with the Manager of the backpacker’s in Johannesburg who confirmed that the second piece of luggage that I left there on September 30 is STILL there in the storage room and it isn’t a problem to leave it there as long as I like.

So, as I have declined a delightful offer to head back to Maun, Botswana, I guess I am staying here in Windhoek until my South African Visa expires.

I am becoming a familiar fixture here at the Box, kind of like that last bit of packing tape that stubbonly holds on and picks up dust bunnies.

I am battling through my slight case of writer’s block to give you this update, so there you go.

More soon I promise!

Love you all, xoxoxo Emma

Living in a Cardboard Box

Since ending my epic African bush journey I have been staying here in Windhoek, Namibia at the Cardboard Box Backpacker’s Hostel. A strange twist of circumstances is conspiring to keep me here.

I could say that the comfort of a bed and a guaranteed hot shower every day was to blame, or the reliable and FREE wifi contributed, but it is truly a combination of lethargy and the fact that South Africa’s generous visa system for Commonwealth citizens has put me in a tough spot.

When I arrived in Johannesburg on September 30 I was granted a 90 day, multiple entry visa. It is the multiple entry part that is giving me a problem. My plan when I arrived here in Windhoek was to hop a bus to Cape Town within a day or two to continue with my journey. I would rent a car in Cape Town and slowly make my way along the Garden Route, South Africa’s beautiful coastal route and camp, relax and celebrate the holidays until my eventual departure date mid-February. My travels may have taken me into Mozambique and Malawi. Really, everything is on the table.

But because my visa is multiple entry and because I didn’t apply for an extension within 30 days of the visa expiring, I am stuck between staying out of South Africa (SA) until the visa expires on the 29th or going into SA and having to leave while I am mid-Garden Route.

I am still here in my Cardboard Box contemplating what to do, but in the meantime, you gotta hear about the weird goings-on of a modern “Youth Hostel”.

When I first travelled long-term like this was at age 18 and it was 1993. I had no cell phone, no credit or debit cards and as I have written, there was no GPS to tell you where you were. Also, Youth Hostels were for Youths. I remember staying in a hostel in Northern France and a full blown adult stayed in my room (a MAN to boot) and I was scared and apprehensive about why an adult would choose to stay at a youth hostel. I barely got a wink of sleep.

“Now as I sit here in the bar/poolside area of the Cardboard Box hostel I don’t see anyone under the age of 25. Most of us are over 30 and some hitting into those 40 and 50-year cohorts.

I don’t know what that says about the youth of today, but I like what it says about those of us who travelled once as kids and kept that flame alive inside our souls.”

I have been treated so well here. By the hosts and the guests. The Cardboard Box is a unique backpacker’s in my experience. While there are your requisite Germans, Dutch, a smattering of transient Americans desperate to see an entire country or region in days and more than expected numbers or French or Swiss travellers that have kicked my brain back into la langue de Moilliere but truly, I have never been to a Backpacker’s that has become the regular haunt for so many locals.

I have met 29 year-old a local lift installer who is hitting on me with the persistence that only young men have, an aging Belgian transplant who runs a chain of exclusive fly-in lodges and a slightly grumpy Pakistani native who has heart of gold and many others. They all come to the Cardboard Box to end their day with a sundowner or to celebrate their daughter’s third place finish in the South African youth gymnastics competition or even to conduct a business deal or two.

I have been invited to join them as they Braai on a Sunday night, been entrusted with a 5 litre box of wine that somehow the management allows them to use as supplement to their purchases from the bar (it stays under my bed during the day and coms out later in the evening when conviviality is welcomed and profit margins are no longer the top priority).

I asked genuinely about where could buy Henna to dye my hair one night and was presented with a bag the next night filled with a variety of brown and red hennas for my use and money was no more welcome as thanks than when was invited for a Kudu and Pork Sausage Braai. I have been invited for dinner, to a 80th birthday party and the bartender even brought his bride back to the Box after their ceremony for a few celebratory drinks.

They have a chalkboard clock above the bar that has as its centre the following “I am definitely leaving tomorrow.” But many like me have fallen under the spell of living in a Cardboard Box. We wake up, have the coffee and pancakes that come with your 95 Namibian Dollars a night/less than $10 US or Canadian (for a place in the dorm, cheaper if you are camping and only slightly more expensive for a private room). We may take a dip in the pool. We check in with the world online, check out by watch a movie. I broke out the other day and did a little grocery shopping and wandered the main drag here in Windhoek, but mostly people stay here within the 4 comforting walls of the Cardboard Box.

We talk amongst each other, with the end-of-work-day Windhoek crowd joining us to have a little dinner, drink wine and talk about everything and nothing.

Some are a bit much. I had an earnest South African try to convince me that the world would be saved if we all just sat and meditated together, he tried to tell me things about Afghanistan, a country that holds a very special place in my heart, that were worse than ill-informed, they were insulting and I quickly put an end to that conversation.

Sadly, he didn’t get the hint and re-approached me the following morning to re-ignite the conversation before I had enjoyed that first, free Cardboard Box coffee and my pancakes lay untouched. A very bad idea for those who know me. With his tail between his legs, he slunk away quietly as I put that conversation to an end in a much less polite way than I had the day before.

But on balance, I have loved every new conversation and as I ask myself once again “What comes next?” I am loving living in my Cardboard Box for another day.

There are no Elephants, Lions, Hippos or Hyenas where I sleep but then sometimes the wildest things walk on two legs!

So the journey continues my petals, I hope life is treating you well and the holiday spirit is warming your heart.

Much love from Windhoek xoxoxoxo Emma