March 07, 2016

Road trip in Namibia – Part I

Sossusvlei, Namibia
Credit Photo:  Enrique García Photography
Africa is my soft spot and I am always excited to go back, regardless of the daily challenges (electricity breakdown, water cuts, limited internet connections, blazing sun, dust, rutted roads, chaotic public transportation, misunderstandings, poor infrastructures, Kafkaesque situations…) that leave me perplexed or upset.

But at the end of the day I am happy to be here. I like the simplicity, the ingenuity, the generosity of the people I had met. I always come back refueled with a greater sense of what is important: live in the moment, family and community come first, there is always a solution.



This time my African adventure is taking me to Namibia starting alone with a road trip to the Namib Desert.
Yes, alone. I am going to drive about 1,200 kilometers round trip to see the beautiful sand dunes in the Namib Desert. Everything can happen. The best as much as the worst. Is that safe for a woman to travel alone in Africa? What if you get a flat tire? What if the car get stuck in the sand? What if you get lost? What if… Everything can happen and I will be just fine.



So here I am at Windhoek airport, after 24h spent in planes and airports to get here. Nonchalance, dry heat, dusty horizon, stony hills. This is Africa. As part of the Ebola monitoring, another medical form to fill up. My partner in adventure is going to be a Nissan X-Trail 4x2. Now seating at the wheel, not feeling very bold.  I think this car is almost twice the size of my petite Peugeot. I have butterflies in the stomach. I look left. I look right. 


The epic road trip starts at this very moment when I hit the B6 towards Windhoek where I will spend the night. 40 kilometers to go. The road goes through a flat and mesmerizing landscape with only dust and bush for as far as the eye can see. The sky is dramatic. So when the sun is starting its descent it is absolutely stunning. The last rays of light pierce thick dark clouds and the horizon is incandescent. I get overwhelmed with feelings of peace and freedom

Only a few cars every now and then remind me I am not the only witness of this raw beauty. There are as well some warthogs popping up, prancing about along the road and disappearing as fast as they appeared. This is going to be an unrivaled journey.

Once at the hostel it did not take me very long before I meet my new fellow travellers for the next days. Who doesn’t want to go to the Namib Desert? We agreed on an itinerary and set a departure time for the next day.

This morning the headline on Sky News is the poisoning of lions in the Masaï Mara, caused by shepherds who wanted to protect their cows. Some claim that this illegal action will harm the reserve and so the tourism industry; against those whose survival depends on their herd.

Cinnamon pancakes for breakfast and we left.

The Spitzkoppe, Damaraland

We first head east towards Swakopmund. One of us suggested to make a detour and pass by the Spitzkoppe, nicknamed the Matterhorn of Africa. So we did.
This 1728m high sharp peak rises miragelike in the dusty plain of Damaraland. Very dusty plain.



Sometimes we stop and there is no one but us marveling at this unlimited and wild space. Sometimes we stop and a horde of kids pops up from nowhere, runs to us laughing out loud for a gift, money, some attention or satisfy their curiosity.

The Spitzkoppe, Damaraland

Overnight at Swakopmund, a surreal remnant of the German colony. This blend of German and African culture on the African continent is like an anachronism to me. It feels weird.

We inflate again one of our breathless tires and start our driving through the Namib Desert. The journey itself is worth the destination. Hours of driving on an arid land with mind-blowing landscapes from infinite dusty plains to rocky hills and a few cactus.

Namib Desert

Very few drivers on the road that we greet like we would with old friends. This ride is an invitation to daydreams and mind wanderingOoh! A mysterious biker in black just passed by and said hi… this one was not a daydream...



The tourists mass together by the Tropic of Capricorn sign for a selfie or group photo to immortalize their passing.


The locals – zebras, ostriches, and antelopes - don’t seem to pay attention to our visit. They ignore cars, and the dust that comes along.


Solitaire. What an interesting place. A settlement lost in the open desert. Our tire is still breathless. Are we going to make it to Sossusvlei, our final destination?


I had no choice but to share my giant chocolate chip muffin with the birds. Probably more birds in that place than the number of inhabitants, unless they are the inhabitants. Very hungry ones.

On our way back I went for the giant apricot jam sandwich biscuit, whose both ends were dipped into chocolate. They tend to bake extra large pastries in this small place. This time I shared with this little squirrel. It is a squirrel, right? Yes, I think it is.


Right on time to check in at Sesriem, the gateway to the sand dunes of Sossusvlei. Can’t resist the beautiful chalets facing the silent and mysterious desert plain, so no camping for me tonight, and not either tomorrow night. I am spoiling myself!

Sossus Dune Lodge
View from my balcony in the morning
The next days are going to be all about marveling and wandering in such an inspiring place.

Sossusvlei - Dune 45
The experience of a private sunset over a sand sea:
One hour before dawn we are passing the entrance gate of the park
45 km to drive in the darkness before reaching Dune 45,
A bevy of tourists is already climbing the 150m-high dune
Most stop and seat right where the edge starts 

Sossusvlei - Dune 45
But it takes only a few meters further to find an unspoilt spot to seat
And enjoy a private sunset
The wind murmurs gently but the silence is deafening,
The sun rises slowly and the light uncovers the shapes and colors of the dunes,
The sand warms up our bare feet as the sun rises
Because dunes are being revealed one after another
I just walk further on the edge of that Dune 45 for another private sunset
The sand rolling down under our feet sounds like the sea running through the pebbles
Endless wander and exploration of the untouched and changing dunes

Sossusvlei - Dune 45
Credit Photo:   Enrique García Photography
How long did we stay on the top of the Dune 45? I don’t know. When we started to slide back to the car the crowd had left, running to the next dune. We stayed there another moment still hypnotized.

Sossusvlei - Dune 45
Sorry for the profusion of pictures, but this place is really special. And no words or pictures can actually describe how it felt to have witnessed that sunrise. We all felt very privileged to be there.

And the show is not over. Next is the Dead Vlei, part of the Namib-Naukluft park. Another inspiring place, where you can contemplate for hours and feel at peace.

Dead Vlei
Credit Photo: A wandering kiwi
This clay pan was once a shallow pool. Now this is how it looks like after the climate changed and the trees died.

Dead Vlei
But do not stay too long after noon though as the sand become so hot that you take the chance to caramelize your feet and/or bottom depending on how you decide to slide down the sand dune. I speak from experience here. 

Dead Vlei
That day was our last day together. We shared a last sunset, exchanged email addresses and said goodbye. Some would go back to Windhoek, some would head south, other would decide as the day goes.

The last sunset at Sossusvlei
Hard to leave such a place so I decided to extend my stay for one more night. Now I want to see the sand dunes from a different angle: high up, from a hot air balloon


Breathtaking. Only the breath of the balloon disturbs the silence, when the pilot insufflates more heat in the balloon.



Soft landing and champagne breakfast in the middle of nowhere.


Time to head back to Windhoek. I got my breathless tire fixed. I got some food and water for the way in case the desert would not let me go.
At the exit gate the guard introduces me to Junius. He works at the lodge I was staying at and needs a lift to Windhoek. All right, let’s go!
“Oh, and one of your friend is waiting for you at the petrol station…” he added. Very pleased to see him again. More time to philosophize and set the world to rights between two daydreams.
Now we are good to go, so let’s go!


Time is flying when the company is good. I’m already back to Windhoek to pick up my sister at the airport. We are going to explore the north to meet up with the Himba tribe. 
Everything can happen; my sister is a serious adventurer. Are you ready?

February 13, 2016

The Art of leaving


Cyprus - Road E110 to Troodos

Only when you have to leave, you want to stay
Cyprus was a sweet and unexpected encounter,
Where my passion for baking bubbled up

Only when you have to leave, you appreciate
Places you did not find special at first
And your last days turn into a frenetic tour,

Only when you have to leave,
You urgently need to see the people you will leave behind
Some people will become life milestones,
Others will remain seasonal encounters, but they all matter

We promise to keep in touch,
Knowing that a common chapter of our lives is closing
So I leave sadly without looking back but,
Leaving the door open in case the promise would not be vain


October 22, 2015

Food Writing and Photography Workshop in Turkey


From time to time it is good to meet with like-minded people to boost your creativity, learn new technics and refresh your inspiration.

So when I found out about this Food Writing and Photography Workshop  in Alacati, Turkey, it did not take me very long before signing up for this new food adventure, with:
- Dianne Jacob, author of the book “Will write about food”,
- David Hagerman, food and travel photographer,
- Robyn Eckhardt, food and travel writer,

And because a meal is not really a meal without an starter and a dessert, I decided to go for a full menu: a few days in Alacati to chill out to start, three days workshop for main course and a few days in Istanbul for dessert.

Starter:

Alacati is a small charming town on the Turkish Aegean coast; the perfect place to chill out at the terrace of a café, watching people passing by in slow motion on the cobbled streets. Always with a Turkish tea and a sweet something next to it.

My days would start with a frugal breakfast. Breads, Greek salad, cheeses and delicatessen, fresh fruits… and, a Turkish tea. The fresh mulberries and honey served on local cheese were interesting.
Then I would go to the beach for a wander or a swim.


In the afternoon I would get around from terrace to terrace, chilling out with a Turkish tea, preferably next to a pastry shop: I am not blown away with the almonds biscuits. I did not like the mastic ones. Maybe I will try the orange and cheese biscuits tomorrow.


One afternoon I would wander at the market or explore the back streets of Alacati. I would go later for another Turkish tea by the windmill overlooking the city to chill out some more before dinner at Mitu bistro: Traditional poached grouper with shallot, fennel and celery… and a glass of Sauvignon blanc produced locally. Chocolate fondant with geranium ice cream for desert. They call it chocolate Savarin on the menu, but nope, that was a fondant.


Another afternoon I would go window-shopping and end up at Samet’s shoe store buying a couple of nice quality and trendy leather sandals made in Greece. Of course a Turkish tea or two were involved in the transaction.
Samet suggested me to go to Babushka for dinner so I went: meze to start – selection of small dishes - and then oven roasted Parrot fish… I cannot believe I was too full for desert and missed the Nevzine, a walnut and tahini desert.

Main course :

And then things got serious…
Robyn introduced us to the art of food storytelling. Be curious, be creative, be open. Investigate your subject, discover the untold culinary stories, find the right angle for a unique story...

Storytelling assignment : What is your food obsession ?
Hum… My mind went blank. So many food obsessions.

Dianne shared literary techniques and advice. Food writing is not about describing food but telling a story about food.

Writing assignment: Tell us about your breakfast this morning.


“I think my waiter is a food stylist. Every morning he stages my table for breakfast with such meticulousness. First comes the Turkish tea on my right hand side.
Then straight in front of me he sets the little wooden board with cheese samples. That one in the middle is really interesting… a spongy texture to absorb a coulis made of fresh mulberries and honey. 
Exactly between the cheese platter and my Turkish tea is the place for the long and narrow tray with a selection of homemade jams. 

Here is when I am very impressed: how can oneself remember to arrange the cup of wrinkled black olives on my left side and the greenish-purple ones on the right? ...”

I must be a slow writer. By the time I finished to write those lines my food stylist already replaced my Turkish tea twice. I guess a Turkish tea without steam on the glass would not look good on the pictures…
I am blissful with my breakfast. If you are not convinced with my storytelling, do not worry, there is going to be a repeat tomorrow morning.

David demonstrated how to tell a food story with images. Observe, interact, compose and... capture the moment.

Photo assignment: Capture the old Greek village of Alacati
It did not take me very long before I spot a place to satisfy my sweet tooth: Rice pudding and Turkish tea at Imeren’s terrace.
I shamefully failed to complete my assignment.


No guilt, there was another playground for photo shooting: Tire market. Plenty of food and nice encounters.


And because we are not living only on food writing and food photography…


Hands-on cooking class at Babushka’s… cheese and herbs pastry with hand-made phyllo dough, stuffed peppers, semolina cake… 

Cheese and herbs pastry with hand-made phyllo dough
Semolina cake
what else? We cracked the secret of the smoked eggplant paste.

Smoked eggplant
In a blink of an eye, the workshop was over and we left each others with lot of food for the mind and insights from the private coaching sessions and the lively group discussions.

Dessert :

Another couple of days strolling about and enjoying the outdoor cafés at Alacati. I am glad I gave another chance to the mastic. The mastic pudding was delicious.
It was not reasonable to get another pair of leather sandals made in Greece so I went for nice and elegant porcelain dishes made in Turkey at Istlondon

On the way back to Cyprus, I made a stopover at Istanbul. 

Cruise on the Bosphorus

I like Istanbul. There is always something to discover like this new pastry shop in Sultanahmet area. I went for the traditional Turkish pudding… twice.

Turkish Pudding
Friends asking for their photo when enjoying my Turkish Pudding

To end this trip on a sweet note, I had the chance meet Aylin Yazicioglu, pastry chef at Nicole Restaurant in Istanbul. Exquisite dinner ending with three refined desserts.

Aylen is a passionate pastry chef graduated from the Cordon Bleu School in Paris so we had plenty of things to talk about since I recently signed up for their program. I look forward to this new food adventure. Sweet, sweet, sweet…