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Category: Africa

The Road to Zanzibar

The Road to Zanzibar

Sometimes on a very long, very challenging trip, it is a good idea to take a holiday within your holiday. Our family had been travelling rough for nearly five weeks through Africa in 1998 and were fresh off an exhilarating six-day camping safari in four of Tanzania’s most famous national parks. Rachel 10, Danny, 8, and Sam, 6, absolutely loved seeing Africa’s wild animals in their natural habitat, but it was time for something different. Something mellow. From the beginning…

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Singing the Mauritanian Blues

Singing the Mauritanian Blues

The dusty little town of Bir Moghrein, where I was dropped off in early February, 1972, was not the end of the world, but it was pretty damn close. It is located in northern Mauritania, a very large but little known former French colony, one of the last remaining countries where slavery is illegal, but still widely practiced. A long conflict with Polisario guerrillas (the Sahrawi national liberation movement) which began in early 1973 still continues. Happily, I missed the…

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Adventures in the Sahara

Adventures in the Sahara

I loved my night alone in the Sahara Desert. It was sharply cold, the skies were crystal clear and I have never seen so many stars. I got my sleeping bag from my backpack, climbed inside, and lay there beside the cargo we were able to save from the fire, staring up, mesmerized by the fabulous spectacle above me. For the first time in my life I experienced absolute silence. There was a peacefulness and joy to my solitude that…

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The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild

It was a lovely January afternoon in 1972 and I was lounging at a pleasant rooftop café in the old quarter of Marrekech, sipping mint tea, declining hash pipes, and swapping stories with a handful of fellow backpackers whom I’d come to know in the past two weeks. We were a happy bunch because the ancient Moroccan city was fascinating to explore, the food was cheap and delicious, we rented bikes and pedaled into the countryside, and there were a…

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Adventures on the Malawi Trail

Adventures on the Malawi Trail

Our family’s thrilling four-hour adventure scrambling down a steep path from Malawi’s Mulanje Massif in a violent thunderstorm just whetted our appetite for more exciting experiences. After two months of backpacking in Africa, our children Sam, 6, Danny 9, and Rachel, 10, were still having fun. We returned to Doogles Backpackers Lodge, our home away from home in Blantyre, Malawi, for a few days before heading north on some dreadfully wretched buses and one totally crazy ride on a pickup…

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A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall

The violent thunderstorm erupted without warning. It seemed like one minute our family was walking happily in the sunshine, admiring the lush green meadows and brilliant wildflowers on Malawi’s Mulanje Massif, the highest mountain in central Africa, when suddenly angry black clouds came pouring in, transforming the massif’s bright rolling hills into dark, featureless mounds. “Quick, get out our rain gear,” my wife Philippa shouted, as we pulled off our day packs, slipped rain ponchos over our three children and…

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Backpacking in Africa With Kids

Backpacking in Africa With Kids

Many of our friends thought we were being wildly ambitious, if not outright irresponsible. Why would you want to take your young children on a 12-week backpacking trip to east and southern Africa, they asked. How can you justify them missing three months of school? Aren’t you going to dangerous places? What about the health risks? Are you guys nuts? Edmonton Journal librarian and friend Deb Dittrick was the frankest. “If someone told me I had to go on a…

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Mountains of Mystery

Mountains of Mystery

There is no place on earth like the Mountains of the Moon. The gigantic vegetation that lines the alpine meadows, great bogs and valley bottoms of the fabled Rwenzori Mountains, and the majestic beauty of its great snow peaks shining through the constant mist have inspired many an intrepid traveller to poetic imagery. There is nothing to break the spell, nothing to dim the sense that one has journeyed back in time to a forgotten, almost primitive world, where the…

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An (Un) Reasonable Amount of Risk

An (Un) Reasonable Amount of Risk

I was shocked and deeply shaken when my pal Mick handed me a London newspaper with a terrifying front page story about wanton bloodshed in Uganda. The timing and the news could not have been much worse for me. It was January 23, 1984, the day before I was scheduled to fly from London to Nairobi, Kenya, on my way to Uganda to hike the spectacular but notoriously difficult circuit trek of the legendary Rwenzori Mountains, better known as the…

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Muammar and Me

Muammar and Me

I will never forget the day I set sail along the “line of death” with Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to challenge the US Sixth Fleet. It was January 25, 1986, and it started out like any other day in Tripoli, Libya’s capital, where I was one of about 20 foreign journalists covering a worsening dispute between Colonel Gaddafi and U.S. President Ronald Reagan. The Americans were making threatening noises about Gaddafi’s alleged role in a plane hijacking and two deadly…

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