Jaillan Yehia

My 8 Essential Travel Memories of 2013 – And What They’ve Taught Me For 2014

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Stroking a croc – one of my year’s most memorable travel moments

It’s been quite a year for me and my travels; I wrote about the best bits of the financial year in an earlier post: How To Do An End Of Year Tax Assessment Travel Blogger Style – so I decided to round up my top travel memories from the rest of 2013. They are…

1. Stroking a Crocodile in Gambia

Kachikally Crocodile Pool

I always thought Crocs were a bad idea

I love animals and will jump at any chance to interact with them. But while I usually research the treatment of the animals before signing up for any animal-related projects (because joining in gives it a tacit seal of approval) with the Kachikally Crocodile Pond in The Gambia I was more worried about the welfare of the two-legged visitors than the four-legged inhabitants.

It didn’t take me long to believe my guide when he told me that touching and stroking the sunbathing crocodiles was par for the course here so I got stuck in – and it’s lucky that it wasn’t until after the event that I discovered a friend had been bitten by one of these very animals on his visit.

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Never get between a pregnant female crocodile (or any other animal for that matter)  and its young.

 2. Learning How To Saber A Champagne Bottle in Whistler

Bearfoot Bistro

Celebratory champagne after learning a new skill!

There’s a montage scene in the movie What Happens In Vegas (highbrow, right?) designed to show what a wild and generally crazy bonkers night Cameron Diaz is having with Ashton Kutcher – the highlight of the scene is the moment she is shown sabering a champagne bottle. She looks pretty sexy doing it, but then she is Cameron Diaz.

I hardly looked sexy when I was taken to the incredibly well-stocked wine cellar (just 20,000 bottles but who’s counting?) of The Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler’s swishest restaurant, and presented with a knife and a damn fine bottle of bubbly, frankly I looked a bit scared and suspicious.

But under the expert tuition of the restaurant manager I was led through the relatively easy steps which lead to slamming the end off a champers bottle and looking like you know what the hell you’re doing.

Should you wish to follow these steps, they are:

Chill the champagne thoroughly for 24 hours prior, put in ice for the final 15 minutes. Find the weak point where the two halves of the bottle have been forced together by machine. Now simply slide the blunt edge of a knife or anything resembling one along the bottle gently to find the place where this seam meets the neck of the bottle and with one decisive motion, almost like throwing  a frisbee follow through with your final slide of the knife. Et voila!

calendar New Year’s Resolution: This one should be easy – drink more champagne.

 3. Abseiling From Rotterdam’s Tallest Building

Abseiling from Euromast

My ‘all because the lady loves Milk Tray’ moment

I was drunk when I agreed to abseil from Rotterdam’s famous tower, the Euromast. Otherwise I might have given it a  bit more thought. I gave it plenty of thought the next morning when I looked out of my window and saw grey, drizzly skies and my thought process took a turn for the worse when I finally got up to the top of the tower and was confronted with the prospect of climbing over the edge.

I won’t lie, I so very nearly backed out; if it wasn’t for the encouragement of the other bloggers that day I would have given up – call it peer pressure, call if pride or call it sheer unwillingness to get better acquainted with failure, but I did it, and like all new things after I’d done it once I had no idea why I had made such a bloody big fuss!

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Say yes to things when drunk, it seems to turn out really well.

4. Riding Gypsy the horse in the Tuscan Hills

Horse Riding In Tuscany

Meeting Gypsy the horse

This picture is proof that just because I travel a lot it doesn’t mean I always pack well. I knew I’d be doing a horse riding day during my trip to Eating Italy’s Tuscan cookery school at Villa Ferraia and was really looking forward to it yet somehow I didn’t bring trainers (thanks to one Mr Michael Turtle for the loan of those man-size runners) or leggings (kudos to Luna of Eating Italy for lending me the perfect horse riding trews) – but despite being ill-prepared and contending with a lot of horse flies it was a truly beautiful ride through the Tuscan countryside.

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Always pack trainers.

5. Tackling Canada’s Longest and Highest Zip Lines

Tackling Canada’s Highest Zipline from Savoir There on Vimeo.

Like most girls I spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m going to wear. This was especially true on the morning I got up and headed to Cougar Mountain for a day’s zip lining in the freezing October drizzle. It turned out I had nothing to worry about because the folks at SuperFly ziplines provide special gear for all weathers  – no, there’s no way you can look chic in these outfits, but that doesn’t matter a jot and  neither does the weather as it turns out, because frankly flying through the air at up to 100km an hour over distances of a kilometer at a time is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Don’t be afraid to launch yourself into the unknown.

6.  Kayaking With Seals in Anglesey, Wales

Seal in Anglesey

I just about managed to outsmart this guy, but the rest were photo-shy

Another animal-related activity but one that was absolutely magical – and so close to home. Who knew that just a couple of hours on a train from the urban madness of London Euston you can jump in a sea kayak and splash around with seals who playfully pop their heads out of the water and generally frolick around for your amusement – yet are somehow canny enough to know the click of a camera lens when they hear one and  then dive back in throwing their tails in the air.

Luckily some memories are stored forever in the mind in a way that a digital image could never hope to replicate.

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Find the nature close to home.

7. Talking To Sophie At Tanji Fish Market

Gambia Photos

Here we are smiling away to each other. Such a lovely day.

When I talked to the people at The Gambia Experience before travelling to the small West African country in April they told me that one of the main reasons visitors come back again and again to Gambia is because they meet and strike up friendships with the local children and then decide to sponsor them or work with a local children’s charity. These travellers always want to return to see how the children are doing and often forge lifelong bonds with the people they meet on what they think at first will be just another holiday.

It wasn’t until I visited for myself that I really connected with this sentiment.  While at Tanji fish market and immersed in my own world or photographing the beach I noticed I had a shadow; a little girl, called Sophie was watching me inquisitively. All the children I met in Gambia had a completely contagious enthusiasm and simply made you smile, and even though I only spent about 15 minutes with Sophie it was truly one of the most memorable 15 minutes of my year.

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Enjoy the small moments, they sometimes stay with you longer than the seemingly show-stopping stuff.

8. Bald Eagle Watching on the Harrison River

Eagle watching on the Harrison River

Eagle watching on the Harrison River

‘People often ask me if they’re guaranteed a sighting before they book a boat trip,’ says my guide from Harrison Eco Tours. He gestures around at the hundreds of bald eagles that surround us, in the skies above our boat, the trees on either side of the river bank – and even one tucking into a fresh piece of fish on the edge of the icy water and we laugh at the notion that you could miss the eagles on this stretch of the river. This corner of British Columbia is the world’s foremost bald eagle spotting site, a major spawning ground for salmon and is teeming with wildlife and beauty – even on a crisp winter’s day.

calendarNew Year’s Resolution: Learn how to fish – fishermen get to see this stuff every day.


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