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The Woman, The Traveller – learning from past mistakes

If you’re anything like me, having time to yourself is the best. That sun-drenched moment with a book? Bliss. A gentle cup of tea in the evenings to help you ponder? Perfect! An afternoon spent rambling through parks and streets? Is this Heaven we’re describing?? Being alone is an easy way to soothe the soul, but the idea of travelling alone can be quite daunting. Most of the advice out there will tell you to “get out of your comfort zone”, “take risks” and “see where the road takes you”. But there is often an unspoken part to this advice; be a man. The unfortunate reality is that women have to be more conscious of safety while travelling, not because it *should* be our responsibility, but because societies across the globe aren’t holding men accountable for their actions.

When I was younger, I never thought to differentiate between the travel advice given by and for women and men; as a result, my adventures were a mixture of incredible and disastrous. I’ve worked out how to travel alone by trial and error, and while I have some weird and funny stories, a lot of these are only funny with distance. Luckily, my travelling woes are now your wins – I’ve put together a list of my top tips for solo travel as a woman, to help you succeed where I failed, renew your sense of adventure, and give you back the magic that is a holiday to yourself!

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

One of the biggest pitfalls of the solo adventurer is the romantic notion of “getting lost in a new city”. It’s an oft-told story of dreamy streets, cute cafes, hidden gems, friendly locals and beautiful scenery. In reality, being lost is most likely going to involve walking for hours in the wrong direction, all the shops and restaurants being closed, being mobbed by feral pigeons, and then scammed out of your week’s food budget by an illegal taxi (all of which happened to me on the same day). Wandering in a dodgy part of town might seem like a thrilling adventure for a guy, but it’s far less fun when you’re a woman, being followed by some greasy little toad, as well as being hopelessly lost.

The best way to make use of the precious time you have, is with a daily itinerary. Just having a pocket city guide is not really enough – large distances between attractions can take a big chunk of your money and time if you don’t check your route beforehand, so mark your map and have a plan. The best thing about travelling solo is doing all the things you want to do, and not wasting your time on things which don’t interest you. Always research how to get around the city, and choose the safest transport your budget will allow. Having a physical map, even just a printout, is a godsend when your phone isn’t an option. Pro tip: always have a trusted taxi number, in ink, for those times you do become hopelessly lost. If you have a helpline on hand, you can choose whether you want you explore the city or safely head to your next stop.

2. Reviews are Important

You can tell a lot about your accommodation from the reviews left behind. As a former travel agent, I can tell you it’s a big indicator of whether the staff will be helpful, the rooms clean, and your stay pleasant. Don’t just look at the overall review score, but check the most recent reviews as well – sometimes recent changes in management can make all the difference! It is also vital to take note of decent, cheap accommodation alternatives nearby. As a teen, I once arrived at what was supposed to be a good hostel, only to find my “female only” dorm was actually a room of 5 men in their 40s and 50s… one asked for my number within 10 seconds of my walking into the dorm. I had not checked the reviews properly, and I had no accommodation alternatives on hand – thank goodness I was taken in by some extremely generous and sweet family friends living in the area, and ever since then, I have always had a back up plan written down in case my hostel/hotel is a disaster (which I have avoided since then, by reading the reviews properly).

The same goes for checking the reviews of local restaurants, and attractions too. If you’re on a limited budget or limited time, it’s important seeing whether something is all hype, or worth the extra cash. It also helps you avoid arriving somewhere, and it being closed. Plus, without checking the best rated attractions, I would never have known about the quirky Cork Butter Museum – by far best thing you could do in Cork!*

*And I’m not just saying this because of the stunning city views and Shandon Sweets right next door! Yum yum sweeties!

3. You’re Only as Alone as You Choose

I’ve never had the luxury of living alone – I’ve always lived with family or flat mates, and while this means my solo trips are even more precious, I can sometimes find myself missing people after only a few hours by myself. This is why, when you first travel alone, I cannot recommend hostels enough. Staying in hostels, you immediately have new friends in the same room, and as well as being budget friendly, you have people to go and eat dinner with if you feel a little awkward eating alone (I’ve come to love my solo dinners, but when I was younger I hated it!). The lounge areas are the perfect places to find new people to hang out with, and I haven’t been in one hostel where a random group hasn’t welcomed me with open arms. I’ve met some of the most wonderful people this way. Always book a “female only” dorm for your first trip, and once you get the feel for hostels and solo travel, you can decide what you feel comfortable with. Personally, I’ve found they are always nicer than mixed dorms.*

I am also a big fan of group tours, especially when you’re in countries where travelling is difficult (for example, if you don’t want to drive, budget travel in the US can be a challenge), or you feel you’d like safety in numbers. These are great for combating loneliness – you will be with people most of the day, but you also have the option to explore each location by yourself if you want more alone time. There is something to be said for having a travel nanny to sort your travel, food, accommodation and day trips! Not always the budget option, but it’s 100% worth it if it’s on the table.

*I have seen things. Nudist men + jumping off top bunks = wild flying bits, far too early in the morning…

4. Learn the Language

I shouldn’t have to say this, but unfortunately I have seen far too many travellers who don’t do this. I’m not saying you need to be fluent in 800 languages, but you have to know key phrases like Yes, No, Thank you, Sorry, I don’t speak X, do you speak English? Winging it is not funny or cool, it’s just a weird attitude to take, and is rather rude. We go to different countries to see the sights and meet new people, and you can’t meet new people if you don’t know the word for hello. Being polite can mean the difference between help and aggression, and part of being polite is trying to meet someone halfway. You can get a long way with ridiculous pantomimes and a few smiles, but no-one will play charades with you if you don’t put in a little effort. This is generally good advice for everyone, but more than this, you’re less likely to get lost if you know how to ask for directions!

5. Trust Your Gut

The above tips are guidelines. Sometimes, all logic will say something is ok, but your gut says it’s not. Don’t chase the adventure if you don’t feel comfortable. If you wouldn’t do it in your city, don’t do it in another! Don’t feel like you have to make yourself uncomfortable, just because those wanderlust articles say it’s the only way to “truly” travel. Those articles are almost always written by men, or people who are travelling on high budgets where safety is a secondary consideration. Travel is filled with adventure whether you seek it out or not – ask any travel agent, and they can tell you a million stories of things going wrong, outside of anyone’s control. From natural disasters, to forgetting your toothpaste at home and mistakenly buying foot cream to replace it (I’ll never truly recover), you will have enough to be getting on with anyways. A big part of enjoying your holiday is ENJOYING YOUR HOLIDAY.

I know I’ve touched on safety as a big thing in this article, but the thing is, once you realise that solo travel is actually acting like you do at home, just with different scenery, you realise how stupid all of that advice to “run down dark alleys at night” really is. We should be able to, yes, but we don’t, so don’t feel like you have to, just because someone who’s never had to worry about alleys before does it “all the time”. Trust your gut, and forgive yourself for having some form of self preservation!

6. Women Are Magical

Let’s say you’ve done everything you can to avoid disaster, but it happens anyways. You’re lost, you’re confused, stuck, out of luck or just plain scared. In every of these situations, I have been saved by women. They appear out of nowhere, swoop in, and take me to safety, like mythical beings with impeccable panic radars. They have been my guides, lent me bus fare, been my translators, given me haven in storms, pretended I belong to them, and generally kept me safe – all without my even asking for assistance. Women go about the world, hyper-aware of those around them, and so often they will notice when you are in trouble before you even think to ask for help. Shopkeepers are especially helpful because they know the area, are used to being helpful for work, know the language, and usually let you use their phone if you’re in a bind (the best part of my day working retail was helping lost tourists haha).

When you travel alone as a woman, you become a part of the club of protectors too. If you see a fellow female traveller in trouble, help them out, pay it forward. We look out for each other in a way I didn’t realise existed before I started my solo adventures. It’s the same in every country I’ve visited, in every place I’ve stayed, every path I’ve walked – we have each other’s backs.

I think for me, the most magical thing about travelling alone as a woman is that you never really travel alone.

The South African in England, writing on Greek mythology, of course

So…… I haven’t posted in a while, ahem, oops! This is mainly due to the finishing of a degree, a trip home for a fantastic family wedding, and now hunting for a job. I haven’t had much time to sit down and write anything chunky, like an article, review or recipe, but I am one of those people who writes really bad poetry when there’s a spare moment (usually during a commute, or just before bed, or something else mundane). I’ll write in notebooks, on napkins, my phone, even on store receipts if I have nothing else on me – honestly, it’s better than meditation when I’m particularly frazzled!

Anyhoo, once I realised I hadn’t posted in a while, and being short on time, I went through my notes and found a few poems I’d scribbled down. These two I wrote with a sprinkling of Greek mythology, something I don’t often do, but it made for fun writing! It’s a little odd to be placing my words in so many territories, but then again, as an immigrant I don’t often find myself occupying geographical absolutes. I’m popping the poems up together, and I hope at least one of them has a little something of interest for someone out there. The first one I wrote as I crossed Waterloo bridge on a cold winter’s night: I was really homesick, I had just read Cavafy’s Ithaca, and I was feeling just a touch resentful of the ‘journey’. The second one I wrote after a particularly gruelling day of political news – I imagine Kronos to have oddly small hands 😉 Enjoy!


 

Homesick [Response to C]

I read of Ithaca, then,

Ithaca.

Finding my mind poor

You opened me, Datura Wrightii,

Poured the sea into my skull,

Seething Proteus,

Protea.

 

Now I see Cyclops skulking

On the muddy river bank.

It glares at the towering spikes;

Bloodshot, regrown, never sleeping.

Seagulls shriek

‘Odysseus, Odysseus!’

As it squats,

Fat Sauron sneers, taunting me too:

‘Remember Nobody, nobody, no body’

Sirens wail as they pass

‘Πάντα στὸν νοῦ σοὔχεις τὴν  ̓Ιθάκη’

I feel I have heard it before, but I can’t remember

Where.

 

Somewhere

Beyond this sodden Ogygia –

I remember that purple aroma, Zeus in summer.

Her love woven into fast nets,

Hephaestus working molten rain upon our roof.

I yearn to return to her

But she is gone.

Her perfume lingers on the olive knots.

The geese have flown.

Is that what you mean?

Do I carry Scylla on my back?

I hear Penelope has wed Poseidon.

 

No,

My feet will not pace along Cairo’s rich banks,

Not yet.

‘Slowly’ you whisper, so slow I’ll be.

Perhaps some wisdom will visit me.

 

Ah! I long for the wealth of Ithaca!

 


 

Krónos

I ate my children,

As I had promised them. 

I consumed their flesh,

As is my right. 

I gave them life, so that they could give me power,

Is that not what we agreed?

 

My father was a hardly-familiar dictator.

I was born of his lust,

And so I took it from him

While my mother cheered and wept,

I made my own paradise with it. 

 

My power is absolute, absolution,

My rules so perfect, they do not exist.

My children practice self-tenderisation,

Indoctrinated mental cannibalism,

While quietly I devour it all.

 

It is not my fault;

They love me for it.

It is my right

One they gave me by living.

Still, when I spit out their sinews stuck in my teeth,

Sometimes I feel flecks of gravel pass my lips.

 

 


 

Ridiculously easy rum-fudge & oreo ice cream

This recipe is extremely healthy, light and good for – hahahahahahahaha ha ha HAAAAAAAA – no, this is extra decadent, so if you’re on a diet turn back now. This no-churn ice cream is unreal, and perfect for the long, hot summer days ahead. The base is a very simple 2-ingredient ice cream, and you can make whatever flavours you want with it (I’ll pop some suggestions at the end of the recipe). For this version, I combined the 2 most important food groups – cookies and alcohol – to make a more adult version of the cookies and cream classic. Make this the day before you want it, because it takes a minimum of 6 hours to freeze. Enjoy, and if there are any different/amazing flavour combos you want me to try, leave a comment below!

Ingredients

Ice cream base:

  • 2 cups cold double cream (heavy whipping cream in the US)
  • 1 can condensed milk

Flavours:

  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 packet of oreos (about 150g)
  • 1/2 cup Spiced Rum, plus 30ml extra
  • 1/2 cup caster sugar
  • 20g butter

 

Method

  1. The first thing to do is make the rum-fudge, so it has time to cool down. Pour your caster sugar and the 1/2 cup of Spiced rum in a saucepan, and turn on the heat to high. 0BD0BCCA-C8FA-430B-A90F-BCCD3F9837E0 Try not to stir it as it begins to bubble, and after about a minute you can occasionally swirl it gently to make sure the syrup heats evenly.
  2. After about 5 mins the rum-sugar mixture should have taken on a nice golden colour (we’re not looking to deeply caramelise it, but get it slightly darker than the colour of the rum). 4392B616-030F-49D1-959E-C2D74724CF5A.jpeg Take it off the heat, and add the butter, stirring rapidly (but take care not to splash yourself, this syrup will be HOT). It will bubble a little so don’t panic. Once the butter is fully incorporated, add the remaining 30ml of rum and leave to cool. I add in the 30ml at the end to make the fudge more syrupy, so I can swirl it into the ice cream. Also, it adds the alcoholic kick back in, yay! B3D19299-1B90-4825-B697-0EDDFC31534C.jpeg
  3. Take the oreos out of the packet, and place them in a plastic bag. Ok, so I added in almost all of them. Well, some of them. Listen, I’m an adult and can have cookies for dinner if I want! Anyhoo, crush the oreos with a heavy object – I used a rolling pin – and then set them aside. I left them fairly chunky because I prefer that texture. EB77C35B-787C-4A71-86FE-10D07A41D7AF.jpeg
  4. Pour the cream into a large mixing bowl, and whisk until if forms soft peaks. Be careful not to over-whisk it, otherwise you’ll start to make butter. 48C13506-9472-4068-AAF9-B6852CBFD3BF.jpeg
  5. Add in the vanilla extract, then drizzle in the condensed milk while slowly whisking the mixture. E3A87DB1-7B3F-4074-B15F-5178A9B1ED6F Once it is all incorporated, add the oreos and fold them in. EFA09C2C-BC81-4D18-BAAE-B8B77C353DF0
  6. Grab your extremely attractive freezable container (or in my case, a 20p generic tub) and gently pour the mixture in. Take your (by now) cool rum-fudge syrup and pour it over the mixture, then use a knife to swirl it in and get a marbled effect. 50748883-8DA7-4938-906D-0C3D20819FB3.jpeg Pop it in the freezer for 6 hours/ overnight, and then enjoy! 97DF6343-FEAF-4FAA-9100-53D4FF68530F.jpeg

Pro tips:

  • Don’t stir your caramel/ syrup as it heats up, otherwise it’ll crystallise when it cools
  • Always fold your chunky ingredients in, try not to stir them – it keeps your mixture as light and creamy as possible
  • If you’re making ice-cream halal, remember not to use vanilla extract, as it contains alcohol.

Flavour tips:

  • Add a little coffee to your chocolate ice cream, to make the flavour richer and more intense
  • If you want an easy strawberry ice cream, take some strawberry jam, heat it up with a little water to make it more liquid (or spiced rum – one of my favourite flavour combinations is strawberries and spiced rum) then cool it down. Swirl this into your mixture for a marbled look
  • You can infuse your cream with different flavours by heating them up with the cream, then cooling the cream back down before whipping it. My favourite is earl grey ice cream

My Very Lazy Baked Aubergine

I was faced with a problem this week (not a real problem, but when it comes to food I can get dramatic). I wanted Aubergine Parmigiana, but I was too lazy to make it. I’ve done the full 4-hour, intensive, delicious slice of heaven before, but I was too hot, too tired and didn’t want to disrupt my study rhythm with hours away from my work. As a result of my laziness, I now give you a way to make a similar dish in half the time, with minimal effort, less than half an hour of actually doing stuff, and it tastes delish – winning! Here’s the recipe below if, like me, you are lazy but also greedy and like cheese way too much. (The photos are from my phone, so the quality is a bit iffy)

Makes 4 servings

Work time 20mins, wait time 2ish hours

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium aubergines
  • 500g pasatta
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 70(ish)g grated Parmesan
  • Basil (12ish leaves, depends how much you have/ how bothered you are)
  • Splash of olive oil
  • Salt + pepper to taste

Method:

  1. First thing you do is wash & slice the aubergines into 5mm thick rounds.FE734D11-818A-430D-AF9E-66094589B6C3 Then shove them in a sieve with rock salt. I layered my slices with salt in between to get an even spread, but if you chuck rock salt and the slices into a bowl, toss them and then pour them into the sieve that works too.38E5FB6D-5F95-4094-8EC7-AD6B1CD6C6D7 Leave them for an hour to draw the water.
  2. While you wait, mince the garlic, pop it in the pan with enough olive oil to just cover it, and turn on the heat to medium/low. AA451438-9CD1-4B58-9091-E3E8C278BE0AOnce the garlic starts to sizzle, pour in the passata and add your salt and pepper to taste. If your passata is super cheap and very sour, add a teaspoon of sugar to help with the acidity. I know people add baking soda, but you lose some of the flavour doing that and nobody likes insipid tomatoes! Turn it onto a low heat and leave to reduce for about 45mins (stir it every now and again… over the 45 mins I only stirred it twice because if forgot I was cooking. Luckily it didn’t burn!)
  3. Preheat your oven to 160 on fan/ 180 on conventional.
  4. Rinse your aubergine rounds in cold water and pat ‘em dry.
  5. Grab your tin (I only have a 1lb loaf tin, but it was a little small) and pop the tomato sauce on the bottom of the tin. 648B943D-359C-4E7A-9F1C-017F04266DC1Then layer your aubergine, Parmesan and basil on top. I tore the basil up, because again, I am too lazy to chop it. 9321B920-90E5-48AD-80FE-31604C22D81DRepeat the tomato, aubergine, Parmesan and basil layers until you run out of aubergine.
  6. For the final layer, put the tomato sauce on top of the aubergine, then finish with the rest of your Parmesan. EA704E1E-A4EF-42DD-86D9-32600F5B46AFPop it in the oven and leave it for an hour.
  7. After an hour, turn off the oven and leave the tin inside for another 15mins. Then take it out, leave it to cool for 5 and then serve! Voila! Lazy baked Parmesan aubergine!E89C2D37-C24E-4B89-BF80-67614D3AE2D1.jpeg

Why is this the lazy version, I hear you ask? The short answer is I skipped a step – pan grilling the aubergine. You can do this, which gives you a very silky end product… and an extra hour of work, and extra washing up. Ultimately, my version has a nearly al dente  bite, but it’s still cooked through, and I prefer this texture. I also left out the mozzarella, which I didn’t have. If you want, put bits of mozzarella in between the layers (yum yum extra cheese). Also, while the tomato sauce is hella basic, you *might* be able to get away with just putting in the passata straight out of the box… but you’d have a more acidic and watery end product.

Pro tips:

  • Heating up the garlic with the oil releases more flavour, and prevents it from burning quickly
  • Don’t add basil to your tomato sauces at the beginning of cooking – it makes the basil go slimy and the end result is more bitter
  • Don’t use the very tiny holes on your grater for the Parmesan, unless you are a masochist
  • I’m not actually a pro, so feel free to disregard all of the above!

How an angry chicken changed the course of my life

For my (rather self-conscious) first blog post, I thought I should do the usual thing and introduce myself – but I have trouble defining who I am, and really, who doesn’t? Whatever labels we choose for ourselves, other people add more, and none of them are exactly right. So instead, I thought it might be easier to describe how I got to this point – and to do that, I need to tell you the story of an angry chicken.

This particular chicken was hatched in 2006, and for reasons unknown to the universe, it hatched angry. From the moment it could move, it pecked with a fury of a thousand provoked tigers, taking on every chicken it could. For the entirety of its (rather brief) life, it lived at a livery stables, munching all of the plentiful bugs, seeds and horse feed available to it. It got bigger. It got angrier. I had seen this chicken around, but I didn’t take much notice of it. Oh, the hubris!

On the day the angry chicken changed my life, a perfect storm was brewing. It had been raining all week; the ground was wet, and the arena sand had become a weird cement-like consistency. My horse was full of energy because he had been stuck in his stable for a few days away from the lightning. I was overdue for a lesson, an ambitious 16 year old who wouldn’t delay any longer. The chicken had been honing its skills.

I hopped on my horse, sans saddle, and began the lesson with balancing exercises. It was all going well. At this point, my life was on track: I was going to become an instructor, teach horse riding, train up horses and compete as far as I could go. My horse’s ambition in life was to eat hay and get lots of carrots. The chicken was already living its best life, and this is where the three of us met.

The angry chicken saw a rival chicken, and saw red. It went for this poor fowl in a flurry of squawks and feathers – right next to my horse. My horse, who was terrified of his own shadow, decided the avian death-match next to him was a sign of the apocalypse. He had not signed up for this, and took evasive action. I was left comically suspended in mid-air, still in a sitting position, with the odd sensation that my horse had just vanished out from underneath me. Which, in reality, he had. My Wily Coyote moment ended, and I landed on my ass, onto the solid arena sand. My friends… if you have ever been winded, you will understand how confusing and almost outraged one feels at not being able to breathe. I sat there for 5 long minutes, making weird moaning noises that were not at all voluntary, wondering if my spleen was now located somewhere close to my sternum. I remember seeing the chicken strut off, and I hope that, as it witnessed the carnage it had created, it was finally satisfied. I doubt it. What I do know is that it became a dinner that Christmas, and I’m sure it was furiously delicious.

It turns out that the simple act of landing on your butt can shatter your spine – so take your calcium supplements kids! It took a few months to heal the bones, and more to recover, and eventually I had to stop riding altogether thanks to the damage. I went from planning my days out in South Africa, being a crazy horse lady (and probably looking like baked leather by the time I hit 30), to suddenly reevaluating my life in my teens. I studied Archaeology, but realised I was trying to fill one obsession with another, and it just wasn’t working. I took a course and learned how to teach English, and set off to Spain to work and travel. A few months later I moved to the U.K. and looked after primary school kids – a more adorable bunch scoundrels you’ll be hard-pressed to find! I decided to dive into travel after that, and worked as a travel agent. This gave me a ton of crazy stories, and I had some amazing adventures around the world to boot. It took me a few years and a few places to find a solid path, but now I’m studying an MA in Comparative Literature… and I’m feeling positive about what’s next.

I have to say, I wouldn’t have been able to make it through the past 10 years without my family and friends – they gave me incredible support in dark times, and I owe so much to them. They helped me change my life from the safe, the known, into the adventure it’s become. It’s not always a picnic, but hey, that’s life! I can’t imagine the me I am now feeling fulfilled in my old life, and that, I think, is progress.

And, while I’ll be forever grateful to my loved ones, we all know who the real hero in this story is: the angry chicken.

A little bit of everything…

Welcome to my blog!

I’m glad you could stop by, and I hope you find something here that’s interesting, entertaining, or just darn useful. As an oddball South African living far from home, my life is a series of (mis)adventures and tons of variety – which is why I thought I’d share pieces of my life with you! Enjoy the stories, and I hope your own journey is colourful and filled with a little bit of everything 🙂

If you’d live to check out my travel pics, my Instagram is caitifay3

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Caution: I may not be the best person to take advice from, so, you know, read with discretion and all that…