Tackling my fears…

I’m so excited. It’s almost time to head on safari to South Africa.

I love every single aspect of our trip to Ulusaba just to the north west of Kruger National Park.

Except the 10 hour overnight flight from Heathrow to Johannesburg.

I’m working really hard on tackling my ridiculous phobia and with the help of my British Airways hunks it is easing.

Gin and diazepam along with my comfort blanket and self-soothing techniques – taught to me by my BA boys – also help ease my anxiety.

So wish me luck and I’ll let you know how it was when I arrive in Africa.

In the meantime, here are some photos of those that have helped changed my approach to flying over the last year…

Ulusaba here we come

34232A03-8519-4318-9DBE-DF21C7651C22Hi everyone,

It’s almost time for the Ulusaba5 to head back to the African Bush.

We don’t normally travel at this time of year, but Alexander wanted to see our Ulusaba family for his birthday.

As a recent convert to WordPress I thought it would be an opportunity to post photos and perhaps share a couple of lines about what we’ve seen during the day.

Here are some to whet your appetite along with a link to an article Alexander wrote about last September’s trip to Paradise

My privilege to meet leopards and locals

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Fogo Island – Getting there via Air Canada

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I hate flying. I just do. Hurtling along at 600mph while encased in a steel tube has absolutely no appeal. So when Travel Mail suggested an assignment that would involve five flights in just four days my heart sank.

I was also due to travel with Air Canada, an airline I’d never flown with before. Fear of the aviation unknown made me almost wimp out, but the offer of a visit to Fogo Island, one of the four corners of the Flat Earth, along with Hydra, Papua New Guinea and the Bermuda Triangle, proved just too much of a pull.

And for the first time, ever, my flying experience has been an enjoyable part of the journey. OK, the build up and take off were still gruelling but the Air Canada team had it covered. The luxury of the lounge and then the business class pods onboard made for the perfect antidote to tearful tensions and sweaty palms.

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Air Canada departs to Montreal from Terminal 2 at London Heathrow. It’s an age since I’ve flown from that terminal so wasn’t really prepared for the schlep from security to the Air Canada lounge. Be prepared for a good 15 minute walk and find it challengingly tucked away – next to Dixons.

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However, once inside and after a warm welcome from the reception team, who had been forewarned of my flying fear, I was guided to a quieter corner of the rather swish lounge that offers comfortable seating for plane-watchers along with terminals for business travellers and a restaurant for those who would rather be ‘nil by mouth’ once onboard.

I indulged in some alcohol along with self-soothing and breathing techniques.

When it was time to board, I was escorted from the lounge and another good walk straight into the aircraft where Capt Comeau and First Officer Garceau welcomed me into the cockpit of their Dreamliner. They were charming and even made laugh.

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Many carriers are bringing the Dreamliner on stream as air quality onboard means less chance of jet lag, I’m told.

As the pilots said goodbye and prepared for take-off the Air Canada cabin services director gently guided me to a rather swish business class pod. Cocooned from other passengers, I discovered the seat and in-flight entertainment controls are completely intuitive. I was particularly enthralled by the controls for the window ‘blinds’. The press of a button saw my cocoon go from sunlight to a gentle blue glow. Nice.

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But the coup de grace for me (the in flight greetings and announcements are in English and rather seductively French too) was the food. I dined on prawns, steak and chocolate cake, accompanied by chilled champagne and a sensational Sauvignon Blanc before reclining to a fully-flat bed. And some sleep.

Arriving in Montreal and with two more flights before my final destination, I felt remarkably relaxed and refreshed.

My fear of flying may have become just that little bit easier.

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Far, far away on Fogo Island

The journey to the end of the earth is daunting.

It takes planning, resilience and stamina. Certainly not for the faint-hearted, the trek to Fogo Island, one of the four corners of the world – according to the Flat Earth society – involves three flights, two road trips and a ferry journey through pack ice.

You have to really want to visit Fogo, a remote fishing community off the New Foundland coast of Canada. But, when you do finally reach this wilderness lover’s wilderness, you will never want to leave. Ever.

Smaller than the Isle of Wight – around 100 sq. miles – and with a population of fewer than 2,500

Fogo was, until recently, a community on its knees. Young islanders were leaving in droves. The industry which had drawn Irish and English settlers 300 years ago was battered almost to submission by the obscene overfishing of cod. Tourists had little to draw them to the hostile conditions of this bleak, granite rock. The future for Fogo was dire.

Step forward former islander and subsequent multi-millionaire Zita Cobb. The daughter of an illiterate fisherman who had struggled to feed his family, Zita left Fogo as soon as she could to study business on the mainland. She took little time in making a healthy fortune in fibre optics.

Now she’s back and determined to make sure the world knows about her corner of the earth. To that end, Zita set about building a luxury hotel on the most barren headland.

Locals thought she was mad. An impossible challenge. But, her ‘build it and they will come’ mentality saw her commission a local architect to create a 29 bedroom inn to blend in with the landscape. It took three years to construct and is of such elegance and beauty that Fogo Island Inn has received a coveted slot as one of the Top100 hotels in the world attracting well-heeled tourists from Australia to the UK and perhaps the other three corners of the Flat Earth – Hydra, Papua New Guinea and the Bermuda Triangle!

With luxury on every level of the four-storey building, tourists are falling over themselves to spend their Canadian dollars here. And there’s plenty of outdoor activities to make the marathon journey worthwhile.

Every season offers a different appeal. Whale-watching, cod fishing, hiking, sipping a G&T in a rooftop hot tub while watching arctic icebergs slip silently by mean rooms are like gold dust in the summer and autumn months.

But, as I discovered, winter/spring has its own appeal. An action-packed itinerary was planned and it didn’t disappoint.

My visit began at a leisurely pace with an orientation of the island with one of the native, community hosts. Roy Dwyer is a man of the sea. An intelligent, eloquent old man. I didn’t ask his age but he must be in his seventh decade and has spent much of his lifetime at the mercy of the Atlantic Ocean. He is also a published author and poet and as he drove along the island’s snowy trails pointing out fishing stages where the catch would be salted to last the winter, he regaled me with poems he had composed while waiting for cod to bite.

There’s work too for younger Fogo islanders. And not just within the hotel. Those who understand the idiosyncrasies of the landscape and the unpredictability of the weather are invaluable to tourists.

Snowmobiling across a frozen lake was a heart-stopping moment for me, but I was in the safe hands of PJ. He later reassured me about the thickness of the ice by drilling a deep fishing hole before handing me some twine attached to a twig with a piece of cheese on the end and enticing me to fish for trout.

We then snow-shoed along the treeline towards a log cabin and welcoming cup of tea before venturing outside again in chilly conditions for a ‘boil up’ or barbecue.

Fun but freezing, I was pleased to eventually head back to the understated luxury of the hotel for a superb supper from the award winning chef.

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It snowed heavily overnight providing more than enough of the fluffy stuff to allow TA Loeffler – an arctic explorer and mountaineer – to illustrate how to build a quinzhee. A posh igloo which takes quite a lot of brute force and even more ignorance on my part.

In need of a relaxation I headed indoors for a cuddle from Make and Break the inn’s hounds before heading to the hotel’s rooftop hot tub. Gazing at the stars, I reflected on how Zita Cobb’s vision, along with the intertwined industry that supports the hotel, has literally saved the island.

Come soon before the secret is out.