All posts by Jonathan

Jonathan has sailed yachts, flown paragliders and paramotors, and driven through snow, mud and sand in various places around the world. He started out by bungy jumping dressed as a pantomime horse. All this to show being vegan doesn't limit your potential?

Africa 2018 – VegFest and Safari

IVU  World VegFest

The purpose of, or excuse for, this trip was the International Vegetarian Union’s 46th World Vegfest in Nairobi – for the first time being hosted in Africa. You can see how it was impossible not to come? When we first came to Nairobi in 2014 we totally failed to meet up with the Kenyan Vegans group we had found on facebook…so this was also a great opportunity to make amends for that.

It was a bit hard to know what a World Vegfest in Nairobi would be like. I wondered whether it would actually be a success or how may people would attend – especially when I got a message when I was on my way from Ady (who we met in Ghana) to say she wasn’t able to make the trip to Kenya, even though she was involved in organising the event. So when the day arrived I headed a little nervously down to the Oshwal Centre to see what was happening…but I shouldn’t have worried. I joined in the pre-meeting with some international delegates as the preparations for the evening entertainment were going on around us. It was a good group – some names from the internet got attached to real people, and we headed into the weekend with new friends.

The first evening had a strong Indian theme – unsurprisingly as a lot of the vegetarian tradition in Kenya has come from Indian origins (we had an enlightening talk on the history of Kenya and the original Indian settlers as a part of the evening’s entertainment). Also, the guest of honour was the new Indian High Commissioner to Kenya in his first week on the job! There were inspirational talks, African and Indian dance performances and  a really good vegan dinner.

The main event on Saturday was not overly crowded, but what it may have lacked in absolute numbers was made up for in enthusiasm and variety. There was no lack of ingenious ideas and vegan products on show by local producers on the vegfest stalls, and many excellent demonstrations in the conference. The issue of whether vegetarian is good enough was diplomatically but strongly raised in compelling terms, and I finally got to meet Rachel – the founder of the Kenyan Vegans and Nairobi Vegans facebook groups. Some good networking was done to link up the different local groups and international organisations.

As Marly writes in her summary here, learning about what people are doing around the world and getting to know each other is an important part of these meetings. From the perspective of Vegan Without Frontiers, as we move towards operating our expeditions next year, it was good to meet some people and organisations we may be supporting and talk about what we’re trying to do. It was also great to be able to put a few people we’ve met on our travels in touch with organisations that are looking for activists to work with. I look forward to seeing these seeds grow in the coming years and adding to them on our travels!

After the VegFest, the Safari

Since we had travelled to Africa for this, and for some this was a first visit, it would have been a shame not to experience the wildlife it is famous for as well. So on Sunday a group of us got together to visit Nairobi National Park. Quite rightly Kenya is proud to have a National Park right on the edge of the city – though it does bring to the fore the conflict that humans bring to wildlife by the occupation of land. It is both beautiful and slightly jarring to see giraffes silhouetted against the city skyline, and zebra grazing by the pylons of a new overhead railway line across the park.

It was really cool to spend the day with Jessika (ProVeg), Victor (Vegan OutReach), Marly (IVU) and Bena (Detox Retreat, Jamaica), most expertly guided by Daniel from Africa Safariland Tours. While the park is too small to sustain elephants (and I imagine a little dangerous to have wild elephants that close to the city), we got to see pretty much all the other animals you’d hope to see – the highlight being a very recently well-fed male lion. Credit to Daniel for this – he spotted it from the distance and drove us to park with the engine off right where it moments later appeared from the long grass and crossed the track right by us. In a first even for me, this lion then proceeded to roar – announcing his presence to anyone within earshot – before continuing on a long walk down to the water to wash down his meal.

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OK, at this point the whole commercial imperative of wildlife watching got too much for my taste, as a whole fleet of minibuses and landcruisers zoned in on the lion, guided by radio, and it turned into a photographic feeding frenzy, with a slightly spooked lion jogging for cover after being surrounded. We headed off to a quieter part of the park. We saw rhino, tracked at a distance on foot by armed rangers to protect them from poachers, and more giraffe peacefully eating in some woodland next to pools full of (invisibly submerged) hippos.

On the edge of the park, the David Sheldrick Trust elephant orphanage cares for rescued baby elephants, with the aim of returning them to the wild – a process which takes up to 8 years. Many of these elephants are orphaned after their parents are killed by poachers,  while many adults die of starvation in the National Parks after long droughts. Artificial waterholes may keep them alive for a while, but without rain to replenish the vegetation the food eventually runs out, and with human encroachment the ability to migrate to other areas is curtailed. Rescuing the orphans is the least we can do – and they are exceedingly cute!

After the Safari, the other Safari…

At this point, the road was calling again and I had a week before flying back to London. I looked at the map and booked a shuttle bus South to Tanzania. The idea was to travel through the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti in a loop by lake Victoria, or maybe all the way round Lake Victoria and back to Nairobi. Leg 1 was South, an 8 hour bus trip to Arusha. It was great to be on the road again, even if someone else was driving, and to get out of the city and see some wide open spaces. On the other hand, by the time the bus pulled up in Arusha I had been talked out of the long bus trip by my fellow passengers and was looking at a few days in Ngorongoro and the Serengeti before heading back.

A couple of hours later I had booked 2 nights at a rather expensive 5 star lodge by the gates to the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and was trying to work out how to get there. The lodge would organise an shuttle for $300 each way…which is frankly ridiculous. The shuttle bus from Nairobi was $25. In the end I found a ‘taxi’ to drive me there, wait 2 days, and drive me back for $100 each way. I know there are cheaper ways to do it…but nobody would tell me at short notice where to find them.

So after an evening of watching a local park football match followed by a pizza and beer and a night in a homestay in town I had an enjoyable 3 hour drive with my friendly driver Goodluck. Some of you will find our combination of names faintly as amusing as I did.

Enter Luxury Service Safari Lodge World. Both Goodluck and I felt a little out of place bumping up to the gates of the lodge in an ordinary car…sightly wide-eyed and awkward. There were staff waiting by the entrance (tipped off by the security gate down at the public road), with shots of iced tea and hot towels to welcome us; staff to carry bags; staff to show us to a table for an introductory welcome pack, drinks and lunch. Goodluck took his leave and left me to be inducted, and was last seen wandering around the property making a video record on his phone, shortly afterwards followed by a staff member scampering after him.

Well, what can I say about the lodge? Beautiful – right on the edge of the forest which covers the outer slopes of the Ngorongoro crater; coffee growing on the slopes under the cottages; staff to light the fires in your cottage and put hot water bottles in your beds (they seem to think this is necessary when the temperature drops to 20C); included G&Ts on the terrace overlooking the pool, overlooking the forest, against a backdrop of sunset over the mountains. For dinner? A complete vegan menu drawn up specially for me, with choices for each of 4 courses. I could get used to it.

Due to my lack of forward planning, I had to have my own personal guide for a full day safari into the crater. For this part I will just say that it was an unforgettable experience and point you to the photographs below. I’m glad it was low season as there were about 30 vehicles in the crater rather than 300 in high season, but probably a better idea to go with a few friends to share the costs. After another luxury night it was back to reality the way I came. Next time, with good luck and a fair wind, we’ll be back in the new truck – though maybe then I’ll be staying in town while our guests experience the bubble of luxury?

Overlanding India?

While the new truck is being built there’s a bit of a gap between travels, so to fill in I took a trip to India earlier this year to check out the possibilities for future expeditions. After all, we are aiming to do a round-the-world journey and India could be part of the plan. So, what’s it like for a vegan overlander?

Firstly, veggie food is not a problem, even if the word ‘vegan’ is likely to get you blank looks! There’s lots of vegan food available, especially in the many ‘pure veg’ restaurants and hotels – but you do have to keep asking whether there’s milk, ghee, butter, curd in things.

Secondly, overlanding by public transport is just a matter of joining the locals. Quite apart from the fact that there’s pretty much nowhere you can’t get to by regular buses – the vast majority of the travelling population do so by bus and train rather than their own vehicles. Also, driving yourself is likely to be an unnerving experience until you get used to the rules – first rule of driving in India? There are no rules. Second rule – actually there are rules but they are the opposite of what people do. Just use the horn a lot and dodge the cows.

In a 10 day trip around Southern India I tried out cars, buses, scooters, trains and sleeper-coaches. There’s some suggestion as a traveller that you should avoid most of these for various reasons of safety, but they all seemed to work for me – and the sleeper-coaches have to be the most comfortable (when they finally turn up).

So will we be going to India in the new truck? I don’t think so – a major part of what we do is getting to places and seeing things you can’t as a tourist. In India, I didn’t see much opportunity for that, and there’s not much setup for camping in any case. Also, India is HUGE, and down South is not exactly on its way anywhere, so maybe we’ll visit the North on the way across, or through the Himalayas, but travels in India I think are best done by alternative means.

Anyway – here’s a quick tour of Southern India in pictures, starting with my brother’s ideal car – well, he’d like one of these to remember his time in India but maybe not quite this one! The Ambassador – until recently ubiquitous and the standard for taxis, but now disappearing fast. This one finding its final resting place in Mahabalipuram.

The area around Mahabalipuram, South of Chennai, is famous for the series of temples carved out of the strange granite monoliths – some buried in the sand and some lost under the sea. What you don’t get from the photographs is the full-on assault on the senses by the heat, and the PA systems broadcasting from competing temples and mosques…

To escape…you can climb the lighthouse for a view from the top of the hill…

Or go hang out for the evening with the cows at the beach…

Heading further South by bus was a nice change from driving for me…and I got to appreciate the driving skills required for the equipment here – the 2-tone air horn was by far the most used!

Crossing the sea to Rameswaram by train looked like a fun trip, but the train didn’t fit our schedule so watching from the road bridge had to do (signs saying it was forbidden and definitely against the rules to stop were universally ignored).

After another day on a bus we came to Kanyakumari at the Southernmost tip of India – more temples, and a swim in the sea at sunset.

Finally it was time to take a train! The train station in Kanyakumari is pretty impressive, and the train was comfortable – and nowhere near as crowded as I was expecting. A nice way to see some scenery away from the main roads as we headed North up the West coast towards Kerala.

Taking to the backwaters by local passenger ferry got the water-based transport box ticked, and was a cheap and more interesting option compared to the ‘famous’ houseboats…

Final destination, now in the distinctly rainy but still hot climate of Kerala, was Fort Kochi. Very much a different feel to the East Coast of Tamil Nadu.

 

Then it was onto a sleeper coach for the trip back to Chennai and the flight home.

Next up? A trip back to Kenya for the 46th IVU World Vegfest in Nairobi – looking forward to getting back to Africa, but not quite yet on the road with the new truck – fingers crossed for next Spring!

Poznan – The Next Adventure Starts Here

This isn’t so much the start of the next adventure as the countdown to kick off. We are already well down the road from the start. Those of you who have been following on Facebook know there’s a little project in the offing, and today we have an actual start date after finalising the contract for the new truck build. Oh, and there was also a bit of driving it for the first time.

Back in the day, when I was looking at Landrovers and Toyotas for the first trip to the desert, I came across videos of the support trucks for the Paris Dakar rally. Whilst some wrote them off as being ‘ridiculous, and not in a good way’, there’s always been a sneaking wish to go drive one. Well its not a Tatra, but Vegan Without Frontiers Limited is now the proud (and slightly nervous) owner of a low-mileage, ex-German Army M-A-N KAT1 (A1) 8×8, which is about to be turned into an off-tracks rolling vegan guest house…or is it a yacht on wheels?

This time next year we should be taking it on ‘sea-trials’ to West Africa before embarking on a round the world journey. Its fiveyear mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no M-A-N has gone before. Which to be fair is at least as accurate as it was for the USS Enterprise! I do  however suspect it is unique in the world of vegan travel.

Join the adventure?

We will soon be opening for public involvement – crew and guests are needed for the first dip into the Sahara through Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania and Senegal. Lets call it the Poznan-Dakar Rally? For this trial adventure there will be big discounts for guests who are willing to be the first to experience life aboard a Vegan Overland Yacht. More on that later, but for now if you’re inspired by the ridiculous (in a good way), drop us a line and we’ll talk tofurkey?

Meanwhile…

Poland may not be the most vegan-friendly country in Europe, but vegan pizza has made it here too!

Vegan Choices

While we ended up in Southern and East Africa, this journey was primarily about West Africa, so I feel I ought to come up with a blog looking back on how that went. Rather than focus on the great experience, or the scenery and the heat and the fantastic (or less fantastic) people – I will just sign off with some thoughts on what making vegan choices in the UK has to do with West Africa.

Driving through West Africa left on balance a highly depressing imprint on the memory. Passing before your eyes you see the before, during and after of human economic development in progress – and it is not a pretty sight. Human activity invariably diminishes the biodiversity of our world, but it is the impact of the current global systems of trade and consumption which have accelerated this on a frankly terrifying scale. It is also clearly driven by the continuing impact of ‘developed’ countries – which started in the colonial era when we first set out to plunder the rest of the world for resources and impose our ‘culture’ and systems. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the same cultures and systems which led to the depletion of our own local environment should lead to the depletion of the environment where those cultures are spread. Traditional colonialism is now replaced by abuse of capitalist economics, right down to keeping a few locals wealthy through corruption and property ownership to maintain power; keeping the people poor enough that their labour produces cheap produce for export to developed countries. From minerals to food, natural resources are being stripped from West Africa for our consumption – making a few people and some big multinationals lots of wealth in the process.

Then there’s the global population problem we hear about so often – and something which I touched on after the first trip. In West Africa, however, the issues are even more apparent. It is something we like to think we have got under control back in Europe? But the problem of the world’s human population is twofold – the accelerated consumption of the natural world by a growing number of people, and the increased per-person consumption which is driven by development. It seems to me that this is at very least as much our problem in the developed world as anywhere else – especially our personal consumption. Both of these elements are enabled and driven by the global economic system to feed the system’s need for growth – and well beyond any natural balance of need or sustainability. And even when we do talk about sustainability it is from a narrow, human-centric viewpoint which assumes that we own the world and all its inhabitants. Apart from being jaw-droppingly arrogant, this view fails to recognise that the long-term survival of life depends on the diversity of its species.

What has this got to do with making vegan choices back in the UK? More than ever! At home we do not produce enough food for our local population – even though we have stripped the fertile land of its biodiversity to grow a few species for our personal use. So we import food from Africa using the inherent unfairness of the global economic system to  buy on the cheap from poor people. In doing so we are driving the destruction of the African environment, directly as well as by driving up the local populations to serve our needs – making sure we keep them poor of course, otherwise we couldn’t afford their produce. But a lot of this produce is fruit and vegetables so it doesn’t seem buying vegan helps that? Well it does – and beyond the basic fact that animal production anywhere uses more resources than plant-based food production – if we stopped wasting our own natural resources on producing vast numbers of animals, and instead produced more and greater variety of plant-based food for humans, we could feed ourselves. Maybe then we could even produce real things that people in Africa need and engage in genuine Fair Trade: Exchanging things at equal value rather than abusing twisted economics to swindle them out of their  natural wealth. This is something we can all help with – our buying patterns will drive changes in production. It is the most effective and direct action an individual can take – if you care about the world, don’t consume things that damage it the most.

OK, making vegan choices won’t save the world by itself – but it is a necessary, big and easy first step in the right direction. Then we can think about where things come from and whether we should buy locally produced food, and whether the places we import from are getting anything fair in return for the trade. But if we don’t change our local production to be truly sustainable and feed ourselves, we don’t have anything of real value to trade with.

And if we don’t, what will we do when the economic tides are turned on this little island we call home?

What depresses me most about human psychology is our ability to compartmentalise our knowledge so that 3 meals a day we can make choices that are worse for the things we profess to care about than the equally tasty and nutritious alternatives. Evolution is to blame, I guess – after all this capacity to focus is part of what makes us such a ‘successful’ species…so far. But evolution is hit and miss – there have after all been more dead-ends in evolution than successes. We have the opportunity to make sure we’re not just another fossil record of failure, to avoid leaving the legacy of another geological footprint of mass extinction. But so long as we have an excuse that lets us sleep at night and feel happy, maybe it doesn’t matter?

Taking Leo Home

And so we come to the end of this little adventure, but here’s a small innovation for the last travel blog – a combination of photo gallery and blog post with a couple of video clips thrown in. I hope Yury is happy with the balance between text and images at last? 😉

(Click on the photo to open the slideshow view)

Once I'd decided it was time to head for Tanzania, the Great North Road was calling.
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And that is about that. Troopy will be in a box until November and I seem to have brought the rainy season to the South of France. Its been entertaining for me – so until next time,  thank you for following!