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Zambia: An African Adventure

DSCF6978 copyI always imagined the first time I ventured to central Africa would be on a relatively poncey safari press trip that I could Instagram to high heaven and then recount at dinner parties for a couple of years afterwards should I ever need to sing for my supper. That’s not what was written in the stars, however, as I got to visit in possibly the least poncey way ever – although I was still irritatingly vocal on social media about it. Soz.

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It was British ethical mining company Gemfields who took me out there from Dubai – and if ever there was a trip from extreme polar opposite to extreme polar opposite, this was it. I did take a little bit of Dubai with me, however, and manage to – ahem – accidentally go on safari one day in a pair of Louboutins. In my defence, they were flat. See below.

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Sunglasses: Prada

Turns out small planes aren’t that fun. But on the up side we did get a cheese sandwich and an orange squash on the 40 minute journey from Lusaka to Kitwe, near where the Kagem emerald mine is – the largest in the world. Now is usually the bit where I recommend somewhere to eat/ get your nails did/ gawp at the local street style. But frankly, that would be a bit silly. I can, however, recommend that if you ever get the chance to visit a gem mine that you grab it with both hands. Even if that means you have to suffer the relentless and identical jokes from friends and family that basically suggest you should and would nick things should the opportunity arise. No, Aunty Barbara, I didn’t smuggle an emerald out in my bra. Or my sock. Or my small intestine. My moral compass is fully functioning, thanks. Plus we got searched every 10 minutes but that’s really besides the point.

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My favourite part (apart from lifting an emerald the size of my head out of the ground with my bare hands/ travelling with someone who casually asked if he could hold the world’s most deadly snake. The response: “er, no” – with a lot of subtext), was getting to experience the Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives Gemfields do. As well as providing work for so many of the locals, they sponsor schools and a clinic in the area – and visiting them both was incredible.

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We stayed on the compound – a giant area of land that comprises the pit, wash rooms, sorting house, worker accommodation and guest lodges. Every night we’d trundle over to the Lake House in the pitch black – about a five minute walk where the manager and geologists would take it in turns to tell us about the pythons. And the lions. And the crocodile they’d befriended called Fluffy. By the time I got there I needed three gins, which made walking back quite the challenge.

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Everything they say about Africa is true. The colour of the earth. The amazing people. The intense poverty which makes you feel guilty and grateful at the same time. To say it was life-changing sounds like a horrible cliche – but it really was. It’s far too reductive – crude, even – to whittle it down to a dinner party story, and it certainly made me look at Dubai in a whole new light. All I can say is I will be back, that everyone should go at least once, and that Fluffy turned out to be a real sweetheart in the end.

Tokyo: Neon Jungle

Tokyo has been sitting at the very top of a rather over-ambitious list of places I want to visit since I was about 12. For a start, I’m a massive sucker for neon. Secondly, Gwen Stefani and her bonkers troupe of Harajuku schoolgirls were a pivotal cultural reference for me growing up. Still are, to be fair. And, lastly, I really, really like sushi.

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Coat: H&M. Similar at Shrimps

I got my act together in March, a mere 19 years later, flying out and staying in The Mandarin Oriental, super central with huge rooms, incredible staff and home to the famous Tapas Molecular Bar – an 8-seater restaurant where you sit opposite the chef as he explains everything he creates. And gives you a hammer and a test tube to eat/ prepare your dinner.IMG_0071

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IMG_0037IMG_0056IMG_0066Anywhere with that much Hello Kitty could never have disappointed me, and I genuinely struggle to remember locals in any country I’ve ever visited being as welcoming. Two baffled-looking Brits aimlessly wandering around a spaghetti-esque Metro? They don’t speak English, but they want to help you. We even had someone draw us a map, on scented paper, using 3 different colour pens. Can’t imagine that happening on the Piccadilly Line.IMG_0118IMG_0202IMG_0235IMG_0514 copy

Highlights: Seeing Mount Fuji from the breakfast table, the kaleidoscopic labyrinth that was Harajuku, pretending to be Bill and Scarlett in Lost in Translation at The Park Hyatt, the teeny drinking dens in Golden Gai (6 seats, a crab-style shuffle to get in and a bartender who is also a chef serving you unidentifiable meat alongside rounds of sake.) It was like being in Japan’s version of Diagon Alley, hidden just behind the bright lights of Shinjuku. A cluttered, crazy mess of stacked boxes, lanterns, 200-year-old shouty women and tinpot houses that looked like they’d collapse if you sneezed too hard.IMG_0094IMG_0104IMG_0575 copyIMG_0592 copyIMG_0146The only thing to beat it was The Robot Restaurant – a cacophony of both noise and colour, Lady Gaga tributes, Transformers, discoball Trojan horses and gorillas swinging from the ceiling. My favourite was two Japanese girls dressed as sparkly superheroes, coming out on the platform of a giant, wheeled robot and singing Ave Maria – the duet version, naturally.IMG_0137IMG_0138IMG_0141IMG_0564 copy

A week was by no means long enough – next time I want to take the bullet train to Osaka, go and watch the Sumo wrestling, visit a maid cafe (look it up. Please) and maybe even eat some blowfish. Arigatou Gozaimasu Tokyo, you were every bit as special as I hoped.