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Inspiring women travellers: Off-the-beaten-track travels with my niece

 

This is a tale of far-away places, decades of travel experience, and familial bonds.

Heidi, from Austria, loves to travel way off the beaten path. You won’t find a group tour or all-inclusive on this lady’s travel itinerary. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to even find an itinerary!

Heidi has been to Iran, Armenia, Rwanda and many other countries in Africa. She has travelled all over South America from Bolivia to Easter Island and spent last summer in Kamtschatka in Russia’s very far east. She did many of these trips by herself, but for her most recent trip, Heidi travelled to Sudan with her 18-year-old niece, Kelly.

Here, Heidi tells us about their trip and what it was like to travel with her young niece. It’s safe to say that the adventure gene is strong in this family!
 

“I get a kick out of stepping into the unknown, out of experiences, cultures and places that have not been visited by many others and that are still authentic and unique. I think it is an addiction.”

My fascination with far-away places was triggered by exotic images of Latin America on the packets of coffee frequently purchased by my parents: this were where I wanted to go. An adventurous spirit as a child, I fantasised about distant suns and untapped cultures.

Dancing Dervishes Kelly talking to teenagers
Dancing Dervishes Kelly talking to teenagers

Children in Austria in the early 1960s would get to dip their feet into the Mediterranean coast, if they were lucky! I wanted more. So, when I left high school, I travelled with friends to Europe’s most northern point in an old VW bus. It was the 1970s. Neither mosquitoes nor living on cheap canned food would diminish the experience.

“Life was good. No, it was great!”

My early years at Vienna University frequently took me across the Atlantic. Working holidays in the US enabled me to explore the country. An adventurous time travelling on Greyhound buses left me with life-long memories and an even greater need to explore this wonderful planet of ours! The 1970s passed and the 1980s rolled in: Southeast Asia was calling and I joined the backpacker brigade heading for Sri Lanka. The travel bug was here to stay as I looked forward to a lifetime of travel, the gypsy in me now fully exposed!

Confluence of the Nile+ Heidi+Kelly
Confluence of the Nile+ Heidi+Kelly

Around the beginning of December 2016 – planning ahead is not my thing – I was wracking my brain about where to go over Christmas. I had returned from my second visit to Iran three months earlier, and I stood in front of the gigantic map in my study, still in an ‘Oriental mood’, until it was decided: Sudan. I had a vague idea of what to see and expect: pyramids, the confluence of the Nile, lots of desert and the remnants of the ancient culture of the Kushite kingdom, no jetlag and the perfect temperature guaranteed.

As usual, I was excited about going somewhere new, but never afraid. I have never ever had a truly negative experience in 40 years of travelling.
 

“I have an immense trust in people and I behave in a respectful and generous way.”

This trip to Sudan was a bit different though, because even my far-travelled friends couldn’t give me any advice and there was very little information online. There were a few blogs, but they weren’t useful, as they were either by people who had their own transport or expats who lived in the region and just flew in for a couple of days. As a rule, if people travel to Sudan they join a tour, or at least have a driver and/or guide. So that made it even more exciting.

Khartoum, Camelmarket
Khartoum, Camelmarket

After it was decided that Kelly would come along I felt a responsibility that was new to me; I was taking an 18-year-old girl to country I did not know, a country where we could not fall back on credit cards to pay our way out if things got rough.

I had already travelled with Kelly to France and Rajasthan, India, so I knew she was easy to travel with. But I had been to those countries before, I spoke the language and knew that credit cards would help in an emergency: there would be no surprises.

Taking Kelly to Sudan was a very spontaneous decision. My brother told me one day how well she did in school and I thought she deserved a treat. And yes, I was not looking forward to lonely evenings and nights in a hotel room in a country void of cafés and bars, and with badly lit, deserted streets. Apart from that, in a country with so few tourists, travelling as a solo woman draws lots of attention. That is not dangerous, but it gets to you. My worst experience in this regard was an unexpected long bus stop in a small village in Rwanda; EVERYBODY constantly looked at me. When I used the bathroom in somebody’s hut, screams of “the Mzunga is using the toilet” heralded me. It’s funny to remember such situations afterwards, but not so much when you’re in that very situation.

So I figured it would better if there were the two of us roaming the streets of Sudan. What I had not anticipated was that travelling with a very good-looking young girl would get us even more attention, but we handled all this really well.

Kelly talking teenager-Dancing Dervishes
Kelly talking teenager-Dancing Dervishes
Kelly - Khartoum
Kelly - Khartoum

I always knew that Kelly was a grand young woman, but how she coped in such a very foreign culture and environment was impressive. It was her first trip to Africa and she started with a country basically void of tourist infrastructure. I could rely on Kelly in every which way and was proud to see how well she judged situations and people.

hitch-hiking a truck after visiting Pyramdis of Meroe
hitch-hiking a truck after visiting Pyramdis of Meroe
Shendi-Kelly talking to girl in bus station
Shendi-Kelly talking to girl in bus station

Even when we had to hitchhike in the desert and climbed into a truck that took us to the next police check point, Kelly was relaxed while I closed my eyes climbing into the cab, hoping that my brother would never find out. She never moaned or complained although she experienced things that few Austrian teenagers will ever have the chance to see or do. Kelly proved to be super flexible – often I had no clue what exactly we were going to do the next day – and we never had a disagreement.

If this does not deepen a relationship what does?”
 

Pyramids of Meroe
Pyramids of Meroe