Madagascar – One Month Update

So I blinked and it has somehow been just over a month since I arrived in Fort Dauphin! In some ways it feels like I’ve been here much longer, and in so many others it feels like I’ve literally just arrived.
Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

getting here

To back up, I left Boston the evening of Sunday, November 11th and after a long journey (Boston → Chicago → Addis Ababa → Tana), I arrived in Madagascar on Tuesday, November 13th.

I was nervous for the chaos I’d been told to expect at the airport, but it was really easy to find my driver and secure myself a Telma SIM card for my phone – everything went smoothly right up until I realized I had forgotten the PIN of my brand new ATM card and had no access to money. I changed what little cash I had and THANK GOD was able to remember it the next morning, when I was back to catch the internal flight down to Fort Dauphin.

Fort Dauphin

Fort Dauphin is stunningly beautiful. I keep having to take a break to look around in shock that I actually live here.

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

view from my flat

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

view from a favourite lunch spot

I’m really loving the work aspect of everything, which is exciting as that’s what I’m here for. My projects are all very interesting, and I’m really looking forward to learning so much more about HIV and WASH. I’m going to focus on learning enough Malagasy to get by — the basics, numbers, words for food, etc, and then I’m going to switch to learning French, as I think it’ll be really easy to learn the basics here and most people I’ve met speak it. There’s also an Alliance Francaise in Fort Dauphin where I might be able to take lessons. This is the first time I’ve been anywhere near an immersive French experience, and I want to take advantage!

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Settling in

I live with one other girl in house new to our company, meaning it’s empty aside from two beds, a table, and a couch. It’s going to take some work to make it homey, and our first week was a series of unfortunate events where every time we thought we had it figured out, something new went wrong. Finally got buckets to fill up when the water is on at night to use for showering/flushing the toilet, and the water went out for 10 days straight. There was a period of time when I had giardia, no water to flush and all the lightbulbs in our house had burnt out. Stumbling to a dirty toilet with a head torch whilst feeling like you’re dying in a brand new country is QUITE the trial by fire!

When I first arrived it was kind of terrifying how helpless I felt. I didn’t know my way around town and Google maps is not really a thing here. Nor is Google translate, and I didn’t know any Malagasy. So for things as basic as food and water I was so dependent on others to show us where to get them, order for us, handle the money.  I’m so excited for everything coming up and by this time next month to hopefully feel even more settled in than I do now!

The biggest adjustment has been how much time it takes to accomplish anything. It took a full week to get to a point where we had drinking water, toilet paper, soap, buckets to shower/flush with, and a trash can. My first week I learned to celebrate the smallest victories – having a shower was an entire day’s accomplishment, and I’ve grown from there. There are still so many things I need (a fan! a fridge, a functioning laptop, a dresser not filled with cockroaches, etc), but I’m getting closer and closer to living a relatively normal life.

Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

That said, it’s only been a month and I’m now nearly as comfortable killing the roaches as our very capable upstairs neighbor is. We have a good stock of back up water, set up steady laundry service and a cleaner who comes twice a week (what luxury), and everything feels much easier. It’s shocking how happy the ability able to wash your hands, take a shower (even from a bucket), and flush a toilet can make you. I’ve also found a bunch of places  in Fort Dauphin where I love to eat, and beside the giardia haven’t been that sick from food yet (touch wood).

Coming up

Somehow time has moved fast enough that Gareth is currently in the air, on his way to Tana. It feels like we said goodbye so recently, and if we can keep this up through the year I think time will fly and be much easier than our LA to London long distance was. We’re hanging around the Fort Dauphin area while hoping to do a few day/overnight trips to nearby reserves and lodges, and maybe a few nights at the fancy hotel here in town.

After that we’re into 2019 which is almost too crazy to consider! 2018 flew by, and it’s kind of freaking me out how fast time has been moving lately. That said, 2019 will be quite the adventure and I’m looking forward to being even more settled here in Mada.

Santorini Sunset

Santorini, Greece

So I’m going to keep in real… Santorini wasn’t my favourite. I’ve been to quite a few places in the world and am bound to find a few that aren’t my cup of tea – and after not loving Morocco in 2015, I had an amazing travel streak until finally visiting Santorini in 2018.

Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece

That said, you may love it and we did some great things there. So without further ado, my guide to Santorini!

Things to do:

Hiking

The best thing we did in Santorini was the hike from Thira to Oia. It takes around three hours and is really gorgeous. There are about three steep uphill segments, and other than that it’s not physically challenging. It starts right by Hotel Atlantis and takes you through Thira, Imerovigli, and along the caldera to Oia. Go as early as possible – we finished around noon and the last 30 minutes the sun was so high it was a bit difficult.

Santorini Hike

Sunset

Watch the sunset at Oia Castle. It’s an incredible view, but plan to get there about 2 hours early – we brought books and beer and the time went by fairly quickly.

sunset in Oia, Santorini

Photoshoots

It seemed like absolutely everyone was focused on getting that perfect IG shot, and many had even hired professional photographers to bring them to all the best places.

Santorini, Greece Santorini, Greece

Books

One of the magical bookstores of the world exists in Oia called Atlantis Books. If you’re an avid reader don’t miss out.

Atlantis Books, Santorini

Beaches

Santorini isn’t known for its beaches, but the most famous ones are the black sand beach, the white sand beach, and the red sand beach. The red sand beach is currently closed and unsafe due to a rock slide, and the white sand beach is only accessible by boat. We spent a few days at the black sand beach and really loved it – you can rent two lounge chairs with an umbrella for 10 euros for the day, and it was walking distance from our hotels in Perissa. Our other favourite place to swim was Amoudi Bay in Oia. It’s so gorgeous and the perfect place to cool off after a long hike!

Santorini Black Sand Beach

Where to stay: Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece

The main options are Oia, Fira, or Perissa. We spent one night in Oia and it was beautiful and very convenient if you’re only there for a short time and sticking to that location. It’s also more expensive and doesn’t allow any escape from the crowds. Thira is lively, where the nightlife is, and a great location if you’re exploring the entire island. Perissa is for those who are mainly interested in the beach or who want a cheaper/less crowded holiday. It takes about an hour to get from one end to the other, so it’s not terribly big and you can easily stay on one end and visit the other.

Santorini didn’t compare to Paros or Crete, but it was somewhere I’d been dreaming of going since I was a child and I’m really happy to have been able to visit. And next time I go to Greece I can focus on some of the less touristy islands!

Big News Part Two: Madagascar

Hi there, it’s been a minute hey? We’ll be back to regularly scheduled Greece posts shortly, however I’m behind on everything due to some Major Life Changes. As of last Thursday, I no longer live in London. I’m home in Boston for a few (amazing) weddings, and next week I’ll be getting on a plane and arriving three days later in Antananarivo. Why you ask? I’m moving to Madagascar.

The when

I fly out next Sunday night, and arrive midday Wednesday. The contract is for 12 months to start, which feels great professionally and long personally. This is without a doubt the most exciting, terrifying, adventurous thing I’ve ever done. I vary between confidence and fear, along with overwhelming sadness at leaving Gareth (OH GOD AND BRADY), both of whom I’ve already had to say goodbye. But it is an incredible career move – and in that respect I’m nothing but excited.

The What

I’ll be a Project Development Officer for Community Health in Fort Dauphin, which is on the south-eastern coast of Madagascar. I’ll be working on project design and development, funding applications, donor reporting, and implementation for three projects – HIV in both rural and urban settings and WASH in schools.

MPH

ALSO, I was accepted to begin my Masters of Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Classes are through distance learning, so I can complete the work online while living in the field in Mada. It’ll take 2-3 years to complete, and I’m honestly shocked my degree in writing/TV got me into LSHTM, as it’s one of the top programmes in the world!

So by this time next year, I’ll be halfway through a masters and have a year in the field as an Officer on my CV. I’ve felt this urgency to progress as I changed careers quite late, and haven’t been so pleased to still be an assistant at 28. But now (I hope) the ball is finally rolling and things are going to only get more interesting from here. These are two things I’ve been trying to do for years, and I am SO happy it’s all happening!

What next

I’ll be able to check off number 12 and 23 of my 30 before 30, which are probably the most important ones on there. I’ll be posting more frequently as this is definitely a time I’ll want to look back on years from now. I’ll be talking about how to survive long distance, the preparation needed before moving to a developing country, and once I arrive, all things Madagascar. I’m so excited for this next chapter!

A Weekend in Paros, Greece

Paros was my favourite part of our time in Greece, by far. Paros was everything I dreamed Greece would be – small winding streets, white washed buildings, picturesque beaches, a small town feel. If you’re trying to decide where to go in Greece, trust me that Paros should be one of your stops (Matt and Maggie I’m talking to you!).

Paros, GreeceParos, Greece

What to do

Day One

Our first day we woke up and went straight to the port in Parikia where we met up with Petros from Regaki Boat Trips for our day trip around Paros and Antiparos. To be honest, the first 30 minutes of the trip I was questioning what I’d signed us up for. The boat was slightly crowded, no one was talking, it was rocky getting out of Parikia, and I didn’t see how we’d make it through 8 hours.

Paros, Greece Boat Tour Paros, Greece Boat Tour

Then we arrived at our first stop, which was some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen. We had a swim, came back on the boat, and it was just late enough to start partaking in the open bar. From then on, it was such a wonderful day. People loosened up, we all made friends, and were basically transported to the best swimming and cliff jumping locations around whilst eating and drinking to our heart’s content.

Paros, Greece Boat TourLogistics: The boat departs at 10:00 am and it costs 55 euros per person. Brunch and a late lunch are included, as well as all the wine, beer, and soft drinks you want. You get back to Parikia between 5 and 6 pm, and again I highly recommend fitting this into your schedule!

Day Two

Rent an ATV for your second day, which makes the island so much more accessible. Head straight to Paros Park and hike to the lighthouse before the sun is directly overhead. The views are stunning and when we went I think we only saw about 5 other people. It took us about an hour round trip, but we sat by the lighthouse for about 15 minutes to read in the shade – and on the way back we wandered down to a little cove and took a dip!

Paros Park Lighthouse, Greece Paros Park, Greece Paros Park, Greece This area is super cool and if you’re there on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday, you should definitely check out their free open air movie theatre.

Paros Park, Greece

Grab lunch at Anemos Taverna before relaxing at for a bit at Kolymbithres Beach. This is one of my favourite beaches in the world, tied with Vernazza in Cinque Terre. I love stone beaches, and while this one did have sand, there was enough stone to lay out on, and the views and clear water were just incredible.

Kolymbithres Beach, Paros, GreeceKolymbithres Beach, Paros, Greece

From there head inland to Lefkes. This town is quintessential Greece. Greeks seem to put so much weight into small gestures to make things lovely. If house had chipped paint or a visible water cooler, they would make sure to put flowers next to it. It wasn’t about making everything modern and new, but making the old as beautiful as possible. I really appreciated it.

Lefkes, Paros, Greece Lefkes, Paros, Greece Lefkes, Paros, Greece Lefkes, Paros, Greece

In the centre of town is the gorgeous Agia Church and Kafenion where you should stop and grab a snack or at the very least a drink. The owner is so nice and the little square is a gorgeous place to sip some wine and soak in Greece.

Lageri Beach, Paros, Greece

On your way back to Naoussa, detour a bit to get to Lageri beach. Despite being one of the most famous beaches on the island, when we got there we had it almost entirely to ourselves – only four other people on the whole beach! Have a great last swim before going to home to shower and get ready for a night out in Naoussa.

Where to eat

Soso is meant to have the best food on the island. We didn’t make a reservation which is definitely needed, so can’t confirm first hand. But everyone we spoke to loved it.

Soso Restaurant, Paros, Greece

Soso Restaurant

Romantica was delicious and run by a local family.
Vitsadakis on the water was huge and had slightly less ambiance, but was surprisingly delicious – if you go here, get the lamb.
Paradosiaka has the best Loukoumades on the island and not a place to miss!

Where to drink

There are quite a few cocktail bars as you walk the winding streets, but our favourite was Sante Cocktail Bar. It has delicious cocktails, and was cuter than the others – it’s in the centre and surrounds a big tree that is lit up with lights and candles.


Moraitis winery is meant to be lovely and a great way to spend a few hours.

Where to stay

Your main options are Parikia and Naoussa. We stayed in Parikia our first night as we didn’t arrive until around 11:00 pm and were leaving from there at 10:00 the next morning for the boat tour. However, as soon as that was over we moved to Naoussa where we spent the next two nights. Definitely stay in Naoussa. It’s smaller, more pristine, and has so much charm. Parikia is a port town so is quite large and bustling, and much less picturesque than Naoussa.

Naoussa, Paros, GreeceNaoussa, Paros, GreeceNaoussa, Paros, Greece

We stayed at Bocamviglies which I would recommend. We had ocean views, a beach almost entirely to ourselves, and were only a ten minute walk from town.

Bocamviglies

Best Beaches

Lageri, Kolymbithres, and Monastiri are advertised by tour companies everywhere on the island. You could go through a tour, but by staying in Naoussa and renting an ATV, they are incredibly easy to get to on your own. I do agree with the tour guides though, they are the best beaches on the island!

Paros

Paros was dreamy. Everyone was friendly and welcoming, the island was the perfect size and had just the right amount of people. Have you been to Paros? What did you think?? I feel like it’s still a relatively undiscovered secret and now I just want everyone I know to go so they can also see how great it is!

Sunset, Greece

A Week in Greece Itinerary

Guys, the countries left on my 30 before 30 list are dwindling right down! When I made that list 3.5 years ago, I didn’t think there was any chance I would come close to visiting all the places on my list – and now I’ve just crossed off my third to last location!

I’ve wanted to go to Greece since about 2001, when Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was first published. 17 years later and I finally made it!

We had 9 days and in that time we visited Athens, Paros, Santorini, and Crete. Due to an unexpected ferry strike, we had far less time in Crete (and much more in Santorini) than we had planned on – but I’d recommend following our original itinerary.

Athens

Athens Acropolis

We had just over 24 hours in Athens, and used that time to explore Plaka, climb to the top of Lycabettus Hill, and (of course) stopped by the Acropolis. I wasn’t expecting to love Athens, but I really did – it felt young and artistic but still quite traditionally Greek. Given our short time in the country we wouldn’t have traded anything out to stay longer, but Athens is definitely a city where you could happily spend a lot longer than 24 hours.

Paros

Paros, Greece

Paros, Greece

Our three days in Paros were the highlight of our trip, without a doubt. Before going, so many people had told me it was their favourite island, and now I understand why. It was the perfect size, was set up for tourism but not overcrowded, felt authentically Greek, and had some incredible beaches. While there we did a day long boat tour around Paros and Antiparos, rented an ATV and drove around the island, and hiked up to a gorgeous lighthouse. If you’re deciding which islands to visit, definitely include Paros on your list.

Santorini

Santorini, Greece Sunset Santorini, Greece

We originally planned to be in Santorini for just over 24 hours. I really wanted to go, but had heard it was extremely crowded, expensive, and commercial due its popularity. 24 hours would have been perfect, but we ended up being there for about four days due to a ferry strike – and that, to me, was much too long. I’ll explain why in my Santorini post, but it just wasn’t the island for us.

Crete

Elafonisi Beach, Crete, Greece

Our 4 days in Crete had become a day and a half, which was disappointing – especially once we arrived and realised just how beautiful the island is. I definitely want to go back to Crete and spend more time there, but I think we came up with a great itinerary for the time we had. The highlight was spending a few hours at Elafonisi Beach, with its amazing views, clear blue water, and PINK sand!

Greece was incredible. It lived up to my expectations and more – I wasn’t expecting to love the food so much. I’ve had Greek food before and enjoyed it, but it tastes so, SO much better there. I don’t know why – maybe the quality of the produce? But Greek yogurt, Greek salads – things I like but don’t love elsewhere were things I went to bed dreaming about in Greece. Honestly – I might like actual Greek food more than Italian food (never tell my dad I said that).

One of the best parts of Greece are the endless islands to discover. While I can’t really imagine anything topping Paros, I want to go to Folegandros and Milos – and spend more than a day or two in Crete.

Have you been to Greece? What were your favourite places? We only just returned and I’m already desperate to go back!