Wishing you a happy holiday!

It’s that time of year again, and it seems to have crept up so quickly (or maybe I’m just getting old!).  Now at the end of our second year in business at Matson & Ridley Safaris, Andy and I wanted to thank you for your support and to wish you a wonderful Christmas and new year.  I’ve put together this short video (scroll down to see it), which I hope you’ll enjoy, sharing a few special memories of my adventures with you in the last couple of years in Botswana, Kenya and Namibia.  Thanks to all who shared their photos for this, but in particular a big thanks to all the people who made these journeys so wonderful in Africa’s most incredible wild destinations!

Stormy sundowners

Stormy sundowners in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, July 2015

For me, it’s a real joy to be able to reflect back and know that our fledgling safari business is helping support so many worthwhile on-ground conservation initiatives, from the Save The Rhino anti poaching efforts in Namibia, to the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Mara Naibosho Lion Project.  Those who come on my safaris often get to meet some of the dedicated people behind these operations.

And of course, just by supporting Matson & Ridley Safaris, you’ve helped me continue to keep spreading the word in the Let Elephants Be Elephants campaign, around Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Australia and even in my new base in the Netherlands.  The LEBE campaign has raised approximately SGD$40,000 (almost US$30k) for awareness raising on ivory trade in Asia since its inception, and Nadya and I have spoken at dozens of schools, events, conferences and government departments across the region.  A new study by Save The Elephants just revealed that growing public awareness through campaigns like the one by WildAid in China have played an important role in the halving of the price of ivory in the past year, a truly outstanding result that will help reduce elephant poaching.  Our LEBE campaign continues in Southeast Asia in 2016 – more news to come on that soon.

whole group lowres

The LEBE team at one of our awareness and fund raising events in Hong Kong, with the team from the Hong Kong Elephant Society, Jane Goodall and Richard Bonham of the Big Life Foundation (photo: Hong Kong Elephant Society)

But I think our biggest contribution through Matson & Ridley Safaris is the benefits your safari bookings provide in terms of local employment in Africa.  Wilderness Safaris recently released a breakdown of how your safari dollars are spent, and most enlightening for me was that about two-thirds goes to local employment.  This is so important!  In Africa, conservation of wildlife is directly related to the economic benefits people get from wildlife, and so this really is a win-win scenario for both people and wildlife.  In rural areas where these camps are, there are few other economic opportunities for people, so ecotourism done right can be a real lifeline.  Asilia Africa, who we work with to plan your East African safaris, focus on education and conservation, as well as community partnerships to deliver long term sustainability that benefits local people.  You can read more about their positive impact and approach to sustainable business development here.  When you go on one of our safaris, either independently or with me, don’t forget to ask about all the incredible work these ecotourism companies are doing to ensure that you not only have an amazing experience but that the local people and wildlife directly benefit from the monies you spend.

Providing local employment in rural areas in Africa is one of the most important contributions made by ethical safaris

Providing local employment in rural areas in Africa is one of the most important contributions made by ethical safaris (photo: Wilderness Safaris)

Very soon we’ll be launching the new Matson & Ridley Safaris website, but in the meantime you can find us on the Matson & Ridley Safaris Facebook page – like us here to see the latest updates on all our safari offers and opportunities, and you can share your photos there too.  We have big dreams for our conservation work – please help us get there by spreading the word about our ethical safaris!

Don’t forget it’s not too late to sign up to join me in northern Zimbabwe in September next year, and I still have one spot left for a single woman sharing in North West Namibia in May (last minute discount available for the latter).  There are great deals available for family and group safaris in 2016 all over Africa’s safari regions, especially if you go in the green season.  May 2016 be a year of adventure, excitement and inspiration for you all and I hope to see you by the campfire under a starry African sky soon!


Adventures in the Philippines

I’ve always wanted to check out the Philippines, and living in Asia for the last couple of years finally afforded us the opportunity to do a bit of exploring.  Ever heard of Palawan?  It’s a series of islands to the west of the main Philippines islands, quite off the beaten track and home of the famous Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is considered to be the world’s longest underground river.  Conde Naste magazine recently awarded Palawan the best island award as part of their 2014 Travel Awards – and here’s why.

el nido sunset low res

Having packed up our house and put all our possessions in storage in Singapore, Andy, the boys and I headed for Manila for three days of Let Elephants Be Elephants events with my LEBE co-founder, Nadya Hutagalung, organised by our fantastic Philippines team, Ian Angelo King and Joey Mead.  More on the Philippines launch of LEBE in a future blog, but for now let me take you to Palawan, Asia’s ultimate, undiscovered adventure and ecotourism destination.

Snake island (not really full of snakes, but with a sand bank shaped like one)

Snake island (not really full of snakes, but with a sand bank shaped like one)

Travelling with two kids under the age of 5 is sometimes a challenge, but the thing about the Philippines is that the locals adore kids – and that really helps.  The warmth and friendliness of the people we met, from complete strangers to the lovely people we stayed with, was one of the most memorable parts of the stay.  Okay so there were extremes – I had my wallet stolen in Manila, while holding the hands of two small kids (pick-pocketed right out of my bag), and we did have a bad experience with the owner of one place we stayed, but the generosity of others just astounded us.  Palawan feels a bit like Africa in that way; you never know what’s going to happen, but when you go with the flow, magic sometimes happens.

A typical island near El Nido

A typical island near El Nido

Thanks to the generosity of some folks we met in Manila at the LEBE Land Rover event, we ended up at a little piece of paradise called Lagen Island.  A private island looked after by a lovely team of locals, overseen by our impressive guide Bilog, the place had its own luxury two bedroom, two bathroom villa, made largely of bamboo, and even a resident wild Oriental Pied hornbill, we felt like we’d pretty much landed in heaven.  We bought fish and lobsters and squid from the local fishermen, cooked on the coals by Bilog and team, and ate like kings in front of a big camp fire right on the beach at night.  Surrounded by shallow, warm water and its own sandy beach, it was the perfect place for us and two little boys to rest up.

The little piece of paradise where we stayed on Lagen Island

The little piece of paradise where we stayed on Lagen Island – you can book it here

The scenery in the El Nido area is something else.  Think islands with gorgeous, soft sand beaches, towering limestone cliffs, fully vegetated forests and swaying palm trees.  What struck us about the whole of Palawan was how undeveloped the place was – in a very good way.  Most of the island still has intact forests and there’s not a high rise in sight, even in the main town of Puerto Princesa.  We hope it stays that way.  Electricity on Lagen Island is powered by generator and there’s no refrigeration, which means going by boat into town every few days to buy ice for the cooler boxes, a good excuse to enjoy that breath taking scenery again.

Close up of the villa where we stayed on Lagen Island - book it here

Close up of the villa where we stayed on Lagen Island – book it here

The famed Puerto Princesa Underground River was worth a visit for the impressive stalactites and the sheer adventure of being in the dark on a little boat while bats and swallows fly past your head.  Solo, now almost 5, thought it was a grand adventure.  Although bear in mind it’s a bit of a mission to get there, two hours on winding roads from Puerto Princesa, and then a boat ride across the ocean to the point where you actually enter the cave.

Andy and Solo enter the underground river

It’s the sunsets and the peace that will stay in our memories the most.  The sense of space, the huge vibrant skies and the warm waters with incredibly tame fish that you can snorkel right up to without them swimming away is really a recipe for a great escape.  You do have to keep your wits about you with the kids (life jackets, mosquito repellent, eyes in the back of your head!) but for adventurous families or couples I can’t recommend this place highly enough.  A huge thanks to Vivien, Ed & Bilog for taking such good care of us.  Lagen Island’s gorgeous private villa can be booked here.

Me and Solo at sunset on Lagen Island (credit: Andy Ridley)

Me and Solo at sunset on Lagen Island (credit: Andy Ridley)

While in Puerto Princesa, which is a 4 hour drive from El Nido, we stayed at the Legend Hotel and met the owners, Antonia and Wyden, who happened to be there at the time and were just the most hospitable people ever.  The rooms were of a good standard for the very reasonable price, clean and very big, and more than did the trick for us, plus the breakfast spread was ample for our family.  The staff went out of their way to meet all our needs, which really helps when traveling with kids.

Much of your time around El Nido is spent on a boat, beach or reef

Much of your time around El Nido is spent on a boat, beach or reef

Travelling with an almost one year old, Shep, especially one with very red hair and incredibly white skin, was an experience in itself.  Everywhere we went, locals described him as a ‘talking doll’, and he really got the celebrity treatment.  We would have found it a lot more challenging traveling there if we hadn’t had our wonderful Philippino nanny, Julie with us the whole time.  Julie wasn’t just our nanny while there – she was translator, guide and body guard for Shep from all the ladies who wanted to hold him as he literally stopped traffic!

Shep, almost one, was treated like a celebrity in the Philippine

Shep, almost one, was treated like a celebrity in the Philippines

All in all, other than the incredible islands, the warmth of the Philippino people was one of the things we loved the most about travelling there.  At the moment, El Nido doesn’t even have an ATM, so it’s really a tourism hotspot waiting to happen.  Our hope is that as El Nido opens up to the world, it develops in a way that keeps intact its reefs, forests and islands, because something this magnificent really is worth saving.

Solo on the boat near Lagen Island, El Nido

Solo on the boat near Lagen Island, El Nido


Let Elephants Be Elephants

Advertising works.  We might not like it, but when it’s done well, it does.  And when it comes to stopping people buying ivory, it seems that some organisations are seeing signs of  success in reducing demand in Asia simply by letting people know that buying ivory is directly linked to the killing of elephants.  This is just the sort of hopeful story that I like to share, so read on!