When Christina first discovered that travel editors like journalists to stay in posh hotels, she was a bit shocked. She’d been having fantasies of sleeping on planks and getting lost in the Serengeti, as Martha Gellhorn says she did in Travels with Myself and Another. She wasn’t really expecting to be sent off to spas. But in the line of journalistic duty, she soon adapted to the grim demands of editors: sleeping (alone) in beds the size of rooms, beds decorated with giant hearts made out of rose petals or towels folded into swans. She also learnt that staying somewhere posh doesn’t stop you from learning quite a lot about a country, its culture and its history. She has written travel pieces for The Spectator, Time and High Life and an embarrassing number of cover stories for The Independent's Traveller Magazine, which made it look as though an awful lot of her holidays were paid for by other people. Which, she has to confess, they were.
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Zambia possesses astonishing landscapes, luxurious lodges and wildlife in abundance
I am, I think it's fair to say, an urban creature. Whole months pass before I see a blade of grass. Animals? Sure, I like them: chargrilled with garlic and vegetables, roasted and slathered with gravy, chopped up and pan-fried with shallots. Not, you might think, an obvious candidate for a safari, or for nights spent deep in the African bush. But how can I explain the feeling that hit me, after a long flight to Harare, and another to Nairobi, and another to Lusaka and another, in a tiny little plane that lurched and hovered like a bird assessing and then pursuing its prey, to a tiny airstrip in the middle of a wilderness which seemed to go on for ever? It's hard. I can only say that, sitting on a 4x4, gazing out at dry, scrubby wood and brown earth and brown dust, in a light that, even though it was only afternoon, seemed strangely pink, I felt that I was falling in love.
"In the name of God," said the form we had to fill in to get a press card. Was it "in the name of God" that we had to shroud ourselves in loose clothes and headscarves, the minute our plane landed on Iranian soil? Was it "in the name of God" that nearly all the women we saw, as we crawled through the rush-hour traffic from Tehran airport, were wearing black? And it's in the name of God, presumably, that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani has, for the past five years, been living under the threat of being stoned to death.