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The Gambia

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With summer finally here, al fresco dining is in full swing and what better way to start your day than breakfast in the garden. While we can’t jet off to far flung destinations right now, we can create our own little taste of sunshine in a jar. Chosan, offers an exotic new option for spreading on your brioche or croissant.

This delicious collection of artisan jams and spreads is made with Baobab, known for its health properties, including antioxidants which boost the immune system. You can enjoy this superfood in four exciting new flavours, Baobab Chocolate Spread, Orange and Baobab Jam, Baobab Jam with Ginger and Banana and Baobab Jam. They are all tasty and are bursting with flavour, but the Baobab Jam with Ginger is to die for. The chocolate spread was a big hit in my house too, it tastes like your favourite luxury chocolate bar in a jar.

Inspired by the fruits and flavours of Africa, Chosan supports women farmers in Gambia. Jones, who used to live in Gambia working with women’s projects, was struck by how much fruit and vegetables went to waste.

“I noticed that the hard work producing food crops was undermined because of seasonal gluts, with virtually no processing of surplus, meaning they don’t get much to show for it.” said Jones.

“Later on, working internationally for a development agency, I was inspired by products I saw in Asia and Latin America, such as mango bars, guava cheese and sapodilla ice cream – all made from fruits that also grow in The Gambia.”

Chosan now creates its own fruit-based range as well as supporting women food producers in The Gambia with equipment and supplies, such as lids for recycled jam jars. This will enable them to develop products that make use of seasonal food crops.

Baobab is wild harvested, so is naturally organic and Chosan’s jams and spreads use far less sugar than most jams, sweetened with unrefined cane sugar and no artificial sweeteners.

The range also includes sorbets and drinks all made with delicious, tropical flavours with nutritional benefits.

All four of Chosan’s new jams and spreads are available in 190g glass jars. They include no allergens, are gluten free and are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

More information on the range can be found at chosanbynature.co.uk

The collapse of Thomas Cook has been devastating not just for the 21,000 directly employed by the company but also to countless suppliers throughout the UK, across Europe and even in Africa. The Gambia is one of those countries severely affected as the airline flew in 45% of holidaymakers last season. However, the country affectionately known as “the smiling coast of Africa” hasn’t been drowning in sorrow but instead proactively looking to diversify their customer base and offerings.

The fly and flop business model is no longer seen as the way forward but more enriching, immersive experiences that benefit both the visitors and the locals are being championed.

The classics that are withstanding the test of time

Katchikally crocodile pool might have been around for centuries but it stills captures the imagination of visitors wanting to get up close and personal to these splendid reptilian creatures. There are around 100 crocodiles on this 9-acre site with around 250kg of fish fed daily at 08:30 to ensure they are not hungry by the time visitors start arriving. They’ve also opened up a community-run ethnographic museum nearby which details the history of the Bakau area and also the ethnic groups in this diverse country. This sacred area is also important to locals as people come to pray for blessings and the pool is known for its healing powers.

Tanji fishing village is what I would describe as “the Wall Street” of the fishing industry. This is quite possibly the craziest, most hectic and muddy fish market you will ever come across. Multi-coloured fishing boats line the shores of Tanji as they bring back their rich hordes of aquatic produce. Gambians can be seen swimming frantically by the side of these boats hoping to catch a fallen fish whilst on the shore, you will hear endless echoes of haggling, trading and negotiating.

The Wassu stone circles might not be as impressive as Stonehenge, but as recognised by UNESCO, the Senegambian stone circles are “the largest concentration of stone circles seen anywhere in the world.” The tallest stone has a height of 2.59 metres and they must have shown a tremendous technical ability to be able to extract and transport them without cracking or splitting the stones. They also represent what must have been a prosperous and well-coordinated society in the area.

The new offerings making waves in The Gambia

Kayaking seems to be the de jour activity these days for the adventurous types, but the offering at Tanji Bird Reserve is unique to what you might find elsewhere. The Gambia is an ornithological heaven with 500+ species of birds available; at the mangroves of Tanji, you can study some of them up close and personal, such as the Caspian tern, whilst paddling along the stream at your own leisure.

Community-based tourism is likely to be on the rise in the coming years and you can experience this at the Ndemban homestay. They have created purposely built tourist accommodation in the local village there so you can help sustain indigenous communities whilst experiencing the culture and eco-friendly principles of the Jola community. You might be roasting peanuts, working in the garden with local women or even playing football with the local children.

The chimp rehabilitation project in The Gambia isn’t a new initiative, having informally started in 1969. However, it is a project that has been about returning chimpanzees to their natural habitat from those that have been held in captivity. Currently, there are 130 chimps living on Baboon island and it is only in recent years they’ve been accepting small groups of interested tourists on boat trips to observe these simians. Tourists, as well as staff, are not allowed to set foot on the island for conservation reasons.

Hotel options in The Gambia: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

There are a plethora of options to choose from when visiting The Gambia. If there is any good news from the demise of Thomas Cook, it would be the move away from the cheap and cheerful, all-inclusive packages popular with their previous customers to more boutique varieties to cater to a wider spectrum of customers.

Ocean Bay Hotel and Kombo Beach Hotel are 2 options that are popular with British tourists but I would say sadly due a refurbishment (the latter was built in 1984). For a country offering a cornucopia of fruits, it was remarkable to still see cordial and tinned fruits being served in some cases.

For those seeking the more cutting-edge hotels built in recent years, you should be on the lookout for Tamala Beach Resort and African Princess Beach Hotel. Both have previously worked with the more upscale, discerning Thomas Cook customers; but the former seems to be doing better, having diversified to cater for more European groups such as German and Dutch tour operators whilst the latter seems to be going through a more muted phase with the demise of Thomas Cook.

Tamala Beach Resort could easily rival the very best designed European hotels in the Mediterranean and that wouldn’t be a surprise given they’ve collaborated with Swedish designers to offer a clean, minimalist design with an African twist and you are likely to win plenty of plaudits when you can dive straight from your balcony into their main pool area.

For up-country lodges, there is the Sindola Safari Lodge which is next to the former residence of their dictatorial president, Yahya Jammeh and undoubtedly this was where he would entertain foreign dignitaries. The grounds are immaculately manicured but the rooms themselves do still need plenty of work, especially when guests struggle to even get hot water.

Morgan Kunda Lodge is arguably the most basic of all the accommodation offerings mentioned, but you can’t help fall in love with the charms of the staff members who work there and the local villagers. It is primarily a bird-watching sanctuary where you can see the rare Egyptian plover, white-crested tiger bittern and martial eagle. However, the real charm is speaking with the locals and their inspirational stories to boost education and work opportunities for local villagers. 30% of the children are orphans who have lost one or more parents who tried leaving for Europe via the treacherous “back way” through Libya. The unexpected highlight was watching local ladies perform a thrilling, traditional dance that they normally undertake to encourage fertility.

The Gambia might offer some of the most alluring sandy beaches for winter sun around, but when you delve a little further into the local community, you will discover something altogether more rewarding and life-changing. Thomas Cook might not be around anymore, but there are a host of new options ready to step into the breach including TAP Air Portugal and Tui; so make sure The Gambia is still on your radar when you consider a destination for your next holiday.

https://www.visitthegambia.gm/

You might find yourself, as 2018 draws to a close, thinking about your plans for the year ahead. According to recent research, 31st January is the day on which most Brits hand in their resignation…

To give you some fire and encouragement for you festive life planning, we spoke to Natalia Bojanic, the Creative Force and Brand Strategist at Form (formnutrition.com) She’s had a wild ride with her career so far and we’re excited to see what she does next.

We speak about being mindful at work, reinvention, the power of curiosity and Life Audits…

HOC: Natalia, reading your background you are such an inspirational slashie. Can you tell us about your journey to where you are today?

Natalia: Thank you. If anything in my background inspires you, know that if I can do it, so can you!

If I had to summarise my journey, I would say that it is definitely one of trial and error, learning how to trust my instincts, never giving up and remaining confident outside my comfort zone.

I am Brazilian, and I moved to London eleven years ago, after graduating with a degree in Journalism, to learn English. I arrived in a country barely speaking the language and managed to build a successful career in Communications.

I used to be a PR Director in the luxury industry working with brands from Land Rover to Dior. After seven years in the corporate world, I quit my job to follow my passion for wellness and went on a self-discovery journey to find out how I could benefit others.

As I didn’t really know what to do, I decided that educating myself was a good place to start, so I moved to the US and became a qualified Health Holistic Educator by the Hippocrates Health Institute; then moved back to the UK to study Naturopathic BioMedicine at CNM. In 2016, I moved to India and got my certification as a Yoga instructor. I am also a meditation teacher with wide-ranging training, from spending time in a monastery in Nepal to attending Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute teacher training – a program born at Google.

These days, I divide my time between being the Creative Force and Brand Strategist at Form (formnutrition.co.uk) – Naturally Advanced Plant-Based Nutrition for Body & Mind, passing on knowledge on wise leadership workshops or helping people cultivate healthy states of mind in my meditation app called Sexy Mind.

Some people might think that I am living the dream. In reality, I now have the freedom to choose what challenges I wish to conquer, and which opportunities are fun to chase.

In a few words, I am a life juggler who is trying to do good in the world!

HOC: How have your skills and ambitions been realised in Form?

Natalia: At Form, we believe that you can realise the greatest version of yourself while being mindful of others. This permeates through everything we do, from careful selection of ingredients to donating a meal to a family in need in The Gambia and supporting the education of young girls in India.

When I decided to reinvent myself, I had one certainty in mind: I wanted to help people, but I had no idea what I could do to have a positive impact in their lives. I was passionate about Plant-Based Nutrition and about the living proof of the positive effects reducing animal protein intake has for overall wellbeing and for the health of the planet.

Luckily, Damian Soong, CEO & Co-Founder found me when he was in the early stages of setting up Form, so he gave me the incredible opportunity of being part of it. When we started working on the brand’s vision & values, I had no idea that within a year of launching that we would be where we are now; bestselling brand in Planet Organic, featured in publications from Tatler to The Daily Telegraph and most importantly making a difference to vulnerable lives in The Gambia and North India.

HOC: We are always running around the world, exploring. What do we need to be of mindful of when we travel?

Natalia: Choose a healthy state of mind!

I recently returned from The Gambia, visiting the Bansang Hospital that Form supports with nutritional aid. We were in the poorest area in one of the poorest countries in Africa. As a fussy eater (vegan, gluten-free, low-sugar, non-processed food diet), the most nutritious, fresh meal I had was a carrot salad! I won’t lie, I did struggle, but it was a great opportunity to exercise my adaptation muscles and appreciate what was available instead of complaining about it. As a result, a deep sense of gratitude for life arose. I have never been so grateful for having Kind snack bars and protein shakes with me!

Before visiting The Gambia, I was in LA and San Francisco, locations where I love spending time, indulging in healthy eateries, exploring new classes at Soul Cycle, and spend time in the sunshine and connecting with brilliant meditation teachers. Making time to have fun and to practice self-care is not a luxury, but a necessity if we wish to reach peak form.

My only non-negotiable health ritual, no matter where I am, is a good night’s sleep, which I can do anywhere in the world.

HOC: Could you share more about the Leadership program you are part of?

Natalia: I am currently on the final stages of the year-long teacher training with Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI), a program born at Google in 2007 and developed by the thought leaders in the market in Emotional Intelligence, Neuroscience and Mindfulness.

The course teaches skills that lead to sustained peak performance, strong collaboration and effective leadership. SIYLI increases self-awareness, empathy, communication and resilience. All of these help to create positive emotional and mental states for a strong and inspiring leadership presence.

The program includes sessions on: mindfulness (the science of being present), self-awareness (understanding your thoughts, emotions and habits), self-management (skillfully managing your impulses and reactions), motivation (aligning your values and work), empathy (understanding others’ feelings and experiences) and leadership (influencing with compassion).

HOC: What does Form’s partnership with Heathrow VIP mean for the future?

Natalia: We are very excited with the partnership with Heathrow VIP (read more about Heathrow VIP here in our interview with Priya, head of VIP). When we set up Form, our objective was to make healthy eating and plant-based nutrition available to a wider audience, not only restricted to the fitness enthusiasts.

Responding to the growing global travel trend for wellness, the exclusive VIP service’s luxury menu will feature a range of bespoke dishes that incorporate Form’s nutrient dense plant-based proteins, all designed to make eating well an effortless part of travel. We were really impressed with the Heathrow VIP Chef’s creations. The Matcha Chia Pot is one of my favourite options and we can’t wait to see the new recipes they come up with as the menu will change on a monthly basis.

We know that over the past year, Heathrow VIP has seen a surge in international clients who seek healthier travel experiences with an increase in requests for vegetarian and vegan options, so our new partnership will help make travel even healthier than before.

It’s exciting to see luxury travel catering for the demands of a wellness-conscious audience and we are delighted to keep evolving the partnership and bringing more protein-rich, nutrient dense food to the Heathrow VIP menu to help travellers nourish themselves pre-flight.

HOC: What’s a recent ‘Girl Boss’ moment you’ve had?

Natalia: Holding a baby in a very deprived village in The Gambia who is no longer malnourished due to the Form Feeding Fund.

HOC: Do you believe in New Year’s Resolutions and if so, what’s yours for 2019?

Natalia: I firmly believe in everyday resolutions since I started to consciously create my days and managed to turn my life around.

The statement ‘how you live your days is how you live your life’ is something I am constantly reminding myself to ensure I create resolutions and opportunities to use my skills and strengths in a meaningful way on a daily basis.

I don’t think that it is productive to wait for the New Year to start living the life we aspire to live. Having said that, for the past 4 years in January, I do a Life Audit (sexymind.co.uk/blog/2018/1/4/its-time-for-a-life-audit exercise) to assess my priorities, motivations and goals and have it hanging in my bedroom as a constant reminder of what I am here to be.