A globetrotting multinational, Ella Rychlewski was born and raised in France, studied in the US and the UK, then served in the Peace Corps in the Caribbean and worked as a volunteer in Uganda, before returning to the UK last year. Interspersed through this, she backpacked around the world, clocking up a count of 35+ countries visited to date. The funny thing is, Ella shares, that the ‘to do’ list never seems to get any shorter.
This global perspective and lifestyle, and more particularly the people she has met on her travels, have caused her to reflect quite a bit on the concept of local, as she is someone who has never belonged anywhere but has come to appreciate the vast variety, intricacy, sights, sounds and flavors that make each place she has been to special.
As an amateur photographer, Ella has learned to see the big picture while also paying attention to the small details, realizing that you get the best out of an experience by reaching out to the people around you.
Ella is one of those people who always wants to find out what is one the other side of the hill and she lives by a wonderful poem by Robert Frost entitled ‘The Road Not Taken’.
LS: Where is your local community and how would you describe it?
ER: Home is where the heart is, if you are cliché about it. I have left bits of my heart in many places, but those which stand out are: Bordeaux, France; Capuchin, Dominica; Kampala, Uganda; and the East Midlands in the UK.
Bordeaux is where I grew up and I have roamed the area (Gironde and Aquitaine) extensively over the years. It is an ideal setting, with historical sites from Roman to Renaissance; beaches all along the coast less than an hour away; and, a little further South, the stunning Basque Country and the Pyrenees mountains. But really it’s all about the ‘café culture’, the food and the fact that the city center is imminently walk-able. I think we are all well aware of the food treasures France has to offer and you can’t over-sell a traditional French market offering produce made in the area, sold by jovial local people who passionately wax lyrical about what they do, and are often surprisingly original with their wares. Local in Bordeaux is the South-West, a region often overlooked by international travelers… their loss.
Capuchin, in the Commonwealth of Dominica (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic), is a small village of 250 or so souls, in the Northern-most part of a small Caribbean island. Dominica is made up of 8 active volcanoes but also has the obligatory sandy beaches. What makes it truly special though is its people and it is the only place on Earth where, from the minute I step off the plane or boat, I feel like I’m home because of how warmly I am welcomed. They have a strong and beautiful Creole culture which is very much alive and most families, from the PM to the local businessman, have a ‘garden’ in which they grow bananas, avocados, lettuce, etc…, which will be shared among the families, sold on the local market or exported to Guadeloupe, which I could see from my bedroom window. Local in Capuchin is the family.
Kampala is a city of paradoxes: downtown is full of alleyways, red dust and people, while the upscale neighborhoods are calm oases of gardens and patios serving a myriad of international cuisine. The adventurous can get lost in the mazes of Owino market where you can buy the entire contents for your house in one sitting; while those in search of calm can head up into the hills (Kampala is built on 9) to find some shade, watch the monkeys climb the trees, and enjoy a cup of spiced African tea. Kampala is up and coming but still has a lot of hard edges and it can be a daunting place to navigate. Local in Kampala is the tribe, the Baganda, and the language, Luganda.
I have lived in various places in the Midlands in the UK; I studied in Oxford and am currently in Bedford. I really enjoy the country drives in this area, where you are in the city one minute and then out in the fields the next, with quintessential British vistas on either side. It’s all about finding the best and oldest country pub, the more rickety the better. The face of England is changing though, is it sad that the small picturesque village has an Indian instead of a pub or fish and chip shop?
LS: If you were showing someone from out of town around your local area, where would you take them?
ER: In Bordeaux, it would be a walk around old Bordeaux in the morning, then off to the market, maybe in the fortified city of Blaye, where we would pick up some bits and pieces for a sandwich (local paté, fresh bread, a selection of cheeses…) to have on top of the fort, overlooking the Gironde Estuary. Then on to St Emilion, a beautiful medieval troglodyte city, which incidentally makes some of the lovely liquid stuff (you can have a glass of pink bubbly and some macaroons while sitting in the ruins of a monastery cloister). Then maybe you can finish the day off with a sunset on the Bassin D’Arcachon with a seafood platter and a breathtaking view over the Atlantic Ocean.
Capuchin is a place for walking and there are a number of trails which wind into the bush (jungle). You can go hiking for a few hours, admiring the ruins of the fort which once stood at the very Northern tip of the island, a number of waterfalls and wonderful views over towards the neighboring French island of Guadeloupe. You can also pick your mangoes straight off the tree along the way. Lunch would be a stew of some sort with potatoes, macaroni and cheese and salad and fresh fruit juice (probably passion fruit which grows a lot in the area). After a nap, I would head down to the bay for a swim in the crystal clear Caribbean waters. Goggles come in handy for marine life spotting. In the evening, head to the local shop or bar for a game of dominoes and a sip of the local stuff, my favorite is the sweet ginger wine but stronger stuff is also available.
There are a number of different approaches to Kampala, including a number of activities around Lake Victoria. You can, for example, go to Ngamba island which is a chimpanzee reserve or find a local restaurant serving whole grilled tilapia. In the city, I would either go to one of the local markets or brave Owino, the main market, though simply walking around the city centre is an experience in of itself. Find a calming oasis afterwards for lunch and in the big hotels you can pay a nominal fee and use their swimming pool. There are a number of interesting galleries to browse and often some good local performances at the National Theater. Or you can go to the Rugby Club and watch local games at weekends. In the evening, find a high perch and enjoy the wonderful canvas of twinkling lights that the city transforms into at night, making all the imperfections of the bustling city below disappear.
The Midlands are an area to get lost: meander around the lovely small villages, stopping where the fancy takes you. Find the local theater and see if anything fun is on and look out for advertisement for markets or festivals in the area. What you end up doing will depend on the great staple that is the British Weather but there is always another historical site, National Trust site or nature reserve not far away. London and its bright city lights is short 45 minute train ride away, as are cultural centers such as Oxford and Cambridge.
LS: What does ‘local’ mean to you?
ER: Local is something you can’t get elsewhere or which is demonstrably better in a certain country, region or place. For me, Pad Thai made by street vendors in Bangkok, the stone well embedded in a wall two streets over from my childhood home in Bordeaux, and the style of dancing in Capuchin are all local. Local to me is whatever stands out wherever I happen to be, which I haven’t seen elsewhere. It can also be an atmosphere which triggers a ‘ah, I know where I am’ feeling. It’s a big part of what has made travelling so wonderful for me over the years, that which causes me to have fond memories of the places I have been and make me want to go back. It’s the cultural or social idiosyncrasies which become the highlights of your experience; though it has to be stressed that these can be diverse, rather than the assumed single cultural influence. London or Singapore, for example, are what they are because of their diversity.
LS: Hidden local gem?
ER: It wouldn’t be hidden if I told you! Seriously, it is best to go exploring or ask around you.
In Bordeaux, the area by the old docks is fun to walk around and there are lots of lovely details which often go unnoticed. The market at St Michel is very lively and full of local people who will often have lunch at one of the brasseries in the area after they have finished their shopping, while the Marché du Colbert opposite the battleship is more up-market and you can sit by the river with white wine and oysters from the Bassin.
While you will quickly get to know your way around Capuchin, stop in one of the local shacks for lunch in Portsmouth (if you go to the one next to the Capuchin bus stop make sure you say hello from me) and get to meet some people from the Northern part of the island, who all transit by the city on their way in and out. They can direct you to a quite private beach or organize a boat ride for you to see the region from a different viewpoint.
The Bahai Temple in Kampala is the only one in Africa and is set in a lovely garden with views over the city. Cassia Lodge in Buziga is off the beaten track but has unparalleled views over the city at night from their balcony and you can have diner or drinks in a very genteel atmosphere (a friend proposed there). Mish Mash on Acacia Avenue is a great starting point for expats new to Kampala.
This is probably not worth mentioning but if you come to the UK check the weather forecast and come prepared for all eventualities. Sitting in a camped car eating sandwiches surrounded on all sides by a sheet of grey with zero visibility is not everyone’s idea of a great time. Try to find a copy of the local free paper for a list of activities happening when you’re there.
LS: Local person, cultural or food experience Local Sprouts should seek out?
ER: Where to start… I gravitate towards culturally rich places (not that anywhere isn’t except maybe LA but that’s another story) and I know my tastes are not necessarily anyone else’s. I have chronicled my various experiences in the countries I have described above in my blogs, which center on photography.
In Bordeaux, my food highlights would probably be duck and seafood. In Capuchin, I would try green banana and stew with dumplings (for the less adventurous barbecue chicken is always good). Kampala also has mashed green bananas or matoke as a staple food (just my luck unfortunately as its one of the few foods I have never taken to), but my favourite is a rolex which is street food consisting of an omelette (often with onion and tomato bits) which is rolled inside a chapatti. Go for puddings in the Midlands, something warm and sticky and served with custard.
In Bordeaux and the Midlands, I would go to the tourist information centres as a good starting point for what to do information. And, as mentioned previously, the local papers are useful. Kampala and Dominica are harder to navigate but ask taxi or bus drivers, they will usually know where to start (there is a small tourist office in Kampala, but only at the airport, and you may be able to find information leaflets at the airport or in Roseau in Dominica). In Kampala there are some active expat group which can get you started and you can’t really get lost in Dominica (for a guide book see Dominica: Discover the Real Dominica – A Travel Guide written by Former Peace Corps Volunteers by Anna McCanse to which I contributed).
LS: Ella has many more stories to share and tales to tell. Check out her website for more of her travels!
– Europe: http://ellamr3.wordpress.com/
– Uganda : http://ellamr2.wordpress.com/
– Dominica : http://ellamr.wordpress.com/