Your questions answered by our panel of travel experts

Twitching all the way to Africa

I HAVE had some wonderful birdwatching holidays in Europe - but now I would like to go further afield. I have heard that there is some fine birdwatching in Africa, and especially in Gambia. Can you tell me about it, and is it safe?

Jane Lewis

Sheffield

Jill Crawshaw replies: Yes, The Gambia (as it is correctly called) has a deserved reputation with birdwatchers: it has a variety of habitats, from forest islands to mangrove and marshland, and more than 540 species have been spotted here.

Regarding safety, The Gambia is not a particularly dangerous place; it is a poor country, and it is unfair to flash your money, cameras and binoculars around. You will be hustled by vendors but a firm, polite and good-humoured "no" will usually do the trick.

One of the major specialist operators to The Gambia, The Gambia Experience (tel: 01703 733311) has a variety of birdwatching options to suit those with a casual interest, through to more dedicated twitchers, from a half- day's "Birds and Breakfast" excursion in a dug-out canoe in the smaller creeks of The Gambia River and a stroll in the Abuko Nature Reserve, to a full-week safari with leading ornithologist Clive Barlow.

A "Tanji Week" offers three full-day excursions in Tanji Nature Reserve, a Bush Tour and Boat Trip. Birds you could expect to see include herons and kingfishers, bee-eaters, gulls, warblers, rollers, weavers and francolins. This tour, with the rest of the week by the beach, costs pounds 469. A "Plover Week" with four full days of excursions and an even greater number of species to spot costs pounds 504.

The Seven-Day Safari, led by The Gambia's leading ornithologist and BBC Wildlife documentary adviser, Clive Barlow, costs pounds 798 half-board (flights included in all prices).

Jill Crawshaw is a travel expert, writer and broadcaster.

A fair wind on exotic shores

I AM A keen high windsurfer and holiday traveller and I am always looking for new sailing venues abroad. These venues are often described by normal holiday-makers as too windy to be on the beach. Do you have any suggestions for such a location, preferably in an unusual or exotic place. It strikes me that, having been to India, that might be ideal. I am sure with such an enormous stretch of coastline such a location must exist.

D Acklam

East Sussex

The travel editor replies: Exotic destinations suggested by The Royal Yachting Association (tel: 01703 627400) include the Dominican Republic and Barbados. Both have RYA-recognised centres.

For information about Barbados, contact the UK Sailing Academy (tel: 01983 294941), which has a centre there.

The Dominican Republic potentially has high winds, depending on the season. One tour operator specialising in this area is Sunworld Sailing (tel: 01273 626284).

Two other destinations recommended by the RYA are Australia and New Zealand, both of which have good windsurfing scenes. The western Australian coast is a very good destination for high winds, especially mid-November to the end of January. Contact the Australian Yachting Federation (tel: 00 61 2 9922 4333). For New Zealand, contact the New Zealand Yachting Federation at PO Box 4173, Auckland, New Zealand.

According to Windsurfer magazine, India does not have particularly high winds and Goa is really the only destination for windsurfing, experiencing about Force 4 winds between the months of January and March and during monsoon season.

Due to difficulties in importing up-to-date equipment and unreliable conditions, there is no official centre in India. However, if you are taking your own windsurfer you would be able to combine sightseeing and surfing during the months mentioned.

Other exotic destinations that are currently opening up to windsurfing include Costa Rica and South Africa.

The latter held the Production Windsurfing World Championships last November and destinations such as Cape Town are very easy and cheap to get to with myriad charter and scheduled flights leaving from the UK daily. The conditions in South Africa range from flat water to some of the most challenging.

Costa Rica is the place to be for high wind windsurfing at the moment. Lake Arinal, a vast, man-made lake in the mountains, is popular with windsurfers. The lake and the coast experience high winds throughout the year.

Sportif Travel specialises in windsurfing in both of these countries and will have information about any developments in India.

Will jabs make me ill?

THERE seem to be so many vaccinations available these days (cholera, two types of hepatitis, rabies, malaria, yellow fever, TB and so on), I am convinced that by taking them all I will be in danger of falling victim to some kind of Gulf War Syndrome - making myself ill by consuming a cocktail of drugs. Is there anything in this?

Tim Smith

Grimsby

Dr Richard Dawood replies: True, there are plenty of vaccines available, though please note that the old cholera vaccine is now defunct (it never worked anyway), and there is not yet a vaccine against malaria - only tablets (though there is plenty of research going on).

Anyway, modern travel vaccines are the product of a massive research effort, are highly pure and safe, and have been used by many millions of people without harm.

Gulf War Syndrome is an entirely different story. Among other things, veterans of the conflict were exposed to unknown chemical and biological agents used by the other side, or which escaped from stockpiles that were destroyed.

The Allied forces were also given vaccines against plague and anthrax, and other medication intended to protect them from possible biological and chemical warfare agents. There were also local parasitic diseases against which they had no protection (such as leishmaniasis, which damages the immune system).

And, finally, they all faced the stresses and pollutants of an active modern war zone.

No experts believe that travel vaccination played any part in the origin of Gulf War Syndrome. Without vaccination, travel to risk areas carries a far more tangible risk of serious illness.

Dr Richard Dawood is the Medical Director of the Fleet Street Travel Clinic, 29 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA (tel: 0171-353 5678).

Let's all meet up in the year 2000

I WOULD like my family to join us for a weekend in Venice in February 2000, during carnival. I think four days would be enough. As they live in Hong Kong, Toronto, London and Glasgow, they will be flying in on different airlines. I would like a really good hotel, but not as expensive as The Danielle. There would be nine or 10 of us. How should I go about arranging all this?

Margaret Percy-Robb

Glasgow

The travel editor replies: It is often better, price-wise, to book as a group - some operators give group discounts. For group packages, including return flights from London, contact Crystal Holidays (tel: 0181-390 8217). Other specialists include Citalia (tel: 0181-686 0677) and Simply Italy (tel: 0181-995 9323).

The route from Hong Kong to London via Toronto is an established one for airlines including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, United Airlines and Lufthansa, so your family may be able to fly to London on the same plane. Organise this through an agent such as Trailfinders (tel: 0171- 938 3939) for multiple options.

As your holiday will be at the beginning of the millennium and during carnival, booking ahead will be essential and may result in discounts. Or, you could make independent arrangements. Your family could travel with the same airlines from Hong Kong to Venice via Toronto.

You could book a hotel in Venice either through a tour operator or by phoning direct. Some of the many guide books which suggest accommodation include The Charming Small Hotels Guide to Venice (pounds 9.99), The Rough Guide to Venice (pounds 8.99), and the Blue Guide to Venice (pounds 11.99).

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