How do we summarise our adventures of the past year? We have done so much, met so many great people, had so many adventures, learned so much………….. and drank just a little bit.
The headline is that it was an incredible experience that I would not swap for many things and it will be one of the defining years of our lives. Many people say ‘I wish I could do something like you have done’ to which I say, work out how to make it happen. You are unlikely to regret it, and if kids are the reason not to travel more, trust me that they will gain immeasurably from such experiences and learn far more than can be taught in school.
To help untangle it all I guess we can start with some numbers:
359 days on the road
6 continents visited
19 countries visited
2 wonderful weddings attended
1 dinner at the Tower of London
27 flights taken
31 different forms of transport (we could argue definitions of ‘different’ all night). My fav – the donkey cart carrying me over the mud on my run in Luxor. J’s favourite horseback safari.
13 different hire cars and I can’t recommend one single car hire company.
19 meetings with old friends in places around the world
89 blogs written
Approximately 1200 Instagram posts…..
178 Google reviews written
0 big arguments. Seriously. On our last big adventure, 11 years ago, we discussed divorce 3 times!
100,00 times we have said ‘Wow!’ Followed by that’s beautiful, that’s amazing, that’s incredible or we are very lucky.
Can you spot yourself in this??
I have some take-always below. Some are handy tips, some are me trying to make sense of a huge amount of experiences, some elements are just my rants.
Was it worth it?
One of the key questions is ‘Has it been worth it?’ Do we have regrets? Having this adventure was a significant decision. It’s not like we have surplus cash: we have large mortgages to service for many, many years to come and investing in reducing these would have had a large long term benefit. It was a significant professional gamble to bugger off and time will see how the dice land. It will take a lifetime to really know if the risk was worth taking. My hunch is this: when I am sitting in my rocking chair near the end of my life, if I am lucky enough to be able to spend evenings talking to friends, in a lovely house, or in a cardboard box under a bridge (what a strange place to have a rocking chair, I hear you cry), the stories I will want to share won’t be about saving a failing project, deploying ‘lean’ skills into a business or about the nice stuff in our house. They will be about the places we have been, the people we have met, the adventure, the wonders of the world and how special the place we live is…… and perhaps just a little bit about the experience in the army to keep a realistic view about how horrible we can be too.
If I should be unlucky enough to find my life drawing to a close sooner rather than later, this last year will be one of the key episodes of it that will help me reflect and conclude that I have given the living thing a reasonable crack.
No matter where we have been, how wealthy or otherwise a country, how peaceful or violent their history has been, there are a few things that shine through. Mostly, this is because we have a wonderfully connected history. When you see the relatively recent history of the Romans, who can be found in most of Europe, in North Africa & in the Middle East, the Vikings who roamed from Northern Europe all the way to southErnest France, to the Spanish and Portuguese in Central and South America, to the Moors who found their way through Southern Europe, to the Francs and Norman’s in the UK, to the Britons in parts of France, the Chinese in India……. I could go on and on and on. We are so closely related to so much of the world. Those around us are literally our relatives. It is such a shame we forgot it so often and view people who look different or speak a different language as a threat.
No matter where you are in the world, at an individual level,99.999999% of people are decent. They look after fellow humans, they are kind, they like animals and they are mostly interested and interesting. The tiny % that aren’t are often desperate. People mostly want similar things: health, security, their kids to go to school and a roof over their heads. Simple Maslow stuff. There’s also a small number of tossers who want power and influence and they are the one who encourage people to feel superior, different, special. They say that ‘the others’ are bad, lesser or have too much of something. These tossers are the real problem.
By seeing how people live in the vast majority of the world, J and I know that to be born in the west, to loving parents who stayed together, provided a secure environment and encouraged us to be successful on our chosen paths, that through this luck, we two of the most fortunate people on the planet. We are no more talented than those scraping a living in Uganda, no more intelligent than those growing coca in Colombia and we really, really don’t know what hard work is. We just popped out of our mothers in the right place at the right time. We are no more entitled to the standards of living we enjoy than those born somewhere else, we just have easier access to it through sheer chance. In some ways we should feel less entitled as our nations wealth was built on the exploitation of others nations (did you know that when the Brits turned up in India, it had about 30% of the worlds GDP. When we left it, it was just 8%. The UK had grown a lot off the back of this). The world would be a better place if those who had this great luck were more generous to those with less luck, those with greater, but more basic, needs.
People...... What a wonderful bunch
The incredible human.
For 1000s of years, our species has achieved incredible things. The pyramids and temples of Egypt, the castles and cathedrals of Europe, navigating, trading over and populating the planet, the gaining of knowledge to better our lives. At our best, we are truly amazing and our achievements really show our potential. Unfortunately, we have a wonderful ability to fuck it up. The amount of effort that humans have expended in trying to destroy each other because some people want more stuff, or some ‘leaders’ have convinced their people that their history, language, culture or religion is worth killing others for is as incredible as it is awful. These people made the idea of one bunch of people going somewhere to rip another bunch of people apart acceptable and in most cases, glorious and worthy; This paradigm survives to this day.
Funnily enough though, on a macro level, it is hard to find an example where this approach works out in the long run. Mostly we are just left with stories of great battles where one side ripped apart more of the other sides youngsters, or conquered another country for a decade or so, stories designed to reinforce the narrative that war is an ok thing to do. In the long run, the course of our history flows back to cooperation and mutual respect, and over decades or a hundred years or so, through peaceful means, the world finds its balance............. yet we still want to do the war thing. We are as dumb as we are amazing.
We are as good at creating as we are at destroying
On top of those things that we have in common that I’ve mentioned above, we have many differences. Different languages, different ways of cooking, different music, different countryside, climates, cultures, ways of governing, architecture, booze. These are wonderful differences that give the world colour, resilience and depth. We should embrace these differences and not be frightened of them. It was really apparent that nations can be on the doorstep of each other, share many common organisations (national government, a Federation of states, the EU for example), and still keep those wonderful cultural differences.
The really complicated bit is understanding where the balance lies. Catalalonians have been convinced by men who want power that their differences are so special they are better-off without the Spanish (but want to remain part of the EU), the Brits have been convinced by libertarians and their charismatic puppets that they are special enough to be better off without Europe, nationalists are convincing the Scots that they are better off without the UK but with Europe, and an orange cockwomble that the US is better off without off without the world…. And brown people. The people who encourage these thoughts really should fuck off.
Religion is part of so much of the above, but they don’t ‘alf build some incredible buildings. They have done so well off the suffering of others, but the legacy is incredible!!
It’s the simple things that matter.
A sunset, a sunrise, a good view, mountains, animals, the sea, a good storm, a good book, being rested, laughter, discussing ideas with others, spending time with the people you love. These are the important things in life. Big TVs, posh cars, designer clothes add very little to proper happiness.
Isn’t nature marvellous!
There are many good things about Instagram. It makes you look at the world differently, looking for that interesting pic. It is a lovely record of what we’ve been up to. It is largely a positive place to share experience and images.
But seriously folks, what the fuck are you doing? Stripping down to a bra and flowing scarf in the middle of an Egyptian Temple in a devoutly Muslim country is not ok. Asking people to leave a historical building so you can get a shot in an empty place is not ok. Standing in front of the attraction for 20 minutes whilst you get someone to take a load of pictures is not ok. Then, saying ‘can you do them all again with my feet in this time’ is definitely not ok.
The outcome should be about seeing, learning and experiencing, not turning up with a face full of slap and a flowing dress, or a tight t-shirt and moody looks, grabbing a photo and fucking off, smiling only when the camera is on you. Get a grip people.
Time spent with animals is time well spent
This is the longest I’ve ever blogged for. Many years ago, before the internet and computing machines, I used to keep a diary when I traveled, or if the travel was an operational tour in the Army, use letters to describe what I was seeing, thinking and feeling. It wasn’t until ‘The FT’s escape from reality’ which recorded our 2007/9 adventure that I recorded things online.
Lots of people blog and many make money from it. Mine will never make money and I remain unsure if more than 2 or three people read it. It used to achieve three things: keeping a record for J and I to reflect on when we are old, greyer, sitting in a pool of our own urine and trying to make sense of our lives. It also provides a constant reminder that these adventures are possible, very rewarding and we need to plan the next.
The final reason was to keep Mum up to speed. When I started the escape from reality one, she hated the title and found the whole thing a bit showy offy, but when she read it, I know she loved it and probably got to understand me better. Mostly, when I wrote stuff, Mum was the ‘audience’ I was trying to communicate with. Now that this audience has gone, it has been difficult to find a voice and structure. At times it has felt like a chore to write, just for our old age. That said, as I finish off, I am glad I have persevered. My mind is such that I can already barely remember what we did at the start of the trip.
Religion; Imaginary friends lead to great buildings
Over the past 359 days, I have spent 355 with J, the other 4 spent with Liz in the Colombian jungle. I have eaten 99% of my meals with her, slept in the same bed every night, walked with her, talked with her, had low level disagreements, discussed politics, sat saying nothing next to her whilst we’ve read, and drunk a shit load with her. Pretty much our only time apart is when I run or when one of us has a really big poo (though in most places the walls are thin enough to make that feel like a shared experience).
I think it’s fair to say our relationship has been tested and we know each other reasonably well. I don’t think I’ve learned anything new but I have got to understand the balance better. The single minded determination to not accept defeat, a trait that is occasionally tiring, has got stuff done and made our experience better. For example, I am sure that we wouldn’t have had the magical day at the Route de Champagne if J hadn’t accosted….. and ….. to give us a lift to the first village. There are a heap load of other examples too.
Her unflappable nature has been useful too, when we’ve been in a potentially dangerous situation in a Kia Picanto on a Colombian mountain, when we’ve been stranded in lion infested game reserve in a bogged in vehicle for example. Either of us losing our shit would not have been useful.
I am a lucky man to be able to share such an incredible experience with someone I like, love and admire and the experience is better for it. Thank you J.
Travelling with your best friend is the best way
Some practical/interesting stuff.
Getting SIM cards is pretty easy in nearly everywhere we went and getting local ones was pretty much the first thing we did. France and Canada are ridiculously expensive. If you get a SIM in Portugal, the UK or spain, they are cheap and roam in France. In Canada we used our $5 a day vodafone international thing. Download DING; in many places recharging can appear difficult and Ding is an easy way to recharge PAYG in 140 countries.
In Colombia, don’t try to recharge in the Movistar or Claro main shops; they don’t have a clue. Recharge in a local shop, It took us 2.5 difficult months to work that out.
You don’t need nearly as much stuff as you think you do. In real life most of us like to wear different things day to day. Often it’s because you don’t want your mates to think that either you have bad bodily hygiene or can’t afford more than two shirts. When you are travelling, meeting new people most days, you don’t have to give two shits. Bank on 7 days between washes and then take it from there. Have a few spare pairs of pants, coz no one likes smelly pants, but otherwise, go lean.
Cheap, lightweight swimming shoes are really useful if you plan to swim in rivers, the sea, lakes, under waterfalls. They really save your feet.
Have multiple bank cards and credit card. I think in 12 months, we had a full working set for about 2. Also check when your cards run out……………
Trust people as a default. Most are wonderful and you have much more fun when you meet the locals properly.
Haggling is an important part of many cultures. Enter into it but keep a level head. Getting a $1 off a price may feel like a victory but for some, it’s a days pay and getting such a ‘bonus’ once in a while is like a minor lottery win. There is a line to be drawn so that tourists don’t inflate prices for locals, but have this in your mind, don’t use it as an excuse to be a tight arse.
Order is important. Going to Rwanda before Uganda was a great acclimatisation to that region of the world. Perhaps for this reason, visit Jordan before Egypt. Also, after seeing the Egyptian temples, Petra is only ok……. The temples of Egypt spoil you. Perhaps, if you really want to go to Cuba, go before you visit other more vibrant Latin American countries so the contrast is not such a downer.
If you do visit Cuba and venture away from the tourist areas, remember they really have sod all there. Take clothes and other stuff (sunglasses etc) that you are happy to leave in hotel rooms, give to people who say ‘I like that shirt’ etc.
Mixing hot and cold climates makes packing a challenge.
Take a couple of cups, a couple of sporks, a couple of peshtemals (great as lightweight towels, picnic blankets and bed blankets) and a corkscrew. All got used lots.
Auspost are crap. If you are away for a while and are forwarding mail somewhere, start before you go so when they screw it up, you can resolve the issue before you get on a plane.
Trains, planes, automobiles and huskies
Meeting our friends in new places and having fun (Troyes, Bordeaux, Singapore, London, Bristol, Netheravon, Sardinia, Bologna (god I was pissed that night), Berlin, Vancouver, Versailles, Colombia, Tunis, Luxor)
Meeting new friends who I hope will remain friends.
J and I getting through the more difficult challenges together.
Learning to communicate in a new language.
Having time to get to know places
The landscape of Corsica (but not the roads)
Getting to know Europe again; the diversity of everything (language, countryside, architecture, food etc) makes it a fascinating place.
Colombia – nearly all of it (not that keen on Cartagena and Santa Marta), especially the friendly people
4 days in the jungle to see Ciudad Perdida
The gorillas in Rwanda
A horseback safari
Jogging in the Ugandan bush, with zebras, hippos etc
The adventure of Uganda and Rwanda
The magnificence of the Egyptian temples (Luxor and Abu Simbal are particularly ‘wow’)
The boat trip down the Nile
The beaches of Cuba (the rest of Cuba …… meh)
Bridge and Mo’s multi-cultural wedding and Ed and Emma’s very English one
Horse riding in the Camargue
Friends in different places
Food and booze highlights:
Rwanda make the best chips (hot chips for my Aussie friends), second only to the UK.
Spain do great croissants. Lots of places in France do not.
Portugal; Ginja, Natas and good Tawny port. Yum.
Vermouth with olives as an aperitif in Spain
Pasta in Bologna
Good Guinness in London
Great curry in Birmingham
Fried cheese sticks in Medellin
Drinking champagne, eating cheese and listening to music at La Route du Champagne.
Home cooking whenever we stop long enough to do it properly
Frozen yogurt when it’s hot.
Nun Juice (wine made in a convent) from Jericó
Drinking beer or wine……..or cocktails in squares in France, Spain, Italy and Colombia and watching life go by.
Food and booze! My favourite.
Things I would change.
Nothing really. Life is not supposed to be perfect. It is a wonderful balance of good and bad, easy and difficult, relaxing and nerve racking..........though the last 5 km of the Berlin Marathon could have been a lot less shit......
So now we are back in Bundanoon, determined to celebrate the year that we have had, rather than to mope about the fact we have returned. We live in a lovely, privileged country, I work with great people, we have lovely friends and Fulford Folly is a beautiful place to be. Best of all, Freddie and Mr Percival are back in our lives.
So, until the next adventure!!!!