There’s a current meme going round of 26 questions to ask travel bloggers. I thought it would make a decent way to round off the year:
A: Age you made your first international trip
I was very young, probably 2 or 3, on a trip to France with my family. Other than school language exchanges to France and Germany, my first solo trip was to Peru, bought with my first ever proper paycheck. It was a three-week trip, including a hike along the Inca trail. I was so ill with food poisoning and altitude sickness, but that didn’t put me off and I’ve been loving travel ever since.
B: Best (foreign) beer you’ve had and where
I’m not a frequent beer drinker any more, but sometimes it suits the time and place.
Some highlights would be a Guinness in their Dublin brewery, Kirin Ichiban in Toyko or a simple Brahma sitting on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro.
For those who fancy something other than beer I’d suggest a whisky tasting in Scotland or drinking rice wine with Snake bile in Vietnam.
C: Cuisine (Favourite)
I would say Chinese for the variety, but that’s rather a large selection. Being more specific I’d say the food from Sichuan Province. It’s hot and spicy, but the layers and depth of flavour are incredible. In related news, I’ll be in Sichuan over New Years.
D: Destinations. Favourite. Least Favourite. Why.
My favourite so far would be Kyrgyzstan. Going from an office job to living in a yurt 500km from the nearest electricity, phone or even building forces you to re-evaluate a few priorities.
Least favourite: I had a miserable time in Delhi. I thoroughly enjoyed India, but nearly everything I tried to do in Delhi was met with obstruction, lies and scams.
E: Event you experienced that made you say ‘Wow’
Standing on top of Monte Roraima, a tepui spanning Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela.
F: Favourite mode of transportation
I love the idea of hot-air balloons floating serenely across the landscape, and have fond memories of them in Botswana, Egypt and Turkey, yet have a nagging feeling I’ve glossed over the memory that they’re quite uncomfortable during the actual trip and the landing nearly always ends badly.
G: Greatest feeling while travelling
Simply enjoying the moment – something I often forget to do in day-to-day life.
H: Hottest place I’ve travelled to
Dubai was 50°C outside, yet there was a ski-slope in one of the malls.
Camping in the sand dunes in Namibia was like standing in front of a hair dryer – an intense dry blast of air. The opposite would be Malaysia, where it was massively humid and I could only ever wear black to hide the sweat patches.
I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
Everyone in India (outside of Delhi) was wonderfully considerate, from five star hotels and tailors to homestays and tuk-tuk drivers.
J: Journey that took you the longest
I did a complete circuit of South America lasting over 6 months. Driving overland from Beijing to Istanbul took 4 months. I suppose the longest single hop was a 30-hour bus ride in Argentina, but I was surprised to find that a simple coach trip there is rather like flying first-class. The seats reclined fully and there was a waiter bringing drinks and calling out a bingo game. The coach even had Wi-Fi!
K: Keepsake from your travels
Recurring bouts of Hepatitis A seems to be an occasional reminder of falling in the Nile. A more pleasant keepsake would be a few thousand photos I have stored all over the place.
L: Let down sight. Why and where?
I was so disappointed by the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Growing up I had visions of them being the size of mountains, but arriving in Giza I was somewhat underwhelmed.
We were dropped off near the Sphinx and looking towards the pyramids I was flanked by a row of McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut. Almost immediately behind the pyramids begins the dusty suburbs of Cairo.
I think that was the moment I realised the difference between pictures in brochures and the reality of travel, and that no matter how impressive a man-made structure might be, I’ll always prefer natural landscapes.
M: Moment where you fell in love with travel
My memories of my first trip to Peru were quite hazy, even on the flight home, but getting the photos developed and realising how much I’d seen and learnt, and thinking of the people I’d met, I knew I wanted to do it all again and again.
N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in
Nice is a bit of a loose description. My favourite was possibly a homestay in Turkmenistan as I had no preconceptions and loved every moment with our hosts. The most appreciated was Le Meridien in Kota Kinabalu. We flew in late at night and got taken to our ‘hotel’ which was a particularly dirty and noisy hostel. Being too tired to mess around we checked in at a 5* hotel on the seafront and chilled with our welcome cocktail overlooking the bay.
O: Obsession. What are you obsessed with taking pictures of while travelling?
I’m not a great photographer and am too lazy to edit photos. I tend to take a lot of snapshots of and by accident a few look like I’d intentionally composed them correctly… My favourite photos don’t really mean much to anyone else but bring back a flood of memories of a particular place or moment.
P: Passport stamps. How many and from where?
I’ve been to 86 countries; some don’t stamp your passport, others stamp it as often and as awkwardly as possible (USA ಠ_ಠ).
I just got a new passport, so it’s currently looking a bit empty.
Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where.
I think many things stop becoming quirky once you’ve lived in China. What was once considered quirky fades into the day-to-day normality of things that are happening that I don’t really understand or choose to ignore.
Watching an unintentionally racist festival in Venezuela, dinner in a drug smugglers plane in Costa Rica, visiting an underground cathedral made of salt in Colombia, going to a Moscow club with the Russian Mafia, a Ping-Pong show in Bangkok and visiting a rat temple in Bikaner in India have all been rather odd moments.
R: Recommended sight, event, or experience.
One of my favourites was also one of the simplest – driving round the National Parks of South West America. Bryce Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Moab, Monument Valley, Yosemite, Zion, Joshua Tree and Death Valley were all very different, yet each beautiful in their own way.
S: Splurge. Something you have no problem forking over for while travelling.
I have no qualms about spending on food. I want to try it all, from the cheapest street snacks to the local delicacy.
T: Touristy thing you’ve done
I really don’t have a problem with doing touristy things. Iconic places are usually popular for a reason, and I’m not going to deny myself having fun just because other people are also having fun.
I get just as much pleasure from looking for celebrity stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame as I do crossing the Western Sahara on a camel.
U: Unforgettable travel memory
V: Visas. How many of them and for where.
So many I’ve lost count. Being British I get away with border crossings reasonably lightly compared to some countries. My favourite visa by far was the Russian one – a very ornate document with everything in both English and Cyrillic.
W: Wine, best glass while traveling and where.
Easily Mendoza in Argentina. We went on a day trip to visit the regions wineries. We were given a list of about fifty and had to pick two to visit. One was Argentina’s largest wine maker and exporter, and through science they felt they’d created a huge array of technically perfect wines. We tried a few, from the cheapest to one of the most expensive, and whilst impressed that they’d managed to make red wine taste creamy it all felt overprocessed.
We also visited Bodega Don Arturo, a small artisanal wine maker where we were shown round by the owner’s daughter and saw how they had bred the vines to get small, intense grapes that were used to make their 7 varieties of wine. At the end of the wine tasting Don Arturo appeared and shared a very limited edition Malbec that he’d made for his other daughter’s wedding. It was exquisite. We’d planned to buy six bottles of one of his other wines, but instead bought just two of the far more expensive special edition wines. I looked them up back in the UK and it transpired that there were only 250 bottles in existence and they were on sale for £250($390) a bottle. He’d sold them to us for £35 each.
X: eXcellent view and from where
Any view of Iguassu Falls is breath taking, no matter whether you’re on the Argentinian or Brazilian side, or somewhere on the water in between.
Y: Years spent traveling
All my life really, but I started travelling extensively in 2006.
Z: Zealous sports fans and where
The most intense sporting event I’ve attended was a local football derby in Rio de Janeiro, held during the Rio Carnival. 89,000 supporters filled the Maracana stadium to watch the league semi-final between Vasco and Fluminense. The game was close and the fans supported with huge flags, flares and fireworks. The match went to a tense penalty shootout, which reached 5-5 until Fluminense missed and Vasco triumphed 6-5.
The most joyous sports fans were in Vietnam. One Christmas eve they were playing in the South East Asian Cup, against their old enemy Thailand who had won for the last 3 years. After a tense match, the underdogs won 2-1 and the streets erupted with thousands of supporters and motorbikes, all cheering and waving flags on their way to a celebration in the centre of town. We merged into the crowd and one of the girls climbed on my shoulders and was given a huge flag to wave all the way to the central square. On the way we were covered in glitter, silly string and fake snow and arrived looking like a badly decorated Christmas tree.
Passing it on:
I’m happy to nominate Family on Bikes Vogel, they’ve been cycling all over the the world, most recently 17,300(!) miles from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska to Ushuaia, Argentina, through fifteen countries.