Travel Diaries: A whole new world (or country at least)
So, it’s pretty clear I’ve struggled and missed a lot of things through lockdown, we all have. I miss festivals, live music, spontaneity and of course family and friends. However, there’s one thing I am gagging to do more than anything else in the world….
I miss getting off a plane and feeling like Dorothy Gale stepping out of the hut in Oz. I miss that feeling of walking out of an airport and being engulfed by a new country, whether it’s the thousands upon thousands of bikes and mopeds in Vietnam, the horse and carts and 50s cars in Cuba, the complete chaos at trying to leave Entebbe airport in Uganda, or the crazy altitude in Peru. I crave that feeling of this is something I’ve never experienced before.
I want to feel like Dorothy again, though I wouldn’t be homesick running round desperate to return and clicking my heels three times chanting there’s ‘no place like home’.
It may sound petty to some, there will be people who think it’s a small thing to sacrifice in the grand scheme of things. Maybe it is, but to me, the chance to travel, explore far flung corners of the globe, embrace a different culture and meet people is a huge part of who I am and that thirst for knowledge needs quenching.
That need for knowledge and adventure ties in very closely to the job I do. I heard a podcast with Gloria Steinem a couple of weeks ago, in it, she said: “being a journalist is a licence to keep learning”. That quote perfectly explained and summed up my job and how I feel it about, in a way I’ve never been able to explain before. It’s true, every day I’m given the opportunity to learn something new and ask questions, travel gives me that too.
Ever since I first got on a plane at 16, I’ve taken every chance possible to jet off, the destinations becoming more obscure and (some might say) dangerous as I’ve gotten older. I accept it’s a very privileged position to be, it’s a position I’ve worked hard to get myself to, so I won’t apologise.
I miss the spontaneity that traveling gives me, of not quite knowing where I’m going to be sleeping the next night. I remember arriving in Wadi Rum in Jordan with our backpacks, not much of a plan, trying to strike a deal for a day in the desert and somewhere to sleep. I have to say staying and eating with the Bedouin was a fabulous night, being able to see the stars in the desert took my breath away – I can still see it clear as day, it’s one of the most beautiful sights I’ll ever see, no picture will ever do it justice.
It’s the chance to try something different, that pushes you out of your comfort zone, like learning to surf in Bali. The feeling of accomplishment when you finally stand up on the damn thing, the exhaustion at the end of it. Making it to the top of Huayna Picchu in Peru despite the altitude and a twenty a day smoking habit. Bobbing about in the Dead Sea and having a minor (major) panic when you get the mud in your eye – I thought it might blind me. Seeing a pride of lions in Uganda, being that close nature and feeling like Joy Adamson in Born Free (kind of).
But mostly, it’s the people I get to meet while travelling, finding out what life is really like in particular country, seeing that there is kindness in the world. We do it off our own backs, fly by the seat of our pants, I’ve not had to sleep on the streets anywhere yet, it isn’t relaxing, it isn’t for everyone, it works for us.
In Cuba, all our accommodation was home stays – I would tell anyone to do this while visiting Cuba. It was fascinating finding out how the country really works. We spent a night watching a band in Trinidad with some of the waiting staff we’d met at a bar, it turned out one of the men was actually a trained doctor.
Me: “Why are you working as a waiter?”
Him: “I earn more as a waiter”.
Wow! Through talking to him I learnt that a doctor in Cuba earns $60 a month, the state pays for training which is why there’s around one doctor for every 150 people in the country but the pay is derisory.
I learnt that you don’t go to a supermarket with a list in Cuba, you turn up, queue and get whatever’s available – handy training for coronavirus panic buying back in March. I also learnt that Ernest Hemmingway apparently drank rum in every single bar in Havana and every bar tender wants you tell them theirs is the best mojito you’ve ever tasted.
We stayed with a lovely family in Holguin, he was Dutch and had married a Cuban woman, they invited us to join them for tea and we got to know them. Graciella was desperate to visit another country, she just wanted to see snow, I still get a happy birthday message off them four years on.
In Colombia we met a man who gave Pablo Escobar tours in Medellin and let’s just say his family was well connected. He told us about the different points of view on the drug lord and narcoterrorist. Some people in the city saw him as a saint on account of how much money he gave to the poor, make no mistake about it, Escobar was evil, he was a murderer and terrorist.
He asked us about Brexit (actually comes up a lot), I wanted to know about the FARC Peace referendum the year before, it was rejected by Colombians. In my naïve view I couldn’t understand why peace would be rejected, why you wouldn’t want to end a 52-year war with FARC guerrillas? What I learnt was it’s a lot more complicated than that. He and the majority see the FARC as terrorists and think seeing them become an official political party legitimised their crimes.
Colombia also saw us get robbed….by the police. We’d headed to Santa Marta, only recently accessible to tourists, it’s deep in FARC territory, it’s home to the stunning Tayrona National park. We’d managed to get a trip there, a hike through the jungle to a stunning set of beaches. There was a portable speaker in my bag that a policeman confiscated and assured us we could pick it up when leaving. Obviously at the end of the day he played dumb, cue tour guide taking up the argument and failing. The next thing was one of the most bizarre incidents I’ve ever witnessed, the tour guide got back on the coach and made an announcement in Spanish; before I could process what was happening, a group of ten Colombians got off to confront the police and these were fully armed officers – I think, had the same thing happened in England, most people would have looked the other way. In the end Scott said: “let’s not get shot over this, it’s fine”. People on that coach gave written statements, why? Well they all said the same thing, they want people to visit their country, they want to shake the image of a cocaine and murder filled wild west – they want people to feel safe, they basically don’t want the police robbing tourists. I’m still struck by that kindness.
Uganda taught me to appreciate what I have. I’d gone for work to see the work a local school had been doing with the Good Samaritan school in Kampala. Getting to know the kids there was incredible, many had been abandoned or were orphans, they all wanted to learn, were desperate to get an education against the odds. How privileged we are here was not lost on me, we take education for granted when actually, all over the world a good education opens doors for you and can lift you out of poverty. The kids all loved seeing themselves on camera or hearing their voices played back to them and they thrashed us at netball.
I got to meet and interview a man who was lucky to still be alive having escaped from Idi Amin. The dictator had decided he wanted Erasmus dead, he some how managed sneak away and get out of the country, that was a rare happy ending; between 100,000 and half million people were killed under Amin’s rule in the 70s. Erasmus told me his story as though it was an every day occurrence, there was no anger just a calm re-telling of how his life was in danger and how he’d managed to survive and rebuild it.
We visited a fishing village on the shore of Lake Victoria, the smell was overwhelming, but nothing compared to the silence. I’d never been confronted with such poverty before, I spoke to families battling to keep their kids alive, starving themselves to pay for medicine. It was a stark reminder that life is luck of the draw and where you’re born plays a huge role in that.
In Palestine, everyone seemed to know Banksy, I saw first-hand how restricted life is for Palestinian’s in the West Bank, how hard it is to make a living, the constant checks and searches. We ended up staying in the House of Peace, the owner was VERY Christian – when we left he gave me a glow in the dark crucifix – not even joking.
In Cambodia I saw a country emerging from a horrific past. We met Vanna a tuk tuk driver, we’d gone to Angkor Watt in the evening and were at the top of the temple (illegally a staff member said we could go up for $5, seemed legit) when a huge storm rolled in – walking along the bridge being aware that there was nothing around that was taller than us was terrifying. We got back to Vanna and into the tuk tuk when there was an almighty bang and flash – for one moment I was sure he’d been hit by lightning until he popped his head through the cover with huge grin saying: “You alright?”. The tree we were next too had been hit and you could taste the electricity in the air. A near death experience (slight exaggeration) bonds you, we got to know him over the next few days, he took us to places we wouldn’t have heard about like the land mine museum out in the jungle, ran by a man who’d lost an arm to a mine who told us all about the work being done to make land safe.
There are smells and tastes that take me back every day. A whiff of lemongrass and I’m Phu Quoc again. Coloured LED lights reminds me of Albania and the weirdest hotel I’ve stayed in with an overly attentive owner who turned up everywhere – even on the side of a mountain as we made our way back from a lake, we were an hour away from the town we were staying in. Every time I hear John Lennon’s Happy Christmas War is over – I hear the Icelandic version that greeted us in Reykjavík
Some people think I have an addiction to danger – I don’t I just occasionally find myself in precarious situations. What I have an addiction to is learning, understanding and questioning.
I want to understand different cultures and the world we inhabit; I want to hear people’s different point of view; I want to keep learning.
Travel has allowed me to see and experience things I could only dream about as a girl growing up in Rossendale, whether that’s being stood on a freezing mountain watching the northern lights in Iceland, crawling through the cu chi tunnels in Vietnam, looking out at the endless horizon at the top of Petra or seeing the sunrise from the top of a volcano in Bali. It’s allowed me to meet people from all walks of life and backgrounds and to me that’s worth more than anything else in the world.
Now, if Covid could do one and let me get on plane that would be great.
radiosarahc View All
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm
Now I want to travel even more! I definitely is a luxury problem, but still… Love post and lovely photos. 😀
love read your post. Thank for sharing. I cant wait for Holiday
Nice blog, love read your post. Cant wait for holiday after covid.