The Going Forth
In the days before travel blogs and travel vlogs were the days of travel journals. This is the opening chapter to mine.
“Exploration is not about conquering nature. Pushing scientific frontiers or even going where no one has gone before in order to leave your mark. It`s about leaving what you know at home, opening yourself up to whatever is there and letting the place leave its mark on you” Benedict Allen
The pyramids of Egypt. India, which assaults all of the senses. The mountains of Nepal. Beach life on a Thai island. The beauty of Bali. The other worldly Australian outback. Bungy jumping in New Zealand. Yes, there`s nothing quite like travelling. At least, that`s what they say. I wouldn`t know. I haven`t been yet.
The route. Heathrow. Cairo. Bombay, overland to Kathmandu. Bangkok, overland to Singapore. Bali. Darwin, overland via the West coast to Melbourne. Auckland. Phoenix. Mexico City. Heathrow. Around the world in around three hundred and eighty days.
The inevitable sea-saw of excitement and nerves that comes before a trip like this was tipped in the balance of the latter one evening whilst watching the BBC six o`clock news. Foreign correspondents reported on on India testing nuclear bombs. Riots in Indonesia. The issue of child labour in Nepal. The shooting of tourists in Egypt last November no longer made the news but, as it was the country I`d planned to visit first, it wasn`t something I`d forgotten. All this seemed to add up to one thing, now probably wasn`t the best time to go travelling.
What was the point anyway? I`d already seen more places on television than I`d ever visit. In a way, got to know them in more detail as a viewer, than I would as a visitor. Even before arriving at Heathrow I`d avidly watched most of the Lonely Planet travel programmes. Been Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole and Full Circle with Michael Palin. Followed In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great and gone on a global Quest For The Lost Civilisation. The title of Aldous Huxley`s essay about travelling was beginning to seem more and more appropriate, was starting to make sense, Why Not Stay at Home?
This, however, wasn`t an option. The plane tickets had been bought. As had all the recommended travelling accessories, first-aid kit, iodine tablets, money belt, sleeping bag, sleeping sheet, walking boots, mosquito net and backpack. I`d been through the painful procedure of having an arm full of injections. The farewell parties had been thrown. Hands shaken. People hugged. The Bon Voyage cards were lined up on the mantel piece. There was no turning back.
News stories and safety aside, my main concern about travelling related to health. Apart from the occasional winter cold I`d been healthy for so long I`d forgotten what being ill was like. I did some research, mainly reading the health section in the Lonely Planet, and prepared to diagnose symptoms of illnesses I`d previously never even heard of. As it turned out, the first stirrings in my stomach occurred earlier than I`d anticipated. I hadn`t picked up a tropical fever in some exotic faraway place. It wasn`t a case of Delhi belly. I was sat waiting for the plane, in the departure lounge, at Heathrow. I had an ache in my guts. A sobering emptiness brought on by the combination of leaving my tearful family and the sudden realisation that the comfortable time of planning, talking and daydreaming about all the places I`d like to go was over. The time had come to do it. It was December 13th 1998.
Maybe it was due to emotions running high, conscious of the fact that I was now on my own, that I noticed everyone else in the departure lounge appeared to be with someone. Couples going away for a romantic Christmas. Groups hoping to revive summer tans and summer exploits. Old people escaping the long, cold English winter. Even families, who were normally running around after a misbehaving child or trying to comfort a crying baby, were sat happily together. The sight of peoples` luggage alienated me a bit further. Neat, shiny expensive looking suitcases being effortlessly wheeled across the floor. Where were all the backpackers?
The arrivals hall at Cairo airport seemed to serve as a sieve. As throngs of passengers poured through the automatic doors, those meeting relatives were caught and held by open arms. Others were stopped and greeted by tour reps. Some saw their name on a card, held by a smiling stranger. I, on the other hand, slipped through unnoticed.
Looking for directions to the taxi rank, it was there where finally, looking equally bewildered and anxious were two other backpackers. Scanning the open pages of a Lonely Planet. Stooping from the weight of their backpacks.