Welcome armchair travellers. Sophie, who as you know is my fellow travelling companion, asked me the other day: “What would you say to someone who asked you what the highlights of travelling are?”
I stumbled around an answer to that after a few too many Asahi beers, however when I was sitting in an hot bath in Japan it all became clear. The answer for me is what I’m calling snapshot memories.
Those moments that are so vivid in your mind that you can almost taste the food that you ate, how hot the water was, the way the sea smelt or the wind blew.
Travelling, in the form we’re doing it, is immensely tiring. It’s hard work; you get disillusioned, tired, heart broken in our case by natural disasters, shocked by poverty, exasperated by tourist touts who won’t listen. On the other side of that emotional roller coaster you see beauty that you would never have seen, natural and human; a mountain bathed in the fresh morning light, a temple full of worshippers, an instant friend who helps you without hesitation, a train full of life. It’s the snapshot moments that keep you going and they happen pretty often so I’d like to describe a few of them to you.
Goshonoyu Bath, Kinosakionsen, Japan
Sat in the outside pool, next to a hot mountain spring bubbling over a rock next to me, a mountain stream gushing over multiple waterfalls to my left, rain filtering down constant but light, cooling my forehead which was poking out of the hot bath lined with rocks. Young boys were playing splash with their grandad, mates were laughing about something, steam rose through the lights in the night air.
Sunset over Mount Fuji on the last evening in Kawaguchiko.
We’d just eaten dinner in the evening of what had been a pretty overcast and dismal day. We walked outside and to our surprise the clouds had drifted behind Fuji, long and streaked in shape, they gave the volcano a coloured backdrop of the reflected sunset light. Starting out as dark golds, they were joined by brilliant light pinks, contrasted by Fuji’s sullen rocky purple colour.
Kerala houseboat, India
Sitting on two lounger chairs, cushioned and high backed, on the top deck of a two tiered houseboat which is made by tying jackwood planks together with coir rope – made out of coconut husk, and then coating them with black resin made from boiled cashew nut shells. All natural. Reading books, sunbathing in the perfect sunshine to suit the perfect blue sky, creating perfect reflections in the water of the green and gold trees that line the edge of the land. Floating through natural backwater channels, past small villages with children who call and wave and chase after the boat, eating delicious, freshly caught fish for every meal.
Sunset, Kanyakumari, India
I’ve never seen more shades of pink, red and gold in a sunset, Kanyakumari sits at the tip of India and there’s an expansive horizon to watch. The whole town is flooded with glowing light, and the three seas that meet here turn into a fascinating reddish soup.
Uppuveli Beach, Sri Lanka
Lazing on this beach became our favourite pastime especially when the local fishermen started fishing morning and night for several days. Watching them hauling their nets in, sorting the catch fairly, sending a turtle back out to sea that they’d caught mistakenly, and even getting to have a go. All this set onto an azure sea meeting golden sands, with palm trees hanging lazily everywhere in sight. This was a true paradise.
Bus station, Pokhara, Nepal
The Annapurna massif mountain range sits just behind Pokhara, the trouble was that we couldn’t see it. Every time it was visible we were sat looking the wrong way, a hill obscuring our view, at our guesthouse. The morning that we decide to leave was a crisp Himalayan summer day, the sun was warming but the air was fresh and cold, and there standing elegantly behind the bus station was the mountain range. Enchanting, breathtakingly beautiful. Pure white as if surrendering their magic to us. I couldn’t stop looking until it was out of sight, Annapurna I is the highest mountain in the range and is one of only 14 mountains in the world that are above 8000m. It sits symmetrical and perfect in the middle of the range.
Phewa Tal, Pokhara, Nepal
Our prize for not being able to see the mountains was having to stare at Phewa Tal. This lake that stretches out thinly from Pokhara city is lined by green, forested mountains. These mountains often form thick clouds in the morning giving the lake a shadowy, foreboding darkness. By the afternoon the clouds are breaking up, and the thin rays of sunshine that get through the clouds and haze to shine onto the lake are absolutely breathtaking.