Travel Stories

When I was 21 I left Australia strapped into a giant purple backpack…… I wanted to go everywhere and see everything and my quest took me around the world, from the steamy jungles of Mexico, to the pyramids of Guatemala, and hidden surf beaches in El Salvador. Travels through North America led me to the icy mountain peaks of Canada, and the ancient red wood forests of northern California, then to Hollywood and Venice Beach and a summer tour with the Grateful Dead. From New York I flew to South America and travelled by land from the coke hazed streets of Santa Marta Colombia, across the mountains through Equador and Peru. I saw the sunrise over Machu Pichu and watched pink flamingos dance in a bright red lake in midst of the vast salt planes of Boliva. There was a gut churning flight over the Nazca lines, and the discovery of a desert strewn with mumified bodies (complete with hair and nails) and an awestruck moment watching the sun set and the full moon simultaneously rise over the Valley of the moon in Chile. Across the world, the rosy hued hidden city of Petra in Jordan revealed its secrets, and long summer days were spent exploring the rocky churches of he surreal valleys of Goreme in Turkey. I rode a donkey through the valley of the kings and lost my heart in Istanbul, the magical city that straddles Europe and Asia. There were long cold winters in London and a long term affair with Italy – with its streets of marble, ornate fountains, craggy coasts and beautiful food. Asia called and a dream came true with the rising sun over Angkor Wat in the jungles of Cambodia. There were long slow boat rides through the rivers of Laos and hikes through remote mountains in the north of Thailand, and then there was India in all its colouful chaos, a country like no other, more an experience than a destination. After 15 years wandering the globe I washed up on a beach in the fiji islands. For the next two years travel writing was replaced by an altogether more serious and stationary job managing a resort on a remote island. These days I live in Bali and spend my time writing about food and luxury villas, I miss my days of wild adventure, but you cant carry around a backpack forever! I still travel when I can – Indonesia has thousands (17,000 in fact) islands to explore which should keep me busy.

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Varanasi, the city of light

I arrive at the Ganges as the sun begins to cast its glow over the waking city.  The river runs purple and its banks gleam a shimmering gold.  All around is the sound of music, ringing bells and chanting as Varanasi comes alive in a mad frenzy of devotion.  I watch a man walk into the river, arms outstretched, a look of ecstasy on his face as he  calls out  “Ganga”.  I am overwhelmed by the intensity of emotion – this is no ordinary river.

I find a teastand and sit down, enjoying the sweet spicy brew.  An old man sit next to me.  “Did you know that this is the oldest city in the world? He asks.  “It is the center of all knowledge and wisdom, he who searches for answers will find them here is Varanasi”.   For thousands of years people have come to worship and offer their prayers to the river Goddess.  A dip in the holy waters of Varanasi is said to wash away all sins. Continue reading

Gallipoli Turkey

On April 25 every year, thousands gather at a narrow peninsula in Turkey under a deep blue sky. The rugged landscape is hauntingly beautiful, with its dramatic ridges, isolated beaches and deep valleys, but that’s not what draws them. They are mostly young New Zealanders and Australians, backpacking, hitchhiking and staggering out of old Kombi vans, drawn to a location they know little about except its place in their nation’s histories. Continue reading

On the road with the Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia, singer, songwriter and founding force of the Grateful Dead was a larger- than-life character, hailed by many of his fans as a Messiah-like figure. When he died in August 1995, 20,000 people gathered in San Francisco for a candle-light vigil. Shortly after, the band announced their split and to many it seemed like the end of an era. But time has proved otherwise and ten years after Jerry’s death, and forty years after the band played their first gig, the spirit of the Dead is alive and kicking. The Grateful Dead formed in the 60’s and seamlessly provided the background music for Ken Kesey as he unleashed his acid tests on California. Playing their unique, psychedelic boogie music, Jerry and the Dead came to symbolise the summer of love and the phenomenon of the‘Dead Head’ was born as loyal followers went on the road for the bands legendary tours across America.

In the spring of 1993, I embarked on my own summer of love and went on tour with the Dead– albeit selling falafel to hungry Dead Heads. We arrived in Chicago for the first show and seemed to have passed through a time warp when we entered the parking lot. There were tie-dyes, buses with flowers painted on them, girls in patchwork dresses, drumming circles. It was bitterly cold but everyone was in high spirits and incredibly friendly. I swapped a falafel for a space cake and off I went. A truck opened its doors, revealing hundreds of balloons, a queue formed and people were soon reeling about with big grins on their faces as they inhaled the happy gas from the balloons. Everything seemed to go a bit crazy, my friend Martin was arrested for selling falafel and the cops were bombarded with snowballs. The disco bus raised its flag, cranked the volume and the air was filled with the funky beat of Freak out, suddenly everyone was dancing – even the cops. All around the snow gently fell. Continue reading

The Badlands of Boliva

As a child  I saw the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and   watched,  enthralled as my heroes arrived in Bolivia.  It  seemed to be the wildest, most exciting place on the planet, I didn’t know where it was but I knew I wanted to go there. Twenty years later I found myself in Tupiza, surrounded  by forests of cacti, wide gaping canyons and the rainbow coloured hills where Butch and Sundance carried out their daring raids.

Inhabiting an extremely remote region of South America, Bolivia is the highest of the Latin American countries, sweeping from the soaring peaks of the Andes in the north, down to the lush Amazonian basin in the east and across to the barren plains of the south.The dreary town of Uyuni in the southwest is the gateway to the Salar de Uyuni, the remains of a giant salt lake stretching 12,600 kilometres.We drive for hours across the blinding white plain. The glare creates optical illusions, volcanoes loom up on the horizon and appear to hover above the ground. We lunch on Isla dePescadores, a small island in a dazzling white sea, covered with tall and spindly cacti. Continue reading

Hidden Hampi

In central Karnataka lies the village of Hampi. Here you find valleys rich in a dazzling array of brilliant colours. Huge boulders and hills of rock and sandstone dot the landscape and amidst it all are the scattered remains of a lost civilisation. Villagers make their home amongst the remnantsof the old bazaar, but monkeys and the occasional chilum smoking sadhu are the only inhabitants of the outlying ruins.

Hampi provides a constant assault on the senses. Women seem to glide effortlessly down he street in brilliantly coloured saris, carrying buckets and huge piles of firewood on  their heads. The streets are lined with stands of powder dies, chilli red, saffron yellow and fluro orange. At the thali restaurants you are served curries to set your mouth on fire ~ even the tea is made with cardamon. The air is permeated with the pungent smell-of cow dung – it is watered down and thrown on the pavement to keep the chalk designs fresh and to keep the dust down.

Cows wander the streets, stealing fruit from the stands or lie sprawled across the middle of the road. They have no need to fear the traffic – to kill a sacred cow is almost as serious as killing a person. Dogs skulk around protecting their territory and spying out friendly foreigners in the restaurants. Everywhere cheeky monkeys play amongst the stucco ornaments of temples, pilfering food and chattering away in the trees. Continue reading

Puglia, Italy

There is a saying in the south of Italy – that the north is always covered in fog so people can’t see clearly. Life is certainly slower and more traditional in the predominantly rural south, and in the province of Puglia you find Italy at its sleepiest. Tourism is slowly creeping into the region but for now most foreign visitors to Puglia, situated on the heel of Italy’s stiletto boot, generally head straight for the ports of Bari and Brindisi and the overnight ferries to Greece. Those who choose to spend some time here get a taste of real Italy. You wont be served dinner before 9.30pm or find burgers or a cooked breakfast on the menu but you will find unspoiled villages, quiet beaches and medieval architecture without being just another face in a sea of tourists. Continue reading