Eight weeks ago, I packed my life into 70 litres of baggage and left the shores of rainy Blighty. Since that day, I’ve travelled through three countries and seen and done more than I imagined.
It’s not been easy to limit myself, but here are eight highlights from my eight weeks so far. In no particular order…
Taking a boat trip from Lombok to Flores (Indonesia)
Ok, this one is in particular order as it’s hands down the best thing I’ve done so far. For four days and four nights in Indonesia, I lived on a rickety wooden boat that journeyed from Lombok to Flores. I snorkelled with manta rays, got up close and personal with Komodo Dragons, survived an open water storm, sweet talked my way to the helm of an 88ft boat, saw the most beautiful sunrises, had breakfast while a school of dolphins played near my feet, met some great people, took in amazing landscapes and generally had a bloody awesome adventure. It would be my #1 ‘must do’ if you are ever in that part of the world.
Climbing Mt Merapi (New Selo, Indonesia)
I’ve seen a fair few sunrises in my eight weeks but none have been as spectacular as the one I witnessed from atop Indonesia’s most active volcano. It was the most colourful reward after scrambling up loose rock and through volcanic ash for three and half hours in total darkness. As the sun rose, it revealed a stunning landscape. Neighbouring mountain, Mt Merbabu, and nearby volcanos, Mt Lawu and Mt Ngliman, came into full view, as did the glowing green vegetation that we’d passed on the way up. It took around six hours to climb and descend Merapi but it was totally, totally worth it.
Taking the train from Kandy to Ella (Sri Lanka)
Long distance journeys generally suck, except for when you’re taking the train between Sri Lanka’s Kandy and Ella. The six hour journey probes right through the heart of the country’s breathtakingly beautiful Hill Country: home to rolling tea plantations and bulbous hilltops that glow greener than a superfood smoothie. The train climbs the hills, giving you uninterrupted views of deep valleys that extend for miles below and make people, buildings and vehicles look like models. I honestly felt like I was on a ride at Disney. Everything was so pristine, so beautiful. It seemed too good to be true.
The sulfur mine of Mt Ijen (Sempol, Indonesia)
Climbing Mt Ijen and entering its crater was probably the most unique experience I’ve had so far. Under moonlight, I hiked up the volcano and scrambled into it’s active crater which is home to a working sulfur mine. Sporting a gas mask, I witnessed haggard men slave away as they collected hardened sulfur while sulfuric gas pumped into their lungs and traipse to the crater top carrying 90kg loads, all so they could put food on the table. As the sun appeared, the landscape that surrounded me revealed itself to be something from another planet.
Seeing orangutans in the jungle (Bukit Lawang, Indonesia)
Seeing wild and semi-wild organutans in Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra was quite something. As we trekked through the damp and humid jungle, above us hung these stunning mammals. Their red furs beamed brightly against the green tropical background; their gangly limbs swayed downward; their expressions and mannerisms like yours and mine. I could’ve stayed and stared for hours.
Volunteering in Sri Lanka (Batticaloa, Sri Lanka)
On behalf of Ocean Star’s Trust, I spent four days volunteering at three different schools close to Sri Lanka’s tsunami-hit-town of Batticaloa. It was the most sobering and humbling four days I’ve had in a long time. I met orphaned children who lost parents and siblings in the tsunami, but still smiled like everyday was Christmas; I saw what is being done, even now – 12 years on, to rebuild communities shattered by a horrific natural disaster; I taught children new games, new English words and maybe even inspired them to dream beyond their tiny, shack-filled communities.
This is very generic and a very easy choice, but meeting people from all walks of life has been – and will remain – a real plus point of travelling. I’ve made friends for life, acquired couches to crash on all over the world, heard fascinating life tales, been humbled, been educated and have built up a confidence to break the ice with anyone – something I would never have done eight weeks ago.
Trying local food
Southeast Asia is fantastic for food, which is perfect for a foodie like me. Available literally at every turn, favourite local dishes can be ordered and cooked up by the roadside. I don’t think I can pin down one particular dish. It would be a toss up between kothu (chopped roti, fried with egg, vegetables and spices; Sri Lanka), gado gado (steamed vegetables, hard boiled egg, tofu, tempeh and peanut sauce; Indonesia) and gudeg (unripe jack fruit boiled in palm sugar and coconut milk, served with egg and chicken; Yogyakarta, Indonesia).
Here’s to another eight weeks…