Stephen Tapply Photography
 
Two Weeks Is Not Enough

I had already travelled throughout Europe with my paraglider, so at the beginning of this century I took it on a very cheap two week package tour to India. I planned to stay longer — I had a six month visa — but I knew that if I really hated it, I already had a flight home. Several friends, none of whom had actually been to India, warned me about culture shock, abject poverty, beggars, touts, food poisoning, scams and undrinkable water. My eternally supportive family, however, were unanimous. “You won’t be on the plane home.” I protested that I might hate it, to be told, “Two weeks won’t be enough”.

Of course they were right. Nearly three years and seven countries later, I’d fallen hopelessly in love with South East Asia. Finally, I returned to the UK. Once I’d reminded my family and friends what I looked like, I acquired a new, larger passport and promptly set off for another two years of paragliding, trekking and travelling.

It’s now 2012. Since my ‘two week’ trip to India, I’ve also spent some time in Nepal, every country in South East Asia except Bhutan, plus Russia, China, Mongolia, Japan and Korea. In 2008 I went to Mexico, travelled all the way south to Antarctica, and am now on my way to the Galapagos Islands, having visited every country in Latin America.

A (not very) brief review of just some of the highlights:

I've visited more famous monuments and places than you can shake a stick at, including the Taj Mahal, the Golden Temple at Amritsar, Khajuraho, Varanasi, Bagan in Myanmar, Angkor Wat, Chichen Itza, Tikal, the Nazca lines, Machu Picchu, the Bolivian salt flats, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army, the Potala Palace in Lhasa, St Basils in Red Square, Ryoan-ji and Daisen-in in Kyoto...

I spent three months with lots of stops on the Trans-Siberian from Beijing via Mongolia to Moscow...

I followed the entire Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season in Kyoto, Japan...

I explored on and off the Silk Road from Xi’an to Urumqi and Kashgar...

I’ve trekked in the Indian Himalaya, Nepal, Tibet, Indo-China, Central America, South America. Climbed to nearly 20,000 feet in Nepal, seen Everest close up from both sides and trekked the Annapurna Circuit three times.

The first two weeks of January 2012 were spent watching penguins, whales, albatrosses, glaciers and icebergs while cruising down to cross the Antarctic Circle.

I’ve climbed active volcanoes in Indonesia, Guatemala and Nicaragua, and toasted marshmallows over 1000 degree lava.

I’ve been paragliding in India, Nepal, Thailand, Indonesia, Colombia, Peru and Chile. I even took part in the Indonesian National Paragliding competition and came fourth in my class!

Having learned to dive with Thresher Shark Divers on Malapascua, I’ve now explored wrecks and reefs in the Philippines, Indonesia, Borneo, Malaysia, Mexico, Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Later this trip I'll be diving the Galapagos.

I learned Indonesian and Malaysian, studied Chinese at Xi’an Normal University, and seriously improved my Spanish at a Cooperative School in San Pedro, Guatemala. Having completed the Rosetta Stone Brasilian Portuguese, I'm now working on my Japanese and Korean for my next trip. Then I'm going to learn Russian and Arabic!

I’ve eaten dog, snake, camel, donkey, armadillo, cuy (guinea pig), alpaca, lama and ostrich. I’ve also discovered that China has the best cuisine in the world, but only in China. If you eat in a Cantonese restaurant in England, you have no idea what proper Chinese food tastes like! The second best cuisine would be Indian.

Since I’ve been travelling, I’ve published several travel stories and sold lots of travel, architectural, landscape and underwater photos. I’ve produced two books of travel photos, and I’m in the process of putting two more together. I've also written a book of short travel stories, and will have enough for a second book at the end of my current trip.

So what would be the very best of all the highlights? The historical sights? The breathtaking landscapes? The trekking, diving, paragliding? The food? Actually, it’s none of the above.

The best, the very best thing about long-term travel is the people you meet.

First there are the ‘nervous’ travellers, often a young couple on their first big trip. They’re a little apprehensive because everything is new and different, but they’re also excited and enthusiastic, which reminds me why I’m travelling and keeps me inspired.

Then there are the friendly, interesting, curious locals, from whom I learn so much about their country, their culture and their lives. If you take the trouble to learn their language, they’re particularly appreciative. In China, they almost want to adopt you!

Finally, and best of all, there are the ‘happy’ travellers. I must have met hundreds. In hostels, on trains and buses, at the sights and during the activities. We compare notes about where we’ve been. We share our joys, our triumphs, our favourite places and experiences and, occasionally, our horror stories. A very few of them are more experienced than me. Not surprisingly, most aren’t. But it doesn’t matter. It’s not a competition. We leave that to the ‘superior’ travellers.

In a particularly good hostel in Leon, Nicaragua, I stopped far longer than I had intended, because of a large group of delightful ‘happy travellers’ who were staying there. In Arequipa, Peru I met a charming, very experienced couple, and we ended up travelling together for three glorious weeks through the Sacred Valley and on to Bolivia. And I spent just three days talking and eating with an interesting young Estonian woman in Chile…

I could write a whole article just about some of the most fascinating people I’ve met in the last decade. (I am – it’ll be in my next book. The story’s called ‘Close Encounters of the Preferred Kind.’ Sorry!)

But whether I spend three days or three weeks in their company, I come away enriched and enthused. By people I’d never have met if I’d stayed in the UK. People who I frequently end up keeping in contact with.

And that’s the real reason two weeks is not enough.

Updated February 2013


 

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