You only hate the road when you're missing home...
Travel, I find, has a way of giving perspective. Everyone will take from it what they wish and, personally, I'm not generally a huge fan of sights (although I appreciate some can help gain an understanding about particular cultures), travel for me is mostly about people. That's why, if I have a spare hour on a trip, I'll head straight to where I can soak up the soul of a place and this is usually the places where the locals are.
Similarly, most of my travels involve mountains and so the trips usually involve working with local guides, porters, Sherpas, pony men or kitchen crew. This is such a privilege. The chance to work alongside the local experts and share their ways of working and dip into their lives even just for a few weeks is priceless.
But, while I love travel, I can't deny that there's sometimes the occasional day when I really just want to be at home. During my current expedition I have missed, for example, my son Ben's last few days at Primary School. The time away also coincided with a good friend's wedding. I love my work but there are things that pull me towards home.
When this happens experience has shown me I should tackle it head on. Last year I spent a lot of time in India and I remember one day in my hotel room. One expedition group had left for home and I'd just been to Delhi airport to see them off. I really wanted to be flying home with them but my second group were starting to arrive in a few days. I was feeling lonely and run down and had picked up an eye infection somewhere along the way. It was a low point and I decided to cheer myself up by calling home. It was a big mistake. Talking to my family reduced me to tears and an even darker mood.
I decided there was more to Delhi than a hotel room and the best way to feel less alone was to be around people. I started with a stroll through the fruit and vegetable markets of Parhganj then settled on a street side table in a bustling cafe for a beer. Before long a Royal Enfield had pulled up outside and a couple climbed off and sat at a table nearby. We were soon swapping stories about India and they told me of their remarkable motorbike journey which was now drawing to a close as they headed to their finishing point in Kathmandu. Joe and Daisy had spent many months in Delhi and they were visiting some Indian friends for dinner. Would I like to join them? It was a brilliant evening. Their friends welcomed me with open arms and it was an amazing experience to delve a little into their lives. It was all about being around people.
I had another dark day about 10 days ago. A number of problems had needed to be dealt with in Tanzania and in the back of my mind I was feeling depressed that it was also my friend's wedding day. My family were there without me and I knew there would be a load of mates attending who I've have loved to catch up with. At the time I was near the small Tanzanian town of Lesotho and I thought, once the expedition problems were ironed out, that I should raise my spirits by heading into the bustle of the town's market day. It didn't disappoint.
There is a line in the film The Exotic Marigold Hotel that I always remember. One of the characters asks another why they love India so much and the reply was 'because all of life is here'. Lesotho market day felt like all of life was there too. First, there was just about everything you could wish to buy but there was so much more. Maize and chicken sizzling over improvised barbecues, giggling children playing football in a corner of the square, African music pounding out from a makeshift speaker set up, pots, pans, cooking smells and excited noise. It was a great place to soak up life in a small African town. It was a great place to lift my spirits.
After strolling around and having a coffee at a pop up cafe I headed back to our accommodation. However, rather than heading down the busy main road I decided to take a loop through the residential area that sits behind the main square. It was a hotch potch mix of small huts and some larger buildings with corrugated roofs. I wandered along until I came to an area where a group of men were sitting playing cards at a small outdoor cafe. I said the usual Swahili greeting 'Jambo' and continued walking. I was then surprised to hear one of the men say, in very good English, "come and join us my friend".
There was a time when, earlier in my travelling experience, I would have run a mile from such an invitation. My fear of mugging or some sort of scam would have been a barrier to making the most of the opportunity. Of course there are some places I've travelled where that would still be the case, but I feel very at home in Tanzania. I had time, I had an opportunity and I wanted company, so cards it was. A couple of hours passed with lots of laughter and, on my part at least, some very poor card skills. It was a great afternoon.
I had missed my friend's wedding but I was joining a group of the friends who were attending for a sport climbing trip in the Autumn and I'd undoubtedly relive it through the photos and videos they all took. Suddenly I wasn't so upset to miss it. I knew I would never sit in this place having fun with this group of Tanzanian's again just as I knew it was an experience I'd always remember. These sort of opportunities only come through throwing yourself into the lives of local people and these opportunities are priceless.