MIDDLE AGED Round The World
a brief article for the Globe-Trotters Magazine
My then partner and I (aged 55 and 65) went round the world (RTW) for 12 months to April 2002. She has written a book on it and is looking for a publisher, I went to internet cafes to maintain a long journal. So rather than travellers' tales here are some notes on how we did it.
The RTW deal was from Star Alliance, giving us 12 months, 15 stops and 39000 miles. A couple of times when in dispute with an airline the Alliance link was useful. Their miles include overland legs which seems unfair but it is still good value. They allow back-tracking which we needed for India to China. We flew to Brasil for two lazy weeks to get over the strain of preparations, then to Lima. We took buses round Peru and despite being told it was impossible found a cheap way to Matthu Pichu. (Don't have time to check spellings. You'll know what I mean.) Three-day trips to Colka Canyon and to the Peruvian Amazon jungle. Bus and boat (aided by the Bolivian Navy!) to cold La Paz then bus on 'the most dangerous road in the world' to lovely Coroica. Flew to Costa Rica which seemed obscenely wealthy and American! But we had a wonderful time there - eco-tourism on the Carribean coast, and I wrote a report on working conditions on the banana plantations. Then buses through sad Nicaragua, tough Honduras (staying with the Garifuni) and Guatemala with its obscene contrast of wealth and poverty. We were in luxury after three months of back packers' hotels and crowded but fascinating bus journeys - we avoid 'luxury' or 'tourist' buses. Then we bought a car in Florida and eventually sold it in British Columbia. (One could write a book on each leg of the journey.) This was not as easy as it sounds - big problems with driver's licence and insurance. But surmountable. Boat and bus to Houston BC. Strange coming back to sophistication a few days after 9/11, a different world. Hawaii then fabulous Tonga. Real bliss as the only visitors on an idyllic island, and time to think. Here my partner discovered the magic of snorkelling. NZ was surprisingly far nicer than expected, Sydney also amazes. We were kept busy there and in Canberra and Melbourne giving talks. Thailand which my partner hated, but we made lasting friends there, one a prisoner not half way through 25 years for drugs. Dont even think about it! Interesting to contrast the type of tourists here with those in S America. Almost a different breed. So to the jewel, three months in India lived up to all my hopes and dreams. A stop-over in steamy sophisticated Singapore (the night time zoo worth a visit) thence to Beijing, and onto the trans-Asia train with stops including three weeks in Mongolia, Siberia (Lake Baikal), Moscow and glorious St Petersberg. Stockholm was refreshing and spring time in England utterly delightful.
Total cost not calculated, but less than the rent we got on our London homes. We ate local workers' food. We often stayed in people's homes - fellow-Quakers, a hosting organisation, far flung family and friends. Otherwise in the better rooms in cheap hotels. Motels (except some on Route 66) have no character but are great value. Or ashrams.
The only problematic visa was that for Russia, though others such as India and China needed some care. I was surprised to find one of the most irksome problems was using public telephones - one needs to see if mobiles can be adapted cheaply in each region. Only disappointments: despite three weeks in most places we usually seemed to be in a hurry, and sadly my slides turned out bad.
Essentials include up-to-date Guides, both Visa and Mastercard (and some areas only take Maestro), insect repellent and anti-itch cream, and a hat if you are bald like me. I had to have scalp cancer treatment on return. I was supplied with and shown how to use self catheterisation by UCH. Never had to do it but without it I would not have dared go to Tonga, or deep into the Gobi. Medically we had very few problems, tummy bug twice, and chest complaints in the Andes. I got shingles when in Thailand but was easily able to get powerful drugs (for £50 - a fortune) which knocked it out. But we had quite a few muscular strains and joint problems from lugging our packs (and from 3 days meditating cross legged in a Buddhist temple!) We both had Karrimor wheeled rucksacks and seldom had to hump them.
My advice - just DO IT! Don't worry about food and accommodation and robbery. Ignore travel mags and ads. They make it scary so you'll use their expensive services. Just GO!.
More details on the web site, but sadly I don't have time and space to mention our lovely hosts and the travellers and locals we met.