There are two that stand out – one in Costa Rica, so rich in beauty, ruggedness and diversity, and a tourism industry that was not allowed to adversely affect the environment – but the one I have deemed memorable more than any other was our first trip abroad to another continent.
The Gambia was that first destination, when we decided that our two boys were old and ugly enough to look after themselves while we were away; or so we thought, but that is another tale for another blog.
Mrs B and I found The Gambia pleasantly hot, great fun and so exciting, and we were still young enough to risk doing stuff that we wouldn’t do in our retirement years. Such as a mystery trip to a “forbidden island”, cooked up by our beach guide we had earlier befriended.
We arrived at the River Gambia crossing, and caught the ferry over to the other side. There, our guide told us to wait. He disappeared, and we waited, and waited. We had just about decided that we had been “done”, having paid him in advance for the trip, when he turned up in a green Mercedes and driver! Wow!
The next thing was to get petrol. We stopped at a shack, and a few minutes later, our guide and the driver appeared, carrying a barrel of fuel which they managed, somehow, to pour into the tank, with lit cigarettes hanging out of their mouths. I think we were both smoking in the back of the car as well.
Having survived that encounter without an explosion, we carried on driving along the road, until we suddenly turned left, leaving the main road behind. The trouble was, we were not on any road any more, not even a track. We were in dense jungle, and I have to say it was both exhilarating and fairly disquieting in equal doses.
After half an hour of bouncing around on uneven terrain, (that poor Mercedes…) we arrived at a lagoon, with what appeared to be a tiny island right in the middle.
We were told to disembark from our taxi, and both Mrs B and I were unceremoniously picked up and put over the shoulders of our fellow travellers, and then we saw why. The sand surrounding the lagoon was covered with tiny crabs, scurrying in every direction. By the water’s edge was a cut-out tree trunk, into which we were deposited, and our compatriots, using makeshift oars, rowed us towards the island.
There, we were immediately taken to the “Captains” tent, in which we were served green tea, and given dope to smoke. We had already noticed several Tesco plastic bags full of which appeared to cannabis.
That was confirmed minutes later when we taken on a tour around the island. The women were all toiling in the fields, cultivating the only plants there, yes, cannabis, while the men were all sat outside their front doors in rocking chairs, completely off their faces with the spoils of the land.
I vowed there and then, if I was to come back to this earth as somebody else, it’s one of the blokes I want to be!!
The day carried on with huge surprises and great memories – Mrs B was allowed to hold a new born baby in the birthing hut, something she’ll never forget, and on our way home on the ferry, our guide told us to follow his lead and do whatever he did. As we approached the ticket collector at the end of the journey, he turned to us and shouted: “Run!” He of course had spent all the money we had given him, and had not purchased a ticket for the journey. We survived……..
That was just one day of fourteen that were exhilarating, unforgettable, and yes, the most memorable I can recall. I’m exhausted just writing about it!
My most memorable holiday
Thankfully, this isn’t about the very best vacation, I have several of those from which to chose. Like my second trip to Southern Italy or any holiday at Walt Disney World. That would be a hard article to write. But this is easy.
There was one trip so awful it was simply known as the “vacation from hell” for several years in my family. There is no looking on the bright side… no positive spin. I am referring to the infamous week in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Let us begin at the beginning, which is a good place to begin. We tied the kids to the hood of the car and struck-out for a wonderful holiday at the beach. And after an uneventful drive we rolled into town and the car … just … died. Fortunately it stopped right in front of a gas station and garage, right on the edge of town. So the man said he would work on it while we were enjoying our stay. Hey, it’s a minor bump – Let the fun begin!
We arrived at our little cottage about a block from the beach. The place had that wood panelling from the seventies. You know, the panels with the black lines between the wood grain painted boards? It was dim.
Not to worry, we will head down to the beach and all will be well … except….. The rain was a harsh master, taunting with a single ray of sun. Remember we had no car but we did have two young daughters. So we are limited in how far we can walk — in the rain. There isn’t even a restaurant nearby.
Each day we would try to find a hole between showers so we could play in the surf. I remember once this woman picked us up in her car. I imagine she thought we were pitiful. I protested that we were completely wet and her seats would be soaked. We will walk home! She politely would hear none of it.
The same sad story plays out day after day. There… look THERE. It’s the Sun! You would think after the fifth time I wouldn’t fall for that, yet again.
It rained every day and we remained locked in our dim, faux wood paneled cottage. Thankfully there was a Gary Larson, Far Side book which I could read for entertainment.
And so it came to pass that on the very last day the man called from the garage and the car was ready. We got in that car and have never returned.
So I hear your cries of quarantine and lock down and I’ll raise you one week at the beach.
My three frescas
I am happy to recall three vacations: each of them did push my imagination off limits.
The volcanos and the ocean: Kamchatka 1986
I’m twelve, just finished my sixth school year. Just got an A for my geography test as an overture. My first experience of flying: man, by no means it was a dreadful flight, not BOAC but Aeroflot. No paper bags on my knees, smooth across the USSR frow West to East and back…
Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Long-distance Ilyushin-62M jet: eight and a half hours non-stop… a fantastic summer to remember: lots of hiking in the green hills. Majestic Pacific Ocean and chain of snow-covered volcanos… First time the ocean, first time the volcanos… What else would you want for a twelve-year-old?
All my dreams came true… (first time this BIG).
Land beloved by gods: Japan 2002
Twenty-seven-years-old this time. Such a fantastic journey – geographically comparable to that Kamchatka trip but so much more in terms of experiences and emotions. Went there with my then-girlfriend, a Japanese.
Blasted off myself right into the next century… Splendid Tokyo, sunny and hot, the city of tomorrow… Gourmet food, many meals I didn’t know existed… Local lifestyle and customs, ancient and ultramodern ones mixed in one… Shrines shadowed by skyscrapers… Demons of the past in the Hakone woods with its charming tradition of hot springs worship and fancy lords of fashion in trendy Ginza and Harajuku… and everywhere… Japan is truly another planet in every possible way…
I came back a different person.
All my dreams came true… (second time this BIG).
The island of ancient myths: Ceylon 2011
I’m thirty-six now, just married. Flying to Sri Lanca to spend a honeymoon with my wife. The fairy-tale island that I wanted to go… The place where Rama and Sita story did happen in the very distant past according to a Hindu myth… The mighty Indian Ocean… the big waves we loved to conquer making it together far from the shore… the cruelest sun above… the picturesque scenery deep inside the island… the tea history… a bottle of 1996 Dom Perignon that we’d brought with us to open it on our balcony with the ocean view… me trying to catch the wave with my local instructor, Suresh… Lots of everything, overwhelming…
All my dreams came true… (third time this BIG).
P.S. What are dreams for if not to come true? (credits to a 1993 Jaguar ad)