It’s a quirky old world. Every day, all over this wondrous planet of ours unusual things are taking place. Chance meetings are leading to random conversations, animals are behaving in spectacular ways and the forces of nature are painting great masterpieces on imaginary canvases. And if you stay at home you might just miss it all.
For me travel is, in part, about seeing the highlights but beyond that it is about the little things, the unusual occurrences, the random conversations. Here are a few snap-shots, Kodak-moments if you will, of my own chance meetings with the small things that make this world beautiful and travel just about the best thing you can do.
Years ago I found myself sat on top of a temple in the great complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It was late in the afternoon and I was staring out at a view of jungle and ruins below, the sun gently warming my face. A Cambodian boy approached me and sat next to me. “Do you know who I am?” he asked, “My name is David Beckham, I play for Manchester United.” We conversed for the next half-hour and the boy in question never broke character. That was the day I met David Beckham on top of a temple in Cambodia.
My first trip to Rwanda was some years past. Like many people I had been drawn to Rwanda by the lure of seeing Mountain Gorillas, an experience which, to this day, still ranks as my best and most intense experience whilst travelling. After seeing the Gorillas I decided to visit the town of Gyseni on the shores of Lake Kivu in the west of the country. On our way to Gyseni the public mini-bus we were travelling in made some stops in small villages to drop off and pick up passengers. At every stop the sight of two Mzungus (white people) turned the head of everyone who noticed. One of our fellow passengers asked me whether black people attracted this much attention in our home-lands to which we replied that there were sizable black populations where we came from so it wasn’t an unusual site. A second man came and shook my hand and told me “today I am happy it is the first time I meet a white man.” That was the day I realised the world still had places where discovery was a two-way street.
Staying on a small estancia in the Argentine pampas our hosts took us on walks through the fields pointing out the local wildlife of prairie birds, armadillos and rabbits, on horse-rides to through the pampas in the company of a local Gaucho and made sure that our stay was relaxed and comfortable. And if this hospitality wasn’t enough in the evening we all sat down together, guests, hosts and gaucho, and spent the evening drinking wine and enjoying a traditional lamb asado (cooked on a fire), joking and laughing under a star-filled sky. That was the day I embraced fully the Argentinean cowboy culture.
And there are so many more such moments, all over the world: drinking vodka with Russian guards on the Trans-Siberian and Ukrainian scientists in Antarctica; swimming with whale sharks in Mozambique; playing dominoes with Brazilians whist navigating down the Amazon; finding myself in the heart of a parade of 500,000 Cubans celebrating May Day; seeing an Anaconda in the Amazon; singing around a fire with Karen tribesmen from Thailand; watching a lightning storm in Uganda; star-gazing in Chile’s Atacama Desert; watching a birdsong competition in Surinam… and the list goes on and on and grows with every trip, with every new chance encounter, with every random conversation, and with every new animal encounter.