With the Cuba ebook in its final stages, it's time to plan another trip. (Well, it would be time to plan another trip whatever state Vultures Overhead was in - I'm not good at sitting about for months when there's a world that needs exploring.)
As some of you know, I've wanted to go to Madagascar for a long time. (No particular reason - it just feels like a good idea!)
Two years ago I didn't go when I discovered that January (when I planned to travel) is hurricane season. Hurricanes and cyclones are the same thing. As anyone who has read Hidden Tiger knows, I've done cyclones and they aren't funny. As a tourist you become part of the problem, which is unfair on people who live there and must piece their own lives together without worrying about you.
So last year I was almost organised to go in September when I checked out their election dates ... oh no, there was a Presidential election in September. Travelling independently in an African country during an election was simply bonkers. Never mind, I could - I thought - go this year.
When I got back from Cuba I was all itchy feet and enthusiasm, bought a Lonely Planet, worked out where to go and how to get there - and in the last few weeks I've been checking the Foreign Office website and Lonely Planet forum for safety advice (something I always do before travelling).
And this is where things came a bit unstuck. The Foreign Office advice seems to be changing all the time - largely in response to the murder of two tourists on a beach. It was particularly unpleasant, as the local people accused them of killing a boy to steal his kidney, and so the manner of their dying was particularly punitive. Never mind, I thought, I don't have to walk along beaches at night. But then more advice came - never leave your hotel after dark. In some places, don't even leave the resort.
I hoped for more encouragement on the Lonely Planet forum - that's where such safety advice is often poo-poo'd. But independent travellers, many of whom travel by taxi-brousse (pile as many people into a taxi as possible and then leave), wrote that even taxis are travelling in convoy because the roads are full of wandering youths armed with knives and machetes who waylay the unwary.
Then one man - who lives there - advised visitors to carry a gun. Now, he might have been being alarmist, and quite enjoying the attention this brought. But it was enough to give me the heebie-jeebies. I know I take a risk or two at times - but never, ever, ever with guns. Even if I had a guide with a gun, what if someone got shot with it? Even if it was one of the highwaymen - that still isn't ok. I'm not sure I know how I could live with that.
So I've put my guidebook back on the shelf. I know I could take a tour - but I love independent travel. I love being able to talk with local people, to share a beer with them and discover what makes their worlds go round. If I can't do that, in relative safety, then I think I'll find somewhere less alarming.
Which grieves me - a lot of this may be scaremongering. The chances are I could visit and have a wonderful, safe time. But I don't want to be looking over my shoulder all the time. So - back to the travel drawing-board.
Where would you go?