Sunday, 27 March 2016

Happy Spring!

It's Easter. And so I doubt if many will be dropping into blogland this week. You will be too busy with chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. Maybe even trimming a bonnet or two. Celebrating the end of winter, greeting the possibilities of spring. It is time to put away the winter woollies and thermal undies, to think about cutting the grass, to plant early potatoes. Climb a hill and savour the view in the fragile spring sunshine; wander in woods and marvel - as we do each year - as trees sprout tiny green buds. The grim days of snow and storms are behind us ...

I know that here in the west we link all this razzmatazz to a Christian festival. Other cultures with comparable climates also have stories to underpin a bit of a knees-up and this time of year. I choose not to comment on any of that, other than to offer good wishes to anyone celebrating as spring arrives, with or without a god to justify a party.

Me - I looking forward to greeting the arrival of spring. Well, that was the plan...

I don't know how it was where you are, but, where I am, anyone strutting down the High Street in an Easter bonnet would have had a hard time hanging onto it. But they'd have hung on if they could, if only to protect their heads from the hail. The days might be a bit longer, but it was so dark around lunchtime I needed lights on just to make a cup of tea. As for abandoning the winter woollies - I lit my wood-burning stove and settled down with a book, just like I do the depths of winter.

I'm certainly not going to abandon my fleeces and waterproofs. Nor venture out to cut my grass just because the calendar tells me it should be spring. Had I even thought about walking I might have been blown off a hillside

So someone clearly forget to tell the weather-fairies that it's time to cheer up. Me - I'll huddle by my fire for a bit longer, till those fairies finally to come out to play. How about you - did you brave the weather and slosh through mud on an Easter egg hunt? Or maybe the weather was kinder where you are.

Happy spring!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Tour groups, and why I'm not a good groupie.

As you know, I generally travel on my own. But from time to time I join a group - on this trip it was impossible to visit the rainforest or take a boat round the Galapagos Islands without joining a group. And since I've been home a few people have asked how I managed the group-thing.

I'll not, here, write about those groups in particular. Rather I'll think about travelling groups in general. From which it might become evident that I'm really not a groupy sort of person.

I know all groups are different. But some attract a set of participants who slot into predictable roles. Firstly, the person who irritates me more than anything is the one who doesn't listen. Not only do they not listen, they make a point of making sure everyone knows they've not listened by asking, loudly, just as we are returning to our rooms, 'WHAT TIME DID SHE SAY BREAKFAST IS TOMORROW.' Someone will reply, of course, as most of us are polite, only to get the follow-on question, 'SO WHEN ARE WE LEAVING ... DO I NEED WALKING BOOTS OR SANDALS.' By which time I've slipped away.

But, you say, I am being uncharitable. Maybe this person has a hearing problem. Then why, should his or her name pass your lips when you are half a table away and facing the other way and  everyone is drinking and laughing, do they call out, 'HEY, DID I HEAR MY NAME ...' No, this is a person who makes a profession of not listening.

Secondly, there's the smoker. I do understand that some people are addicted, need to light up, etc etc. But this is the person who, every time we stop, steps away front the group, puffs away for five minutes and then rejoins us, whiffs of smoke still seeping from his or her nostrils, only to say, 'What have I missed?'

Thirdly, the people who never stop talking. Ever. As if they can only justify their own existence by hearing the sound of their own voices. In my limited experience the people with the most interesting stories are those who say the least.

On a walk, there are those who must be first, and those who are always last.

Me - you can see that I'm the grumbly one in the corner. Actually, it's not quite like that. I'm the grumbly one in the corner with the notebook. And the most interesting people often ask what I'm writing about, and some give me permission to tell their stories. The others find their way into blogs like this!

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Why travel?

When I was working, a lifetime ago now (or so it feels), if a young person absconded the first question we asked ourselves was: had he or she run away from something, or run towards something. It is a crude distinction and masks complexities, but it was a start - we needed to begin to understand the behaviour if we were to find the young person and keep him or her safe.

Now, as a traveller, I'm asked a comparable question. Why do I do it? Why launch into the unknown when I could sit about comfortably at home.

And the answer, honestly, is that I don't care why I do it - I just love it. But, as that isn't enough for some people, I will try to unpick it a little.

I do run away from British winters. Those living in the north will think I'm utterly wimpish, complaining about southern winters. And they are fully justified to do so - our rain and wind and snow is feeble compared with the weathers they have to go out it. But I just hate the cold and the dark and the endless grey days. If I can escape them, then I will.

But I am also running towards the new and the different. When I get there, I don't just lie around in the sun. I explore city streets. I puff up mountains. I elbow my way through crowds in markets just to smell the cinnamon, run my fingers along silk scarves. I stare at animals that I thought only existed on the telly. I eat food I can't identify. I talk to people with new stories to tell.

And then I come home. Friends and family - who have kept the show on the road at home, looked after my house, trudged to school or work through wind and rain with barely a grumble - welcome me back and if they are envious they show it only fleetingly. Some even manage to look at my photographs without glazing over.

Does that begin to explain it? And you - what is it about the things you love doing that gets under your skin?

Sunday, 6 March 2016

When coming home is hard.

It's not easy, coming home after a long trip.

For a few days I felt like this:

Then, when I looked at the list of all this things I needed to do, I felt like this:

And now? I'm picking up the pieces, reconnecting with friends and family, running my fingers along my (dusty) bookshelves, deciding what to cook for supper. Within days the Galapagos feels a million miles away.

Except I can't stop talking about it. About being somewhere so geologically new. About being so close to birds and animals that I'd expect to run away from me. About swimming in a sea that really is turquoise. About being so close to a snake constricting and eating an iguana. About seeing two huge tortoises squaring up for a fight. About watching a baby frigate bird feed from its mother - putting its entire head down the mother's gullet. About watching sea turtles have sex (which has its comic side as she has to come up for air from time to time, and then he falls off ...). 

It is as astonishing as everyone says it is. But, as each island is different, it's hard to write about it as a unified experience.

So will there be a book? 

I'm thinking about it. I need to find the story. Woman has great time Ecuador and the Galapagos isn't a story. Let's preserve the fragile environments isn't anything new. 

And while I'm thinking I'll leave you one last picture: this is the boat was on, travelling round the islands.