ORIGINAL SOURCE ARTICLE: https://vancouversun.com/travel/international-travel/travelling-the-world-it-was-the-best-of-times/ May 2, 2020
Two of our favourite travel writers reminisce about past adventures…
By JANE MUNDY and JOANNE BLAIN
If you’re itching to go somewhere exotic after weeks of being cooped up at home, imagine what it feels like to be a travel writer who can’t travel.
Most of us haven’t spent this much time at home in years — we’re used to planning our next trip while we’re already on one. Our passports are gathering dust in a drawer. Our suitcases are tucked away and empty instead of in their usual state, perpetually half-packed and ready to roll on short notice.
Working on our bucket lists is too melancholy for these troubled times. So all we can do is look back at some of the best trips of our lives and hope we’ll be able to get our restless feet moving soon.
I was struck with wanderlust when I was 16, when a line in a song by the Animals haunted me: “We gotta get out of this place, if it’s the last thing we ever do.” With a few hundred bucks, a backpack almost bigger than me and my bible — Frommer’s Europe on Five Dollars a Day — I flew to London, took the ferry to Calais and stuck out my thumb, without a worry in the world.
I had heard about Ios, Greece through the hippie grapevine. It was idyllic. I slept on the beach with other backpackers and after a few weeks, I managed to move up to a cave. Ios didn’t have any roads and we had hardly any money, but locals opened their kitchens up to us for a few drachmas. We walked from one house to another, tasting everything until we were full.
If we brought our own bottle to the winery, retsina was half price. Yoghurt bought from farmers was still warm. For my 17th birthday, everyone pitched in and roasted a pig on the beach.
I got my first job at a taverna in Ios, making souvlaki. I was determined to get to India, so I sold my blood in Athens and again in Istanbul, but I spent all my money having a good time. My dad had to send me enough for a plane ticket home. I had been away almost a year, but I was soon dreaming about where I’d travel next.
One of my first major trips as a travel writer was to a country that’s not far off the beaten path but surprisingly not on the radar of most people I know — Slovenia.
I didn’t know much about it either, but I soon discovered it was a tiny jewel of a country nestled between Italy, Austria and Croatia, taking a dollop of cuisine and culture from each.
A photographer and I blitzed the whole country in just five days, from the emerald green Lake Bled in the north to the cosmopolitan vibe of Ljubljana, where we spent a couple of nights in a restored 16th-century palace. We headed east to lounge in a spa fed by hot springs in Olimje and south to eat seafood and pasta at a beachfront restaurant in Piran, just down the coast from Trieste, Italy.
In between, we visited the spectacular Skocjan Caves and the stud farm where the Lippizaner stallions — famous for their fancy footwork in Vienna’s Spanish Riding School — were frolicking in the fields. And everywhere, the countryside was postcard perfect.
I’ve urged friends to visit Slovenia ever since, but what I should really be doing is planning a return visit myself when this is all over.
I’ve changed quite a bit since I was a teenager — I have no desire to bed down in a sleeping bag on the beach again. Fortunately, luxury is a travel writer’s perk or I would never have found myself at the Four Seasons Resort in Bora Bora.
In my thatched-roof bungalow, I could see turquoise lagoon through glass panels in the floor and climb down a ladder to dive in. I took a day trip out to snorkel with lemon sharks and stingrays, which was pure heaven.
But the best bit was meeting resident marine biologist Oliver Martin, who grafted coral to create a sanctuary that was home to more than 100 species of fish. He showed us where to catch the gentle current so we could float downstream amid schools of fish, and how to feed sea urchins to the friendly puffer fish.
Choosing one of three restaurants for dinner was the biggest decision of the day. I can’t think of a place better to do as little as possible.
Speaking of lolling in luxury in the South Pacific, the Brando takes the cake. When I heard that the island Marlon Brando bought while filming Mutiny on the Bounty was about to open to the public as a luxury resort, I pulled out all the stops to get there. And it was just as spectacular as I hoped it would be.
Stepping off the private flight from Papeete, we were whisked by golf cart to our private villa, which was like a slice of heaven with its own plunge pool and private white-sand beach. You could also gaze out at the ocean from your outdoor tub, cleverly screened from view, or jump on a bike for a spin around the island, where no cars are allowed.
The attention to detail was astonishing. When I got up in the morning, I discovered the sandy path outside my front door was freshly raked to eradicate unsightly footprints, and the bike that I’d left in the rack was turned around so it would be easier for me to get out. And at dinner, the waitress already knew that I preferred sparkling water because I had asked for it at lunch — from another server at a different restaurant.
I won’t even tell you what the sticker price is for this kind of luxury and service. I just know I couldn’t afford it.
The older I get, the more I’m attracted to the natural world. Especially now, when we all want to be outside. Serene and surreal Antarctica is like going to the moon — you spend more time getting there and back than you do on dry land — but it was where I had my best travel day ever.
Surrounded by gazillions of chinstrap penguins, my face hurt from laughing at their antics. Even sitting on ice at times, I didn’t even think of the cold and could have stayed far longer. Penguins act simultaneously like children and old men, portly and full of their own importance. You smell and hear the colony’s berserk babbling and shouting before seeing them. The chinstraps prefer high ground, which means they take ages to waddle down the rocky slope to the sea. Sometimes they waddle too quickly and topple over and squabble like it’s the rock’s fault.
They deftly maneuver around grumpy and gigantic fur sea lions on the shore making a comeback after they were wiped out by the sealing industry for oil and skins. We kept a safe distance. And the curious Weddell seals always posing for a photo op. Thanks to an amazing ornithologist onboard, I learned so much about the birds we saw, such as the albatross, the giant petrel and the tiny storm petrel. One day we drifted by several sleeping minke whales. It was magical.
On our way back to the ship, penguins darted by our zodiac like they were saying farewell. Most of us were teary-eyed.
I know what you mean. One of my most memorable trips was to the Patagonia region of Chile, which is almost as painful to get to as Antarctica. But once you’re there, it’s almost impossible to stop staring open-mouthed at your surroundings.
I didn’t see any penguins, but in Torres del Paine national park, I did spot flamingos, ostrich-like rheas and whole herds of guanacos, wild llamas common to the region.
It was tempting to settle in to the laid-back luxury of the Explora Patagonia hotel and just watch the fierce wind sweep clouds over the mountains and churn up whitecaps in the turquoise sea. But the spectacular scenery pulls you outside. Even a hike through a forest that had been ravaged by fire four years before was otherworldly, with the silver skeletons of trees framed by green regrowth.
Someday, we’ll go back to all these places and visit others we’ve been salivating over for years. Right, Jane?