It is said we should not judge a book by its cover, nor a day by its weather. Well whoever said that never spent a week in Fiji during a tropical monsoon. Bad weather blows. It kills a romantic walk on the beach, it cancels once-in-a-lifetime adventures, but worst of all, it infects you with the “if only’s”. If only it wasn’t raining, we’d go boating to those the islands. If only it wasn’t hailing, we’d be able to spend the day at the beach. And my most frequent, and personal favourite “if only it wasn’t a washed-out mudpit, this outdoor music festival might actually rock.” On a recent trip to New Zealand, bad weather cancelled four straight days of adventure, including hot air ballooning, heli-hiking, canyoning, and a scenic flight through the Siberia Valley. I will never get the chance to do them again. Kick and scream all you want about disasters with hotels and airlines, but bad weather has no customer service line. You can't blame a celestial travel agent. Fortunately, there is a way out, a pill that makes it easier to swallow.
Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling Upon Happiness, talks about perceived happiness vs. actual happiness. Scientifically, your brain cannot tell the difference between actual happiness, and when you tell yourself that you are in fact, happy. Self help gurus throughout the ages got it right when they advised that being positive has a powerful effect on our reality. Everyone knows that weather is out of our control. How we choose to deal with it is not. My own mantra is: Wherever you are, is where you’re supposed to be. I’m not to the first nut to crack that open, but the message applies particularly to travel. So many decisions, so many roads to choose, so little time to choose them in. The best bet is to make a decision, shrug off that which you have no control over, and move forward. Looking back, as the Bible so graphically illustrates, turns people into salt.
If the weather sucks, and you’re in a city, fear not. If you have time, play with your itinerary, so that day for shopping at the end moves up. Most cities have excellent museums, restaurants or pubs you’ve never heard, or wouldn’t think about visiting. Bad weather is an excuse to ask locals what they would do. I was once washed out in the Malaysian city of Khota Baru. The beaches were a no go. When life deals you rain, wear a raincoat. I explored the streets, wet as they were, and discovered hole-in-the-wall eateries serving some of the best food I’ve ever had. I remember the frustration of that day, walking around looking for salvation, and finding it in a bowl of saucy nasi kander. I wonder if I would remember a typical day on the beach as much as I remember finding that meal, and chatting with the friendly locals who served it.
Rained out on a beach is not as simple. No museums, limited shopping and restaurants. Take a breath. Travel is a go-go-go affair, but it also coincides with something we call a holiday. Relax. Recharge. Sleep in, guilt free. Read a book, take an afternoon nap. Rained in for a few days in Goa, I managed to find a little shack selling DVD’s. I watched the Godfather trilogy start to finish, read a book about Hinduism, ate at the closest fish shack. Emerging from my shell, I felt happier, wiser, and eager to connect with other travellers. Bad weather might keep you from the beach, but it has a habit of bringing people together.
Life is not a tourist brochure. It was never supposed to be one. Very often, the best moments of a journey are not planned, falling outside the lines and beyond the borders of our expectations. Wherever your journey takes you, acknowledge that each day is a gift, and can be opened up to reveal something special. Rain or shine.
It’s fair to say that travelling the world has inspired countless dreams. It has also inspired countless nightmares. We fear what we don’t know, and what is travel if not a journey into the great unknown itself? Festering on the flip side of the coin, lurking in the dark side of the moon, Fear has sabotaged many a dream trip, so it’s time to put things in perspective.
Health: “I’m not going to go, what if I get sick?”
Ebola! Swine Flu! Kind of makes me long for the days when all I had to worry about were a couple of weird parasites. It’s no fun getting sick on the road, but then again, it’s no fun getting sick anywhere. There are all sorts of nasties out there, but the truth is, there are all sorts of nasties in here too. So if you are advised to stay away from uncooked fruit and vegetables, or drinking tap water (watch the ice cubes), simply using common sense will drastically reduce the chance of getting sick. Remember, locals are accustomed to local food, we’re not. Use hand sanitizer or wash your hands frequently, since that’s the most common way for colds and flus to spread. No matter how many precautions you take, you might get sick anyway, and if you do, you'll deal with it.
Transport: “What if the plane goes down?”
No matter how many stats you read confirming commercial flying amongst the safest form of transport – safer than cars, not as safe as walking – we all have a pit of fear when it comes to the idea of a plane crash. We can visualize it thanks to too many movies, feel the painful sorrow when we read about it in the newspapers. It is tragic, and yet, accidents happen every day, mostly without our control. This is not the place for discussion about fate and destiny, save to say that we live in a world where we travel at high speeds, on wheels, rails or wings. Fear of driving doesn’t stop you going to the mall, and fear of flying shouldn’t stop you from getting in a plane. To distrust the methods of our transportation generates a distrust of existence itself. Travel, like life, functions best when you embrace the fact that everything’s going to be just fine.
Crime: “What if I get robbed?”
Theft is unfortunate, and it does happen. Simple precautions do help – locks on your luggage, money belts, not flashing around cash or expensive cameras – but the sad reality is that there are desperate people out there looking to target tourists. The good news is that there are plenty more people out there who would proudly protect you, and help you out in a fix. You’re a guest in their country, and for most, it’s a matter of pride that you remain safe and healthy. I’ve been to several of the world’s most dangerous cities, and never had a problem. Am I lucky? Perhaps, but I like to think that using common sense protects me. I research and ask where NOT to go, carry a minimal amount of cash, have all my details backed up online in case I need to cancel cards, and carry myself with confidence. Those travelling alone know it’s sometimes safer to connect with other travellers, and avoid getting into uncomfortable situations with strangers. Crime is a pest. Common sense is the repellent. Should you get bit, humour and perspective is the antidote.
Terrorism: “What if I get attacked?”
Even if you avoid hot spots, you are never 100% guaranteed of safety. 99.9% is probably more accurate. If you're steering clear of hot spots, the chances of getting caught in a terrorist attack are ridiculously slim, but fear has no respect for statistics. Calm yourself by researching your destination, avoiding known zones of conflict (maybe leave Syria for another year), and knowing that, depending on your destination, you’ve probably got a greater threat from falling coconuts.
Natural Disaster: “What if there’s an earthquake?”
Earthquake, Mudslide, Hurricane, and the one that really brought it home for tourists, Tsunami. Natural disasters are impossible to predict and devastating in their impact. You can limit risks by skirting relevant destinations during hurricane season, but there’s not much you can do if a tectonic plate decides to drop off the shelf. The Earth ticks according to a very, very slow watch. Could it happen? Yes. Will it. No. If you’re particularly nervous, brush up on some safety and first aid. Nervous people carry a lot of baggage - the sky is forever falling on their heads. No matter how much you carry in your suitcase, the most important things to pack are positive thought, and an open mind to experience.
During the course of my travels, I’ve chanced upon some places so romantically charged that I could hear the blues tugging on my heartstrings. Since it’s my job to share my secrets, I present a gallery, alternatively titled: 8 Places I Really Did Not Want to be Travelling Single.
Sunset from the Rose Garden, Cappadocia, Turkey
It’s a remarkable view over a remarkable landscape. Thousands of strange rock formations can be found in this region of central Turkey, where people have lived in caves for thousands of years, and “fairy chimneys” pointing at the sky give an alien charm. A popular sunset spot called the Rose Garden is a short drive from the main town of Gorome. Here, the rocks glow as pink as the cheeks of the lovers enjoying the moment. The fairy chimneys are also undeniably phallic, just in case you needed something to stroke your imagination.
Drifting Amongst the Firebugs, Malaysia
Picture the scene: You’re floating down a river just after dusk, the silence broken by wooden oars dipping into the still water. An old man rows in the traditional fashion – standing at the bow, his back towards you, his leathered arms in perfect rhythm with each stroke. The night is young, the air is warm. All of sudden, you see a tiny flash of light, then another, then another. Rounding a bend, your jaw drops as the trees on either side of the river look like lights in a disco, pulsing with thousands upon thousands of tiny neon flashes. Firebugs glow as part of their mating ritual, and the romance of such a moment is thick. I turn to my guide: “You’re a great guy Mr Kabir, but right now, I kind of wish you were a single girl.”
To which he replies: “No offence Mr Robin, but I wish the same.” Unfortunately, firebugs hate posing for photos, so here’s the river before the disco opens.
Overnight in a Bedouin Tent, Wadi Rum, Jordan
Deserts are hot places to be, just like our most feverish romantic dreams. In Wadi Rum - a desolate but beautiful valley of sand, punctuated by mountains of rock - it is possible to ride into the desert on camel, and spend the night in a traditional Bedouin tent. A gourmet meal is cooked in ancient fashion; by baking meats and vegetables beneath the hot sand, served with pita, salad, humus, and all the delicious trimmings. You’re free to explore the surrounding rock hills, feeling the dry air blowing in your hair, listen to the crackle of the fire while shooting stars spray across the clear night sky. It was an incredible night, pity I was being filmed by the Word Travels crew, and, with no one to cuddle with, picked up a nasty cold.
Bled Island, Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia is a jewel of a country in central Europe, and the waters of Lake Bled shimmer with an emerald glow. European aristocrats have always flocked to its quiet summer shores, and in the middle of the lake rests the country’s only natural island, a striking view for the first-time visitor. The first church was built here in the 11th century, the current steeple dates to the 1500’s, and 99 steps lead up to sanctuary. Legend has it that if a groom can carry his bride up the stairs, it will be a lasting and successful marriage. It might be too much a feat in this day and age, but the romance and beauty of the island, coupled with the surrounding Julian Alps, are better than flowers and a box of chocolates.
Blackwater Rafting, Waitomo, New Zealand
Somewhat similar to our Malaysia experience, only this time, we’re in the water, underground, and floating through caves on a rubber tube. It’s a typically adventurous activity for visitors to New Zealand, so how does this end up on my Romance list? Deep in the caves, it is pitch dark save for the light of your headlamp. A wetsuit keeps you warm, but the cool underground stream rushing over your skin cannot help but get the goose bumps flaring. Eventually, you make your way to a cavern where you sit in a big, black rubber tube, link your legs around your partner, and float downstream like waterproof doughnuts. Your guide asks you to switch off your light, and then you see them: a milky way of stars, deep in the earth. Phosphorus glow worms twinkle, and all you can hear is the drip of water, and the breathless sigh of those around you.
The Locks of the 3 Gorges Dam, China
It’s been described as the most ambitious engineering project in history, a marvel of science, the redesign of nature by man. China has damned the Yangzte, the third biggest river in the world, and the 3 Gorges Dam, the world’s largest, will generate the equivalent energy of 18 nuclear power plants upon completion. Cruises have been operating for years, and sit outside, in the early morning humidity, while massive transfer and cargo ships make their way through the five immense locks. Intelligence, power, size and ambition are all aphrodisiacs, and they all meet right here, as your ship drops metres at a time, protected from disaster by the ominous gates that hold back the floods. It’s a surreal experience, and oddly enough, an exotically romantic one too.
Ilha Grande, Brazil
This photo was taken in Ilha Grande, but to be honest, it could be anywhere in Brazil. Anywhere in a country where couples will randomly start dancing on old cobblestone, sometimes to music that’s only playing in their heads. Public displays of affection don’t go down in Canada too well, but in Brazil, and throughout Latin America, it is common sight to see couples smooching their lips off, at the dinner table, on the streets, hell, even in a bank meeting. And it’s not just the young folks either. Elderly lovers are as into it as the teenagers. The result is an undeniable atmosphere of romance, where love is proudly on display, and if you feel like you need to watch, well, then, go ahead.
Badeschiff Bar, Berlin, Germany
Why swim in the river, when you can swim in a swimming pool in the river? Another warm summer night, and the hip beach bars that have sprung up alongside Berlin’s Spree River are starting to get busy. DJ’s are playing some smooth jazzy beats, the cocktails have umbrellas, and it’s the perfect time to strip down and take a dip in the pool. Swimming over water is a weirdly romantic, not to mention wet, surprise, here in the heart of the Berlin.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.