I’m not usually worried about these ‘milestone’ birthdays. However, last week I reached the grand age of 40 and started to think about what I’d achieved in that time. The popular saying states ‘life begins at 40’ so if the next forty are as exciting as the last forty, I’m in for one hell of a ride!
In the first of a self-indulgent two part series I look back at some of my achievements and memorable experiences, and in the second look forward at some adventures and escapades I hope one day to enjoy. I hope you enjoy my trip down memory lane.
Attended two Olympics Games – The atmosphere is incredible watching Olympic events live and witnessing how nations become gripped by sport. I am fortunate to have attended both Sydney 2000 and London 2012. I’ll never forget the electric atmosphere in the Olympic Stadium on that warm night in Sydney when Cathy Freeman stormed / ran the 400m.
Surfed in Costa Rica – I suppose you could call my efforts surfing. I did at least stand up, albeit as the board reached the beach. The rest of the time I floundered like a dead fish in the giant waves.
Pay my respects at Auschwitz, Stalingrad and the Killing Fields – It’s never easy visiting places of horrific history. But we should never forget what happened in places like this and make sure it never happens again.
Jumping off a mountain in Austria – Thankfully I was attached to a parachute catching thermals paragliding while surrounded by magnificent peaks.
Experience an Earthquake – Three to be exact, in Australia, Indonesia and India. I happened to be 120 kms from the epicentre of the Gujarat earthquake on 26 January 2001 which killed over 20,000 people. A very worrying time for my friends and family back home.
Walk a 100 km in a day – The Oxfam Trailwalker is a fantastic Charity Challenge, walking 100 km non stop across the picturesque South Downs Way footpath. Despite jarring my knee during the night I managed to run the last furlong around Brighton racecourse.
Drive a London Taxi to Kyrgyzstan – The longest drive I’ve ever taken for sure. Three weeks of border crossings, currency exchanges, non-existent roads and passing people staring in disbelief as a London Taxi has just passed by.
Drive down a Beach in Mauritania – Driving with Saharan sand dunes to your left and the Atlantic Ocean to the right, while dodging fishing boat rope tied to the shore as rolling waves crashing on the beach. A wonderful experience. No speed limits, no roundabouts and no congestion. Bliss!
Skydive in New Zealand – There is no better place to jump out of a plane than in the adventure sport capital of the world, New Zealand. You can read the full story at Skydiving in New Zealand, A cure for vertigo?
Bungee Jump at the Glastonbury Festival – Ahhh, the Glastonbury Festival. How I miss the days of a non-corporate and sold-out-months-in-advance festival. I’ve been lucky to have visited the world’s greatest festival numerous times and bouncing upside down tied to a piece of elastic makes this crazy place even more bewildering.
Be evicted from China – As we passed the Laos border guides playing volleyball I knew we were in the wrong. But for some curious reason we carried on walking. Some three hours later heading towards the nearest Chinese settlement the Laos border crossing boss encountered us, and was not amused. We were soon on our way back.
Fly on Concorde – I feel privileged to have experienced a flight on the mighty Concorde. For the full story read Flying Concorde, The Supersonic Teenager.
Bribe an official or two – In the Western Sahara, Senegal, Ukraine and Russia to name a few places. Greasing the palm of an official or policeman is just the way of the world in some countries, just a means to make things happen.
Experience Le Mans 24 Hour Race – When the mist rises across the tarmac at half four in the morning, the weary drivers still only halfway through the race and the sound of engines reverberates through the forest you know your are witnessing the greatest race on earth.
Marvel at the Taj Mahal – Having travelled in Asia for 10 months visiting many monuments and temples I was a little ‘templed out’. However, standing in front of this beautiful monument reinvigorated my hunger to explore more fascinating monuments.
Swim in the Great Barrier Reef – It may have been a quarter of a century ago (Oh my god, I now feel old!) but the vibrant colours of the fish and underwater fauna will remain etched in my brain coral (dreadful, I know!) for the rest of my life.
Fire an AK-47 in Cambodia – Shooting guns now seems to be on most testosterone fuelled agendas in South East Asia. In my younger years I was no different and wanted to feel the power of a dangerous weapon (don’t snigger). I seem to remember that the shooting range was just south of Phnom Penh airports runway. Thankfully there were no stray bullets!
Wear a Snake Necklace – I can’t remember my age when I visited Tunisia on a family holiday, but judging by the photo I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight. Tunisia felt so exotic with snake charmers, desert landscapes and touring Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncles house was like visiting another planet.
Wild Camp in the Sahara – Scouting for firewood, eating barbequed Goat and watching shooting stars race across the endless night sky while camping out in the Mauritanian Saharan desert, such isolation.
Climb 3 Mountains in a day – Well nearly three. Competing in the 3 Peaks challenge, climbing Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon all in 24 hours is quite a challenge for the body and the mind. As team leader and just a couple hundred yards from the summit of the last mountain Snowdon, I had to return to base with an injured party member. I have since summited and will have another crack at all three in a day.
Climbed Ayers Rock – I know climbing Uluru is frowned upon. However, for a naive fifteen year old boy and our guides’ promise of a Coke machine at the top, the challenge was too alluring. After twenty minutes of climbing I soon discovered he had been pulling my leg. Sucker!
Climb an Active Volcano or Two – Both in Indonesia, Gunung Merapi and Gunung Bromo. Staring into a cauldron of smoke with the taste of sulphur on your tongue highlights the earth’s inner core.
Ski the Lauberhorn – The Lauberhorn in Switzerland is one of the most demanding and prestigious events in the ski racing calendar. I didn’t accomplish the speeds the great Hermann Maier would achieve; however, I did conquer the slopes with all limbs intact and no falls.
View Mount Everest at 5,550m – Trekking to Everest Base Camp and climbing Kala Patthar is one of my favourite achievements. Surrounded by gigantic peaks like Lhotse and Nuptse while staring at Everest’s summit some 10,000 feet away brings home the scale of these mountains. These views and the altitude really do take your breath away.
Lap the Nurburgring – The high speed pursuits continue, although our lap in a London Taxi was probably as quick as me skiing the Lauberhorn. Enjoy the video footage at The Nürburgring Experience, The Slowest Lap Ever!
Take the reigns of a dog sled – I’m not sure if I enjoyed the beautiful Canadian scenery or befriending the eager dogs more! I barely lifted my foot of the brake as the power of the dogs was incredible.
Ride a Camel to the Pakistan Border – Three days in the Rajasthan desert nearing the Pakistan border was memorable in three ways; the isolation, the dramatic clear skies at night and my rebellious camel.
Ride the Railways of India – Sitting on luggage racks, sharing food with kind families and 31 hour journeys are just some memories of the wonderful Indian railways, the lifeblood of this marvellous country.
Survive a Stag Do – My own! I’m not a big drinker but I do love a Guinness. So Dublin was the perfect destination. I’ll never forget watching Gaelic Football at Croke Park with the mother of all hangovers.
Experience Venice – I’ve been fortunate to have seen many fantastic places on this planet. None more so than Venice. The view from the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal really has the ‘Wow’ factor.
Go Potholing in Kazakhstan – The map clearly stated motorways although they evidently hadn’t been built yet. The holes we encountered were as big as the craters on the moon. Perhaps a slight exaggeration.
Drink Beer Lao in Luang Prabang – Probably the best beer in Asia (Open for discussion!) in one of the most charming places in Asia.
Descend the Eiffel Tower by the stairs – Those were the days when you could descend right from the top by the stairs. Although on reaching the bottom there was chaos as someone had jumped off the first tier and got wedged halfway. Very messy.
Join the Barmy Army in Sri Lanka – Watching Test cricket in countries like India and Sri Lanka who live and breathe cricket is simply fantastic. The Galle cricket ground where I watched England get thrashed was unfortunately devastated by the Tsunami. It’s great to see cricket now being played there again.
Pedal a Rickshaw in Dhaka – There are around half a million rickshaws in the Bangladesh capital. But the sight of a white westerner pedalling was rather amusing for the locals. Read the full story here One Night in Bangladesh.
Ride on top of a train in Cambodia – Clambering onto the roof in the burning mid-day sun, passing through monsoon showers, avoiding decapitation by the Phnom Penh power lines and slipping off back first on to the carriage couplings on arrival, a very memorable journey.
Visit Hong Kong before the handover – Those were the days when Blighty ruled the world (not really). It was the first time I had seen Christmas decorations displayed while sweating like a pig on a spit in the heat of summer.
Visit Chernobyl Power Station – One of the most chilling yet fascinating tours I’ve ever taken. You can view my photos at The Chernobyl Tour And Ghost Town Of Prypiat.
See Orang-utans in Sumatra – Watching these magnificent beasts sway through the branches down to meet you face to face is an astonishing experience.
Maintain my passion for travelling and start a blog – I still get as excited now visiting a new place as when aged 9 visiting Austria in the summer or aged 15 travelling around the world for the first time, or age 27 taking a year out and visiting 15 countries in 11 ½ months, or even aged 33 touring Costa Rica on my honeymoon. The travel bug will always remain and I will continue to share my experiences through thedepartureboard.com.
by Si Salter
So now your turn. How many of these experiences have you done? Time to share…