"It's the final countdown de de de duh, de de de duh de...." So here we are 364 days after we left an overcast Teddington, we stand on the precipice of our return to the days of yore, and, as sure as night follows day, that having avoided various deadly diseases around the world one or both of us will contract swine flu back in England within a week. So, settle down for the final instalment of the 'Honeymoon Travels'. The soap box has been dusted off and few extra steps have been added for the denouement of one amazing year in our lives.
Before we get to the "world as we see it", there is a little matter of the last 7 days that have taken us from Luang Prabang, Laos all the way to Bangkok. When you left us last we were getting down with the kids at the Big Brother Mouse Project. Three days of answering how long we had been in Luang Prabang and if we liked it or not was enough to drive anyone to the edge of insanity and hard reminder to me that 'lesson planning', or rather a lack thereof, is the death to any classroom, not that I was in charge I hasten to add, but an incredibly rewarding experience nonetheless.
Our sleeper bus to the Thai border had all the makings of another classic Asian bus journey, not content with turning the vehicle into Noah's Ark and a cesspit for all manner of bodily fluids, the addition of a semi naked man and naked children was a new one on us. Seriously, I know it's bedtime but you are on a bus with 40 other people - a little reserve please. It just wouldn't be an Asian bus without a randomly timed food stop, this time at a couple of shacks by the road deep into the Laos countryside where such delights as 'unidentified rodent on a stick' and 'frog on a stick' lurked on the buffet plates. You could argue this was no worse than a motorway cafe on the M40 and at least over here they are honest about what they are serving you.
Ejected at Huay Xai, a brief boat trip over the Mekong takes you to Thailand where we made our way to that bastion of expats, Chiang Mai. A little cooler than the rest of the country thanks to its elevation, it's a quirky little place with everything on tap for the traveller/holiday maker at competitive prices. Surrounded by a moat around the old town, it's another place that lives and breathes markets that over the weekend boot the cars off the road to make way for row upon row of stalls. For me it was a good place to start putting back on a few of those lost pounds as in between the craft and clothes stalls are vendors selling all the Thai food you could want at knockdown prices. Having turned 30 (thank you for all the birthday wishes) it is somewhat disturbing to now weigh what I did at the start of the 6th form but have 10% of the hair on my head than I did then and 300% more of it coming out of my nose and ears. Chiang-ers was a great place to relax a little and to celebrate the big day with a day's Thai cookery course out on an organic farm where all the ingredients are picked fresh. I am now very much the modern man having over doubled my repertoire of dishes and in fact, if you only include the dishes I knew that didn't have toast as the main ingredient , I've actually quadrupled what I knew. Thai food is surprisingly simple to cook and I look forward on our return to showing you all.....the pictures of what we cooked.
And so, the penultimate leg of our journey was one final night bus down to Bangkok. Arriving in the capital at 6am it was good to realise that not a lot had changed about the place - a taxi driver still tried to charge 100 Baht per person to an unsuspecting couple to take them to the Khao San Road that was 100m from where we were standing. So the Thai fisherman pants have been loosened a little along with the purse strings and we are desperately buying up all the souvenirs we have held out against over the last 12 months. Added to that we are making the most of the cheap massages, food and gawping at the sex tourists in Nana Plaza before they're all gone in a single 13 hour plane journey
So it's back to life and back to reality, except this year has been all about reality albeit a different one to that which we have been used to the rest of our lives. In fact to suggest that this year should be considered in isolation and not bear any influence on the way we live our lives from now on would some how betray the essence of this travelling malarkey. Particularly as we return as two adults with established lives and careers where any changes to our lifestyle are more tangible as opposed to the 21 year old graduate who still has no idea what they want to do with their life.
Now I'm going to preface the following by saying that there is an enormous amount of drivel written about the travel in general and its meaning, much of it by strange bearded gentlemen who appear to have been clothed by the 'House of Jesus', and it is found in the guestbooks of establishments all over the world. But the thing is is that travel is an intensely personal experience for every group or couple, but more importantly for every person as an individual. So far be it for me or anyone else to tell you what you should think about anything. If you agree with the sentiments articulated in this blog then great, but if you haven't then good for you, but this is our perspective and the way we have seen it over our year away. So here goes....mounting the soap box.
The environment is screwed. Whilst I don't wish to belittle our attempts to recycle and what not, our efforts in the UK are so miniscule in the impact they are making and can barely make a dent into the damage that is being done elsewhere in the country and around the world. It's all well and good the G8 setting their long term targets for 2050 to reduce emissions and the like, but too many palms have been greased, too many interests are vested and too many cultures are ingrained. Travelling around the world has perhaps served only to make us cynical and we now feel certain the world has gone so far down the wrong path in terms of permanent damage that it will take something fairly seismic to redress the balance. Something that may never occur. A greater, although still arguably no more realistic, gift for future generations now we have w***ed the planet up, would be a world that actually gets on with each other without fear, suspicion or prejudice, and a world where the vast financial gulfs between the haves and have nots are narrowed. Apologies if this sounds like the lyrics to the extended version of Michael Jackson's 'Heal the World', but Wacko was clearly on to something there. Not that we should ever stop our efforts to go green, but a little realism as to where those efforts are actually getting us is important.
So what does this mean for us? Well, we had reached a point in our lives where we were comfortable. Where spending money on food and the like was not really an issue. If we were hungry we went to the supermarket and bought something to eat. If we wanted entertainment we went to the theatre or cinema and so on and so forth, all the while never overly concerned with exactly how much everything cost us. But when you are forced to budget so tightly over a year and often find yourself going hungry on days when you are trying to offset the cost of an expensive hostel room or activity, then you really do start looking at the exact price of everything you spend and the whole process proves rather humbling. The challenge for us will be to retain a sense of that feeling when we rejoin a vastly different and more comfortable existence. So are we about to forsake all vestiges of Western clothing and walk about in loin cloths? Well no. I think the comparisons with Gandhi are lucid enough for all to see without me dressing like him also. Both of us are still as a big a fans of the finer things in life as we ever were and neither of us would say no to any little luxuries. But the key for us we realise is to recognise that they are luxuries and not a way of defining our lives. Yes our new tailored clothing helps us look and feel good, but they don't make us any better people, just privileged. I suppose it is far better to be defined by your actions and the positive influence you have on those around you and the wider community. Which is why before leaving Kirsty and I always felt we should offer our time to charitable causes, always felt we should donate generously and always felt that we should try and live a more economic and less wasteful life. The truth is that as we return knowing we should. You can't honestly visit some of the countries we have been to, where so many people are doing outstanding things for the benefit of those less fortunate and not be struck how far a relatively inconsequential amount of money or donation of your time can go to helping. And no you don't have our permission to remind us of these statements when you open our fridge to find the foie gras and caviar.
On that note I shall dismount the soap box much to your collective relief and thank you for your patience. Like I said, feel free to disagree with the whole lot. This is merely the way we see it after 12 months making our way around the globe. So we return, a little nervous of what home will feel like again, with a decidedly greater sense of perspective than 12 months ago and fairly sure that at some point we will want to leave England for foreign shores.
In a note of personal thanks, we would like to thank all those people who have helped us out this year whether it was financially, with a bed for the night (or 4 months Steph and Gordon), with food, with advice and directions or just with company on the road. You have all played your part in making this the most incredible experience we could have ever wished for. We look forward to boring you for the rest of our lives with tales of our travels. It's time to say goodbye...on page at least and hello in person. One last thing though....lighters in the air....heal the world, make it a better place...
Ravi and Kirsty....still happily married..despite spending every minute of every day together in the last 12 months.
P.S If you experience the post-blog blues, similar to the post Olympic Games phenomenon observed in host cities, then I am pleased to announce the book should be available in all good book stores in time for Xmas. Personal appearances, book signings and readings all to take place in the Great Easton Post Office.