Of Pandemics, Quarantine and Monica Bellucci

30 04 2009


Getting caught in a pandemic sounds pretty exciting…until it happens.


Our impressions of disasters often tend to be influenced by Hollywood and the idea of being caught in an outbreak of Tropical Galloping Gob Rot usually includes a nurse who looks like Monica Bellucci, a doctor like George Clooney…and a closing scene in First Class with champagne in one hand and Monica or George by our side. Reality is a little more sobering and I’m sure there aren’t many people in Mexico right now who are finding the experience particularly romantic.


Thankfully, I’ve never been caught in a pandemic and I hope I never am, but there was one occasion when it seemed that I might and I wasn’t really thinking of Monica or George at the time!


While in Africa some years ago, news filtered through of an outbreak of plague in India. Plague seems such a dark, ancient and deadly disease but according to the World Health Organisation, there are 1,000-3,000 new cases each year. Despite being treatable with antibiotics, a plague outbreak is still not a thought that warms the cockles of most hearts…especially when on the other side of the planet.


Although on a different continent, we felt strangely vulnerable. If the plague outbreak did become a pandemic as was being suggested, we were in the wilds of a country that could easily be ravaged and which had a poor medical infrastructure and inadequate antibiotics – and we were several days drive from the nearest airport. Admittedly we were leaping miles ahead of what little we knew of the situation, but it was difficult not to have such thoughts when passing through very poor towns inhabited by children with distended stomachs, permeated by the smell of baby vomit and open sewers and just a single flight away from India.


A local newspaper didn’t really help matters either. A small piece on the front page reported that suggestions had been made to restrict air travel from infected areas. If the plague crossed the Indian Ocean, would we even be allowed to travel home or would we at best be subjected to lengthy quarantine?  Another overland truck we passed had heard that the WHO and local authorities were acting quickly, but that the outbreak was not contained and there were concerns of it spreading beyond India. Tanzanian and Kenyan officials were reportedly screening people at the airports already. We had never felt so far from home or out of touch.


As the fragments of information slipped from the news, so the threat receded from our minds. By the time we arrived in Nairobi several weeks later, our worries seemed silly and overblown, but I will certainly never see anything romantic or exciting in pandemics, quarantine or government airlifts again…with or without Monica Bellucci!



Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2009


Most Unusual Travel Insurance Claims

13 04 2009


The Nakuru Cat Burglar is remarkable for its resemblance to the baboon. (Nakuru, Kenya)


Though I’ve had more tropical diseases than the average petri dish and once had to survive in Iceland for 24 hours without so much as a toothbrush and clean socks, I have been fortunate that I’ve only once had to make a claim on my travel insurance.


Travel insurance is one of those things that I faithfully buy but hope never to get my money’s worth from. Over the years I have probably spent enough money to pay for a pretty decent vacation, but so far apart from one visit to a doctor in London (see “How To Get A Head in Africa” 10 July 2008), I’ve never got back a penny – but I have scored a ton of peace-of-mind.


The silence at the end of the telephone line when I called the insurance company about my tick suggests it might well still be discussed around the water cooler. But I am glad to know that I am not the only one who has entertained or bemused travel insurance companies. Here are a few others that are likely pinned to a bulletin board beside Terry the Tick:



        A pensioner, whose false teeth fell out while he vomited over the side of a cruise ship, put in a claim to his travel insurers for new dentures under “lost baggage”.


        A young traveller, distracted by the appearance of a group of women in bikinis, broke his nose when he walked into a bus shelter in Athens.


        A traveller lost his wallet in a drain in Israel. Instead of filing a police report and making a claim through his insurance, he instead stuck his hand down the drain – only to be stung by a poisonous scorpion. He ended up claiming for both a lost wallet and a hospital visit.


        A man who claimed for holiday cancellation when refused boarding was turned down by his insurance company when it emerged his ticket was for a flight from Manchester, New Hampshire…not from Manchester in the North West of England.


        Returning from India, a traveller filed a claim with his insurance company for $1100 worth of “Bombay Mix” snack food that he had lost from his luggage enroute. The insurance company performed a few quick calculations and determined that at less than $2 per 250g bag, the man would have had to have misplaced more than 137 kilograms of munchies…and refused to pay.


        A couple on vacation in Malaysia returned to their lodge to find that monkeys had climbed in through an open window, stolen their clothes and scattered them throughout the neighbouring jungle.


        A family’s camping holiday was ruined when a parachutist from a nearby airbase missed his target and landed squarely on their tent, destroying their equipment. Their insurer rejected their claims as they weren’t insured against accidental damage.


And in the category of needing a vacation to recover from a vacation:


        A holidaymaker in Sri Lanka needed hospital treatment after a coconut fell on her head while she was reading in the shade below.



Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan

A to Z of Adventure Travel: I is for India

12 03 2009



No other country has so successfully integrated into western arts in recent years as India. Ever since Vikram Seth’s titanic “A Suitable Boy” became hotter than a Goan vindaloo 15 years ago, it seems as though there’s barely been a week when the work of an Indian author hasn’t appeared in the fiction bestseller lists. As if that literary presence wasn’t enough, it was a film set in India that dominated this year’s Oscars. Even though “Slum Dog Millionaire” may not technically be an Indian movie, there’s no doubt that it continued to increase interest in one of the world’s most populated countries.


India has long been a popular destination for intrepid travellers. Although the very wealthy packed their chests, monocles and house staff and voyaged there more than a century ago, it has really only been in the past few decades that it has featured prominently in the travel plans of the more average and less-wealthy wanderer.


For many people, India is the ultimate dream destination, just as an African safari or an Australian walkabout might be for others. Meticulously researched and carefully planned, their trip will fulfill a lifetime’s fascination and desire. For others, it is simply another spectacular adventure. But for everyone who visits the sub-continent, it is a life-changing experience that is never forgotten.


Most people returning from India first comment on the people: quite simply, the crush of humanity that overwhelms all but the most veteran or inured of traveller. Whether in one of its big cities or exploring a small village, it can be difficult for a visitor to find a quiet moment to themselves. However, most travellers become accustomed to the constant crowds and inevitable attention and admit that it did not detract from the wonders that the country has to offer.


India is renowned for its architectural treasures like the Taj Mahal, its temples, forts and royal palaces  – many of the latter of which have been turned into magnificent hotels. But there is so much more. Topping the list of events not to miss is the annual Pushkar Camel Fair which rises from Rajasthan like a scene from ancient times. No one who has ever witnessed the spectacle forgets it as thousands flock to trade livestock, race camels and engage in age-old entertainment and traditions. Be warned however, there’s very limited accommodation in Pushkar and arrangements should be booked well in advance to prevent a long commute to and from the Fair each day or the disappointment of missing it entirely.


If wildlife is more your thing, India is of course the best place to try and spy a tiger. Threatened by poaching, the continual growth of the population and encroachment of communities, anyone who wants to see this magnificent cat should travel now before it is too late. Tiger safaris are offered in open-backed vehicles, or for the more intrepid – from elephant back. While tigers may be synonymous with India, the country’s forests and jungles are also home to the handful of remaining Asiatic lions as well as leopard and rhino. Although nowhere near as plentiful or easy to see as in Africa, the thrill of catching a glimpse of any of these truly endangered species more than makes up for the effort and the likelihood that you certainly won’t see them all!


India boasts fantastic hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas, or exploring the desert by camel train and sleeping under the stars. Further south, there are superb beaches, often undeveloped commercially and reminiscent of palm-fringed desert islands – except with the scent of fantastic food drifting through the air.


Whatever excites you on your adventurous wanderings, India has it in abundance regardless of budget or choice of style.



Post by: Simon Vaughan

Photo by: Incredible India

Asia In Style

5 12 2008


I don’t feel as though I am truly an adventurous traveller unless my hotel room has a rusted fan bolted to the ceiling, a television with three channels (or better yet…no television at all), a constant din rising from neighbouring streets, a lingering air of insect repellent and periodic power cuts…but I’m not so dedicated that I won’t occasionally stray towards something a little more opulent and luxurious that boasts white gloves, white sheets, white towels and fine white wine. Ultimately, a vacation is a treat or an opportunity to re-charge well-worn batteries, so why not indulge a bit?tic1


It was long believed that adventure and comfort don’t mix. Unless there was a dirt floor, a lumpy bed or a lack of air-conditioning it couldn’t possibly be adventure. However, as more and more people are drawn to exotic destinations, so the ability to travel in small groups and experience genuine cultural immersion while also enjoying a bit of comfort at night are no longer mutually-exclusive.


Oned of the best places to combine both worlds is in Asia. Boasting some of the best hotels and finest service in the world while still offering ancient ruins, congested markets, vibrant culture and thriving tradition, Asia can provide it all. Intrepid adventurer by day sampling food that would cause the neighbour to pass out, considerable comfort by night. Stimulation for the mind and senses by day, pampering for the weary body at night.


If your idea of adventure doesn’t extend to dorm rooms, mosquito nets and communal showers, click here.