Possessions or Experiences?

18 05 2009

Serengeti sunset mw

                 “Do sunsets usually growl?”                           (Serengeti sunset)

If you were given the choice between a 60” high definition plasma flat panel television with Dolby Surround Sound or a luxury two-week South African safari with private guide, which would you choose? If you said ‘both’, you are a person after my own heart. But greed aside it does raise the interesting question of whether you cherish experiences or possessions more.

Of course, there are some people out there who do have both, but we don’t like them much. For the rest of us mere mortals, if we are very lucky we might be able to pick one or the other once every 5 or 10 years. So what provides the greatest satisfaction in the short-term…and in the long-term?

I am a homebody who has the unenviable burden of also enjoying travel. I say unenviable because while some of my acquaintances are quite happy to live in a shoebox over a subway grating with 43 roommates and live on day-old birdseed in order to pool all of their money into travelling the world, I really do like a few special home comforts and lots of travelling. Alas, not being married to Donald Trump’s daughter, I usually have to pick between the exotic trip or the slab of apple-smoked cheddar.

As I get older I find that experiences seem to be gaining more and more importance. Perhaps it’s a taste of my own mortality, but when I reflect on my life the things that give me the greatest satisfaction and fondest memories are not things at all, but experiences. I rarely sit back and think to myself “Wow, I loved that triple-speed pastel-green mixer with ice-crusher”, but I do remember the first time I smelled the heady scent of eucalyptus in Australia, standing in a jungle-clearing in Costa Rica watching lava cascade from a volcano late one night or hearing a leopard prowling around my tent in Kenya. I will never forget the first glimpse I had of a wild mountain gorilla after several hours of arduous trekking, of waking to a spectacular view of the pyramids from my Giza hotel room or of a wonderful evening in a small basement jazz club in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

When I’m 80 years old, I can probably still have a pair of 2,000 watt speakers with 12-inch aluminium woofers, titanium mid-range drivers and .75 inch tweeters… but I may not have the ability to trek the Himalayan foothills, photograph Angkor Wat at sunrise or camp on the farthest reaches of the Great Wall of China.

I think for now I’ll make do with my 18” TV and continue to indulge my passion for adventure.


Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan © 2009

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

One Small Strep…

9 03 2009





“Hello doctor? I seem to have come out in spots…”  (Samburu, Kenya)



Whenever I venture off the beaten path, I always carry a small First Aid kit. I first acquired one many years ago and it came stuffed to the brim with all sorts of things I hoped I would never need like enormous syringes, butterfly closures and sterilised needles for sewing stitches. Gradually, bitter experience enabled me to better customise the kit for ailments and accidents that either have afflicted me or might strike me during my wanderings. Although I know it’s common sense to carry such a kit, I still feel like a hypochondriac when I go shopping before a big trip and leave with enough supplies to equip a small hospital!


The key to preparing a good First Aid kit is the assumption that once at your destination you won’t be able to buy anything, which is actually often the case. There are many obvious things to carry like bandages, aspirin, anti-nausea pills, tablets to make you go to the loo and others to make you stop (not to be taken together!), but it’s only through hard experience that you assemble a truly useful medicine chest.


I’d never carried rehydration salts until several days locked in a long-drop left me as dehydrated as a bag of wood chips. A circle of 20 mosquito bites around each ankle that kept me awake night after night led to the purchase of insect bite soother. Brutally sun-burned ear-tops not only taught me to be more assiduous in the application of sunscreen but also resulted in the addition of aloe. A bottle of water purification tablets could so easily have prevented the parched throat and headache suffered in a dodgy equatorial hotel room which offered only brown tap water. And of course a drop of disinfectant is good for any cuts, scrapes and the general purging of germs.


Once while deep in the wilds of Kenya and well away from any medical care, I was struck by self-diagnosed strep throat. In the absence of antibiotics, there wasn’t much I could do for the infection but I did have a small packet of throat lozenges. During the first day, I ate so many that my tongue turned Blueberry blue, swelled up and I lost all feeling in my mouth…meanwhile the pain in my throat maniacally laughed at my efforts and worsened. After a restless night of fever, I awoke the next morning feeling as though my throat was being slit with a hot knife. The lozenges were all gone and I was already rationing my aspirin. I dipped back into my kit to see what else was on offer and found a bottle of Dettol liquid disinfectant.


For those unfamiliar, Dettol is a childhood staple used to clean cuts and destroy every possible germ. If Dettol had been around hundreds of years ago, grannies are adamant that the Black Death would not have swept Europe and that enough administered to the South Pole would cure Global Warming. The bottle says it is made of chloroxylenol, pine oil, isopropanol, castor oil, caramel and water and is described as a general disinfectant and house cleaner. It also clearly states that it is not for internal use. However, in my desperate and almost hallucinatory state, I reasoned that if it was good enough to kill germs around the house, it was good enough to kill strep throat…and besides, just how dangerous could anything with caramel in it be?


Now, I should stress that I did not drink it. No, I am not that dumb. Instead, I diluted it with purified twig-strewn murky river water, and gargled with it. With my head tilted backwards and my mouth open, the scent immediately tweaked at my nose and caused my eyes to water. Bubbles and froth rose skyward as I continued the whirlpool activity. Eventually, confident that not even a hippo could survive the Dettol-isation, I spat out the fluid. I instantly knew it had worked because my throat burned in acquiescent agony…and my mouth shone a foamy white. After several days’ treatment, the pain subsided and the fever disappeared although back in civilization I still visited a doctor for a proper dose of antibiotics just to be sure.


Although I am not certain that the Dettol actually cured my strep, I still carry it in my First Aid kit – but now I also carry a prescription bottle of genuine antibiotics in my name!



Photo and post by:  Simon Vaughan