That’s me with some new-found friends in the back blocks of Tanzania.
The truck I’d hitched a ride on had broken down and they invited me to share a bottle of wanzuki with them. It’s the local moonshine and it’s inordinately strong.
The photo is quite old. I have lot less hair now and the tan has well and truly faded.
But it sums up exactly what it is I love about travel.
Random encounters with fellow humans in unexpected places.
Not hipster beards or floating dresses.
Just the world in all its tarnished glory.
The early days
My globetrotting ways got off to an inauspicious start when my parents took me and my sisters on a Pacific cruise when I was 12 years old.
It was aboard the MV Marco Polo and our ports of call included Fiji and New Zealand.
The thing I remember most is putting tape on the end of a stick to fish out all the coins that had fallen behind the onboard poker machines.
A year later I went on a French excursion to New Caledonia. The only phrase in French I knew was ‘Bonjour? Est-ce Philip Ladau?’
The thing I remember most about that trip is Matthew Wall dropping snails from the top of the lighthouse on Amédée Island.
And the teachers frantically trying to keep us away from the deadly coral snakes slithering along the beach.
Enter the Nambas
When I was 19 I went to Vanuatu and met the Big Nambas.
If there is a seminal moment in my life, this is probably it.
The Big Nambas are a remote tribe on Malekula who wear nothing except a red cloth wrapped around their penises.
They live up in the mountains in a compound surrounded by a bamboo wall. Stepping through the entrance is like taking a step back in time.
I had to remind myself that I was only a two-hour flight from home.
I remember thinking ‘What’s the rest of the world like?’
I’ve been travelling ever since to find out.
Oh, just so you know, there’s another tribe on Malekula.
They’re called the Small Nambas and they use a lot less cloth.
Next stop: Indonesia
The moment I got back from Vanuatu, I booked a flight to Indonesia.
I couldn’t really afford another trip away so soon, but I was hooked.
I figured that I would simply have to travel within my means.
And in Indonesia that meant staying in the cheapest losmens, riding in the most unroadworthy bemos and eating from the most unsavoury food stalls.
It was to become the blueprint of all my future travels.
Why? Because I discovered that it was the quickest way to experience what I really love about travel – meeting the locals, hearing their stories and, in a small way, experiencing their lives.
Despite the severe lack of funds, I got to clamber up the ancient stone steps of Borobudur, wander through the terraced rice paddies of Ubud and survive Happy Hour in Kuta.
But my favourite memory of the trip was playing chess with some young guys in a crappy losmen in Gilamanuk, waiting for the ferry to Banyuwangi in Java, just the other side of the strait.
It wasn’t such a great memory for the girl I was travelling with.
She was back in our room fending off the interest of rather large Indonesian rat.
To be continued …