My top seven from the last twenty years

Time for a break

Time has come for a break, after 20 years at Greenpeace.

I’m finally having a long service leave, also known as sabbatical, if you live in Europe.

As I’ve got time and the inspiration is flowing, I thought it is time for another “listicle”, to help the imagination fly during the infamous COVID-19 era.
Expect much more from during the next three months.

My very last transcontinental trip – December 2019

There is no way to travel, but we’ve got plenty of worthy material. Australia is rather big and I feel in good cycling form. 

My little summer job, the UberEats pro-cyclist

As I’m facing three months of relaxation, I’ve decided to take on a little summer job and signed up to become an UberEats rider.

Probably the oldest rider in the southern hemisphere, but certainly not the slowest. Or, as someone puts it a “delusional bloke in his midlife crisis, who wishes to do a teenager job“.

In reality I need to train for the Transcontinental race 2021 and I don’t mind some extra cash as a stimulus.

If the definition of professionalism is what I think, I’ve finally found a way of becoming a pro-cyclist at 47.

Back to my top seven please

But less about me please and more about travelling…

With the snobbish assumption that the Arctic and Antarctic are overrated, this week I’ll take you through the list of the TOP SEVEN places I’ve been to during the past TWENTY years…

in no particular order and in true style:

Top Seven – 1: The Amazon jungle – Captain Candiru

A place I was fortunate enough to see eleven times in my life.

Dangerous and rewarding, Brazil is home to many friends I will never forget and gave me some of my best outdoor experience. I will dedicate Brazil a full story in the future, therefore today I’m forced to tell you my favourite David Roberts story 😉

We were once on an inflatable boat, motoring downstream the Rio Negro, not far from Manaus. After many hours David felt the need for a physiological break, so we stopped the boat and he went for a wee in the water, while holding onto the A frame.

He had heard before coming to the Amazon that there was an evil little fish which will eventually get you when you pee.

A bit like a salmon, the Candiru will swim against the “current” (in this case urine) and end up in your body, through your genitals.

David must have been very concerned about attracting one of those fishes, as he was fire-hosing in every direction, to the great amusement of the locals. Until finally they explained him that he would be in danger only if he was in the water!

Top Seven – 2: Beirut – A month in captivity

I’ve travelled four times to Beirut. The first three were during the war in 2006, where I discovered the reason for the Australian saying “busy as a bricky in Beirut“. I was working on board the Rainbow Warrior at the time, we were delivering humanitarian aid.

top seven the rainbow warrior is approaching the port of Beirut
The Rainbow Warrior in Beirut – August 2006

My fourth time I’ve finally seen the “Paris of middle-east” in all its beauty. That’s right, no bombs falling from planes this time, but it didn’t really start in glory.

The whole crew was arrested and confined within eight kilometres from the Rainbow Warrior, our passports were taken away from us and for many weeks we were told: “I’ve heard you’ll be free to go next Tuesday!”.

It turned out to be one of the best months of my life. Those eight kilometres had the best Lebanon has to offer. We had no spare parts, no Internet and it was a hot summer! I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

So….yes, a month later I flew home!

Top Seven – 3: Aden – “only good when fresh”

It was a quick visit, but I must confess Yemen is a wonder. In 2007 it was still relatively peaceful, because it’s one of the very few places in the middle east where there isn’t much oil & gas to plunder.

The Author, somewhere in Yemen – March 2007

I’ve arrived to Aden by sea, after a failed pirate attack against us, therefore my thirst for new experiences was justified by the fact that I was happy to be still alive!

Alcohol is not served in public places in Yemen and boozy foreigners are rare as a white fly.

However, everyone chews Khat, a potent plant which will make you rather euphoric.

As a matter of fact I’ve been so euphoric that I’ve tried to freeze a bag of the thing, on board, to make some tea during the crossing of the Red Sea, however, Khat will work only when is fresh… 🙁

Top Seven – 4: The Philippines – “hey Joe!”

Another place I’ve been to a total of eleven times. An archipelago of natural beauty, great people and stunning landscape.

The last time I was there was in 2018, in the Batangas province.

As I was on a stop-over of seven days, with final destination Amsterdam, I had my road bike with me and used the downtime to train for a cycling event.

Top seven - road traffic in the Philippines
Somewhere in the Batangas province – June 2018

I’ve never done that before in the Philippines, and if I do it again I will certainly not be wearing lycra any more.

Spandex automatically spells “gringo” and gives most locals a priceless opportunity to laugh at your expense.

In a matter of minutes, on the road looking mean and lean like a cycling machine, I would become a “Joe” and every bystander would echo, “Hey Joe!”.

I’ve actually written a blog about it and you can find it on my personal page Enjoy!

Top Seven – 5: SriLanka – the secret potion 

I spent a month in SriLanka, back in 2011. The food was awesome, spicy as nothing I’ve eaten before and the trains were a lesson for life.

An anecdote worth the Travellingscrittori stage is my visit to an Ayurvedic plantation, where the locals, after a guided visit at the gardens, tried to sell me any product that could possibly improve my life.

First they went for the obvious, an extract of herbs which would make me “hard for longer”.

As I wasn’t really interested in the perks of their veggie viagra, they diverted their attention to my hairstyle, and finally succeeded in selling me a coconut oil potion, which should have worked 100% for my receding hairline.

I’ve followed their instructions to the letter. Endless applications before going to bed…but… mmm, something must have gone wrong!

my “receding” hairline – June 2020

Top Seven – 6: Mexico – Moctezuma revenge

Mexico, what a place! It’s another one I’ve been to multiple times.

an iguana sun baking top seven
Iguana roasting in the Mexican sun, Atlantic Coast – March 2014

On my second trip, back in 2003, I paid my dues to Moctezuma and, as many Gringos I had my fair share of stomach ache and dehydration, prior to a Greenpeace train blockade, in the border town of Nuevo Laredo.

This town borders Texas and is home to many pharmacies selling prescription drugs. No prescription? No problem. One of the locals in the street will have the one you’re after.

Nuevo Laredo is also home to many Narcos, you can easily spot them at the local supermarket, as they usually drive a convertible and have a golden pendant, shaped as an AK47. Never make eye contact and stay away from their ladies.

Many places in Mexico are fantastic, but this time I thought I would tell you about one not to avoid.

a mexican flag by the beach in Cozumel - top seven
The beach in Cozumel, Mexico. – March 2014

Top Seven – 7: New Caledonia

My “Che” Guevara days. The socialist idea across the Pacific and my revolutionary soul were in sync in the early 00’s. I was feeling rebellious and invincible.

I’ve loved every moment of the months I’ve spent with the Kanaky people. They taught me how to hunt and kill sea turtles (yum in a soup!), how to “paint” a more colourful windscreen to the French Gendarmerie and how to light a fire under the rain. I gave them back endless working hours, digging trenches and gardening.

I will always remember them and I’ll buy a ticket to Noumea for the party they will throw, the day they will be independent from France!

A call for action

Tell me which of those places you want to hear more about and I’ll make you happy. If you wish to know more David’s stories, I’m also up for it. Although this might piss him off, I secretly like that.

So, let us know in the comments!

17 thoughts on “My top seven from the last twenty years

  1. ‘Read your link about the PH. If the competition is in the PH, the locals won’t mind un-shaved legs; lycra would do attract stares in the village, lol; in the city they’d feign.
    Greenpeace (and so are you!) is cool! ???

    1. Thanks for the insight Cookingflip! the lycra thing is part comfort and part vanity… however, I can well understand how it can look weird.

      1. Comfort, of course is priority–especially to avoid injury in long-distance cycling. Sculpted muscles ? from hard work–how could anyone not be proud? ? The stares were most probably hearts ??‍♀️??‍♀️?? racing behind you! ?

  2. Great stories – thanks for reminding me of Aden and Beirut and the RW tour of the middle east – still one of the best and challenging things I’ve been involved with….

    1. Thanks a lot, wait and see what we have on the top 7 worst countries… Any yes, I’m taking it easy this week, starting my new “career” with UberEats next week.

  3. All your stories are thrilling because of the unique experience you are sharing. It’s like “National Geographic” but without a glance cover. Many travel writers and reporters did not have that rough real life experience in remote places around the world. Your pirate’s sense of humor adds spice to your stories. I would like to read more about Antarctica and Arctica, but I’m also curious about the life of people in Brazil, New Caledonia, the Middle East, Mexico and any places off the beaten path.

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