Screwball Rally: Touring Europe in an Old London Cab

Note: idly flicking through some old notebooks, I found this journal from 2010 scribbled in the back of one of them. I have transcribed it here almost verbatim, with some insignificant tweaks for flow. Some of the spelling, especially the French, has been left deliberately unchecked. Square brackets are my notes written now, in 2017. 17:23 Weds 15/9/10 – Train, Gatwick > London Bridge, @ E. Croydon I should feel more excitement. I long for that. But it is unusual for the preemptive thrill before an adventure to be clouded by a lack of acceptance of the reality of its imminence. I can keep saying it, “in a few minutes you will begin a mad jolly around Europe”, but it refuses to mean anything. The words are too alien. Add to this a lack of company through which to amplify any latent enthusiasm.Add the weight of an afternoon so overcast […]

Recommended Reading: Insights from the Last Few Years’ Books and Shows

Introduction I’ve always been a slow reader. Someone once told me that was a “sign of genius”, and he was a journalist and book publisher, so I’ll take that one. The truth, though, is largely mired by laziness. Then, nearly five years ago, I discovered audiobooks. Suddenly reading was something I didn’t need to make time for. I could listen to books when I was walking to work, washing-up, showering, working-out… in other words when I previously would have been wasting my brain. I feel like I got something from nothing, and if you can take one lifehack from this entire post that would be it: get into audiobooks. …specifically, get an Audible account, pay a monthly subscription for credits (it’s cheaper), and set your play speed to 1.5x (unless it’s a dramatically performed book like a novel). You’re welcome. I’ve been taking notes as I read (or listen, if you must), […]

Red, Dead or Med: Three Idiots, Three Countries and Three Seas, in Eight Days in the Middle East

Note: this was one of my early attempts to craft a single travel journal piece from an adventure. Two of my best buddies and I spent eight chaotic, harebrained days in the Middle East in the autumn of 2004. It took me more than ten years to see the opportunity to publish my writing. Jordan Waking up in Amman, the capital of Jordan, is like waking up to find that you are blocking a fuel price protest rally. There is such a pandemic of bleating car horns throughout the city that the sound melts down to one sustained, inharmonious note that pervades from dawn until late night. There is a lot of shouting too. Standing on street corners and shouting is something that an Englishman like me struggles to comprehend while much of the rest of the world gets on with it fervently. The cacophony rose throughout the morning as the sun’s heat […]

Chasing Peaks: Six Months at Buena Vista Surf Club 4

Note: this is one of two unusually long posts covering the six months we worked at Buena Vista Surf Club. If I was ever going to finish it, let alone keep it to a few pages, I had to let a lot go. There are many stories and people missing (you know who you are) but I had to be realistic with the time available. This piece is dedicated to Marc, Mariëlle, the guys and girls who keep Buena Vista going, and all the beautiful people around Playa Maderas who made us part of their tribe. And to you, Sergio – el hombre, el mito, la leyenda. Introduction: a Snapshot from the Lodge Extract from my journal, written at the time in early 2015: Here we are – me and my lady, Maeve – volunteering as Co-managers of Buena Vista Surf Club, just back from the beach at Playa Maderas, a short drive […]

My View from the Lip: Six Months of Surf and Self-reflection on the Nicaraguan Pacific 1

Note: this is an unusually long post, as it covers a six-month period in one place. And, while this post focuses on our surfing experience, it runs simultaneously with the more general piece about our lives as hotel managers at Buena Vista Surf Club during the same period. Back in my teens my best friend Nick was a surfer. I would accompany him on yearly trips to Cornwall, in the southwest corner of England, seven hours’ drive from our homes in Essex. We would wade into the North Atlantic, in the springtime when the water was still cold from the winter months. From there we gazed over the choppy, grey water that stretched all the way to North America. When I first saw the Pacific a few years later, the horizon looked the same, but knowing that the Pacific Ocean was even wider than the Atlantic somehow made it more astounding. I tried to imagine […]

The Dirty Secret About Paradise: It’s Boring

I’m specifically talking about the postcard idea of “paradise” here, something like white, palm-fringed sand under empty blue skies, or a palatial suite at a five-star boutique hotel. Whatever it looks like to you, the trouble with “paradise”, besides not existing in the first place, is that we get used to it. We get used to everything, it’s human to do so. It’s an evolutionary survival trait that we are all better-off for having. But it also brings this side-effect of causing bliss to decay, inevitably and rapidly. In what is curiously entitled the Hedonic Treadmill, the science shows us that people tend to normalise to the same level of happiness throughout their whole lives. This normalisation occurs even after extreme events. People who have had large lottery winnings at one end of the spectrum, and those who have lost their limbs or close relatives at the other, all get back to their old […]

My Favourite Animal Encounters From Around the Globe

Here’s a trivial and subjective list of some of the encounters I’ve had with wild animals that have, for widely different reasons, stayed in a special place in my memory. They’re in no meaningful order. Albatrosses, Otago Peninsula New Zealand (2010) From within a whirling, squawking cloud of seagulls, we saw a strangely captivating bird soar past. An albatross isn’t far off being just a big gull, yet somehow they have far more grace and beauty. It was a real surprise and it was breathtaking to watch. See more pics in my Flickr album, Otago and the East Coast. Whale Shark, Yucatán Peninsula, México (2015) It was a relatively small one, a female about 8-9m in length, and we were surrounded by boatloads of tourists, each queuing for the next turn in the water. But to swim alongside her, watching her languid movement, all the distraction disappeared and for a brief time we […]

Back to Civilisation in Granada, via Masaya & Apoyo

After the highlands of the north, we travelled south by bus to the city of Masaya. On the way we were struck by how uncultivated Nica was. Rather than crop-filled fields, we saw large areas of grass and trees. Everything was green. We passed fertile plains that were fringed by volcanoes, and sprinkled with colourful flowers. Cyclones of vultures, perhaps 100-strong, turned in the middle distance, gliding on some thermal, or over some dead animal. We got ourselves set-up in a windowless room at the centre of a shitty guesthouse in Masaya. I woke on our first morning there with a cold, probably induced by the chilly, damp nights of the northern highlands. An illness that I would normally associate with winters at home felt incongruous with Nica’s hot climate. A few miles from the city is the Masaya volcano. We were too cheap to pay for a guide so we walked up the […]

Hoofing it Through the Cloud Forest in Miraflor, Northern Highlands

Note: Following the previous post from Los Zorros, in the northwest of Nicaragua, we travelled by bus to Estelí, in the more central northern region of highlands that border Honduras. We followed instructions for where to catch buses from Estelí to Miraflor but were doubtful and uncomfortable when we got there. It was 05:15 and this place wasn’t much of a bus stop. “Pulperia Miraflor” was just a fish shop with no sign for buses, no shelter, just a couple of locals standing around with hard looks, and an annoying drunk who should have stumbled home hours earlier. Then that ubiquitous public transport of Central America, an old US school bus, gurgled to a halt alongside us. It filled instantly and we only managed to grab the wheelarch. But soon we were way off the Panamerica Highway that runs through Estelí, and were bouncing down a track only suitable for […]

Thunder and Turtle Eggs at Los Zorros & Padre Ramos Reserve 1

We took a microbus (minivan) from León to Chinandega. We could see tree-coated volcanoes right from start, flickering like a zoetrope through the trees at the side of road. While I tried to take photos of the view, a lady beside me brushed her hand on my shoulder. I reluctantly turned to see what she wanted but she was just keen to tell me that the view would be better for photos after the next bend in the road. She was just being kind. Somehow we fell into conversation in spite of my knowing only a few words of Spanish. The lady explained how the volcanoes had sent landslides across the plain and over the road, flattening homes and killing many. we talked about earthquakes and tornadoes. She wrote her phone number in our book in case we ever needed help, then negotiated a taxi for us when we reached our […]