Jason Ball on the Natureheads blog
Somebody asked me recently, if I think of myself as ‘well travelled’ and I find that a tricky question to judge. What does that phrase mean nowadays? I’ve been to a few continents, but haven’t lots of people?
I guess I’m quite experienced in travel. I’ve been scuba diving in the Red Sea; swimming in the Mediterranean; surfing in the Atlantic; skiing in the Austrian Alps; felt the earth’s heat through the sharp, volcanic rock of Lanzarote; taken wildlife walks in Scotland, Wales, the Lakes, wherever I happen to be!; I have watched Fulmars on the cliffs of Cornwall, and County Clare; I’ve seen the Sphinx, stepped onto a Great Pyramid and walked the Giant’s Causeway; camped in the Sinai Desert, Snowdonia and the Catalan Pyrenees; trekked in the hills of the Sierra Nevada, the white cliffs of Calais, the Grampians in Australia… been dried by the sun after swimming in the heart of a Malaysian tropical rainforest.
I’m very fortunate. But, you know, to a lot of people that’s not a long list! And I’m not exactly a hardened adventurer who’s journeyed to the ends of the Earth.
Here in the UK, international travel has become viewed almost as a necessity, as if it were part of a balanced lifestyle! I grew up without annual holidays, and going abroad wasn’t affordable to my family.
Once I had managed to get abroad, it was simple trips like Paris or Galway at first, and then straight to Australia and Malaysia on my own! Hardly an epic by modern standards, but a shock to the system when I met the unbelievable amount and variety of life in Malaysia.
Invertebrates have a presence more powerful and intense than anyone from the British Isles could imagine, until they’ve experienced it for themselves. Being surrounded by insects can be alarming, until you get used to it! Put it this way – if you don’t like spiders or ants – if you still call them ‘creepy crawlies’ – then don’t go to a rainforest unless you’re ready to change your mindset in a big way. I remember taking the night train from Singapore, which filled with cockroaches of all sizes from the tiniest of cracks in the floor and furniture. A sight that would inspire the art of Salvador Dali.
And the heat can hit you like a wall. Concentration and stamina take a beating when you’re a north European in a tropical heatwave. Everything gets more difficult, like taking a walk, preparing a meal, even planning your day! Fifteen kilo rucksacks are no fun, and can kill you, believe me. Even after you’ve spent weeks in heat training at home. Go in a team, take the minimum essentials when you’re hiking, and split the loads between a group. Focus on good preparation and safety for all.
Although the tropical rainforest is not easy going, I’d go again at the drop of a hat. I saw fabulous kingfishers, passed playful river otters, felt a cicada heavy in my hand, marvelled at impossibly acrobatic geckos (who kept me awake), watched flag-throated lizards, fought the stench of guano on the way to finding bats in caves, dodged angry monkeys, wobbled along a canopy walkway, found wild pig footprints. And I want to see more.
I’ve learned an enormous amount from my travels, not least respect for what I’ve encountered. Maybe that makes me well-travelled.