Travel Tales I – From Delphi to Annapurna
Travel Begins at 40 editor and founder Mark Bibby Jackson sets off on a lifetime spent travelling starting with youthful visits to Greece, Egypt and Nepal in his travel tales.
The last year was the most trying for those of us with an incurable wanderlust. My love of travel started in my early teens with a trip to the historical sites of Ancient Greece, and shows no sign of abating, whatever Covie might say. Even in 2020 I managed to visit Kortrijk and Ghent in Flanders, Belgium as well as the Aletsch Glacier and Berne, Switzerland.
So as the cold northern hemisphere winter is freezing my fingers as I type, I thought that the start of 2021 was a good time to share my most favourite travel experiences.
Travel Tales – Delphi
Where else to start my travel tales but in Ancient Greece – well not quite literally, I’m not that old. My hair was long, the flares wide and my lust for travel was ignited by a trip to the ancient sites, as well as a week lazing on the beaches of Crete, when elderly woman dressed in black were not fiddling with my flowing blond locks.
My only previous overseas trips were to Spain, where a sea urchin punctured my toe leaving a scar I still carry with me today, and to Yugoslavia where we ate chips on the beach and dined in the German-speaking restaurant, nobody believing we could possibly be British – those blond locks again.
So, I ventured to Greece with my mother – my brother preferring the mud and grass of Glastonbury – to continue my classical education. I knew of the Parthenon sitting atop the Acropolis in the capital Athens, but of prophetic Delphi I was unaware.
It was while standing above the temple, looking across the distant hills that my yearning to travel was really sparked, and I realised that there was so much to experience outside of London. By the time I had visited Olympus and narrowly avoided being picked up by some guy in a nightclub – those blond locks – I was well and truly hooked for life.
Cruising on the Nile
Shortly after I left university my mother sold the bottom of our garden and with the proceeds booked a trip to Egypt. This time somehow my brother had been persuaded to join us, though he spent most of his time pining for the woman he was eventually to marry.
It was August; no time to visit the temples as the searing heat made any travelling during the day a non-starter. Still we managed to visit Cairo, its chaotic museum, the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphynx, before setting off down country.
I remember disembarking one plane to be overwhelmed by the heat. Initially, I thought it was the effect of one of the jet engines, only to realise that this was what Egypt felt like midday in August.
Our only option was to rise early, visit the sites – Karnak, Edfu, the Valley of the Kings, etc – during the morning, and then spend the whole afternoon cooling down in the pool. I even went to the sites wearing my swimming trunks under my shorts, and disrobed en route back, plunging into the warm waters before the coach driver had turned off the engine.
The temperature soared past 50C, several mirages floated upon the horizon like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia
That was not the only water we encountered on that trip. A felucca trip along the Nile involved an impromptu bathe with unforeseen and rather messy consequences later that evening for both my mother and brother who had consumed a bit too much of the Nile’s un-holy waters. Somehow, I survived unscathed.
The highlight of the trip was undoubtedly a long coach drive into the endless nothingness of the desert to visit Abu Simbel. The temperature soared past 50C, several mirages floated upon the horizon like a scene out of Lawrence of Arabia, and at times I questioned the wisdom of our excursion.
Eventually we came upon the amazing statues of Abu Simbel, transported there to avoid becoming submerged by the Aswan Dam, now standing proud in their godlike majesty. The experience alone was worth the cost of sharing a bathroom with my volatile brother.
It took me some time before I ventured off travelling on my own – a week’s break in Tunisia aside. In the mid-90s I found myself metaphorically labouring on a cross London railway project that still has not seen the light of day. The pointlessness of my existence propelled me on a backpacking journey around the world, which I was to abort in Sydney – I still have not circumnavigated the globe.
India was my first port of call. For this first leg, I travelled with my friend Richard, without whose encouragement – and willingness to confirm all our railway tickets while I lazed in bed – I might never have left London.
The plains of Rajasthan India were unbearably hot – you might notice a trend – reaching record April highs. After many a few weeks discovering the incomparable beauty of the Taj Mahal, getting ripped off in New Delhi, being offered small children on the streets of Bombay – as Mumbai was then called –, and going on a lion safari in Gujurat, I bid farewell to Richard who still had a job to do in London, and continued my journey up to Varanasi and Nepal.
Staring at the ravine below I did not wish to continue, but feared the ignominy of turning back more.
Along the way I met some travel companions who remain friends to this day – for isn’t that the very essence of travelling?
Once in Nepal I discovered my natural ability for kayaking around in circles on the lake in Pokhara before taking on the trek to the Annapurna Base Camp – before it was called ABC.
This is still one of my most favourite travel experiences.
It took me five days to climb to the base camp with Greg, George, Boon and Craig, leaving Patricia somewhere behind in the foothills picking flowers. Too tight to employ a porter I carried my backpack all the way, while the landscape changed from rolling green to icy white, maintaining perfection throughout.
A day before the summit we encountered a landslide that turned our narrow path to ice, and I feared this would be my journey’s end. Staring at the ravine below I did not wish to continue, but feared the ignominy of turning back more. I made it.
After one final night, eating my beloved dal baht in a tea house while warming beside the fire, I rose early the final morning to discover the final stretch relatively flat. By now it was just Greg and me left, the others would reach the summit the following day – and we would share tales and rum on the route back. All along the way up I had struggled to keep pace with Greg whose fitness put me to shame. But here at altitude I literally bounded along like Tigger, while Greg struggled for breath – or at least that is how I recall it.
That night we spent staring at the most amazing stars surrounded by the crucible of mountains that form the Annapurna range. It was unquestionably one of the most brilliant experiences in my life, and part of the reason why I hold such a fondness for Nepal. I believe it is here that my love for travel, kindled in Greece and reaffirmed in Egypt was cemented. And why I would end up spending the next twenty years travelling.
If you enjoy Mark’s rambling tales, you might enjoy reading about when he went on an ad hoc African safari in Tanzania.
In part two of his travel tales, Mark features his travels through Central and South America.