With Christmas in the bag, Katie’s successful eye surgery and a quiet Hogmanay we are now into 2012 with a clear schedule for the year ahead. Or so you thought…
January is the month when everyone starts thinking about this year’s holiday in the sun. Rain is bouncing off the windowsill and it’s just as dark when you emerge from work as when you went in. The Stylist has brought out a travel edition and the shops are stocking the latest ethnic prints in time for Summer, a mere 6 (or 7, 8 or 9) months away! Like Pinky & The Brain (you decide who’s who) we’ve been plotting and conspiring to escape and now we’re able to tell you about it.
It sounded like a great idea, something we both wanted to do since we were in school but never got round to it. Work always came first. I loved reading travel and adventure books or watching the travel channel; Keith Floyd turning up at random restaurants demanding to use their kitchen or Anthony Bourdain chugging round South East Asia eating snake hearts, and in 2004 I had an extended holiday in India, inspired by my parents’ neighbours who went every year. Having been used to holidays in Disney World it couldn’t have been further from what I expected. Since then I’ve had itchy feet and it’s got nothing to do with a fungal infection.
For some reason, and I think it was to do with reading too much about the Air France disaster over the Atlantic, I’ve become afraid of flying. Or more precisely; afraid of crashing. Being locked in a can of other people’s farts never filled me full of intrepidation but was quite bearable when you knew sun, a swimming pool and Mickey Mouse were waiting for you at the other end. At first the thought of never getting on a plane again was crushing, I mean how the hell am I supposed to go on holiday? Then someone, quite randomly – or maybe serendipity stepped in, gave me a copy of Paul Thoreaux’s book ‘Riding the Iron Rooster – By Train through China’.
That was it. what? The answer. To take the train. By travelling by train across countries and continents you were connecting with the land, the people and their way of life. The train is a lifeline and commerce connection for lots of countries, so what better way to get under the skin of a nation than to travel it’s iron rooster?
But back to reality. How would we go about organising it, I mean the logistics of it are monumental. There’s the decision of where to go, visas, passports, money, where to stay and what stuff to take. So we made a plan of what our plan was going to be (Katie is very organised) firstly was to get a map and decide where to go.
After a trip to the historic Stanfords bookshop in Covent Garden we returned with a few maps, some pins and guides then before long our living room turned into the Expedition Head Office. Looking at the map we knew we wanted to take in Hong Kong to visit Katie’s family and quite quickly a loop appeared from the UK, across Russia then banking right, through Mongolia, around China to Hong Kong then down Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia. Having been to India before I wanted to go again and Katie was keen to go (since reading Shantaram) so we extended our line round India and Nepal before heading home again.
Now that’s epic. And expensive, no? Well, yes and no. You can do that staying in 5* accommodation all the way which we just couldn’t afford or you can camp everywhere and eat out of bins which isn’t for us. So a happy medium was found, we would use social networks and community sites like Couchsurfing to find local people to stay with while in each country so we could experience how families live in places like Vietnam, what grandma would be cooking for dinner in Thailand and what’s important to family life in Mongolia. We would travel by local transport to understand the masses – we knew what the rat race felt like in London but what about crammed on a bus with chickens and children in Kolkata?
It was time to expand ourselves, our understanding of the world and it’s people. Making connections with people who don’t know what clean water is let alone an iPod, or who use ingredients we’d never heard of, in ways we would never imagine.
We’ve got to gain something out of this trip, it can’t just be a holiday; that would be a waste. We needed a theme or a philosophy and here it is…
Food is a connection tool. Every human on the planet needs food, it is something tangible that every culture and region makes its own and it is something that we can share.
We would like to find an opportunity to setup a project, grass roots charity or business that can help people in some way rather than being all about profit.
We’re going to document our travels through Saltpigcanteen. You’ll also be able to keep up with us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @SaltpigCanteen.
I’m going to post more about how we set this up, some Google maps, some helpful advice and links to useful sites.