Travel is off the cards for now, so it’s a good time to sit back and reflect on places I’ve visited in the past, and places I want to visit in the future. While physical travel is limited, travel in the mind is still very much possible.
Etosha National Park, Namibia: This was Husband-then-Boyfriend and my first trip to Southern Africa. We booked a two week tour through Namibia and made some good friends on the trip. But the highlight was Etosha National Park, where we spent the last four or five days of the trip. We had picked to go in November in order to be in Namibia at a good animal viewing time, and in terms of animal viewing, we were very lucky. Our first campsite had a spotlit waterhole with seating, so tourists could sit and view the animals coming in to drink at night. If you put it like that, watching animals drink water, it doesn’t sound very exciting. But this doesn’t describe the thrill of watching to see what animals would come next – would it be the giraffes, nervously and awkwardly shuffling their legs into a wide splayed angle so they could get their heads low enough to drink? Would it being a herd of antelope? Would it be a rhino, looking in the flesh more like some kind of dinosaur relic than they seem on TV, and moving with a surprising stealthy silence? Hours passed like minutes and at 1am when your eyes are dropping closed, you have to drag yourself back to your tent to sleep.
The second campsite also had a spotlit waterhole, and on our arrival, there were two elephants drinking. Our tour were very excited, as we hadn’t seen many elephants. Later in the afternoon, a few more elephants turned up. By evening there were several more. Elephants, I observed, are also surprisingly quiet considering their size. The waterhole was surrounded by bushes and scrub, but elephants would emerge silently from the brush cover, only attracting attention when they trumpeted their greetings to the other elephants already there. And you could see it was a greeting. “Hello Mavis! How are you! I haven’t seen you in ages. And is this your new one? She looks strong.” “How have you been Hilda? How is the water? And is that your young one? My he’s grown up so fast.” Elephants just kept coming, and coming, and by 2am when I was falling asleep where I sat on an uncomfortable rock, there were something like 50 elephants at the waterhole, and the air vibrated with noise as they talked to each other.
I have never before felt so much like I was in the midst of a David Attenborough documentary, and for that reason, Etosha National Park gets a special place in my heart and my travel A-Z.
Essaouira, Morocco: Essaouira, coastal city, famous for its wind surfing. Also famous for its wood carvings. I remember walking the streets, looking in the many shops selling wooden carved objects.
There was one shop that had a beautiful tall carving of a seahorse on display. I went into the shop several times to admire this carving – so big, so beautiful, such fine detail. Further back in the shop was a strange carving of a kind of broken down house. My first thought was “Ugh, that’s so ugly, who would ever buy that?” and I went back to look at the seahorse.
On my second visit I admired the seahorse again, and the ugly house sculpture… well, it didn’t seem so ugly this time. There was something about it…
On my third visit, I asked the price of the seahorse – and gasped at the answer. It really was too expensive, and too big, considering I would have to carry this pretty much in my arms all the way back to London.
The ugly house was still there. And it was cheaper. And… it wasn’t so ugly any more. In fact, the pure beauty of the seahorse had kind of wearied the more I saw it, but the ugly house… well it seemed less ugly and more charming with each viewing.
There was a short negotiation and then the ugly house was wrapped up and I took it away with me. It’s still with me, it’s crazy imperfection part of its charm. And a reminder of my time in Essaouira.
Somewhere I would like to go:
Echo Beach, faraway in time:
I knew at some point in this list I would start to struggle with destinations linked to letters, so why not pick somewhere fictional? Echo Beach, as sung about by Martha and the Muffins, is somewhere I would like to go. Who wouldn’t like to go faraway in time? And after all, I meet the criteria: “From nine to five I have to spend my time at work / My job is very boring I’m an office clerk / The only thing that helps me pass the time away / Is knowing I’ll be back at Echo Beach someday.” If I had to pick a physical place to represent Echo Beach in my mind, it’s the place we used to go for family holidays when I was in my early years of high school. I remember having this song in my head while we were there on holiday, so the two places are very much linked in my mind.