Winning tip: Footloose in Vietnam
I hopped on to a pink rowing boat in the village of Tam Cốc in Vietnam, for a peaceful boat ride just after sunrise. I admired the breathtaking views of the bright-green rice paddies, limestone cliffs, enchanting caves and the beautiful river. Tam Cốc is a magical place, full of natural wonders. But I was slightly surprised by the rowing technique. The people in Tam Cốc row with their feet! It is apparently a faster way of rowing, and more energy-efficient. It also bodes well for multitasking – I saw one local woman going past, rowing with her feet, phone in one hand and eating mango from the other.
A feast in immigration, Canada
I was heading to Canada. This was to be a summer of firsts – flying, drive-in movies, outdoor pools … But because I’d taken “place of birth” literally when filling in my landing card, I’d listed the hospital instead of the town, and on arrival at Toronto airport I was ushered into a room for further processing. I sat next to a young man who’d arrived from Naples to whom officials were explaining that despite the fact that his mum had made it, the huge tinfoil-wrapped parcel he was holding was not allowed to leave the airport. Dejected, he unwrapped it – and that’s how my first meal in Canada came to be a deliciously herby roast chicken eaten with my hands, in the company of a sad stranger in a grey office.
Lost cow, Ladakh, India
My husband and I went on a volunteer project on a farm near a beautiful village in the Himalayas. Once they let us take a cow out to pasture (normally the young boys took the many cows up on to the higher hills). We led one cow out but managed to lose it. When we came back to the house ready to solemnly inform them we had lost her, there she was standing right where we started. The whole village thought this was hilarious.
Bug’s life, Nicaragua
Day 16 of our three-week World Challenge school expedition to Nicaragua. After a six-hour bus journey to a rural school in León, where we’d be helping to build a school kitchen, we laid out our sleeping bags on a classroom floor. As the sun began to set the only source of light we had was a few torches. What a mistake! Hundreds of flying cockroaches were awoken, filling the air. From every direction cockroaches were landing on us as we rummaged in our backpacks to find our mosquito nets as quickly as we could. My laughter was infused with panic. The following nights saw us tightly wrapped in our mosquito nets, flinching at the sound of any buzzing passer-by.
Au revoir aux voitures, France
Beware signs saying “Lit d’inondation” (prone to flooding)! We didn’t and watched our hire car float out to sea in Collioure, on the Mediterranean. Our wedding anniversary evening was delightful: a lovely dinner with views of a spectacular lightning storm over the Pyrenees. Eventually, the heavy but warm rain arrived as we walked back to the hotel. At the bridge we had parked the car beneath, I was a little concerned that what had been dry road was now dark water flowing very quickly out to sea. Our car didn’t seem to be at any risk, and there were others, so I decided not to move it. A couple of hours later we watched our car and another float gently out to sea! Next day we became minor celebrities as families came with picnics to watch the crane lifting the cars from the Med.
A taxi-ambulance, Cuba
On holiday in Cuba we had to take taxis everywhere, having failed to book early enough for the state-run bus. In one taxi near the town of Viñales, our driver told us he was a doctor but because “everyone is a doctor” in Cuba, he was moonlighting to earn extra money. We were initially unsure whether to believe him. But then we passed a motorbike that had hit a pothole and crashed. Our driver immediately grabbed a large first-aid bag, jumped out and skilfully bandaged up the victim’s leg by the side of the road.
Happy chaos, Slovenia
We wanted to do a three-day hike up Triglav mountain in Slovenia, staying in refuges. We hiked to the hut at Vodnikov Dom, passing through meadows of wildflowers and Alpine woods. The hut was a happy chaos, with a manager who couldn’t keep track of the people, rooms or money! We loved chatting to guests from all over the world, sharing stories. The food was hearty and local. We never made it to the top because of thick snow, but the journey was incredibly memorable and the scenery beautiful. On our way back we saw deer and snakes, and stumbled across Lazu, a high-altitude hamlet where farmers take their cows in summer. We ended up in a hut drinking homemade schnapps at 11am and eating cheese made with milk from the cows next to us.
Champers chumps, Russia
In Moscow, we were very generously given a bottle of French champagne by the rather tough-looking chaps on the next table. To our alarm, the waiter whispered to us that they were Russian Mafia who had some scam or other going. We accepted the bottle politely but thought “we’re in trouble here”. But then they left the restaurant – and to our astonishment one of them walked straight through a closed glass door. He just brushed the glass off and walked on. We realised they were just paralytically drunk.
The road is long, Australia
En route to Melbourne, my wife and I decided to rent a car from Darwin and drive through the outback. Short of money, we bought a tent, but it was midsummer and far too hot to camp. Sleep-deprived and wearied by thousands of kilometres of unrelentingly straight road, we ventured off-piste. Soon stuck in sand, we had to dig ourselves out. Cue the most heated argument we’d ever had. However, star-gazing at Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles), gate-crashing a remote ranch’s Christmas party and kangaroos frequently hopping alongside us made it an unforgettable experience.
Romance blossoms in Venice
I was sitting on a ferry in Venice heading to Burano reading Daphne du Maurier’s story collection Don’t Look Now – the eponymous tale is famously set in the city. Peering over the book to look at the beautiful views, I noticed the young woman opposite me was reading exactly the same thing. Our eyes met and we gushed “good choice” simultaneously. On reaching Burano we went for coffee, then lunch. The next day we explored the quiet back streets of Cannaregio together. We had dinner. After a week we shared a hotel room together. Two years later we got married – and are still married. Every other year we go back to Venice and relive our beautiful memory.