Back in 1987, at the age of 27, I took a trip around the world. Unlike Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg, I didn’t have 80 days in which to complete the journey. I was restricted by the number of vacation days that I had managed to accrue, so it had to be done within six and a half weeks (approximately 45 days). And, unlike Fogg, I didn’t have a Passepartout to accompany me. I did the trip solo.
I had moved to Bermuda in 1984, to join the Bermuda Police on a five year contract. The terms of the contract included a return-flight to England, half-way through the term – the so-called ‘half-contract fare’. Whilst the fare was intended to permit officers to ‘return home’ for a visit, we were also permitted to use the value of the UK flight and put it towards a flight to anywhere else. Both Pan-Am and British Airways were offering Around the World tickets at the time, and I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my half-contract fare.
Whilst living in England, I had travelled in Europe (Switzerland, Germany, France and Tenerife). And since moving to Bermuda, I had done some travelling in the US (New York, Boston, Atlantic City, Philadelphia and Dallas) and Mexico (Acapulco). But this trip was was going to be my grandest adventure to date, and would give me my first taste of the wonders of Asia and Africa.
Having compared the fares and the available routes and destinations, I opted for the British Airways ticket. The rules were fairly simple – you could make as many stops as you wished, but you had to continue travelling in one direction (east or west), without any backtracking. And you had to select between the northern hemisphere and southern hemisphere destinations. I opted for the northern hemisphere. There was obviously no internet back then, so all of the arrangements for the flights and hotels had to be made through a travel agent.
Having departed Bermuda, heading west around the world, the first stop was San Francisco. Whilst there, I got to see the famed hillside roads, rode the tramcar to Fisherman’s Reef and visited Alcatraz.
Next up was the “Big Island” of Ohahu, in Hawaii. I took an interesting day trip to the Polynesian Cultural Centre, that showcased the various cultures and also included a traditional luau, with a pig cooked underground. I rented a little Suzuki Samurai car and drove around the island and also visited the famed Waikiki Beach (which wasn’t very impressive, compared to Bermuda’s pristine beaches).
My first visit to Asia started with a short two-night stop in Tokyo. Even compared to Bermuda, the prices in Tokyo were very high, so I was glad that I wasn’t staying longer. On one of the evenings, I joined a tour group to visit a traditional Geisha house where the cultural dances and tea making ceremony were demonstrated. There was a game to challenge our skills with chopsticks and we got to enjoy a traditional Japanese dish of beer broth (although a brash American on the tour complained loudly that he just wanted a hamburger).
I had only spent two to three days in each of the previous destinations, but I had an entire week in Hong Kong. I really enjoyed wandering around the place, soaking in the wonderfully different sights, sounds and smells. It was all so amazing. I recall the constant aromas that wafted out of every shop that I passed, where incense was being burned. I was absorbed by the bright colours, the strange, exotic fruits in the markets, the chickens and ducks hanging in shop windows, and the cacophony of noise from passing vehicles and merchants shouting out. The joys of travelling to new and wondrous places.
A sign in my hotel advertised day-trips into mainland China, so I signed up for a one-day visa and joined a group trip, a couple of days later. Whilst travelling by bus, we passed rice paddies being ploughed by farmers with their oxen. We visited a zoo with pandas on display and a museum with some of the Terracotta Warriors. Sadly, the Chinese lunch was a disappointment – the restaurant provided westernised dishes for us tourists, including sweet and sour chicken. I had been hoping for authentic, traditional food.
A particularly memorable day was when I visited Victoria Harbour, on Hong Kong Island. I caught one of the Star Ferries in the morning, along with the local commuters. As I was wandering around the harbour, looking at the boats, an old man in a small boat beckoned me over and indicated to me that he could take me for a ride around the moored boats. I eagerly agreed and he paddled the little boat around, chatting to the locals who were living on boats in the harbour as we passed. It was a thrilling experience, as we wove our way between the traditional wooden boats, that contrasted with the modern skyscrapers behind them. The grey cloudy sky cast a moody backdrop as I snapped away with my camera.
Back on land, I wandered around the marketplace and the local shops, as the local residents were doing their shopping. I marvelled at the buying process at a shop that was selling live chickens. The birds were kept in cages and under large circular woven baskets. Customers would inspect the chickens and select the one that they wanted. The shop owner then attached a tag to the bird’s neck before unceremoniously throwing it into a large vat of boiling water. Moments later, the now-dead bird was plucked from the water and its feathers rapidly plucked, before it was handed over to the waiting customer. Something else that I’d never seen before!
I also visited the local police station and spent some time chatting with one of the inspectors about the job in Hong Kong. Before moving to Bermuda, I had looked into the possibility of working in Hong Kong. It was certainly interesting to see how different it was to Bermuda. English officers were recruited at the rank of Inspector, and supervised constables and sergeants who were Hong Kongers. Whilst the inspectors were required to learn to speak Cantonese, they were unable to read or write it. For that, they relied entirely on the sergeants verbally telling them what the various written reports said, and for transcribing the inspectors verbal directions into written notes.
Another ride on the Star Ferries ended a fascinating visit to Hong Kong Island.
After a tremendous week in Hong Kong, I had a couple of days in Singapore. Whilst there, I took a night tour by bicycle rickshaw, went for a drink at the famous Raffles Hotel and visited the Tiger Balm Gardens. But the most bizarre activity was a visit to a vulture cemetery, where dead bodies are laid out to be consumed by the resident vultures.
A short hop from Singapore got me to Bangkok, where I would spend another week. As I entered the lobby of my hotel, I was accosted by a tour guide before I could even get checked in. After checking in, I agreed to go to see this ‘amazing show’. That evening, a Mercedes car with the tour guide met me outside my hotel and took me to some backstreet joint, where I was led upstairs and into a room full of spectators, seated in rows of chairs with a stage in front. I won’t describe the sex show that followed, but it was an experience that I’ll never forget!
With the sex show out of the way, I spent the following days being amazed by the many beautiful temples around Bangkok. I took a river tour that allowed me to see the shops and houses built on stilts alongside the river. Kids were happily frolicking and bathing in the dirty brown river as I passed by. The tour also included a visit to a small floating market.
On one of the days, I took a guided tour to see the infamous Bridge over the River Kwai. A nearby museum and the Chungkai War Cemetery pay homage to the thousands of prisoners of war who perished at the hands of their Japanese captors – a very moving experience! On the way back, the tour visited a zoological park that included elephant rides.
My first impression of Bombay was one of homelessness and abject poverty. As my taxi drove me through the late evening, from the airport to my hotel, I passed what seemed like hundreds of people laying on makeshift beds on the side of the road. It didn’t improve over the next two days, as I would see people living in rudimentary shelters at the side of the road, in stark contrast to the high-rise buildings beyond. Many of the buildings themselves were filthy and rundown, with ramshackle shops and goods overflowing into the street. I was thankful that I was only there for two nights!
London was the next destination on the British Airways world ticket, but that was only so that I could take a side trip to Kenya from there. Because I was using the northern hemisphere route for the BA ticket, I couldn’t include Africa. So I booked an additional safari tour that started and ended in London.
Using a separate air ticket, I flew from London to Nairobi, Kenya, to undertake a wildlife camping safari with Dick Hedges Safaris. I’d seen theses camping safaris listed in a Kuoni travel catalogue that I picked up from the travel agents, and had been keen to tag it into my trip. Before the start of the safari, I had a night or two in Nairobi during which I visited the famed Carnivore restaurant.
I met up with the other people who would be doing the safari with me and we departed Nairobi to our first camping destination. Travel was by Toyota Land Cruiser, so it was a bumpy ride wherever we went. Our first destination was the Samburu National Reserve, where the camp site was set up and waiting for us. We did game drives each day and I got my first experience of wildlife in Africa. I was in awe!
After a few days in Samburu, we hit the road and drove to Lake Nakuru National Park, where I got to see the huge flocks of flamingoes at the large salt lake.
The final stage of the safari was at the Masai-Mara National Reserve, where I finally got to see lions in the wild, including a pride on a buffalo kill. It was nice to meet a Maasai mom and her two daughters, who came to our camp to sell some of their bracelets and similar items. Whilst not included in the cost of the safari, I paid extra to experience a hot-air balloon ride over the Mara, complete with a huge breakfast out in the bush, after the balloons had landed. Very special indeed.
There was a very long and dusty drive to get back to Nairobi. From there, I went on a day trip that included a giraffe sanctuary and the Karen Blixen Museum. Ms. Blixen’s life was featured in the film Out of Africa and the museum is in her former home.
Kenya made a huge impact on me. I absolutely loved my time there and I promised myself that I would return to Africa, to experience more of the beauty and culture of the continent. I’ve subsequently returned and visited seven other African countries. I’d love to get back to see more at some point.
Back to Bermuda
From Nairobi, I flew back to London, from where I resumed my BA World Ticket, for the final leg back to Bermuda.
It was an amazing trip that I thoroughly enjoyed, As it turned out, it would be the last trip that I would take as a single man. Bev and I got engaged a few weeks after I got back and were married a year after that. But the travelling continued.
I still have my old passport with stamps from this memorable trip.