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Highs & lows

Scariest moment

Having our small, flimsy tent surrounded by a family of hippos on the banks of Lake Turkana in northern Kenya. (We didn’t realise at the time hippos are the deadliest large land mammal on the planet.)

Worst decision
Hippo drama in Kenya

Ignoring the no-camping sign at Lake Turkana. We were trying to save money.

Best decision

Changing our minds and visiting Ko Phi Phi in early rather than late December 2004. If we’d stuck to our original plan, we’d have been on the island – with our two young children – on Boxing Day when the Asian tsunami struck.

Most unusual offer

Three camels for my wife, in Alexandria, Egypt.

Most embarrassing moment

Being passed by a group of blind trekkers on a trail in Nepal.

Unusual camel offer
Longest ride

32 hours on a bus from Bangkok to Singapore. A bottle of Thai rocket fuel known as Mekhong  proved a useful anaesthetic. The most amusing ride was on a camel in Pushkar, India. It farted every few strides.

Tightest fit

Squeezing up the Devil’s Chimney in the Cango cave system at Oudtshorrn, South Africa. Not recommended for the claustrophobic. Like me.

Most chilling reminder

Seeing piles of skulls during a visit to the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and the photographed faces of the countless thousands tortured and executed in a former secondary school in Phnom Penh.

Killing Fields reminder
Most bizarre ceremony

Lowering of the flags at the border of India and Pakistan between Amritsar and Lahore.

Most painful wildlife experience

Being attacked by ferocious ants on the shore of Lake Malawi. The only way I could get them to let go of my leg was to jump in the lake.

Brightest light bulb moment

Playing football with kids on Likoma Island in Malawi – one of the poorest countries in Africa. They’d made the ball from newspaper and string.

Made me realise why football is so universal… the beautiful game.

Football light bulb moment
Most amusing incident
Most awe-inspiring sight

First view of Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe.

On a bus full of Egyptian soldiers near Sharm El-Sheikh on the Sinai Peninsula. The driver pulled over, vomited on the side of the road. When he got back on, a fellow traveller starting singing Always Look On The Bright Side of Life from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. We soon joined in. The bemused looks on the faces of the soldiers were priceless. You had to be there.

Most authentic meal

Pita bread baked on a hub cap by a Bedouin in the Sinai mountains. Tea leaf salad in a village in the Shan Mountains of Myanmar was pretty special too.

Greatest taste sensation
Bedouin pita experience

A kulle chaat from a street vendor in Old Delhi, India. Stuffed with masala spices, black sulfur salt, lime juice, boiled chickpeas, pomegranate seeds. Explosive deliciousness.

Favourite dessert

A toss up between the lime tart at Casa Luna café, Ubud, Bali, and the cardamom and pistachio kulfi at St Anthony’s Teahouse, Goa, India.

Most forgettable after-dinner experience

48-hours of raging diarrhoea and vomiting after eating kingfish and rice cooked in dodgy water on an Arab dhow off the coast of Kenya.

Favourite coffee

Flat white made on the espresso machine at home, using dark-roasted organic Peruvian Arabica beans, sipped from a Crown Lynn cup from the second-hand shop in Mayfield, New Zealand.

Favourite coffee
Favourite restaurant

Mumbaiwala, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Favourite cafe

Yellow Flower, Ubud, Bali

Most unlikely drinking experience

Being invited, as a young Kiwi hitch-hiker, for a Guinness in the members’ bar of the Dáil (parliament) in Dublin, Ireland.

Most secure drinking experience

A bar in a bomb shelter on a kibbutz near Israel’s border with Lebanon.

Unlikely drinking experience
Favourite city

Old Jerusalem gets the nod narrowly over the ancient city of Luang Prabang in northern Laos.

Worst hotel experience

A bed bug-infested room in Manila, Philippines.

Favourite tramp/hike

Whitcombe Pass in New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

Favourite road sign

LEFT IS RIGHT (approaching a roundabout in Rajasthan, India)

Greatest academic achievement

Highly commended in vegetable modelling, Gilberthorpe’s Primary School, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Favourite music

I prefer listening to Kiwi artists. Teeks, Maisey Rika, Nadia Reid, Paige, Tarn PK, L.A.B, to name a few.

Favourite music

Growing up, I was enchanted by Richard Adams’ Watership Down, captivated by Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings, inspired by Leon Uris’ Trinity, amused by everything from Roald Dahl. I’d rate Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See the best novel I’ve read in the last 10 years. For crime fiction and thrillers, I’m a fan of Michael Connelly, Gregg Hurwitz, Mark Gimenez; closer to home I’ve enjoyed reading Kiwi writer JP Pomare. For historical fiction authors I can’t go past Robert Harris, and for non-fiction Naomi Klein and Yuval Noah Harari.

Favourite reads
Favourite museum

Te Kðngahu, Waitangi, New Zealand.

Favourite art gallery

Collection de l’Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. Features works by artists from the fringes of society – schizophrenics, loners, lost souls. Awesome.

Most frustrating conversation

Hitching a ride to Inverness in Scotland with a local guy in a kilt. Neither of us could understand the other’s accent, even though we were both supposedly speaking English.

Favourite live show

Watching my daughters perform in musicals at the Rangiora Town Hall, NZ. Jersey Boys on Broadway wasn’t bad either.

Favourite saying

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your life.

Favourite verse

‘Tis all a chequer-board of nights and days

Where destiny with men for pieces plays;

Hither and thither moves, mates and slays

And one by one back in the closet lays.’

 Life in a nutshell

Omar Khayyam

Life in a nutshell, I reckon.

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