It all began with……

Follow me there and back again didn’t come about by chance, the name stems from my travel philosophy – The best things in life are shared. I believe that dreams should be witnessed because without a witness they will never really have any meaning.

When the person I cherish more than anything else in the world announced that he was going to attempt an Everest base Camp Trek my heart sank. My dream was to visit the mountain gorillas in Rwanda. But how can two people go their separate ways and have two incredible experiences alone? Those experiences would mean nothing.

ilker's everest base camp trek , himalayas , nepal

So, I became probably one of the only people in the world who hated walking, but embarked on a three week trek to the most famous mountain on earth.

After a year of hell – gym training three times a week and weekends spent in the Brecon Beacons, Snowdon, and anything which resembled a large hill, we were as ready as we could be to tackle Mount Everest.

After a few days getting organised in Kathmandu we took a short flight to Lukla and embarked on the first day of walking through the foothills. This was just to break us in. Day one proper started as it was getting light, we walked for 6 hours and this started a pattern which would continue for the rest of the ‘holiday’; my husband up at the front with the Scandinavians and me…at the back with a poor porter who had drawn the short straw. I had ditched my favourite books in preference for a walkman, and thank the Lord I had Lou Bega and Mambo Number 5 to keep me company. Especially when it came to the climb into Namche Bazaar.

The guide books had suggested that this was a terrible climb, I was prepared, but not for this. One step at a time. This was the most terrible afternoon ever, my legs felt like lead, and the thinning air make my lungs feel the same; add to that a splitting headache, and not for the first time in the last few days, I began to question why I was here. The rat in the bedroom eating my half eaten cinnamon roll was another cause for doubt; pulling my bed away from the wall and hiding my head inside my sleeping bag was the only way to survive the night.

An acclimatization day meant a day off, not in theory, but walking around and eating some excellent food at the German bakery rallied my spirits. We moved on again. Up, up, up, always at the back and almost always alone. Tears, anger, and splitting headaches were the norm. Altitude does funny things to the brain, irrational thoughts begin, and garlic with everything is now compulsory. Garlic Soup, roasted garlic, egg, chips and garlic; it helps with the altitude.

Then following another acclimatization day we were off again, only two nights now before the big push to base camp. At this point, to me, the walking seemed to get easier, the ascent wasn’t as steep and things almost appeared flat. Unfortunately, my husband seemed to be suffering. The others were way ahead, but he was not in his usual position, he was right at the back and could hardly put one foot in front of the other. He was disorientated, slurring his speech and walking even slower than me. When we made it to our lunch stop the others had already eaten, it was clear that something was terribly wrong.

He insisted on lying down, just to have a sleep for a while. Our guide insisted he descend, and quickly, but altitude was causing him to become irrational and insist on going on. This is where my philosophy was his saving grace – I was the only person who could get through to him, just before he went into a state of semi unconscious. My short straw porter and I propped up my husband’s heavy body and started dragging him down to Pheriche.

After a terrifying walk downhill we arrived at Pheriche hospital. Thankfully, the drop in altitude had helped bring him back round and there was no need for him to be hospitalised, but I was under strict instruction, “watch him, and if he goes unconscious again come and get us, do not go to sleep.”

I sat and watched, exhausted and scared for what seemed like a lifetime. Then, after a few hours he awoke and said “I’m starving, can we get egg and chips?”

Two days later we waited for the rest of the group to come down. The first person came earlier than expected and kept going; she was on oxygen, and needed to descend further. Then, as we waited, a helicopter came down and a procession of people left the hospital carrying a stretcher. As they passed it was clear that the body wrapped in her sleeping bag was making her last journey, her family behind her. The silence was incredible. She had not been as lucky as my husband, despite everyone’s best efforts, and spending the night in a pressurised Gamow bag, she had died.

Ama Dablam from Pheriche

Things were put into perspective, and follow me there and back again was born – always travel together for memories and for each other.


Tales of a Travel Agent

As a travel agent I took part in some of the most anticipated times of my customer’s lives. They dreamed of going on holiday to a secluded beach, a romantic city, or a hell raising stag or hen weakened to see out their days as a single person. It’s a dream job – or so it’s perceived. What you also get are customers who return from holiday when things didn’t go as dreamingly as predicted.

There are all kinds of customers, customers with no money who know they will end up with something cheap and cheerful, there are also the ones who truly do have enough money to travel round the world in luxury, and then, there are the ones who feel the need to elevate themselves on just a meager budget. They enjoy nothing better than to turn their friends green with envy at their long haul holiday in the sun, what they don’t divulge however, is that they went with a charter airline to a three star all inclusive hotel where they didn’t dare venture outside the complex for two weeks. One such lady took a holiday to the Caribbean with the company that started the travel revolution.

She travelled to Barbados in September, the hurricane season, and although she had been advised about the possible weather conditions, it did rain rather more than she had expected. However, that was not the cause of the compliant letter on her return. The letter arrived in a padded envelope; perhaps she had included a gift of appreciation? No, in fact, it included a pair of socks, blue socks.

The socks were part of the ‘amenity pack’ issued by the airline on her return flight home – you know the ones, they have earplugs, eye mask, wet wipe, and socks. In all my time travelling I’ve only ever seen a handful of people actually use these socks, the one size fits all philosophy doesn’t seem to ‘fit’. But, this lady had used every single amenity she could get her hands on; after all, she’d paid for it. The subject of her complaint wasn’t that the socks had cut off her circulation causing her feet to go blue; no, it was that because her feet were hot and sweaty, the colour had come out of the socks and had stained her feet. She had included the socks so they could be sent away to a laboratory for testing.

She felt that some compensation was in order because of the stress having blue feet had caused her. There were two reasons for the distress, firstly, on her return she had to visit the chiropodist which was terribly embarrassing with blue feet. Secondly, she had to buy a new pair of shoes, because despite scrubbing and using bleach, she had been unable to remove the blue dye from here feet, and the colour simply didn’t go with her pink strappy sandals.

You see, the life of a travel agent is not as glamorous as you think, apart from a shoe shop assistant, who else comes into contact with worn sweaty socks? That wasn’t in the job description.

Better left unsaid

Review sites are a godsend when it comes to choosing the right accommodation, but now one of the most highly respected sites has being accused of featuring reviews that have been paid for, its hard to know who to trust.

Recently back from Rio, we chose a comfortable B&B based largely on the rating from one such site. Ranked 3rd in Rio, it was not too expensive compared to other places, and its position in Santa Teresa made it quite appealing.

Santa Teresa - Rio de Janeiro

Recent reviews declared the property “Absolutely outstanding, it was the highlight of our trip”, another said “A warm, welcoming, spotless B & B with a great view”, and the other reviews stated that owners were wonderfully helpful, and so on and so on. It sounded perfect.

When we arrived we were greeted by a lovely man who didn’t speak English, but insisted on telling us in considerable detail how everything worked – in Portuguese. He even helped us up one flight of stairs with our suitcase. Unfortunately, he broke the handle, so we decided to take it up the other three flights ourselves. He showed us to our room, still telling us everything we needed to know, and then Bill the owner showed up. Apparently he’d been waiting for us to arrive. We’re not entirely sure where, after all, we’d come in through the front door and passed through the living room, the only way in, or perhaps there was a secret entrance. He continued with the ‘orientation’ and suggested somewhere nearby we might like to try for a meal tonight.

On our way out we met Bill’s wife, Sue, who totally disagreed with Bill’s recommendation for a meal saying it was a horrible place and she didn’t know why he’d told us to go there – perhaps because he hated us? She said we’d be better off in the centre of Santa Teresa. Advice was given on where we might to consider, and that because the hill was so steep we’d need to get a taxi back, unless we wanted thighs like elephants. Already having elephant thighs, I disregarded that comment.

English: Rio de Janeiro slum (right) on hill, ...

Next morning, after tripping up twice on several pieces of loose parquet flooring, we went for breakfast and a word with Bill about a few small things.

  1. In a city like Rio where you are told not to wear jewellery, carry lots of cash etc etc, was it a problem that our patio doors, which opened onto a communal patio, didn’t lock? Bill: Oh no, it wasn’t a problem, and besides they were only aluminium keys which kept breaking.

2. We can’t seem to use the safe in our room. Bill: No, I lost the key.

3. The patio is lovely, but is there any chance of having two chairs which we can actually sit in, rather than ones which are ripped and have screws sticking out? Bill: Unfortunately not. The new ones had been stuck at the port for 5 months. The ones we had were the best ones, but as they’d been out in all weathers they were rotten.

Oh well…

We tried out a couple of Bob’s recommendations, then after spending an arm and a leg on local restaurants, we decided to try lunch in Downtown. We stuffed ourselves on an ‘all you can eat buffet’ for less than the price of a starter at any of Bob’s recommendations. That night, still full to bursting, we picked up a bottle of wine and a few nibbles from a local store and decided to have a picnic by the pool. After enjoying a glorious evening with a sunset over the city, we went inside to make use of the communal laptop and check our emails. Bill arrives and interrogates us as to what we had been doing, and where we were going tonight. We said nowhere; we’d eaten out at lunchtime and were staying in tonight. “You’re on holiday for Christ’s sake”, was the response we got; Basil Faulty springs to mind.

After that, we decided to try and give Bill the slip as much as possible. Maybe we’d upset him when we ‘snuck in’ on arrival, who knows?

It’s time to leave, Bill’s on his laptop. Our two heavy cases are at the top of the stairs. The taxi arrives. Bill carries on working, is he going to help carry the cases? No.

The moral of this story – its not always the good and the bad reviews you need to consider, some people feel that some things are ‘better left unsaid’.

Just Back – from a great discovery (for Telegraph Travel)

With the washing piled high and the unused emergency sewing kit still to put away, I know the holiday’s over.

The planning and hopes, the time we spent together getting dusty, muddy, and wet is over, and now we are left with just our thoughts and some wonderful photos to remind us of the really good time we had together.

We’re just back from Namibia. It was just like being young again. We did crazy things, things we shouldn’t have, and best of all we spent time laughing. That’s what life used to be like, fun, free, and time spent doing things you wanted to do, even if it wasn’t what everyone else expected.

We’ve never been compliant, and no doubt at 5am when we were still in our tent and everyone else was heading out on safari, they thought we were missing the best experiences, but we weren’t. We had our own experiences, and we still managed to see that illusive leopard right near the camp. The others had missed her because she wasn’t there earlier, she knew it would be quiet now; the tourists were long gone. We saw the incredible sight of thousands of seals at Cape Cross, we saw the dunes at Sossusvlei, and we did all those other ‘must do’ things, but in our own kind of way.  We also got to do one of the best and most unexpected things; we got to talk to Connie.

Connie runs a restaurant at Klien Aub, the middle of nowhere, and for 27 days she hadn’t seen another soul. She opens at 8, and closes at 5 every day. She waits for people to call, normally she bakes cookies, but for a few weeks she hasn’t bothered because nobody comes, but today is different. Today she still looks a million dollars in her lilac two piece and perfectly combed hair, but today she also makes coffee for her ‘special guests’. We sit and talk, we talk to her, we talk to her cat, and we read the postcards and letters that’s she’s received from all over the world from previous customers she’s made coffee for. They say what a wonderful hostess she is, include pictures of themselves with her, and say they’ll see her next time.  She’s so proud.

Travel is all about exploration and discovery and one of the best places to discover is yourself, that’s what we did on our trip to Namibia. As well as discovering a diverse country with wildlife and desert, we discovered ourselves again, and what a wonderful discovery it was. And, when I look back tomorrow, and in the future, what I’ll always remember is that it’s the little unexpected things that make you smile.