After two and a half years writing here I think it is about time I share a few secrets with all of you. This blog has brought me incredible happiness. It has made me cry with joy, it has helped me meet new people and it has taught me a completely new set of professional skills, from photography to videography, writing and social media. And more than anything else, Once in a Lifetime Journey has helped me in difficult times, it has brought me peace, it has taken my mind off difficult times and it has become my personal meditation.
If you have followed along you will have realised that I live in Singapore. That I have a full time job which allows me to travel and that I like luxury travel. But I also do a fair bit of travel to places most people don’t go, like North Korea or Djibouti. You may also have read that I lived in Dubai for five years, in Johannesburg for one and a half and that I am in love with Africa and had the chance to go on many safaris while working there. You may have also read that I often get in trouble, although I am never afraid to travel solo, even to places most are discouraged from visiting – like Pakistan.
But getting down to business, these are 10 things that, unless you have known me for many years, you probably didn’t know about me. So, who is Once in a Lifetime Journey?
1. On many of my trips I go with my best friend, who always stays in the shadows
My best friend of almost ten years, Edwin, has been with me to over 30 countries. We have been traveling together since we met. First across Africa where we were both working, then across the rest of the world, from Asia to the Pacific and the Middle East. He is the easiest person to travel with. I have never seen him angry or raise his voice and he is as accommodating as he is interesting. He also takes a lot of the photos of me when we travel together. He does not like social media or to be in the spotlight and is trying to keep his online presence to a minimum. So you are unlikely to ever see him in any post. He will not be happy when he sees this photo (sorry Edwin!)
2. I used to be a telecoms management consultant
My fortune to travel and see the world was helped by the fact that from the age of 25 I used to be a management consultant working for a telecoms company. My clients used to be everywhere and I used to catch flights to the Middle East, Africa and Asia every Sunday/Monday and come back every Thursday/Friday. I did this for ten years, every week.
My work entailed all sorts of strategic and commercial projects. I spent a lot of that time in Africa. Sometimes, because of the talent void in the continent, I had to take interim Marketing Director positions at the mobile operators in Tanzania, Kenya or Sudan. Those were incredible years when I grew a lot as a professional and as a person. Culturally, I learned to be open minded, non-judgemental and non-prejudicial. Africa also taught me to have patience, to enjoy the little things and to stop and smell the flowers. And I went on a lot of safaris!
Have you ever seen the photo of the Masai Warriors holding a Nokia phone in Kenya? I was there at that time and it was the work we were doing that brought phones to the masses across Africa. It was the most exciting time of my life!
3. I love ice cream and chocolate
I can’t resist either. Chocolate, desserts and ice cream are some of the few things that are sure to make me happy. And watermelon, I could live off watermelon. I also love bread. Bread is my favourite meal. If you give me some good bread and some extra virgin real olive oil, I am happy.
4. I grew up in a winery
I often write about wine and wine tourism and this is because, obviously, I love wine. But also because I grew up in a winery. My dad makes wine and has a large wine business south of Barcelona in the Penedes Appellation. I grew up surrounded by vineyards and life in the countryside. When I was a teenager, I used to spend the harvesting season helping out, from weighting the tractors that used to come full of grapes to taking samples to measuring sugar levels. And later on, when I was older, I managed all the machinery associated with the white wine making. I did this for six summers until I graduated from university and started working.
5. I was a lifeguard at the beach and in the emergency ambulance service for 6 years
Before the wine harvesting seasons started, I spent the summers with the Red Cross, volunteering at the beach as a life guard. Those were good times. The beach was beautiful and the weather mostly nice. In the winter, the Red Cross used to manage the emergency ambulance service and I continued volunteering with them. So when someone called for an ambulance, it would be me and another person plus the driver. Those were eye-opening years. I learned a lot about life and about how to deal with emergencies and death. I also learned a lot about myself and how capable I was at dealing with life or death situations under pressure.
6. I have kept all of my boarding passes for the last 11 years
I keep them in a box. I used to have them in a smaller pot, then started to spread them over other pots and boxes and they now sit in a large box. I have hundreds of them, from all airlines and years, from the better known ones to the really odd ones like Air Samoa, Air Austral or Air Malawi. Each boarding pass has a story behind it, a great moment, a memorable trip, a book full of anecdotes. Fun fact: boarding passes don’t have the year on the date part, only the day and month. So I actually have two boarding passes to different destinations on the same date because they belong to different years.
7. I have been caught up in civil wars, riots, shootings and Coups d’etat
I spent a lot of time in Africa between 2006-2010 and at that time there was lots of unrest and other violent explosions across the countries. I travelled to Kenya during the Civil War that exploded after the elections in 2007. The unrest and tribal war lasted for six months and we continued to travel for the whole time. We took precautions, we hired an evacuation company, we held a significant amount of money at the client’s offices and kept a fully charged satellite phone. We were the only ones on the plane most days and several airlines stopped flying altogether.
On most nights, there was a curfew and we stayed at a hotel close to the airport. Other than a few days when the security situation escalated, everything was pretty quiet. Eventually things went back to normal. Here’s an article I wrote about the times I was caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time in Sudan, Nigeria, Madagascar and Uganda.
8. I travel alone a lot, but I also travel with a variety of different people
There are trips that I want to do but none of my very well travelled and, shall I say quite crazy, friends want to do, so I take them alone. I also sometimes prefer to go by myself: the freedom to get up early or stay up late, of taking 100 photos of the same place until I get the right one without having someone standing there waiting for me, the peace of discovering a place by myself. Solo travel is something that I truly treasure.
But I also love traveling with people and a lot of my trips I take with my best friend (see point 1 above) because he likes the same things I do, travels the same way and has no budget limitations, and obviously I enjoy his company. But there is a very long list of people that I also share trips with and my girlfriends are some of them. My friends Kate and Marisa who also live in Singapore, are my wine tourism partners in crime. We have been together to wineries in Margaret River in Australia, Khao Yai in Thailand, as well as to Spain, Bali, and Tuscany.
Some of my old colleagues from work are still travel companions. We spent days and months together for hours and we formed a bond. When we were working together and were sent somewhere far, we used the weekends to explore. I still take trips with them from time to time. Lastly, I have also been on my fair share of trips with loved ones. There have been a couple of them since I started the blog. They are never in the photos, but are more like my “Instagram Husbands” behind the scenes, helping me look good.
9. I have a full time job, at Google
This blog is almost like a full time job. So when I am not traveling, I spend the weekends and late nights writing and taking care of everything that has to do with social media on the blog. But by day I have a full time job at Google in Singapore. The blog does generate some income for me, but not enough to make a living.
10. I have a heart-stopping fear of cockroaches and other bugs
That’s right, I have a terrifying fear of these bugs, especially if they are big. Once I found one in my apartment in Singapore (they everywhere in the street here, and they are dinosaur size!) and had to put a glass on it and wait for my cleaner to come three days later to get rid of it.
Another time, I was in Uganda to see the gorillas. The thing is, these gentle giants inhabit Bwindi, which is also called the Impenetrable Forest, so you can just imagine the type of crawlies that live there. There was a gigantic spider in our room. I had to get poor Edwin to chase it around the room. We used an entire pot of bug spray trying to kill it, but it didn’t die – it was probably too big. So I ended up sleeping wrapped around in the mosquito net, fully clothed, with a scarf over my head, socks over my trousers, shoes on. Needless to say I did no sleep much. And we never figured out were the spider went!
11. I have an overly developed level of empathy
I don’t buy flowers and I don’t like receiving them because it makes me extremely sad to see them die. Suffering animals break my heart to a degree of taking my sleep away. It took me years to make a trip to India because I knew that the extreme poverty and the practice of Hindu body burning (sati) in a lot of cities would make me terribly upset. This also means that begging and people that suffer is something that deeply affects me.
Travel has helped me accept this and not let it affect me as much, but it has not fully managed to remove this feeling. I have, through the years, become acutely aware of the reality of abuses, environmentally unfriendly and harmful practices. Traveling in Asia means coming face to face with a lot of these abuses on practically every trip, so I have started to blog about them too. Most people continue these practices because of lack of information, so I hope to contribute my grain of salt to eradicate these practices and tours.