After motorcycling from Australia to Istanbul, Kickstarter-funded traveller Tyson Cable told Lottie Gross about his exploits around the world on two wheels. 

Over a crackly line from his hotel room in Istanbul, Tyson Cable introduced himself to me as a traveller first and foremost, and a photographer second. He is the creator of the Adventure Photo Challenge Kickstarter project, where people can donate to his epic trip from Australia to Estonia, in return receiving digital photos, a photo-book or “photo-challenge credits”, with which they can challenge Tyson to take a particular picture on his route.

With an intention to raise only £1000, Tyson quadrupled his target quickly, selling his challenges to family, friends and strangers alike, enabling him to travel to even more far-flung corners of the world.

“I love the change that travel brings, the new people that I meet, the situations I have to deal with, and the lack of a routine,” he said. Tyson had been on the road for almost a year when we spoke, having covered just under 30,000 kilometres across Australia, Indonesia, Iran and Turkey. When I asked him about Iran, he said two things struck him: the oppression, and the peoples’ optimism.

Sulphur mines, Java, Indonesia © Tyson Cable

“I found Iran to be a beautiful and sad place, with some of the most amazing and open minded people,” he said. “They’re suffocated by their government, unable to express themselves and experience different cultures.”

“But the hospitality is great: they offer a place to stay and they don’t want money; they just want to help, they want to have a cup of tea with you and have a chat and try to practice their English or learn something about you.”

The benefit of being on a bike, he told me, is being out in the open and able to see and feel everything around you. Having motorcycled through some pretty hair-raising terrain, Tyson says he was glad to arrive in Rajasthan, India. I raised my eyebrows – not that he could see, of course – and thought about the many near-death experiences I’ve had on hurtling Indian buses. I had to question him – how Indian roads could be a relief was a mystery to me.

Tyson speaks of his experiences in Rajasthan:

“I loved Rajasthan. I could relax: the roads were in a good condition and there was hardly anyone on them. And you’re always at risk of being killed by someone in India but in Rajasthan I felt more safe.”

Beyond the terrifying roads however, Tyson has seen some of the most incredible scenery from the seat of his bike, so I asked him what’s been the most spectacular.

“The Island of Flores in Indonesia has some of the most beautiful mountains and there are three amazing lakes, each of which can change colour based on bacteria. It’s like driving through a perfectly manicured park, but it’s not deliberate, it’s just the way that it is.”

Tyson began his journey from his home town in Western Australia. Even though he’d grown up there, he was still bowled over by the scenery.

Karijini National Park, Australia © Tyson Cable

“I sawAustralia present itself in its natural beauty, all pristine nature and quiet tranquility. Sometimes there’s a tourist floating around but most of the time there’s no one. That’s where I feel my heart is. I love that. If I want to go back and be somewhere I wouldn’t mind being back there.”

Covering such long distances, Tyson told me he’d sometimes drive for 12 hours at a time, which is tough, not just on the body, but also on the mind. “You just have to constantly be focused, constantly scanning, trying to find an escape route if something does happen. If you don’t do that then you open yourself up to the bigger risk of being killed.”

Fortunately, Tyson and his motorcycle are still safe and en route to their final destination, Estonia, just over 30,000 kilometres and a year after his journey began. Tyson hopes to complete his adventure by 30th August 2014. You can follow his trip on his Facebook page here, and check out his Kickstarter project page here.

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Motorbiking around Sulawesi in search of one of the island’s famed funerals, Anthon Jackson attends an intense and bloody ceremony to bid farewell to the deceased.

Leashed to a stake in the ground, the buffalo’s entire body squirmed as its broad throat was slit, its knees buckling and its huge torso collapsing onto the grass. With its last breath, it raised its head high into the air, the gash across its neck stretched wide open and gushing. Finally the bull’s head lowered to rest against the wet ground. It was at this point that the old animists of Toraja, an ethnic group in south Suluwesi, believed the deceased had finally passed on, headed at last towards Puya, the land of souls.

One of Toraja’s famous funerals was underway. Earlier that morning in Rantepao – capital of the North Toraja Regency on the island of Sulawesi – my wife Joanna and I had hired a motorbike for £4 and sped off through the hills in search of one such ceremony, said to be getting started somewhere to the southeast.

Even outside the peak funeral months of June to September, there seems to be a funeral almost every day in Toraja; you just need to know where and when. Today it was the village of La’bo, and after just twenty minutes through the rice paddies we were unmistakably there.

pyjama via Compfight cc

In the wet fields along the drive were only a handful of farmers and buffalos mired in mud, but here were over a hundred guests: family, friends and a smattering of foreigners led by guides hired in Rantepao. Encircled by towering tongkonan – traditional houses each intricately carved with curved, sweeping roofs of split bamboo – was the casket. All were waiting for the funeral to begin.

Since the arrival of the Dutch in the misty highlands of Tana Toraja, the animistic “Way of the Ancestors” (Aluk To Dolo) has been largely supplanted by Christianity, now the region’s majority religion. Nevertheless, the old funeral rites have survived intact.

Funerals remain by far the most expensive and ceremonious occasions in Torajan life and death, and at their heart remains animal sacrifice. Torajans save up for years to throw a funeral, as the more buffaloes and pigs amassed for the feast, the greater the honour to the deceased.

pyjama via Compfight cc

In my broken Bahasa I asked for the head of the household and was pointed towards a tiny old woman in black. When our turn came to approach her, we handed off our gift with two hands: a carton of kreteks, clove cigarettes. She accepted the present with a smile, offered a frail handshake and ushered us to our seats. Stepping around a dozen or so tied, squealing pigs laid out in the grass to await their slaughter, we made our way into one of the bamboo huts surrounding the grassy field where the casket lay. The women chewed on sweets while the men chain-smoked and sipped palm wine. We chatted with extended family members until the first wave of food arrived.

We spent the following several hours in the hut, stepping out only briefly when the ceremony turned raucous. First came the shaking of the coffin. A dozen men surrounded the coffin, lifted it up and carried it in a wandering circle around the patch of grass. They shook the carved box wildly enough to send the lingering spirit on its way – and possibly break a few of the corpse’s bones. In a procession that was anything but solemn, the smiling widow, trailed by a handful of elderly, black-clad peers, led the haphazard cortege under a long piece of red cloth tied to the coffin.

Next came the eulogies, then more food, and finally, one of the buffaloes was dragged onto the patch of grass. It wasn’t long after the first bit of bloodletting that Joanna was ready to get moving again.

After a round of goodbyes in the smoky hut, we headed out the back way towards the road from where we could hear the shrieks of bound and paralyzed pigs, louder than ever. We glimpsed several of the poor beasts strewn across the hill in various stages of butchery. Our friends at the funeral would have plenty of meat for the feast.

Image by Anthon Jackon

The final resting place for this deceased would be in one of the limestone caves that dotted the surrounding hills, while some Torajans are buried in stone graves and others high on the cliffs in hanging coffins, the latter taking years to rot and then break onto the rocks below.

Before leaving Rantepao, we rode to a couple of nearby cliff sites, finding piles of skulls at the mouths of deep caves. The wreckage of fallen coffins was strewn around them. At Londa, a few meters up the cliff face from the burial site, was a shelf crammed with wooden tau tau, effigies of the deceased. From their crudely carved faces, painted eyes stared blankly across the rice paddies below, somewhat eerie embodiments of the special bond between the living and the dead of Tana Toraja.

The launching point for attending a funeral in Tana Toraja is Rantepao, (8hr by bus from Makassar), where you’ll find plenty of knowledgeable guides to escort you to a funeral. Explore more of Indonesia with the Rough Guide to Southeast Asia on a Budget. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go. 

Planning a trip to Croatia and wondering which 17 things you shouldn’t miss? Always thought about Croatia for a holiday but never knew what it had to offer?

Allow us to present our favourite things to see and do in this beautiful European country.

British-born, with Indian parents and a childhood spent in California, Pico Iyer is one of the most respected travel writers today. Tim Chester asks Pico about lessons learned, packing and the evolution of travel.

Could you single out the first formative experience that sparked your love for travel?

I was lucky in that I was really a traveller at birth: I was born to Indian parents in Oxford, England and we moved to California when I was seven. So from an early age, I could think of England and India and California as places that were and were not mine, places with which I had some connection but to which I never fully belonged. Everywhere was foreign to me, and therefore intriguing, partially unknown, sometimes exotic.

And then, when I was nine – such was the strength of the dollar then – I began travelling alone, by plane, six times a year, back to boarding school in England (which was cheaper, plane fares included, than the local private school in Santa Barbara), and then back to my parents’ home in California. So I came, at a relatively early stage, to relish the sensation of being alone in planes, spending time in airports, being surrounded by people who looked and sounded different from me – as well as all the distinctive liberations of being a foreigner.

I’m not sure I’m so interested in travel as in the criss-crossing of cultures, and all the weird and beautiful and unexpected combinations that result.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from your travels?

The world is larger than our notions of it, and the only folly is to think you know someone or somewhere, can anticipate its movements or have travelled beyond surprise. The beauty of travel, as of love or terror, is that it regularly turns all your ideas on your head and reminds you that you really know nothing at all.

How do you travel differently later in life?

I choose my locations carefully – every year now I try to go to one place I’ve been longing to go to all my life. And I love going back to places to see how they have changed and I have. Thus I’ve been to Thailand more than 60 times now, and come to Japan more often than that. I’ve gone on retreat to my favourite monastery, in Big Sur, California, more than 70 times. And I also go back to the places of my youth – even places such as my hometown of Oxford, which I was always trying to flee – and see them now with the more forgiving and indulgent eye that the years can bring. It took me thirty years to realise that Oxford, the backyard I had always wanted to put behind me, is actually quite beautiful if you’re not blind to it.

What is the first thing you do when arriving in a new destination and why?

I walk, walk, walk, for as much as I can during my first few hours in a place and, if it’s too big to be seen on foot, I start taking buses to the end of the line. I try to engage with the place as much as I can in my first few hours there, when I’m wide-open, and before ideas and preconceptions have started to form; I get lost and fill myself with as many sights and sounds and smells as possible, at once orienting myself in a city and enjoying the new sensations that come with disorientation.

Of course wondrous things happen on every day of a trip, but I’m not quite as open or ready to be illuminated on the tenth day as on the first. And when I go home and start writing up a place, I find that most of my strongest impressions came in the drive in from the airport and in the first few hours.

Which one thing do you always pack when you embark on a journey?

A book to while away a ten hour delay or a long ride in a bus. And only certain kinds of books, of course, become ideal companions when you’re bumping through the Altiplano for days on end. So precisely the kind of book I might never have time for at home becomes a blessing, constant friend and alternative universe to lose myself in when stuck inside of Darjeeling with the Memphis blues again.

Where’s the most overrated place you’ve visited?

How can I answer that when someone from Atlanta might read this interview?

What was your most memorable meal on your travels?

Having been born and raised in England, I had my taste buds surgically extracted at birth; though interested in the world, I’m probably the least adventurous eater I know.

But that can open doors as well as close them. Recently, for example, I dined quite royally at a Burger King in central Kyoto, during Obon, the August festival when lanterns are set up above many of the city’s graves to guide departed spirits back to their earthly homes. I was offered a choice between an “Angry Chicken” set and an avocado burger, between an Irish lemonade and an espresso sundae. There were mango-and-banana drinks on the menu, and esoteric berry drinks.

At McDonald’s, down the street from me here in Japan, they serve Moon-Viewing Burgers at the time of the classic East Asian festival of the harvest moon; and pear sorbets, bacon potato pies, chicken tatsuta burgers and iced tea made of Earl Grey. Nowhere is uninteresting to the interested eye.

Where was the place that changed you and how?

Japan. Because, stuck in a layover at Tokyo’s airport in 1983, on my way back from Southeast Asia to New York, where I was living then, I decided to kill the few hours before my early-afternoon flight by taking a free shuttle bus into the little town of Narita.

The sense of wistful brightness in the late October day, the polished stillness of the narrow streets, the kids collecting acorns in the park outside Narita Temple – which turns out to be one of the great pilgrimage sites in all Japan – the whole mix of buoyancy and melancholy hit me with such force, and with such a mysterious sense of familiarity, that I decided I had to return here to explore this home I’d never known I had.

Three years later, I left my comfortable-seeming job to explore Japan and now, more than 25 years on I’ve never really left. One of the happier aspects of the global moment is that some of us can try to live in the secret homes that previously we’d only have dreamed about or visited very briefly.

Which country’s inhabitants have struck you the most and why?

I have sometimes found the people of Vietnam unusually impressive for their mix of steel and grace, and for the blend of poetry and prose I find in their culture. I love Cubans for their natural sauce and flair and intelligence and wit. I am constantly moved by the kindness and selflessness and attentiveness of my neighbours here in Japan. I am humbled by the emotions of many Tibetans I meet and I’ve seldom seen an unchic person in Paris.

I admire the Thais for their gift for turning charm to good use, and I like the mysteriousness and veiled qualities I’ve found in Indonesia. The locals I’ve met in Bolivia could not seem sweeter and more unspoiled and I’ve seldom met a people more intelligent and interesting, with a greater sense of humour and of history, than in Ontario, in Canada. I’m regularly stunned by the dignity and devotion I’ve met in the high places of Ethiopia. And who can resist the urbane charms and quicksilver wit of Beirutis, not to mention their impossibly glamorous sense of style?

Which one travel experience across the world should every reader add to their ‘bucket list’ and why?

Getting lost. Beyond that, there are no specifics, because two people, looking at the Jokhang Palace in Tibet or Petra in Jordan, can find epiphany or disappointment, depending on who they are. “The mind,” as Milton had it, “can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”

What one thing would make us all happier, better or more fulfilled travellers?

An open mind.

Does travel still feel as exotic or exciting – or even necessary – in a globalised, digital world?

Absolutely. I’ve always felt that wonder, terror and exoticism or excitement are in the eye of the beholder; it’s not a place that awakens them so much as what we bring to a place.

The digital world, to me, simply gives us more incentive to see the non-virtual world, the way a trailer may bring us to a new movie; the main thing seeing anywhere online, or on TV, does, for me at least, is excite a longing to see the place in the flesh, for which there can be no substitute. And in many places it’s travellers themselves who are as interesting as the sites they visit.

Should air travel be made more expensive?

No, no, no! There can never be too much exposure to the Other, for tourist or local, and one of the happiest aspects of my life has been to see travel become infinitely more democratic. If travel is a form of learning – and of difficult fun. There can surely never be enough of it.

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While working for an NGO in Kabul, British expat Marc Perry went to explore the precipitous Panjishir valley in northeastern Afghanistan.

It had been my dream to visit Panjshir ever since I’d arrived in Afghanistan. Historically a geographic safe haven slicing through the Hindu Kush from Afghanistan to Tajikistan, this craggy, high-altitude valley is the final resting place of the legendary “Lion of Panjshir”,  Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of “the only cohesive military opposition to the Taliban” until his assassination in 2001.

I began my journey in Kabul. The valley is accessible to the adventurous by a private company car – with a security guard included for a few hundred dollars – but I judged it risk-free enough to find a cheaper route. After a bus company weighed me up as a westerner and quoted US$500, I left empty handed and laughing; for a local it would more like US$15. In the end I called Samsoor, a good friend. I promised petrol and food in return for wheels and good company.

The road north took us past Bagram air base and along a vast river-cut plain from which the mountains of the Hindu Kush rise impossibly sharp and steep in the distance. The occasional jet screamed overhead, sending rolls of thunder across the valley and echoing off the mountainsides. We passed nomadic herdsmen camping among their sheep in the foothills.

After climbing for some distance the road began to run perilously close to the river Panjshir, which cuts inside a ravine of rock strata faulted at absurdly acute angles. We stopped at an armed guard post where my passport was checked – giving the impression that the valley represented a kingdom of its own. A huge billboard of Massoud, wearing a customary woollen pakul hat, greeted us beyond.

Image by Marc Perry

We continued on through high gorges, following the tumbling waters of the river upstream. Mud-built villages clung to the hillsides while farms and fat-tailed sheep filled the valley floor with colour. The air was as clean as the Pennine hills or the Yorkshire dales and the stone walls separating the fields reminded me of home. It was liberation from the stifling enclosure and pollution of Kabul. We stopped for food at a restaurant on the riverside where we were served a fine spread of freshly fried fish, rice and lamb curries washed down with chai.

Eventually we reached Bazarak, the town that holds Massoud’s tomb. Massoud is revered as a strategist and fighter and his portrait hangs all over northern Afghanistan; in cafes, shops, police cars and in taxis. He oozed handsome charisma – like Bob Marley but with a bazooka. He secured his place in history long before two Al Qaeda-linked suicide bombers detonated their deadly devices in his presence two days before 9/11 – no unfortunate coincidence. Tanks scatter the valley like tombstones here; the rusting remains of the Soviet invasion he resisted in the 1980s.

Image by Marc Perry

The tomb itself is set inside the arches of a domed tower made from stone and glass. It is a simple and regal space, the raised black marble tomb covered with glass panels inscribed with passages from the Koran. We stood on deep red Persian rugs and my Muslim friend cupped his hands in prayer. Massoud himself would approve, I thought: he was devout in observing prayer but was widely recognised for holding a moderate, liberal interpretation of Islam.

Next door, a tourist centre was under construction, ready to welcome the masses – inshallah or “god willing” as they say in Afghanistan. Maybe one day, should peace prevail, visitors will wend their way here from the far corners of the earth. If they do, the proud people of Panjshir will make welcoming hosts.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Kabul and Panjshir.

It’s taken him from the deserts of Oman to the stunning Amalfi coast and the edges of Australia – Orlando Duque is a Red Bull cliff diving champion and lover of all-things travel. At the beginning of this year’s championships, we grilled him on his favourite destinations for diving.

Having started out as an Olympic diver, Orlando told me it was only natural that he progressed onto throwing himself off of various cliffs and structures around the world. Not only is he possibly the coolest man I’ve ever been fortunate enough to chat with – and it’s not just his smooth Colombian accent, I swear – but Orlando Duque’s list of countries could probably put many a travel writer to shame.

“I’ve just come back from Cuba… We were diving in El Moro, the castle in La Havana, it was just beautiful,” he casually tells me. “[There] was like, 50,000 people watching”. Tomorrow he’s going to jump off of a navy ship in Colombia, and then he’s on to Texas in the US to plunge into some lakes – all in a day’s work I suppose. But I’m not at all jealous; beyond the excitement of travelling and exploring new places, cliff diving is a dangerous and terrifying sport and even he gets scared at times.

See Orlando in action in Cuba:

When I asked him about the heights he admitted that there’s a limit, even for him: “Whoever says he’s not scared of heights is not telling the truth. It’s a natural reaction, you know.

“Even two days ago, I was diving in Cuba and I was standing up there and I’m scared. I know it can be really dangerous, if I make a mistake I can get injured, so yeah, I think I’ve been afraid and I am still afraid of heights.”

Height and technique aren’t the only obstacles he’s had to overcome during his career though, one of his latest pursuits saw him jumping from a 38-metre-high tree into the deep, murky waters of the Amazon.

“You don’t know what’s down there” he says. “I had to react and get out of the water because it’s not comfortable being there knowing there are so many animals in there. There are anacondas and piranhas pretty much everywhere.”

See Orlando cliff diving in the Amazon:

It’s not all about the diving though – when he’s not plummeting into some watery abyss, Orlando tells me he likes to spend time in Paris with his wife, and how he fell in love with Ireland.

“I really like Ireland. I’ve been there four or five times… I just love it, it’s just fun. It’s beautiful, the places to see, even if the weather can be tough sometimes. I really enjoy it. And I love Italy. I’ve had the chance to be everywhere in Italy, you can find all those little towns where you can just stop and have a coffee and pizza and have a good afternoon.”

I wonder if there’s anywhere that’s left for him to explore or launch himself from and so he tells me his future plans.

“I’m going to do [a dive] in the Antarctic, I’m finding that probably not this summer but next, and you know, it has be about a month trip to make sure that you have enough time to make everything, but that’ll be the coolest thing I’ve ever done probably.” While I could make temperature-based puns all afternoon, I bid him farewell over the phone as he has to head off for rigorous training.

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The Grand Tour

Any well-bred young gent in the 1600s–1800s was likely to go on the Grand Tour after university. The Tour, a sort of cultural gap year, took in much of continental Europe. The usual route ran through France and Switzerland and into Italy, with a return trip taking in Germany, Holland and any other countries the young man fancied. The essential stop to complete any cultural education was Rome, still an incredible destination for anyone interested in art or history.

The Tokaido road, Japan

This ancient road, once walked every year by feudal lords and their retinues forced to pay respects to the shogunate in Edo (modern-day Tokyo), is now a high-speed train route. You can be whisked from the high-tech wonders of Tokyo to the ancient imperial capital of Kyoto – nearly 300 miles – in a couple of hours. Not bad when you consider it would take the feudal lords more like a week to complete.

Western America

In 1843 Lewis and Clark set off from St. Louis on an epic journey to find a route through the Western half of America. Vital to their success was Sacagawea, a native Shoshone woman who accompanied them and acted as interpreter and occasional guide. The route they took is today called the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, extending over 3500 miles and passing through 11 states and several national parks, including the impressive Yellowstone.

Route 6, North America

Though Route 66 is more well-known, it was Route 6 which captivated Jack Kerouac. In On the Road he wrote of his dream to travel "that one great red line across America." It didn’t quite work out, and the book records his many wanderings across the continent, but the romantic ideal of finding a road and sticking to it is still very much alive for many travellers – even if Kerouac ended up thinking it a "stupid hearthside idea."

The route to Mecca, Saudi Arabia

Perhaps one of the most-travelled journeys in the world is the Hajj. In fact, this pilgrimage can have a lot of different routes, but they all end in the same place: Mecca. As one of the five pillars of Islam, every Muslim who is able to do so must complete the Hajj at least once in their lives, leading to the world’s largest gathering of Muslim people taking place in Mecca in the month of the pilgrimage.

Southwark to Canterbury, England

Chaucer’s famous Canterbury Tales are the stories told by a group of pilgrims on the route to Canterbury cathedral. Famous tales include the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale and the (slightly saucy) Wife of Bath’s Tale. The Southwark to Canterbury route is still viable today, even 600-odd years after Chaucer wrote the Tales. The pilgrimage ends at the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, a chance to see some of the medieval world for yourself.

Up the Mekong River, Southeast Asia

Though made famous by the Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now, the journey up the Mekong really isn’t that scary. In fact, it can be the core of a truly excellent trip – the river runs through China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, taking in some of the great civilisations and landscapes of East Asia on the way. Though you may not want to recreate Captain Willard’s journey, a boat trip is well worth trying.

Southern and central Africa

Doctor Livingstone spent years searching for the source of the Nile. Though he ultimately misidentified the site, he did end up exploring huge swathes of south and central Africa including the great Lake Tanganyika – it may not be the source of the Nile, but it’s still an impressive sight.

Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

Unquestionably one of the most famous rail journeys of all time, the Trans-Siberian is also the world’s longest railway, stretching over 5700 miles from Moscow to Vladivostok. This epic route isn’t only for tourists and travellers; many Russians just use it as a way of getting from A to B. Nothing gives you a sense of the scale of this country by meeting someone on a casual trip to their grandma’s place, 3000 miles away.

Camino de Santiago, Spain

El Camino de Santiago is a major Christian pilgrimage, on which one of the most famous routes is the Camino Francés (‘French Way’). This path takes you on a month-long walk from the Pyrenees through the north of Spain to the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Galicia. The experience of taking in the stunning countryside and beautiful towns of this region at a gentle pace means that even many non-pilgrims find this a fulfilling path to walk.

Antarctica

In 1910, two separate expeditions set out for the South Pole. In the end Amundsen’s Norwegian team made it there first (late 1911) with Scott’s British team reaching the Pole five weeks later. Scott and his men died on the return journey, but there is no doubt that both groups earned their place in the history of exploration, and turned the eyes of the world to this spectacular frozen continent.

Around the world

Nellie Bly was a famous reporter, who circumnavigated the globe in 1889. On her travels she met Jules Verne, author of Around the World in 80 Days in Amiens, France. He reportedly said, "if you do it in 79 days, I shall applaud with both hands. But 75 days – that would be a miracle." She made it back in 72 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes. Round-the-world plane tickets make the trip a little easier for inveterate adventurers today.

Ionian Sea, Europe

In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus wanders the world after the fall of Troy, trying to find his way home to Ithaca. There’s disagreement about the modern-day locations of some sites; at one point he’s held captive by the beautiful nymph Calypso in Ogygia, which might now be called Gozo. It could also be in the Ionian Islands, Balearic Islands or even somewhere off the East coast of America. Whichever sunny island it is, there are worse places to spend a few years.

The Silk Road, Central Asia

An ancient trade route, the Silk Road runs from Syria through central Asia, ending in eastern China, and there are even some sea routes extending it into Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia. The main overland route takes in some jaw-droppingly beautiful places whose history and culture have been shaped by the Silk Road’s trade; the beautiful, much-mythologised cities of Uzbekistan are just some of the wonders on the route.

The Galápagos Islands, South America

Although he travelled around the coast of South America and past New Zealand, Australia and South Africa on his five years aboard HMS Beagle, the most famous part of Darwin’s journey was in the Galápagos islands. Here, he noticed the small variations across species present on more than one of the islands, such as tortoises and finches. The rest is scientific history, and people still visit these stunning islands today to see the amazing range of wildlife.

The Atlantic

Though most famous for the round-the-world flight on which she went missing, Amelia Earhart completed a great many incredible journeys in her life. One of the most groundbreaking was her 1932 solo flight from Newfoundland to a small town near Denny, Northern Ireland – the first nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic by a woman. On landing, a local innocently asked her: "Have you flown far?"

Jordan, the Middle East

Gertrude Bell was a pioneering female explorer, cartographer, archeologist and diplomat. She travelled throughout the Arab world, one of the first women to do so, recording her experiences in books such as Amurath to Amurath and Syria: The Desert and the Sown. On top of this, she played a part in establishing Iraq and Jordan as self-determining nations. Follow in her footsteps by exploring the picturesque ruins along the Euphrates, visiting the ancient cities of Jordan, or learning seven languages.

Albania, Europe

Instead of the usual Grand Tour, Byron headed to the Mediterranean. He was particularly impressed by Albania – "thou rugged nurse of savage men!" – where he stayed for a time with the vicious warlord Ali Pasha. The trip inspired one of his greatest works, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, and the most famous portrait of Byron depicts him in Albanian dress. Albania today is well worth a visit, whether you visit that rugged countryside or the sophisticated capital of Tirana.

Indonesia, Asia

During his travels around Southeast Asia, Alfred Russel Wallace collected birds and insects to send back to wealthy collectors in Britain, studied natural history – oh, and came up with the idea of natural selection. In 1858, he published a revolutionary paper on evolution with Charles Darwin. He is perhaps most famous on the Indonesian island of Ternate, where he was based for several years; visitors today will easily understand what attracted him to the relaxed, green, occasionally lava-spewing island.

The Amazon, South America

The conquistador Lope de Aguirre is one of many who have tried to find El Dorado, the "City of Gold". His journey in particular is famous because it somehow wound up with him rebelling against the King of Spain, capturing Isla Margarita and eventually meeting a grisly end. Visitors today (hopefully more sane than Aguirre) can discover plenty of jaw-dropping places along the 4000-mile course of the Amazon river – perhaps even the mythical city itself.

Often considered more of a continent than a country, India has a varied landscape from desert to jungle to stunning coastlines. With a population of 1.2 billion people, it was the faces of this country that captivated Jack Fillery on his latest trip. The award-winning photographer has captured a series of images that he said would portray the diversity of the people in India. He said:  “despite the chaos and its infinite cultures and personalities, everything in India feels like it belongs where it is – nothing, nor nobody seems out of place or irregular. But the balance of this harmony is in doubt, as the country struggles with its ever-evolving sense of identity and faces new challenges as it emerges as one of the world’s economic powerhouses.

“I felt the need – almost a responsibility – to capture the beauty of the ordinary and the everyday, to document the simplicity of existence in a land so steeped in romance and mythology and cultural difference.”

Here are a selection of Jack’s pictures, which can be seen in print at the Borough Barista in St James, London until July 1 2014.

Monks at dawn

Washed away

Splash of pink

Rush to temple

Prayer

Patience

Overland

Morning chill

Kiterunner

Kiteless

Fisherman’s tale

First light on the ghats

Double or nothing

Ascent

Beggar’s belief

All images copyright of Jack Fillery. Explore more of India using the Rough Guide to India. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

In search of the spiritual side of Greece – and perhaps himself – Marc Perry discovers the trials and tranquility of the lives of Mount Athos’s monks.

The ferry to Mount Athos is a serene, sedate affair. Women are left behind, as black-clad, bearded monks and priests finger rosary beads and contemplate the steep rise of pine-covered foothills to the jagged mountain pinnacle. Peppered amongst the black gowns, pilgrims chatter on mobile phones. Here the 21st century meets ancient tradition head on. Although Athos is a peninsula, there is a feeling of cutting away from the modern world to an island set back in time.

Fortuitously unplanned, my arrival comes at an auspicious time. It is the Feast of the Transfiguration. I meet a new friend on the boat, and at the administrative centre Karyes, we are guided to our first overnight stay: Koutloumousiou monastery, where a kindly German monk takes us to our clean and simple twin room. After prayers we are sat at long tables laden with silver-edged plates and bountiful supplies of fish, pasta, fruit, water and wine. Chanting reverberates around the room, incense swirls into my nostrils and the seated congregation signs the cross to readings from the gospels. This is not a place for the rowdy, but one that welcomes everyone – sinners and saints. “We get them all here,” says one monk, including murderers, drug addicts, millionaires, and princes.

A trip to stay with the monks of Athos is not one to be taken lightly. Visitors must adhere to a dignified dress code and rules that include not smoking or playing music. The only forms of music allowed are Byzantine chants and the ringing calls to prayer.

On one glorious evening I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a performance. As golden light filled the western room of the Dionysius monastery, the melodious sound of a flute floated over chanting bass and tenor voices. Along a wall five Patriarchs (fathers of the church) sat on thrones – one wept. In Orthodox Christianity sensitivity is exalted; “the gift of tears” is believed to signify both closeness to god and separation from him. As the sun turned from gold to red, one of the priests discerned I was English and shouted: “Beautiful! Celtico!”

The serenity of life on Athos is an otherworldly experience. One night I woke around 5am. The monks were still in prayer, so I went to the bathroom to wash. As I looked into the mirror on the wall, the porcelain sink below me crashed to the floor and smashed into a thousand pieces. A Greek standing by solemnly continued shaving;  another signed the cross. When I told one of the brothers the tale, he said “Don’t worry, you are happy!”

The following day, as I sat in a garden cemetery beneath cypress trees swaying in the breeze, I spoke with Father Modestos, an Englishman who became a monk sixteen years ago. He showed me the skulls of his forefathers, which had just been dug up to make space for the next monk who “falls asleep with the Lord”. Strangely, there seemed nothing macabre in this uprooting of resting souls. If the monks turn out to be saints, their skulls might one day make their way into a silver box to be venerated (kissed and crossed) by thousands of Athos pilgrims.

The highlight of any visit to Athos is to climb the mountain itself. I was unprepared and had little food for the day-long climb, but took to the foothills anyway. My journey was supported by random acts of kindness fitting for this holy place. At a base camp a Russian man came down the opposite way and silently dropped a bag of nuts into my hands. Later a Greek man pulled bread, cheese and tomatoes from his sack and offered to share the feast.

Towards the top of the mountain – Greece’s second highest at 2033m – spectacular views begin to unfold. Theo, the man who shared his food with me, started to chant as we hit the summit. Slowly the sun began to set, and as we sat outside a little bunkhouse, squealing swallows dive-bombed into the merging blue of sea and sky.

As the stars came out, I pondered my experiences of the last few days. No matter how relaxing and serene life was in this truly beautiful place, I realised the path of a celibate monk was not the one for me.

 Explore more of this country and its islands with the Rough Guide to Greece. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

There are places in the world where little sign of western development exists, but it still threatens to change traditions and beliefs forever. Jimmy Nelson found and documented 31 of these traditional isolated communities in his quest to photograph the “purity of humanity”.

“I wanted to witness their time-honoured traditions, join in their rituals and discover how the rest of the world is threatening to change their way of life forever. Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world.”

In 2009, Nelson set off to become the guest of 31 different secluded tribes across the world, from New Zealand to Namibia, and later returned with a unique collection of stunning photographs, glorifying the creativity of these little-seen or understood ethnic groups. These are a selection of the photographs in his new book titled Before They Pass Away.

A Ladakhi woman from the Himalayas

A Maori man, New Zealand

The Drokpa in India and Pakistan

Maori woman, New Zealand

Himba men, Namibia

Kazakhs, Mongolia

A Nenet man, Russia

Tibetan monks

All photographs © Before They Pass Away by Jimmy Nelson, is published by teNeues, www.teneues.com. Photo © Jimmy Nelson Pictures BV, www.beforethey.com

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