Last week, I asked all you awesome people who read The Shooting Star, to ask me anything! Here comes my first set of answers: 1. DOES TRAVEL WRITING TAKE THE FUN OUT OF TRAVELLING? Hrishikesh Patil: Does being a travel writer take some fun out of travelling? Is it always at the back your mind that you need to do something that makes a great story or gives you a ‘wow’ photograph? You’ve really hit a nerve there! When I first started travel writing, stories seemed to find me, rather than the other way round.
I have spent long nights in buses, watching forests in the distance get engulfed by forest fires spread by the acidity of dry pine planted on agricultural land. I have stayed at a heritage tea estate nestled in the Himalayas, where 2012 was the first time in its hundred and fifty years that the weather became too dry for the tea to be plucked. I have watched the Ganga wailing in Haridwar, reduced from India’s purest source of glacial water to a mere dumping zone for ashes, dead bodies, litter, plastic, wax candles, and whatever else we feed it in the name of religion. I have met a tribal family in North Kerala, who were forced to destroy their therapeutic home made of mud walls, cowdung floors and a thatched bamboo roof, in lieu of “government-given incentives”, and now sleep outside their concrete house every night because the natural temperature control is gone.
Ibiza has always conjured up images of wild parties, loud music, lots of alcohol, and the Vengaboys song for me. In fact, the only people I personally know who’ve been to this little island in the Mediterranean Sea, off the east coast of mainland Spain, are the kind who would drink and dance till they drop. It is probably a good time to confess that I consider myself too old to hit the clubs all night; yes, I’m twenty-four, but as they say, life is short! So when Spain Tourism decided to fly us to Ibiza, I found myself secretly craving an escape on the gorgeous countryside of Spain, for a cosy little wine bar and small-town intimacy with the locals. I couldn’t anticipate then, that Ibiza offers just that in the off season from October to March, when the weather becomes chilly, the parties slow down, and life on the island slips into rejuvenation mode.
During the last one month, I have travelled across the countryside of southern Spain, from Europe’s only desert, to beautiful Arabic cities, to a small town where people still get around on horses! If you’ve been following my live updates on Facebook and Twitter, you probably know that I’m wrapping up my trip and heading back to India soon. As I soak in the last of the olive countryside of Spain and bid goodbye to my eggs-and-potato diet, I want to hand over the reigns of this blog, to you. This “Ask me anything” is inspired by my friend and fellow travel blogger Neelima, who in turn was inspired by Reddit. She gave me whole-hearted permission to steal replicate the idea, so here I am, asking you to ask me anything! You can ask me about my travels, my vegetarian adventures, what’s in my backpack, places I’ve been to, or any other questions related to travelling or travel blogging. I shall refrain from answering anything too personal or inappropriate though, so let’s keep this clean! You can …
A cold wave swept across Spain in the last two weeks and temperatures dipped dramatically. I was travelling in Almeria and Jaen in southern Spain, which are supposed to be among Europe’s warmest regions in winter. It rained incessantly. The skies frowned with dark clouds. My summer wear went deep into my backpack. Many cafes remained shut. Many people remained indoors. It was still beautiful, but in a dull, gloomy way. So two days ago when I arrived in Cordoba and saw uninterrupted sunshine for the first time in what felt like eons, I knew I had to share what that brief stretch of freak winter had taught me!
In vino veritas. In wine there is truth. And on the Spanish countryside, truth of a different kind; one that lays bare a love affair I never knew existed. My romantic tryst with wine starts on a rainy morning, on the Cister route in the province of Tarragona, an hour’s drive from Barcelona. We drive alongside lush green valleys, partly covered in mist, as a bleak sun shines over the surrounding hills, promising to warm up an unexpectedly cold day. As the rain slows to a drizzle, we stop next to a stretch of carefully manicured vineyards and let the aroma of the grapes intoxicate us. We are in the premises of the Santa María de Poblet monastery, and as we’ll soon learn, these vineyards produce black wine, a darker version of red; there are hours to wait before we can try it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Southeast Asia lately. It was on the islands and among the rain forests of Malaysia that I discovered my wanderlust. If Singapore was home for the six years I lived there, Malaysia was my second home, and Vietnam and Indonesia were those indulgent escapes that you needed to fork out money for a flight, to get to. Truth is, there was no lack of indulgence in Malaysia itself, albiet the indulgence of luxury and pampering rather than that of long distance or air travel.
After a week of trotting in Barcelona, Tarragona and Ibiza as a guest of Spain Tourism, my many pre-conceived, seemingly romanticized notions of Spain have evolved. It is true that my first week in Spain, as a press trip, has been sheltered in many ways; I haven’t had to choose my own accommodations, I haven’t lost myself in the cobbled streets of an old town to desperately seek directions in my half-baked Spanish, and I haven’t had to fret over menus to pick out vegetarian ingredients using Google translate. Yet, this one week has lent itself to showing me the country entirely from my own lens, without pouring over hours of online search. Just like I felt in Turkey, a week maybe too short to form these impressions, but I have another three weeks (this time completely on my own) to think otherwise.