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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

About Me: My Travels

I first realised that I was going to have to opt out of the rat race back in , but it took until for me to save up enough cash to achieve escape velocity. The idea was to go away for a little over a year and try to decide what I wanted to do with my life, but I soon discovered that I was inadvertently doing exactly what I wanted to do with my life already, and my trip grew and grew until, finally, travelling became what I did for a living. It was at that point that I decided I needed to come home.

My First Big Trip

My first travelling experience lasted for 33 months and three days, a little longer than I'd initially planned. In those (nearly) three years I visited Australia (twice), and New Zealand, French Polynesia, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India (twice) and Nepal. Here are the details of my first real bit of travelling, which provided me with the inspiration for all that was to follow.

Australia (11.5 Months)

I landed in Sydney in a daze. I had no plans, no idea what I was doing on the other side of the world, and to cap it all I was jet-lagged. I wandered around town for three weeks, getting my bearings, before finally getting lucky and finding a job in Melbourne.

New Zealand (6 Months)

I spent my first few weeks in New Zealand working in Auckland, where I managed to track down and buy Zed, a 1984 Toyota Corona station wagon into which I threw a mattress, all my belongings and a map of the country. Soon enough Zed and I had driven due south, crossed the Cook Strait to the South Island, and were exploring the back roads of southern New Zealand.

French Polynesia (3.5 Months)

I had seen an advert for a crewing position on board a 36 ft yacht, Zeke, that was sailing east to French Polynesia and in a big loop round through the South Pacific, ending up back in Australia after something like nine months. Throwing caution to the wind, I applied and got the position.

Australia: Queensland (2 Months)

Having learned to scuba dive in New Zealand, I immediately went north from Brisbane to Cairns and spent ten dives exploring the Great Barrier Reef. Next I headed south via Hinchinbrook, Magnetic and Fraser Islands, where I walked extensively before ending up back in Brisbane, from where I flew out to Asia, the next big challenge.

Indonesia (2 Months)

Arriving in Bali with no local money, nowhere to stay and not one word of the local language in my vocabulary, I realised that Asia was going to be quite a different experience to the West. It was also going to be a lot of fun, and I wasted no time in heading east into the unknown.

Singapore (2 Weeks)

In Singapore I lingered in the supermarkets, staring at the food and marvelling at the consumer wonderland I'd wandered into. I stayed with a friend who, having put me up in his penthouse, flew off to Bangkok on business, leaving me in a pool of luxury into which I sank thankfully. I stocked up on nutrients after my Indonesian illnesses, I explored the sights and sounds of Singapore, and after a couple of weeks I realised that I simply had to get out before I got hopelessly addicted to luxury.

Malaysia (1 Month)

I had assumed that Malaysia would be boring, but I couldn't have been further from the truth. From the history of Melaka and the phallic skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur to the beaches of Pulau Pangkor and the culinary multiculturalism of Georgetown, Malaysia was a delight. It was made even better by my meeting up with a delightful Englishman halfway through the country, Charlie, with whom I travelled until I left Thailand.

Thailand (1 Month)

I went to Thailand to party in the festive season, and for that it was perfect. Beautiful beaches, a hedonistic life-style and cheap alcohol made it the perfect party zone, but after a while it began to pall: all too soon Thailand became boring and simply didn't live up to its potential. The tourist-battered culture paled in comparison to its neighbours, and I began to look forward to leaving Southeast Asia to explore pastures new. Thailand was all right, but when the world is this big, all right isn't good enough.

Southern India (2.5 Months)

I loved India from the first second. Insane and full of life, India is both a traveller's dream and his worst nightmare, and the contradictions of rich and poor, war and peace, and democracy and corruption made sure India never got boring. After Thailand, India was a revelation.

Nepal (1 Month)

In all I spent three weeks trekking the Annapurna Circuit, a beautiful walk that takes you up to 18,000 ft and strikes you with its beauty despite the heavy impact of tourism.

Northern India (2.5 Months)

Back in my favourite country in the world I took the toy train up to Darjeeling where I spent a week of bliss before heading down into the sweating plains of Varanasi, home to more dead bodies than is healthy for a mollycoddled westerner to see. The heat wave struck, bringing the temperature up to 50°C, so I thought I'd avoid it by heading west to the desert.

An Interlude in Morocco

After getting sucked into the dot.com boom, which prised me away from travel writing for a while, I finally got back into it in , when my girlfriend Peta and I managed to get away to explore central Morocco for a couple of weeks. As writing has always been more of a hobby than a drag, I decided to write about it while on location, and you can read the results on this very website.

Morocco (2 Weeks)

Our journey was a round trip, starting and ending in Marrakech, where it was relatively straightforward to get hold of a hire car for exploring the desert (we ended up in a Fiat Uno, which was surprisingly good at negotiating desert tracks. Heading south over the windy roads of the High Atlas, our first stop was Aït Benhaddou, home to one of the most stunning desert fortresses I've ever seen. The Drâa Valley took us to our first taste of the Sahara – a taste that included insanely invasive locals and voracious sandflies – but after a long day's drive west across the hammada we reached Rissani, where the Hôtel Kasbah Asmaa's swimming pool, air conditioning, and ice-cold beer reminded us that we were supposed to be on holiday...

Exploring West Africa

Ever since my big trip of 1995-1998, I wanted to hit the road again. I fell in love with the deserts of Australia and India, and I found the tribal cultures of Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand absolutely fascinating, so logic dictated that I would be in my element in Africa, home to some amazing deserts and more tribal culture than the rest of the world put together. Eventually I tired of the rat race enough to save up for a year travelling in Africa, and in I flew out to Dakar in Senegal to start another long-term trip.

Senegal (2 Weeks)

I chose to start my visit to West Africa in Dakar, because it's an easy entrance point for Europeans. It's not as scary as some would have you believe, and a visit to Île de Gorée is a must. I didn't hang around too long, though, opting instead for a quick sprint up the coast to the slightly disappointing St-Louis before heading back to Dakar and on to the Petite Côte, the name given to the coast south of Dakar.

The Gambia (1.5 Weeks)

The Gambia is much easier travelling for Anglophones, and even its capital city, Banjul, is laid-back and friendly. I soon headed for the beach at Fajara, where the local touts – or bumsters – have to be seen to be believed. Luckily things calm down to the east, and places like Tendaba and Jangjang Bureh sit beautifully by the tranquil River Gambia, providing a perfect opportunity for a bit of river boating. Finally, after traversing the whole country, I ended up in the transit town of Basse Santa Su, where the world's second worst bus scraped its way across the border and back into Senegal.

Senegal (3 Days)

My original plan had been to catch the Dakar to Bamako train as it passed through the Senegalese town of Tambacounda, but after a few days' waiting the train was cancelled, and I had to take the long road into Mali in the company of the world's worst bus.

Mali (1 Month)

I'd been looking forward to Mali as the jewel in West Africa's crown, and it's certainly got some top-class attractions. From the border town of Kayes I jumped on the train to the capital Bamako, where I sorted out a few visa issues before heading to the main tourist centre of Mali, Mopti. From Mopti I took a public pinasse up the River Niger to Timbuktu, where I went camel trekking and soaked up the atmosphere of one of the most famous places in the world. Back on the river – this time on the public ferry – I sailed downstream to the market town of Gao before looping back to Mopti.

Burkina Faso (1 Week)

I only spent a week in Burkina Faso, and all of that was in the capital Ouagadougou, which turns out to be a wonderful place. I would have explored more of the country, but by this stage I desperately wanted to relax in an Anglophone country, and with Ghana just to the south, I couldn't resist...

Ghana (1 Month)

Ghana is a delightful country, though by this point in my African journey I'd already decided that I needed to go home. I'll health plagued my visit to Kumasi, but I spent a recuperative week with friends in Accra and discovered one of the most wonderful venues for Christmas, the seaside village of Kokrobite, home to Rastas and relaxation par excellence.

Holidays

As a chill-out exercise after the strain of West Africa, Peta and I spent two weeks driving round Cyprus in , and again I wrote about it while we were there, publishing the resulting articles right here. Our timing was impeccable, as the borders separating the northern and southern parts of the island were opened not long after we visited; of course, it is fantastic news that the divide is slowly being eroded, but it does mean others can't experience the fascinating and bizarre nature of travelling through a divided nation.

Cyprus (2 Weeks)

Because it isn't possible to drive around the whole of Cyprus, exploring southern Cyprus involved some backtracking, which is why our journey formed a figure of eight, starting and ending at the pleasant port of Pafos, with its incredible Roman ruins. Heading up into the mountains, we reached Troodos, where we skied on Mt Olympos. From the highest point of Cyprus it was an easy drive to the picturesque mountain village of Kakopetria, from where the capital city of Nicosia was a short downhill drive. After exploring the Green Line and the two halves of this divided city, we took a roundabout route through the party beach resort of Agia Napa to Larnaka, a convenient stop on the way to Pissouri, where the nearby ruins of Kourion proved a worthwhile detour. Heading northwest, we then took the scenic coastal route to Polis, where the Akamas Peninsula provided some excellent walking and some breathtaking views. Returning to Pafos, we flew home after two great weeks of exploring.

Cuba (2 weeks)

Cuba is a huge place, and in a fortnight it's only possible to explore about half the island (unless you like driving solidly for days on end... which I don't). We started in evocative Havana, where we hired a car and shot southeast to Playa Girón on the Bay of Pigs, home to one of the worst hotels I have ever stayed in. Luckily things improved in the wonderful colonial town of Trinidad, and Camagüey kept us occupied in the blistering heat. The best, though, was back west, on the pristine beaches of Cayo Santa María and in the quiet town of Remedios, where we finally found what we were looking for.

India (2.5 weeks)

Ever since I visited India back in 1998, it's remained my favourite country on the planet, bar none. It took a while, but Peta finally managed to persuade me that we should visit the subcontinent, and I'm glad to report that she fell in love with Mother India too. I chose Kerala as a relaxing introduction, and we travelled round in a circle, flying into Trivandrum and heading straight for the beach at Varkala, before taking a luxurious houseboat along the Keralan Backwaters. We then explored Kochi and hired a car and driver to take us to the tea plantations of Munnar and the nature reserve at Periyar, before heading back for more beach action in Kovalam. As always, India excelled, and I'm sure we'll be back again one day. What a place...

Central America

After dabbling with short trips to the likes of Cuba and Morocco, Peta and I decided that we'd try something bigger, and as the last continent on my bucket list, Central and South America was the logical choice. In the end six months in Central America (and Colombia) was just right; we could have stayed for more and continued down the Andes, but we're going to leave that for a future trip.

Mexico (3.5 weeks)

We started with a couple of weeks in the beach resort of Playa del Carmen, where we got over the jet-lag and Peta learned to dive, before heading south along the coast to the wonderful Mayan ruins of Tulum. Unfortunately we were blown away by a disastrously noisy hotel experience, though it was rather more pleasant inland in the colonial town of Valladolid, where we explored more Mayan ruins at Chichén Itzá. Further west in Mérida we were again struck down by a terrible hotel and ended up running back to the Caribbean coast, where we did some amazing diving in Cozumel and the local cenotes, which are truly world-class. And with that we took a deep breath and headed into Central America proper, starting with Belize.

Belize (2 weeks)

After an almost Biblical boat journey into Belize we dropped anchor in the lovely island paradise of Caye Caulker, where we did more diving, including a very rough trip to the legendary Great Blue Hole. Luckily the weather was slightly kinder in San Ignacio on the other side of Belize, where we explored ancient caves full of crystal skeletons and drove into bandit country to climb the amazing Mayan ruins of Caracol.

Guatemala (1 month)

Our first stop in Guatemala was the island town of Flores, from where we visited the astounding Mayan ruins at Tikal and watched the sunset from the top of the highest temple. Heading south, we stopped off for some riverside rainforest living in the Río Dulce, but continuing bad weather soon drove us into the mountains and the lovely colonial town of Antigua. We then moved on to the amazing volcanic lake of Lago de Atitlán before heading off for Christmas on the beach in Monterrico and New Year in Guatemala City.

El Salvador (2.5 weeks)

El Salvador was instantly much more friendly than its neighbours, and we fell in love with our first stop in Santa Ana, where we climbed volcanoes and explored the pretty villages along the Ruta de las Flores. The locals were even friendlier in Suchitoto, where we explored the astonishing civil war site of Cerro de Guazapa. We rounded off our visit to this wonderful country with stints on the beach at Playa El Tunco and amongst the turtles at Playa Esteron

Nicaragua (1 month)

We took a boat across the border from El Salvador to León, where we roasted in the hot city streets while tackling local sights such as the climb up the active Volcán Telica. Heading north to the working town of Estelí, we explored the remote canyons of Cañón de Somoto before turning east to Matagalpa, home to coffee plantations and its very own chocolate factory. Then, after stopping off for a few days in the colonial city of Granada, we flew to Little Corn Island for a break in this wonderful Caribbean paradise, before returning to the mainland, taking the ferry from Granada to the astounding Isla de Ometepe, and then heading on to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica (1.5 weeks)

Costa Rica came as a bit of a shock, and we didn't fall for its overly touristic charms. We'd planned to spend a good month here, but after visiting the cloud forests of Monteverde and the volcano town of La Fortuna, we cut our losses, took the bus to San José and flew straight to Panama.

Panama (3 weeks)

As an antidote to the disappointment of Costa Rica, we started our Panamanian trip with some relaxation in the idyllic Caribbean islands of Bocas del Toro. We didn't want to leave, but eventually we dragged ourselves back to the mainland to visit the hill town of Boquete, before continuing southeast through Santiago and on to Pedasí, our final stop before the breathtaking capital of Panama City. Our next port of call, Portobelo, was rather less salubrious, but we were there to catch a yacht to take us to Colombia, and we spent seven days aboard The Black Dragonfly sailing through the stunning San Blas islands, stopping off at Cayos Holandeses and Cayos Coco Banderos before a two-day ocean passage to Colombia.

Colombia (1 month)

After the boat trip from Panama we needed a break, so we spent a week in the lovely colonial city of Cartagena doing precious little except recovering and getting ready for the trip east to Santa Marta. Here we trekked for five days into the remote rainforest to reach Ciudad Perdida (the Lost City), an amazing medieval city that was only discovered in the 1970s. Exhausted by the walk, we decided to ditch the long bus ride and instead take a plane to Medellín before flying on to the capital Bogotá, where we visited the impressive salt cathedral in Zipaquirá. And so ended six months' travelling through Central America and Colombia.

Plans for the Future

We haven't explored much of South America yet, and surely one day we have to do the Inca Trail... but the lure of India is always strong, and Peta adores cooking, so southeast Asia is a must at some point. So no, we have no idea where we're going next, but we're already saving up for it.