297 days, 19 countries and 44, 000 miles later, we're back where we started.
Our whole adventure feels like a dream already. Did we really camp on the northern most tip of Europe; watch mobile phone clips with soldiers in Siberia; bathe in volcanic waters in Japan; eat jellyfish on the slow boat to China; swim in the world's deepest lake and hike the world's deepest gorge; ride an elephant through a tributary of the Mekong; form part of a television audience in LA; smash a piñata in Mexico; climb a Mayan temple in the jungle; snorkel on the Belize Barrier Reef; drink moonshine in the moonlight and celebrate Easter in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean?
If it wasn't for the photos and this blog, I'd hardly believe it.
Like many an exotic sojourn the highlights from our trip are manifold. However, what has made our trip different has been the absence of aeroplanes and the land and sea travel adventures that we have had instead. So here, in no particular order, are my top ten World in Slow Motion journeys:
1) Sleeper train from Xi’an to Kunming, China. Forty two hours with, for most of the time, the carriage to ourselves, watching life in rural China go by: paddy fields being ploughed with water buffalo, men smoking skinny pipes, tiny coal mines, smoky factories and deep limestone ravines gnawed away by jade rivers. Ate one of the best dishes I had in China - delicious, anonymous green sprouts.
2) Getting a shout-out from Durrl the driver on the Megabus from Minneapolis to Chicago, USA.
“Ladies and gentlemen, for the first time ever in Megabus history this is your chance to come down to the front and make an announcement over the microphone. Come on down!.....We got some world travellers sitting here right behind me on the lower deck…. O, o, oooh! We’re gliding like Egyptian silk!”
3) Train from Toya-ko to Kyoto, Japan. 806 miles (about the same as London to Stockholm) in eleven hours, including the world’s longest tunnel (Seikan at 34 miles long). The connections were quick and easy, the seats flipped over when the train changed direction and the Shinkansen was slick, sleek and quick (186 mph).
4) Bed bus from Mengla, China, to Luang Prabang, Laos. Lying on a bed during daylight hours watching the concrete and tiles of China turn into the wood and mud of Laos, as the air temperature rose and the vegetation became greener and more exotic. Counting potbellied pigs was a favourite pastime.
5) Luxury bus from Guadalajara to Mexico City. There were only ‘executivo’ buses going to the station we needed so we treated ourselves to this moving lounge. Only 24 big, squashy seats on board; a coffee/tea machine; separate, clean ladies and gents loos; and personal headphones to watch a decent selection of new and art-house films. The journey was over all too quickly.
6) Crossing the Pacific Ocean on a 334 metre, 100,000 tonne cargo ship. The CMA-CGM Hugo was a beautiful ship and we were given the best cabin on board. The north North Pacific was a mess of storms forcing us to travel from Hong Kong to Long Beach through the Tropics, which meant fifteen days of sunbathing and stars. Even saw whales.
7) Copper Canyon Railway from Chihuahua to Los Mochis, Mexico. A creaky old train taking us through real bandit country: Desert, cacti, black vultures sunning on fence posts, cow skulls, cowboys rounding up cows. Broke the journey in dusty Creel to see the canyon, which rivals the Grand Canyon, and ate delicious gorditas in Divisadero.
8) Slow boat to Shanghai, China ,from Osaka, Japan. Passing through the beautiful Inland Sea and into the deep blue waters of the Sea of Japan and East China Sea, counting flying fish as we went. We met some wonderful fellow travelers and had an insight into what was to come in China from the predominantly Chinese passengers who did their laundry at 6.30am and ate with great gusto and speed.
9) Trans-Siberian Railway from Irkutsk to Vladivostok. This section of the epic west to east train journey had far more varied and beautiful scenery than the first leg: meadows, lakes and deciduous forests alongside the regular tundra, industry and cosmodromes. There were fewer spudnuts (potato donuts) available on the platforms, but we were wise to the samovar and had brought plenty of instant mashed potato.
10) Train from Hamburg to Copenhagen. Comfortable train with stunning views across flowering farmland, twinkling water and fields of wind turbines. The best bit was that the train boarded a ferry to bridge the waters between Germany and Denmark.
We’ve travelled 360 degrees around the world without leaving the earth’s surface. It feels like a historic achievement, treading in the footsteps of the great travelers of old before the aeroplane was invented. We didn’t do it in eighty days, like Phileas Fogg, but travelled considerably slower, taking time to soak up what was happening around us.
My early fears of not being able to complete the circle, because public transport to the places we wanted to go wouldn’t exist, were dispelled. It’s a big world, but the means to get around it are there. Travelling overland and sea is like a dot-to-dot puzzle, the more dots you join the clearer the picture becomes. That is what has made World in Slow Motion such a special worldwide wander and wonder.