Thursday, 24 May 2012

Off The Beaten Track - Are We There Yet?

Amidst the beginning of a new adventure in South America, how hard is it to steer clear of the crowds and find yourself in a real gem of a location....almost alone....pinching yourself back into reality?

Close to the top of all travellers ambitions is to 'get off the beaten track'. Find a destination "Remote from populous or well travelled regions" and live the dream of telling the World of this wonderful place only a handful of people on the planet have ever graced. I know it's somthing I think about everytime a new adventure appears over the horizon.

So what do you have to do to get off the track, away from the crowds and into that long awaited paradise?

More and more people are becoming obsessed with travel and retrospectively it isn’t that expensive either. It can cost close to £100 just to travel the length of England on a train, compare that with return flights to India (£350), Thailand (£450), Brazil (£420) and because of the ever expanding budget airline routes, even places like Jordan are accessible for prices as low as £120 return! That’s incredibly cheap and even more tempting now the Middle East is opening up much more to the idea of backpackers, or should I say backpackers are opening up to the idea of the Middle East.

How do you know when you are off the beaten track and not just in the right place at the wrong time? The World is so well travelled, with so many people looking for that perfect tail of tranquility, that even places considered well off the travel radar 20 years ago are now burning brightly in the backpacking spotlight.

Four years ago I was in Uganda and to all intents and purposes it felt like I was the first white person to be living in the rural village of Muguluka - obviously I wasn't as I was part of a volunteer teaching programme who had been to the area before but it provided an astounding insight into basic African life. We're talking no running water, sporadic electrical power and being gawped at almost constantly most days - that was pretty off the beaten track but it still niggles at me that I didn't find it myself or simply stumble across it. Ultimately I was placed their by a Western based tourist/charity company so can I really count that as off the beaten track? Maybe not.

Fear not, finding yourself off the beaten track is not an impossibility. I think that more than ever it just takes a bit more perseverance, imagination, enthusiasm, guts and probably money, to find the spot you, and hopefully not too many other people, are looking for. Many people's ideas of what OTBT is will vary but ultimately it has to be an experience that is difficult to replicate in a large number of locations.

One of my lasting memories from travelling is being sat on a beach, eating fish from a banana leaf, nursing blisters on my hands from a canoe journey too long, remembering how lucky I was to be in such a privileged place. It was University graduation day back home and my two friends and I were in the Caramoan Peninsula on the Eastern shores of the Philippines.

Take away a Bill Gates style private plane and there isn't really an easy or comfortable way into where we were. It took a full day of travel - 1 coach, a local bus, 2 mini vans, a taxi, a boat and a couple of motorbikes. We'd certainly gotten to a difficult place to get to! We spent the next few days hopping on and off perfect beaches, often without a single other soul in sight. Our transport was our canoe, rowing in the heat was exhausting but in a place that evokes such special views and feelings, I was glad it was hard work to get there.

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