The late 80’s and early 90s for me were times of some serious rail and backpacking trips, all around Europe, Morocco, Turkey, Thailand, Bali and probably other places I forget. Times of camping on the rim of active volcanoes, nearly starving hiking in the mountains of North Africa, and getting so drunk on overnight train trips that we needed the cleaners to wake us up and throw us off the train.
Now in 2007 its Spain – a 2 week trip from Madrid, to Toledo, Andalucia and then to the coast somewhere (yet to be determined) near Almeria to swim, relax and rest weary sightseeing feet.
The essence of this trips is the same as those of times past. Load up pack with too much gear, visit spectacular places, eat and drink regional specialities and get to understand a little about the locals and how they live. And experience a little chaos along the way.
The details are a little different now though. For example, we’re currently sat in 1st class on a train from Madrid to Cordoba, being served fino, wine and empanadas. Paying a few extra Euros for a train that gets in at 9pm instead of 11pm is not the problem it would’ve been previously – time, not money is our enemy now. And Jan has a convertible – a backpack that has wheels for flat terrain and a frame for when wheels are rendered useless. I occasionally feel jealous when stood in a long line waiting to buy a train ticket. But only occasionally.
We stay in simple two star ‘hostals’ rather than backpacker dorms and campsites, and eat and drink a little better quality than trips of the distant past. Also a laptop is an essential part of travel – it buys flexibility, provides access to massive amounts of information, plays music and DVDs, and gives the ability to book tickets for the Alhambra while you’re waiting for a train. Invaluable really, especially for blogging.
Other than the differences that 20 years of professional life can buy, little else changes. We spent two days in Madrid (pics here), Lonely Planet in hand, walking for 10s of kms around the old town, with its elegant plazas and vibrant, narrow streets. We visited the truly spectacular Royal Palace, to see how ‘the other half’ live. We spent a few hours marveling at the Goyas and El Boscos in the Prado, and the best part of a day in the Thyssen, enthralled by its spectacular collection of modern art.
And in the evening, we bar-hopped, eating tasty tapas and trying all kinds of odd, but invariably quality Spanish wines. Armed with a phrase book, we learned new words for food and drink, and how to order things in Spanish. And we watched the ever entertaining and expressive locals, arriving for dinner at 10.30pm, drinking fino for breakfast, smoking like there’s no tomorrow, and dropping virtually anything and everything on the floor in bars. At times you feel like you’re part of an Almodavar movie.
So we stay pretty true to the roots of backpacking trips, with the core experiences and challenges of travel and life that it brings. And interestingly, among the multitudes of backpackers, most of whom are still dreading their 25th birthday, you see pockets of ‘more worldly’ (ok – older!) travelers, who must feel like we do. Not all of the backpackers of the 70s and 80s have been seduced by the bland homogeneity, convenience and predictability of package tours, luxury travel, and heaven forbid, the ‘keep the locals away from me at all costs’ experience of cruises.
We might be coined ‘independent, mature travelers’ now, but after all these years, we’re still backpacking, and hopefully still a little bit crazy. And may it never change …