Pack stretch-waisted ‘pants’, wear yellow sunshades to reduce glare while driving at night, and retract the TV aerial before leaving the site. This is just some of the advice from the RV guide to America book I’m currently reading.
I’ve never envisaged myself as an RV-er, but as they say “When in Rome”. So, taking the spirit of this, I am currently planning a summer road trip, guidebook, map and comfy clothing to hand. In doing this, it’s struck me how many of the places I’ve visited have in part been defined by how I’ve travelled them. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Asia. So, in no particular order:
Malaysia is the boat that got stuck on a sandbank a mile out at sea. Given the choice of disembarking and walking to the shore or waiting several hours for the tide to rise and the boat to dislodge, most of the passengers opted for the former. From the shore, a steady stream of people could be seen hopping off the stranded vessel, slipping waist-high into the warm waters, walking slowly and deliberately, as if wading through treacle, feet temporarily sucked into the soft sand with each step. I was lucky, carrying just a small rucksack, my greatest casualty was a flip-flop sucked irretrievably into the sand. Some held their luggage aloft, sporadically resting it on their heads. Others fashioned pontoons, lashing rope around empty canisters on top of which they gingerly rested vast suitcases, laboriously pushing and pulling them to land.
Thailand is the Skytrain ride, snaking between Bangkok’s glistening high rises, apartments, and shopping malls. It’s quietly nudging through acres of tangled lotus foliage and flowers, obligingly parting around the boat before re-congregating in its wake. It’s the water taxi plying the Chao Phraya river, with the views of the golden-spired wats creeping down to the water’s edge, and the five-star hotels each with their pretty magazine-spread jetties.
India is a long trip through Rajasthan from its verdant edges adjoining Haryana into its hot, arid, dusty interior. We took an Ambassador, a 1950s-styled taxi: think a London Black Cab meets a Morris Minor meets an old-fashioned perambulator. The back seat was vast and well sprung, acting as good a foil to heavily pot-holed roads as any four-wheel drive. After dropping us at our destination nightly, our driver would refuse any offers of accommodation and instead curl up on the deep leather upholstered seat. He probably slept better than we did.
Pakistan is our old Land Rover or more accurately, its varied maladies. My husband would attempt to outfox it by having it looked over before a longer trip. We’d sporadically escape the summer city heat with a weekend in the old hill station of Nathiagali. Nosing our way towards a cooler, higher altitude, the roads switching back and forth, there was always the risk of an overheated radiator, while coming back down, we had the brakes fail. More accurately they overheated, so picture me attempting to fan them in a bid to cool them sufficiently before the light started to fail and we’d be stranded on the hillside.
South Asia more widely is taxis. From Pakistan’s buzzing little Mehrans to the lawn-mower engine-sounding rickshaws, to the ubiquitous white Toyota Corolla’s of Islamabad’s streets. From the hagglers, to the drivers refusing to give a price (their fare was instead Allah’s will), to the Sikh gentlemen of Delhi’s roads, the only drivers to ever consistently agree to using the meter, to the inexplicable cultural quirk of wrapping the seats in plastic.
So, RV-ing is my next travel experience, and one I hope will be straightforward. This is assuming I remember to bubble-wrap the glassware, give a friendly wave to my fellow RV-ers (particularly those driving the same make and model) and pack the binoculars so I can view road signs well in advance.