I have wonderful memories of many people: the Sikh man who, without my knowing, kept an eye on me during a three-hour wait at an Indian railway station and who, when I nearly boarded the wrong train, gently took my arm and shook his head; the lady on a bus journey in Iran who planted a large bag of sweets on my lap; and the student in Syria who waited 20 minutes with me to ensure I caught the right bus and that the driver knew where to let me off. I have a well of such memories.
In northern Pakistan, I met a young jeep driver. The following year, I returned to live with his extended family for a month, teaching at the local school, before taking two months to travel through every valley between Afghanistan and Kashmir. We all know old sayings like, ‘Life isn’t a rehearsal,’ and looking back I now realise that whenever I made myself do something that scared me, it always turned out to be the best experience ever.
Travelling alone is one of them. I can’t deny it can be lonely, but travelling with the wrong person is far, far worse. After years of being a daughter, wife, mother and granny, I am now me. If people aren’t going my way, I know I can happily go on my own.
At 73, I must confess that it’s time to retire my beloved rucksack and get something on wheels, but so long as I have a good guidebook and a water heater to make a cup of coffee, there’s nothing that can stop me.