[Editor’s note]: As I walked into John’s Cafe in Kashgar, Xinjiang Autonomous Region of western China, I noticed a lonely man sitting at a table staring at his small laptop. I walked up and we introduced ourselves and started with the usual “where you from and where you go”. Soon we were joined by Emma. I quickly found that both Greg and Emma were no ordinary travelers. This couple has already traveled all the way from Cape Town at the southern tip of Africa up through dark Africa, through the Middle East and Central Asia, and are now taking a well deserved rest in Kashgar before heading south into Pakistan, India, Nepal, China, and a few more countries before reaching Singapore.
Here their long overland journey will come to an end as it is the furthest point where they can travel overland towards Australia, their homeland. We had a long and very enjoyable chat about travel. They convinced me that I should go ahead with my planned Cairo to Cape Town trip, though to date I still have not embarked on this epic trip. They also inspired me to travel northern Pakistan, which I recently did! During their recent stop in Hong Kong we met up for dinner at my place. Was great to get a run-down of their travels since we first met several months ago in Kashgar. What an inspiration these two wonderful souls are!
This interview was conducted via email in late September 2014:
GR: What are your top 5 most preferred countries for leisure travel?
EMMA: Tanzania, Italy, Nepal, France, and Pakistan.
GREG: Tanzania, Pakistan, Nepal, India, and the USA.
GR: Which is your most preferred country for travel and why?
EMMA: That is a tough call, but I will say Nepal, because we love trekking so much and you can go totally independent and have a complete sense of freedom. You can trek according to your own desires from day to day and that is a great feeling. The standard of food is also very good in Nepal. The western town of Pokhara has fantastic little cafes and restaurants.
GREG: I would say Pakistan. The people there are the friendliest I have ever come across and also the scenery in the north is the most dramatic I have ever encountered. It is also an amazing trekking destination which we both love so much.
GR: Where do you wish you were right now?
EMMA: Pokhara in Nepal. It’s a beautiful lakeside city surrounded by mountains. It’s a great place to relax and savour the anticipation of an exciting trek.
GREG: The Khaplu Palace in Khaplu Pakistan as it feels like you are so far from the outside world. I love hearing the call to prayer in the early morning echoes around the cliffs and mountains all tucked up warm in my bed. It is the stuff of dreams for sure.
GR: Among those countries you have not yet visited, which ones are at the top of your “must do” list?
EMMA: Mongolia, Morocco, Algeria, Canada, Afghanistan.
GREG: Afghanistan, Chile, DRC, Morocco, Yemen.
GR: If you could spend the rest of your life somewhere other than your current home country, which country would that be?
EMMA: Again I would say Pokhara in Nepal. It has everything I need to sustain a pleasant, comfortable and exciting life.
GREG: I will also say Pokhara in Nepal. If I have to live somewhere I want access to good food I should I say food I personally like. It’s also very stable and secure and that would tip it in my favour over some other places as far as living is concerned.
EMMA: I would say our trek to K2 Basecamp in 2009. The scenery along the Baltoro glacier was very intense. Like the rocks and cliffs were being twisted and tortured. Then we woke early in the morning opening our tent and saw K2 towering above us. It is much more impressive, isolated, and dramatic than Everest, and not many people will ever see it in real life. I feel very lucky.
GREG: I would say summiting Imja Tse (better known as Island Peak) in the Khumbu region of eastern Nepal. I have been thinking about doing this for years but was unsure of myself. I have worked up to it by trying some smaller peaks in Nepal and finally decided to try it in 2014. I felt very nervous about failing, but luckily on the day we had very good weather and I was feeling good. It was still incredibly tough, but the feeling upon reaching the top and standing so high in the Himalayas was wonderful. I felt really proud that morning and also very fortunate.
GR: Based on your travel experiences, if you were to recommend the one most amazing destination for intrepid travellers, which place would that be, and why?
EMMA: For people seeking intrepid adventure I would say Pakistan. It’s not for everyone, but once you go there the rewards and feeling of adventure are hard to beat.
GREG: I agree with Emma it has to be my favourite adventure destination.
GR: Which people by nationality or subgroup e.g. etc, would you say have been the most hospitable during your travels and why do you say so?
EMMA: Pakistan as the people are so polite, curious and courteous.
GREG: Pakistan as well.
GR: How do you think traveling around the world for independent travelers has changed over the past 20 years?
EMMA: The internet has made a huge difference. We are so much more connected now and it makes onward travel so much easier. You can book rooms ahead if you like. Your friends back home can get instant updates rather than waiting for a letter or postcard. In some ways it’s a little less romantic I guess.
GREG: I would agree. I think also roads and transport is getting better and travel times are being reduced. I think in some travelers about their time during this period.
GR: Lets get a bit more personal. Do you have any “must take” items which you travel with that you think most travelers don’t have?
EMMA: A small pedicure pack. Your feet really get a hammering when you travel. We met a guy once who had a foot file and we vowed to carry one from that point on.
GREG: I would say a small laptop. When you travel for long periods I think you need one. We were able to make Skype calls in our room. Watch a movie or TV show at night. Update our blog, etc. We saved so much money not having to use internet cafes and make expensive ISD phone calls. Plus we could get cheaper room that did not have a TV every night.
GR: What is your favourite travel resource on the internet?
EMMA: Probably TripAdvisor. It allows us to get an idea of where we might want to stay but we normally just turn up inspect and decide on the spot. But it helps to give you good ideas of where to start your search.
GREG: Man in Seat Sixty-One is an excellent reference for people who are into trains. We love train travel so we use this site a lot.
EMMA: I really like Middle Eastern food as its so fresh and I love the sweets as well.
GREG: Italy! You can’t beat the pizzas and cheese.
GR: Where was the best meal you have ever had during your travels?
EMMA: It was a green curry in Luang Prabang, Laos.
GREG: Also the green curry in Luang Prabang, Laos. We still go on about how mouth-watering and delicious it was.
GR: And where was the worst food during your travels?
EMMA: That is easy, China. I am just not into their food. Chicken feet, toads and what not.
GREG: Same for me. I find real Chinese food not the tourist food and the real Chinese food you get at a bus stop is almost unpalatable, sorry I know many will disagree.
GR: What is the strangest or weirdest place you have ever spent a night?
EMMA: On a climb we did in Nepal on the way up Mera Peak we slept in a tent at 6,000 meter above sea level with a strong wind blowing which was such a weird experience. The altitude made sleeping very difficult and it was so cold!
GREG: Probably the night we slept next to an active volcano in Ethiopia. We were about 1km away from the rim, but you could see a blast of light shooting up into a very dark sky. It was so hot about 45°C and felt like we were on another planet.
GR: Based on all your travel experiences, what is the best tip you can offer to new travelers?
EMMA: I would say you need to think about a budget. If you want to travel for a long time it’s imperative to know how much you can spend and then keep a record each day in a notebook to see how you are tracking. So many people end up without money wondering what happened.
GREG: It might be an obvious thing to say, but it is imperative to stay open minded during your travels. It can feel at times like you are not getting your way or you are not getting out of travel what you thought you would. When this happens just relax and stay calm. It’s amazing how quickly you can bounce back or find a solution if you remain calm. I don’t always do this, by the way, which I why I see it as being important. We both keep working at it.
GR: What is the single best lesson you have learned about the world during your travels around the world?
EMMA: That the world is not as scary as the news makes it out to be. That most people in the developing world have better hearts and minds than we think.
GREG: Can’t say it any better than the way Emma just said it. I totally agree and also I learned that if you are free and having fun you don’t need too many assets in life, like cars and big houses. I have changed the way I see material possessions.
GR: Do you have any strange, weird, or even bizarre travel rituals which you can share with us?
EMMA: We do have a ritual to sweep before leaving every room we slept in. It’s too hard to check you have everything so we learned it’s easier to just make sure the room is empty. This way you know you have everything. I don’t think this is weird though, as it just makes logical sense.
GREG: Hmmm, not really. I am trying to think but nothing comes to mind.
GR: What is the main focus of your travels?
EMMA: can also make it feel small as you can travel from South Africa to Singapore using just buses and trains.
GREG: The same as Emma. I love seeing how the world changes day by day and I love seeing what borders look like. It’s such a thrill to arrive in a new country by walking across a border. A new language and bank notes, new faces just by walking 50 meters. This is such a strange concept to me. I think I just want to be like Marco Polo or Alexander the Great crossing vast distances and encountering new and strange cultures.
Greg and Emma’s blog One Long Peel ranked at number 1 in the 2014 GLOBEROVERS BLOG AWARDS. Their very impressive blog contains interesting stories and photographs taken during their overland journey of over 71,000 km during 2013/14 from Cape Town (South Africa) all the way to Singapore in Asia. You can also go and LIKE their interesting OneLongPeel Facebook page.