Forms of identification: Stuart McDonald
Stuart McDonald, the co-founder of Travelfish.org, in Laos.
Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.
1. Where would you rather be right now?
Somewhere comfortably warm, out of phone range and probably with my feet in the water
2. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
William S Burroughs -- he's always struck me as an interesting guy and I imagine he'd have some intriguing stories to tell.
3. Tourist must-see you think is actually a “must skip”:
Goa, India. Ordinary beaches with overrated food and terribly boring, shallow tourists.
4. Everyone asks what’s #1 on your list of places you want to go before you die. But what’s your #3?
Kiribati. An Israeli friend went there decades ago for his post military cool-off period. Said it was the most beautiful place he'd been and told fanciful Crusoe-like tales of his time there. Also commented the beaches are littered with empty VB [Victoria Bitter] cans, so as an Australian I guess I should go pick some of the empties up.
5. You’d be mortified if people knew you did what when you travelled?
I steal hotel soaps (only the fancy ones). Yes, Regent Singapore, that was me.
6. Your most stranded, “oh-my-[deity]” travel moment:
Climbing out of the Haleakala crater on Maui, Hawaii, we took a wrong trail and got badly stranded and exhausted. Then I got separated from my travel companion. After hours on the exposed slope I seriously considered trying to break my ankle with a large rock so that a helicopter would come and get me. (I stumbled out in the end.)
7. Best (or worst) person/people you’ve had to sit next to while travelling:
The drug trafficker who had just walked across the Mexico-US border with a kilo of pot strapped to his belly. He tried to sell me some for the entire bus ride from Brownsville [Texas] to the airport. He was on parole for B&E [breaking and entering] in Indianapolis and was headed back there to sell his dope and invest the money in another run. He was somewhat unhinged.
8. Strangest meal abroad:
Live octopus in Morocco. You eat the tentacles first and wash them down with iced water to stop them from sticking to your throat. Amazingly tasty
9. If someone was visiting your town, what’s the one thing you’d show them?
The Uluwatu surf break -- one of the most spectacular spots in Bali.
10. Travel-related invention you wish existed:
Time travel - so you really could go there at the time when everyone says it was better. My first stop would be Sanur Beach in 1932, followed closely by Phnom Penh in 1966.
11. Your most embarrassing travel faux pas:
Mistakenly sleeping in an older Vietnamese lady's hammock on a night boat from My Tho near Saigon to the Cambodian border. I woke up early in the morning to find her sleeping on the floor underneath me. I was mortified.
12. Material thing you miss the most when away from home:
13. Most unique souvenir:
A 3kg piece of lava from Lanzarote. I carried it with me through Europe, India, Nepal and Thailand. When I got back to Australia and showed it to my family, they commented that it looked like a rock.
14. Best celebrity encounter while travelling:
Eddie Vedder's "spiritual advisor" on a beach in Krabi, Thailand
15. Most unusual item you have travelled with:
I once hitched a ride in a 6WD Swiss aid vehicle from Luang Nam Tha in Laos to the Lao/Thailand border. The ride was being paid for by Lao antique smugglers who were shifting artefacts to Thailand for sale to Thai middleman. Among the goods was one of the best examples of a tribal frog drum I've ever seen. The smugglers thought it would fetch high thousands -- the tribe had been paid $500 for it.
16. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
The two-day bus trip from Varanasi in India to Pokhara in Nepal. We spent the entire trip sitting on the roof of the bus, about a dozen travellers in all. I'll never forget the first glimpse of the Himalayas -- we thought they were clouds the peaks were so high.
17. Travel-related film or book that inspires you to pack your bags:
Anything by Ryszard Kapuskinski, and I've read Alain de Botton's Art of Travel repeatedly -- the book taught me how to appreciate colour when travelling.
18. The travel story you’ll never stop bragging about:
During a solo motorbike trip in northern Laos I fought off two AK-47-armed bandits with my motorbike helmet. I believe their intention was to kill me and steal the motorbike, yet the whole thing was over in 30 seconds. I almost killed myself escaping the scene at high speed and my hands didn't stop shaking for 10km.
19. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:
Always pack your brain, don't plan too much and always allow scope to just do something wild and crazy on a whim. Never dress like a ninja in public.