Forms of identification: Sherry Ott
Travel blogger Sherry Ott on the 9,000 mile long Mongol Rally.
Irreverent responses from our favourite travel ninjas.
1. Where would you rather be right now?
At this very moment I’m sitting in an albergue (hostel) in Belorado, a small town in northern Spain, after hiking 100 miles along the Camino de Santiago route. I can’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else right now! I wish my feet felt better, but it’s an amazing experience to walk across Spain!
2. Famous person (dead or alive, real or fictional) you’d most like to go on a trip with:
Andrew McCarthy was my teenage heartthrob in St Elmo’s Fire who has turned into a travel writer I greatly admire. If I travelled with him I would not only get to fulfil a high school dream, but I could get writing tips too!
3. Everyone asks what’s #1 on your list of places you want to go before you die. But what’s your #3?
For me it’s not a matter of place, but of experiences. So – my #3 experience is to live in Argentina for a few months and learn how to tango.
4. Best (or worst) person/people you’ve had to sit next to while travelling:
Technically I didn’t sit next to this man, but we were on the same bus in Mongolia and I saw a moment of camaraderie that I will never forget. I was on my way to the Gobi Desert and an older man dressed in traditional Mongolian herder attire got on. He did something I’ve never seen done before, he entertained the whole bus; sharing his snuff, talking to everyone, making them laugh and even leading the entire bus in group song. I sat in my cramped little seat as the only non-Mongolian, in awe of the solidarity of everyone on the bus. I gladly joined in, accepting snuff, singing along and gave rousing applause when everyone finished singing. When the man got off the bus in the middle of the desert, the entire bus clapped and said goodbye. It was one of those memorable travel moments - experiencing something that most of the world will never experience.
5. Strangest meal abroad:
In a small village in Thailand I was introduced to the delicacy of rat. The villagers were excited about my arrival, and a couple of young boys had gone out hunting that day and caught two rats. They cooked it on a fire and offered me the leg. I gingerly took a bite as all of the villagers watched for my reaction. All I could think about were the large rats I frequently used to see in the New York subway when I used to commute to work. Surprisingly it tasted quite good – like chicken, of course.
6. Your most embarrassing travel faux pas:
I was mortified when I realized I had taken someone else’s luggage at the airport in Honolulu, Hawaii. I didn’t realize that I had the wrong bag until eight hours later when I went to put on my pyjamas! The person whose luggage I had accidentally taken had written me an email as my business card was in my suitcase. They had a go at me, finding it rather ironic that I was a “professional traveller” who had made such a stupid mistake!
7. Coolest mode of transport you’ve taken:
I think I’ve taken it all – helicopter, hot-air balloon, train, local bus, boat, van, police car, F1 pace car, bicycle, horse, donkey, camel, motorcycle, tuk tuk, jeepney and rickshaw. But, driving my own motorbike in Ho Chi Minh City has to be the coolest and scariest thing I’ve done! If you have been to Vietnam and have seen the six million plus motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, then you will understand -- it’s a complete adrenaline rush. I had been living there for four months, always taking motorbike taxis to get around, when one day my regular driver said he would teach me how to drive one. I decided to rent my own shiny Yamaha bike for a month, but I chickened out and it sat in my living room (the standard place to park your motorbike in Vietnam) for a week before I got the nerve to drive it. Eventually I eased myself into the afternoon rush hour – and it was one of the most terrifying things I had ever done! I had no idea how to turn left across traffic so for the first few days I could only go around the block and take right turns. Eventually, I learned that being a part of Ho Chi Minh City traffic was like being a part of a school of fish. You operated in a big group, separating and coming back together as various other vehicles crossed your path. So – I guess you can say that I learned how to “swim” in Vietnam.
8. Travel-related film or book that inspires you to pack your bags:
The film Revolutionary Road makes me want to ensure that I never give up on my travel dreams. When the two main characters decide to uproot their lives and move to France to try something completely different and realise their childhood travel dreams, I love the excitement of their preparation. However, they ultimately chicken out and everything goes awry. To me it demonstrates the importance of being true to yourself, following your dreams and living outside of the world of “should”.
9. The travel story you’ll never stop bragging about:
Last summer I drove from London to Ulanbaatar, Mongolia in a completely inappropriate little car (a 2002 Nissan Almera) with absolutely no mechanical knowledge. I took off from London with three other travel bloggers who I had never met before, and we made it across 13 countries and 9,000 miles in five weeks to complete the Mongol Rally -- and raised a great deal of money for Christina Nobel Children’s Foundation.
10. Lay on us a priceless bit of travel advice or wisdom:
Instead of taking a vacation, consider really breaking away and take a larger leap into the world of longer-term travel, reaping the benefits of a travelling career break. Look for experiences rather than tourist sites. Once you strip yourself of your everyday life and throw yourself into another world for an extended period, you will come out the other side a much more balanced and appreciative person.