Michael’s Molvel­lous trav­els

TV Per­son­al­ity and med­i­cal doc­tor Michael Mol has tra­versed the globe and has many tales to tell. He shares some of his mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ences glo­be­trot­ter

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - TRAVEL 2011 - MELANIE PETERS

How many places (cities or coun­tries) have you vis­ited? I’ve had the hum­bling and awein­spir­ing priv­i­lege of vis­it­ing more places than I can ac­cu­rately re­call, and hav­ing those sto­ries cap­tured in Tech­ni­color lest I for­get. Where was your favourite hol­i­day or time spent abroad? My favourite hol­i­day is al­ways with my wife and chil­dren – and our fond­est mem­o­ries are of Dis­ney­world. Best time spent abroad was in Rus­sia, largely be­cause of the unique ex­pe­ri­ences. There’s lit­tle that can top the ad­ven­ture of get­ting into the cock­pit of a Rus­sian Mig, point­ing its nose up­wards and fly­ing to the edge of space at twice the speed of sound. The pi­lot, Niko­lai, spoke lit­tle English, but enough to give me a pre­flight brief­ing that went some­thing like: “We go up. Fast. We come down. Fast. Okay?” It took about 20 min­utes to get to the edge of the strato­sphere – to a point where there’s no more thrust left in the plane’s jet en­gines, and for a mo­ment we were weight­less. Above us the night sky – space – and be­low us the lu­mi­nes­cent curve of the earth. We were at the high­est point any­one on Earth could get to be­fore be­ing called an as­tro­naut – and then in a flash it was nose down and gun­ning it back to terra firma. Your worst ex­pe­ri­ence on a hol­i­day? In Viet­nam, we went for din­ner at one of the many snake restau­rants. At one venue, the owner put on a bit of a song and dance for the cam­era with a co­bra that flared its hood, hissed and struck at the lens. Then, to our shock and hor­ror, the owner grabbed the co­bra’s head, stretched it out and gut­ted it in front of us, cut­ting out its still beat­ing heart, drop­ping it into a glass of snake’s blood and bile, and of­fer­ing it to me as the guest of hon­our. I wanted to re­ject the vile en­trée, but then re­alised a ges­ture like this was con­sid­ered a huge hon­our in their cul­ture, so I gra­ciously ac­cepted the con­coc­tion, tilted my head back and swal­lowed the snake’s heart whole. Need­less to say, I lost my ap­petite and couldn’t eat any of the other del­i­ca­cies that were served up that night. I tossed and turned most of the night, feel­ing like I’d done a great evil – un­til I read a verse in my Bi­ble that said: “It’s not what goes into your mouth that dis­hon­ours you, but what comes out of it.” Your fun­ni­est ex­pe­ri­ence? We headed up to Pam­plona for the fes­ti­val of St Fer­min and the run­ning of the bulls. My cam­era­man and I had smug­gled a small cam­era into the bustling group of wannabe mata­dors gath­ered in the nar­row road stretch­ing from the bull pen to the bull ring, so that we could cap­ture the ac­tion first hand. The night be­fore, my wife had just in­formed me that we were go­ing to be par­ents, so as I stood wait­ing for the charg­ing bri­gade, I se­ri­ously ques­tioned my rea­sons for be­ing there – should a soon-to-be-fa­ther re­ally be putting his life at risk… for the fun of it? The sound of a rocket, which sig­nalled that the bulls had been set loose, jolted me back to re­al­ity. They were start­ing to gather ter­ri­fy­ing mo­men­tum as they headed our way. At this point, I just wanted to get out of the crowd, but any at­tempt to do so is met with po­lice push­ing you back into the street. So I ran for my life. A few tor­tur­ous min­utes later, gasp­ing for breath, the bull­ring came into view. I turned to glance at my cam­era­man, only to see a group of an­gry bulls stam­ped­ing right to­wards us. I fought my way for­ward through the ter­ri­fied ma­raud­ers des­per­ate to save my life – and then the un­think­able hap­pened: a run­ner fell down in front of me. What do I do? My heart said stop and help, my brain said save your­self. My sur­vival in­stinct kicked in and I stepped on and over him and made a sharp left dive as we en­tered the bull ring to get out of the way of the bulls. There were shrieks as we rolled over in the dust only to catch a glimpse of the bulls charge by and into the ring. But what of the fallen sol­dier? I looked back and saw him stand­ing to his feet, grin­ning and beat­ing his fist in the air, yelp­ing ”Bravo!” As it turned out, I helped save his life, be­cause the rule when run­ning with the bulls is: if you go down, you stay down – bet­ter to be tram­pled by hooves than skew­ered by horns. We flipped open the cam­era and watched three sec­onds of out-of-fo­cus shots. A bump from a fel­low run­ner had stopped the record­ing at the out­set and we had noth­ing to show for our death-de­fy­ing stunt. It meant only one thing: we’d have to do it all again to­mor­row, which we did. What do you avoid dur­ing a hol­i­day? Un­cooked food, lo­cal water, tour groups, tour buses and tourist hot spots – the heart of a city and a coun­try is found in its peo­ple, and you find them on lo­cal trans­port, at pub­lic parks and in restau­rants that don’t fea­ture on tourist maps. Your favourite restau­rant and food dur­ing your trav­els? With vast cul­tural dif­fer­ences be­tween coun­tries and cities, it’s im­pos­si­ble to have a favourite restau­rant (un­less you call Star­bucks an eatery), so I opt for restau­rants on the clean side of town that of­fer dishes uniquely dif­fer­ent to what I’m ac­cus­tomed to. We vis­ited an eatery in Bangkok that was fa­mous for its bird’s nest soup. I an­tic­i­pated a spicy broth-in­fused weaver’s nest float­ing around in a shal­low bowl. What came out of the kitchen was an opaque jelly-like liq­uid that tasted like wa­tery sago pud­ding – def­i­nitely not worth the price tag of a month’s wage that came on the bill. I re­searched the del­i­cacy, only to dis­cover that the cost was re­lated to the huge amount of ef­fort re­quired to har­vest these nests – found in caves where swal­lows cough up saliva over the weeks to cre­ate small pock­ets of hard­ened gob to house their off­spring. Once again, my ap­petite van­ished, and I de­clined the of­fer of a birdie-bag. Your favourite place to drink a glass of wine or to have sun­down­ers? One of the most mem­o­rable sun­down­ers would have to be on the is­land of Zanz­ibar, watch­ing the dhows drift across burn­ing wa­ters while catch­ing the first wafts of the cool evening breeze, and hear­ing the shrieks of kids splash­ing around on the beach. The wine was ab­so­lute plonk, but it couldn’t spoil a per­fect sun­downer. As a sea­soned trav­eller and flyer can you share some tips? Get as much sleep as you can on the plane (I of­ten eat at the air­port and not dur­ing the flight, so that I’m way ahead on di­ges­tion by take-off time). You don’t want to start your hol­i­day with sleep de­pri­va­tion.

Day one of your hol­i­day: get up re­ally early and go for a run around the neigh­bour­hood. It’s a great way to beat jet­lag and to get en­er­gised for the days ahead.

Use lo­cal trans­port. Buses are a great op­tion; cabs can be a lit­tle pricey. Un­der­ground tubes might get you places quicker, but you miss out on the sights and sounds of a city. Lo­cal trans­port also gets you into con­tact with lo­cal peo­ple.

Don’t only ask the concierge for ad­vice, speak to the bell­boy – they’re not usu­ally asked for their opinion, but when ques­tioned they of­fer a wealth of in­for­ma­tion.

Takes lots of pho­tos, mostly of peo­ple, and not build­ings or mon­u­ments – you can get bet­ter pic­tures of ar­chi­tec­ture from post­cards.

Keep a travel jour­nal. Pic­tures will only trig­ger a por­tion of your mem­ory, but a jour­nal cap­tures the mo­ments, your thoughts and your feel­ings about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

Travel with some­one. Alone, you can en­joy an ex­pe­ri­ence; with some­one else you cre­ate a mem­ory. I’d choose mem­o­ries over ex­pe­ri­ences ev­ery time.

A MORE TRAN­QUIL EX­PE­RI­ENCE: Michael Mol in Egypt.

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