Airmail letters to home
There's something wonderful about airmail letters. The image to the left shows the outside of some of the airmail letters I sent home from Europe and Africa between 1991 and 1992. When you hear that in the UK alone, there were 400 million less letters sent through the Royal Mail in 2010 compared to 2009 that you can quickly see how email has taken over as the main form of written communication in the UK, at least.
And yet, looking over those letters I sent home, they invoke a lot of nostalgia because of their sheer physical presence. They are battered from their journey from Morocco, Algeria, Spain, Ghana, Zimbabwe or France, usually by way of stains and greasy finger marks.
They have the stamps from the country, such as the King of Morocco, or Arabic lettering from Algeria, or the black star and national airline of Ghana on them. All have red and blue edging to distinguish them as airmail too. Airmail letters are light and flimsy but they have character. They have travelled as hard as you have to get back to the recipient. They are exciting to open and, as so well illustrated, they keep well, unlike their digital equivalent.
I do like email. It's efficient and cheap. And yet, at the risk of sounding like an old fart, airmail is more romantic than email. It is special because someone has taken the effort not only to write the letter but also to find the airmail and take it to the post office. It brings back a little bit of the spirit of the country you sent it from and people have waited patiently to receive it. And that is the essence of airmail for me. Airmail is slow in our fast paced world. It captures something intangible which an email can never deliver which is the time you have lived through and experienced to be able to sit down and share your journey.
Do they still print airmail letters or 'blueys', as we called them in the Army?
I can't help but be moved when I read Peter Gostelow's blog about his journey through Africa on a bicycle. Now, he is in Uganda having just come through the DRC and his photos and words show how friendly are the people and beautiful is the countryside.
Life on a bicycle is so simple and Peter illustrates this so well. He is cycling through National Parks in Uganda where there are elephants within a hundred metres of him. He is cycling along tracks where there is no traffic and staying in hotels for $5 a night. Wonderful.
Take a look at his video below with the elephants in the background.
Since starting to write up my diaries from cycling through Africa 20 years ago, I have come across a few artefacts which I had completely forgotten about. Much of what I have found are letters I wrote to Penny which, fortunately, she kept. What struck me was that these days it would be unlikely that I would be writing letters or sending cards to friends and family. I am sure that most of my correspondence would be via email or text.
And that would be a shame. I found two letters to Penny which were written on hand made cards which I bought from traders in the camp sites we stayed in Niger and Burkina Faso. One was hand painted and the other was a small piece of batik. I have scanned them and placed them below. I think they are rather beautiful and they show some of the subtle but super things that would have been missed if I had merely sent an email.
@worldcyclevideo shared this video with me today taken by Blanche about cycling in Andalusia, Spain in the Spring. When my brother and cycled through Andlausia in 1991, it was late summer, hot and dry. Not like the lush green scenes you can see here.
I saw this on Twitter about Ross Noble riding around Britain on the 500,000th Triumph motorbike to be built to raise money for charity. Should be interesting to follow.
It's a wonder that anyone travels around the world when we have so much of the world delivered to us through our televisions. In the UK, the BBC broadcasts amazing wildlife, history and anthropological programmes, as well as travel and adventure programmes.
But, there is nothing like experiencing the world out there for yourself. You can't beat seeing Victoria Falls up close. You can't beat seeing the stars above you when you are sleeping out in the desert. You can't beat the hospitality of the wonderful people you meet when you are out there. You can't beat the smell of a Mumbai slum which you will never experience just by watching 'Slum Dog Millionaire'.
Unless you actually travel to these places you see 'on the box', you will be missing the essence of the places you see on television. Many people want to do adventure travelling but prevent themselves doing it for irrational reasons. I admit it. I had irrational fears about cycling down Africa twenty years ago, but Dan and I did it anyway.
On that thought, I have put together my top ten irrational fears about adventure travelling which could have prevented me from doing it. What do you think? Do you have any fears you would add to the list? Add a comment below if you do!
My Irrational Fears about Adventure Travelling
I'd love to hear your comments on my list!
This video shows some pretty eye opening canoeing. I'm just amazed at how they stay upright. Anyway, I hope this adds some entertainment to the site while I add my diaries!
Without ropes, this guy climbed the Eiger on his own in less than three hours. Watch this stunning video to see him do it.
I have just set up a new blog on this site onto which I am publishing my travel diaries from August '91 to July '92 in their raw state. My intention is to use these as the basis for the book of them which I am aiming to have published by the end of this year.
I will publish a daily post covering, at least, one day of the journey. I encourage feedback on the posts. Let me know your thoughts about them and how I can improve them. Let me know what you would like to hear more or less about. Anything!
You can read the first post here: http://www.twoforafrica.co.uk/2/post/2011/05/andover-portsmouth.html
There's one thing that I'm learning about writing a book. It's challenging to fit it into a normal working day. Nevertheless, it's deeply rewarding by way of the memories it returns and the reminders about just how liberating adventure travel is for the soul.
When I get a chance, I've started reading Mark Beaumont's book, 'The Man who cycled the World', about his world record setting race around the globe on a bicycle. Much of what he writes about in starting off his adventure had similarities to our cycling adventure, in terms lots of planning, injuries and fatigue. It's a good read.
But, the point is that to write a book requires discipline. You need to write consistently to make sure writing the book does not take longer than the journey.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family and is now a magazine editor and occasional adventure cyclist.
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