Somaliland – ‘stealing’ stones, security scams and sumptuous rock scribblings

Being threatened with arrest as we were leaving Somaliland wasn’t the ideal end to our trip.

Our bags had been scanned and, on spotting a handful of stones (more on that later), a burly customs officer strode across the room demanding a certificate from ‘the Ministry of Magic and Minerals’ or some such, which, suffice to say, we didn’t have. There was a long and somewhat awkward silence. I was aware that Somaliland didn’t necessarily operate within the international legal framework and that might be a problem.

“We will have to confiscate these stones,” he said. We shrugged and agreed this would probably be the best course of action. “And you will have to pay a fine”. Of course we would. He couldn’t seem to recall how much the fine would be until he spotted a crisp, twenty dollar note in one of our wallets. This seemed to jolt his memory and he announced that twenty dollars was, most conveniently, the correct amount.

Relieved of our monetary burden, we turned to collect our abandoned bags when I was beckoned over by one of the young customs officers who had been watching her superior fleece us. “Here! Take this! It’s a souvenir.” And she passed me a handful of the confiscated stones.

And there you have it. A brief anecdote about human kindness that could have happened anywhere but usefully restored our faith in this fascinating land just before we left.

But I’m talking about leaving before we’ve even arrived.

We has made the snap decision to fly to Hargeisa when we spotted the name of the city on the departures board at Djibouti Airport. We secured a visa at the Somaliland embassy located in downtown Djibouti – served by smiling officials which we took as a good sign – and then found a fixer who would arrange our car, armed guards (a prerequisite for tourists visiting at that time) and accommodation.

The next day we flew in. A word on the flight; the airline operates an aircraft that flies circuits between Djibouti, Hargeisa and Mogadishu (not necessarily in that order). When we alighted the plane, the crew were impossibly happy. We asked why – I’m used to surly staff who look upon passengers as a huge inconvenience to their jobs – and one replied that he’d secured the bonus that the airline issues whenever the aircraft flies into, and out of, Mogadishu safely.

In the meantime, as mentioned before, I’m a nervous flyer. The aircraft was a vintage Boeing. The pilot came on and made an announcement he was delighted to welcome us onboard and that both himself and a Russian engineer would be transporting us to Hargeisa. I had two issues with this. One; where was the co-pilot? Two; how much does a Russian engineer know about American planes?

We arrived safely and were bundled into a waiting 4×4 Toyota (always a Toyota!) before heading straight out into the desert. We had less than 24 hours in Somaliland and wanted to see Las Geel – the site of the earliest rock paintings in the Horn of Africa before we left.

I want to caveat the next section with the words ‘I was not taking anything when I went to Las Geel’ because I realise the description of the area make it sound as though I may have been.

We headed out on a long, straight and dusty road surrounded by a featureless landscape occasionally peppered with low custard-coloured buildings when we passed by a village. The desert slowly started to change and become covered in larger stones which, in the slanting late afternoon light began to glow with a roseate hue. Enormous quantities of rose quartz covered the ground emitting this ethereal light (and comprised the stones we tried to take home). In the meantime, the car wound its way around a chicane of tortoises that had all decided to wander home for the night at the same time whilst pigmy-sized deers with enormous eyes peeked out from behind the rocks at us.

We finally arrived and a man who was quite possibly the same age as the paintings themselves, came to greet us. We signed the guestbook (the last visitor had been a German lady some six months before) before being led up to the caves. What a sight! There they were; all manner of humans and beasts etched in ochre, terracotta, paprika and chalk white-dyes, the colours so bold they could have been completed just a few days before.

We turned to look out of the cave; to see what early mankind had seen from this very spot, and we saw the sunset turning the desert floor to fuchsia. A faded moon hung in the wings waiting for the sun to finally exit this celestial stage. And a deer nibbled a scrubby bush crowned by emerald-coloured leaves.

It remains one of my most vivid travel memories.

The Maldives – paradisaical resorts, blissful weather and portly lizards

An architect once told me that you can measure how developed a location is by its pavements. If the paving slabs line the road like a baby’s milk teeth, regular and gleaming, then you know you’re in a rich country. If they crumble to nothing, are fractured by a shatter of cracks or fail to exist at all then chances are the government has bigger issues to focus on.

The same, I think, can be said of paradise but in relation to the portliness of its lizards. The plumper the reptile, the more beautiful the place and, let me tell you, the lizards in the Maldives are chubby; all bulging stomach sacs balanced atop spindly femurs. Like those men you see at the gym desperately trying to pump up their chicken legs to match their hulking torsos. Even the lizards tongues are well-padded as they lazily unfurl to tickle unsuspecting insects.

Or perhaps the key to civilisation lies at the airport. Yes, that’s it. The more aesthetically-pleasing and relaxed the experience going through these portals to the underworld are, then the closer you are to the Gates of Heaven. Again, the Maldives doesn’t disappoint.

We stepped out of the aircraft inhaling gulps of warm air infused with the sweet tang of kerosene. The obligatory landing card was completed and, by the time I had remembered how to string the letters of my name together, the queues at passport control had melted away and our lone suitcases were waiting for us.

I always take a deep breath before the clouded-glass of the electric doors part and vomit you into the tumultuous arrivals hall of a new country but here…stillness. Just a clutch of hotel desks where you register your arrival before being led to a speedboat or other method of transportation to your resort. And beyond? That azure-stained sea that appears on the screensaver of a million office-bound workers tapping rhythmically away in small boxes under charcoal-tinged skies.

Our plane-stink receded with the short speedboat ride (On a side note, I think there should be powerful fans at every exit on an aircraft to waft away that stench of ‘Eau de Flatulence’ that everyone douses themselves with) and we were disgorged onto the resort’s pier. “The fish!” I squeaked. “The warmth!” “The sunlight!” It appeared I could only utter two words at a time I was so overcome.

And so began three and a half days of deciding whether to sink our swollen feet into the coral-flecked sand of the beach or brave the swimming pool which had been so heated by the sun that it was like swimming in a pot of tea.

I’ve never been to place where there is literally nothing to do (and I mean that in the best possible sense). Even if I’m in a remote hotel, they’ll always be that fishing village we should probably visit or that museum displaying locally made sanitary products which we really should check out. But here…nothing. Our days revolved around a quick snorkel whilst no one else was about, THE buffet breakfast (capitalised because it involved the most extraordinary array of food. Where does it all come from? We never saw any boats unloading masses of pickled cabbage, mini croissants, rice porridge, tuna curry and slices of sweet watermelon to name but a few of the foodstuffs), the beach, a 20-minute stroll around the island, the pool, the buffet dinner and then bed.

We kept saying in whispered tones, “I’m not cold. I can just hang my shoulders down where they should be and not have them huddled around my forehead” and “the light! The quality of light!” Indeed it was as though some celestial being had found a high-wattage bulb in a drawer tucked under their heavenly staircase and had screwed it into the sun. I’m sure it’s an equatorial/tropics kind of thing…we just never get that brightness in the northern hemisphere.

I’m not going to harp on about the snorkeling except to say that, usually, when you see sharks on, you know, a nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough or some such, they are streaked with scars and come with a thousand-yard stare that says, “I’ve seen some shit, mate…as in what’s at the bottom of the Mariana Trench”. In the Maldives, however, the most perfect, supermodel-esque and, let’s face it, Instagrammable tiny black-tipped reef sharks flit about the shallows showing off their dip-dyed fins. They know they’re hot and I suspect they would give you a flirty wink if you get close enough.

Speaking of Instagram, there are a lot of stunning people constantly forcing their other halves to push them on the big swings that can be found on some beaches whilst snapping pics on their phone which are then uploaded to various social media platforms. There’s even a carefully positioned bench underneath a large hashtagged sign displaying the resort’s name in an eminently photographic spot near reception.

The Maldives aren’t stupid and are most definitely channeling the latest marketing trends. After all, in this day and age where a picture generates a thousands likes and, by extension, a thousand extra tourist dollars, why wouldn’t you exploit this when you, your marine life and your weather is about as catwalk ready as it gets?

Possibly the world’s best avant-garde gallery is in a desert…in Uzbekistan

Name: Savitsky Museum

Location: Nukus, Karakalpakstan, Uzbekistan (also known as the gateway to the fast-disappearing Aral Sea)

What is it exactly? An extraordinary collection of avant-garde art, archaeological findings and Central Asian modern art housed in a remote city in north-western Uzbekistan. A large proportion of the paintings were brought to Nukus by Igor Savitsky who managed to save them from the clutches of Soviet regime when other avant-garde works were destroyed for not conforming to the socialist realism prescribed by the government.


Tell me more: An unprepossessing edifice resembling an over-sized Tetris block houses a beautiful semi-secret; it is home to the world’s second largest collection of Russian avant-garde art (around 15,000 paintings) as well as one of the largest collections of archaeological objects and contemporary art originating from Central Asia (around 75,000 artifacts). The vast numbers involved mean that only a small proportion of objects are on display at any given time but they are frequently rotated and you can also visit the museum’s warehouse of stored works if you’re thirsting for more.

As you would expect, the museum’s story is a fascinating tale.

The artist Igor Savitsky was intrigued by the remote Karakalpakstan region and – because he realised this isolated backwater was the perfect place to avoid the prying eyes of the government – began to store his growing collection of avant-garde artworks, contemporary paintings by Central Asian artists and regional artifacts in the closed city of Nukus (i.e. one where official authorisation is required to visit or stay). The city’s locked down status provided a degree of protection for the artworks which would have otherwise been destroyed by the Soviet regime for not conforming to their socialist ideas. Furthermore, Savitsky’s excellent relations with influential members of local government and the Karakalpakstan community afforded further security and contributed to the magnificent collection on view today.

That said, the status of the artifacts is still precarious. The New York Times reported in 2011 that the museum was subject to an “official crackdown” which saw museum staff having to store hundreds of fragile canvases on the floor of the one exhibition building allowed to remain open whilst the other building was, and remains, closed.

In short, visit while you can and gawp at the astonishingly bold, inspiring and thought-provoking artworks nestled in this sand-blasted and empty quarter of ever-surprising Uzbekistan.

Ok, you’ve got my attention. How can I visit this museum? Uzbekistan Airlines fly between Nukus and Tashkent and Nukus and Moscow. If you’d rather go by road then shared taxis depart from Tashkent and take 14 hours, eight hours from Samarkand or five hours from Bukhara or two hours from Khiva. There’s also a train station at Nukus with Tashkent 22 hours away by carriage.

Website: http://savitskycollection.org/

Ethiopia – a regal history replete with obelisks, castles and rock-hewn churches

It was the bathroom that stayed with me. The ceiling, bath, sinks (his and hers) and lavatory were all duck-egg blue; the walls and floor made of marble. The lavatory had a thin layer of perspex laid over the seat, presumably to prevent selfie-taking tourists or those caught short from using the facilities.

This was real-life Through The Key Hole – a British game show where you are given access to the inside of a celebrity’s home and then have to guess who lives there from the interior. But this wasn’t the home of Y-lister soap-actor. Oh no, this was Through The Key Hole; the King-of-Kings edition. You see no less than Emperor Haile Selassie himself used to bathe among the bubbles in that bath, cut himself shaving in the mirror and floss between his teeth over those very sinks.

The former palace of Haile Selassie is now the Ethnological Museum of Addis Ababa which has a few interesting pieces on show but everything takes a back seat to nosing about of the Emperor’s rooms. The other vintage star of Addis is ‘Lucy’ or rather a replica of Lucy; a collection of remarkably intact fossilised bones which once formed the skeleton of a female hominid who walked about Ethiopia’s landscape some 3.2 million years ago. Aside from trying to get my head around exactly how long ago that was, I was also astounded at just how small she would have been – and this is coming from a veritable elf.

Of course with Ethiopia being Ethiopia, positively everything is mature. We left the traffic-spangled streets of the modern capital for ancient Axsum, once capital of the Kingdom of Aksum and furnished with some fascinating and ornately-carved obelisks. These were markers of underground burial chambers, some of which still stand whilst others which have fallen to the ground and splintered on impact.

It should be noted that Aksum was and is the home to some big historical hitters; the Queen of Sheba was rumoured to have lived there whilst the star of Dan Brown novels, the Ark of the Covenant, is still meant to be housed in the Chapel of the Covenant. Alas, this isn’t open to the likes of you and me…actually it’s not even open to not the likes of you and me (the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church or the Emperor of Ethiopia during the monarchy are also prevented from entering).

And so to the magnificently named Gondar or, even more magnificently, the ‘Camelot of Africa’. The remains of several royal castles are scattered about the city and when I say ‘castles’ I mean castles in the most traditional sense with curtain walls, turrets, towers and gatehouses. The lush landscapes around each fortress meant you could easily convince yourself you were back in Blighty about to face some marauding invaders over from the continent.

It was time to move on. Lalibela was calling, home of 12th and 13th churches hewn from rock, connected by a labyrinth of tunnels and passages and a hugely important pilgrimage sites for Coptic Christians.

Inside, the churches were as dark and as cosy as the earth’s belly they had been carved from. Sputtering candles did little to alleviate the gloom although, once my eyes grew accustomed to the murk, I could make out worshippers twisted into every conceivable position studying books or at prayer. Priests swaddled in white robes stood by the doors offering a quick smile to the faithful. It was extraordinary way to end a visit to an extraordinary country; a country you can’t help but think of with a deep and unending respect as you would an elder who has accumulated years of wisdom and who, if you’re lucky, might just impart some of it to you.

Venezuela – coincidences, cabin cowardice and Canaima

Try as you might, you cannot simply travel from A to B in this country. You must leave A, circumnavigate C to Z, wander around numbers one to nine, complete several complicated algebraic equations and square root yourself before finally reaching your destination of B.

Naturally, I learned this the hard way. The plan was to fly from Caracas to Ciudad Bolivar where I would meet my guide who would then fly me to Canaima, home of the famed Angel Falls. The plan started to fall apart early on; in the departure lounge of Caracas airport to be exact.

Tinny announcements suggested all flights were delayed. People began to get comfortable and I was invited to join a family who had spread a rug on the floor and were starting to unpack their food. They had clearly done this before. In fact I began to suspect that this was a weekly affair where families nibbled picnics and socialised over delayed aircraft.

After several hours of eating and chatting, people began to disperse as flights were finally called. I boarded a suspiciously vintage aircraft and we took off. So far so…and then we flew directly into the path of an enormous storm.

You should probably know at this point, dear reader, that I’m a nervous flyer. Which is why I’m sure you can understand why I’d assumed we had toppled directly into Dante’s Inferno when the aircraft banked steeply at one point and all I could see out of the window were flames licking the inky blackness. In fact we were passing over an oil field.

We were diverted to the city of Maturin and, on arrival, immediately discovered that this was the airport of choice for all passengers unfortunate enough to have been caught in the tempest. We bedded down for the night with hundreds of others under strip lighting and cold metal chairs – a miserable state of affairs if it wasn’t for the wonderful warmth of my fellow passengers who insisted on looking after me, feeding me and generally making me feel loved in the most wretched of circumstances.

Daybreak saw us taking off again for our intended destination. An uneventful flight led to me dozing off and missing the crucial announcement that we would be diverted yet again and would need to board a bus to Ciudad Bolivar in order to complete the journey. I have never been happier to feel terra firma under my feet and was hopping about in delight when a lady informed me that I still had some way to go and should go to the information desk at this unnammed destination to seek assistance.

By now I was resigned to missing my trip to Canaima altogether. After all, my guide was meant to have collected me from Ciudad Bolivar’s airport the night before and we had no way of contacting each other to meet up. Now I was in another strange metropolis needing to take a bus several hours east.

I approached the information desk and waited for an animated gentlemen speaking German-accented Spanish to finish gesticulating at the lady in front of him. I was tired and hungry and my rudimentary Spanish was suffering as a result. I could just about make out the words “English”, “girl”, and “Cainama”. He stopped talking at the same moment I worked out that I was probably the English girl he was asking about.

I stepped up to the desk and asked if he was meant to collect me from Ciudad Bolivar the night before. He looked astonished. “Yes! You are her! I heard the flight had been diverted but I didn’t know where to, so I sent my driver to find out. He waited for hours at Ciudad Bolivar and then I got a call from my wife saying she was giving birth to twins in Caracas so I am driving there now and thought I would come to this airport and check to see if you had landed here. And you did!”

I still marvel at the chances of meeting the guide in an unnamed city 14 hours after I was meant to arrive elsewhere else entirely. His driver eventually arrived, I then flew to Cainama Airport and spent the next night in a hammock with the ghostly white thread of Angel Falls behind me. As I say, you always get there in the end just not in the way you perhaps envisaged.

Lebanon – A revitilised post-war Beirut, historic ruins, a reticent taxi driver and extraordinary baklava

“I drop you here. Too dangerous to go any further.” We looked at our taxi driver enquiringly. “Al-Qaeda is in souk. But don’t worry, they might not know you are tourists”.

I glanced at my fellow travel companions. We resembled a Nordic tribute band; lashings of blonde hair, ruddy cheeks and sapphire-hued eyes. I suspected he might be offering empty assurances just to get us out of his car.

He made a last effort to remove our backsides from his shredded leather seats. “There is great baklava shop. Very tasty.” It was a cheap, and yet extremely effective shot. We unloaded ourselves onto the pavement burdened by over-stuffed day bags and the slight metallic taste of dread in our mouths, although that could have been dehydration.

We were travelling around Lebanon, by taxi, in a day. If this sounds preposterous then please refer to this blogs strap line. All of us have jobs and very limited holiday time so often resort to drastic measures for weekends away.

Initially the taxi driver had welcomed us assuming, perhaps, that we would want to visit one or two roman ruins, spending a few hours at each one broken by a leisurely lunch, and then back to the hotel. He clearly hadn’t reckoned for a full day of driving at breakneck speeds around the entirety of his country.

We had begun, as one invariably does, in the capital. Beirut really is quite extraordinary and brought to mind an ageing actor with an edgy past. That is to say, you can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore everything that’s happened over the years but the reconstruction work (or, if we’re staying with the actor analogy, excellent plastic surgery) is so well done that you almost believe these streets were never destroyed…almost because the colour of the brickwork is just a little too bright and the lines just a little too smooth. If, however, you stray from downtown, the physical scars etched on the buildings are still very much in evidence.

But this is a city with a revitalised energy. The boutique hotels all have rooftop pools and complicatedly-named DJs, with the young and the beautiful (seemingly synonymous with each other) spilling out onto the streets every Friday night to sample the achingly hip bars which open and close at a frequency akin to the number of times cats seem to want to enter and exit a house when you are furthest away from the door.

I liked it. I also liked Byblos with its pretty waterfront and faded photos of film stars who had once visited pasted across the walls of restaurants and the Roman ruins of Baalbek with the elegant graffiti of 19th century travellers etched in Copperplate Gothic font into the soft stone.

We passed fluttering green and yellow flags denoting Hezbollah strongholds, ancient hills studded with olive groves, armoured vehicles huddled in shady nooks and a spattering of Roman ruins in Tyre.

Now we were in the far north in Tripoli. Home to the souk seemingly infested with Al-Qaeda.

Reader, we survived. Not only did we survive, but we managed to purchase scarves seemingly woven from the night sky itself such was the intensity of the indigo-dyed threads. And, of course, we bought baklava; baklava so flaky, so buttery, so saturated with syrup that it ran down our chins and stuck to everything we brushed past.

We bought the taxi driver a box as a thank you. He thought we were trying to bribe him and said he wouldn’t be able to take us anywhere else. “Not even the airport?”

“Yes, I will be happy to take you there and then you will never ask anything else of me again.”

Algeria – a beautiful capital, roman ruins and Sahara-dwelling one-eyed women

‘The beguiling one-eyed women of Ghardaïa’ had achieved top-billing on our tour schedule and we were, naturally, curious. In fact we had braced ourselves for an intimate dance with ladies who had undergone some terrible ocular accident; rather like those blind masseuses who are meant to manipulate the contours of the body all the better for missing a sense.

Perhaps the truth was even stranger. For you see in this part of Algeria, married Muslim women wear a white haik, or long cloth, over their body and face and expose only one eye at all times. This is achieved by holding the opening of the material vertically over the face leaving just enough of a hole to frame a single ocular entity.

Furthermore, every time they pass an individual who is unknown to them, they turn to face the wall. Photographing the women is expressly forbidden; a rule which reminded me of those people who believe that a fragment of their soul is stolen with every click of a camera’s shutter. It seemed to me these women visually resembled the literal ghosts of a child’s imagination, haunting the narrow streets and then disappearing or pressing themselves into a doorway just as you approach but also adhered to the notion that the modern world was a threatening place ready to steal your identity away.

Ghardaïa itself is a traditional fortified town embedded within the Sahara and constructed very much in the manner of a typical medieval European conurbation with a mosque, rather than a church or cathedral, located at the very centre surrounded with thread-like streets rippling out from the religious heart and enveloped by city walls that, until recently, were closed to strangers every night.

The day we visited delight was in the air; rain had come to the desert. Just as when children rush outside and throw snowballs when the first flakes start to tumble, here they were holding their hands to the sky, letting the water cascade down their arms and faces and splashing about in the fast-pooling puddles. Even though I reside on a rain-lashed rock in the North Sea and often feel as though I am a giant absorbent pad continually soaking up the contents of an incontinent sky, I couldn’t help but feel a frisson of happiness for them.

We had flown south from Algiers. The first day has been spent touring the Kasbah, Ottoman palaces, and admiring the Mediterranean twin of Paris’ Notre-Dame cathedral, the aptly named Notre-Dame d’Afrique as it happens. The city was rather stunning with expansive sea views, Moorish and colonial French architecture scattered across the undulating streets and glorious green spaces framed by swaying palms.

We had also managed to see the Roman ruins of Tipasa, a short trip from the capital. If there’s one thing that the Romans excelled at – bar the engineering that was centuries ahead of its time, advanced social structures, art and cultural legacies and so on – then it had to be their eye for a sea view. The crumbling remains of this city is perched on a clifftop studded with wildflowers and overlooking the azure-stained Mediterranean stretching away to…well their own lands again.

A pleasant breeze whipped about the loose strands of our hair as we enjoyed an alfresco lunch nearby. My travel companion is an avid foodie and is especially knowledgeable when it comes to olive oil, yet here was a variety that had not been tasted before. We drenched our salads in the amber liquid which was most pleasant, even with the slight metallic aftertaste. “Can you tell me about the origins of this oil?” my companion asked the guide. “It has such a complex flavour”. Without missing a beat, the guide replied: “They add kerosene to the oil at tourist restaurants. Makes it last longer”.


Bangladesh – the silent, silvery world of the Sundarbans

It was the shit in the shower that was the proverbial barnacle that sunk the whale. Until that point I had been content with loathing my fellow passenger from afar; his mouth breathing, occasional loud belching, spurious snorting, spreading and general oozing about the desk of the too-small boat that was home for four days.

Laziness? Caught exceptionally short? Revenge? We shall never know but from that moment I fantastised about tripping him up and watching him topple overboard, his flatulence-bloated body exploding like sherbet with the first puncture of the croc’s tooth.

And so, you see, even though one travels too fast really (have a nine to five job and so my time budget is exceptionally poor), sometimes fast really isn’t speedy enough when stuck with such exasperating company.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We were sailing through the Sundarbans National Park, winding our way through thickly forested channels, lit briefly by the wings of tiny kingfishers coloured as though a child had been handed three crayons and asked to fill in the lines; red beak, orange chest and blue back.

When we were still moving down the wider stretches of the river, the aforementioned saltwater crocodiles would bask on the wheat-coloured banks watching us with half-closed lids.

In fact, the feeling of being watched was a theme of the trip.

You see the Sundarban mangrove forest is the home of the largest population of the Royal Bengal Tiger. You hardly ever have the privilege of seeing them but, our guide told us, they most certainly see you. When we headed for shore on a short walk, one armed ranger at the front and another covering our flank, we were told that any stragglers would be picked off.

A few weeks earlier, one man had taken a photograph of his group in front of some foliage. When reviewing his photos on the boat that evening, pinpricks of eye shine glittered from the trees just behind the men with their smiling mouths and upturned eyes. A stalker was watching.

It is well documented that one of the most dangerous jobs on earth is to be a honey collector in this shifting kaleidoscope of a landscape; people are snatched by the jaws of tigers all too frequently. Many individuals wear bells and masks on the back of their heads to avoid being pounced on from behind. Again, the illusion of being observed is all important as it may deter an attack.

I bought some of this honey, delicately scented with notes of fear, which had been poured into an old plastic bottle. It was incredibly viscous, contained floating black detritus resembling insects trapped in amber, and tasted like the contents of my grandmother’s drinks cabinet. I didn’t catch a single cold the winter I had it with my daily breakfast.

But it isn’t the tigers, the honey, the reptiles or even the odious shitter that I remember most about that trip. It was the light.

Bangladesh’s flag has a solid dark green background and a red circle in the centre. It’s one of the only flags I can recall with any clarify because it so clearly reflects the country’s landscape it represents. The green is the mangrove forests whilst the red is the sun. And the sun was always this dark, burning red. There was no morning white, dimming to afternoon gold softening to a dusky sunset pink.

Just dark red like the bloodshot eye of a wounded animal or lifelong drunk. This, in turn, impacted all the other natural colours once expects from the wild. In fact the dangling clot in the sky drained everything of colour and just left a shimmering mercurial hue in its wake. The river banks were silver, the water was silver and the sky was silver, dispensing the need for something so parochial as a horizon.

The result was most unnerving and left you with a unsettled feeling, of things that cannot be explained. I was glad to leave, to rid myself of that feeling that one doesn’t understand or belong at all. And, of course to escape the ghastly traveller. And yet…and yet. The Sundarbans haunted my sleeping hours for far longer than I was actually there. I will be back.