"If one more person suggests I get a boat, I'll cry (again)."
That was the sharp retort from fellow journalist Sarah Barrell when I unhelpfully suggested my idea for a route home from Cochin, India, where she was on assignment for these pages last week. (I responded with a quick deadline for her review of The Park Hotel, Kerala, well, best to keep her occupied.)
Sarah, like everyone who has been stranded by the ash cloud, is desperate to get home. But how? She discussed the alternatives to flying. By rail, she said, she should be able to travel between India and London "now that Bam, in southern Iran, has recovered from the 2003 earthquake, restoring the missing link in a rail line traversing India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey – except rail services across the India-Pakistan border are currently suspended".
By sea, she wasn't so sure that installing a small blonde woman on a container ship out of India's most frenetic port would be hassle free. "But hey, I'm game, (not something I'll say out loud aboard)," she ventured. "Bye Bye to Bombay, hello Arabian sea, then into the Red Sea, along the Suez Canal and to Egypt, then Malta and, well, I guess I could walk from there."
What splendid adventures these routes suggest. Indeed, Sarah's thoughts on her predicament don't just amuse they also reveal one of the very few positive side effects of the cessation of flights – we've been travelling properly. We've taken in sights that we would normally zoom over at 500mph in a plane and not give a second thought to in our quest to reach our destination. By squeezing every available minute out of the stay rather than the journey, have we been missing the whole point of travel?
A marathon drive from the Algarve last weekend, after my flight home was cancelled, took me through the Spanish Basque country, an area I've wanted to see for some time but have never quite got around to visiting. Though I only witnessed the landscape through bleary eyes, after snatching just a few hours sleep at a motel, I at least got a sense of place as we wound down through the Basque Mountains to the coast. What's more, our route took us tantalisingly close to San Sebastian, a city that has long been on my wish list. Having come so close, the desire to visit is stronger than ever.
Another friend, stranded in Venice, had the bright idea of boarding a cruise ship, after learning that P&O's newest vessel, Azura, was due to dock. Her journey home will be slow but it will also actively encourage her to explore a little further, calling in at Korcula, back in Croatia, and Gibraltar, before heading to Southampton.
If you're one of the many thousands of weary travellers pining for home, you may disagree that to travel, hopefully, is a better thing than to arrive. But give it a few weeks and you might find that your inadvertent wanderings have encouraged a new spirit of adventure and thrown up a few journeys you may never have considered before.
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