The grand shorefront properties are coming thick and fast, and my guide, Leslie, is doing her best to keep up. “That’s the house that a guy called Jim Sullivan was so attached to. He had his wife killed by a hitman before she could get it in the divorce,” she says. “He then went on the run for four years.”
Within half an hour of our leaving the marina at La Paz, sea turtles are swimming alongside our little boat. They’re followed shortly afterwards by dolphins, arcing over our wake, and frigate birds wheeling overhead. Then it’s the turn of a mobula ray — nicknamed the “flying ray” — which leaps into the air near our bow and performs an elegant spin.
Despite the title, Channel 4’s Raj-era drama Indian Summers is filmed at the top of Penang Hill, in Malaysia. Here, among the butterflies, mosses and ferns, are the bungalows where colonialists came to escape the fierce heat of George Town below. When Paul Rutman, the series writer and creator, first saw these houses, he realised that they replicated what had been in his imagination all along: from the cottage with the white picket fence, where Dougie and Sarah live, to the old Crag hotel, transformed for the show into the Royal Simla Club, presided over by Julie Walters.
On the wind-scorched plateau the shepherds of Lesotho stand around like alien Star Wars characters, absolutely still as if they’ve been waiting here, swathed in their brown blankets, wearing their green or white gumboots and woolly balaclavas, for ever. One of them raises his arm in a dignified salute, then another.
My first two experiences of cycling in Vietnam could not have been more different.
On a sultry evening in Hanoi, I hopped on a trishaw — a tricycle with a chair for a passenger at the front, dating from the French colonial period — for a tour of the old quarter. We headed off towards a crossroads, and straight into a manic stream of motor scooters, paying no heed to the traffic lights. The traffic must have parted, since I was alive when I reopened my eyes, but nerves were frayed.
Your pony is very placid today,” said Natasha, the riding instructor, swivelling around at her waist like a Transformers figurine. Together we rode down trails through lush vegetation — soft fennel leaves, yucca plants, wild papaya, Mexican peppers. I leant out for an allspice leaf and crushed it between my fingers. Soon we were on the beach, with its glittering pink sand.
Whatever Rob was doing to me, I wanted it to last for ever. As he adjusted my limbs and circled his fingers in the centre of my palms, he seemed to have at least four hands, all of which were doing something sublime to some part of my reclining body. I could hear the Pacific waves crashing below, feel the sun on my limbs. A faint and delicious breeze played across my skin.
I’m in a supermarket in paradise. A woman is picking up a pint of milk, but she’s doing so while wearing a magnificent crown of fresh flowers. A man wanders in to buy some beers, his brown legs and arms circled with dramatic geometric tattoos.
There is a white light within you.” There certainly is. I am with my flame-haired yoga teacher, Meryl, on top of a mountain — the Mountain of the King. The last thing we see before we close our eyes to meditate is a sturdy black rhino crashing through the bush below. Overhead, a crowned eagle sweeps into the immense orange sunset above the Phinda Private Game Reserve.
It is mango time when I visit Malawi. Even the goats that wander the red-dust roads have the bright flesh of mangoes dangling from their mouths. The barefoot children are also scrumping for fruit, between the huts of the scrawny villages. Their mouths are smeared orange as they scamper out to shout hello to our car.
Uruguay is not on every traveller’s list, partly because many are hazy about where it might be — in South America, but where exactly? And what is
it about the place that could have prompted Martin Amis and his wife to leave England for a life by the beach there?
On Stockholm’s trendy southern island, Sodermalm, haughty seagulls strut through the square, past the beautiful people eating at Urban Deli and Roxy in the long, warm eving. We choose Roxy, finding ourselves beside Jodie Foster, who is eating alone.
In a hot tub overlooking a sunny tarn where a little wooden rowing boat lolled by the jetty, I thought how much nicer it is to be an adult than a child. The last time I visited the Lake District, it was hell. This time, it was heaven.
They say that no one who goes to Antarctica returns the same. Certainly a cruise there is like leaving the planet. There might be an ice peak that looks like the Alps, or a glacier reminiscent of Alaska, but essentially this is different from anything we know. Unlike the Arctic, it has never had an indigenous people. With a land mass one and a half times that of the US, this is ice and snow on a scale which defies the imagination.
Prone on my massage bed, I see a monitor lizard stomping up the road. It’s at least 5ft long, tongue flaring, shoulders gangster tough — a thuggish reptile, snarling a reminder that Pangkor Laut Resort is no tepid paradise.
The man in the other boat flaps his hands behind his ears and points downriver. “Elephant,” whispers our guide, with a jubilant grin, and swivels us into a sharp midstream U-turn. Minutes later, hearts trumpeting, we meet our pygmy jumbo, less than 7ft tall and twitching his shrunken trunk right beside the river bank.
Let’s go to Vienna. I want to go to a ball.” It was the crazed suggestion of a wild moment — but, once uttered, the idea wouldn’t stop twirling through my mind. The only ball I’d attended was back in my twenties, and involved rock bands and mud. I wanted to experience the old-time magic of long gowns and grand entrances, of finely dressed men and women spinning around and around. Literature is laced with them, from Pride and Prejudice to War and Peace — pinch-waisted occasions where people hold their partners close and feel the way they move. The formality makes all that repressed lust even more interesting.
We cast off from Burwick in a little former lifeboat, only five of us aboard. As we slid across Orkney’s silver-blue sea towards a flotilla of rocky skerries, a gull’s white belly flashed in the water. The seagull swung away from our boat and dipped a wing in the waves, as though to cool itself. All thoughts of the city we’d travelled from, the world of work and everyday stresses, washed away with it. Our little vessel ploughed on, furrowing the water with foam.
The redoubtable Diane McTurk is nearly 80. A former press officer at the Savoy, she has a cut-glass accent, a dagger-sharp armoury of stories and a penchant for giant otters. Today, Diane is just one of the galaxy of exotic creatures that inhabit back-country Guyana, South America’s steamiest wild frontier.
I have heard there is still black magic in the Seychelles — “We call it grigri,” intones the waitress with the tight Afro curls, as I dissect my red snapper on the island of Mahé. She stares into the middle distance and shifts her weight from foot to foot. Behind her, waves lap on buxom granite boulders. “I have only heard this, of course,” she insists, adjusting her blue skirt and tugging uneasily on her T-shirt.