It was my final day here in Taiwan, it was my final day of 4 months of exploring really.... Everything now was part of the journey home. I rose early. I needed to ensure all my soggy gear from yesterday's scooter ride was bone dry before packing it down. This included the tent that I'd laid out on the dorm floor. I spent half an hour packing as efficiently as possible, ensuring my hand baggage contained no sharp, poisonous, dangerous or explosive items.... It did weigh almost 8kg, but I have a good 'swing it on to the shoulder as if it's only 5kg' technique whilst chatting to check in staff. With the extra bodyboarding fins and homemade jungle stompers I was carrying an extra couple of kilos, so my main pack weighed 16kg (ish).
As I checked out the best way of getting from Taipei Bridge to Taoyuan International Airport I couldn't believe my luck. Whilst I'd been motorcycling around Taiwan the direct line from Taipei Main Station to Taoyuan International had opened and was now in force! And get this.... They were dishing out 5,000 free tickets each and every day for a fortnight! Tremendous. This route would only take around 45 minutes, compared to almost an hour and twenty minutes with a few line changes or an hour and a half on the train and then the bus.... I'd gotten lucky... Again!
As my train pulled in to Taipei Main Station I followed the well hidden sign posts to the newly opened line.... After 10 minutes signs were no longer required... There was a line of people that disappeared out of sight... Wow.... Hmmmmmmm. I joined the slow but steadily moving line, after 15 minutes I began to wonder how long this line actually was. I hadn't factored in an exceptionally long delay for estimated time of arrival at the airport. A local chap who had wandered the length of the ticket line to assess the waiting time returned with bad news. Anywhere between twenty and thirty minutes he reckoned.... Then there was the 40 minute train journey. Having assessed the time difference between the bus journey (which ran from directly outside) against queuing plus the train journey time I decided to dip out and grab a bus ticket...... After purchasing the ticket I then joined all the other people who had the same idea in a line waiting for the bus.... Ha ha!!! It all turned out to be much of a muchness in the end.
Air Asia took off and landed on time a little over four hours later, delivering me to KL at around 9pm.
I had a airport lounge pass from a Gold American Express card that I'd signed up to before heading off on my travels. It was with this in mind that I'd signed up this credit card. And with my flight back to London leaving tomorrow morning at 8am this was pay off time.... The pass stated I was limited to 3 hour lounge access.... But by 2am I knew I was in for as long as I wanted, so I requested a towel so as I could take a 'wake up' shower. This would give me a little freshener and allow me to continue working on my laptop.
A notification appeared on my iPhone.....
'Your Malaysia Airlines flight scheduled for 8.00am has been delayed by 3.5 hours.'
Bum and arse!!! Almost 16 hours in an airport is a tad too long. Having said that this flight only cost me £211.00.... I couldn't really feel disgruntled. By 7am there was still no sign of my flight on the announcement board. I thought it time to make an enquiry.... I was informed that I was in the wrong terminal for Malaysia Airlines.... Ahhhhh of course I was.... This was becoming standard practice for me..... I bought the ticket for the train which would take me to the correct terminal and headed to check in. There was a long line.... I sat and waited patiently for it to go down. The baggage scales didn't seem to reset as I lowered my pack on to the weighing plate. 'You realise you only booked 20kg Sir.' said the lady. I nodded and told her my bag was a little over 16kg. She informed me that the scales were reading 38kg. I leant forward and lifted my pack with an outstretched arm and smiled. I assured her I wasn't strong enought to lift 38kg with so little effort, and that my backpack would need to contain lead pipes or bars of gold to fit 38kg of weight in to it. Having carefully considered the situation she agreed with me.... She asked me to move it across to the other scales. 16.5kg. Job done. In another couple of hours I'd be on a 14 hour flight back to London.
I hadn't slept in over 24 hours.... And I wanted to beat the jet lag, so my plan was to sleep 6 hours as soon as we took off. That would give me 8 hours awake before landing in Heathrow at 6pm. As the plane zipped along the runway on the outskirts of Taipei I found myself saying goodbye to Taiwan and yet another set of amazing experiences, adventures and new friends made over the past 4 months..... Just before touching down right on time my head lolled forward in to an exhausted, dribbling slump.... Bump.... We've landed..... Great.... 39 seconds of sleep.
Stu and his partner in lurve Ana met me outside a busy central London pub. It was just gone 8pm. Hunger filled the air, we headed off for food.... It was great to catch up, and I seemed to have an incredible amount of energy considering by the time I crashed out on Stu's sofa I'd been awake for a total of 43 hours!
The next morning I headed up to my old haunt of Banbury to stay with two more best friends Steve & Kesh. On numerous occasions throughout the year these wonderful human beings put me up in their spare room whilst I explore my favourite Oxfordshire fishing haunts and catch up with old friends. This is home from home for me. I love you both dearly, and thank you both so much for taking care of me each year.
That afternoon I took the train straight up to Birmingham to meet Mr Kevin Murray (yet another besty, I'm a lucky guy eh?!) who'd flown over from the Isle of Man. Before I'd departed on my travels I bought us tickets to watch Elbow live at the Birmingham O2. That night was tremendous. Great company and yet another incredible performance by Guy Garvey and his crew.....
A lot happened over those two weeks in the UK. More best friend catch ups with Carl and Kate-Anne and their little Baby Ezra in Machen, Wales,
With a little mountain biking thrown in around the surrounding woods and hills, then a little more biking and fun in Abergavveny.......
There was lots more fishing around Oxford in the super cold weather....
And another auction bought Volkswagen Up (Thanks to Mr Stephen Woolley, long term friend and car obtainer for his annual assistance) coming back to the Isle of Man with me. With my wheels sorted it was time to head back to the Isle of Man.
It's always great to get back to Britain, to catch up and spend time with all my lovely friends and family. I had gotten my brother to leave a key for my parents house, so when I arrived from the ferry at 6.30am I could sneak in like a stealthy ninja and surprise them when they awoke.
It worked a treat! No heart attacks, just smiles and hugs!
Later that day a cliff top walk.... Just to check nothing had changed....
A few days later I posted on my Yoga Facebook Page, www.facebook.com/marksyogasessions that there would be a class on Monday and was blown away when 25 wannabe yogis showed up, many devotees from last years sessions along with many new members. Now that's what I call a warm welcome back to this pretty little windswept rock sat in the middle of the Irish Sea
So here I am. Sat in my home office on the outskirts of a little village called Ballasalla. My three weekly yoga sessions are up and running, I'm out mountain biking a couple of times each week, I'm playing football on Tuesday evenings and pub quizzing on Wednesday evenings.... There's a lot of unforced routine here that I'm no longer accustomed to. But it doesn't take long. Tomorrow I'm on an engagement shoot with a lovely couple, I have work for the IOM Government lined up along with a series of weddings and other little commissions. The most exciting development in recent weeks has been a new business relationship and friendship with Kelly and Jake from Photocentric, a US based photography tour company. We met in the jungle in Sumatra (I know, it's sounds crazy) and once we got chatting and they worked out how wonderful I was they asked me to come onboard, to join them as a photography mentor on this years planned trips to Indonesia, France, Greece and Cambodia (there'll be more)..... Now who was I to say no? So back to Indonesia for all of July 2017, tought times!
I have a feeling this year is going to hold lots more smiles, laughter, adventures and fun..... Here's to you all managing some of your very own local or far flung adventures this year. Thanks for following my journey..... It's always nice to know that the folks you care about are also watching out for you wherever, whatever the physical distance.
Love to you all!
Until next time!
PS. Thanks to all the wonderful folks who enhanced my travels with their fine company! In order of meeting... Yael (again!), Laura & Judith, George, Vincent and the Tioman Barat crew, Gilles, Marjo, Jippe, Steph, Matt & Ben, Paul, Spencer, Ildiko, Ricky, Peter, Bonzai, Franky, Danny, Brian, Kembar, Tensen, Jake & Kelly and Amy along with all the folks who I shared a beer with, a meal with or literally a few previous hours here or there. A right worldly bunch. Thank you all so much. Great people, great hearts, big adventures. I hope to see you all again on this journey of life and travel. Keep enjoying!