Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series was my first exposure to the transporting power of a place. As a child, I fell in love with George’s beloved Kirrin Island with its old castle and shipwrecked treasure. The island, surrounded by clear, blue waters, left Julian, Dick, Anne, the dog Timmy—and me—speechless. I stayed with the five explorers as they swam in the ocean, snooped around dark caves, and picnicked on ham sandwiches and ginger beer. I couldn’t get enough of their adventures and I remember my parents having to pry the books from me when I was nine and hide them to get any work done. (Of course, it was only a matter of time till I tracked them down again.)
Back then, I lived in my head a lot. There were detailed monologues, fights against bad guys, dramatic exits, and best of all, long drawn-out adventures, just like those the five had on Kirrin Island. More often than not, it was books like the Famous Five series that sparked off these daydreams. And even though they were imaginary, my heart would speed up and my stomach flutter, when I was off on these make-believe adventures.
I’ve encountered more of those heart-thumps and stomach-flutters off late, only this time they aren’t part of a day dream. A few months ago, I spent a few days in Lucknow, meandering through one of its oldest markets and discovering its magnificent culinary markers. Each time I think of the trip, I feel my gut gleefully come alive. It was a weekend of eat-sleep-eat, where I learnt to carefully ration out portions of my stomach so that I could maximise all that was on offer. As luck would have it, I made new friends who agreed to skip the designated afternoon nap-time—because who needs naps when you can have adventures—for a post-lunch snack ofgalouti kebabs, chai, and Lucknow-style bhel. The food was stellar but it was the newness of it all—the friends, the city, its culture—that added spoonfuls of magic to my experience. I relive that thrill each time I think of Lucknow and it’s a wonderful pick-me-up.
I wasn’t always so ready for adventure. A few years ago, when I was in college, I couldn’t make up my mind about going on a stargazing trip with my Astronomy class. I was excited about seeing clusters of glittery stars but also intimidated about not knowing enough about them. My classmates were space geeks who frequently discussed concepts that I couldn’t wrap my head around, and I found myself wondering if I’d be able to keep up. Thankfully, I got on that bus. That night, I saw Jupiter’s four moons, a greyish mist that I was told was the arm of the Milky Way, and Orion’s red star Betelgeuse that will one day—hundreds of years from now—become a supernova.
With every trip I’ve taken since, big and small, my boundaries have thawed. Even now, years since that stargazing trip, travel still pushes me to open myself up to new experiences that I don’t have the confidence to face. Only last month, I found myself clambering over rocks on a trek in the Western Ghats of Khandala, about two hours from Mumbai. It was one of the most challenging things I’ve done, and I spent most of the climb convinced that this would be my last trek. What I hadn’t anticipated was the pride that comes from powering through a difficult experience. Now, I can’t wait to do it again.
I still feel nervous about some new experiences (diving, paragliding, and hiking in the Himalayas for instance) but I realise now that those heart-thumps and stomach-flutters I feel before a trip are telltale signs of the adventure that awaits me. Perhaps one day, I’ll make it to Kirrin—there’s a castle called Corfe in England that many say is the inspiration behind George’s treasured island.
Fabiola Monteiro was formerly a member of National Geographic Traveller India's digital team. Since then, her words have featured in The Hindu, Mint Lounge, Roads & Kingdoms, The Goya Journal, and Condé Nast Traveller India. She tweets as @thefabmonteiro and is on Instagram @fabiolamonteiro.