Welcome to my hotel Mr and Mrs Goa!" booms the owner of the Star beach resort, pumping our hands like jack handles. "I am Mr India! Hahaha!" What did we Goas expect in Goa? My blond, Nordic-cheekboned husband Ken is an obvious imposter, no more Indian or Portuguese than he is a space alien.
I'm rugged up in the back of an open top-jeep, riding into the chilly blaze of a South African sunrise so primordially pink it could be earth's first dawn. With Zulu ranger Dumi at the wheel, our group of Kiwis and South Africans is the first out of the gate at Phinda Mountain Lodge. It's a canny plan. In the road ahead three cheetahs loll about like carefree kittens, and there's nobody here but us
It's not every day you see a dragon. Gaping at the beast's snow-tipped spine I stumble over a root on the trail, then lurch back - just in time to stop myself pitching over the edge of a sure-to-be-gruesome drop hundreds of metres to the Yangtze River below.
Fred's got a face like Tuesday's potato mash served up on Wednesday and hands that could bowl prize-winning pumpkins. He's been sharpening tools in his van, in the Coolalinga Shopping Centre car park just outside Darwin, for 'four or five months.' Chisels $2-4. Tin snips $8. Hand guillotine $25. He's whetted metal right round Australia four or five times.
Sitting cross-legged on the warm dining room floor, a gaggle of preschoolers in chick-yellow suits 'helps' their grandmothers make rice-and-veggie bibimbap for lunch. It's exuberant chaos. The tots squeeze eggs til they spurt yolk, chanting, 'Grandma I love you, have good health.'
"Please leave your world here" says the sign in the cool marble foyer. I've already traded my banned leather shoes for a pair of rubber-soled straw sandals at the palace door. Alcohol, meat, white flour, caffeine, sugar - no chocolate! - TV and other unhealthy modern-world indulgences are also on the 'no-go' list.
As a dedicated train fan (not of the 'Is that a DX or DFT locomotive' kind) I'm near-ecstatic even before we're out of the predictably graffiti-ed rail yards. The robin's egg blue carriages are new enough to be warm and comfortable but vintage enough to make me feel as if I've stepped a satisfying pace back in time.