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Updated: May 19, 2013 19:45 IST

Living out of a suitcase

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Peter and Carole Cox. Photo: M. Vedhan
The Hindu
Peter and Carole Cox. Photo: M. Vedhan

Peter and Carole Cox have visited 45 countries, and are still on the move

Forty five countries since 1997! Peter and Carole Cox love to travel. So do many of us. But then they have been travelling, with just short breaks, for the past 15 years.

I meet the English couple when I board a train from Nagercoil to Chennai. It is not often that one encounters foreigners on this route. When I enter the compartment, they are already well settled and busy with their laptops, only looking up from time to time to reply pleasantly to a little girl who seems fascinated with them. We get talking and I realise I have a story. “Some of the places we have just touched, we did not stop there,” explains Peter. He starts listing the countries and then quietly suggests “we will write it down for you”. The sheet reads like a page out of a geography book. What makes their story remarkable is that they are not young — their card has the legend “old age travellers”.

“We just celebrated Carole’s 70th birthday and I’m four years younger,” says Peter.

This is their second holiday in India. “Our previous visit was to the North. We are now exploring South India. We are off to Madurai, Rameswaram and Tiruchi.” “You must go to Thanjavur,” I urge thrusting my favourite heritage destination on them. A fortnight later they call up in Chennai. “Thanjavur was great,” they tell me and I feel Chola-proud.

Carole and Peter have their family back home in England — their only son, his wife and their three young grandchildren. And Carole’s mother. “We will see them soon after a whole year. They are used to us going in and out of their lives.”

When Peter retired from the navy, the couple set up an insurance business. In 1997, they decided to wind it up and began to do a little bit of travelling, “to see the world,” having put aside a nice nest egg. “We didn’t mean to do so much,” they laugh. “And have so many long holidays. We are living the dream and have circumnavigated the globe three times.”

Their memorable journeys include one on a container ship (“six weeks from England to India and back”) and a 1,000 km self-driven trip across the Australian desert (“We saw just one other vehicle throughout”). Journeys are triggered in the most unexpected ways. “There was a young Spanish-speaking couple sharing the dinner table with us in the Chilean town of San Pedro de Atacama. They suggested this five-day voyage by ship to Patagonia. It turned out to be out of the world. The San Rafael glacier was beautiful, we travelled through islands and saw dolphins, whales and penguins on the way. The food was excellent and to top it all, it was Christmas,” their eyes light up at the memory and they immediately look ten years younger.

The Coxs are always on the look out for unusual places to visit and unusual ways to get there. They undertook a ten-day train journey from London to Beijing. “It reminded me of the book The Inn of the Sixth Happiness,” says Carole. The film starred Ingrid Bergman, he chimes in. “It was a wonderful journey — we read, played cards, chatted with our fellow passengers and even cleaned the train windows. The days passed by gently… it was so relaxing…”

Carole attributes her love for travel to the fact that she read a lot as a child. “I formed a special connection with India as my father was in India during World War II, in the Royal Air Force. He would show me photos and tell me stories; he always said “chai and jaldi jaldi”, she laughs.

“I joined the navy after school partly in order to visit various places,” adds Peter. “Our generation did not have the opportunity to travel much.” “Unless you were hippies or very rich,” she pipes in. “The important elements are we both want to travel, enjoy good health, have the funds and a spirit of adventure. Now we are going back to England and will be off to Spain in a caravan.”

“Lots of people must want to do this but I think they are afraid,” says Peter. “To us travel is an addiction. We can’t imagine living any other way”.

The Coxs maintain accounts meticulously on their trips. “We make sure credit cards are not being abused. The Internet is so useful to book tickets, hotel accommodation and keep in touch.”

Wonder what Marco Polo did? “Yes,” they chuckle, “we do agree but then the Internet takes a bit adventure out of it all.”

“We have never felt unsafe anywhere. We don’t carry much money and I never wear any jewellery,” points out Carole. North India is very different from the South, feel the couple.“In Thanjavur the temple is awesome but apart from that there isn’t anything else to see. The North is more geared to tourism. In Jaisalmer, you can just sit in the fort, have a cup of the tea and watch the world go by.”

As for the flip side, “What is alien to us is how people litter the places in India. In Rameswaram, it was really bad. In Mamallapuram, it’s all those plastic bags,” sighs Carole.

Now back in England, the couple has decided to take shorter trips. Carole wants to write a book “before memories begin to fail.” “I have a dozen titles, I just have to write it,” she says.

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