GLOBETROTTER

Travels, pirates, races, kidnaps and more travels

Somewhere over the ocean, where Amelia Earhardt went astray way back yonder, I found myself wondering where this story should begin. I know where it will end. We will arrive at Tullamarine International Airport in Melbourne and the new Formula 1 season will get under way.

I am hurtling along at 900kph at 33,000ft and the plane (I try not travel at such speeds without the plane) is somewhere up in the ether over the Pacific Ocean. It was Monday when I left Los Angeles and it will be Wednesday by the time I get to Melbourne and Tuesday will be a day in my life which never happened. I guess it makes up for the time a few years back when I did two November 11ths flying the other way across the Pacific.

I love flying. It is a stress-free zone. There are no phones, no e-mails and the only fear is that I will not finish the article before the battery of the computer runs out. There is nothing but the gentle hum of the jet and the muffled snores of the man in 48A. It could be dawn or dusk. It really does not matter. My watch says it is one o'clock in the morning Melbourne time and that means that I should be landing in about eight hours. A walk in the park.

But where does the story begin? By the time I get to Tullamarine I will have done more travelling in a few days than Christopher Columbus managed in a lifetime, dealing with something that I have decided to call "a clashing ticket". Being a Grand Prix reporter means that one books lots of airline tickets and once in a while a trip accidentally merges into another. This year, as a preparation for the new season, I decided to do something very different and I went on holiday. I had some money in the bank and decided to use it unwisely and take myself and my nearest and dearest to the Caribbean on a cruise ship.

"That's for old folks!" said an F1 pal of mine when I told him, but it turned out not to be that bad. It being school holidays, there were people of all ages on the ship and my son was able to sit blushingly in the jacuzzi while his dad chatted up 10 year olds for him. The nicest thing on the cruise (apart from little Julie from Connecticut) was that one does not have to do anything. The cruise ships of today have jogging tracks, gyms and workout rooms but most of the working out I saw involved lifting cutlery. There were quaint old cruising traditions (just think "Titanic" without the sticky ending) while these were mixed with the startling technology which allowed me to communicate with the world, without wires, from a table in the bar, exchanging messages and writing articles while sipping a Margherita or a Strawberry Daquiri and humming Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World". I wanted to relax and so I popped into the F1 world once a day and spent the rest of the time having a jolly time in the old pirate ports of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and the Antilles. Not a bad life all in all.

I had plenty of time to read the endless amounts of in-stateroom literature and there, amid the adverts for tanzanite (I thought that was the planet Dr Spock came from) and overpriced watches (advertised by Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya) I discovered some fascinating things about Dodge's rumoured Formula 1 programme.

Yes, folks, it already exists! There was in one of the glossy books a short promo for a racing school which offered "two hours behind the wheel of a Formula One Dodge race car" with "motor racing champion Justin Bell". This seemed to stretch the imagination a little on two counts. And the illustration was far from being convincing as it was a blurred photograph of a model of a Ferrari F1 car.

That was about it as regards motor racing activity in the Caribbean, which I feel is decidedly odd given that Formula 1 and the sunny islands should have a natural affinity. Back in the 1950s and 1960s that was the case with the glamorous Nassau Speed Weeks, attended by the big stars of the day from Europe and America. They raced on quaintly-named local airfields such as Windsor Field and Oakes Field and between the races they went to cocktail parties, lay on the beaches and, no doubt, fraternized with some of the local lasses.

The other major racing event in the Caribbean was back in the 1950s on the streets of Havana, Cuba, where Grand Prix cars ran up and down the famous waterfront Malecon Avenue. It must have been great. The Cuban event also produced one of the most bizarre motor racing stories when multiple World Champion Juan-Manuel Fangio was kidnapped by local guerillas (led by one Fidel Castro) to draw attention to their revolutionary struggle to overthrow the government of Fulgencio Batista. The race went on without Fangio (who was later released, saying that his captors had been very nice and polite). The event attracted a crowd of 200,000 and, alas, six were killed when a local driver crashed into the crowd.

After Castro came to power he dabbled with the decadent racers for a year or two, running races on the inaptly-named Camp Freedom military airfield, before the regime lost interest. Many Cuban refugees fled the country and settled in Florida and played an important role in the establishment of races in Miami in the 1980s and later the construction of the Homestead track.

The Nassau Speed Week died out too when the old landing craft used to transport the cars to and from the United States was impounded by customs officials.

In recent years there have been attempts to revive the Nassau Speed Week and there have been races on the Isla Grande Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Let us hope that we get more of the same in the future because if given the choice I would definitely prefer to go racing in the Caribbean rather than in India, Turkey, Malaysia and such places.

Motor racing has taken me to many places in the world over the last 22 years but never to the Caribbean and I had a great time. A change, so they say, is as good as a rest.

Which brings me back to where I was trying to start. Motor racing has taken me to a lot of places in the last 72 hours. The plan, you see, was to get off the cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and fly home to Paris, empty the suitcase, fill it with new clothes and then fly off to Australia, via Singapore or Dubai. The problem was that I did not pay attention to the tickets and so from Florida, I flew to New York and from New York to Paris. When I got there I looked at tickets to Melbourne and discovered that the plane was not going east but rather west with the night. And so I went from Paris to London to Los Angeles and from there to Melbourne.

And now, sitting here, in a complete time warp, I look forward to the new F1 season.

What more could a Globetrotter wish for?

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