About this time every year, people who live in the coldest parts of the northern hemisphere, who are already getting weary of the chilly weather, are starting to consider sunny escapes and retreating to warmer climates for some winter sun – if they haven’t escaped already.
Here in Cambodia, high season has already kicked in and many of the people we’re meeting and the accents we’re hearing in the streets of Siem Reap are European, particularly northern European.
For many travellers, Cambodia is part of a larger trip that might also take in Vietnam or Laos, and usually Thailand, with a spot of shopping in Bangkok and, at the end, the obligatory few days basking in the sun at a Thai beach resort. And who can blame them.
Northern Europeans spend much of their winters in darkness, while in the UK things can get dismally grey and gloomy. Fog, sleet and snow are winter constants.
So, after they’ve enjoyed their Christmas markets and the festive season, and got in some skiing or snowboarding, unless the cold is a novelty as it was for us all those years living in sizzling Dubai (which is why we loved our first full winter in Europe so much), Europeans are beginning to plan their sunny escapes in search of some winter sun.
The only European countries to visit in winter are those on the coast on the sunny Mediterranean – Spain, Southern France, Southern Italy, and so on – places that still get cold after the sun goes down but if you can find a sheltered spot you’ll be warm enough to lie in the sun by day.
Which explains why islands such as Mallorca, Crete and Cyprus, where we’ve worn t-shirts in winter in the middle of the day, are popular with people seeking little more than some therapeutic time sitting in the sunshine.
I am fond of Mallorca, where the photo above was taken, and I am a big fan of the island in winter, when the clarity of light is just magic and the sea sparkles diamonds. Though I’d prefer to be going hiking in Mallorca’s mountains or eating my way through the restaurants in the Old Town of Palma than lying on the beach with goose bumps.
But then I was born in sunny Australia, we moved to the blistering United Arab Emirates in the late 90s, and now we’re living in tropical Cambodia. We’ve spent most of our lives living under the rays of that big ball of fire in the sky.
I would like to know what that impulse for sunny escapes, getaways to warm climes, feels like, to pin a picture of a tropical island on your work cork-board or the fridge in your kitchen at home – or Pinterest – and gaze at it longingly day after day, yearning to be in that frame.
I’d like to remember what it feels like to expose my skin to the sun for the first time after months beneath woolly jumpers and overcoats and feel the heat warm that poor body, weary from trembling its way through winter.
Or would I? Perhaps not. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be living in South East Asia.
I’ll leave you with this link to the photographer Ansel Adam‘s reflections on ‘apricity’, the subtle warmth of the winter sun.