There aren’t many people who would travel 7,000 miles to India to have dental treatment — and on their own — but that’s exactly what 74-year-old Dublin-based Carmel Murray has done on three occasions.
The first time, in 2004, she got the brainwave to divert there after attending her niece’s wedding in Ceylon. She was suffering from gum disease and had researched a doctor from whom she could get treatment at a heavily reduced cost to Irish quotes.
Whatever about the challenge of getting dental treatment, Carmel wasn’t prepared for the culture shock: “When I landed in Cochin I hated it the first time with all the crowds and the traffic. I saw all these pairs of eyes — thousands of people.
"It took me a full week and then I got used to the many, many people and the dirt on the streets. It didn’t put me off.
"I said ‘oh God I have to come back here again’. It’s just fascinating – the culture, the cuisine, everything about it; it’s just another world. I just wanted to go back and now I want to go back and go back and go back.”
That she has done: As a retirement present to herself in 2008 the former senior civil servant at the age of 65 spent two months there, again travelling solo. Last January she completed a month-long stint and plans to go again in 2018, taking in China as well, although her dental work is complete.
Carmel has always been fascinated with travel and in fact once turned down a marriage proposal because of her wanderlust. “I had a gorgeous boyfriend and if I had any regrets at all it’s him. He wanted me to marry him at 24 and I said ‘Are you mad? I want to see the world!’
“Geography was my favourite subject in school. I used to look at the world map and want to go here and there. And I was horrified when he asked me to marry him. I said ‘No, come back when I’m 30’, but of course he went off and married someone else. I think he’s the only one I would have married anyway.”
Carmel admits to being extremely single-minded, as well as being single: “I love men, don’t get me wrong, but marriage would be too claustrophobic for me. I wouldn’t like having to ask permission to do this and that. I still have loads of male friends — that’s the way I want it.”
And she remained faithful to her first love, travel: “I have been around the world twice. I’ve been to North America — east and west; South America, Australia, New Zealand, India, Nepal and of course every country in Europe. All since my 20s — I spent all my money on holidays.”
She also invites other cultural influences into her home by hosting language students in her three-bedroom apartment, giving them bed, breakfast and dinner while also earning some extra money in the process. “I have students here all year round. I have never ever lived on my own. I’ve always had somebody in my life — foreign students coming in.”
Although she says she feels only 40 in her head, Carmel agrees the novelty of people coming and going is good for healthy ageing.
“I could write a book now about all the personalities, the different kind of people I’ve met. It keeps me young. I have no control over my body getting old. Apart from me getting Alzheimer’s or dementia, I have every control over keeping my mind young and I do think very young. I’m not going to get into a rut or think any other way than young.”
When she realised that she needed to get with the programme, literally, regarding computers, or else “be left behind” she did two courses with Age Action. The second, completed in December before her month in India, enhanced her experience of travel.
“The course was fantastic. I learnt to use the iPad and smartphone and I found out about using an Indian sim card because the first two times I was there I’d ring family and I’d have a €400 bill. So in January, I made a few calls every day to Ireland and it only cost €35 for the whole month. And I was able to do Facetime and talk to my sister on the iPad every night. I was able to keep in touch as if I was in Dublin. “
Carmel stresses the importance of remaining sociable as we age. “I find that the people who’ve got really old don’t engage with other people. I think it’s very important for older people to get out. If you’re at home talking to the wall that’s not very exciting. It would put years on me anyway.”
n Carmel took part in the launch of the Healthy and Positive Ageing for All Strategy recently, which focuses on a holistic and ‘whole-of-government’ approach to changing attitudes towards ageing in Ireland, with the voices of older people as a core element. You can find out more at http://bit.ly/2svKmjZ