Due to popular demand… Good Lord, what do I sound like?
So, I’m back and some how I got back exactly six months ago. My travels are merely a figment of my imagination but I still talk about them fondly and slip them into conversation… ‘this one time, in Bolivia’ (in American Pie Band Camp voice), though every time I do I edge closer to being culled by my ‘pretending to look interested’ friend, from Facebook. Surprisingly I don’t feel exhausted about taking about my Latin American experiences as actually the majority of my friends have avoided bombarding me with questions as they all think I’ve been interrogated enough and that I’m sick of talking about them. The only people who have a flavour of what I got up to are those who followed my blog, though most friends didn’t bother reading it, claiming they didn’t want to be reminded of how rubbish their lives were. However, I wrote it from such an English point of view that it may as well have been called ‘Shit things that happened to me in South America’.
When I have been asked about my travels the most popular questions have been:
‘Did you have a good time?’
‘Yes, I had a very nice time thank you please.’
‘What was your favourite place?’
‘Errrm, there are too many to choose from’.
‘Errrm, I went to nine, there are too many to choose from.’
‘Did you have any trouble?’
This is a tricky one as although I don’t feel that I was ever in danger, when I retell stories of crossing the Ecuadorian border to Peru at 5am on New Year’s Eve on my own whilst having to bat off persistent men (this was after thinking someone was trying to rob me on a night bus half an hour earlier), three guys pretending to be the police and trying to get me into the back of their car while I had my worldly possessions on me in Bolivia, walking through eery National Parks in Colombia and crossing thrashing rivers on all fours over a slippery log, (the once more civilised bridge next to it so mangled it looked like rotten twigs), being robbed in Buenos Aires, dealing with guys who would just not take no for an answer, or remembering how I was going to get swallowed up by undergrowth on a hike in Ecuador, people look at me and think that I’m mad. Common sense got me out of all of those situations. ‘Life experiences are gained through living. That’s why it’s not a bad thing to travel well into your late twenties’. This is what I told all those gap year students as they relayed stories about their experiences at ‘school’ as they gazed through me with their saucer eyeballs and asked why I was travelling ‘at my age.’ ‘There is more to life than getting drunk’, I say ‘errrm… like knitting a cardigan for example’. (Note to self: learn how to knit and sign up to AA).
The things I was most looking forward to upon my return to Blighty was having something other than my rucksack in between my legs, ale, any food that wasn’t rice, chicken and beans, my own bed and my own room, my wardrobe and seeing a few friendly faces.
The one thing I was dreading was people asking me if I’d found myself. ‘Whaaa, I never lost myself.’ Of course your life really gets put into perspective when you spend three quarters of a year in a third world continent and there were little changes I wanted to undertake upon my return.
On all of the 15 overnight buses I got in South America I had a lot of time to think (in between studying Spanish and watching badly dubbed US films). I made the decision that I would do more things for myself and others that would benefit from my help. I would get some volunteer work sorted and put something back. (I have yet to sort anything out). Doing more for myself was also a way of giving my poor kidneys and liver a rest. I got a guitar one Christmas (errm perhaps several years ago) and although it looks very pretty in my flat gathering dust I am still yet to master an F. A friend gave my guitar a new set of stings and plenty of TLC while I was away, and although I’ve been back for six months he still has it. This is entirely my fault yet this is one of the things that I was going to do for myself, learn how to play the guitar properly and advance beyond a three cord Oasis tune.
Something else I really wanted to do was to continue learning Spanish. I’d worked so hard at getting to a basic level and I didn’t want to lose it just like that. In six months I have had one language exchange class and admittedly it was mainly in Spanish and quite exciting as it was the same guy that I met before I went out when 99% of the meet-up would be in English.
I made a pact with the sexy Swede, Hanna, that I would finish El Prinicipto (The Little Prince), the children’s book that I bought but I haven’t even opened this since I’ve been back. It’s barely visible with all the dust and cobwebs that it’s gathered. I have however, been listening to some of my Spanish podcasts though only on my lunch breaks of which I’ve had about ten in half a year.
I wanted to make little changes like not waste money ever again. The amount of money that I have wasted on fashion mounts to a deposit for a six bedroom house. This became apparent as I decided to get rid of the majority of my stuff when I returned. Having to live out of a backpack for nine months makes you realise that you don’t need a lot to survive. Also the possessions that I took with me was more than what whole families had in some areas of South America. What is upsetting is to see how as a society we are completely driven by money. We moan all the time. It’s either too hot or it’s too cold; we’re never satisfied. We have so much and yet we’re just grumpy bastards. You can be guaranteed that if the weather is shit then it will unite the nation. How often do you hear the reply ‘really good’ when you ask someone how they are. Most of the time it’s an ‘alright’ but in that droney sort of can’t be arsed to speak way.
Colombia was one of the poorest countries that I visited and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for it. Driving past flooded villages where the houses were rarely complete and seeing the locals running around in rags but happy and always smiling, really hit home. Even though I felt discriminated against in Colombia as there are very few orientals there and suffered what can only be described as constant racism (if I was in England), people were just uneducated but everyone was really friendly and would always to out of their way to help. Colombians were just curious and intrigued. I had to learn quickly that the last thing they wanted to do was offend me. Saying that, I could have probably got a job in a circus in one remote area that I went to. (I didn’t meet a single other traveller there it was that off the beaten track). As Colombia was the first country that I visited, I barely knew any Spanish as I didn’t have lessons until I went to Ecuador. I’d love to go back now and say thank you to all the kind people that helped me there, and actually communicate with the cute guy working in the bar in Cartagena. Oh how my travels may have been different. I might not have come back.
Well as things tuned out I did come back. I flew to the North and stayed with my sister and her family where I got treated to an M&S spread, slept in the comfiest double bed and the next day got treated to a massage and a spa treatment as a late birthday present. ‘The latest rage are these cellulite patches that really work, I’ve shifted 85% of the order in the last week. They’re literally flying off the shelves. At £45 for a months supply of patches they’re a right bargain too”. I was immediately sucked in. Even though I’d always poo poo gimmicky things like this, I was willing to try anything to get rid of the extra stone that I’d put on. As the beautician painted my toenails after I apologised about my mangy feet, “I walked hundreds of kilometres while I was away hence the manginess”, she told me about the amazing top coat that would make my nail polish last for weeks. Only £9.50? I’ll take a bottle. I’m not quite sure what had happened. I’d obviously not taken anything from my travels or maybe she was just a very good saleswoman.
The cellulite patches didn’t work and they were really painful.
Seeing family and friends over the next few days was really lovely. I even managed to receive some sort of embrace from my parents although it was more of a pat that you give someone who’s a bit on the smelly side who you don’t want to get contaminated from. Mum cooked up loads of yummy Chinese treats. Weirdly it look my a while to cope with a variety of different flavours and rich food and had to put up with the shits for a few weeks. My body had got used to really bland food. It was strange being back but still living out of a rucksack, I was desperate to return to the Smoke and say hello to my wardrobe.
I’m not sure what I was getting excited about. I’d put on so much weight all over that barely anything fitted me. Some of my dresses cut off the circulation in my arms and my trusty black sack of a dress made me look pregnant. I couldn’t even get some of my rings on. Hello bingo wings, tyre belly, fat back and pigs trotter fingers. I was devastated. I headed straight to Primani on Oxford Street, got freaked out by the crowds and bitchy women and walked straight out. I’d just have to cope with wearing old sack like clothes. Luckily I was working at a new place so they’d never seen my wardrobe before so I wouldn’t appear to be too much of a pikey.
Not so luckily I had lined up work on a daily National working with a program that was unique to that company. I had a couple of hours training in the morning where my brain managed to filter all the information straight out, annoyingly forgot most of the InDesign shortcuts and managed to merely tweak one page on my first day. During my last days there I worked on a few issues at once so I at least progressed a little. After about a week working there it felt like I’d never been away. Luckily my strong bladder control came into play as I barely have time to go to the toilet it was that busy. Although the job nearly killed me I’m glad that I wasn’t going back to my old job and that this change was actually a good move. As the job consisted of a late start I finally got in the habit of running again and managed to shed one of my three chins. It’s too cold to run now. (Thank you British weather).
My five months on the national came to a close at the end of the year. The Christmas party was the night before my last day where surprise surprise I got battered. (I was actually really responsible while I worked there and didn’t come into work with a hangover once – mainly because there was no-where to hide and there is no way I would have been able to do my job). I felt so hungover that I had to force down double egg and chips at the greasy spoon at lunch time but didn’t feel much better afterwards. In the afternoon I burped up a bit of sick, swallowed it then got up close and personal as I kissed and hugged all my colleagues as I said my goodbyes. Some things will never change.