Homecoming. After a year away I contemplate what coming home means and summarise the best and worst of our year…
Old Blighty never changes.., United Kingdom
I have been reading a book about the philosophy of travel. Here is a thought that seemed relevant as we touched down on a November day in London. “The sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room” (Pascal, Pensees 136) Little if nothing seemed to have changed since the day we took off from London exactly one year ago, except perhaps that now the Piccadilly line from Heathrow Terminal 4 was closed for repairs for 2 years. Welcome home.
Over 40 flights and over 95,000 km, we had hiked and biked up and down snow capped peaks, danced the tango in 19th century halls of Buenos Aires and the salsa on the beaches of Colombia, lived on paradise islands, dived with sharks and sea-lions, swung through steamy tropical jungles and above all soaked up lives and cultures far removed from our own. Still London’s grey skies were unimpressed and unimpressive.
The Derbyshire hills are still where I call home so I got straight on a sleek looking train up to Derby and surprised my parents by arriving home a week earlier than expected. The first thing I did when I got home was to listen. Listen to the silence and the stillness. Where were the beeping cars and exhaust fumed streets. Where were the voices shouting, laughing, arguing and the constant din of music being played at extra high volume? Could England really be this quiet?
Then I remembered the last chapter of the book I mentioned earlier. It was about a Frenchman named Xavier de Maistre who had set out in the late 18th century to demonstrate that the pleasure of travelling is less related to the beauty of the destination you travel to, but more related to your mind-set being in “travel mode”, that is, being receptive to every unremarkable detail around you. “If only we could apply a travelling mindset to our own locales, we might find these places becoming no less interesting than the high mountain passes and butterfly filled jungles of South America” (the Art of Travel, Alain de Botton) So I tried this out and found that it did actually work.
As I wandered around my home town and surrounding countryside I suddenly noticed the rich colours that autumn gives the landscape here and that the green hills looked, to me, quite unique half cloaked in that misty drizzle that only England seems to get. The towns and cities seem incredibly ordered and well organised and the streets spotlessly clean.
It may be cold outside but how satisfying it is to walk into a cosily heated house and only have to look out at the elements, rather than having no where to escape from them. In the supermarket the perfectly shaped and un-bruised fruit and veg looked to me as if it must have had plastic surgery, and the most difficult thing to get used to? Most definitely putting toilet paper into the toilet instead of in a bin at the side (drains in South America cannot cope with paper).!
So if you want to appreciate what you have at home…. You only need to go away. I can’t put into words all the experiences we have had this year but the one thing that will certainly never leave my memory is the feeling of being so small against the sublimity of the landscapes and forces of nature. Anyway, real life is now calling me urgently and so it is with that thought that I say Goodbye to this diary and a massive thank you to you all for reading it this far.
Trip Take Aways
Doritos South America friendliest nation league
* Winning our hearts at NUMBER ONE are those crazy and lovable Colombians
A surprise entry for NUMBER TWO: the un-assuming Uruguayans
Sneaking up for a very close NUMBER THREE are the pure and practical Peruvians
Shuffling only a step behind at NUMBER FOUR are the ever helpful Ecuadorians
Edging in at NUMBER FIVE are the Argentineans, whose taxi drivers deserve an extra special mention for their chatty-ness
Suffering from cultural gap wider than the Amazon Basin at NUMBER SIX are the bargaining Bolivians
Lagging behind at NUMBER SEVEN are the chillier Chileans
Sauntering at the bottom are the brazen Brazilians, but the language barrier may be a reason for this!
It has to be said though, South America is a very friendly continent!
*Sponsored by Doritos who got us through so many dodgy-meal-moments
Best Overall Country: Colombia Worst Overall Country: None!
Best Moments: Hiking 50km to Machu Pichu and seeing the ruins and landing in the Galapagos Islands
Worst Moments: Jason: being watched by would-be-muggers in Caracas at night. Caz: almost freezing to death on Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Most embarrassing moment Being hosed down naked by a 4 foot Ecuadorian lady (Vilcabamba),Caz and Mr Backpack’s spectacular topple down a set of Inca steps, Copacabana, Bolivia.
Best Cultural Experience: Cheering along with the locals and the Vallenato band on the Chiva bus, Colombia
Scariest Moment: Jason :Bolivian long boat in a storm, Caroline: coming back up the mountain in a minibus on the worlds most dangerous road, Bolivia
Most humbling experience Meeting a child and his family in the Bolivian desert and realising what they have to live on
Best Beaches: Los Roques, Venezuela Best Wildlife: Galapagos and the Pantanal (Brazil)
Animal we are sick to death of: Llama
Best Nightlife: Buenos Aires
Best Food: Big juicy steaks in Argentina and International food in Cusco, Peru
Worst Food: Soup “with dog-bones” in Galapagos
Most expensive country: Chile
Cheapest Country: Bolivia, but Argentina wins hands down for value for money
Best sights: Machu Pichu, Galapagos wildlife, Perito Moreno Glacier, Salar de Uyuni and Iguazu Falls
Most stunning city views: Rio, Cape Town, and Wellington Best looking race: Colombians and Argentines Worst looking race Bolivians.. sorry but true!
Most racially mixed country: Colombia and Brazil
Best spoken Spanish for learning: Ecuador
Most difficult to communicate: Brazil – no one speaks Spanish but all claim to!
Most European country: Argentina – no Indians, Asians, Chinese, Africans – only European descendants. You can play spot the ethnic minority here all day.
Biggest Regret: In hindsight volunteering with “Rich” kids on Galapagos rather than poor kids in a poor area like Bolivia.
Biggest Surprise: Colombia and the smell of Jason’s trainers
Places most likely to return: Colombia, Galapagos and Buenos Aires
Most satisfying experience: Watching the kids learn about their environment and teach their parents not to drop litter!
Strangest weather: Bolivia – radical changes in weather with no warning
Hottest and coldest points: Bolivia (-15) and Pantenal (+36 and 98% humidity)
Worst health moments: Jason’s broken tooth and Caroline’s hideous food poisoning
Biggest cultural change: From Bolivia into Chile where the people grew by at least a foot!
Least touristy country Colombia by far
Heaviest backpack in the entire continent: Jason – 29kg!!!
South America’s best oddities
1.Having to stand ON the toilet in order to shower..
2.South American and in particular, Bolivian talent for having 17 different versions of the truth and the way to the bus station.
3. South American’s very advanced rip-off abilities “Nooo this hotel isn’t a brothel, honest!” “Yes we have 24 hr hot water everyday” (only not this day..)”Taxi fares double if.. it’s after 5pm and you are wearing a green hat.”
4.Packs of emancipated stray dogs roaming the streets and the sound of constant barking
5. Andean bus drivers who find it especially exciting to overtake just before a blind bend next to a 1,000m drop.
6.General disregard for anything related to safety “No, you’ll be fine, only a few tourists have died this year, but not with my company!”
7.Linguistic narrow-mindedness – not pronouncing a word 100% correctly and people looking at you as if you just dropped in from Mars.
8. Music – blaring from disco-sized speakers on every street all day and all night, and being ready to murder the person who invented pan-pipe music.
Adios a todos.