Two years ago on the 6th of February I flew south to Colombia to visit a country I’ve wanted to see and to meet up with Gabriel and Claudia, some old Colombian friends. Today, two years later I am about to leave Qatar after 15 months here. Its been a whirlwind tour. Inbetween I’ve seen 29 countries I think, some such as Italy, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Spain a few times. I’ve visited places I always hoped I would such as Armenia, Colombia, Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Oman and Bavaria. I’m lucky.
I tend to work (or not work !) on these 2/3 year cycles. 2008 was a year of travel down to Australia, New Zealand and South-East Asia. 2006 also took me through SE Asia, the US, Central America and Europe. 2003 lead me to South America and parts of the Middle East. I’ve now finished my time here seen Beirut, Oman and Dubai. Syria would have been on my list but alas that country is now fractured and broken. It will never truly be at peace again. Iran is the only one I’ve missed out on.
These trips now become times of reinforcement. I’ve seen plenty of friends and made new ones. Friends such as Ash, Christine and Em I’d not met for years. Others have become firmer friends. And more still are new to me but as I’ve mentioned in Qatar, I somehow feel these are friendships of circumstance, not insubstantial but we are all desperate for the ‘party to end.’ And yet there are many people I really like here.
I earn very good money here but the sapping of my heart is the key. It’s time to set up camp somewhere else. I am thinking Eastern Europe or the Stans. Some travel before that is due. Iran and Norway are on the list for this year 🙂 I’ll see you soon.
We’ve seen Nick Cave, Queens of the Stone Age and The National in Gdansk, visited Auschwitz and Krakow, travelled to Prague, met people, drank some beers and enjoyed the sun along the way. Times with Olivia, Alex, Jacqui and Mitch are great.
London, Brighton, Newcastle and Edinburgh next 🙂
The film Before Sunrise is one of my favourites of recent times. It’s difficult to say its ‘that good,’ just more that it connects with me and my lifestyle over the past 10 years.
The two characters meet on a train and decide to spend their only day together. They wander round the city, talk about nothing much but are far more open than they would be, knowing they may never meet again. That openness breeds warmth and by the end of the night they want to see each other again, making frantic plans on the train platform. As they go their separate ways, they both smile at what’s occurred, knowing the risk they took was worth it.
I’ve had many of these experiences and indeed they are a fundamental of the travelling experience. By this of course I don’t mean travelling with your family or partner but an actual new experience whereby you need to stretch and look around to find what often sits directly in front of you. The list of those I’ve met and quickly appreciated is endless.
We often say our best friends are at home, those who know us best but it doesn’t take long to meet a particular person in particular circumstances and in particular mood. You hit it off immediately. The particulars are in fact just your mindset. It’s a sliding doors scenario for sure. You could have been somewhere else or looking in a different direction. The perverse, fleeting conditionality is extreme.
But these chances encounters are all we have. A small change in your perception and you are somewhere else. Those you’ve known for a long time are the product of many, small decisions often not taken by yourself. Stepping into the void instantaneously are new faces, new opportunities at interaction and belonging. The losses are immediately potentially evened out.
The smile shared by the two characters in Before Sunrise (who took their chance and lived to nostalgise about it when they returned home) reminds me of much. You can only regret the decisions you didn’t make, the opportunities you didn’t take. Yet with the endless opportunities within our limited time, it’s a course I’m glad I’ve pursued. We’ll all see the sunset. I’m just glad I’ve seen the sunrise a few times too.
PS. The sequel Before Sunset concerning their random meeting many years later is equally full of warmth and tinged with nostalgia.
Travelling in Sri Lanka has re-introduced me to the an old travellers institution, the necessity to wash yourself, like billions of others in the world, from a bucket. You have a a ladle or a small bowl, a large tap-filled bucket, an acceptance this is gonna be cold on your crown jewels and a humility that this regression is fine. I try to think of it as that shower you have before diving into the pool. On the negative, you are naked. Then again, no one is watching. Showering like this is barely effective for a newbie like me. But the bigger issue is this is normal for many parts of the world, worse due to the lack of tapped water requires walking for miles to fetch it or going to the river to bath. (Naturally once Myo turned up we had to find a better place!)
I’ve helped out at Water Aid and consulted with them on their research. At Nottingham Dena and I went to see some presentations and films on the subject, The World Water Council, the unoffical water board for the world is in fact a sham organisation run by the French for the benefit of water companies. Its about as effective as the International Whaling Commission which is corrupted by the Japanese. So much so Laos is a member at the invitation of Japan. After they must have a lot of whales in such a land-locked country.
Access to clean water is considered a human right. Our use of bottled water sold to us by Coca-Cola is a remarkable waste of drinking water. In hindsight so were my ridiculously long showers at Uni or in Korea where I’d run the shower and then have a naked chat with Christine about what drunken shenanigans we got up to last night. All the while Christine hid under the duvet. Abroad foreigners insist of bottled water even when their food and the plates they eat off are washed in local water. My advice is get the bug early and let your guts remedy it and move on. I’ve had four poisoning four times over the years (Brazil, Bolivia, Morocco and Colombia) and the next day, after some water I feel fine. Once we get over our preciousness and remember how we bathed as kids, or chewed plastic and stayed out until bed time out of sight from home, then we’ll relax. A bit of cold water down there is apparently good for circulation they say.
So I am still in the mountains, the zona cafeteria staying with Gab´s brother and family. His little niece, 2 year old Silvana is brilliant, full of fun and games. I´m not sure what playing doll does to a man but I´ve been playing ´put the baby to bed´a lot!
I´ve written immense amounts of late. Quiet times without the usual distraction have been good to me. Gab´s family are lovely and really helped me out. His little brother has shown me round various small, country towns and farms. Its all very pretty round here which undoubtedly brought my head back from the 2 week blitz around the north coast. Gees.
Had some decent conversations of late too with a few old friends and flames. This year was always going to be something special. Once I sort out Uni (I´ve applied for references now), work and the like, lets see where I am. I´m planning New York and Montreal right now to catch up with old friends and make anew while the Balkans look to be back on the menu! And what´s strange as well is I am looking forward to getting back and getting into it all. Maybe not more than my plans for tomorrow but I can feel it lingering. Ahh life eh…
So its the beginning of a year and its time to take myself abroad again, a January tradition I started in 2008. I figured its always better to go to travel and see something when the weather (and country) sucks at home. The second obvious reason is more positive; England is nice in summer.
In 2008 I quit work (again) and went to Australia for LP´s wedding and then New Zealand, SE Asia and Europe coming back in mid-September. Less drastic and colder, I went East in 2009 to Poland and Eastern Europe to work and travel down to near the Balkans returning in August. 2010 involved a trip to pick up Linden in Berlin and head over to Israel and the Middle East until March. And Uni commitments in 2011 only allowed a week in Andalucia in February. But it was 22C 🙂
This year I’m going further afield again to a land of snowy mountains, blue ocean, dance and colonial towns. I’m staying with Gabriel in general but Claudia has already planned the first weekend away and friends have flooded me with information and contacts to make this trip a real special one. Colombia and Panama, I cannot wait. I’ll get stories and pics up as quick as possible.
When I return via New York, I’ll have to get my head down fora few months until the summer in Oxford and a return to Uni which is now awaiting confirmation. Much thanks to those who gave me advice and the lawyer lecturer whose responses highlighted a danger implicit in law; that it must do others’ bidding. I’ll find a way.
See you soon 🙂