It was about three years ago and I had just arrived in Lima, Peru. I was terrified. It was late and we almost got into the only unmarked taxi outside the airport, but another driver rushed over to rescue us just as we were putting our bags in the back. We got into his cab instead and drove through the nighttime streets, along the coast, aggressively, accelerating hard then braking even harder until I wasn’t just scared but sick too. He didn’t stop talking. Then he couldn’t find the hostel. We crawled along dark streets and stopped to ask other drivers. I wasn’t so scared anymore, I just wanted to get to the hostel. Eventually we found it.
We put our things into the room and headed down to the pool table because we didn’t quite know what else to do. There was one other person there, a French guy, who seemed friendly enough, but we didn’t stay long. It had been a LONG day and my fear had refocused itself. I got undressed, into bed and lay under the covers, trembling, begging and twitching, hoping not to die. When I woke up in the morning, I felt shame.
YOU DAMN PANSY! I thought
I’m not terrified this time round. Only EXCITED. As far as visits to Colombia are concerned, I’m about to bust my cherry.
Lima was just the beginning of a 12 month trip around the world that ended in Hong Kong. I returned home in October 2011. It was nice to be home, to walk into my room and see those familiar objects all around me. First, I found a gym membership, then I thought I’d better find a job. I put in dozens of applications but I couldn’t find one. I couldn’t believe they weren’t choosing me. Meanwhile, I babysat the dog and the kitten. It took up a lot of my time, persuading the cat to come out of the dishwasher, stop hanging upside down from the kitchen blind, to come down from the Christmas tree. The dog was always there, shouting at the little baby with me, as if she’s never crapped on the carpet.
Times were hard. I listened to Skid Row ‘Wasted Time’ on repeat, sang it along softly to myself. I couldn’t see the road ahead of me. I wanted to go away again, just didn’t know for sure that I would because it all depended on SO MUCH.
Eventually, after eight months I found a job. It was local. It wasn’t what I was looking for but I took it because I was desperate. Well, I thought, that’s it then. In two years I’m GONE. I’ll save some money then I’ll quit. I hadn’t gotten the career I wanted, so fuck it, right?
So I went to work every day, and made plans the odd Saturday and life was simple and without much pain. I was contented (because I knew it was temporary?) I could see the road ahead.
The only time I really doubted it was in bed at night, lying there like a frightened little girl (there were other times)
WHAT’S WRONG WITH LIVING COMFORTABLE AND DULL? I’d think
Then I’d think about the future and having something to look back on and I’d decide, “I HAVE TO GO!”
Back to the jungles, beaches, mountains, danger, INSPIRATION. It beats throwing away my salary on drink and rent, always miserable and ignoring it. Somehow, throwing it away on cheaper drink and lower rent thousands of miles from home in a foreign country makes it more meaningful (whatever that means).
I quit my job after 18 months, packed my bag and got on a plane to South America.
We’re at the gate, Boxhead and me, in Miami airport, waiting for our connection to Bogota. It’s been 15 hours. Last night, we failed the first test of our mettle. We planned to sleep on the airport floor, but there was very much noise – people, announcements, the damned elevator music, and it went on and on and on, and then there were the lights, and the floor was cold and hard. After many hours we decided to get a hotel room instead, an EXPENSIVE hotel room for six hours because we figured SOME sleep was worth it. When I awakened this morning it was beautiful (it would have been more beautiful at half the price). I showered and shaved and we had a complimentary breakfast.
We’re almost there.
We’re at the Killing Fields and we’ve just finished watching a documentary on what happened here. The documentary was shown in this small room adjacent to the tiny museum they have on site. Before entering the room, we had to remove our flip-flops.
Boxhead, Jeff, Carla and I, we’re standing in a circle, a short distance away from the low steps leading up to the cinema and I’m wondering what Aff is doing.
Looks like Aff has lost his flip-flops again, I say to the others.
We all look over, and he’s there sifting through the pile of flip-flops on the steps shaking his head.
He just happens to look up as we’re all looking at him, smiling.
He marches over.
He’s convinced we’ve hidden them like he always is. He starts throwing accusations at us.
I’m saying no, I promise I haven’t touched them!
Everybody’s saying the same thing and we really mean it. He probably doesn’t believe us because we’re all smiling trying not to laugh.
I know it was you Boxhead! What have you done with them?
Grim-faced westerners walking past
He’s got Boxhead in a headlock.
I know it was you! I KNOW IT WAS!
And I have to walk away because I am almost crying with laughter at the Killing Fields.
He’s talking shit and he’s got me crying with laughter again, only this time we’re at the Killing Caves.
We’d been staying in this Arequipa hostel for three or four days. The flop was family-run. We might have been the only people staying there. Each morning we’d head up to the roof and there would be two young girls and an old girl sat at one of the tables. All three worked in the hostel.
Every morning, one of the girls would ask us in a sweet little soft-spoken voice
Chicos, would you like some breakfast? (The girls would always start a question with chicos, which we liked)
And we’d say, “Oh, only if it’s no trouble”.
And they’d shake their heads with shy little smiles and start grabbing at pans and items of food.
We’d eat our breakfast on the hostel roof under the sun. The girls would anxiously watch us and we’d say ‘Mmmmm…’ because it was, and they would GLOW.
Something about the whole thing affected us though. We thought, this is so kind of them. In this world where people are frequently cruel to eachother, these three ladies are genuinely glad to make us breakfast. So each time we finished eating, we’d get up with our dirty dishes, carry them to the sink and start washing up.
“No! No! Don’t do that!”
No, we insist! Please, it’s the least we can do!
And they’d be so grateful it made us feel good inside.
However. When we checked out of the hostel and looked down at the bill on the desk, and saw an extra £12 each on top of the room, we were a bit confused
They were f*****g charging us the whole time.
We thought it was free and we’d been doing a nice thing.
Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia. Getting hit in the face with a Frisbee, my friends laughing at me… Eating a burger from a shack on the beach at the end of the night… Paralysing stomach cramps… Shivering and sweating toward the morning… Sprinting past groups of girls in my pants with a toilet roll in my hand and a worried look on my face… The irony of how only days before I had been laughing at stories of people soiling themselves…
We’d spent the day stopping off at various landmarks around Battambang, Cambodia. The last place we visited was the bat cave, where at the same time every day, millions of bats fly out of the cave and swarm across the sky.
The whole time I was learning to dive I felt sick. Really sick. I mean, I was SHITTING myself, quite literally. It was a four day course and on the third night I worked myself up so much I gave myself the runs. In between running back and forth to the bathroom I just lay there thinking about what could go wrong.
Jim hadn’t purged his regulator properly and he’d sucked in a jolt of water instead. Watching him choke and Simon grip his shoulders and hold him down on the seabed. Telling him to stay calm and take deep long breaths. Watching this, my eyes were heart attack wide. Christ, it was lucky I’d done the skill before Jim, because after seeing this…
My God. If it was ME, I couldn’t, wouldn’t remain as calm as Jim. I knew what would happen. I would nut Simon in the face then shoot to the surface like a champagne cork, and my ears would bleed like Niagara Falls and then the sharks would come and finish me off.
This stress. A coupla hundred dollars for a stomach ulcer, I thought. Great. Maybe I should tell Simon I can’t do it, just walk away. I could live with myself. No, I had to make it. It’s moments like this where I can make the decision to be weak or be strong. There have been plenty of them on this trip.
I didn’t get a wink of sleep. Turns out Boxhead was lying next to me awake the whole night, putting himself through the wringer the same as me (we were in a double bed).
Then I had to get up, get dressed, brush my teeth. Too nervous to eat. We went outside and walked to the dive shop. I was shaking. My hands and my feet and my lips and my chest. Shaking. I felt as if I was about to face a firing squad. I didn’t look like I was going to make it.
On the boat, I just blotted everything out. Life had telescoped down to these two dives. There wasn’t a thought on my mind except getting through the next few hours alive. This course that 10,000 other people were doing at the same time as if it was nothing, getting a full night’s sleep to boot. All I was focused on was ME. Everybody else was a faceless white pancake because I was in my world. They were in theirs.
Anyway, I made it, and all night I have been in the BEST mood. All night riding the adrenaline. I’ve just left a beach party with this smoking hot girl from the other group and we’re a little further down the beach…
I’ve given her the spiel about how I want to be a famous writer and she’s all over me. The dark blue space above us sparkles with starlight. She sits up and shows me her body
“You’ve been checking this out all day haven’t you?”
And my eyes darting from side to side, I say
“Uh… yeah, right…”
In a bar on Boracay, a tourist is splayed out on this faux leather couch so drunk he doesn’t know where he is. There’s this girl straddling him and she’s kissing him all over, his face his neck his mouth. He gives as good as he gets. Her face, neck, mouth. Their tongues like a pair of crazy snakes.
What he doesn’t realise, is that this girl is really a bloke.