It's been over two weeks since I landed in Heathrow and I felt it was time to write my last blog to sum up my trip. At my age I think I know myself pretty well, this wasn't intended to be a deep soul-searching experience and I didn't have any sort of epiphany while I was away. But it was a great time to reflect, push myself fully out of my comfort zone and go on the most incredible adventure. Travelling certainly does open your mind, it exposes you to other cultures that challenge your perceptions and softens the cynicism which can creep into our hearts from our everyday experiences at home. In a world where our news is dominated by negative stories and messages of fear it's really cool to be reminded that in every corner of the world there are people who will show you nothing but acts of kindness and hospitality for no other reason than to make you feel at home in their country.
Since being back people have asked me what was my favourite memory or the best bit of my travel and I can't single one out. For me going on an epic adventure on the other side of the world was, in its entirety, everything I dreamed it to be. Diversity and beauty were what I was searching for and I found them in abundance through the people, landscapes and situations I encountered. At the beginning of my trip I was nervous, not just because this was the first time I would be travelling alone, but I was also apprehensive about how I would deal with returning back to my routine - my everyday "normality" here in Manchester. Based on previous experiences of returning home after time abroad I knew there was a high possibility I would fall into post-travel depression, eating my body weight in chocolate and annoying all my friends with nostalgic tales and self-pity. Sometimes it really can take a while to get over that feeling of post-travel restlessness where you believe your world has been turned upside down and you question everything in your life. But even though I put myself through this emotional rollercoaster it is definitely worth it. Thankfully the adjustment this time has surprisingly not been too painful. I think it helps that I have returned to the UK in springtime when we are experiencing glorious sunshine, a mini heatwave and the celebrations of a Royal Wedding. It has been wonderful catching up with family and friends who I appreciate more than ever. I made some brilliant friends while I was away and I have an abundance of amazing people in my life back at home.
When I think about everything I did in just 3 months I feel a mixture of amazement, thankfulness and sorrow that it's all over. But the spreadsheet itinerary certainly came through! In my travels I spent over 200 hours on buses, trekked glaciers in Southern Patagonia, danced tango in Buenos Aires, saw Evita's grave, stood beneath the powerful rush of the Iguazu falls, climbed up to snow-capped mountains in El Chalten, experienced the adrenaline rush of white-water rafting down the Argentinean/Chile border, had three hilarious hitch-hiking experiences in Argentina, went on a road trip in the lake district of Bariloche, tasted wine in the vineyards of Mendoza, laughed to the point of crying with Lidwien, Sivan and Haggar over a bottle of Malbec, was highly amused at the amount of Argentinean el mullets on show, saw a mountain made up of seven colours, watched more than one spectacular sunset that brought me to tears, sandboarded down the dunes of the Chilean Atacama desert, got up at 4am to see geysers smoking at dawn, swam in hot springs, floated in a volcanic salt lake, ascended to the dizzy heights of over 6,000 meters in the Bolivian desert, chewed on coca leaves, slept in all my clothes in a hostel with no hot water, heating or electricity, walked on the largest salt flat in the world, mountain biked down the most dangerous road in the world, drank home-made caipirinhas and ate churrasco with my Brazilian friends in Sao Paulo, experienced Brazilian Carnaval in Rio, received freshly squeezed orange juice and ground Colombian coffee for breakfast from Juan and Carlos in Bogota, watched a fellow traveller in a hostel confuse an internal palm tree with the communal toilets, visited a coffee plantation in Salento, made friends with the Colombian military, stood in wonder looking at 60 feet wax palm trees in the Valle de Cocora, went to the place where Pablo Escobar was killed in Medellin, got giddy to the point of hysteria with Devi whenever reggaeton was playing, stayed in a hut on a remote island in the Caribbean, slept overnight in a hammock on the beach, immersed myself fully in a mud volcano, chilled out at Cafe del Mar in Cartagena's spectacular old town, walked with monkeys, boa snakes, ants and butterflies in the Tayrona National Park, invalidated my travel insurance by trekking to the Lost City, met an indigenous community and their beautiful children, received 37 mosquito bites from 5 days in the jungle, was given a personal dance lesson in Salsa and Vallenato, and made many friends from all over the world who I intend to keep in contact with for life.
I read a good blog entry recently which was written by a friend I met travelling in Colombia. He wrote about how it's the people who make a place and I completely agree. All my previous blogs mention examples of the incredible fun I had with local people and other travellers. And not once did I experience any problems or threat to my personal safety. But that's not to say that bad things don't happen and in any area of the world you can meet friendly people and dangerous people. Some travellers I met did have problems, several had been robbed and on more than one occasion this was at gunpoint. But for me the fact still remains that the only time I've ever had someone try to rob me has been in my own home city of Manchester.
So, after a long break from work where I've fully indulged in the beauty of South America have I got this travel bug out of my system? I certainly feel that I accomplished my dream to backpack across a continent I fell in love with two years ago and yes this satisfied my desire to experience travel in this way for the first time in my life. I also know that I squeezed the juice out of every place I visited so don't think I could have got much more out of the experience. But no, my hunger for travel is not satisfied. I know this sounds like i'm greedy but travel is my passion, a part of my life and I intend to continue doing it for as long as I can. I am going to say something very profound now so prepare yourselves: when I was in the Colombian jungle my body got covered in mosquito bites, despite a rigorous daily routine of covering myself in repellent. I didn't want to scratch my bites but I somehow couldn't stop myself and it felt sooooooo good to do it even though it made them all flare up and become more itchy. And then I realised that this is exactly what the travelling bug is like, once you are bitten the more you scratch, the more you itch!! You are thinking "3 months in South America and this is the most deep thing she could come up with?"!!! So now I will finish...
Taking a sabbatical from work to travel is a luxury of living in a developed society. And I can honestly say that every single day I was away I felt so grateful for the experience. I'm also proud of myself for taking some risks, personal and financial, to achieve my dream of backpacking across South America. 10 years ago I would never have had the confidence to do this, especially not on my own. Leaving it to when I had a mortgage and various other financial commitments posed challenges, but overcoming them made me even more determined. And it reinforces my view that when you are thinking of doing something that really scares you, as long as it's obviously not a stupid thing to pursue you should absolutely do it.