The Halfway Point
In my tiny room that I’ve taken to calling ‘the cupboard under the stairs’, the air conditioning unit kicks into life as it makes another attempt to tackle the relentless heat. It’s noisy for a time, like a fridge with the door left open. Then it exhales with theatrical extravagance, as if with a near-final breath on its deathbed, and simply resumes whatever idle state ‘not really working’ is.
I’m halfway through the latest of my travels around the world. My current adventure is a year-long trip from tip to toe of The Americas. Right now, I’m in a hostel in Rodadero on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. The fierce heat of the day has me retreating to the relief of the tiled interior and its soothing shade.
I have my own space in the hostel, dubbed ‘the secret room’ by Anouk, the petite Parisian owner. My mornings are spent sipping café negro with Carlos as he endeavours to progress my smattering of Spanish to proficient, or perhaps passable. The local warmth is no more pronounced than in the company of Claudia, the cleaner and caretaker and all-round motherly figure. She’s taken to pointing at various objects around the hostel and cheerfully presenting the Spanish word to me. We progress from one to the next once I have ‘perfected’ and repeated the correct word back to her. She beams at my pathetic attempts and our broken communication. I can’t help but smile back.
In part one of my adventure, which covered Canada and the USA, I bought an old minivan, converted it into a camper and embarked on an epic road trip; visiting 38 states, 4 provinces, and driving more than 20,000 miles of road.*
Now, six months later, I’m at the beginning of part two.
South America is a world away from the North. Here, it’s a backpack, my cameras, and a lift on whatever is going in the right direction. It’s sign language and Google Translate. A new currency with notes and prices by the thousand. Twelve hours on the toilet and a crash diet if you drink the tap water. Plates of fish or meat with a trio of carbs on the side. Sinks and showers fitted with a hot tap and a cold tap, but only one of which is ever connected. Temperatures and humidity turned up to 11 with the dials removed. Roads thick with traffic and pollution. Buses that stop wherever you are and whenever you want to get off. An obsession with Crocs (the footwear not the reptiles). Verdant jungle and desert-island beaches. And an ice-cold cerveza around every corner.
In the past few weeks I’ve spent several days trekking through the mountains to visit a lost city and meet members of indigenous tribes. I’ve drifted down a river on a tube while our guide hands us cold beers from a cooler and stray dogs give chase along the river banks. I’ve celebrated All Hallows’ Eve with an all night rave in the jungle. I’ve slept in a hammock on a pristine beach. I’ve killed a camera and retired an iPhone. And I’ve already found myself here, in northern Colombia, for over a month. Just a fraction of one country, and only the first of nine that I intend to visit.
It’s not a place I imagined myself building a website and setting up a blog.
But since that website and this blog have only just pinged to life on the great world-wide-web, right at the beginning of The Americas: Part II, it seems fitting to start the story here. Tales from a North American Odyssey will surface from time to time, but for now we begin the story, right in the middle.
* My trusty Honda Odyssey minivan went through eight spark plugs, four tires, two tinted window vinyls, two rear window motors, an engine coil, an air conditioning control unit, a headlamp, one windscreen, a hefty dose of engine oil, a large helping of transmission fluid, countless gallons of fuel, and a great deal of my blood, sweat, and tears. Right at the end the transmission packed it in too.
But that’s another story.
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