Well, it happened. I was meant to head home last month after a year on the road. A YEAR. And yet, I still find myself in southern Chile in the depths of Patagonia. Surrounded by snowy peaks on one side and angry clouds on the other. I’m shivering beside a clunky radiator, trying to soak up its meagre warmth. I ache from head to toe after five days of back to back hiking. It hurts in places I didn’t know existed. But I couldn’t possibly go home now.
Despite what many assume, taking a year out to travel the world isn’t one big holiday. Okay, technically it is. But the reality is very different. It’s hard. It’s brilliant of course, but it’s also hard. Hard with a capital H. And caps lock.
I’m tired, but it’s not just from all that hiking in Patagonia. Long-term travel is a constant battle between seeing and doing, and the logistics of making all that happen. There’s no one waiting in Arrivals with your name on a card, ready to whisk you away in a private car. There’s no room service and three hot meals a day. No 24-hour concierge to solve any problem. No cocktails brought to you on silver trays in the sunshine (okay, sometimes there’s cocktails in the sunshine). But there are a lot of questions about where you might sleep each night. Even more uncertainty about how you get there. Plenty of unknowns about how much it should cost (or what it actually does cost). And numerous occasions when you don’t even know how to pronounce those unfamiliar words, never mind what they mean.
There’s daunting realisations when you don’t know how to get that alarming rash diagnosed. Treated? Ahahaha. And what’s that weird sensation I’m suddenly experiencing, both icy-cold and scolding-hot, my vision a blur, my head pounding, my stomach lurching and, oh shit, I’m covered in mosquito bites in tropical virus land.
These things crossed my mind before I left of course. I expected to be bed-bound with chronic food poisoning at some stage. And I was. For a week. On more than one occasion. I had all the necessary immunisations (and lost all that necessary money) and I packed my Malaria tablets. A good thing too, when that fateful Ecuadorian mosquito struck and left me with my very own dose of Chikungunya.
But you get over it, over and over again. And you get there eventually. You find a way. That’s part of the fun, right?
On the 17th of April, 2017, I left my home in London; 10 million people, a tiny dot on a tiny island in our big blue world. I left my job and my family and my friends (except for one, who came along). I put my business to sleep for the time being. Took stock of my camera gear. Packed my bags. Headed to the airport and boarded my plane to Colorado. I stopped over in Iceland along the way. It was my birthday the very next day.
Unfortunately neither my birthday nor my travels got off to the best of starts. Having arrived in Iceland amid a terrifying storm with winds so strong that the plane’s hold doors could not be opened and small children were clinging onto the handrail of the runway stairs, legs flailing like wind socks, I started having serious doubts about this little excursion. When the airport announced that baggage could not be collected until the following day, after the storm had calmed, I started to wonder if I’d made a big mistake. I had a hostel booked on the other side of the island, a car hired and waiting, the only clothes I had were those I was wearing, no toiletries or even a toothbrush, and I was losing a full day out of only five. I also had to spend my birthday praying that my luggage and travel gear for the year ahead would arrive at my hotel, not knowing how, when, or if at all. It was pouring with rain, freezing cold, and I wasn’t able to see the sights I’d travelled there for.
Funnily enough, that’s pretty much how my birthday this year played out.
For the 18th April in 2018, I spent five days in Torres Del Paine National Park. On the other side of the world and almost at the end of it, right at the bottom of Chile. One of those days was spent in the freezing cold and the pouring rain. Where the weather was so bad I couldn’t see the sights I’d travelled there for.
I shouldn’t need to tell you which one.
Between those blustery beginnings in the Northern hemisphere and where I now find myself in the Southern hemisphere, I’ve made my way across The Americas from tip to toe (very nearly). I’ve travelled across Canada, USA, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Argentina and down into Patagonia where the land once again froze around me and the clouds drew in, just as they did during my excursion to Iceland. I’ve driven the roads of 38 American States and four Canadian provinces. And a Formula 1 street circuit. I’ve taken bus journeys that have lasted longer than the day is bright, and dark, and bright again. I’ve flown distances to get from one side of a country to another that would swallow up my tiny island home. I’ll let my photographs of these experiences do the talking. I’m tired, I’m changed, but I’m still up for an adventure. And I still have holes in the map.
I’ve yet to tick Bolivia, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil off the itinerary. And I have unfinished business in Peru. And then there’s that little skinny bit in the middle, skipped over during the off-season (or the terrifyingly stormy season). There’s also that magnificent country that Trump wants to build a wall around, but I’d much rather eat my way around. The budget and the bank balance is screaming fowl. But there’s still holes in the map.
I couldn’t possibly go home now.
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