What comfort zone?

The cab which I shared with Mia and her lovely nine year old son Nicholas crawled along under the majestic cliffs upon which Miraflores is balanced, delayed in the horrendous early morning traffic.  On our slow journey from the airport I looked up at the towering cliffs wondering how on earth they could support the sky scrapers P1000195which were lined up along their edge – they looked remarkably fragile, as if they were made up of just sand and loose stones and would crumble at any minute.   The many signs directing people upwards in case of a tsunami were also a little disconcerting.  At the speed the traffic was moving we would all be fish-food if a giant wave were to strike.

There were no normal cabs available so I shared my ride from the airport with a lady who lives in Cusco and her son who is Argentinean.  The cab driver was unable to negotiate the road works around my hostel and just as I was wondering how on earth I was going to cross the fenced off area, a workman noticed my plight and came to let me and another bemused backpacker through the cordon.  I was quick to learn that Health and Safety is not an issue here and I was soon dodging steam rollers and tractors as I exited the hostel.

As we wandered in, I introduced myself to Julien who was it turned out, French and off on his own mini adventure.  After leaving our bags in the secure area, we decided to pair up for some of the day and set off, first to find a travel agent so that Julien could book his flight out to Cusco the following day, and then to negotiate the super bus system that links the middle-class affluent area of Miraflores to  the centre and old town Lima.  I have to say a quick thank you to friends back home for their recommendation to stay in this area.  It is certainly the best area in Lima and my hostel is possibly in the very best location, although I have yet to see anybody who is any more than just half my age.

But who cares about that ‘cos I am having a ball and one day, possibly very soon, most of this lot will have to go back to work and get down to the daily grind.

a rather low ticket booth

a rather low ticket booth

Anyhow, me and Julien paid for our bus card in the machine at Ricardo Palma station which we preloaded with some dosh and we set off.  Or after several false starts we set off once we had established which direction we should be travelling in.  The bus system bore a strong resemblance to the tram system in Istabul – apart from the blooming obvious difference between buses and trams.  The stations were almost identical, set in the central reservations of the road system and the buses sped along the main thoroughfare alongside but unhindered by the snarled up traffic We exited at Jiron de la Union and wandered up to Plaza Mayor where we treated ourselves to a S30 ticket for entrance to the Archbishops house and the Cathedral with its crypts.  I know that the Peruvian people are small but this cash booth window really was taking the piss, lol.

Rimac

Rimac

The changing of the guard was in full swing in front of the Presidential Palace as we wandered up to the Monastery of St Francisco and the Parque de la Muralia.  From the park we had an amazing view of the favela at Rimac  with its sherbet pink and yellow houses shimmering in the heat haze (the fog had burnt off and the sun was now out), disguising the poverty which must be rife and the crime which oozes from the district.  We wandered down to Plaza Bolivar and from there, back to the station and the hostel to officially check in and find our respective rooms.  A very welcome hot shower revived me after the long journey and the sight-seeing, and then I went up onto the roof terrace for a beer.  The Pariwana Hostel is another great find.  For me, the location is everything and this one did not disappoint.  Fronting a busy roundabout is in a nice area at the tip of a long park – Kennedy Park which is full of flowers, immaculately kept grass and benches.  There is a relaxing roof terrace at the hostel with sun-loungers and ping-pong, a lively bar area and kitchen with free teas, coffee and breakfast.  Music thumps away most of the day giving the whole place a laid back, party atmosphere and the pungent smell of a certain sort of tobacco drifts lazily around.

Supper was a muffin thingy on the street followed by a visit to the local artisan market on a where  I bought myself a little silver thumb ring to replace my Turkish ring which I believed to have lost somewhere on the way to London whilst wrestling with my luggage. (it was subsequently found)

I returned and sat at the bar ready for an earlyish night when I discovered that I was to sleep in a room with four blokes.  I thought that there were to be a couple of girls in there too but they had checked out.  God; I hope that I don’t keep the guys awake all night with my snoring.  Three are Brazilian and for some bizarre reason keep forgetting to shut the room to the door which opens directly onto my bed but they do put the toilet lid down after them.  I guess it is all a trade-off when you are travelling alongside such an eclectic mix of people.

The next morning after some very weird dreams (did I really sit up in bed and ask one of the Brazilians whether the fire alarm was going off?), I had just taken my shower and a fifth and final guy was shown into the room – to occupy the bunk above.  What comfort zone?  It has been well and truly blown away.

Stepping it Up

Stepping it Up

Whoop whoop!  I am about to begin the next stage of my adventure.

In less that a week I shall be jetting off to Peru.  The plan (Plan A of probably several) is to spend three nights exploring the capital Lima before heading up the coast to the second/third largest city that is Trujillo.

I have been warned to watch out for and avoid the hoards of pickpockets and bag snatchers who will be waiting for me in the arrivals hall, I have totally confused myself about which cab, bus or colectivo is the safest way to travel to my hostel and, oh dear, that reminds me, I don’t have a hostel booked yet either.

Havana

Havana

When I wake up in a cold sweat at three am I have to remember that I negotiated Havana by myself, and I call up images on Google to remind myself that Lima is quite the cosmopolitan city, not some Dickensian slum, albeit with a tendency for gatherings of riot police.  I have decided to stop reading the guide books for now and just see for myself.

I have spent the last five weeks catching up with friends and family, sorting out mundane yet vital things such as backpackers insurance and I have had a lost filling replaced at the dentist.  There are still a myriad of jobs to complete before I depart but I am not quite so stressed about them now.

I shall be spending my first three months in Peru working as a volunteer for an NGO (non-governmental organisation/charity), and then after that: who knows!  Plan A (still) is to visit Machu Picchu, go see Lake Titicaca (that one is for my mum) and then explore South America whilst blogging and hopefully picking up travel writing commissions.

I need to write.  I can’t think of any worst punishment that not being allowed to write, other than not being permitted to read. In my old life I had written sixty thousand words towards my novel and countless short stories and articles, most of which were shoved in the back of a drawer but since I have started out on my journey with Scarlet, I have become more focused.

Last weekend I accompanied my friend – herself a published author – to the Festival of Romance Book Festival.  We stayed at a great Bed & Breakfast with a lovely host who cooked possibly the best full English that I have ever had in the Bedford Park Hotel, and I had some time to explore the market town of Bedford.  I have never written romance in my life, but I was totally blown away by the people that I met and the camaraderie and support amongst the group of writers and readers.  There was nobody at the event who underestimated the dedication and hard slog that it takes to get your words out there.  After the awards ceremony I met some of the winners of the new talent awards who are about to realise their dreams and who have been awarded publishing deals.  I saw agents and publishers supporting their prodigies and engaged with the whole host of writers who were networking and supporting each other.  People described themselves in various ways; authors, writers, hybrid authors, self-published, bloggers or readers, to name just a few titles which were bandied around.  When I talked to people I struggled to describe myself as I am just setting out on this journey, but then somebody else summed it up perfectly.

She described herself as a ‘new writer – not yet published’ – a description which I am more than happy to adopt.  And I blog – therefore I am a blogger.

I shall go to Peru and I shall raise the profile of my alter-ego Scarlet Jones by reinstating my Twitter and Facebook sites.   Attending the Festival has given me a timely nudge and it has reminded me why I resigned from my job, gave up my flat and left my life as I knew it

South American posts will take priority and I will update them frequently, sliding my European Adventure posts in amongst them.

So bear with me whilst I rebuild and launch Scarlet’s public face.

I am a new writer, not yet published and a travel blogger just setting out on the journey of a lifetime

Whirlwind

Life has been crazy this last week since I gave up work, but just as I was in danger of my massive grin causing a new batch of facial creases I have had raging toothache.

I have been packing up the contents of my flat, selling clothes and visiting friends.  Despite having no intention to accumulate stacks of possessions again, it seems that I have managed to collect quite a bit of stuff, with my prized possessions being items bought on my travels.  My lamps bought in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul, art work featuring the whirling dervishes from Turkey, paintings and throws from India and wooden boxes from Egypt, Jordan and Cuba all need to be packed carefully away.

I still have to change my address with some institutions, and I have had my final inoculation against rabies. Oh, and did I mention that I have toothache?  My dentist has given me antibiotics but recommends either root canal work or better still, the removal of the tooth.  He does not recommend me travelling shortly after he does any work but also does not advocate me travelling with the tooth in situ.  Following a traumatic experience with a dentist at the tender age of seven after my sister caused me to fall down some stone steps it was all that I could do to get myself into the surgery, let alone make a decision on what sort of torture I might prefer to opt for, although I eventually agreed that the extraction has to be the better option.

My Kindle is topped up, a new bikini has been bought and a loose travel plan is finally falling into shape. I have had nine separate travel jabs to arm me against some of the nasties which may lurk in the Amazonian jungle, or are more probably to be found in some of the backpackers’ hostels, and I still cannot fathom out how to get my limited pile of necessities into my rucksack.  I also have to buy a new camera, cancel that dratted television license and part with my  car and motorbike

I have just four more sleeps to go.  Four days in which to tie up every loose end and eat up what food I can. A choc-ice for breakfast could catch on but I am not so sure that I can face spaghetti every day.  The antibiotics appear to be working and my jaw is not throbbing quite so much so I have started grinning insanely again.

But enough of this procrastination.  Here is the latest newsflash.  I have just booked my flights to South America.  I fly into Peru in November and I have an open-jaw flight scheduled out of Rio next May (although that element of the journey is subject to change).  Hey, let’s live life on the edge.

Up and running

It’s here.  The adventure begins today.

After thirty four years of work I have handed in my resignation and I  will walk out of employment.  Or out of what most people would call conventional employment.

Have you ever had a dream or a burning desire to see or do something?  Something that eats away at you and finds its way onto every list that you have written or is filed away on the back-burner for that day in the future when you finally get the time, money or skills to be able to achieve it?

For me, that day has arrived.  No more waiting until retirement age when I may not be able to physically do what I hope to do.  No more saving money or learning another Spanish verb.  Ahead of me lies the open road.  Freedom beckons, for a little while anyway, and the only constraints to my new lifestyle are the limits that I impose on myself.

I have a plan, a very loose plan but a plan nevertheless.  The majority of it can be altered on the fly, so that last minute opportunities can be grabbed as they crop up but I am extremely excited.  I am also nervous and a tad apprehensive as I catapult myself out of my comfort zone, but as I talk to people who have already done what I plan to do, and seeing their faces light up as they talk about their travels and adventures, simply reinforces that I have to give it a go.

(more…)

Several weeks of crazy

I have been planning my adventure for some time now, but I had completely underestimated the chaos and madness that is my life at the moment.

No matter how far ahead I that date was circled in my calendar, there are many things that could not be done until now.  Yes, OK – I could have booked in for my travel jabs a few weeks ago which would have eased some of the panic as I almost didn’t have time to get in the full quota of inoculations.

And yes, I agree, I could have started to sort out the mountain of paperwork in my flat which was generated by my divorce before now, but to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t face that before now and I am still procrastinating.

Blind panic is mixed with a blast of excitement when I look at the blanket of   ”To Do’ lists which are draped over my table and I am doing my best to ignore my rising stress levels as confirmation of another leg of my journey pings into my inbox.

But no matter – I know that everything that needs to be done will be done and anything that I fail to get around to can simply be parked up a loft somewhere.  At least I will have projects to keep me occupied when I finally return home after my wanderings.

I have to go off-piste with my rabies jabs as there is a shortage here in England but I have sourced an unlicensed (in the UK) French vaccine.  The worldwide shortage of the typhoid jab is a little more worrying what with my propensity to vomit, but I am confident that my GP will obtain one for me in the next 6 months.  Because although I won’t require protection from rabies or typhoid before November my departure date has suddenly snuck up on me and one of the things which my final flurry of preparation has highlighted is the dreadful bureaucracy that dictates life here in the UK.

The citizens of the UK are not trusted enough to self declare that they are TV-less.  You need proof.  Need to change addresses for bank statements, insurance policies and subscriptions?  Easier; just a very slow process.  Sell or store my motor bike and car?  Toss a coin.  Cancelling my broadband?  Useless! The company have sent me a letter to leave for the new occupants of the flat inviting them to sign up, but several phone calls have failed to produce the pre-addressed delivery bag in which I have been promised I can post my modem back to them, and as for sorting out my final bill; the logic of their fiance department is scary.

I have just one week to go before I leave work and a further two before I leave my home.  I will be ready.  I will be ready.  It’s too late…I HAVE to be ready.

No more waiting

Deep breath……… here is the news that you have been waiting for.  The decision is made, wheels have finally been set in motion and I am now in a position to go public.

I have handed in my resignation and I have given notice to my landlady on my flat. I have begun a course of travel jabs and some legs of my adventure are already booked.

Within four weeks I will be leaving a permanent, secure job that I enjoy, and just two weeks later I will move out of a home where I have been safe and happy.  Just three days after that I shall be on board a Eurostar bound for Paris.

This is an emotional roller coaster.  I am excited beyond belief as this is what I have been leading up to for so long, I am nervous about the experiences that I know are around the corner and I am worried that I may have a made a huge mistake and that I will have left a nice job and flat for some dream that won’t work out.  However, I am not afraid to dip my toe in the water of the vagabond life, test it and come back to ‘normality’ if it is not quite what I expect.  And if I do come back sooner rather than later, then at least I will have tried and I can have no regrets about what might have been.  I have two other friends who are about to set off on their own similar personal adventures this summer, both for very different reasons and I know that both are also experiencing a huge range of emotions.

Now that it is time to pack up the contents of my home, I realise quite how few personal possessions that I actually have.  I moved into this flat three years ago, with not much more than the contents of a couple of suitcases.  Friends and family rallied around and donated much to me and whilst I have also collected a few bits and pieces on my travels, I have consciously not built up much in the way of material goods. Always at the back of my mind has been the desire to move on, but there has also been the memory of what it was like to lose all of my possessions.  I initially believed that my identity was wrapped up in the lifetime of possessions that I ran away from and I actually grieved their loss.  I suspect that people who lose everything in a house fire or a flood must go through those emotions too, but rather than build up another hoard of ‘things’, I have questioned the validity and necessity of each prospective purchase and in the majority of cases I have gone without.

What I have gone through over the last few years has made me stronger and has given me the confidence to give this a go.  I know that some people are a bit worried about my personal safety whilst travelling, but for me, that is the least of my worries.  I worry about missing my friends and family, but will keep in touch and who knows, some of you may even arrange to meet up with me somewhere on my travels

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