After twelve months in South America many things that were once strange to me are now normal. And it is now what should be the normal back in the UK which feels very strange to me.
For instance, last week I landed at Heathrow and I caught the Tube into London. Nobody spoke. Everybody looked at their feet or stared blankly out of the window. There was no music being piped in and everybody had headphones on rather than holding mobiles up and listening to them. It used to drive me nuts when there were eight different tunes playing around me, or a stranger insisted on sitting pressed up against me even though there was stacks of room elsewhere, but with hindsight I prefer the noise and connection with my fellow human beings than this distance which I am now having to readjust to.
After twelve months of not putting toilet paper down the loo it will just seem so wrong to start throwing it down the pan again. Nobody throws anything down the toilet here – the pipes just can’t cope with it. I have worked in hostels and I have had to empty the bins in the toilets daily – in one case I had to take the paper to the compost bin and mix it with the kitchen waste. Honestly, it’s not half so bad as you might think – but I apologise in advance if I come to visit and I forget where I am and you find my paper in your bin.
After twelve months of not using a washing up bowl, but washing the dishes under the running and usually cold water tap it will seem odd to run a sink of hot, bubbly water and not eating off ever so slightly greasy plates.
After twelve months of sleeping in dorms with complete strangers and sometimes having to clamber up into the top bunk bed, it will be odd to have my own room and space again. On one occasion in a hostel in Medellin I woke early and I went to the bathroom. When I returned there was a man in my bed. He had just got in from a wild night out and rather drunk and high on some happy pills he had navigated his way to what he thought was his bed (it had been his bed two weeks previously) and he had passed out. No amount of poking and prodding would wake him so I simply gave up as I had to leave early anyway and I got myself showered and dressed and I checked out.
After twelve months it will be funny to not see vultures hunched on roof tops and trees just hanging about and waiting for something to die. I don’t know why, but these birds fascinate me – perhaps since I went to see The Jungle Book when I was about seven years old.
After twelve months of cold showers, showers which stop mid shampoo, showers that gave me an electric shock or one which actually rained sparks down onto me when it burst into flames, I can’t wait to run myself a deep, candlelit bubble bath. Accompanied of course, by a glass of red wine, some soft music and a good book.
After twelve months it will be strange not to jump when I take a saucepan out of a cupboard because giant cockroaches scuttle out, and as for spiders… well they hold no fear for me after these monsters.
After twelve months of disputing the prices charged in shops, cabs, the bus station and even the Post Office, it will be very odd to simply hand over cash and not question the integrity or the mathematical skills of the vendor. Unlike some travellers I don’t get angry or take it personally when I am targeted and charged ‘gringo prices’. I just question everybody with a raised eyebrow and an ‘are you serious?’ in Spanish which usually does the trick and gets me the correct price.
After twelve months of drinking tap water, well water, stream water, home made juices off some very unsavoury characters on the street and home made ice creams, let alone eating meats from fly infested street stalls I suspect that I may have a parasite or three. However I have never once had a bout of food poisoning, or a dodgy stomach (apart from those which are self induced and caused by an excess of rum, aguardiente or beer).
After twelve months I accept that Health and Safety is not a top priority here – or at least there is no culture of suing organisations. If you trip or fall it is your own look out – people here take responsibility for their own actions. This includes choosing whether or not to wear a seatbelt or a crash helmet – although in reality there is often no choice to be made because there is not usually a functioning seatbelt available or a spare crash helmet.
After twelve months I don’t give it a second thought when I see soldiers, police or security guards carry or even draw their weapons and plenty of people are walking around swinging evil looking machetes or knives. But it doesn’t make me feel any safer to see these guns and I certainly hope that the British forces do not begin to visibly arm themselves on the streets any more than they do at the moment.
After twelve months I will certainly miss the food opportunities on the buses. At every stop, toll booth or traffic jam they stream on or if they are not allowed to board they tap at the windows and shout out at you. My bus vendor record has been twelve different sales people at one time, jostling in the aisle and shoving past each other to sell their fried plantains, herbal parasite remedies, ice creams and sweets.
After twelve months I will miss the Latino people and I have met people from every country on this continent. Of course I generalise here but they are friendly, warm and generous. They are relaxed and laid back. They are helpful and inquisitive with a wicked sense of humour. They generally have an infectious attitude to and a love for life. And they can dance.
After twelve months I will miss my fellow travellers. You will have already read about some of them in previous blog entries. They are a special tribe of the human race; open minded, non-judgmental and fun. They work hard and play hard. They know the best hostels, the best bus routes and the places to avoid. They will come together to support each other in times of need, they will share cabs and costs, dinners in hostels and even beds in a tight situation. All ages, all nationalities and all classes are out here, adventuring, working and exploring.
After twelve months I will miss South America and my nomadic lifestyle.