It is some five weeks since I returned home from my grand adventure. I have had some time in which to reflect upon a smattering of my experiences and to begin the longer term process of assimilation and acceptance. I have also, of course, enjoyed a wonderful time back home surrounded by loving family and friends: any trip, no matter its length nor substance, is rendered worthwhile by the happy moment of home-coming; in my case a bus-side reunion long-imagined, long dwelt upon, yearned after.
The journey I undertook throughout the Americas, travelling as far south as the northern edge of Tierra del Fuego and ending just shy of the border separating the US and Canada, was full of moments memorable and magical. There were many, many highlights and the occasional low-point. There were even those occasions that seemed destined to burden my spirit yet ultimately proved something of a release; I speak chiefly here of my time in the clinic at Banos, an episode that I have come to regard as a true highlight of my trip. I saw and did many wondrous things and I have returned home a broader character for all of these blessings. A popular question to confront my home-coming, both from the lips of others as well as from within my own mind, has been the extent - if at all - to which I find myself changed. I must confess that there has been no life-altering epiphany as a result of my expedition. I did not set out with such a radical programme in mind and - perhaps because of this, perhaps not - I did not find such during my seven months away. Smaller alterations I have perceived and many of these I have grown fond towards, such as I hope to retain these changes in the long term: in particular, I have come to appreciate a firmer connection with the world around me and within me and I must admit that I seem to be slightly more patient these days - especially towards myself! I was fortunate indeed to receive some superb advice from my Canadian friend Corey before I left England: he urged me not to travel with expectations, as these would surely hinder my appreciation of the places that I intended to visit. I would go further in fact: arriving in towns and cities, often with an absolute disregard of the sights to see and things to do there, was incredibly thrilling and very liberating; I was not burdened by a need to see and do everything in the guide-book and I was left on many occasions with a delighted sense of surprise as I stumbled upon something wonderful. Indeed; I carried no guide-book: my only guides took the form of genial, informative, up-to-date fellow travellers and these amazing figures furnished my every need, often pointing me in directions quite unimagined hitherto.
I met countless wonderful, beautiful people throughout my adventures. I have long supposed that people are the essence of any place and while there are certainly exceptions to this statement, in the main my favourite experiences have included people within their fabric most prominently. It is beyond me to recall the names of everyone who left an impression upon me throughout my trip, but impress me many characters most certainly did, both local and foreign, travellers very like myself yet different in important ways as well. Many of these luminous personalities I have remained in contact with during my journeying and I hope to continue to communicate with henceforth: the world is a smaller place now than ever before and it will only continue to shrink. In a seeming paradox, this shrinking existence offers more chances now than ever before to broaden one's outlook through exposure to a dizzying range of differing cultures, conversations, theories and thoughts. Ultimately, it was people more than any other single factor who heightened my experiences and I am indebted to some truly remarkable individuals and collectives woven within the rich tapestry of my itinerary.
The tapestry was rich indeed and also very long. Although I have been rather remiss in ascertaining realistic figures in the time spent back at home, I would hazard as a conservative estimate to have covered over 20,000km on the roads throughout the Americas. Once the plane flights departing from and returning to the UK have been included, this figure is hovering around the 40,000km mark - I would not be surprised if the actual figure is larger than this even. I have travelled by foot, bicycle, city-bus, long-haul coach, taxi, tuk-tuk, train, underground metro, 4x4, motorcycle, flat-bed truck, open-top convertible sports-car, car-share, ski-lift gondola, passenger ferry, cruise-ship (a very small one), outboard motor launch, aeroplane and other fascinating contraptions I am sure that at present escape my memory. Such transporters have carried me across breath-takingly brilliant landscapes, to and from phenomenal locations and activities but also, of course, they have themselves provided exciting moments within the tapestry: after all, it is not simply the destination that is worthwhile, in any journey.
After speaking long and zealously about my lack of desire for lists and categorizations, even I must admit that there have been certain uniquely special moments within my entire trip. The climax of my trip, to my mind, can be pin-pointed to a three-week period covering much of my time in Ecuador. It begins with my falling ill in Banos and carries me through the period of convalescence to my time in and around Quito, before flying north to Panama City. During this time I met some truly inspirational people, developed some wonderful friendships and partook of some especially exciting adventures. Included within this number is my favourite single experience from the whole episode of travel; namely, my trip to the Galapagos. Shuffling wearily through the bustling streets of Quito, still a little shaky after my bout of Salmonella and feeling distinctly sorry for myself, how glad I am to have hit upon a trip to those magical isles as a pick-me-up tonic! Looking back over the blog entries and photographs, it is clear to me that this trip heralded a special account in my book of adventures and forms a series of experiences with which even now I am still coming to terms. Besides these virtuous weeks, there were many other fabulous escapades: Machu Picchu on my birthday was fantastic; my Argentine trips to the Perito Moreno glacier and the Iguazu Falls (memorable as my first big adventure within my trip) were awe-inspiring indeed; there were so many other moments, both great and small, that made this whole expedition so worthwhile and so beloved. I consider myself so very fortunate to have been able to experience all of these marvellous things and I am truly blessed to have enjoyed the confirmation time and time again of this good fortune and of the love that exists in this world, between relative strangers, through to family that while seemingly far removed are actually there with me in mind and spirit, carried safe within my heart and soul.
I returned home to this love and to my long-awaited reunion with Mum and Dad in the bus station at Wolverhampton, that most auspicious of locations. There has since passed five heart-warming weeks of reunions, with people, with places, with favourite foods: there has been utterly decadent scone-consumption at all the old haunts - Ironbridge has featured prominently as I had hoped and expected. I have been lucky indeed to enjoy an unexpectedly prolonged period of time with Beth, as the powers that be faffed with her CRB check - ah, the irony of a petite, slight young lady being prevented from starting work with some of the more sinister and threatening figures in our society because of this measure! Of course, I am not complaining: it has been lovely to spend some time with my favourite sibling. I have accompanied Mum on early morning lengths at the local swimming pool (exercise at last!) and particularly savoured my return to circuits at Wrekin, the superlative direction of Jim and my friend Tony, generous and witty commentator of my blog so many times while I was away. I have eaten chips with Dad, as we rested beside our bikes, overlooking the Shropshire plain and we have munched our way through a rather tasty curry while scouting out suitable locations for this year's Christmas meal for the rowers. There have been excellent, competitive games of Scrabble and visits from the grandparents and other close family. I have enjoyed wonderful, intimate hours with my beloved piano and a wider range of music than was at my disposal for the entirety of my travels. I have even managed to fit in trips to Hamburg and Berlin in Germany, to Cambridge, to London and to Oxford to see Beth graduate - what a proud occasion: you looked awesome Beth! It has been a beautiful time, setting me up for the months ahead; indeed, tying me more closely than ever to home and all that I hold dear there.
My first American adventure is at an end, yet as one door closes... Now I find myself on the cusp of a second marvellous trip, this time to Canada, where I hold a twelve-month work permit and a deep sense of excitement, fear and determination. In fact, I write this piece not from home, but instead from my first port of call here in Vancouver, at the home of my friends Mike and Jenna, met at the famous Inti Raymi festival during my time in Cusco, Peru. I have this very day returned from my orientation meeting with the overseers of my visa programme, thoughts rushing through my head of mobile phone contracts, bank accounts, tenancy laws and employment particulars - I shall sort it all out, one step at a time: a thousand mile journey...
I am unresolved as to how this blog shall evolve now that I am in such a removed set of circumstances compared to my situation during my last trip. I intend to keep writing, but I am undecided upon how often, concerning which topics and at what length. I suppose that I shall simply sit down to write when I have a moment and let the words fill the page! Until that moment presents itself, I send my best to everyone who has hung in there so valiantly and is even now reading through this drivel: jolly, jolly good show! You really do make it all worthwhile. I hope that you are all enjoying the mounting excitement of the onset of Christmas (my favourite time of year, possibly) and staving off the worst of seasonal colds and blues. I am thinking of you all from here in blustery Vancouver, where the weather really is not all that far removed from the cold winds and icy mornings of home and a distant cry indeed from the sunshine of, well, all of South America! On that whimsical note...
Best wishes to all!