Sixty weeks, eleven countries, three subcontinents and one empty bank balance later and I’ve reached the final blog entry for this amazing trip (as I don’t plan to bore myself or anybody else with blogging my readjustment to reality)! How do I summarise these entire thirteen months of travel? It has been fascinating, wonderful, harrowing, illuminating, surprising and just far too much fun.
I began in Argentina trekking in the Andes, wine tasting, horse riding, dancing Tango in San Telmo, learning Spanish in Buenos Aires and visiting volcanoes. In Brazil I fished for piranhas, danced Samba in Salvador, learned to surf, gazed on incredible waterfalls, crawled through caves, went clubbing in Rio’s favelas and fell in love with Caipirinhas. In Sri Lanka I walked along the railway tracks, saw huge stone Buddhas, fought monkeys off my breakfast and brought my first Saree. Then it was onto Nepal where there was intricate architecture, stunning scenery and adventure overload; bathing with elephants, trekking in the Himalayas, white water rafting, rock climbing and one 160m high bungee jump that terrified me beyond belief. I spent the next four months falling in and out of love with India on a daily basis: from Bollywood dance routines, working on an HIV project, sunsets on camel rides and sunrises over the Ganges, ancient city palaces, crumbling forts, drinking chai with shop owners, talking to street kids, visiting Jain, Baha’i, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist temples and mosques and watching fireworks over Udaipur’s lake at New Year. Possibly the most wonderfully crazy, intense, contradictory, infuriating and enchanting place to travel in the world. After India I arrived into comparative calm and order in the easy bustle of Bangkok and hill tribes of Northern Thailand. A slow boat took me into the beauty and charm of Laos, tubing down the river, kayaking, discovery the tragedy and scars from the Secret War and doing nothing on the 4000 islands. In Vietnam there were terraces, rice wine drinking with ethnic minorities, limestone karsts, Viet Cong tunnels and the beautiful island of Phu Quoc. Cambodia was a furnace in April but nothing could diminish the splendour of the Angkor temples. Finally I went to Malaysia, a country with the sweetest people in South East Asia, where the beautiful Perhentian islands were a week of relaxing on balconies and scuba diving with sea horses, eels, turtles and rays.
I’ve been so lucky to meet so many wonderful and entertaining people on this trip – from countries as diverse as South Africa, Taiwan and Norway. I’ve met everyone from liquid dance teachers, to psychiatric nurses, band managers to martial arts enthusiasts, every age from 18 to 60. I’ve been adopted by Indian families, brought chai with rickshaw wallahs and been taught Nepalese by my trekking guide. What I love about travelling is how much you learn; about the places you visit, the cultures of the people you meet and about yourself. I’ve learnt that I love a good shouting match with tuk tuk drivers, that I cannot handle my rice wine, that photographs of the Vietnam War shocked me but not as much as the simple head shots of torture victims of the Khmer Rouge, that I hate backpackers with dreads & stripy trousers who walk around in bare feet trying to find themselves, that I can foil camera muggings in Vietnam, how to pull off leeches, that there is no such thing as full public transport in Asia, that I will never wipe my arse with my hand, that a sense of humour goes a long way, that nobody ever has change and that no matter where you are in the world it is always possible to find a good cup of Earl Grey Tea, if you look hard enough.
So I do I feel about going home? Split is the answer. I do miss England, my family, friends, the dog, proper English pubs, mature cheddar cheese and semi-skimmed milk. I’m looking forward to not constantly running out of clean underwear, to be able to drink the tap water, to unpack my rucksack, to walk down the street being totally ignored and to not have took check bathrooms for snakes, spiders, rates, cockroaches or monkeys before sitting down. And despite all that I am going to miss travelling more than I can express. I’ll miss arriving in new places where any time can be a Sunday afternoon of a Saturday night, where there is always something new to see or to do, someone new to meet or somewhere beautiful to do nothing at all. The longer you are away the more you realise travelling is never about one trip, one holiday or one sabbatical. It is not as much something you do as someone you are. I love my life at home and although this trip is at and end I know it’s not a question of if I will ever be off on my travels again… only when.