The bags have been unpacked, the souvenirs placed strategically around the home and we are looking back thinking, was that really us? Did we just really do that – take 8 months off work and travel 14 countries, boarded over 20 flights and endured more bus rides than I, at the time, would rather forget. Is it us in these cheesy photos with spectacular backdrops smiling back at the camera? Looking back at our collection of memories we have gathered our minds are refreshed. Those mojitos tasted damn good, that ceviche in Chile made me very ill, I was miserable in the heat of Texas, yet the texmex and frozen margharitas made up for every drop of sweat I shed. Looking back now it all seems like a dream.
Time has gone so fast. It has been over 3 months now that we boarded the final flight of our journey – back to some sort of ‘reality’ or what some people call ‘a normal life’ consisting of money making, home cooking and nights in watching the new season of whatever happens to be the show that takes your mind off your.. well, everyday reality.
But now I think of the times I wanted time to go fast. The sick times – when you are running a fever, have a sore throat, and a sore tooth (simultaneously) and are stuck in a hotel room in Vegas – yes, that did happen. Or the time I was bitten by 26 mosquitos in Cuba and for the next 2 weeks couldn’t tear myself away from itching my legs or worst still, the hostel in Cambodia which kindly left me with my whole left side covered in bed bug bites of which took 4 weeks to recover from. The lacking comforts of travelling – like taking hot showers sans flip flops in fear of a foot infestation; general lack privacy and private bathrooms on a budget; the simple pleasure of returning to your own bed each night which is yours and no one else sleeps in it after you are forced to check out at 10am and, more importantly, a bed that doesn’t give you the itches the next day; or even just the joy of wearing a different pair of shorts than the ones you have been wearing for the last 6 months – all these accumulate to the sense of, ‘take me home’.
Now sitting at ‘home’, not itchy and my own bed a mere 9 footsteps away, the memories come flooding back. The sense of adventure, wonderment, learning and surprise. The new tastes, smells and smiles (and non-smiles) you encounter on your travels and journeys. The special feeling you get when you wake up in a new country or city, not knowing what the day will bring. What is there to see here?, what do we need to try?, what order do we do it in to maximise our time?, who do we know here?, how do we get there? And of course, where to next?
We remember now the moment we realised we were so lucky to have this opportunity to travel and take this time out and then, almost before we knew it, realised we had not much more time left to enjoy this unique experience and time was quickly running out – what happened?
There was a moment some time between complaining about all the time we were spending ‘travelling’ on the journey – the cramped legs, worried about getting mugged on our push-bikes in Mendoza, stressing about missing trains, planes, tuk-tuk rendezvous at 4am, horses getting stuck in the thickest mud and refusing to move with us on the back and; did I mention those dreaded 19 hour bus rides and; the actual, sit back and relax and enjoy the journey part. This was when we looked at each other and realised how grateful we were to visit all these amazing countries, meet some amazing people and make some pretty amazing memories we will cherish forever.
So this is the time where I need to thank a few people out there in our world who made our journey that much more memorable. Thank you to the German Couple in Argentina who paid for our grocery shopping when our credit cards didn’t work – you saved our Christmas. Thank you to the young gentleman at the airport in Colombia who paid for our bus ride to the adjoining airport when we had no local currency and Laurent was in the processes of full blown argument in Spanish with an innocent bus driver. Thank you to our surprising friend in Trinidad, Cuba who invited us to her home for lunch after trying to sell us cigars illegally – you added some authenticity to Cuba we wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. Thanks to all the random strangers we shared drinks and stories with at restaurants, bars and hostels – you made for some great stories on those long bus rides. Gracias to the crazy crew we met along the way and reunited with in Buenos Aires for a firework filled Christmas and New Years – what a few couple of days. Thank you to the couple that helped pulled Laurent out from the rapids when we were white-water rafting in Banos and the other crazy couple in Vietnam who made us try all that funky food we wouldn’t have dared to smell, let alone try.
Thank you to all the hosts we stayed with on our travels. Your warmth and hospitality, when experienced, made the stay that much more memorable and warm. We were lucky enough to get some fantastic recommendations and even some late night Venezuelan dancing in Ecuador from some colourful hosts who even packed us a farewell breakfast for our bus ride over the border to Peru. This is contrasted by the slightly eccentric (nice way of putting it) AirBnB host in Carmen, California who only utilised her FitBit to monitor sleep patterns when she really should profit from her towns amazing beaches from time to time and actually exercise. Her stalker-style hosting, at the time make us nervous, however it was hosts like her which made for interesting discussions on the long journeys.
Thank you finally to all the chefs, bar tenders and waiters who feed and watered us throughout the 8 months. We had some spectacular food and drink in each country. TexMex and Margaritas in Texas; Beignets in New Orleans; Pizza in NYC; our ‘Roasty Toasty package’ with firewood and marshmellows in the Yosemite National Park; real Mexican consisting of beans (frijoles) with every meal in Mexico accompanied by lime and salt Coronas . We were delighted with affordable Seafood platters in the Caribbean (Isla Mujeras) and had one to many Ron Collins and Mojitos in Cuba and then went through ‘pollo’ country and had enough chickens between us to feed a small Bolivian family for a year. Talking about Bolivia, although it definitely was not a gastronomic highlight – Laurent will always think back fondly on the $0.50 Choripans – you would know them as Hotdogs, which he snacked on most nights after our day working at the Hogar. I too will never forget the choripan – for making me the sickest I have ever been in my life with food poisoning. I should have stuck to the fried chicken! The seafood in Peru along the coast, the asado we consumed in Buenos Aires in the heat of the summer… I could go on… but the best was yet to come in Asia. The diversity in spices, flavours and ingredients caught us by surprise and delight.
So now we have come back to our new ‘reality’. A 50 square meter apartment in Paris, France. Our boxes arrive tomorrow. Our ‘reality’ which was before our grand planned adventure has landed and we are going to open boxes we haven’t seen in over a year.
The Australian surf board is coming, the baby barbeque and 3 years worth of back issues of the Gourmet traveller magazine. We return to the same apartment each night, sleep in the same comfy (bug free) bed and have all those things I longed for when I was crammed in a bus, plane or sick in a hotel room. But now, I am so much more (insert wry smile).
I am content in knowing that if you really want something – something so bad and you are willing to plan and work for it – it can happen. This adventure and experience was initially a dream, an idea, something so far, far away. Then it happened. And it happened so fast that it is now over and we are left with this feeling of contentment and a mind full of memories and a hard drive full of photos back home.
So, now France! The new reality? What new adventures will this new country bring this Aussie Greek girl who is married to a French man? New language, new job, new friends, new food, new destinations and 80 boxes of old pre-travel things arriving tomorrow to unpack …
Time will only tell. Stay tuned.