End of travels and back to normality.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this post. Partly because I’ve been so busy, partly because I wasn’t quite sure what to write, and partly because I couldn’t be arsed.

I’ve been back over 8 weeks I think. In my head it feels a bit longer and a bit shorter all at once. Rollercoaster with loads going on. Catching up with lots of friends and family, trips daaaaan South interspersed with job applications and sorting out paperwork and shit.

It’s been really strange. Right now, it seems like all those experiences and all my travel was a long, long time ago. A bit of a distant memory. And yet I’m not ‘back to normality’. Whatever that is. You see, my normality now is a bit different I guess. I’ve learnt lots, seen lots that can’t be undone. I don’t want to live the same life I did before, as easy as that would be. My normality right now is flitting from one place and having lots of free time, although I know that will change. Which I’m looking forward to. Having my own base, even though the new job I’ve got (oh yes, I’ve got a job but that’s maybe another post) is going to mean I’m all over the place during the week.

I wanted to write about how I felt about finishing travelling and coming home. And it’s weird, because it’s pretty much changed every day so I’ve never been sure when or what to write. I didn’t know how I would feel, so I’ve just been rolling with it. I’ve had to adjust a bit, and get used to living in limbo for a while. At the moment I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I’m just a hobo that’s still a hobo, even when in familiar places surrounded by familiar people. It’s quite unsettling.

I’ve come back from travelling even less sure about stuff than before. Everything seems to have been tilted and flipped upside down. More options have been opened. It just kind of feels like I have even more choices than before now, because I know what’s out there and I know it’s all possible. And I seem to have become indecisive and fluffy.

I had an absolute ball travelling. I really did. Having some time out of life and to be able to spend my time doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it was brilliant. Exploring all those countries and meeting all those people; it was incredible. My life feels so much richer for having done it. My life has been changed and will never be the same again, but yet I feel here I am back in Lincolnshire feeling like actually nothing has changed. I guess I’m waiting for the next bit of my life to start, which I feel will happen once I start my new job and find somewhere to live again. My job starts in a couple of weeks but I’ll have to wait a couple of months before I get my own place. So, I’m determined to still enjoy each moment, and not sit waiting for something to happen.

I suspect this post is a bit waffly; but that’s kind of how my brain feels right now. A bit jumbled, a bit fluffy and not quite with it. I wonder whether that’s a result of being back in a comfort zone that I’ve not been in for over a year? It’s confused me. I kind of feel like I need a bit of time to myself, to reflect and think about what I want, but yet being back around people I know has meant I also crave that company. Maybe because subconsciously this all still feels temporary and I know sometime soon I’m going to be moving on again. Not travelling, but I’m going to be busy, less available and more than likely living alone in a new city, where I know that although it’s not a million miles away, after a few novelty visits I’ll probably not see a lot of people that often. Real life will get in the way, people have other commitments, families etc. and I’ll just become that old friend who doesn’t live close by any more. Oh I know I’ll make new friends, and have things to keep me occupied, and I’m looking forward to a new challenge and again it will probably end up being one of the best things I’ll ever have done, but right now it’s these kind of things that make me feel like I don’t quite fit or belong anywhere right now.

I was going to write a travel round up post, but it’s not really happened. I suppose I’ve told a lot of you in person some of my travel tales by now, so it seems a bit late in the day. And also I’ve written about my travels as I’ve gone along, so I’d hate to repeat myself. But, here’s a little round up, based on the questions I’ve tended to have been asked since I’ve been back. Oh, and if you want to know anything specific about any part of my trip, just ask me 🙂

  • Favourite country: Australia – mainly Tasmania just because of my biking adventure. I had the most amazing time, challenged myself and met some wonderful people. I’d never done anything like it before and didn’t even know if I could. Well, I know now.
  • Favourite sight: Taj Mahal – it’s really is a sight that took my breath away. It’s the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
  • Saddest moment: Saying goodbye to my little Irish pal after our wonderful week together in New Zealand. I think this was probably the only time I cried while I was away. I do wonder what he’s up to now, I really wish I had his contact details.
  • Weirdest food eaten – fried bugs/insects in SE Asia. They didn’t really taste of a lot but it took me a while to eat one. Probably wouldn’t do it again.
  • Worst moment: Gravel hell day cycling over 40 km of gravel road in Tasmania in 35+ heat, no shade and hills after taking a wrong turning.
  • Best thing about travelling: The people. I heard it so many times before I went away from other travellers but it really is true. I met loads and loads of people, all of them wonderful in their own way. Some of which will be friends for a long time, some of which I will never see or speak to again because it was just a fleeting encounter. All will have changed me or my perceptions in some way, no matter how small the meeting.
  • Item I wouldn’t have been without: my iPhone. I could do (and did) everything on there. From making phone calls, checking my emails, taking photos, my banking, confirming flight details, accessing my travel documents, using the compass and maps and everything in between. I’d have been lost without it (literally, in some cases).
  • Best item: my travel tap bottle from Drinksafe systems. It’s a drinks bottle with a water filter that makes any kind of water safe – really handy in those countries where it’s not advised to drink the water, especially as a lot of those countries also then have environmental issues due to plastic bottles.
  • Best ‘bottle-that’ moment: there’s so many really. Too many to list, each that little bit different. Like in SE Asia with Nick, getting to a new place and finding somewhere to have a beer and watching the sun set while putting the world to rights. With that on-holiday relaxed feeling, nowhere to be or nothing to do but just enjoy the moment. Or the view from the top of Mt John at Lake Tekapo. It was a steep climb, made harder by my broken rib but the view at the top was one of the first glimpses for me at the South Island scenery. I was transfixed and just sat there for about an hour, just staring and thinking. Or the nights spent star gazing in Zambia, Laos and New Zealand. Each one of these was with different people and there’s just something special about laying on the ground looking up at the stars and chatting about everything and anything. There’s also the moment I walked (well ran) through arrivals at Heathrow and saw my parents waiting for me.
  • Best item of clothing: my Salomon walking shoes/trainers. They were so bloody comfy, I wore them everywhere. They’re a completely different colour now than when I started but not really worn at all, still in good shape and keep my feet toasty and dry. I’ll be keeping ’em until they fall apart.
  • Most painful moment: Breaking my rib. Or rather, the days after I broke my rib. The actual break didn’t hurt at all, probably due to the large amount of beer I’d imbibed. I didn’t go to the hospital or take any painkillers until 5 days later. Why the hell not I have no idea, I think I only realised how much it hurt after I’d taken the super-strong painkillers from the hospital and noticed the change.

I was going to write about what I learnt, but I suspect there’s so much it would take me ages. There’s the stuff I know I’ve learnt and the stuff I don’t know but have still learnt (if you know what I mean?). I know I’ve changed, even if you don’t think I have. I had to do loads of things out of my comfort zone. Things I just did, because you have to do. Just getting on with it, because things needed doing. There was no one else to do it for me. Patience, practicality, difficult conversations or situations. Figuring stuff out, making things, teaching people, budgeting, planning. All that shizzle. Loving and liking your own company. Making decisions, choosing stuff.

Travel HAS made me a better person I think, a better version of me. I’m a bit more focused in some ways about what I missed when I was away and what’s important to me. I’ve always been up for trying new things, but even more so now. I know things aren’t that scary, and feel a lot more laid back and chilled about things.

I’m pretty sure there will be some more travel for me in time, but right now I’m looking forward to the future, whatever it looks like. At the moment I don’t know, and in some ways it’s nice to just let it unfold before me. That’s part of the adventure right? And my adventure right now is what most people would call life or normality. Whatever you do in life, it’s all an adventure. After all, it’s what you make of it, so I’m going to make sure I spend mine filled with things and people that make me happy. After all, you only get one, right?

And right now, I am mainly spending time running and biking in the summer sunshine, making the most of all my free time before I become a corporate slave again. And I am absolutely LOVING it. I realise now how much running (and other exercise) is a part of me now. Because it’s what I love doing. I don’t do it because I HAVE to, I do it because I WANT to. I don’t do it because I want to look a certain way, I do it because I ENJOY it.

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Krabi. The town of discovery.

Krabi is the main place to head to if you want to get to some of the Thai islands such as Phuket or Phi Phi, so many people bypass it, choosing to get straight to their destination instead of using it as a stopover. We decided to stay here for a couple of nights though, to check it out rather than heading back to stay on another beach for a few days. We’d done the beach thing, we were so over it. And also wanted to check out Krabi’s street food scene.

Our first impression of Krabi a week ago was at 6am in the morning on the main street when we arrived to go to Koh Jum and were hanging around on a street corner for a songthaew. Empty, no one around and quiet. This, we found, was just because 6am is ridiculously early. So, a normal day in Krabi Town is full of people, markets, stalls, scooters, cars, boats and songthaews.

Not surprisingly, like the other places in Thailand so far, I loved Krabi. It was fairly small and compact, so we’d walked around most of at least the central area after a day and a half. We’d found the morning market, and the afternoon and evening markets. We’d found a muslim food stand which served the most amazing food, with happy, smiley people. No pork, so none of my beloved Pad-ka-prow, but the hot, spicy chicken dish they served more than made up for it. Nick found a green curry to top the one in Khao San Road. I’d found the fruit carts to get my fix of watermelon, and bought some replacement flip flops.

I’m also a target for mosquitos and other flying bitey insects (as I have been all my life, sigh.) and I’d pretty much run out of insect bite stuff so I decided to buy some Tiger Balm. I’d heard of this before, but never tried it, never really knew what it was for. A girl in the hostel in Bangkok had recommended it for insect bites so I figured I’d give it a go. There’s a few different types so the girl in the pharmacy recommended the red ointment. Not sure what the difference is but it smells like cinnamon. Whatever it is, IT WORKS. It works lots. I’d go so far as to say it’s a miracle. It stops the itching really quickly. It makes bites go down and disappear like magic. I think it also helps a little bit to keep insects away. I’m in awe, and now not sure what I’d do without it. I may have to stock up. Just to make sure I have plenty you see. Or panic buying. Either way, I’m not sure I can be without it now. Just like Vaseline, it will become a handbag staple. When I eventually use a handbag again.

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Krabi’s surrounded by mangroves so we went on a walk through one of them. I didn’t really know what a mangrove was until a few weeks ago, so new experience #537262. It was a bit eerie, there was no one else around and seeing the tree roots out of the water made it all a bit like a horror movie. If only it was a bit darker and there was a bit of mist I would have probably crapped myself.

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I think I should write something about the wildlife. All along this trip there’s been loads of wildlife. Everywhere. New animals, insects, birds etc. Most of it while I’ve been out and about and lovely to see, some of it where it shouldn’t have been and not so nice to see. Like wildlife where I wouldn’t have liked it to be. Such as my room, or the bathroom, or in my clothes. It’s not been too bad, most things (including spiders now) really don’t bother me. Out here, in tropical countries, you really haven’t got a choice other to just get on with it. I think my trip to the Amazon last year in Peru also helped with the insect thing (bullet ant, tarantuala or killer caterpillar anyone?). And living alone. When you live by yourself no one else will get rid of the spider for you. Ever had a fish swim up through your plughole while you’re having a shower? No? Me neither, but Nick did, in our little Krabi guesthouse. I don’t think he’ll forget that one in a while.

We also saw mudskippers, amphibious fish with little arms that hop and skip around in and out of the water, as well as some weird one-clawed crab type things, which disappeared down little holes with any little movement. So imagine, one swipe of your arm and they all disappear in milliseconds. Yep, I decided to play at being a wizard for a bit. Little things amuse.

Not wanting to completely leave the beach thing, we caught a longtail boat to Railay beach for the day. Railay, a small peninsular only reached by boat, is very, very pretty. In fact it’s stunning. But very busy, and loads of other tourists. I’d hate to imagine what it’s like in high season. Glad we just went for the day and didn’t stay. Oh, and there’s no street food, only western restaurants and cafes. It wasn’t great weather, but we decided to climb a rocky cliff to a viewpoint at the top. It wasn’t raining at the time. We got half way up. It started to piss down. Torrential rain. So, there we were, barefoot, hanging onto rocks and a rope, halfway up a cliff face. What other choice but to carry on. It’s all an adventure, right? Of course! RIGHT up my street. Much, much fun and we made it up (and down) with no injuries. Got soaking wet of course. And it took bloody ages to dry out, especially without any sun and having to run away from monkeys trying to steal my grapes.

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Longtail boats are pretty ace, although they bob about A LOT and you get wet a bit. Still, they’re not half as bad at that speedboat ride and I didn’t drop my phone or camera in the sea. And they’re pretty. Good times.

Oh, and something definitely worth a mention: I had the best pancake so far in Krabi. Thailand like their pancake street stalls. You can have them plain, or with egg, or banana (or both). My favourite is plain. Plain is actually with condensed milk and sugar. It’s bloody amazing for someone with a sweet tooth. This one was crispy and sugary and covered in gooey melted condensed milk. Mmmmm. We sat eating them out of polystyrene trays on the edge of the pavement. It felt like we were eating chips and cheese after a night out on the lash. But, this was 8pm and we were sober. Funny how different things can appear so similar.

Back on the [usual lairy, erratically driven] night bus to Bangkok, in the middle of the countryside we passed a few buildings covered in fairy lights. Ah, has Christmas come early I thought? Because here, there is no mention of Christmas. Anywhere. Which is great, as I’m pretty sure the UK is full of it by now. I mean, it’s October so of course it will be (which is WRONG). No, this wasn’t Christmas. It was advertising girls. Not sure what exactly what but I can probably hazard a guess. Oh, and that also reminds me of the film they played on the bus. Class A weird. Weird, weird, weird. I know it was in Thai but normally you can kind of follow or guess at a plotline. Nope, not this one. I really couldn’t. It had something to do with men dressing as women, a group of people being held hostage in a hospital, then the same group possibly robbing a house. It seemed to be some kind of dark comedy because it had comedy sound effects and slightly outrageous shootings and stabbings but sinister undertones. I gave up in the end as they also played it at a million decibels so stuck in my ear plugs and daydreamed.

Yep, I liked Krabi. If I had to sum it up? Small, compact, authentic, lively and pretty.

Time to leave.

It’s just about time to leave Zambia, which has been my home for the last 4 weeks. On Tuesday I fly back to Johannesburg where I stay for a night before flying onwards to Delhi (via Abu Dhabi) on Wednesday.

I’ve had a blast. Of course I have. 4 weeks. 1 month. It sounds like a long time but it’s not really. It’s gone so quick. It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since I was arriving here in the back of a pick up with 7 other newbies, all excited for our adventure, not knowing what to expect. It’s been an incredible experience. Chocked full of laughter, lions, children, culture, sun, dust, African wildlife, beer, cold showers, chocolate, waterfalls and bungee jumping.

I’ve learnt a lot; about myself and other people. About Zambia and it’s animals, people and communities. I’m so pleased I did it. So pleased I had that epiphany in that meeting at work just before Christmas. That’s when I knew I had to do something. More specifically, it was then that I knew that part of that doing something was to come to Africa to do some volunteering. I have no regrets at all. None whatsoever. I have so many new memories now that I will treasure forever. I can’t write them all down but here’s just a small selection:

  • The great English vs American pronunciation debate. It never got boring.
  • Riding around in the back of a pick up to get to places. Sometimes stood up, sometimes sat down, sometimes sat on the edge, sun and wind blasting our faces. It reminded me of being little and my Dad’s red pick up that he used to have. Not sure whether I ever sat and rode around in the back though.
  • Andrew washing his hands with toilet cleaner after Firebreak. So funny, especially when we then spent the evening waiting to see if his hands would either a) start to peel b) go red c) burn or d) fall off. Luckily, they didn’t.
  • Nino (sp?) is boy in Spanish. It also means lady bits here in Zambia in one of their local languages.
  • Jamie falling off his chair while we were playing Pictionary. Loudest noise ever.
  • Emily’s inappropriate guesses in Pictionary and her slightly disturbing competitive streak.
  • Finding out what an Eiffel Tower is. No, not the structure in Paris. The rude version.
  • Hi-fiving more times than I can remember. I’m a big fan of high-fiving, I know some people hate it but I LOVE it, it’s so much fun. And over here, the kids love it too. In.My.Element.
  • Knowing that the sun will shine every day and it won’t rain. Ok, so it’s cold in the morning but the sun is already out and by mid-morning it gets hot. Consistent weather; still a novelty. Not sure what India will be like as it’s monsoon season when I’m there so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
  • Nights out in Livingstone; many funny or interesting things happened the two times I went out. So good to let our hair down and have some fun and check out the local nightlife. Beer pong, dancing, prostitutes, sunglasses, shots, it was all there.
  • African dancing at culture day – I had so much fun doing this, I could have done it all afternoon. Dancing their traditional dances in the sun to the African drums was just magical. I loved it.
  • Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. It was my second jump (the first was Bloukrans Bridge in South AFrican in 2011) and although not as terrifying or high as that one, it still got the adrenalin pumping and was such a rush. Beautiful scenery, the sun was shining and we had beers afterwards. What a way to spend a Friday.
  • There’s a line on the Vic Falls bridge where Zambia ends and Zimbabwe begins (we already had to go through border control before that though) so technically I can say I’ve been to Zimbabwe too. Although over here it’s just called Zim. Getting with the local lingo.
  • Playing games with the kids at Kids Club. These were so much fun, the kids get really excited and I got to be a kid again for a bit. Kids are so carefree and we got to enjoy that too. Real adult life can sometimes get dull, boring, serious and sensible. Lets not forget to have fun, blast away the cobwebs and laugh LOTS. We can learn a lot from children, just as they can learn from us.
  • Seeing wildlife every day. And I mean every day. Whether it’s elephants, baboons, hippos, giraffes, impala, monkeys or birds, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I’ve not seen something. Not sure I’d ever get bored of it, although you do get used to seeing elephants just wander on by. Or baboons and monkeys running around. Never thought I’d be saying that.
  • Seeing the most beautiful sunrises, sunsets and stars in the night sky. African sunsets are well known, and there’s a reason for that. They’re just breathtaking. Everyone should see one, at least just once. You just can’t beat it. And the stars, out here, in the middle of the bush with no light pollution, are just amazing. We can see the Milky Way; it’s so clear. The stars shine so bright, and there’s shooting stars too. A couple of nights we just laid outside on the grass and watched the stars. Nothing else to do or see, no interruptions, just enjoying the stars. Sometimes the best things in life are free.
  • Sharing the running love; I ended up running with a couple of different people, getting them running. I hope this carries on throughout my travels.
  • Meeting and making new friends. I’ve met a lot of people out here, they’re a great bunch from all over the world; I’ve laughed lots and learnt loads. I hope we all keep in touch. And next year, when I get back home, we WILL have that UK reunion.

Part of my trip away is trying to figure out what I want to do work-wise. I don’t say career because I’ve never been particularly career minded, rather, I’ve just wanted to get jobs that I enjoy, that challenge me, and that I can do well in. I’m not particularly bothered about following a set path, or getting to the top (whatever the ‘top’ is). As long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing and it’s enabling me to live the life I want, rather than a life I have to, then I’m happy. I can say, after this trip, that there’s two jobs I can rule out. Teacher and firefighter. I’ve really enjoyed the teaching over here, it’s been a great challenge, rewarding and I’ve relished any minute of it. But, I couldn’t do it full time. It’s exhausting, frustrating and just not for me. But, it has reminded me how much I love training. I used to do a lot when I worked for the Police and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. So, that’s a possibility.

And firefighter? It’s something I fleetingly thought about last year. But, after taking part in fire break where we were practically stood in the middle of a roaring fire trying to beat it out, while the thick smoke made it hard to breathe or see, I’ve ruled it out. Obviously it’s not the same at all, but now every time I smell smoke since that first week’s fire break I feel panicky. I really do think it’s scarred me a little bit, it was so horrific, and so that’s definitely one job I couldn’t do now.

Being here has opened my eyes up yet again to new cultures, communities and ways of life that are so different to mine. It’s made me appreciate the things and people I have, and reaffirmed my values and motivations in life. I’m not particularly interesting in things, I’m all about the experiences. I want to help people and make a difference. I know I can’t change the world but I hope I can make a little difference. I hope I have made a little difference while I’m here. I guess I’ll never know for sure but I gave it my best shot.

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Packing. Again.

So, I move out of Alex’s on Saturday. Although, it’s my last night here tonight. So, I need to pack my stuff up. Again. Seems like only 5 minutes since I was last packing it up to come here. When I moved out of my house most of my stuff went to the parentals to be stored, and some came to Alex’s. You may remember I was horrendously hungover. I probably blogged about it. I think back to that day; most of my stuff wasn’t packed. The plan was to pack most of it on the Friday night then finish up the little bits on the Saturday ready for my dad and the van later that night.

Yeah right. What actually happened: I went out for a couple of drinks on the Friday for someone’s leaving do. I didn’t eat (because I didn’t think I was staying out) and ended up getting in at who-knows-what time (but definitely after midnight) absolutely bungalowed. Cue major hangover the next day and a day of packing. But it wasn’t just packing. It was having to decide what needed to go to Alex’s and what was to go into storage. Bloody hell that was difficult for my brain to try to think about. Then car trips with Karl to take the stuff down to the flat. The whole day was utterly horrific. I NEVER want to do that again (not the car trips with Karl, they’re OK, but the packing while hungover).

However, there’s a strong likelihood that I’ll be hungover again on Saturday, because tomorrow is my last day at work and it’s my leaving do straight after work until god-knows-how-late. But, at least I’m prepared this time. Most things are packed up in neat piles so I know what needs to go to which house. Because, oh yeah, that’s the other thing. I haven’t got a base for the next week; I’ll be staying at 4 different houses. Just to make it that little bit more of a pain in the arse.

And of course I’ve got my backpack to pack. Everything I need for a year on the road in one little bag to carry around on my back like a snail. I reckon I’ve got most of my stuff ready, I just need to research how to pack like a BOSS. And then practice. All of this has got to go in a 60 litre backpack.

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EASY.