There’s a little test I have. Well, less a test and more an indicator: when I’m happy, and I mean genuinely content with my lot, I break into huge, beaming, “What the fuck is that guy smiling at?” grins completely at random. I can’t help it nor, to be honest, do I want to. It’s great. We’ve all heard that smiling stimulates some sort of endorphin centre in the brain…blah blah blah. All I can tell you is I’ll be walking peacefully down a perfectly normal street one moment and grinning maniacally from ear to ear the next.
I’ve found myself doing this pretty much constantly these past 10 months, though hopefully not too much in sight of the people I’ve found myself with; first impressions count for a lot over here and n-one wants to be “That Guy Who Smiles At The Pavement.” I have taken it as a good sign however. Back in good old Blighty as I’ve rather annoyingly started referring to it I’d find myself doing this about as often as I’d find myself pining for the collected hits of Tiny Tim. The last time I remember spontaneously beaming was after the Olympics opening ceremony, walking home with Enola Gay blasting my ears and, for what was probably the first time in my life, genuine British pride buoying my insides. Before that it was probably when that lass went all googly-eyed at me after that date that one time. You remember.
What I’m trying rather ineffectually to get across here is that I’ve had the time of my life. As in, the time of my life. I’ve done so much amazing stuff that things like “trekking the Lost City of Colombia” actually slipped my mind while making a mental Best Of list. I’ve done so much stuff I began to take in my stride activities that would, 10 months ago, have blown my little black socks off. National student parade with hundreds of tribal/traditional dancers complete with bootleg fireworks and flares being shot into the crowd? Meh. A giant, blood-red lake housing flocks and flocks of wild flamingos, reflecting perfectly the snowcapped mountain on it’s shore? Well I suppose it’s quite nice…
If this sounds like me bragging, well I suppose I am. I’m really quite proud of myself. This time last year I was something of an emotional wreck, completely lost amongst career-makers and people who used terms like “Web two-point-oh” and “conflab” without a single hint of irony. For a while I almost became one, the former of thosebeing something approaching my area of expertise. I even had a mini-breakdown in a fancy restaurant toilet, wasting enough toilet paper to float a generously proportioned elephant (on my face rather than on any uncontrollable shitting. That came later). Again, what I’m trying to say is I wasn’t breaking out the pearly whites all that often.
Look at me now eh? The bags under my eyes aren’t from days of unbroken screen staring but from waking each morning to feed a jaguar. I’ve got a beard and everything. I’ve always disliked the idea of travelling to find oneself, mainly as the people who parrot it invariably end up staying at the New Delhi Hilton after discovering what that hole behind the commune is for, but still, without actually trying to I really do think I’ve found a side of myself I can consider quietly and say, “You know what? He’s alright that chap. Nice beard.” Which is, frankly, fucking unbelievable. Yay me I suppose.
I’ve staid off doing a point by point reenaction of my trip as no-one, not even me, would find it even mildly interesting. I know, I tried. Instead I’m going to focus on the one aspect of my trip I think I can attribute my sickeningly happy state to the most: the people. Those of you who have managed to pay attention since the start of this exercise may have realised by now that I love travelling. It’s got to the point where I don’t know whether to describe it as a hobby or a lifestyle, which is a bit scary considering the usual state of those in the latter category. There is nothing else that makes me as happy as boarding a bus/train/flying metal sausage to somewhere I’ve never been with no idea what I’ll find, but if this trip has taught me anything it’s that no matter where you end up, no matter where you stay and no matter what language you speak, everywhere you go there’ll be likeminded individuals to make your stay that much better.
Everywhere I’ve been there were people who did just that. Funny people, kind people, people who’d seemingly been to every country on the planet. People I’d never have had the opportunity to meet had I not decided “Fuck this shitey computer and it’s rubbish numbers, I’m off to Colombia.” With very few exceptions everyone I’ve met has been utterly delightful, and each and every one brought something uniquely enlightening to my experience. Of course as soon as you get to know someone you’re waving them goodbye; such is the nature of travel. But it’s worth it. The time you get with this endlessly fascinating collections of folks is absolutely worth the often heartbreaking goodbyes that follow. To those of you I met whilst travelling still reading this nonsense I say thank you. It’s your fault I’m unable to face reality and am buggering off to Australia.
I’m going to end my final South American entry with, rather fittingly, a Pretentious Quote. It’s a cracker though, so bear with me. This St. Augustine seems like a sensible chap. Had his head on straight.
Tatty bye South America. It’s been…well. Yeah. Educational.
That’s not the quote. This is the quote.
Music of the, well The End I suppose:
I’ve purposefully left this one till last, being as it is my Travel Song. Each time I found myself hopping aboard a bus to the middle of nowhere, rounding a rocky outcrop to find ruins ancient when Rome decided it liked the look of Europe, or simply staring at vistas that almost brought me to tears (I know, I know, bugger off) this song ended up being played. It’s sad listening to it now it’s all over I suppose, but it’ll always be there to jerk my rather stubborn memory back to the amazing times I’ve had. And anyway, there’s plenty of Earth left out there to see.
I’m just getting starting.