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Published: March 4th 2013
“Well...not quite a railway station. Lima Airport to be exact, waiting for our flight back home after 859 of the most amazing days I should ever hope to encounter in my life. With a sense of relief, excitement, melancholy and all manner of other emotions, it's on the shores of the Pacific Ocean that our time on the road has come to an end, or for now at the very least...”
I wrote those words more than six months ago whilst waiting for our flight back to England. Despite making plans to travel further north through Ecuador and Columbia and into Central America, the weight of the relentless journey Amy and I had undertaken finally bested us back in Sucre in Bolivia, where we took the decision to return home. During the 859 days we spent in the 20 countries away from our home, from our family and friends, we found ourselves on 86 different buses, 38 boats, 27 planes and 16 trains, resting our heads at the end of long days in 123 different hotels, hostels, huts and shacks. 167 unique journeys and 123 unfamiliar beds! When taking into account the year we were based in Korea together with
those days spent venturing from place to place, we were packing our lives away into our backpacks on average every four days for a different place of strange surroundings and unknown faces.
Song lovers may note the title of this post as a lyric from the Paul Simon song “Homeward Bound,” a song ironically written by the artist on the 13th
September 1965, whilst waiting for a train at Widnes Railway Station, less than 10 miles from where we call home. His beautifully articulate song stands as a dedication to the effects that prolonged periods of time on the road can have on a person. He describes the way that “each town looks the same to me” and as such, he longs for that which although simple, is home. Whilst each of the incredible places we had visited did not ultimately blur into one, the feelings described nevertheless echoed those of our own in the closing weeks of our journey.
And so here we are...home. In the time since we have returned, we have each found jobs in Manchester, rising early bleary eyed at 6am and returning home at 7 in the evening. We are in the process
of buying our first home together, an adventure in itself of a different kind. However, as days pass to others and sometimes even to ourselves, it is as though nothing had ever happened at all; as if the record of our lives encountered a temporary fault and has been corrected somehow, returning to some kind of normalcy (or monotony depending on your view of life). Often times however, during a lull in the day I find my mind nostalgically wandering back to deserted Indonesian beaches and freezing Himalayan peaks; from the rats and filth of the Indian railway to the spotless streets of Singapore; from the impossible blue of the three largest of Earth’s oceans to gazing up in the darkness from its driest desert, into the starry infinite abyss; from swimming with giant turtles to searching the Indian subcontinent for deadly Tigers; from those street crooks who mercilessly scammed us in Burma to the unbelievable teaching experiences we have had in Korea and Cambodia, establishing life-long connections along the way. I find it incredible now that I once thought our time in Korea a means to an end where the ultimate reward would be the journey to follow –
how mistaken I was, never more proven wrong than the moment I was utterly overwhelmed when saying goodbye to those we had educated for so long. Whilst it may seem sometimes that we were never actually away, that what took place was but a moment in time; its indelible imprint remains.
I am immensely proud of what we have done, both in the distance we have covered, the places we have visited, the friends we have made and to whatever extent, the impact I hope we have made on the lives of some of the people we have met along the way, however little it may be. Of course none of this would have been nearly as enjoyable if I had done it without Amy. I suppose there are arguments for and against travelling with a partner but for me, it enriched every experience we had and she was truly missed in the very few times she was not by my side. If I am completely honest, I never really planned to travel in my life, the promise of riches earned held more allure. But to say I am glad that we opted to undertake this trip together would
be an understatement. It has brought us even closer together if that was possible and despite the times I am sure she was checking online to confirm the legality of 'disposing' of me in a given country, I am happy she put up with me and we returned through the gates of Manchester Airport as we left it almost 900 days prior, hand in hand.
A question often asked of people who have experienced such journeys for prolonged periods of time is how such time has changed them, both as people and their lives in general and yes, I appear to have undergone a growth spurt in social conscience, an increase in patience and my relationship with Amy is undoubtedly stronger for the intensity of our time together over the past few years. But what strikes me in returning home most of all is how we take for granted what awaits us on our return and pay little thought at the beginning of the journey to how much the lives of the people we leave behind can change, seemingly in the blink of an eye. The day we left England on February 22nd
2010, I read a quote online
which I posted on my Facebook profile at the time which states that:
“You never really leave a place or person you love, part of them you take with you, leaving a part of yourself behind.”
Life at home does not wait for you whilst on the road and when we return we can only hope that those relationships which are never far from thought in these amazing places we go to are as strong as they were the moment you decide to undertake such an adventure.
That of course is part of the uncertainty that awaits in returning home after such a long time, the road from here just as uncertain as it was a lifetime ago when we departed for Korea, for altogether different reasons. I’m sure that one day the time will come for us to load our lives back into the backpacks but for the time being we’re ready to face the new challenge of integrating ourselves back into 'normalcy' once more. All we can do is reflect on what has come to pass over the past two and a half years, both good and bad, for no journey can be called such
without positive and negative experiences; it’s the very essence of travel...
Favourite Country 1. Indonesia
The variety of this country is unmatched anywhere: beaches, jungle, mountains, culture, marine and wildlife. We went from seeing wild Orang-utans to seeing a funeral ritual massacre to spending the New Year on our own deserted island. 2. Burma
Despite our monetary fleecing in Yangon and the political/ethical dilemma of whether to even vist, it's an amazingly beautiful place with great people. Each stop along the way offers something different. Inle Lake was one of my favourite desinations anywhere we encountered across the world. 3. South Korea
Ok so we spent a whole year here which gives it an unfair advantage but the Korean people are amazingly friendly and the country holds unexplored touristic ventures, from volcanoes and mountains to beaches and cool cities. 4. Brazil
Like Indonesia, Brazil feels like a country you could travel for a year and not see everything. We only spent two weeks here but that was enough to make us want to come back in the future to see more of its jungles, beaches and culture. 5. Nepal
Personally, I wasn’t keen on its cities but the trekking beyond is just unbelievable and an experience I will never forget having shared it with my father. I will definitely be returning here to trek into the Mustang Valley and the mysterious kingdom of Lo Manthang.
Best Experience 1. Trekking the Annapurna, Nepal
With my father in tow, we beat the tourist season and braved the cold as we made it over the world’s highest mountain pass of Thorung La at 5,416m. The scenery and feeling of isolation was just unbelievable. 2. Swimming amongst the phosphorescence on Koh Rong, Cambodia
With absolutely no ambient light, on a clear starry night Amy and I and our fellow volunteers swam in the spectacularly illuminated ocean, our bodies alight with tiny spots of phosphorescence with each movement. 3. Teaching children in Incheon, South Korea
Seeing tiny Korean kids try to put Harry Potter spells on each other with their chop sticks? It was the foundation on which our trip was built and the relationships we built over twelve months with our students were life changing and will never be forgotten. 4. Enjoying a deserted island surrounded by coral reef in the Togean Islands, Indonesia
For four days Amy and I were the only people on our tiny island. The ocean was amazingly clear and the sand pristine white. We spent the long days here snorkelling, reading, watching the sun rise and eventually set and generally soaked up the isolation. 5. Watching midnight street Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Following a steak dinner and bottle of wine, we sat hand in hand in a quiet, dimly lit street and watched on as vintage crackling Argentine tango music played into the night and old men and young women came together simply to dance.
Most Beautiful Place 1. Manang, Nepal
Spending two nights here to acclimatise during our trek of the Annapurna, we were greeted to a Himalayan mountain wall of six snow capped peaks, each above 6,000m. The Tibetan feel to this village set elevated above the Manang Valley was palpable. 2. Inle Lake, Burma
The unique single legged method of rowing a narrow boat by the lake’s fishermen (boats which they live on for days on end throughout the
freezing night) were enough but the setting of this lake, surrounded by floating villages and mountains was spectacular. 3. Atacama Desert & Salar de Uyuni, Chile & Bolivia
We set out on our three day journey from Chile into Bolivia and basically felt like we spent a few days on Mars before finally reaching the impossibly flat Salar itself, whose gradient never varies above 1 meter despite its colossal size. 4. Halong Bay, Vietnam
Amy and I were joined by her father and we went against the grain of sleeping on the tourist boats, instead staying on Cat Ba Island, renting our own kayaks and having entire areas of the bay completely to ourselves, seeing no other tourists all day whilst exploring hidden coves and beaches tucked away in the limestone. 5. Togean Islands, Indonesia
The fact that the likes of the Taj Mahal and Machu Picchu are not on this list should indicate just how beautiful the Togeans are. They are of course hellish to reach but once there, you can watch the sun rise and set from deserted white beaches and dine on whatever fish the staff speared that particular day.
Best City 1. Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Geographically amazing destination for a city, we spent the days sitting with ‘the beautiful people’ on Ipanema Beach and the nights hypnotized by the sounds of percussion Samba music in the streets of Lapa. 2. Singapore
Clean, modern, sophisticated...just cool. It’s not cheap but it’s definitely worth the splurge on the theatre and Singapore Slings in the peanut riddled Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel. 3. Luang Prabang, Laos
Small town feel in this aesthetically beautiful city by the side of the Mekong River, where monks stroll the streets barefoot and tourists can eat for cheap in bustling food alleys. 4. Osaka, Japan
I hate to use the word again but there is just something intangibly cool about this Japanese city. It is full of narrow alleys and food stalls, all surrounded by electric neon-lit towering buildings. 5. Seoul, South Korea
Most of our weekends for a whole year were spent in this city. Going to the theatre, ice skating at Christmas, watching the world cup in the streets with football crazed Koreans and of course, the amazing Lotus Lantern
festival commemorating the birth of the Buddha.
Best ‘Foodie’ Place 1. Argentina
I’m sure Amy wouldn’t agree being a vegetarian, but for me this was paradise. No messing around with vegetables or even garnish, just steak and wine. 2. India
It’s a risk-versus-reward place for food – you’re almost certain to get sick at some point but the taste and variety from state to state is unbelievable, particularly in Punjab. 3. Thailand
Curries of a different kind in Thailand, they are cheap and delicious. 4. Indonesia
Local food which is a blend of Indian and South East Asian. 5. South Korea
Again, another favourite of a meat eater, the BBQ and Broth style dishes may not be for everyone but I find myself missing it more as each day passes.
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