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Published: June 12th 2012
Below us is a barge, a dot in the bright blue Pacific Ocean. In the distance is my home. 16 hours since I left Los Angeles I thought of the ease it was to get here. One time in Africa I waited 24 hours just for a bus to leave the bus station, now I’m almost home. I was flying with a Fijian airline, Air Pacific and couldn’t help but link the closeness of the name to the TV series Lost’s airline, “Air Oceanic.” All we needed now was to land safely.
As the great city of Sydney came in the line of sight, the plane would provide the greatest show any airline has provided upon my return. At times it was as if the planes wings were touching the rooves of the houses below as it lent from side to side. A look to the right and its north from Bondi Beach, all the way up the northern beaches, to a site of Sydney Harbour and downtown.
Passing the Olympic stadium and other grounds where my beloved Parramatta Eels have lost crucial finals games in the past. We reached Parramatta and just before we
see the offices of my work we loop around looking back along Parramatta River back east with the Harbour Bridge in the distance. My home city was welcoming me back in flying colours under a clear blue sky.
A proud and humbling moment came over me as I reflected. Toward the end of JP5 other travellers asked if I had sat back yet and reflected on how much I’ve travelled? I hadn’t really until this moment. I finally gave myself a chance to let the goose bumps rise and think, “Wow! That’s me who’s done this!” Four and a half years of travel in the last 9 covering 100+ countries (I’m not going to start up an argument on what classifies as a country). When I left first up in 2003 I had not predicted I would have seen as much as the world as I have. There was a desire to see the world but I thought it was going to be in moderation… I just couldn’t help myself.
My journey I feel is the answer to many peoples question of, “What could have been if I continued to travel?” For a decade
I have dedicated my life to travel and it has had nothing to do with travelling to “discover” myself. It has been to learn more about the world that I didn’t know. I loved the times when I discovered new places like Suriname; I thought it was an African country but there it was in my guidebook above Brazil and in South America.
Things like that is what I wanted to see, there is always more to the world than the world I know and as a 21 year old on my first trip I only thought of European travel. Back then I was looking at travel for a bit of experience, a potential career move whilst doing a work visa… Oh how that thinking has changed since then.
What makes someone decide to screw a career for a while? What stops someone from saying no to getting bogged down by a mortgage at a young age? This is what I thought my life would have been by now. A normal transition from tertiary education to adult life but somehow that path has taken a detour.
There are some events in
my life that has probably led me to this day. There is a definite individualism that a long-term backpacker needs but there are events that make you start to think what am I doing here - Not why have I been put on earth or anything like that. For me it was a moment when I started to think, “Hey what opportunities has this world given me?” I saw it as a chance to do what other generations have never had.
This is a unique time in the world. As the world becomes closer it becomes more accessible and how could I not take that opportunity with both hands? Never before until the past few decades has so many middle class societies been able to travel the world of their own free will.
The world is being seen differently now and how exciting it is. Not just for me but so many others people like me, most likely the people reading this. Previously the world was seen through politicians or some rich, sophisticated person from some colonial leading country. It was another motivating tool to keep travelling, why should I take what other people
have said as gospel about the world? I wanted to be able to have my opinion on the world through experiences not from just reading what someone else has got to say about it.
I have changed as a person I’m sure. I think my creativity has weakened because now my experiences have taken over a bit of my imagination. Some things that have happened to me are beyond imagination. Some good, some bad but all is good now I have made it home.
Time has passed and the travel world has modernized. When I started traveling you had to search a city for an Internet café. Now it has gone full circle and it is again hard to find an Internet café with WIFI taking over. Instead, the time for emailing your friends of your travels have gone, setting up a personal website with a lame homepage setup. Now its facebook, twitter and Skype to talk to people and blogging.
Taking photos has change dramatically from the days of pre-purchasing in bulk film of different ISO ratings to now Digital SLR, underwater compact cameras. Rolling a new film into a
camera had to be pre-planned depending on the lighting I was going to be in. Now a few flicks of switches and it’s done. A small memory card reader is used to store my photos instead of storing them in a lead bag so the film didn’t get ruined by airport x-rays.
Somehow I sound like an old veteran of travel with that last paragraph but if I started two years later I wouldn’t have had to explain that in 2003 I had to wait a year before seeing my pictures.
Technology has impacted greatly on my travels and its forever changing. Laptops had a 4 year burst. Replaced with notebooks and ipads. I must look like an old fart carrying my Mac laptop around. I am almost lame if I don’t catch up and travel with an iphone soon. It’s gone mad too because after trying to condense things to fit into your pocket people are using ipads now to take photos and as a GPS tool whilst walking the streets.
Accommodation choices are endless now like Coachsurfing. Yet sometimes I feel that travel is getting too accessible, sometimes even
too structured. Spontaneity is the best thing about travel. Have a rough guide to give a direction but be willing to change at any point. Some of my best moments have been when I’ve bitten the bullet and changed my itinerary completely.
In JP3 twice I made bald moves. I traveled most parts of South America but turned my back on its two must see destinations: I chose Paraguay instead of Patagonia and The Guyana’s instead of the Amazon River. JP4 I pulled the pin on the last part of Central Asia and ended up experiencing the glories of the Middle East prior revolution. JP5 I flew to Qatar from Sudan to see a soccer match and if it weren’t for that rash decision I wouldn’t have flown into Egypt during the revolution.
I have some treasured stories from my travels and the hard luck stories are most people’s favourites. Like the one where I got robbed at knifepoint in Brazil but then had to identify the robbers after they were caught. Or the time I chased down a pickpocketer and got my wallet back in Madrid, just prior to running into a large
metal pole… twice after he got away. Those things didn’t make me want to rethink of how I travel.
When those things happened I was determined for it not to beat me. I took it for what it was worth, a great story and to instead turn it into a positive and a challenge to test my mental strength and because I am here now years later. On some occasions I feel I am the winner in all of this.
There has been times when I’ve thought is it time to ease up on the backpacker life? Dorms are the hard thing, some days I’m fine with it, other days I can’t take it no more. My youthful exuberance of jumping up to the top bunk has gone. Maybe it’s the weakened upper body strength?
My body shape has changed slightly but not much. Travel has only allowed me to stay ectomorphy but even as an ectomorph prior to JP1 there was at least a slight muscle mass and fitness that allowed me to be active early on. But there has been a slight decline in activity-based travel. Hikes now go
through a hell of a first 15 minutes just willing my second wind to come along. There is nothing you can do about it. If you want to travel for any great length of time, resign yourself to the fact that you will become skinny or in my case even skinnier. Interestingly though the heaviest I have ever been was in South Africa during the World Cup. I put on 7 kilos in a month thanks to SAFA’S awesome food potions.
Food is a big part of travel and it has been my weakness. I saw it more of a necessity than pleasure. Yet every now and then I went searching for something different like those rams balls and sheep’s head in Iceland but with budgets come cuts and for the first few journeys food is what I cut.
Now as I became older and wiser the list of enjoyments changed. I noticed at around JP4 when I hit Muslim countries that alcohol was not that important when you want to enjoy yourself so gradually alcohol was given the flick in favour of food. Rarely in the past two journeys has pasta and pasta
sauce been the staple.
I would like to experience some things I haven’t concentrated on in my 5 Journeys and dedicate 2 weeks to enjoy and pamper is one. Travel with other people would be nice than just a few days here and there.
Food has provided some scary moments as well as drink on bus rides. I’m not sure if you can appreciate this but I am so proud of myself in that I, yes I (my chest is puffed up right now,) managed to not poo myself in all my travels. And there have been so many close calls as I witnessed all the shades of day, after I excruciatingly sat there in those cramped developing world buses with no toilet. Just begging for the ride to finish.
I don’t know how many times I’ve thought, “Well this is it. My life is about to change forever!” And it is such a life changing experience, you don’t expect to do it after you pass infancy and not until you hit about 80 and in hospital.
On the peeing front, hardest pee I ever had to do
was on an India sleeper bus where I had to skull my sprite drink to enable room for my urine to enter. Once that was done I had to pee into a bottle opening whilst the bus bumped around all whilst sitting up on a bed. I somehow feel I’ve experienced a restricted urethra 30 years before my time.
Jokes aside it is however a fear of mine that perhaps all this pressure of holding on for ones and twos may hinder the longevity of my bowels and bladder in the long term. I’m not sure if it’s all linked but I have already put my hand up for an early prostate test. I mean an enlarged prostate, that’s almost a given.
Whilst being able to pee freely is welcomed now I’m home there will be a restriction on talking about toilets and toilet related things. Like the shapes, colours and the ability to fart through with confidence. Most of these topics are only accepted in society when there is a baby around and someone’s about to change the nappies. But backpackers seem to take a liking to this topic in certain destinations and
here for me were some of the highlights. India and the Americas (including USA)
Money has changed as well, thank Christ the EU came along when it did. Changing money is so annoying especially when dealing with dodgy border crossings. To avoid that you have to make sure you have enough money those last few days otherwise it’s off to the ATM again.
And what that has done to travel too, the ATM. I never had traveller’s cheques but in 2003 that was still a popular option. Now, no one does it. But with that luxury comes a cost. I must have spent at least over a couple of grand on ATM fees. Internet banking has changed banking for travellers too. It opens up the chance for fraud but trust is what you have to believe in
My third day’s travel was a purchase online with a Gallipoli ANZAC Day tour. In 2003 it was a gamble to book something online especially when it is an international company but it all turned out well and now its almost stupid to book with a travel agent for the travel I was doing.
I’d say 100% of my total travel in JP4 & 5 was been done over the Internet or point of sale vs. a travel agent.
So many times you hear fear stories and warnings to not go somewhere. “Oh I wouldn’t go there its too dangerous!” I’d say back in my head “How would you know?” I find it fascinating how we all have points of views but we are taking advice from people that probably spend no time on the streets but in fancy hotels. And it’s these people who say what is good and what is not.
The latest journey I went through the Egyptian revolution, Visited Congo DR, went into Somalia and a region split from Moldova and said to be the closest thing to the old Soviet Union. If I took advice from people I wouldn’t have got some of my great experiences and knowledge about the world.
Fear is our biggest problem it has got me at times in my travels but more times than not I talked myself out of it. Despite some of my great stories being from bad people, to stop travelling over
it is ridiculous. As a whole human beings are caring people no matter what nationality. It’s amazing how being armed with a smile creates so many more opportunities than a hand with a gun.
Sure there are traits that certain cultures have but that is what makes the world so great. Diversity, I’m sure I’ve made a comment that could have been classed as racist but it is not. We are all racist in our own way, I have been discriminated had prejudices towards me. It’s happened many times just because of my skin colour.
So what pissed me off in the end about people? There are so many things that will come in my head but having to negotiate for a water bottle in Egypt 3 years ago annoyed me. I love bargaining but sometimes it went too far. People acting like they are your friend when they are clearly going to rip you off if the conversation continues. Also having to handle corrupt authorities but how do you over come that?
I was told my dad’s nickname in Greek was ‘ifestio’ (volcano) because when he got the shits he
would explode in a barrage of verbal rage. I honed in on this knowing that I must have this in me. People underestimated my gentle nature at times and moments as a solo traveller in the 3rd
world and developing world countries helped bring a new side out of me.
But that was interesting because when it came to authorities Africa was good to just let loose as if you know what’s going on and that you have a higher intellect and authority then them and more times then not it worked. Yet in Central Asia it was looking calm whilst being assertive. In Latin America it was as if they weren’t there until playing dumb didn’t work anymore of which you’d move to plan B. Tell them “no entiendo?” “I don’t understand?” leading them to eventually giving up. I think they see the white man as very time conscious people and when you show that time doesn’t matter they’re already losing the battle.
A few months back I expressed my disappointment in not perfecting at least one other language apart from English but at times I found it more useful to not have
the language. I don’t think I will ever learn the Russian language after having been stopped so many times by corrupt officials. The only time I found it useful was in Latin America to speck to the ladies. It’s amazing how much encouragement you can get from a native female being patient with your crap attempt at their language.
But as a whole I enjoyed conversing verbal and non-verbal with most people but the Rasta men were my all time-hated people. I’m sure Bob Marley would have been a fascinating person to talk to but generations after they are the most boring and predictable human beings you can meet in travel.
That leads me to drugs and travel. I often think what could have happened to me if I dedicated my travels to drugs. The London scene would have been my biggest test but I didn’t do my work visa there. Whilst other places in the world, especially the Americas there were options for it but that was not my point. The world was too interesting to just hang around one area with a bunch of other travellers and a few drug dealers of
the local area and call that a great travelling experience. The idea of travel for me was to get an impression and then move on.
I have no regrets on missing out on becoming a drug addict. I’m fine I can move on from that but perhaps I should have hung around a bit longer to get the girl. For the amount of travel I did you’d think I would have notched up a century of girls but that is far from reality.
Whilst I sat there at hostels and heard guys talk about how they got with their 5th
girl in 2 weeks. Having sex on the bottom bunk last night, “Yeah I’ve dropped my standards a bit…” I can’t say that it was my main goal of travel. Sure there were close calls and some girls I reflect back on and think what if I made that little extra effort but I just don’t think it was meant to be up until this point. It’s amazing how many hard luck, poor timing stories I’ve got. It does shit me briefly whenever I see a couple travelling together but I’m happy for them.
But when I hear them say that they met up whilst travelling and the timing all worked out well. I generally say in my head whilst having a smile on my face “Oooh Fuck off!”
I guarantee I would have not seen as much as I have if I weakened and went searching for a girl. Taking it as it comes was my attitude which whilst it does attract some girls its probably not the best attitude to have to keep the girl interested. I just put off the wrong vibe, miss read or completely missed the sign altogether. I improved over the years slightly losing the horrible affliction of ‘nice guy syndrome’ but I think it was more through choice that I have returned a single man settling down once the bald patches start.
Something that is hard to comprehend is that travel is not all fun and games. There are parts that frustrate the hell out of you. I think anyone is capable of doing what I and so many other people have done if the opportunity allows. But keeping at it is the hard part. If I just went away for
a year or two I don’t think I would have changed much but the longer I’ve been going the more I’ve seen and the more I’ve changed that slight bit.
The big one I’ve noticed is that I became bored of myself. I think to get by on your own in this world you have to find yourself pretty fascinating to an extent but now even though I do chuckle to myself every now and then I’ve become somewhat boring and predictable.
The other big one is I don’t think I am nicer or as caring of a person than what I was before I left in 2003. Some might say that is because you became more of a man. That’s what men are like and its probably true there gets to a point when you think I am not going to be a pushover anymore a bit of “what about me attitude.” It’s this attitude I am surprised I got from travel. But maybe it is only temporary.
I do hope that travel is the great friend of the world. The opportunities for locals, improvements to local facilities can be
linked to tourism. But it sometimes is hard to see when you see the western culture take over small idyllic pieces of a countries land for resorts. I am to blame here as much as anyone. There does get a time when guilt came over me. Yet it is great to get completely smashed and feel like there are no consequences for a night or two in a foreign place but this is what many cultures see as our demon.
Change is hard to take, as a whole I think western culture has advanced the world amazingly but it forgets how it impacts the rest of the world. There are improvements but western culture has a direct link to the prostitution levels in places like SE Asia and the UN stations in Africa. You can see why a worker earning $3 a day would be sceptical of capitalism.
On a less serious note, the little things that started to bug me I don’t have to put up with anymore. Like the poorly screwed on toilet seats, which slide off to the side, when I want to go for a wipe. Getting electrocuted by the
showerheads just to get hot water. Being able to not eat my crusts for breakfast and not be judged by other backpackers - The looks on people’s faces was priceless. Trying to figure out weather the taxi with the cracked windscreen is a good thing so you can’t see how bad the driving is. Not having to worry about if my belongings are safe or not.
It is amazing how over time my relaxation towards belongings safety increased. From sleeping with my camera on my first day in a dorm in London to leaving my whole backpack next to the bus exit door multiple times in Africa.
Amazingly one of my safest areas I travelled to was Africa. I had a higher chance of getting pick pocketed in Spain then in Africa. A higher chance of getting robbed at knifepoint or gunpoint in South America than in other places. Actually the day I returned to Sydney 5 houses had shots fired through home windows in towns surrounding mine because of some bikie gang dispute.
Experience has taught me that if the world got over its fears of one another we wouldn’t
have much to fear about. I am so sick of hearing people say oh you shouldn’t do this or that when it’s happening in everyone’s backyard.
Experience is a good thing but it can also be a bad thing. My gullibleness, my innocence in situations, first time experiences are now mostly in the past. I loved meeting up with fresh travellers just new onto the scene. I loved watching their reactions of enjoyment, which in turned rubbed off on me.
So there comes a time when it ends but I’d like to think it is not over all together. I feel I have to get away from travelling for a while and dream up again. I kind of feel if I just continued doing what I’ve been doing it would be the same as if I was doing the same job 9-5 for the rest of my life. There gets a point where a new challenge, a new style of adventure needs to be dreamt up.
My goal was to enjoy the world for all its glory. I may have missed out on some but I gave it a shake. I’ve
experienced things like, Bed bug infestation on my body, not once but twice. Permanent scars from drunken falls – 5 possibly more and one knock out from falling from the top bunk and landing on my chin from a night on Raki.
I have been able to press my nose up against tulips in Kazakhstan, smelt the freshness of a fallen redwood tree in California. Rummage through autumn leaves again like I was a child. I discovered a lifestyle where you don’t have to give up the simple pleasures in life. The feeling of being 5000m above sea level sucking the thin air or 30m below it sucking in air from a tank exploring a WWII wreck.
I would have liked to be more adventurous than I have been. I know some people reading this will think I am kidding with that comment but its true. I have no regrets because I pushed myself more than I ever thought I would. Seen places beyond imagination but there is more out there. I feel a step ahead when in actual fact I am behind career wise.
So now I am home going
through the motions of a return that’s an all too familiar feeling. Numbing was my word to describe my return this time round. It’s no one else’s fault its just the way it goes. It’s mainly because even in spite of your experiences and development as a person you somehow feel you’ve been left behind.
I was having lunch with a friend of mine last week and she came up with an interesting comparison. “You know what? Its like you were an inmate in jail but got released after two years. You have to start all over again and repatriate.” All this new technology in suburban life. Subtle changes to the roads but the big one is your family and friends changing life situations.
As every return came the more my friends have settled down, got married, bought a house and started having a family. I am not bitter I am happy but as I turn the lights out for another nights sleep at my parents home at 30 I go through the demon thoughts of, “Oh my God my life is sad again.”
I was fortunate enough to retain my
old job for the past two journeys and what a load off its been to not have to go through interviews and restart all over again. But it’s another reminder of how I’ve put my life on hold to discover the world for my own eyes. As I see most of my friends from work move into management roles. I was put through re-training to learn the new systems and feel like I’m back at square one.
All the traveling I’ve done like having to handle 6 Tajiki soldiers inside a military base on the Afghan border from an innocent wrong turn eventually being let go. Being beaten up by Kyrgyzstan policeman, being the only one asked to leave a bus for inspections numerous times in a half hour period in Sudan, escaping a burning bus in Mozambique. Those are nothing in comparison to repatriating to your own home when your mind has been wondering for 3 of the past 4 years especially.
I almost feel 18 again lost in the big city of opportunity, Sydney. I have life experience but with energy levels set for a recharge. It’s a second lease on suburban
life or do I continue what many class as the “dream life.” I guess this is my point stability is something that someone like me craves after a while. I think stability is healthy, I just need an intervention I think so I can get it through my thick head.
I did however make a promise that I will try and “settle down” or at least attempt to when I get signs of balding. Many friends and family have made false claims once I made that statement years ago. But upon my return my body has deteriorated. I saw my first grey hair as I entered my works lift and there maybe a possible “devon patch” developing.
Most people think that because I’ve been away for so long I’ve lived the easy life. Backpacking the world is not just about hopping on a luxury bus through Western Europe. My Journey’s have not been your two-week resort holiday from work. My travels have not been easy. They have at times been exhausting.
I do feel my body aged a bit on this trip. Africa was definitely not easy and the US road
trip did take it out of me. Perhaps I should have spent more time in one place more often but I now have that option. Youth is what got me through as much of the world I have seen now. To do it in the spirit and almost no preconceived bias can only be done at a young adult stage. Why do you think the Army recruit people just out of high school and some of the more war hungry nations have compulsory service before University?
There are moments I would like to talk about and opinions, which I have but they have not come to mind just now. There are points of views I have that I don’t realise until someone or something triggers in my head. These are the moments when I know it was all worthwhile.
Lets just say I do finish my grand travels on this note. And say I somehow find a woman that can handle some crazy bastard that can’t settle down and we have kids. One day I hope they will be able to read these adventures and seek inspiration to see more and push the boundaries
of their self belief and explore even more. This is what I did through my parent’s 6 months European honeymoon trip, which I spent many nights watching slide nights during my early primary school days.
So that’s it dribblers its over. I have attached a slide show with some photos of some of the places I went to in the past decade. In hindsight I should have done it this way for the whole trip but what can you do. I have also included a second video of my reclining Buddha dive and unseen footage of my Gorge Swing in Zimbabwe. It’s a complete freak out!
The song I chose for the slideshow is dear to me - My mum was only with us for the first journey but I’d like to think that she was with me in someway. So I decided to pick a Neil Diamond song for her. But to find a song to go along with this moment is quite difficult. Crunchy Granola Suite just doesn’t fit in. But I found one of his more recent work called, “If I don’t see you again.” I think it fits perfect with
me probably bidding farewell to independent Drew and the travelling world whilst at the same time will this traveller in me ever depart?
Thank you to everyone who has bothered to give up their time to read my story. In truth I have kept this blog up to date for myself but with your encouragement and random hits from people I don’t know it has kept me motivated and in turn I have kept it up to date for you to.
If I do get out there again I will keep you posted on this blog. Alternatively, I’m not sure if I will be making many tweets (No iphone yet) but I have opened a twitter page, which I’ll let people know if I’m off sooner than the blog. It’s: https://twitter.com/#!/thedribbleman
Also on a happy note: One of my blog stories has been edited slightly and is getting published in a new book released hopefully by next month. Check out the release date on, http://www.facebook.com/SlenkDeeLLC
A big thank you to the travelblog.org website guys for allowing me to post up my stories in such a friendly to
use on an appealing webpage set up.
Thanks again to all you dribblers out there and enjoy the rest of your life… If I don’t see you again.
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