“You’re a half-mad bastard”, I think to myself. To be chasing off to Latin America once again; leaving a decent job, a comfortable life and family, for the uncertain and unknown. Every now and then (usually after reading about a violent attack on a Gringo or the encroaching drug cartels) the fear hits me; the same kind that rattles a man who dives into shark-infested water, and is tempted to look below the surface to spot one of the demented beasts that might end him. But these are bad vibrations for any traveller. They deserve consideration, but then must be stomped out with extreme violence straight away afterwards.
As I write the sun is setting across the French Alps, painting the top of an overlooking mountain a rich cardinal red. I am sat, with a bottle of beer, on the balcony of my girlfriend’s parents’ chalet. She will return from work soon and we will jump into the Jacuzzi and watch the stars appear over the jet black sky. Here shooting stars are common and, at the age of twenty-two, I have only just learnt how to recognise constellations. At home in London, the night time sky is a bland grey, as if someone had draped a cloth across a masterpiece; but out here it is entirely visible and I intend to enjoy it well into the night.
Arriving yesterday, my girlfriend’s Father picked me up at the train station on his motorbike and sidecar. The sun was just beginning to rise and the air was fresh. Other passengers from the train traipsed onto a bus. I slid on a helmet, leapt into the sidecar and the engine roared. The air smelt better on the road and more intense as it wafted past at thirty miles per hour. We left the city and the tarmac in front became clear. Then the motor opened its jaws. Forty into second, then into third. I stopped counting the gears and closed my eyes. When I opened them the mountains either side had become a blur.
We rushed through the valley like the original wave that split it in two, and now we were its masters. I looked to my left and saw the driver, the man who enjoys his chunk of life and refuses to expel it with a speedy metabolism. His eyes were fixed on the road. His fists clenched. His lips forming a smile. As a corner approached I hoped he wasn’t the kind of half-crazed fool who would overtake blindly. Luckily he wasn’t. He waited and then passed three cars as the road straightened and pulled in tight to avoid an oncoming truck.
I am now stuck in my bucolic sanctuary, with three weeks left before I jet off to Latin America. Tomorrow, I will wake at 7 a.m and change my normal ways. In little under two months I will arrive in Nicaragua and begin work as a tour guide for the surrounding volcanoes and mountain ranges. So in preperation I will run daily, hike for hours, eat healthy food, and not let a drop of alcohol touch my lips. And this is the perfect location for it. Surrounding the chalet overhanging mountains loom, some with snow capping them from the previous winter. In the morning you can chase along the streets and watch as chamois scatter and listen to the whistles of socialising marmots. The clouds loiter inches off the fields and the air is as fresh as it ever will be, like escaping from a vivarium of chain-smoking reptiles into the climax of a thunderstorm. There is little better for the lungs, and for health in general, than an early morning run in the mountainous air, watching to the high-water mark of nature before the cars descend and drive off towards the sun that peers out from behind the peaks. After three weeks my health and fitness should be greatly improved, and then I will hop onto a plane and begin my new life in the Americas.
So one of the five ‘w’s’ has been covered; when. What about the other four? Let’s start with where and why, and perhaps we can stumble across who I am and what’do I do. After contacting an old friend and reminiscing, we came to the conclusion that both of us wanted: let’s revisit South America. So my first stop will be in Argentina to meet him. From there we will travel north through Bolivia and Peru. When I was eighteen and fresh out of school, I knew that I was not ready to settle down to university life so with one phone-call I put it on hold for a year and bought myself a single plane ticket to Buenos Aires. From the moment the plane touched down I sensed that I had done too little planning and my knowledge of Spanish was non-existent; but I knew that I needed to head north and then north some more.
After following a trail well dug out by travellers that came before me, I trekked through Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador; then saw my pinnacle and sailed across the Pacific to the Galapagos Islands. Nothing could compete will the experience of four weeks on these islands. The animals couldn’t be tamer; the beaches couldn’t be any less dense with sleeping seals and fighting bulls, the sun no more hot, the water no more clear and the atmosphere no more perfect. I spent my Christmas Day diving amongst hammerhead sharks and manta-rays. We ate fish with vegetables and in the evening the entire island gathered to watch beach volleyball. After arriving back on mainland Ecuador, I sensed that after six months of constant travelling I needed a base. I flew north to Guatemala, where I had lived for a few months the year before, and took up my old job building houses. A base allowed me to settle down into a normality of friends, partying, local bars, regular work and skirt-chasing. Returning back home to the UK after was odd, but three years at university were refreshing and new. I met a new friends and forged a new life; but after graduation my itchy feet started to scratch once again, and in no mood to leap head first into domesticity, I saw the opportunity to travel and dug my fingers into it.
So in Peru I will say my goodbyes to my friend and fly north to meet my girlfriend in Nicaragua. There, we will settle for a few months. She will work as a language teacher and I will work as a tour guide. And, as you might have guessed from what you are reading, I will also bring home the lowly pay of a writer. In order to make the adventure fun for me (my primary motivation) and then have something interesting to write about for you (second), I intend to travel widely and throw myself into experiences and opportunities whenever they arise. Looking at a list of things I plan to do that I have jotted down on a decrepit notepad, here’s a few: learning to dive and getting my open-water PADI certificate; learning to surf; trying to win some dollars on a cock-fight; partying on the Caribbean coast; surfing down a volcano; swimming in a bull shark-infested lake; and drinking enough rum to dissuade Johnny Deep from starring as Hunter S. Thompson ever again. These are merely my plans, my best laid plans; but they will likely change and I will get lost along the way and discover places and parties much more enjoyable and purposeful for life. When my time in Nicaragua is over, I will finish the year’s adventure with a few months in Cuba. My dream ever since I was very little has been to hike the Sierra Maestra and pretend to be Che Guevara, like how little children play cowboys and Indians.
But for now my rations of beer are depleting and my girlfriend will return home imminently. As a new correspondent for this magazine I was asked to introduce myself in this first article. I do not know if I have done that fully. I have mentioned a few anecdotes about past travels and shared my future plans, but mentioned little about my personality. But that may come through later. With some hope, you are looking forward to reading about my travels and misadventures. For that I can make you one promise: we will have some fun along the way. This magazine will serve as my drinking companion and I will recount my anecdotes and tales to you as I sip on a cold rum and coke, with the hope that you will be doing the same.
My Latin America journey does not begin for another three weeks, and I curse myself for not booking those bastard tickets sooner; yet it gives me the opportunity to reminisce about my summer in Europe. I decided to hitch-hike around France and Spain and stumble across what I could. That included several weeks in Paris and an unforgettable four day binge in Pamplona, where I narrowly avoided being gored by a bull and learnt the true value of Spanish alcohol. These stories shall come in the next few weeks. Then my plane will leave European soil and my trail of rum and Latin America will begin.