Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Coming Full Circle

So we did it. Against the odds, we set off on our motorbikes and we circumnavigated North and Central America. Despite our original plan being to head for Tierra del Fuego, we quickly realised this wasn’t the trip we wanted to do. The people we met who were doing so were in such a hurry, racing through each country permanently moving south, keeping ahead of the seasons. That was never our plan; to sit and watch and divert and experience was always our goal and that’s exactly what we did.

I spent only a couple of weeks in Canada upon our return. With my bank account somewhat in the red, the need to rectify that was growing and so sadly, I booked my ticket. As it happened, Westjet had just started flying transatlantic two weeks beforehand and so I used my credit from our cancelled flights to Mexico the previous fall to buy my ticket. Late the night before I left I received an email from them to say my flight had been cancelled and that I had been rebooked on to one the following evening. This meant that Evan was unable to drive me down to the airport as he was due back at work the following morning, but as luck would have it neighbours along the lakeshore were due to fly out of Toronto that night and kindly offered me a ride to the airport.

I did however call Westjet before I left to confirm my booking. I also enquired as to how I should claim for a train ticket costing £30 from London to Colchester that I now could not use, not really expecting them to reimburse me. The agent I spoke to was apologetic but said there was nothing he could do. I replied that it was a shame and he had a change of heart, telling me that he actually has a discretionary ability to give compensation and promptly offered me $90CAD (£45). I thanked him and said this was very generous of him. He then said that I was not angry and abusive towards him about my cancelled flight (as everyone else he'd spoken to that day had been) he was in fact going to give me $150CAD (£75). A little surprised, again I thanked him and he logged into my account to add the credit. He then said 'Hmmm your account balance is in £ sterling, I'm not sure what to do about adding CAD $ to it', before deciding that he'd just give me £150 instead ($300CAD)! Again I thanked him profusely; this is exactly what my flight had cost!

Upon arrival at the airport and with plenty of time to spare before my 8pm flight, I scanned my passport at the check-in stand, only to be met with a message that there was a problem. I went to join the queue where I discovered that the rescheduled flight had again been cancelled. A little frustrated, but not really surprised I waited in line behind about a hundred angry people also due on that flight, some of whom had already spent a night in the airport. I watched as one by one they took their opportunity to verbally abuse the poor check in staff, demanding the earth and personally laying blame at their feet. By the time I got to the front of the queue I was met by a weary looking young man who forced a smile before informing me there was a problem. Rather than make him explain the whole sorry saga for the hundredth time, I cut in to say it was fine, I knew what was going on and that I was happy to wait for more information in due course. He smiled, handed me a boarding card and said quietly ‘If you head down to the British Airways desk with this card, they’ll put you on standby for the 18.30 flight’. At the BA desk I found a small handful of people I’d talked to in the queue who had also taken the same attitude as me, that shit happens and it wasn’t the check-in staffs fault. Luckily we all got on that flight, got fed the best airline meal I’ve ever had and arrived back at Heathrow (rather than Gatwick which is a pain in the ass to get home from) two hours earlier than I would have done if I’d got my original flight. It really does prove that manners and politeness pay dividends.

I spent a lot of time on that flight thinking about the trip, looking at photos and I remember that it really didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t when I look at our photos now. I think about how much it took us to get to the point where we were ready to go in the first place and that suddenly it was over. 27,000 miles, 5 Canadian provinces, 21 American States, 9 countries and 19 tentspace hosts, as well as a handful of other wonderful people who offered us hospitality and friendship. It’s easy to fall into the trap of generalising that everyone from a certain place is the same, the US Election coverage certainly polarises that, but this trip reinforced what it’s easy to forget - that no matter what you see on the news, the terrible things happening every day and the incessant desire of the media and governments everywhere to spread fear of people who ‘aren’t like you’ the vast majority of people in this world are good.

One of the most amazing things about the trip though was how Evan’s perspective changed in the months we were away. Over eight months he not only came to feel comfortable with the idea of planning-free travel, but he fully embraced it and returned to Canada excited for the next trip and where it might take us. We’ve come a long way in the last few years. There have been times I thought we wouldn’t make it, but I honestly feel like I’ve found my travelling soulmate. I have friends I’ve travelled with for short periods of times and friends I love dearly that I know I could never travel with, but with Evan I’ve found someone I could happily wander around the world with forever. On our trip we fought, we disagreed and we spent periods of time stubbornly not talking to each other, but more importantly than that we complemented each other, pushed each other to step over the boundaries of our comfort zones and made it a trip that neither of us could have achieved without the other in quite the way we did. That’s a rare person to find and I’ll always be grateful that our paths joined in the way they have.

I also spent some time thinking about what the following few months would look like. Thanks to the never-ending and unconditional support of my wonderful parents (despite the fact I know they silently roll their eyes whenever I tell them about my next travel plans) I always have a place to stay. I know they probably aren’t that keen on the thought of me wandering the world, despite the fact I’ve done it at every opportunity for many years now and until recently, alone. I also know they’re even less keen now that motorcycles are involved, but still they support me and have always encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy and have done whatever they can to help me achieve my dreams regardless of whether they agree with them or not, as they always have done ever since I was a small child. I honestly couldn’t ask for better parents.

I thought quite a bit about transport this time round too. As much as I had a soft spot for the unruly Volvo estate that I acquired last time I was home, I realised in hindsight that it cost me a small fortune in gas. Logic told me that it was summer and therefore would be warm and dry (yeah, right!) so a few days after I arrived back in England I found myself on a train to Sheerness to pick up a little Kawasaki ER5, my new commuting buddy. He’s green (yep, he rather than she – not sure why) and feels very small compared to my Vstrom, but after a bit of an adjustment period we’ve become firm friends. When I bought him I was only expecting to pootle into town each day for work, which I did for the first few weeks, but now we find ourselves navigating our way through the country lanes to the 20 mile stretch of car park that is the A12 in rush hour. What he lacks in power he makes up for in ability to zip between the lanes, avoiding the worst of the daily carnage. I wasn’t too sure exactly how many miles I’d get to a tank and for a long time I eeked three days return commute out of £12 worth of fuel. Then one day I left work very late on day three and as I started to round the sharp corner by the church as I came into Brightlingsea my little friend started to cough and splutter. I willed him on, crawling the final few hundred yards before the engine finally cut out as I changed down a gear approaching the turning into the petrol station. Luckily, I sustained enough momentum to roll up the slope and stop conveniently beside the pump. The answer to my question? 170 miles.

I was landing in the UK right in the middle of the horrific ‘Brexit’ campaign, something that quite honestly made me ashamed of the country I’m from for the first time ever. The vile hatred and lies being spewed by both sides of the campaign in order to divide and incite was truly horrible. Ironically, upon contacting the agency I usually work for they immediately came back to me with an offer of a couple of weeks work at the Borough Council assisting with administration of the EU referendum. I have to add that that job stretched into six weeks and I loved every minute I spent with the wonderful team there.

Towards the end of those six weeks I started to worry that no more job offers had been forthcoming and actively started to look. When I’m in England between my travels it is imperative that I work as much as I possibly can, but there was a tangible lull in availability of temporary work as the country held its breath, awaiting the results of the referendum. My luck changed though and in my final week at the council I suddenly found myself with six different job offers on the table on a day where amusingly my emails didn’t stop pinging or my phone ringing. It was funny that so many different things came up at the same time, and eventually I ended up choosing to return to the care company I worked for the last time I was back, this time at a different site and with different challenges. I also joined their bank staff to be a care worker in the evenings and weekends so I could maximise my income.

This summer has been very long and very slow, so it was nice when Evan decided to come over for a visit at the start of September. It gave me another chance to be a tourist in my own country and see things I probably wouldn’t have the time to do on my own. We rented a car, a surprisingly economical little Peugeot 208 that could make it round the country several times on one tank of diesel and visited Bath, Stonehenge and Avebury. 

The following day we hammered up the M6 to the Lakes and spent a few days visiting friends and wandering around all the places I haven’t been for so long, but that still take my breath away. When we rode through the Rockies a year previously I couldn’t help thinking that as beautiful as those mountains were, there were places in Cumbria that rivalled them and driving through Honister Pass and over Hardknott and Wrynose again my suspicions were confirmed. 

Later in the week we had time to squeeze in another day in London and a visit to Westminster Abbey and Greenwich. With both of us aware that we needed to maximise our earning time, he stayed only a week and far too soon we were driving back towards Heathrow, wishing that we had more time together. As it turned out we did…but only a couple of hours and we spent it sat in the car shuffling the last three miles to the airport due to an accident that had closed the M4. Evan missed his flight but thanks to the little known ‘flat tire rule’ he was moved to the next flight a few hours later free of charge.

And this is where you find me now, just shy of five short weeks left until the next adventure begins. I worked 30 hours last weekend and another 40+ this week. I’ve bought a new, much smaller backpack and a mosquito net. I’ve replaced my beloved (but exhausted) TZ30 camera with a shiny new TZ60, which so far I don’t love anywhere near as much. Oh, and a plane ticket to Ho Chi Minh on 13th November.

Slowly, slowly we’re getting ready to go again. And we can hardly wait!