Daring Deeds - real stories, expeditions, road trips and adventure
On the 6th of December 2003, when I should have been Christmas shopping, I was nursing a king-size hangover after a works Christmas Do, so I sloped off to the cinema instead.
I’d already read Touching the Void, an amazing book & was eager to see the film.
In the 106 minutes that followed a massively influential seed was planted…
I’d been in a relationship that had recently broken down. I wanted to travel, but didn’t want to just booze my way around the globe (as fun as that would be), so I looked at various volunteering possibilities.
I sold my campervan, most of my worldly goods & my house & enrolled on a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. I wrapped up my job at the British Library, a job that I loved (in contrast to most people that I met later on in my travels, who had left jobs that they hated), bought a round-the-World ticket (£891 & pushed it to within 8 miles of the limit), packed my bag, a flurry of last-minute-stuff & on the 4th June 2004 I jumped on a flight to Lima (& somehow got upgraded to First Class, something that has never happened since).
The views were unreal over the endless Amazon & then over the Andes, which looked huge even from up in a plane. Then we entered a big black cloud & landed in Lima.
6pm & it was pitch black!
I was expecting mountains & llamas; I got a limping chaos traffic jam & smog!
I hadn’t really done my homework…
I was born & brought up in the Lakes, before a string of house moves (32 up to now) landed me in Leeds: A small & rather civilised city compared to the 12 million folk who squeeze in to Lima’s stretching boundaries. However, after a very short time I really felt at home & there was something about the place that I really, really loved.
I struggled so much with the lingo. (Spanish is spoken in all of Latin America, along with local dialects, apart from Brazil which is a Portuguese speaking country).
With no formal lessons, I naively thought that it would just “click” with me being surrounded/immersed in it. How wrong I was!
If I had been perhaps 4yrs old, maybe, but for the first 3 months it was just a world of confusion. One BIG problem was the fact that I couldn’t (& still can’t) roll my “RRRRRRR”.
This would come back to haunt me.
Lima is a place that most travellers only pass through, on their way to more exotic/loftier places.
Peru is divided into 3 distinct regions; the coast (which is also a desert), the Sierra (the Andes) & the jungle (Amazon). If you walked inland from the Pacific & headed west you would cross all three regions & experience 3 very different climates/landscapes/people/foods/cultures.
Lima itself has a really strange microclimate, affected by the Humboldt current, so that in summer it is cloaked in grey cloud (a bit like a Redcar sea fret!)
It never really rains & it never really shines, yet travel for an hour to the hills outside of Lima & you’ll be basked in sun. In summer it is hot & sweaty, in winter it is cool & humid.
(An Englishman with a fascination for the weather!)
The food is a well-kept secret; Over 365 national dishes & a national obsession.
“Have you tried…, have you tried…?”
I noticed that people would even get animated about food after the heaviest meal & if you want to start a conversation with anyone, food is a good bet!
So many things fascinated me that would just seem normal to most locals.
Especially the transport system.
(Which I won’t go into now, another time…)
I never actually got to the Cordillera Huayhash (almost), but I did get to do so many other things that I had never dreamt of.
Sandboarding on huge dunes, looking for giant shark’s teeth with an ex-grave robber in the desert, white-water rafting, surfing (badly), dog sleighing, 75hr bus rides, TV interviews, mountain biking & many other amazing (& sometimes confusing) experiences…
The thing about Latin America (especially in Bolivia) is that the key is to be flexible; otherwise one would quite quickly go mad. People are late, buses/trains knock all the time, road-blocks/strikes are common, things are postponed/cancelled without reason, but if you go-with-the-flow, it all (kind of) works out.
I worked as a volunteer EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher at a Lima Orphanage.
It was a life changing experience.
I left Peru after 3mths to go travelling round Bolivia, back to Peru, Argentina, Chile, NZ, Australia, and Indonesia & although I had planned to go round SE Asia & China, I decided that Peru was where I really wanted to be. As one can only go one-way on a round the World ticket, I flew back to Blighty for a week, sold some more bits & bobs, re-packed & flew back to Peru.
I had big ideas (& big hair, having grown dreadlocks. They had to go, job prospects are not good for teachers with dreads), but as I didn’t have many contacts (the key to finding a job), I really struggled & at one point I was juggling 6 different part time numbers & spending more time on buses commuting, than actually teaching.
I survived on a daily diet of 5 bananas, 5 bread buns, a tin of tuna & a packet of supernoodles (grand total ~£1). I ran every day, I was fit & lean (& knackered), I had very little in the way of material items, not much opportunity to travel (apart from my daily expeditions on the buses) I was genuinely happy ☺
Not better, nor worse than my old life in Blighty, just different.
Then I met Lina.
A lass I fell for hook-line-&-sinker. After 5 weeks I proposed, at least I think I did, as there are 3 words that sound very similar in Spanish; casar (get hitched), cazar (go hunting) or casa (a house).
After popping the question, there was a l-o-n-g pause.
“Are you asking me what I think you’re asking me?” (Had I asked her to go hunting?)
“Yes, I think I am”
She said “Si”!
All of this rambling may not really seem like a Daring Deed, but after returning back to Blighty in 2006, I have struggled to settle.
Peru kept drawing me back & was always a big part of my daily thoughts.
I worked shifts in a Brewery for 7yrs & also did some volunteer ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teaching at a local community centre.
Teaching is something that I really, really love. Shifts were something that I definitely didn’t love.
Although we travelled quite a lot, after a while I felt that careerwise, I wasn’t really going anywhere & my itchy feet became even itchier.
The little Nipper, Valentina came along in March 2014, a whole new adventure & a very steep (but enjoyable) learning curve.
Then after 8 years of nagging/sulking, Lina finally gave in (which makes me look/sound like a bad husband) and we decided to “give it a go” & head back to Peru, with the bairn!
We agreed that it was a case of now-or-never. The Nipper being of an age where a move wouldn’t affect her development, as much as it would, if she was at school.
Tickets booked, notice handed in, enrolled on CELTA course, start making lists…
Not sure if it is a Daring Deed or an act of insanity? 32 house moves & No.33 is a big one!
I left work at the end of October & then did my CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course in November, a very intensive 4wk Language Training Course & my first full-time course since leaving school (a l-o-n-g time ago). Find out more
Anyway, as the New Year approaches, we are busy packing, re-packing & trying to get our bags under the magic 23kg. We’ll be leaving for a new life in Lima on the 2nd January!
No job to go to, but feeling optimistic (hopeful!)
Hoping that more Daring Deeds will follow.
Regular-ish updates on the blog too.
Watch this space ☺
Feliz Navidad y próspero Año Nuevo a todos!!!
Johnny, Tadcaster, 26/12/14
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