Elsewhere Again – Far East and Down Under

I couldn’t be happier to be typing in this familiar white space again.

I’m back! I’ve gone elsewhere, and I’m over (t)here.

The decision to come travelling again was an obvious one. As I sat on a plane back from Bogotá in April, at the end of my seventh month away from the UK, sadness at the sense of an ending wasn’t an option. I knew that I’d be off again soon. I thought that I’d be faithful to my first love: Colombia. I was planning to fly back there at the first opportunity and head upwards, weaving my way through Central America into Mexico, the country that I’d heard just as many good things about as Colombia.

Instead, other opportunities aligned. Several friends were around Australia and South East Asia at one time. The loneliness that almost overcame me towards the end of my South America trip still seemed recent. I wasn’t quite ready to head out into the unknown on my own again, so I took like what seemed like the easy option and I headed towards friendly faces.

And I resolved to learn from my experience in South America. Step one: Pack better.

With the memory of opening my backpack to find a phone charger throttling a ripe banana as a tube of lipbalm leaked its oily contents thick across the pages of my passport, I packed my hand luggage meticulously. Bare essentials only. No loose soft fruit.

With my minimalist hand luggage, I lightfooted it through three glorious airports and sat contentedly on two flights without having to empty the contents of my life in front of me to the disgust of a stranger, who no doubt thinks that disposing of your old chewing gum inside the pages of a magazine you’re still reading is appalling. My headphones were tangle free and out in a whip of a wire. My (life-saving) earplugs? There they were, exactly where I left them, in their own transparent zip-up bag along with the eyemask and enough paracetamol to kill a horse. It was plain sailing. My only luxuries were a crossword book bought in a haze of nostalgia at the airport and a rather large bottle of duty-free gin. I experienced the heart-stopping fear of a lost passport only once (I was sat on it). Oh, the thrill of travelling light. I felt young, I felt free, I skipped off the plane and sashayed my way through the immigration queue. I was unburdened. I was alive.

And then I spent an hour staring forlornly at the baggage carousel. As it slowly emptied and people drifted away, I began to realise that the universe does not take lightly to smug packers. After a brief but soul-destroying conversation with a man who I’m not sure understood the crushing weight of my despair, I joined a queue of other weary travellers at the lost luggage desk and waited half an hour to be told there was no record of my suitcase. So off I went, a scrap of paper with a hastily scribbled reference number in hand, and the essentials I needed to rebuild my life in Bali: a crossword puzzle book with a weasel on the front and 70cl of gin. The ultimate test of survival.

Returning to the loneliness of my previous trip, it’s the kind of thing that would destroy me if I was on my own. But there is a lot to be said for a familiar face, and whilst I’d prefer not to have worn the same underwear for four days in a row, I’m in good spirits.

I’m staying in Ubud for a month. There’s yoga to be done and writing to be… written. I’m excited to be starting my travels by acclimatising in one place again. Whilst there are one or two similarities to Medellin here – the palm fringed roads and the steep slopes – it really couldn’t be more different. The city feels like the opposite of everything that I loved about Medellín: the raw passion and the immediacy, the excitement and the precarious sense of a city teetering on the edge of something – the future or chaos – no-one ever could really decide.

Here, the bars close at 11. Everyone moves consciously, mindfully. Smiles are slow. The narrow streets at night are filled only with the noises of crickets chirping and frogs squawking. Doors are left open and unattended. The music chimes, nudging at your consciousness, rather than grabbing you by the proverbials. Everything and everyone drifts like the incense that hangs low in the air. It is different, but it is still just as intriguing.

And so here I am, Bali, with my crosswords and my gin. I feel like I couldn’t have arrived in a better place to learn to live with the bare essentials.

No but seriously. I could do with a few more pairs of underwear.

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