This is the terminal one; the last blog entry of our trip. We’ll probably do a few dribs and drabs about readjusting to everyday life back at home, but here ends the daily grind of the daily diary.
You set out intending to give an account of your travels and you end up giving an account of yourself. Ten different people could take exactly the same route, have exactly the same experiences, and yet they would still tell ten different versions of that reality. I think it was Borges who wrote of a man who sets out to draw a detailed map of the entire world, only to realise on his deathbed that he has traced the lines of his own face.
But it is also true that if we were to retrace our steps exactly, starting this August, we would be recording such a different trip. You’re at the mercy of circumstance, the weather, the people who cross your path. The Blue Mountains might be gloriously sunny, we’d miss the Flying Wallendas, we wouldn’t be in Bali for the big festivals. We might succeed in riding elephants or catching some fish, we could lose more than just an empty bag from our room.
‘I am not worthy, not qualified’ has been a recurrent regret. My ignorance shames me, and so many privileged moments must have been wasted on me. I am not enough of a naturalist to appreciate all I have seen in jungles and rainforests; I am not enough of a motor racing fan to be drawn to Adelaide’s V8 and Kuala Lumpur’s Grand Prix; I am no diver and yet we have stayed in some enviable locations. How much more would others have made of our itinerary?
Don’t get me wrong; we’ve had an amazing time and we have no regrets whatsoever. It’s surely the richest year (in so many respects, bar the financial) we’ll ever have.
Things I didn’t expect? That, like it or not, you’ll return with a sound track to your trip; that certain songs will henceforth evoke particular places and episodes from your travels. [Taylor Swift – You belong to me; Kid Rock – All summer long; The Black Eyed Peas – I gotta feeling; Iyaz – Replay; Rihanna – Rude boy.]
That I like the wilderness; my favourite spots have been in the middle of nowhere. The beauty, solitude and challenge of the Inca Trail made a powerful impression on me. Easter Island was a very special place to visit and I have vivid recollections of the landscape which easily outweigh the monetary miseries of the time. The Bolivian salt flats, the Red Centre of Australia; both exude a mesmerising ‘otherness’. By contrast, cities the world over are all alike, superficialities aside.
That I’m uncomfortable in upmarket hotels; all the mercenary subservience is unsettling, and tipping is such a headache. First you have to gauge what might be a suitable amount taking into account the current exchange rate and the local cost of living, then you have to arrange to have the right sized notes in your wallet (impossible when you’ve come straight from the airport ATM). And then, just when you think you’ve got it all sussed, three porters whisk your bags away and you can’t provide for all of them. I’d rather just carry my own luggage…
That children are astonishingly resilient and can cope as well as (or even better than) adults in most situations. The girls have the stronger stomachs when it’s a rough sea; if they find a trek tough going then my feet are probably in agony too; they can return from a full day’s exploring and still have energy to play while the adults crash out. Hannah and Ellen have maintained a daily diary since November, while Kirsten and I have shared the blogging load between us. Boring flights, late nights, mosquito bites, scary heights – the girls have taken all the inconveniences, annoyances and challenges that travelling has thrown at us and made light of them.
It’s a sobering thought that this year will probably be the only period in our lives that the four of us are together all day, every day, month after month, with no school or job to come between us. And it’s worked out so well; we’ve had such a happy and (mostly) relaxed time, we haven’t driven each other up the wall, the girls rub along more easily with each other and with us than ever before. I am grateful to have had Kirsten alongside me to share the highs and lows of this adventure; I couldn’t have done this without her (quite literally).
One of our pre-trip puzzlers was whether we would return home fitter or fatter: the answer is fitter (and the adults have lost weight, too), thanks to the active nature of our travels – we’re always off for a swim or popping out on foot to get something or dragging rucksacks from one hotel to the next. Health-wise we’ve been no worse off than we might be at home: okay, maybe not Ellen’s jellyfish sting, but we’ve had fewer colds and not too many tummy upsets, and nothing requiring a visit to a doctor or a hospital.
As for the $64,000 question, the answer is probably not that far away from $64,000, or a bit more than £40,000. (You know, how much did this whole exercise cost, including flights, kit, insurance and everything?) Yes, it’s a lot of money – the fruits of years of frugal living and careful saving – but as I wrote before we left, some people spend this much on a new car or a new kitchen. And for us, a round-the-world trip is the better investment.
I haven’t had time to do the detailed sums yet, but I do know that accommodation has made by far the largest hole in the wallet. We could have economised here, but you have certain minimum standards if you’re travelling with children (for reasons of security, cleanliness and comfort).
What now? Where do we go from here? A round-the-world trip certainly leaves you with the awareness that your life does not have to run the conventional and expected course, and that an alternative mode of existence need not necessarily be dangerous or ill-advised, even with children in tow.
There is also the empowering realisation that ‘if we can do this, then we can easily do X, Y and Z’. But specifying those unknowns is the big one. As I’ve written before, watch this space…