End of the road

As I write this, we’re sitting in Lima airport, enjoying our final Fanta Naranja, waiting for our flight to Bogota, and then on to the UK. The queue at check-in was an absolute disgrace for a number of reasons, and it’s only Evie’s calmness and my chronic lack of Spanish that prevented me giving the Avianca Airlines employee an earful. That experience more than anything else has made me yearn for ‘that green and pleasant land’. In 22 hours we’ll be back (briefly). Here are some stats from our time in South America:

126 days
4 countries
25 towns/cities
213 Spanish words learned
15 overnight buses
£48 spent per day
0 muggings
46 different beds slept in
2 oceans
14 pieces of toilet roll flushed down the toilet erroneously
£1353 spent on food
38kg of luggage carried
4 pairs of flip flops used
0 weddings rings lost
20 MOTD’s missed
Countless arguments
An equal number of reconciliations

It feels weird to be leaving, but not necessarily in a bad way. Our life for the past 4 months has revolved around rucksacks, hostels, cheap restaurants, House (MD), tourist traps, long buses, guides, Peep Show, ATMs, tours, beaches and mountains. It’s a slightly bizarre existence, but it will be weird to suddenly snap out of it. No more swanning from one place to the other, never really knowing how long you’ll be staying, what you’ll be doing, or who you’ll meet.

Lots of it has been absolutely fantastic. There’s nothing tying you down to a particular place, no commitments have to be made and you can do basically anything you want. You never know what’s round the next corner. It’s the kind of freedom many people will crave, and I love not needing to plan anything too far in advance, and having the flexibility to change things at the last minute if there’s a better option. South America is a huge continent and we’ve explored only a tiny (mostly quite touristy) part of it, but we’ve seen some incredible things that just don’t exist elsewhere. Trekking to Machu Picchu, driving around the Uyuni Salt Flats, exploring the Amazon via canoe, walking in the Colca Canyon, swimming in crystal clear freshwater lakes in Pucon, all will live long in the memory and will probably never be repeated.

Even the places that aren’t naturally breathtakingly stunning have still been cool to see and explore. Cities like La Paz, Buenos Aires, Santiago, Sucre & Arequipa, we’ve loved being able to just wander around, enjoying their unique food, architecture and atmosphere. They all seem so different from British cities, from a tourist’s point of view basically all in a good way. I know I’d rather spend 5 days in Buenos Aires than Birmingham, Sucre than Sheffield.

We’ve also loved meeting new people and renewing old friendships. The nature of travelling throws you together with lots of interesting and diverse people, who are generally fairly sociable and fun. We’ve felt very welcomed by the families who have hosted us at various times and broken up the monotony of trudging from one hostel to the next. We’ve also had loads of time to spend with each other, working out how to do marriage, seeing each other operate in a variety of circumstances and creating memories (which sounds v cringe but is true). Lots of it has been surrounded by material pleasures (great cheap food, lots of sun, etc). We’re very thankful to God for all of the above and much more.

But I don’t think either of us are sad to be leaving. We’ll miss lots of things, and I’m sure in the coming months there’ll be times when we wish ourselves back here. But coming home does feel like the right thing at the right time. We’re very excited to see everyone back at home, particularly our families. It’s hard going immediately from such a joyful, communal, people filled day (the wedding) to not seeing any of those people for the next 4 months. Because we’ve basically never been able to talk about it with anyone who was there, I’ve already forgotten about 70% of the day, and will forget the other 30% if John Nasri (legend) doesn’t pull his finger out and get the photos finished! One of the disappointments we’ve found with travelling is that most of the relationships you form are so transitory & fleeting. If you can manage small talk and are somewhat outgoing you’ll be fine, but it’s a shame that you say goodbye to most people you meet before you ever really get to know them, find out what makes them tick, and share what’s important to you. We’re looking forward, back in one place in England, to have time to actually invest properly and deeply in people and friendships.

Church has already been discussed in a previous blog, but that’s something we’ve missed a lot and can’t wait to return to. Likewise with all the other familiar, enjoyable parts of being at home; football, curry, Tilly the cat (Evie), Tesco Sweet Chilli Chicken pizzas (me), BBC Iplayer, functional buildings older than 100 years, Earl Grey, not continually changing beds, Guinness, etc. For me, certainly, being in a place where I can understand and be understood will be a big relief. Though I do now greet most people I meet with a kiss on the cheek, please don’t report me to the Guardian, I’m just cultured now.

But I think most of all we both feel like we’re ready to do marriage in normal life, and not just in a very enjoyable, but falsely relaxed, environment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been a wonderful and in many ways helpful way to start, but it’s not the endgame. Holidays are great, but if your whole life is a holiday, it probably starts to lose it’s charm. I’m reminded of John Piper’s famous tirade against collecting seashells (or more specifically people who waste their lives chasing frivolous things), which you can listen to here ( https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=mfpmbmsvu3A ). We don’t want to just enjoy comfortable and relaxing things, we want to get our hands dirty and do something useful. Who knows yet exactly what that will involve? You can read about the immediate next step in the next blog, but after that it’s all up for grabs.

This isn’t really the end of the road, it’s more like merging from one road to another, specifically from the A421 on to the M1. We’re leaving some lovely scenery behind us (in this analogy, South America is represented by Milton Keynes and the surrounding countryside), things are going to get much busier, and we’re getting a lot closer to London.

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