Today it is a year to the day since Vicki and me left the UK. So far, it has been a journey of three parts ……
Part One – Mexico
We flew from Manchester to Cancun, thinking that it was going to be the start of a Very Big Adventure for us both. We were prepared, or thought we were, for everything that Latin America could throw at us.
The day before we’d finished packing up our houses in Birmingham, dropped the rental car off and caught the coach from Digbeth Coach Station to Manchester Airport, stopping in a hotel close by. Then we caught Thomas Cook‘s morning flight from Manchester.
About a month later we were hitting our stride. We’d got into a nice pattern of travel, booking accommodation a week or so in advance and taking some rather plush Mexican coaches along the way. But when we reached Oaxaca Vicki started feeling a bit iffy. This quickly became really painful and by the time we had moved to Puebla the situation had become serious.
One midnight emergency room visit and an early morning admittance later and Vicki was holed up in Intensive Care awaiting urgent surgery. Just six weeks later and I was boarding a flight to Guatemala and leaving Vicki at the gate to catch her flight back to the UK.
Part Two – Guatemala and Colombia
And so I was on my own, travelling through Guatemala and Colombia for the next four months.
Looking back, I don’t think of that as a lonely time. Admittedly, it was a bit of a shock to be on my own, but the two of us had built up a pattern of travel that I was able to repeat in Guatemala and Colombia: have a general aim for the next couple of months and make solid plans and bookings a week to three weeks in advance.
When I stopped drinking all those years ago I thought it was important to be comfortable with my own company. To be able to occupy myself without the need for additional stimulus. To be calm rather than exist in chaos.
Of course, the flipside of that is that sometimes life can feel a little boring in comparison with before, but I have found over time that I am quite good at being dull. I can also be quite content with solitude and it turns out that I can do that a long way from home. Also, I was travelling to new places, meeting new people and doing different things, and so there weren’t all that many times when I was on my own or being bored.
Being online helps. I never really feel as though I am really on my own when I can see what friends are up to on social media, email and Skype my family and friends and chat on WhatsApp and Messenger.
On Christmas Day, the day when most people think that it will be hard to be alone and away from home, I woke up and saw all the messages, photos and videos from people in the UK who had already been up and celebrating for six more hours than me. I cooked a (vegetarian) Christmas Dinner – with all the windows wide open – and opened the presents that Vicki had collected and sent to me.
I even had a Christmas tree.
Part Three – Palmira, Colombia
Part of the plan had always been to spend a year living and working somewhere in South America and while I was in Guatemala I saw an advert for English teachers wanted in the public school system in Colombia. It seemed ideal. I applied, was accepted onto the Colombia Bilingue programme and packed off to Palmira in Valle del Cauca, close to Cali.
Since starting work here in Palmira there have been different challenges. I’ve had less time alone. Actually, I’ve had hardly any time on my own as I’m living in a shared house for the first time in twenty years. I’ve been really fortunate with my fellow co-teachers and housemates. They haven’t kicked their grumpy old codger out yet, anyway.
Working in a Colombian secondary school has challenges that are many and varied: really uncomfortable working hours, a different culture that can make you feel that you are just in the middle of chaos and noise and a lack of resources compared to schools in the UK.
There has been a warm welcome from my co-teachers and some strong friendships have developed with both them and my housemates. Our students, nearly always enthusiastic, are now speaking English OUT LOUD more and more, one of the major aims of our work.
All in all, I am really pleased with how things have ended up, especially after such a bumpy start.
Would I like to visit my mother and Julie, my sister and Scott? Do I miss seeing my nephews and niece? Would I like to take a walk down to Moseley and spend some time with my friends in the pub? Yes, yes and yes.
And I’d love to be able to see them all, give them a hug and have a big long chat. And then I’d want to be back over here again.
When I left I said that I’d review the situation after six months and then again after two years. And that is what I am going to do. I have a contract here in Palmira until November and after that I’ll make my way south to Ecuador, then on to Peru and Bolivia.
And this week Vicki booked her flights to join me for a holiday in Ecuador at Christmas, which gives us both something to look forward to. Here’s hoping for a more enjoyable and slightly less eventful reunion.