Monthly Archives: April 2008

Reasons to go #2: The Northern Line

13 years I’ve lived in Clapham, ever since my last year at university.

Which means for 13 years I’ve being using the Northern Line to get into town every day.

An hour a day in total, 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year.

That’s 130 days of my life.

Fighting to get on every morning, having to stand there with people’s armpits in my face or elbows in my back.

Even if I wasn’t going anywhere exciting, the knowledge that I won’t have to deal with the tube for a year fills me with joy.

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Easter Island!

There are certain places in the world that I figured I’d never get round to visiting – mainly because they’re too remote and too difficult or expensive to get to. Easter Island is one of them.

I’ve just found out that I can probably include it on my round the world ticket, as LAN, the Chilean airline, flies there from Santiago.

Aside from the fact it’s one of the most isolated inhabited places in the world, getting to see the famous Moai in real life has got me incredibly excited. Plus of course there’s the obvious traveller oneupmanship that no-one I know has been there.

Also quite exciting is the fact that LAN then offers onward flights to Tahiti – another place that’s lodged firmly in the imagination as the archetypal paradise. Although I’m not sure I’ll be able to fly on to New Zealand or Australia from there, and doubling back all the way to Santiago doesn’t sound all that appealing. I really need to get round to speaking to a travel agent.

Rubbish with languages

When I was 17 everything was clear in my mind – I’d go and study German & Dutch at university, and then go and live in Berlin when I graduated, or maybe Brussels at a push (to work for the European Commission, of course). All I needed to do was study hard for four years and then I’d pop out the other speaking like a native.

Of course it didn’t quite work out like that. The German department were more interested in getting us to translate impenetrable 19th century poetry rather than getting us doing anything remotely useful like talking to each other, a matter that wasn’t helped by my friend Hilary & I whiling away the lectures passing each other rude notes in code (using the numbers from the giant Periodic Table that was on the wall of the Chemistry lecture theatre where we had our German Lit classes) and paying very little attention. So I ended up giving up German after the first year.

Dutch didn’t work out much better – I lived in Utrecht for three months in my third year, but didn’t improve at all seeing as all the Dutch people just spoke to me in English. I ended up ditching that too and coming home to finish off my degree in Geography.

I’d already failed with French, put off by the fact that even when I knew what to say, my accent is so terrible people would normally fail to understand me at all (or that could just be the French being bloody-minded).

So I’m determined to make more of a success with Spanish. I had a few months of lessons a couple of years ago which went OK – beginners Spanish is a lot more straightforward than other languages I’ve learnt, once I’d got past the weirdness of not using personal pronouns with verbs. I’m confident I can do all the basic travel necessities, especially if my experience of Mexico is anything to go by – people made a real effort to speak slowly for me and compliment me on my Spanish, which is a big confidence-booster.

I’ll be starting again soon and hope to continue right up til I go, and then have more intensive lessons when I get to Central America. I really want to make more of a success of it this time – and I’m a bit more hopeful: I’m much more confident than I was when was younger, so I’m happier to give it a go. Plus I really don’t want to spend the whole year just talking to other travellers – I’d love to be able to spend more time chatting to locals to make the most of the year.

And if all else fails, I can always get drunk and argumentative: the two most fluent conversations I’ve had in German & Dutch have been in the past few years having arguments with taxi drivers who have been trying to fleece me by taking me the wrong direction and over-charging me. It’s remarkable how many words I could remember when there was money stake.

Reasons to go #1: Work

There are many reasons why I want to go away for a year, but the one that’s very much at the front of my mind this week is work.

Growing up I never had any kind of career plan. I figured I’d work out what I wanted to do while at uni. Of course, that didn’t happen. In the end, thanks to a mixture of luck and nepotism I somehow fell into advertising.

Just over a decade later and I’m still doing it. In the main it’s been a great experience – I’ve made a lot of good friends through work, I’ve learnt all kinds of cool stuff, and (most importantly of all for someone who loves his food) got to eat in far more expensive restaurants than I would have done otherwise. Work’s even given me a chance to see quite a few places that I’d never been to before – Belfast, Dublin, Helsinki, Hamburg, Turkey & even Disneyland Paris. Although admittedly trying to do Helsinki as a daytrip from London is exhausting to say the least.

But the last year has been the toughest yet – I’m working much longer hours, it’s more stressful than before (damn, responsibility sucks). After working all weekend, I really, really need a break.

I know it’s too much to expect to have a eureka moment while I’m away and come up with a whole new career plan, but I need some serious time away from work to give me the time to start thinking about the future, because even if I end up back in advertising on my return, I really can’t see myself still doing it in another ten years, maybe not even five.

First stab at an itinerary

Fly from London to Mexico City end of March
Mexico – 6 weeks (April)
Guatemala – 4 weeks (May) – including a Spanish course
Honduras – 4 weeks (June – including a diving course in the bay islands
Ecuador – 2 weeks (July)
Peru – 6 weeks (July / August) – including Inca Trail
Bolivia – 4 weeks (September)
Argentina – 4 weeks (October)
Australia – 1 week (October)
Indonesia – 5 weeks (November)
Philippines – 5 weeks (December)
Vietnam – 4 weeks (January)
Laos – 4 weeks (February)
Cambodia – 2 weeks (March)
Thailand – 1 week (March)
Fly back from Bangkok to London

Off to the travel agent this weekend to start discussing fares too.

Fray Bentos

Would it be silly to visit Uruguay just so I can go to the place the pies are named after?

México

I’m still changing my mind every five minutes about where exactly I want to go – a year may seem like a long time, but there are too many countries I want to see, and I really don’t want to rush. So I’ll need to prioritise.

One thing is pretty certain though – that I’ll start out in Mexico.

It was last year’s trip there that really got me thinking about a longer trip. It was my first time backpacking, and was the best holiday I’ve ever had.

I only got to see a tiny part of the country (Mexico is HUGE), but there were so many highlights: Lazing around on Caribbean beaches in Tulum, visiting the ruins in Palenque, seeing Mayan villages near San Cristobal de las Casas, punting (in the rain) in Xochimilco…and, er, losing my passport in Cancun airport (you’d think at least some of the security guards in latin america’s 4th busiest airport would speak English. Oh no, that would make it far too easy).

Best of all was the food. Everywhere we went the food was incredible. Admittedly if you don’t like Chilli you’d be pretty screwed – it’s so ubiquitous that my tolerance for spiciness soared over the time I was there. The biggest downside is that every Mexican meal I’ve had since I got back has been a crushing disappointment – it just tastes so bland in comparison.

So going back was always on the cards, and it seems a sensible enough place to start. There are so many places I still want to see – Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Chihuahua, the Copper Canyon, Oaxaca (I LOVE Mexican placenames. Especially Chihuahua, obviously).

Plus I have a strange obsession with Mexican wrestling (the masks in particular).
Wrestling masks

348 days and counting

Yep, I’ve set a date. March 31st 2009. 348 days to go.

I’ll be handing in my notice in on December 22nd (great way to start Christmas), leaving my job on March 20th, leaving me with a week in London to do my farewells and then I can head off on the 31st.

The biggest worry is working out how the hell I’ll make it through the year without going mad at work – I find it hard enough to concentrate at work even when I’m preparing for a week’s holiday; going away for a year magnifies that quite considerably. Not being able to talk about it either doesn’t help. So I’m hoping writing here from time to time will help preserve my sanity in the meantime.

Now I just need to work out where to go.