“I’m South African. I’ve lived abroad for over three years. I like travel, writing and photography. Those three loves are combined in my blog- read it, don’t read it. I’m not sure what’s next.”
These seemingly random sentences usually follow one another in a conversation with someone I have recently met or am getting to know better. While talking about my adventures used to thrill me, now it just seems to roll off my tongue, parrot fashion-like. But recently I’v been thinking…. I’m about to make my Asian debut with a trip to India. Soon I can say that I’ve visited (and mostly lived) on 5 different continents in the space of three years. That, excuse the lack of modesty, is pretty damn insane! What is especially insane is that I find it hard to see it that way. The past three years of my life have been a melting pot of extremes; cultures, climates, emotions and more. I’ve hassled with visas, bureaucracy and job hunts. I’ve learnt new languages and felt their barriers. I’ve made friends and enemies and left them all behind- quite possibly never to be seen again. And in the rare moments I allow myself time to think back, I slowly begin to appreciate what I have done, and what I have done for myself. After all, we only really appreciate things with a bit of hindsight and nostalgia. When you’re living it, it couldn’t seem more normal.
So lets recap.
It all began one wintery day in December 2010 when I touched down in Denver Colorado – final destination – Steamboat Springs. With three of my best friends beside me and a very menial four month job ahead of me, I could only imagine the fun my first ski season would bring. I learnt to ski, how to separate trash from compost from recyclables, how to adjust my accent so Americans could understand me, how to keep calm when said Americans knew so little about South Africa and how to live each day with my eyes and mind wide open. These, I can safely say, were the best days of my life. Stress was not a thing, the only scary thing was how easily I felt I could fall into the lifestyle of ‘ski bum’. In April of 2011 I found myself back in South Africa feeling depressed. I read, googled and researched how I could get back to Colorado for the next season. But no amount trying would change the fact that it was impossible. All things considered, I would not be able to live and work in Colorado again. It was a sad realization. Either way, I was hell bent on following my travel urges, I just needed to find a new destination.
So many people were hopping on the South Korea band wagon, and I just simply wasn’t interested. However, I did realize that as a penniless travel hopeful, wherever I went I would have to work. And the only work I could easily do abroad was teach English- just please not in Korea. How about South America? And back to the drawing board I went. Yes, South America sounded good to me- culturally and linguistically and cool-factor-ly. Google told me that Chile was the best option for ESL teachers. And it was decided, I’d be going to Chile for the whole of 2012. But not before I slaved away in a terribly hostile restaurant environment for 6 months in Pretoria.
January 2012. How my parents put on such brave faces when their young daughter got on a plane bound for Chile is beyond me. After all, it is hard to ignore horrific stories of human and drug trafficking that plague the American sub-continent. Beyond that, I had little planned and I spoke no Spanish. If something had happened I may be of a different opinion, but from where i sit today I have only gratitude and pride for my parents selflessness. They knew how important it was to me and not once did they attempt to stand in my way.
While my parents would always be there for me- the same could not be said for the boy who made up the better half of my early adult life. He was the ‘perfect catch’. But perfect catches have a way of getting caught, and it wasn’t long before I faced the dreaded “I’ve moved on” email. I was under the impression that I’d find my own new (latin) love but oh how wrong I was. The closeness at which I came to moving on can only be measured in tens of miles, and I spent 2012 in a string of loveless flings in the hope of finding one I cared about.
In between all that, I laughed, partied, explored an entire country, learnt Spanish, made friends that felt like family and ventured, solo, into Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. I was so happy living in Santiago, Chile, that I seriously considered staying on there. But as much as I would have loved doing just that, I longed for something different, something new. And so I returned home once again to figure it out.
Early 2013 was spent half considering settling down and getting a real job and half considering continuing my nomadic lifestyle. I moved in with my girlfriends who now all happened to be in Johannesburg ‘making a go of it’. That fact alone helped me lean more towards wanting to stay. Its all too obvious that life moves on without out you and that friendships form and strengthen when you’re gone- just not with you. I loved having my friends around me again- after all- they’re the ones who helped make my ski season what it was.
But somewhere between not feeling completely satisfied with my travel accomplishments and a rude reminder about the reality of violent crime in South Africa, I decided I had to head out again. If I was so uneasy about staying it was clear that whatever (travel/lost/wandering) bug I had caught wasn’t yet out of my system.
It was back to the drawing board. Again I had no money and wanted to be abroad and after a catch-up phone call with a friend, I was persuaded to join the yachting industry. Working on board yachts in the Caribbean and Mediterranean gets you a lot of money. One is paid stupid amounts per month (not to mention guest tips) to scrub, clean, iron, wash, smile and serve millionaires who choose to holiday on a floating hotel.
I saw an opportunity to work abroad while seeing exotic places and earning more money I could ever wish for, so I invested in myself by doing the basic courses and headed to the South of France. For one month I walked, asked, inquired, begged and eventually proved someone of my worthiness. Its a tough industry to get into, but once you’re in you’re in (assuming you’re not incapable of retaining a job).
After my first guest experience I knew I wasn’t cut out for this job. And while many people are happy in the lucrative yachting industry, there are an equal amount who cannot see the value in it. Not even the money. After such a free and positive experience in Chile, I was so out of my comfort zone and towards the middle of the season I knew this would be my first and last. Not least because I didn’t enjoy seeing the world that way- your time is not your own and neither, quite frankly, is your life. I knew it was time for the drawing board again, at least this time I had money.
By October 2013 I was so tired out by 5 months of hard labour that I decided to take some ‘me’ time and venture off somewhere. Actually travel. Explore places and not just drool at the sight of them from my anchored boat. I decided on Barcelona for various reasons. Barcelona was easily accessible from the south of France, I could practice my rapidly fading Spanish, and finally, there was someone there who I desperately needed to see.
***Insert new dynamic. I spent a lot of time on social media during my season on board. At times, in hindsight, I was extremely lonely. It was a new and horrible feeling of negativity that I wasn’t used to. My previous experiences had all been so positive. On Facebook I linked up with an old acquaintance.
We had last been in contact at university and almost 6 years later, here we were talking about our respective blogs. This friendly social media encounter re-introduced me to someone I realized I knew nothing about. He had me laughing, feeling challenged and supported. I saw something there and saw it so clearly that I had to go see him – in Barcelona.
If anyone felt anything it had not yet been mentioned- and then I told him I’d be staying for a month. I knew I needed more than a few days to let him see what I did. Six weeks later I returned to South Africa, puffy eyed and unaware as to when we’d be seeing each other again. It didn’t take long before we knew- this ‘being apart’ nonsense wasn’t going to fly.
Fast forward a couple weeks and I’m back in Barcelona, from where I write this (long) post. As much as I am an advocate for solo travel there’s no shame in finding the perfect (travel) partner. Someone who is just as discontent with letting the world pass them by. Its not long before I say farewell to Barcelona for a second time and arrive in India. I couldn’t think of a better place to take this relationship, which is essentially still an embryo, and help it grow.