“Sanne, come quickly, Rash is here!”, Warren shouts from the garage. Me and Marcel are already waiting at the kitchen table. The whole day I felt like a little kid on boxing day. After months of hard work and saving money at the farm, the big day had finally come: my very own van is about to arrive on my doorstep!
It is pitch black outside. I rush towards the kitchen, quickly stuff a sandwich in my mouth and run off to my bicycle. It is only 3:45 AM. Way to early to be in a hurry, but unfortunately the usual story nowadays.
`Oh my god! That is insane! Look at those colors!` I shout out enthusiastically to my fellowship in the campervan. The sun is slowly setting in the valley. Leaving a spectacular sight of red and gold in the sky. I quickly pull the campervan over at a viewing point so we can properly suck in this breathtaking sight.
The gateway to heaven a.k.a. the door to my hotel room opens.... my jaw nearly drops to the floor. My hotel room seems to be copied and paste from a travel magazine. It’s been a very, very long time ago that I have seen a hotel room like this from inside. There’s a kingsize bed in the middle, a massive wardrobe on the side and an over-luxurious bathroom. I put my suitcase in the corner, take a deep breath… run towards the dream bed.. jump the last meter, turn around in the air and land with my arms wide on the silky soft sheets. I burst out in laughter. What a contradiction with my life a few weeks ago…
My phone is silent.. still silent. I’m getting grumpy, it’s been nearly an hour since I had a call to pick up a delivery. In the meantime, it started bucketing down with rain. Luckily there is a big place to shelter in front of the supermarket. My raincoat has given up the fight against the weather and slowly starts letting the raindrops go through. Completely wetting my clothes. It is nearly 11 PM, I’m already biking around since 11 in the morning. ‘Come on, please. Just one more delivery! At least give me enough income so I can buy my groceries this week!’, I shout helplessly to my Samsung. As if the gods were listening, an order pops up on my phone. ‘Yes! It’s just around the corner!’ I quickly put my phone in the holder on my steering wheel to navigate, put my helmet on and hit the peddles like my life is depending on it.
With a jet-lagged head, I step out of the car. It's gloomy and drizzling of rain. I tighten up my raincoat and scarf.
My two months in the Netherlands had been nothing but summer and the sun. In Melbourne, winter had definitely taken a long stretch into what is supposed to be spring.
With a bursting bladder, I run across Utrecht Central station. I need to pee like a hippo. The carpool of BlaBlacar (the carpool edition of AirBnB) turned out to be absolutely fantastic. At 4 `O Clock sharp, a big ass Mercedes was waiting for me at Frankfurt Central Station. After a smooth drive with an average speed of 160 km/hour on the German highway, I was back in the Netherland within the blink of an eye. The only downfall? Due to a tight schedule of one of the fellow passengers, there was no time for toilet breaks. Despite the fact that my bladder had gained the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger after all the long bus rides in South America, it had definitely reached its limits now.
It almost feels like I`m sleepwalking over the platforms of Frankfurt Central Station. It`s 6 in the morning. My flight from Rio to Germany was, *mmm* interesting. Situated in the middle row, surrounded by a massive (around 20 people) Brazilian family. Featuring drunk uncles, laughing aunties and crying babies. It was like you try to fall asleep in the middle of a local Brazilian cafè: FORGET IT!
Keeping myself distracted by watching movies was also out of the question. My stingy self, had booked a flight with the uber-budget flight company. So entertainment was NOT included. Ah well, self-inflicted. Earplugs and a good read, are also a great way to pass the time.
With my eyes closed, I listen to the calming sound of the sea. My back is on the soft, warm sand. Some salty water drops are slowly making their way from my belly down to the beach. I`m about to take my last jump in the Atlantic Ocean (for now). I gaze at the famous Ipanema beach, the buildings, the taxi`s, the buses that are rushing past. The high green mountains in the background who, like an older brother, embrace the city with their calm and strong appearance. And of course Christ, the 38 m. high wonder of the world. Looking down at the city like a friendly, kind-hearted father. His arms wide and open. Built on top of a mountain, where you can see him watching over you from every angle of the city. Strategically put there in the hope to change the minds of any (potential) criminals and lower the high rate of crime in town.
With a plate full of food and two cups of tea I join the breakfast table. “Here Rachel, for you.” I say to my English roommate from bed number 21. “How`s your Brexit hangover? Calmed down a bit?” I ask her. “Ah, it`s ok. Any news from your own country?” She asks in return. “Well, my favourite theme park is being sued because, apparently, they have `racist` rides. Besides that, there is some unrest in regards to the healthcare system.”
We arrive in Chuy. A little town close to the border of Uruguay and Brazil. It has just as much charm as any other border town here in South America. But this one appeared to be a true mecca for tax free shopaholics. On every spare square meter, a shop was squeezed in. they were then filled up with useless stuff and the windows decorated with over the top advertising in Spanish and Portuguese.
“Sorry sir, but do you maybe know where the buses to Brazil leave from?” I ask a man in a sports shop. “Oh, it`s just on the other side of the street sinora. Do you see that tall building over there? That is the bus terminal.” With a smile and a “gracias” I show him my gratitude and signal to Grant that we need to walk further.
In the main hall of the bus station there is a gigantic counter protected by jail bars. It quickly appeared that these jail bars were here to protect the customers against the bitchy sales women. A true killer-bee ready to sting. It became clear very quickly that she felt she was way too good for this job.
Slowly I open my eyes. With a big smile I look at the wooden planks next to the bed. They make a somewhat improvised wall between the kitchen/living room/bedroom and the tiny little bathroom. It`s just like a tiny little hobit hole. The wooden cottage we found ourselves in. It might be 15 square meters at most, but of my god, I loved this little hut so much!
“Hola Sanne, Grant! Como estas? How are you guys doing?” With a big hug I greet my cousin Pamela. Before we left to the breathtaking Patagonia, we had visited my family in Buenos Aires. The decendants of the brother of my grandfather. He had grabbed his bags after the war and traded the Netherlands for Argentina. Like a lot of people of that time he was lured by the great stories of counties far away, countries full of changes, countries full of jobs and money, a new adventure, a new start. A deep sense of respect arises when I think of these people. “Are we still true travelers?” I think to myself. In the past there wasn`t an endless number of travel guides, travel forums, travel blogs. You weren`t able to `google` where to go, how to prepare yourself or what to expect. You just bought a one-way ticket, took some cash and put some clothes in the suitcase. You embrace your family and friends for one last time and off you go. You turn around one last time and wave them goodbye, knowing you may never see them again. You`ve promised to write them but itwill take weeks for you to get into your promised land and then another few weeks just for the letter to arrive. What a joy it must have been to find the money to make a phone call, to finally hear that familiar voice again, to finally speak in your mother tongue once more. For sure, you must have felt lost and lonely.
With a big `puff` I put my backpack on the sight of the road. Three policemen curiously observe my actions from behind their pilot-worthy-sunglasses. With their hands in their pockets they casually lean against their massive police 4x4. Their curiosity reveals their happiness that there`s finally something happening at the gas station of the sleepy little, rural town of Daireaux. A small country town that, besides a notification on google maps, won`t receive a lot more fame. A little than 30 minutes before, we had been dropped off here by an overfriendly truck driver. He was out of the world excited that he finally met other hitchhikers on the route 65 than his local neighbours.
Pablo drops us of at the border. To get back north, we have to travel via Chile. As always, he greets everybody on his way with a warm embrace and a short chat. For a short moment I think he must know almost everybody in Argentina. We get our passports stamped, while Pablo catches up with all his friends at the border crossing. Now the time truly comes to say goodbye to our special and endearing friend. “Saturday I`ll fly to my house in Buenos Aires. I`ll wait for you there with my wife, children and grandchildren.” We promise him to make it to Buenos Aires and say our farewells with a tear and a smile.
“Pablo! Pablo, mi amor, how are you doing?” So happy to see our old friend again, I don`t even give myself the time to pull off my backpack. Filled with enthusiasm I run over to his desk and give him a warm hug. As always Pablo has a big smile on his face matching his calming karma which could easily beat the brightness of the Dalai Lama or Nelson Mandela. Grant follows me and gives Pablo a hand. Pablo, a short, balding man stands in between us. “How were your travels in Ushuaia?” He asks while he looks up into our eyes. “Ow Pablo it was amazing! Unbelievable, the nature, everything. Absolutely mind-blowing.” Pablo gives us a gentle stroke over the shoulder. “Please take a seat my friends. I`ll make some mate and then I want to hear everything about your adventures.”
“Sweety wake up..” I hear from a distance. Slowly I open up my eyes. It`s still dark in the room. “Urggg…. Are you crazy? What time is it? 4 o `clock in the morning or something? I mumble to Grant with a grumpy tone, while I turn myself around, pulling my blankets with as a sign of protest. “No you silly goose. It`s already after 9am. We have to hurry, otherwise we miss out on breakfast.” Shocked by this news, I jump up and look around the dorm. All the beds are empty and most backpacks are perfectly packed and zipped, awaiting their own owners for a next adventure. Quickly I look at mine, but unfortunately there was no sign of Marry Poppins who magically organized my stuff. My backpack still looked like the after effect of a firework explosion. As a last form of confirmation I grab my phone, she shows the inevitable: it`s 10 minutes after 9.
It`s 9 O`clock in the morning and El Bolson is waking up. Fully packed we open the door of the hostel. A cool breeze freshens up our faces and clears our noses. We turn around one last time to shout a “Ciao! Suerte!” to everybody and then we`re fully ready to hit the road. It`s freezing cold. The morning mist has left a silver glance on the grass in the park. It`s about 2 kilometer walk to the beginning of the highway. We quicken up the pace to warm ourselves up. The heavier we breath, the more steam appears from our mouths. As two walking locomotives we pass the gas station. I turn around and start walking backwards. Pretending I have done this trick already a thousand times I put my right thumb in the air and start moving it up and down.
An old Volkswagen pulls over. The poor car is clearly on one of his last drives. The window of the passenger’s seat is turned winded down and two young blokes smile at us with their charming yellow teeth. “Where are you guys going?” asks the driver.
“Excuse me madam, but the next bus to Lago Hermoso is leaving in 6 hours.” I raise my eyebrows. “…. 6 hours?! And how am I supposed to make a hike around the lake if I arrive there at 5pm?’ The attendant looks back with the unimpressed facial expression which resembled the look of a zombie. “Again, I`m sorry madam, but it`s low season. May I suggest you take a taxi down? So you can enjoy this sunny day down at the lake. Goodbye!” And with a big `slam` he shuts down the window to start his low season siesta. “What do we do now?’ I ask Grant, a bit disappointment by the fact we might not be able to go on a hike today. “We could try hitchhiking down.
An old man slowly sits next to me. His back is painfully bended forward and almost forms the shape of half a moon. With great effort he lifts up his head as far as he can to greet me. His face is deeply wrinkled by the many years of intense sun in this altitude. “Buenos dias mi hija.” (Good morning my child) he says with his toothless smile. “Buenos dias señor.” Even though I was used to the fact that elderly people would apply to me as their child, it still felt uncomfortable to reply with the common `Papi` or `Mami`. With a firm sip I try to suck the last bit of juice out of my glass. I sneak over the counter to see if the lady has a bit more left in the blender. There is, at least enough for another glass. I put on my charming best and do the trick I`ve seen other with Peruvians.
Tables have been turned again. After weeks, excuse me, months of being totally happy and in balance with myself. The little devil inside me has popped his head around the corner again. Fed by being homesick, I long to my trusty regular, comfy life back home. Spiced up with the condiments of fear and doubt about the future. Enjoying my current life I am eating through my savings, but will there be a job to level it up. And if yes, what kind of job?
The year 2015 is coming to its end. I`m already on the road for more than a year now. Time flies when you`re having fun. What a time it has been, especially the last two weeks on Galapagos. Absolutely unforgettable. I never wiped away so many tears of joy in my life. What a richness in wildlife. Young sea lions, curiously gazing at our camera`s. The nights we spent sitting on a bench in the harbor, enjoying the clumsy movements of the sea lions coming to shore after a hard day of work at sea. We biked along a dozen giant tortoises on island Isabella. Drank wine on the beach together with other backpacker on Christmas Eve. We`ve seen massive sea turtles swimming past, elegantly, almost ballerina like, pushing themselves forward with their flippers through the water.
“Hola, como estas jovenes?” An elderly men is descending the hill towards us. His arm spread wide like a Jesus statue and around his neck a cross. He`s only one black and white outfit away from looking like a priest. Sweat drops make their way down from my forehead towards my jaw. After our jungle tour we wanted to see a bit more from the Amazon. Puerto Nariño, a small ecovillage, a two hour boat from Leticia, appeared to be our Mekka. We walk up the muddy hill. It`s challenging us. With flip-flops, a backpack on my back and a smaller version on my front it`s not an easy task, especially considering the insane high temperature and the equally insane humidity. Juan, the hostel owner, shows us around. The dorm, the kitchen, the doors that everybody had to keep shut to keep the monkey`s outside, the parrots, the cats, the dogs. It`s a true Zoo. The atmosphere is laid back. Everything is possible. We settle into the dorm which appeared to be our own private gigantic bedroom for the next couple of days. During dusk, we say goodbye to the sun, which says goodbye to us in return by leaving an impressive coloring above the jungle when it sets down behind the horizon.
The screen in the airplane shows 10:30. We have been flying over nothing but jungle for 1.5 hours. It reaches as far as the horizon. Here and there a river breaks through the green infinity. There is nothing but green trees, shrubs, no signs of indigenous villages. The airplane descents, the green infinity starts to show its details. Gigantic trees start showing their form. We go down quicker and quicker and with a smooth bounce, the airplane lands on Amazonian ground. The doors of the aircraft open and the fresh, humid air of tropical rainforest greets our noses. It reminds me of my time in the tropical greenhouses in the zoo, causing lovely memories to pop up in my mind again. We wait for our luggage at the improvised luggage carousal, which needs a firm kick from one of the attendants every few minutes to keep it going. The large amount of artificial Christmas trees which glide past on the conveyor keep the surprised tourists entertained. One has got to admit, this is a bit of a strange sight, given we are in the largest and greenest heart of the world. We change our long Bogota-proof jeans to khaki-green shorts and a t-shirt. We are enthusiastically greeted by a man who introduces himself as “George, George of the Jungle.” I have a flash back to my childhood where my good friend Marleen and I would watch George of the Jungle on TV. I think to myself, my god, if Marleen had been here, she would have peed in her pants with laughter. He says that he organizes several tours in the jungle and gives us his business card.
“Shall we take Warren to El Cocuy?” I ask Grant. Warren is one of our friends we met on the San Blas trips and he is staying in the same hostel as us. ”Yes of course, awesome idea.” Quicker than we knew it, three amigos were on the road.
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto