132 nights, 22 hostels, no top beds!

So I was several months into travel when I realised I had avoided sleeping on top bunks in hostel dormitories across Argentina, Brasil, Ecuador and Colombia. Not that I have a problem with them, it’s just a little less effort and once I realised how much time had lapsed, I decided to try to go a full year without using an upper bunk bed. 132 nights across 22 different hostels and close to five months is not a bad effort.

I arrived at El Viajero in Cartagena with a friend about a week ago, quite late at night as the bus was delayed many times over, and there were only two top bunks left of the ten beds in the room, so that was it, my record stands at 132. The odd thing is, it was awesome to sleep on the top, because you’re elevated – it was so different to what I had become used to, how you view the room and everyone else in it is completely different and I had forgotten what it was like to sleep higher than ground level (I slept on the top for a few years as a child). It was nostalgic. Now I’ve reverted to using top beds only as I enjoyed being perched up high like an owl and scrambling about like a monkey whenever I got up or jumped down.

Thanks to Brendon for helping me preserve the record in Costeño. :p

Today marks day 141 on the road. I’m in Medellin, Colombia.

Across the pacific and into Buenos Aires

Three long years without travel (I must once again mention this was the biggest mistake I made in recent years, and I made many)… and the time had finally come to leave the shores of Australia and roam the world again. No more waiting, no more working in a gloomy office for hours that usually stretched beyond 9-5, no more vaccines, no more bills, no more running around shopping for bits and pieces, closing off contracts, tying loose ends with university (deferring, again), it was all done, I just had to get on the plane. A large portion of my immediate family made it to the airport to see me off for what may have been three to six months away, which would be my longest stint away, and the first time travelling truly solo and not breaking away from friends for a short period. South America – I’d felt it in my gut to travel SA for years – they don’t speak English, its far from home, its huge, its a little dangerous, it was the perfect challenge and presented a world of things to see, do, experience, I wanted to get out, so badly, and now it was time. I did have some anxiety after a shitty few years with much difficulty, change, self growth and realisation, much help from amazing friends and family, but this was it, no more, nothing familiar, and I would be totally responsible for myself and far from everything I had known and that of which was familiar to me. In truth, I stopped smoking weed before I left too, cause it was all making me think way too much, and I think enough as it is when I’m not stoned. This was another sign things had gotten a little too crazy and I had to get out.

Checked in, had a beer with my old man, he said he hoped I would find whatever it is I was looking for (he never got the travel thing), hung outside with some more of the family, eventually gave my goodbyes and disappeared down the tunnel and through customs, onto the airplane that would carry me across the Pacific ocean and the Andes and into the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, a city I had been hearing so much about, though typically, mostly negative and deluded stories of muggings and druggings from people who had never even been there. So my brain had been nicely primed for entering a city I had been told I had to be careful in – countless times – I already hated this, and I knew the perception Aussies had of such a country would be heavily distorted by bullshit media and general hyperbole. In fact, there were only two people that actually said to me, you know Vito, you’re going to have an awesome time, enjoy it, have fun, be safe! Most of the time it was be careful, watch you back, your bags, don’t do this, or go there, and watch of for these people, and this kind of drug, and don’t blah blah blah blah blah – I was immensely tired of hearing this tripe. I can understand concern, but this was just complete paranoia, fear, being misled and misinformed. I wasn’t going into Mogadishu. Even at work, in the office, people were kinda shocked that I would be going to South America, alone, for up to a year. S’all good though, live in fear – in the meantime I will be out seeing what this mad world has to offer. ;)

Oops. Slight tangent there. But back to the flight, fifteen hours on an Aerolinas Argentina flight, there was a lot of what the fuck am I doing? kind of internal dialogue as I took to the tunnel and got on the plane, though there was that crazy feeling of the unknown too, the feeling you get when you travel and while you are on the road. I hadn’t felt this in so long. In fact I had forgotten what it was like completely. I couldn’t get excited before I left. People would ask me if I was excited and I would respond no in a flat tone and sans much expression. It had been three years since Japan and a rollercoaster of crazed, uncontrollable and probably too frequent highs, great periods of uncertainty and struggling with myself and the world, and deep periods of reclusive lows – the excitement and sense of travel had long been lost. But it was back again. I left at about 7PM and would arrive about 9PM the same day, the 10th of July.

The flight rocked. Time and space moving at immense speeds. I was able to view the stars, very clearly, horizontally rather than lying on my back gazing deep into the universe and zenning out, as I usually did. Sometimes I would stare up into the sky and see a plane, high, high up in the sky and wonder where it was going, who was on it – this time I was on the plane and maybe there was some other dreamer laying on his or her back wondering the same thing. My single serving friend was a middle aged woman from Melbourne, named Adriana, with a husband and two kids. She was wrapped I was visiting her country and South America, and she told me that I was about to embark on an amazing adventure and would learn a lot, which was awesome, to hear something positive, for once. She was going to visit her mother in Rosario, a city a few hours from Buenos Aires. She told me stories of herself, her family, recommended dishes to try in Argentina and Peru, she made me laugh, she left me her mum’s contact and her Facebook in case I needed anything or was to pass through Rosario. She was heaps nice as us Austrlians say. Adriana was a character, bubbly and buzzing with life. She told me she loves Australia but she never really feels herself until she returns to Argentina. I had instantly become even more excited. She thought I was going to spew in a paper bag before we ate but I was only spitting my gum out. She bellowed with laughter. She was loud and lively and awesome. We ate, the food was alright, rice, meat, pasta, some other things which are hard to recall after almost five months (five months? what the hell!). 

I gave Adriana the window seat so she could sleep, I didn’t intend to sleep the entire flight, opting to exhaust myself and crash when I got to BA, that would I should tune into the time difference in one night. A different approach to my usual style of blasting myself with Valium or similar sedatives to the point where I can barely stand, let alone walk – great for sleep, and looking like you are on heroin in public and not giving a shit. I thrashed some of my favourite music, blitzed through James Clavelle’s King Rat, wrote in my travel journal (some of this comes from my notes, thoughts, feelings and observations in there). Eventually Adriana started snoring, she warned me about this, I didn’t care so much, and she was right, it was loud. I moved to and empty seat at the back and spaced out, literally listening to NASA’s release of The Voyager: Sounds of the Cosmos. 

Many hours later we were close to the continent of South America. We hit the Chilean side of the Andres and encountered mad turbulence. Mad as hell. I am not scared of flying, or death, but it had been about 12 hours, maybe 11 and I had already accepted that I may die, and sat comfortably, experiencing twenty minutes of what felt like a Jeep on a rocky, dirt road – not a plane in the sky. Dropping and dipping up and down – madness! It was incredible. The captain announced it would last a while. You never feel more alive than when you feel you could potentially die, or be so close to death. Of course, it was all cool.

We crossed over into Argentina and I went back to my seat, Adriana was up. I’m there glued to the window oogling at these big cities that I don’t know, so unfamiliar for me, fascinated by the scale of them and the perfect grid layout – something we do not have back in Sydney. Bright lights illuminating vast stretches of road and clusters and blocks of buildings in these crazy metropolitan landscapes crafted by man, looking beautiful in the night. I was super excited, but I was also slightly nerved, about to land in BA where they spoke Spanish, and I knew none, and would be going from the airport to the hostel in this city that people kept telling me is so dangerous. Haha.

I was awake, I felt good, emotion was running high and I was finally not in Australia but somewhere else. I had broken free of my life that had become a record on repeat, that ended each Sunday night only to be played over again the next day, and repeated, over and over, and over and over every single week, working  and doing shit for people who don’t even know you or give a shit about you while you run around like a trained monkey, interacting with a multitude of other monkeys and eeking out what I think is a horrid corporate existence with such little reward or satisfaction. I made a promise to myself I would never work in an office again unless it was to gain experience in Architecture, or I was the one running the office. The monotony of being a burned out city kid that had lost his lust for life and felt so disconnected from the mad rush that was his home city, was over, behind me, my history. No more blocking out the world around and me distancing myself from everyone, everything, constantly cynical, uncertain, confused, tuned into my own sphere, music usually, and a book, unless I was with friends or family. How had I become like this? Doesn’t matter right now. Time to land.

Keep your offices, your smartphones, your gadgets, your obsession with connectivity and this crazy social phenomenon, your ego and your look at me and look at what I am doing and who I’m with Facebook posts, your fashion, your trends, your prejudices, your stereotypes, your groups, your jobs, your 9-5, your willingness to accept whatever nonsense people throw at you, you excesses in material and consumption and fixation with work and slaving away for money to buy more and more stuff. It all got a bit crazy for me. So I was out. Choosing not to race any longer. Fuck it. Place me last, the whole conventional thing did not work out and I was finally out for more in life.