It is often like that with travel. You feel somewhere between amused and bored as you wander around a strange faraway destination. And yet as you look back at that moment just a couple of months later from another place thousands of kilometres away, the very fact of having physically occupied a small piece of the Earth out there seems surreal.
That is how I feel now that I am back in Europe, as I look back at my trip around Latin America and the Caribbean. So many places discovered, so many new (and old) people met, so many impressions and events… and all of that in such a short timespan!
Sometimes I think back about my days before this crazy two-year-long trip and it feels to me as if all of it was in another life. I have changed so much, experienced so much and learnt so much. And simply time-wise it feels like a temporal abyss separates me from that day in 2013 when I left Brussels.
Certainly it was the most intense period of my life.
As for you, my dear blog, I must apologise to you that I haven’t spent much time with you in these last months. You are probably well and truly upset with me. Yes, other causes have consumed my energy. I could probably write 25 posts about all the places I visited during that time. And in the back of my mind I still have that idea, that need – to write about these places. Now that I will not write about them day to day, it will be a retrospective look. But how surreal and magical it feels to take that look.
What does it mean to travel for a year around the world? At the end of 2013 I wrote a selection of 20 best experiences of the first part of the trip. As the year 2014 was rolling in, I was seriously asking myself: could I possibly surpass 2013?
Today my answer is: absolutely yes! This was a tremendous year full of events and impressions and new people and places. Indeed so intense was the year, that as I re-read some of my early posts of 2014, I feel like they might have happened in another life eons ago.
Here are the twenty most powerful experiences of 2014:
20. Helicoptering to the top of a glacier
It was my lifelong fantasy to fly in a helicopter, and what a spectacular way to do it! In New Zealand’s Franz Josef, a helicopter took us up all the way to the top of a glacier, inaccessible otherwise. An otherworldly walk in the land of ice and light inside a deep glacier valley followed.
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Every year at the end of December I complete the Annual Review exercise. I first got an idea for this tremendously useful annual ritual from Chris Guillebeau’s blog. This is the fourth time I’m doing the exercise: I’ve reviewed 2011, 2012, 2013 and now 2014; the 2012 review was even published on this blog. Below is the (somewhat abridged) review of 2014.
1. The first part of the review is to ask myself these two questions: What went well this year? and What did not go well?
What went well in 2014?
Looking back, 2014 was probably the most amazing year of my life. I spent the whole year literally on the road continuing my Round the World trip that I started back in July 2013. During 2014 I visited 29 countries, many of them for the first time. A whole list of incredible experiences happened on the way, of which the most memorable were:
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I’ve been thinking these last days about the importance of letting go.
One thing that caused this reflection was of course the loss my camera in the middle of October. To be fair, on this 500-day 39-country trip I have lost an uncountable number of physical objects. I forgot my fancy eyeglasses in a hotel in Los Angeles. I left my favourite winter jacket in a hostel in Adelaide. My big rolling bag broke several times – the wheels of the first bag broke in Tokyo, I bought a new one in Australia, this one broke in Fiji and Nepal and so I finally I bought a new (current) one in Andorra. I lost t-shirts and shoes and gloves and socks and underwear too many times to remember. I’ve lost or broke headphones at least six times (Bolivia, Chile, USA, Australia, Barcelona, Romania), lost or broke iPhone cables and chargers many times – first time in Peru, which rendered my iPhone inoperable for a month, other times in Nepal, in Armenia, in Italy.
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Several important developments have taken place on my trip. It pains me to even write it, but let’s get the worst out of the way first. The most unfortunate news is this: my beloved camera is dead. Like an angry god the Atlantic ocean in its utter cruelty has decided to devour it. On the idyllic island of La Gomera in the Canary archipelago a treacherous wave sneaked on me from behind. Some drops of water got onto my camera. But salty water, as I now know all too well, is deadly for electronic microchips. And so several seconds later the life of my camera was over. Trying to dry it did not help. I sent it to the repairs shop and the verdict has already been pronounced to me. Cheaper to buy a used body than to salvage this one with uncertain results. Ah my wonderful 5D Mark II, I will love you forever.
It was a strange coincidence that when our small plane was landing in La Gomera, I had this distinct feeling that my trip is nearing its end. La Gomera is so remote and so rugged that it really does feel like the end of the world. Little did I know that this little island really would spell the end of something I so treasured.
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It is a momentous time we live in. Turns out, history has not ended! As is shown by the complex events in Ukraine, the endless surprises of Sochi Olympic games and even by the sudden and innocent switch between the Estonian Prime Minister and EU Commissioner, history is alive and well and will continue spicing up our existence.
I am by now in New Zealand after spending a month in Australia. Australia is truly magnificent, but at times it shows a traveller its less friendly side, mostly in very simple comfort questions. You are asked to check out at 9:30 in the morning (what?), you have very limited access to internet – no free wifi even in expensive hotels, and even paid wifi is very slow. For example a new critical update for iPhones is 1GB large – forget about downloading it in Australia! Because of this limited web access every time I published a post on the blog, it seemed like a giant triumph of will.
All this threw the chronology of my journal in quite a disarray. I will continue publishing some experiences from Indonesia and further on as I went, but I might also make some sudden posts from the present moment, as I did with Sydney Mardi Gras.
Of course there is also the second reason why I am late with updating the blog. Australia and New Zealand have been so intense and so interesting that it seems life just sucks me in like a hurricane not leaving time for anything else really. I have already accepted that there is no way I can sleep as much as I’d like to ever. Sleep seems simply a criminal waste of a critical resource. I have no time to read books, to watch movies, to meditate – all these activities I thought I would be doing in abundance on a round the world trip. Nothing like that.
This is what I’m missing the most on this trip – time. And it is the main lesson of the trip. You suddenly realise how valuable time is and how little we have of it. That’s why it’s so important to concentrate our attention on what truly matters.
There is another lesson I learnt from this trip. It is that you always have to DO that what you want to do. Even if you are tired, you’ve no money, you’re in a hurry, you’ve no more strength, you’re not sure – DO IT ANYWAY. You painfully regret afterwards the things you did not do, the people you did not meet, and almost never the things you actually did, even if they did not go quite as you would have liked. Looking at the list of expenses on your bank card statement, I am always surprised by how small they look several months after the facts. And I regret not having done more.
My trip around the world kicked off on 5 July 2013. In half a year on the road I have crossed two oceans, visited 17 countries and gone through thousands of kilometres on a plane, on a boat, on a bus and on foot. And it’s only the beginning! Right now I am in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, where I am doing my annual review for the year 2013 and making my plans for 2014. Here are the 20 brightest experiences of the journey so far.
20. A football match at 3850 metres
Only the most particular circumstances can force a lifelong tennis fan to take part in a football match. Such circumstances transpired on the island of Amantaní on Lake Titicaca, at 3850 metres of altitude. When having run just a couple of metres you feel like your throat has been scorched with fire. And we won that match against a team of young Brits!
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Leaving Latin America, I want to comment on a phenomenon that seems to be sweeping this part of the world. It is the so called pink tide, the simultaneous occurrence of a left swing in the politics of the most countries on this continent. It is pink of course because bloody red is somehow appropriated by the communists, whereas the socialists can be safely painted in pink. Latin America has been under robust American control for many years, belonged to the immediate American sphere of interests. But especially in the most recent years, after the end of the Cold War, the situation here changed radically and one after another pieces of the domino fell as socialist or left-wing presidents won elections.
There are 12 independent countries in South America. Today there are left-wing governments in 9 of them, and Michelle Bachelet just won the first round in presidential election in Chile and is likely to win the second, making it 10 out of 12.
This is how it looks:
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