In exactly 33 days time, I shall be hurtling (or more likely crawling) towards Heathrow airport to catch a flight bound for Lima. I will watch England disappear beneath the clouds and my four-month adventure in South America will begin.I would like to be able to say that I am taking my “trusty” backpack and give you that knowing nod, indicating that I am a seasoned backpacker, who can set up camp in the wilderness, survive with just two t-shirts and a pair of trousers for over a year. Sadly, this is not the case. I had to buy a backpack specifically – usually any trip lasting more than 3 days requires luggage on wheels in my world – and already I have encountered problems. Now, I did my research. I visited forums, asked stupid questions, all to determine which was the right type of backpack for me. Then I compared web prices, found the perfect thing, bid for it on ebay and bingo! An absolute bargain price and a few days later my Vango Freedom (sounds suitably backpackerish, doesn’t it?) arrived. Only it wasn’t the right one. This one is 80 litres, rather than the 60 litre one I thought I was buying and it is MASSIVE. Now, when talking suitcases, the bigger the better in my book, but when I have to carry this thing on my back and it is nearly bigger than me, it doesn’t work.
Backpack issues aside, I’m also trying to co-ordinate the biggest adventure of my life, in which I plan to see as many places as humanly possible, while still enjoying everything and experiencing the local culture. A task not helped when people say: ‘Oh you HAVE to go to [insert name of South American city/village/beach] and I excitedly write it down, only to remember that Rio de Janeiro and Santiago are on opposite sides of the continent and unless I am going to hire a private jet, to do it all is just not possible. I toyed with the dreamy idea of travelling by bus back to Lima from Santiago – giving myself a luxurious 3 days, only to discover that the journey takes at least that. Before you scoff and think that my sense of geography is appalling, you have to realise that I come from an island where everything is close by, and the majority of my travels so far have been around small corners of Europe, where a 5-hour journey seems like an endurance test. Now I’m trying to travel round a continent in a month. Reality is slowly but surely dawning.
I’ve barely given a thought to the fact that for the first three months I will be volunteering in Huaraz, Peru, and that I need to get my teaching resources organised, find out about the local climate, culture and customs and generally get my head round the idea that I will be living and working in a town halfway across the globe.
Unlike sensible people who plan such major trips years in advance and book everything up months beforehand, this whole thing is happeneing on a wish and a prayer. I booked my flight to Lima less than 3 weeks ago, with empty space in my diary between my arrival and departure dates, none of the appropriate ‘backpacking’ items and only the vaguest ideas of how to get from one place to the next. Now things are beginning to take shape, but if anything I am becoming aware of just how much there is left to sort out.
Having said all that, the overriding feeling is one of excitement. Whatever happens, I am going on an amazing adventure. I am going to see places I’ve only ever dreamed of, doing things I’ve only ever dreamed of doing. So I might not get to Santiago on this trip, but I will be trekking the Inca Trail, hanging out on Copocabana beach, learning to Tango in Buenos Aires and teaching in Huaraz. Despite Backpack dramas and only a very loose plan, I feel like the luckiest person on the planet and very, very Starry-Eyed.
If you have any backpacking experiences to share or tips to offer, please do!
During my trip, I will be hiking the Inca Trail to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Association, a cause very close to my heart. I would be grateful for any support that you can give. You can read more or donate by clicking here