Two years ago, I was celebrating Christmas on the beach in Mũi Né in Southeast Vietnam. I complained about having to sleep in a tent and the sand in my hair. A year later, I was driving a motorbike in the North of the country. There, I whined about the rocky, uneven parts of the long and winding road that seem to have inspired every terrifying rollercoaster.
I decided to spend about a month in Amsterdam. Recently, the Netherlands has announced a strict lockdown over Christmas amid concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant. Non-essential public venues will be closed until at least mid-January. This isn’t the first time I am in town, so I am taking the opportunity to get some seriously long-overdue work done, meditate, finish midway-abandoned books, and drink lots of tea.
I miss Asia, primarily and not in that exact order: the nature, the weather, the people, and the food. I have been thinking a lot about where I would be right now if it wasn’t for the pandemic. I don’t think I would be here in cold and wet Amsterdam, which, by all means, is an amazing city – much nicer in the Summer. I doubt I would be anywhere near Europe, to be honest. I would probably still be in Asia.
“There is nothing you can do, I am afraid,” I was denied boarding for the second time this year. Travelling has become particularly complicated and stressful ever since the pandemic outbreak. Long gone are the days when my only concern was to make sure I got all the liquids stored in a re-sealable plastic bag and that my backpack looks as if it fits in one of those cumbersome luggage gauges.
Victoria’s Secret quite recently became succumbed to ‘woke culture’ so that things would be getting a lot better for their brand. They will no longer be employing the disgustingly attractive supermodels known as Victoria’s Secret Angels because their body types are undesirable and a terrible influence. Instead, they hired a new team of representatives known not for their proportions but their achievements … because why should modelling be done by professional models?
How cliché … In the French capital, the glorious city of love, while drinking café noisette, a shot of espresso with a drop of milk, and gorging on copious amounts of pain au chocolat, I felt the way you feel when your stomach flip-flops over and drops to the ground when you stare into the eyes of someone you want to spend the rest of your life with. A feeling that can be measured by the enormity of emotions that swell your heart when you hold hands and kiss for the first time.
To most people, it seems that life on the road and all possessions jammed into a small rucksack is kind of a dream come true. The truth is a little less quaint. Backpacking is laborious and tiresome. It forces you to talk to strangers and to lose sight of all that familiar comforts of home, family and friends. You are constantly off balance. You are always reminded that nothing is granted or yours except dreams, memories, the air, and the sky.
Almost from the moment I boarded my flight, life in England became meaningless. Seat-belt signs lit up; problems switched off. Broken armrests took precedence over broken friendships. My anxieties were gone, replaced by a peculiar emotion. An emotion seeped in balance and possibilities.
After returning from Iceland, for a long time, I couldn’t find myself in everyday life. Exhausted and inhumed by the dread of going back to work, I lay in bed for a couple of days. When I finally got up, I saw that the world was functioning without any changes, and my absence had no influence on it. Perhaps humility is the ability to accept that we can’t influence everything. It is, ultimately, acceptance of how small an element of the universe we are. Maybe the idea that we are supposed to change the world is an illusion. Maybe, it is the world that changes us. Except, I couldn’t function in this world anymore.
It happened suddenly. A looming realisation that the designs I have imagined for my life rest on blurred lines and intoxicated dreams. Disappointment. Heartbreak. On a cold, wet grass, surrounded by hills wrinkled with the cruel Icelandic weather, I put my backpack on.
The road snakes its way over large glaciers and mottled peaks reminiscent of a marble cake. I walk for many hours, and, many times, I resist the temptation to stop in case I lose my pace and motivation to continue hiking. Through the eyes of my imagination, everything looked so simple – probably why it is easier for most of us to dream than to fulfil our dreams, to complain than to look for solutions, to stay than to leave.
Acquainting a new chicken with the general flock is quite tricky. While some chickens will be tolerant of the newcomer, others will give the bird a hard time wary of the ‘intruder’. Instead, giving them a little time to familiarise themselves with their new living arrangements, your chickens should be settled and quietly roosting after sunset before you introduce any new members.
Maybe I was naive to think that it is as easily done as it is said. Or maybe I was grasping at straws seeking some kind of revolution in a life that was beginning to feel static. I ached for something to make me feel alive, and I was desperate to find something to live for.
I was sat on the edge of the half-empty pool. The water turned green and swampy. Burnished blue tiles were now covered with a thin layer of grime, the lifebuoy found its way into the shallow corner, and the volleyball we played with just a few days ago swelled up with moisture in the overflow. I wondered what good this pandemic gave me. The pandemic that took my job, prevented me from realising my passion, erased much of my plans, buried the effects of many sacrifices and efforts, and turned my lifestyle upside down. Did I really need a lockdown to learn what was important to me; to feel connected to nature and recognise the need to take care of our planet and myself? I understood all of this a long time ago, and that is why I followed this path.
Kneeling on a cold, tiled bathroom floor, with my head in a toilet of doubtful cleanliness, I seemed to have lost all remains of my decency. My only consolation was that, unlike India where a concrete hole in the ground is a rather unavoidable staple, Laos appears to favour western kind of sanitary ware. While I was vomiting my half-digested lunch, it occurred to me that, no, travelling isn’t always fun. And I feel like almost nobody talks about it. I would really like to see more self-proclaimed influencers and travel bloggers share with the public everything they chose not to: the bad, the sad, and the ugly.