I have been out of the UK pretty much constantly since the 4th May 2010, that’s 1.264 years – 14.7 months – 450 days. There are a lot of things I could have accomplished in that period of time, I could have flown to Mars AND back, had a child and be 5 months pregnant with the next (or instead gestated a baby rhino) or written a quarter of War and Peace.
Instead I think I have done pretty well. I have seen 17 countries, 15 capitals, 6 islands(1 on a lake), and 3 autonomous regions, travelling in 31 aeroplanes from a 4-seater prop to a MD-11 and crossing borders by boat, bus, car, train and foot (across 2 bridges). I have climbed ancient temples in monsoon rains and scorching sun, perused art until 5a.m., watched my first (and last) football match and first and last bullfight, swum fully clothed 200m underground, ridden a dolphin, modelled wedding dresses, snorkelled in the Atlantic and the Pacific with sea snakes, stingrays and sharks, taught English, sampled port wine, climbed an active volcano and stood so close to lava my skin blistered, swum with whale sharks, hit my first piñata, worn a bikini of real starfish, run with the bulls, spotted pink river dolphins, survived a “chicken bus”, heard the roars of howler monkeys, searched in vain for quetzals and fished without catching a thing. I have stood at the bottom of one waterfall and the top of another, zip-lined through a cloud forest, kayaked through rapids and parachuted off a cliff. I have slept in 5-star hotels, rough hotels, hostels, B&Bs, posadas, jungle lodges, Travelodges, and in tents and hammocks beneath the stars in rainforests and on 100m wide desert islands watching some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets. I have handfed bears, snakes and jaguars, touched tapirs, comforted a baby monkey, netted an angry vulture, put cream on an itchy lion, injected a 9ft anaconda, watched 3 live animal surgeries, 1 autopsy and fainted once. I have been the witness of one mugging and the victim of two. Through all of this to keep me going I have eaten enough plantain hot and fried, baked and crunchy, cold, soggy and flaccid to last me for life, nibbled cautiously on the face of a pig and the legs of a frog, tried horse, conch, termites, ice-cream flavoured with meat, hot-dog and beer, licked ants from a twig, developed a taste for octopus, enjoyed freshly caught fish bbqed on the beach. I have eaten arepas, tacos, hornazos, natillas, gestampte muisjes, fajitas, molé, currywurst, patacones, cassava, bacalao, gallo pinto, morcilla, tarta tres leches, lulas, pepper pot, stroopwafels, tamales, pico de gallo, patatas bravas, membrillo, jeta, hagelslag, cerviche, empanadas, revuelto, bitterballen, all washed down with custard (yes, as a drink), chicha, flor de cana (like it was going out of fashion) and coconut milk straight off the tree. I have made friends from Holland, Brazil, Japan, France, Korea, the USA, Germany, Saudi Arabia, China, Italy, Norway, New Zealand, Taiwan, Turkey, Hong Kong, Iceland, Greece, Switzerland, Malaysia, Australia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Ireland, South Africa and of course Spain. And to top it all off I have learnt a new language.
It has been the most tiring and most testing time of my life but I know it was worth it even the bad bits. If I were granted a second life, I’d just go and do it all again.