December 21, 2009
This is it. Your last day. The VERY last day of what will be five COMPLETE months of travelling. Of living on 10 euro per day; of thoroughly touring Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy; of surving heat, rain, cold, snow, wind; of hitch hiking with all kinds of strangers; of staking out camp sites, guarding your bags, reading maps, gripping your knife and compass; of dealing with heat rash, sun blisters, mosquito bites, possible bed bugs, dirty clothes, bathing in cold waterfalls, toting water, thinking about fuel, feeling 25-30kg strapped to your back at all times.
This is the last day of hiking over some of the most gorgeous coastlines in the world; of seeing breathtaking monuments, visiting ruins, taking in Renaissance art; of eating delicious local and traditional foods; of meeting other travellers, swapping stories, drinking on terraces, waking up and not caring what day it is; of being able to do anything you want, anytime; of wandering through midievil roads, visiting churches, searching for the best deals on coffee; of waking each day stronger than the last, more fully aware of the new understanding and relationship you have with yourself.
Last day of putting your limits to the test–of figuring out just how much you are capable of doing on your own, what you are able to improvise, and what you are willing to throw money at. The trip started as an experiment. Really. To see how long you can travel on 10 euro per day, and still have a quality trip. You reckon that no two girls have ever had such a trip as you and Alexis have had—met so many people, saw so many random places, learned so many tips from the locals, really FELT and ABSORBED the rhythms and energies of a new culture… Flying, taking trains, and busing from location to location just doesn’t offer the same experience. Living in hostels keeps travellers of normal endurance afloat. You can write endlessly about what you hav realized is important to you, what you have learned about yourself, what new skills you have acquired just from being forced to THINK all the time, and also, about what makes the best travel partnership in the world.
But, a little filler before you get into it… your last entry talked about a couple encounters which built on your character. Little did you know that you would have another couple scenarios that would test you. (For the moment, you will mention to your readers that you visited Florence, Tuscany, Umbria, Rome, Milan, Naples, the Amalfi Coast, Venice… and did all the expected touristy things. No one needs a list of “And then we saw this, and then we saw that, and it was bee-e-a-utiful!” In short, you saw it all and had an awesome touristy time. That goes WITHOUT saying).
For all the camping and hitch hiking, trusting strangers on a daily basis, trusting fate not to deal you a shitty hand… for all the weather you endured, all the non-kosher-cushy-travel rules that you and Alexis broke, you would like to set the record straight:
In five months, you did not find yourselves even ONCE in a sticky, or dangerous situation. Nothing was ever stolen, no one ever attacked or tried to rob you… NOTHING. For all the street food and gum you consumed, you were never sick or out of comission. You counted your blessings, and as the finish line came closer, you did not push your luck.
The fact is, the two worst incidences that occured were NOT a result of your mode of travel. The first, the Flasher, already mentioned, occurred in broad daylight, quite randomly, while you were hiking like anyone else. The second, what happened at the Ivanhoe Hostel in Rome (on your second visit there), not mentioned yet, did not happen to you at all. The incident at the Ivanhoe, which—for the sake of your two new acquiantances who were victimized—will be explained discretely. Two male hostel workers misbehaved aggregiously against two guests. You were awakened in the middle of the night, sought for help and counsel, by one of these guests. You later found the other in a compromised position in the hostel kitchen, to which you practically forced your access after being denied for two hours. The police were called, a trip was made to the hospital, and the staff of the hostel were completely unapologetic. You learned, in one long night, how terrible the (Italian, and any) justice system really is. Is it a deep shame how human beings can behave toward one another, particularly in modern, developed cultures. The episode still haunts you, and in your last week of travel, you have run the incident and the actions of all parties involved through your mind more than you would have liked.
For anyone who ever admonished you about your level of risk on the trip, they should understand that peoeple tend to precipitate their own luck. Bad luck strikes at any time. You and Alexis have surfaced, unscathed, tougher, leaner, scrappier. Less willing to put up with people’s bullshit, but always sure to uphold your own strict ethics, even though you know fully well the significance of cultural relativism.
After leaving the Ivanhoe Hostel in a hurry, you and Alexis had one more week until you needed to be outside of Milan to catch your flight. You checked the weather forecast before heading north, and cringed. Expected temperatures at night were -7 degrees celcius. MINUS 7! How did you survive?!
…continued Tuesday, January 5, 2010
How did you survive? Ha!
By the skin of your teeth. By wearing every article of clothing you possess; by sharing sleeping bags, of burrowing holes in the snow an insulating with anything you could find, by lighting the fire at night; and by holding cooking events three times their regular duration. It really wasn’t so hard. What was worse was breaking camp in the mornings. Having to take several “crotch breaks” in order to warm up your hands again. Keep moving. Don’t let your feet get wet. No problem. You kept each other dry and semi-warm, tucked each other’s shirts in in places where your layers did not permit you to reach.
And you made it. All the way to Venice. All the way back. And you camped in a cluster of Christmas trees (with lights!) outside a giant shopping mall next to the airport. It was perfect. Unfortunately, the weather turned worse, and Italy lost control of the Bergamo airport. The military was called in. You waited while Alexis stood in an Italian mob for four hours (an old lady keeled over in front of her) and battled her way to the Ryanair window for a new flight, which just so happened to be 300km away at a different airport! Traumatic, yes. But you forked over every last penny you had (literally) and shared a taxi van with other Dubliners and made it to your final destination.
Early Christmas went off without a hitch. Alexis fell ill on Christmas day with what might have been the swine flu. You followed suit the next day. Your illness progressed into relatively serious pneumonia, which left you in bed for a week.
Whoops! At least it didn’t happen on the trip. Sleeping in a freezer will do that to you.