I left new Zealand on Monday afternoon and at a friends house in Sydney, my last stop; starting the path back along which I came to take me home to London. It seems impossible that almost 3 months have passed and my time away is about to end. This journal entry is going to be the hardest to write, for many reasons. I don't want to think about it too much and worry that the flood of thoughts, memories and feelings I have are going to meld into a rambling muddle. This entry will be more of a reminder to myself of where I am at the end of my journey than an entry to share with others where I'm at during it.
It is a gloriously sunny day in Sydney and it seems only appropriate that my last day ends on the same note on which I started. Sun, blue skies and mixed feelings of happiness and trepidation with a subtle fear of the uknown. Today however the unknown is not about what I don't know but about going back to what I do know. My trepidation is not about what is to come but about going back to what I left. My happiness is not about the sense of real freedom but about going back to the familiarity of home, friends and the good life I have.
My journey has taken me through such an extreme range of physical landscapes, weather, people, emotions, experiences that I've had moments where I've wondered what is left for me to still do. But then I've also thought that this time and these experiences have been the tip of an iceberg and given me a thirst for more. More freedom, more life, more daily joy, more challenge, more of the simple stuff. It's also however given me a need for less. Less stress, less worry, less concern for the little things, less intolerance, less unhappiness.
I've had such an incredible time and have done so much and I get scared that it will all be a vague dream within a week of my return home. I have taken a thousand photographs but that thousand only captured small moments in time. What I have and want to keep safely stored away inside me is a memory of a piece of my life that for the first time was purely and only for and about me. This may sound narcissitic but if you think about what we do day and day out of our lives it almost all comes down to satisfying, pleasing or in some way looking out for someone else. Family, friends, lovers, bosses, colleagues, neighbours, strangers - we spend our lives making decisions with the consideration of how they will impact these people. Sometimes not consciously, but in the end, almost always for some other purpose or person than doing what will truly, and possibly only, make ourselves happy. To have experienced the sense of freedom and peace that can come with being doing this makes me realise that life should be about finding the balance and at least having moments again and again of this freedom and peace.
So many of my close friends encouraged me to go do this alone. I think they knew I had the courage and the ability but mostly that I also needed it. They knew that. And they were right. I've been asked so many times by so many people along the way about what it's like travelling alone and them saying "I couldn't do it". My answer was mostly that I wasn't always alone as I met such great people everywhere. But the difference was that I had the choice and found myself more and more enjoying the solitude and finding peace in it instead of loneliness. The times I was alone along the way were for the most part one of choice. And again, that sense of freedom that comes with choice can't be underestimated.
Reading some of this back I see myself starting to ramble, but this is an extension I guess on that self-indulgence I've been doing the past 3 months and I'm going to ramble as much as I like to get my thoughts down. Whoever reads this is reading out of choice and I'm not going to take any responsibility for trying to write it to please or entertain anyone but myself! In a few days I'll be back in my real life where such selfish actions don't really fit and aren't appropriate.
Before I started my sabbatical I knew I wanted to do things and see places that I'd never experienced before. I had no expectations, no plans, no intinerary, just some ideas. I never dreamed that I would or could have done or seen so much in such little time.
Before I left home I'd never scuba dived. I'm going home having an advanced diving qualification, having dived to 33m, seen rare coral, rare sea-horses, dived with sharks and spent 4 days in wild seas on a dive boat.
Before I left home I'd get vertigo looking down from a ski-lift. I'm going home having jumped out a plane at 15 000ft and jumped off a 104m high cliff - twice.
Before I left home I'd been down a raging river in raft. I'm going home having gone 6km down a raging river, through wild rapids on a boogyboard in 13C water for 2 hours.
Before I left home I'd been on top of a glacier in a gondola. I'm going home having climbed 3km up a glacier and experience a once every two year phenomenon of flash flooding resulting in being evacuated by helicopter.
I've experienced 40C temperatures trekking through Laos jungle, 28C waters in Thailand, cyclones in Cairns, flooding in the Glaciers, snow in Queenstown, rain, rain and more rain on Doubtful Sound and pleasant sunshine in Sydney and Melbourne.
I've met old travellers, young travellers and every now and again I've met travellers like myself. I've met funny people, pleasant people, annoying people, mean people, rich people and poor people.
I've made new friends, American, French-Canadian, Buddhist Monk, Austrian, German, Swedish, Australian and British.
I've been reacquainted with old friends.
I've slept in luxury boutique hotels, in basic jungle huts with no electricity, in good hostels, in bad hostels, in beach huts, in private rooms, in dorms, on a yacht, on a few boats and in friends homes.
I've travelled by plane, by car, by bus, by sangtwanes, by tuk tuk, by helicopter, by boat, by ferry, by train and by foot.
I've found inordinate pleasure in having clean laundry, hot showers, a comfortable bed, air-conditioning, heating and healthy food.
I've got new scars from injuries along the way, life-long reminders of times I've had here.
I've lost weight, put on weight, got more blonde, got tanned, been healthy, been ill.
I turned 36. No-one every guessed my age and I topped out at a guess of 33. Average age guess was 28. This felt good.
A relationship ended, I had holiday flings, I was flirted with, I flirted.....I never fell in love though. Someone fell in love with me.
I've missed my family, my friends and even my colleagues. I've been surprised by who I regularly heard from and surprised by who I never heard from.
Most of all, I've laughed and smiled more than I thought possible. Perhaps that is a good note to end on, both my trip and my journal? Part of me doesn't want to end this ramble because once it's done it's also closure on what has been simply an experience of a lifetime.
I don't think I'm quite ready to being going back but I will adjust and get on with life but hopefully with a little part of me a changed person. A new piece of me I want to keep.
Thank you to all those people who made this time what it was. Meeting you, no matter how briefly, was a piece of this amazing puzzle called my life.
Thank you to all those who kept me company by email along the way. I had lonely times and your contact filled that void when it was felt.
Thank you me - for finding the courage to go on this journey in a spontaneous way, finding the courage to overcome my fears along the way - and mostly for finding the laughter inside again ..... I've retrieved my soul and am going to keep it close.
Thank you for reading and letting me share the details of my journey with you.
So I'll end with a quote.....
"Goodbye and goodnight"