I was sitting on yet another bus a week or two ago, Shaun and I headed for Quilotoa – an active volcano outside of Latacunga, Ecuador. I was sitting there, watching a countryside not so dissimilar to Scotland’s pass us by – all lush greens and forest and pasture – listening to music that reminds me of home, when I was struck by a moment of perfect clarity.
It may seem really cheesy (it was), but in that moment several important things became very clear to me. They ranged from absurdities (how lucky I am to have a mum who taught me how to cook), to profundities (how drenched in priviledge I am, not just as a straight white dude, but as a ‘westerner’). Perhaps my clearest thought though, and certainly the one which gave me the surest sense of happiness and contentment was this:
I am living, and have been for the past eight months, the most incredible life. How lucky I am not only to have had this opportunity, but how lucky too to have my home to go back to.
I think that really for the first time in a while, our couple of hours on that volcano-bound bus allowed my thoughts, memories, and experiences, to catch up with me.
And actually, since then, I’ve been spending my days in a much clearer state of mind, far less cluttered than usual, thinking things over and, I’d like to think, coming to terms with issues both personal and social which I’d been trying to understand for a while.
Aw fuck. He’s went full hippy. You should never go full hippy. Fuck this blog.
I know. I know. I put off writing this for a while actually because I was afraid that that’s how it would come across (last time I wrote you I think I was writing about Machu Picchu, way back in Peru). In fact I’ve come through Ecuador, lost another travelling companion, and fired through my first three Colombian cities already since then. I put off writing this because I’m trying to be honest and coherent and not sound like too much ae a dick, and my thoughts just haven’t been collected enough till now.
I do however feel in a very comfortable head space now, which is a wonderful place to be, so I’m gonna give it a bash. This is, essentially, a Buzzfeed-esque list of the most important things I think I’ve learned about the world, myself and stuff over the course of my trip.
Company Is #Tight
It’s been under a week since I hugged the Shaunster (aka Siobhan, aka ar kid, aka La Reina) goodbye and sent her off to the airport in Quito. Prior to her leaving, I’d spent three and change months travelling with both her and Luke (aka el capo, aka hooverhead, aka wanker).
I think an important lesson being on the road teaches you is not to take anything for granted (easier said than done, though more on this later). But certainly, after my first five months travelling alone – making fleeting (though intensely warm) friendships before leaving on a bus by myself – I took neither Shaun nor Luke’s presence for granted. I recognised immediately how much easier it was to travel with a friend, and how comforting it was (is) to hold company with those you’ve come to think of dearly and who, you hope, think of you similarly.
In truth, I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a lone wolf. It’s a fact that I take pride in: that I can not only survive, but survive well enough to enjoy life when alone, when in solitude.
However, I can be a little too stubborn for my own good some times (my folks will surely attest). Travelling with that pair of hooligans made me realise that it’s not a sign of weakness to rely on others for your own happiness, or peace of mind, or safety, or whatever. And once I realised this, I realised that company, or better said community is an absolutely integral and necessary part of (at least my) life.
As with most things, we require a balance that suits us in order to be happy. For me, travelling has taught me to relish good company when I have it; to indulge myself fully in all its goofy, gushy, soppy, loveable, ridiculous caveats, and not to spend my time wishing I was alone. Thus, once I’m next on my own again, I can enjoy the solitude knowing I made the most of what I had, and will again whenever it comes back around.
In short, thanks guys. To Martin, for picking my mood up with a Facetime when I was chongin’ as fuck the other day, and to Shaun and Luke for indulging my clingy side.
Brah, it’s in everything, brah. Just open your eyes, brah.
Naw, fuck off.
You meet a lot of different characters travelling, and the more you meet the higher the likelihood that a decent percentage of them will have been wankers. Ostensibly, there’re two classes of wankers: 1) English school boy i-remember-my-first-beer ladladlads (not of course always english, but this is the clearest picture I can paint in fewest words); 2) stoner hippy fakers. Both groups are full of people hugely unenjoyable to be around. For me however, it’s actually the second group that pisses me off most.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s the first who really riles my bile, it’s the first who I often wanna give a good dunt to the nose(s) – see if I can’t put a fix to that nasally whine. But in the grand scheme of things, this first lot are often quite young, brought up in privilege, and perhaps haven’t had the years they need to figure their adult selves properly out. Thus, I can mostly forgive their rosey cheeked, shoulder length haired, purposefully scruffy t-shirted persons.
It’s the second class of wanker who really, really piss me off. Not in an angry way, more like a dissapointed way (Dad you’ve taught me well). Stoner hippy fakers. These are the older kids you meet out here, ignorantly spitting peace, love and equality, whilst all about them (especially in continents like Sud America y Asia) is poverty, violence, and oppression. These are the people who lay about in hostels, stoned out their box, talking solely with other western kids about how beautiful everything is, how wonderful life can be, how we all should just chill and cherish it while it lasts. All worthy statements in the right context, sure, and I will admit, if Luke’s reading this right now he’s probably laughing his ass off, as I’m sure we were deemed those guys by other travellers once or twice ourselves. But seriously, when you choose to ignore the ugliness of your surroundings, of a society and sometimes of its people, instead blanketing it with this idea of omniprescent beauty, you run the risk of me calling you a fucking concha.
Anyways, shite, I went way off topic.
What this entry really boils down to is that whilst no, beauty is not found in everything, that actually it can be found in the most unlikely places. Largely I like to think of this idea under the pretentious umbrella of The Happiness of the Unhapp. Basically, outside of the usual places (nature, art, architecture), the place I’ve found the most beauty is in the communities and characters of the poorest of the poor.
With the exception of East Eastern Asia, all of the countries I’ve been to are still firmly in the developing stages of their history. And yet it’s there, not in London, or Tokyo, or Paris, or New York, but there, in Mumbai, La Paz, Lima, Quito, Medellin, that I’ve discovered the happiest, most grateful, and most welcoming people in the world.
I’m no sociologist, so I won’t comment at length on the why’s (maybe it’s the communal spirit, maybe it’s the desperation or the drive to live the life you have), but unfalteringly this pattern proves true with each new place I visit. And in that I think there is something very beautiful, very essential.
Which brings me on to my next section…
Don’t Take Anything For Granted
I’m gonna fire through this one fast because I’m aware of how extensively spouted and misused the cliché is.
As I’ve said, I see a lot of happiness, like, an overwhelming and inexplicably genuine happiness in the absolutely poorest people. Which is lovely, but does inescapably force you to question your own gripes and moans. Once you get past this stage, realising being angry at yourself is solving nothing, you start to feel guilty, then self-pity, because the guilt’s got you feeling miserable. Then eventually, eventually, you just start to feel unbelievably lucky for the smallest shit.
Like being able to drink from the tap without a five day spell of shitting and fainting.
Like being able to eat at restaurants/cafes and be fairly sure you’re not gonna have a five day spell of shitting and fainting.
Like not waking up to fourty five new bites and a possible bout of malaria.
And bigger shit:
Like not spending my childhood running for my life from cartel gunfights.
Like not spending my childhood in constant threat of kidnapping by right-wing militia, or even the guy round the corner.
Like not spending my childhood selling cocaine to dumb tourists outside clubs, just to make money for your family.
Yeah, sorry about that. What I want to say is that I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the privileges I’ve been afforded in life, which before I honestly wouldn’t have thought twice about. There’re a lot of them, and I’m sure I’m still to discover more, but for now I’m trying hard to really actually not take anything, material, familial, socially or otherwise, for granted.
Mum’s Who Teach You How To Cook
Really, just families in general dude. Whoever you’re fortunate enough to call your family, be it biological or pals or adoptees or whoever, whatever they’ve managed to provide you over the years: cooking lessons, a scotsman’s frugality, a terrible sense of humour but a great taste in music (or vice versa), whatever it is: be thankful. Families rock man, and I know sometimes they suck ass, but I’ve not seen mine in what feels like a really long time so I’ll say this: when it seems like they suck ass, families actually really rock.
Call me Descartes if you wish.
Don’t Ever Be Afraid To Be Embarressed
This is actually a Slug quote, from Atmosphere’s best work (in my opinion), the song ‘Flicker’. However I tend to think it’s also one of the most simply poignant lyrics, and one which has stuck with me ever since I first really started paying attention to that song, back in Kyoto, Japan.
Embarrassment is not something I’m unfamiliar with. Most of my adult and indeed teenage years were somewhat characterized by it. Not to say that I spent all that time embarrassed, of course, but through an interesting combination of a few bad break-ups, mental issues, a fairly below-average batch of confidence, and being a tubby little fucker, I have on many many occassions bailed on doing something I wanted to do because I was too afraid of feeling embarrassed.
This trip has gone someway, thankfully, to doing me wonders in said department.
A lot of it comes from necessity. Privacy is completely out of the question whilst travelling, as is personal space, and so sparking up conversations with strangers, showering, shitting, or changing in front of them (yes, sometimes even shitting) becomes pretty routine, so any self-confidence issues there are quickly hammered out.
Other things take longer to work out, like beaches, and getting my gorgeous milk-white beer belly out for all and sundry to see. Or talking to that pretty girl in the club who you won’t, no matter how much you hope so, just randomly bump into again on the trip (believe me, i’m living, breathing proof of the truth of this). Or making a sorry drunken fool of yourself at karaoke at 2am on a Monday night. Or telling the truth, no matter how pathetic or sad you think it is, no matter how vulnerable it makes you feel.
Or, most importantly, telling someone you miss that you love them. Always do this thing. Even if they’re your bro bro, or your sis sis, and you think yourself a tuff (with two ff’s) lil thug.
Be genuine, be embarrassed. Sometimes (a lot of times, especially with cute girls) it won’t work out (you ain’t kissin’ tonight son, go wash your clothes and take a shower maybe). But whether it works or not is not the issue, what matters is that you’ll feel better about yourself once you’ve done that thing you wanted to do.
I’m trying to get better at it thanks to this trip. So far I’ve been whipping ma tap aff at every beach I’ve come to, I’ve fallen asleep in many foolishly drunken post-karaoke trains, and I’ve maybe even kissed a pretty girl or two.
So yeah, don’t ever be afraid to be embarrassed.
Now, lastly, since this has gone on long enough already…
“What are you gonna do when you get back?” is a question often poised on the lips of new travel buddies, always introduced terrifyingly early in the conversation.
I’m very used to it (as I am all the usual icebreakers) by now, and so I’ve had the same answer prepped and used for the past eight something months:
Haha. No idea, dude. Trying not to think about that right now.
Writing that answer out, I’m just suddenly realising how freaking lame an answer it is. I’m aware it’s the sort of answer you’d associate with an Oxford rich boy. My apologies. The truth of it is that yeah, I fucking didn’t want to think about the future (and actually stand by the fact I think I had the right to enjoy those few months of complete independence and freedom from ties to what lies ahead). There’s truth too in the fact I actually don’t really know what I’m gonna do when I get home.
Nevertheless, with time and with where I’ve been in my own head of late, I do now have a more coherent answer (albeit not complete with specifics) to that question. So if for any reason yous are interested to here it, here’s a rough draft of my ideas for the immensely scary future:
I want to immerse myself, more so than before, in all things creative and, more specific, literary. I want to continue to write, moving ever further towards trying to get my ramblings down in some sort of published form. I want to read more and more extensively, too. I do not want to tie myself down to a life-long job, not by any means. Whatever I do, I’ll be keeping the schedule as clear and free as possible to allow for the possibility of future travelling experiences. The jobs I do hold I want to be as varied as possible, because I maintain that no one really knows what they want to do till the stumble upon it. Who knows, maybe I’ll find my calling on a fishing boat out in the seas off Alaska (Deadliest Catch for life, bro). I want to work artistically with my incredibly talented friends back home (and all those I’ve met on the road), and, whilst I feel that poetry is where my heart lies, I don’t want to confine myself to one genre. I take a lot of inspiration from poet and rapper Kate Tempest, who this year just brought out her first novel too. I also believe comics are, in the ‘literary’ world, a very much underated and scoffed-at medium; I’d like to work with them some more. (If I ever realise the dream of running my own bookshop, believe me they’ll feature as prominently as general fiction). I want to continue expanding and experimenting with my own consciousness. Creativity and the altering of consciousness are a match made in the bowels of the most heavenly hell. I think there’s a whole world of things I can attempt creatively which I’ve yet to discover, and I’m excited to do so. And I guess lastly, I want to refind my place in the extensive and wonderful Glaswegian cum Edinbugger cum global community of friends and artists I was not so long ago a grateful and loving (and maybe loved) part of. For all of the reasons stated above, because I really love all of the kids I have in mind right now, and because travelling has taught me that positive social and cultural change is only possible through the movement of grassroots communities. In other words, if I ever wanna see auld Lizzie’s head on a spike, the dismantling of all international borders, and the progression to a global network of small interdependent anarchic communities existing and enjoying life through shared work and a truly egalitarian set of social standards ahered to voluntarily and morally, then I think the Glasgow underground is not a bad place to start.
Actually, one last quick thing, on the topic of women. It has become (as if it wasn’t before) abundantly clear to me throughout the course of my travels that, despite places like India, Korea, and Bolivia treating women like something far less than second-class citizens (to put it mildly), without fail women work fifteen billion times harder than men: to provide health and happiness and safety for all those around them, whilst looking out for their own wellbeing (more often than not seriously at jeopardy), all the while dealing with a tyrade of insults, accusations, and the overwhelmingly prominent fallacy that men are somehow biologically and mentally the more capable sex.
It seems to me simple enough: instead of giving into that oh so masculine temptation to prove ourselves superior in some way or other to our fellow human, just start working cooperatively, and next time you or someone you know or just some random gadge on the street is putting themselves above a woman for some reason or other, ask yourself where the issue really lies: with her, or with the man in question.
Basically, let’s all just stop systematically being cunts to women (ironic or reappropriative and progressive use of the word ‘cunt’? you decide).
With that, I really will sign off. I promise my next post will be posted with less of a gap than this one had to the previous, and that it’ll be back to just talking about getting wankered and waking up on a street corner or something, instead of the semi-lecture super-self important nature of this post.
I’ve you’ve made it this far though, then thanks for sticking with it. At the very least, if not interesting to the reader (lol at me saying that and still wanting to be a writer), it helped me to no end in coming to terms with my scattered thoughts.
And thus, in accordance with the lessons here learned, and so as to show I do at least try and follow my own advice… to my family, my friends, my dogs, and all of you who’ve read this: I love you. Thanks for being cool.
Viva la revolución, God save the Queen (she ain’t no human being (off with her head)), smash the patriarchy and our associated obsession with masculinity, tell people you love them, make art, go get wasted on whatever you can lay your hands on, listen to rock n roll (it’s good for the soul), etc etc etc.
P.S. My mum and dad got married like 44 years ago today (or something like that), which is pretty cool. So if you see ’em, give ’em a hug and a kiss for me. Big love.