Of course I cannot sleep. Here I am, again. A fair chunk of the last 18 months of nights have been spent in strange places. Yet it is now and once again, in a place that has become familiar that I find myself feeling lost, unsure and nervous. Just like last time all my stuff is strewn about in the room next door. It’s as if I can only function in a tired rush, so I betray myself now with no possibility of much needed sleep the night before we leave.
Tomorrow, or rather today, we leave Colombia. These are our final hours on a continent that has in many ways changed my life. It is here where I first learned the true depths of human kindness, where I first opened myself completely and for the first time in my life stepped way, way out of the comfort zone. This is the place from which we chose to step away from money, to take a proper look at it.
Just four months ago we were in Patagonia, a destination we had written off as too expensive. Until, of course, we ran out of money and tasted in real life the naive belief I had held as a child.
“Why can’t we just see things for free?! Why do we need money to travel?!”
I suppose deep down I’d never let that sentiment go. I can still feel the rage now, the sad, feeble anger of a boy too shy to react how I wanted to. One of my friends had said to me, all of those short years ago:
“I wish you would stop talking about travelling and just do it.”
I don’t remember how I responded, or if I even did, out loud. Within though I passed scornful judgement on my friend’s privileged upbringing, her large house, her rich parents. I grew up in one of the wealthiest counties of England, but in an area so poor that I got bullied on a daily basis just because of where I lived.
I was bitterly angry at my friend. I seethed. She didn’t understand. Couldn’t.
And yet all these years later I find myself many months and many thousands of kilometres into a journey that has taken place largely without money. Emma and I have travelled the length of this continent, north to south and then back again. We had no idea before we left England that we would travel so far. Somehow we had no idea just how generous and kind people really are.
To my chagrin, it turns out that my friend was right: sometimes you just have to stop talking about it and do it. If we can be frank with ourselves, often we will find that what we think are reasons are actually only excuses; proof of fear, lack of confidence. The best reasons to face up to whatever it is.
We have slept in the most bizarre and awful, beautiful and magical places. And yet it is this dark, familiar bedroom, this familiar base, in which I feel drowned in uncertainty and on the cusp of something important.
In less than a week we will be bobbing up and down on the Atlantic ocean, homeward bound. And only by the grace of other people. All we did was open up and ask, and share our story. And as awkward as I sometimes find this position I still believe in it.
That poor boy who seethed at his friend, who wore his sisters hand-me-down Adidas trackies, is still somehow a little ashamed that he had to ask for help. But the young man is different. I can comfort that small boy now. Love him, even, with a tenderness that finds me crying tearless in the dark. There is no shame in asking for help. Receiving has made me stronger, and now I have so much more to give. I tried so hard to find myself alone. I even tattooed it on my wrist.
Yet it is next to Emma that I came to accept myself, to see a person of value reflected in her eyes. It was in those vast deserts of hardship and doubt that I came to understand love a little more, and what it takes to get through the hard times with someone else. And it is under the guidance of countless hundreds of strangers that I got furthest. I slept better in the backs of their trucks and on the hard ground of their prefab huts than any night I have passed in any bed. And it is in this, and in tandem with the humbling knowledge that so many of you gave so generously to us to help us get home, that I see the true value of my life.
It is to share what I can with you, to the best of my ability.
I am scared of the sea. I have had recurring nightmares for most nights of my life, and many of them are of terror at sea. But I was scared of having no money, too, and what people would think as we stuck out our thumbs, as we asked outright for bread or a safe place to sleep.
This is more than a sail boat home for me. It is the only way home. And it is only possible because you have helped us.