The order of things

The other day I escaped the DIY clean-up operations at home and met up with sweet Zoe again at our favourite hang, the Dial Arch. Since we last saw each other, it had been made clear that I had read and been influenced by male journalist travel writers only, and was obviously not being as honest and authentic in my writing as I should, so Zoe had put me on Eat, Pray, Love duty.  It was a bit of an eye opener, and I realised that I’m not a dry, witty, researching journalist type writer, but more of an emotional observer and analytical explorer. While I’ve been reading Liz Gilbert (not without shame – always making sure to hide the book cover when reading in public, and feeling extremely silly for doing so), the USA book has faded away to be revisited at a later time, because I think the tale of my first backpacking trip is eager to be born first. She will be the elder sibling, the laying down of the foundation. That was when I was all alone for five months and truly had to face myself and all the ugly stuff inside, as well as the beautiful treasures and surprising resources I found within me. I feel like if I figure out the arc of that first journey, then I will be able to see the shape of the second one. This might be how it wants to happen.

zoe and bella

Zoe and Bella at Dial Arch


Anyhow, Zoe got stuck in traffic so I ordered a black coffee and sat down to write. I opened the USA book and nothing came. I couldn’t even look at it. So I opened a blank document and began writing about the first trip, and before long my heart was pounding hard in my chest as the words positively poured out of me. I must have looked like a lunatic, staring intently at the screen and mouthing words as I wrote dialogue, my face contorting along with the emotions that arose with the words. When the barman came to pick up my coffee mug I was so buzzy I couldn’t speak to him.

“You done with your coffee?” he asked and began to clean up.

I surprised myself by shouting “Yes please!” and went on to stammer something about how I would order another coffee but will wait for friend because sorry just really into this!

I wrote 2,000 words in the hour it took Zoe to get there, and by the time she arrived I was out of breath and trembling. I’ve been very pleased with certain parts of the USA book, but never has the process of writing felt like that – it has more been like carefully assembling an IKEA corner desk, whereas this was more like a child let loose with oil paints.

I pounded out 3,000 more words that afternoon, and I think it’s actually quite good – but the verdict will come at the Greenwich Writers’ meetup next week. My stomach turns thinking about it.


Interlude of nostalgia

And then I was going to write about the rest of the weekend and all that it entailed, but things came between, so that will have to wait.

Natalie floating

Natalie floating through Australia

This morning, out of the blue, I received a Skype call from Natalie, my sunshine pal and close friend who is currently having the time of her life on the other side of the world. She packed up and left for Australia, ditching schedules and deadlines and musts, and is now traversing that vast continent while piecing herself together like a great big jigsaw puzzle with the most perfect blueprint. I’m so happy for her, it sounds so amazing when she describes the adventures they face every day, the bright stars at night; and over the phone I could hear the raging winds along the Adelaide coast.

Naturally, it reminded me of my own travel days. They began at age 14, when I broke out of my sheltered Swedish childhood and flew to Zambia to visit Karin and see where exactly my cousin-slash-best-friend was growing up. What a contrast; what an eye-opener! It was all savannahs and fireflies and roaring waterfalls, shy lions and graceful impalas, friendly market traders and fresh watermelons. Some of the memories are still crystal clear in my mind, and there are not enough words to describe the magic of it. That’s when I realised how much world there is to experience.

Then at 23, I left everything behind and spent the most enchanting five months in Africa and South America, where I simply had to turn and face myself, and I cracked open like a rock to expose a geode of glinting crystals. Every day was an adventure, a painful one at times, but an adventure nonetheless, and that’s how I always wanted life to be. I hula-hooped on São Paulo’s rooftops, was robbed in the streets of Mendoza, saw my reflection in the great Bolivian salt desert, danced around a beach fire under the Isla Grande moonlight, and flew with shamans in Rurrenabaque – oh, my love affair with Rurre… I spent many lazy afternoons there in the depths of the Bolivian jungle, swaying in a hammock next to Río Beni that floated quietly through the unassuming village, while writing in my journal or playing some soft and melanchonic tunes on my xaphoon, and life was so easy.

Rurre 3

Our Rurrenabaque paradise

I spent wild nights in Rio de Janeiro, long and lonely nights on islands and in mountain hamlets, played pool with bewildered villagers who had never before seen a gringa, fished for piranhas in the jungle, got homesick in the desert, and most of all I remember the long busrides where I could take a moment to relax and reflect, and let it all sink in while watching the ever-changing landscape fly past.

I went from a clueless child who had been scared to go to town on her own, to a guitar-carrying, Spanish-speaking, easy-going backpacker wandering the selva alone, occasionally exchanging words with an inquisitive local, or just incredulously drinking in the freedom and beauty and perfection.

bus in peru

On a bus through the Peruvian mountains

A few years later I went again, this time with Mike, and it was marvellous to breathe in the sandy, smoky air of Lima once again, to feel the heat from the ground seeping in through my Havaíanas. To get on a bus and not know where we would end up. To amble breathless (altitude!) up and down the cobbled streets of Cusco, to once again stand on top of Machu Picchu, nothing but green peaks and clouds all around. To sleep in threadbare hostel beds and make friends from all over the world. To always be moving.

Natalie’s call, her stories and photos, sent me into a fit of nostalgia. I love the memories so much, and I also love my life now, writing and learning and hopefully building a career of sorts, and redecorating our lovely flat and making it our home. But sometimes my tummy aches for times past, and then I really do miss that feeling of the wind in my hair and the endless road ahead.

machu picchu 2

On top of the world