Wherever I Lay my Head

On July 6th I became homeless by choice. I know that I will always be welcome somewhere but, by resigning from my job, moving out of my recently rented flat, storing my significant past and giving away my beautiful cat I cut all ties with responsibility and domesticity and liberated my future.

Now, my home is wherever I want it to be. For one month it was Peru.

The Challengers were fascinated by the idea of my homelessness and referred to it regularly, joking at my displacement. But I found it, in turns, invigorating and nerve-wracking.

At one point my home was the Cordillera Blanca: a beautiful Andean region that was home to the mountain Huascaran, a jagged, snow-capped peak approximately 6,700 meters high. Camped beneath it in the thin air of altitude I revelled in the idea of mountains as walls, a starlit ceiling and donkeys as neighbours.

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Another wild and wonderful place I was able to call home was the Pacaya Samira reserve. Home to pink dolphins, turtles, Amazonian kingfishers, macaws, howler monkeys and the tiny community of Yarina, it was a beautiful place to live.

Over nine hours upstream of Nauta and only accessible by long boats that lay shallow in the water to navigate the low water levels and numerous hazards of fallen trees, the World Challenge Team stayed for 6 nights to participate in jungle treks, conservation and community projects.

At night the stars domed above us, unhindered by urban glow, offering us a clear view of the Milky Way and all too brief flashes of falling stars while we watched fire flies and glowworms glitter in the shadows of the encroaching jungle. The rainforest is as I had imagined; dense, soggy, very hot and riddled with biting insects. It is never silent; macaws, bugs, bull frogs and goodness knows what else all vie for supremacy with their squawks and screams, alongside the sounds of ordinary village life: cockerels, dogs, the shouts of the children as they play football and volleyball and the Columba beat of the village DJ!

While I was happy to visit I know I couldn’t settle in a place like that as the itching alone would drive me crazy and the noise, while novel at first, would become an irritation. Plus, going to the toile while attended by mosquitoes, flies and on one occasion, a bat, is not conducive to my peace of mind. Nor is washing myself and my clothes in a slow moving, mud coloured river that is the home to caiman and piranha.

On the plus side, dancing in the regular afternoon showers of fresh, warm rain was a highlight but the full drenching we experienced as part of our jungle trek , while novel, did nothing to encourage me to want to stay longer.

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Hostels were also home for me from time to time. Most were pretty grim: grubby, waterless, even slightly moldy with half working showers and repetitious bread/egg based breakfasts. Some were creepy. Roald Dahl’s ‘Landlady’ attended us in Trajillo and in Lima we were residing in something more like a museum or art gallery that a hostel, with enormous sculptures hiding around corners and bazaar paintings on the wall.

Midway through the trip a cargo boat became my home for two nights. Camped on the top deck (there was no space left to sling a hammock by the time we managed to get onto the right boat) our arrangements looked like a tent village in Glastonbury, crammed together in close quarters with a second World Challenge group. When the heavens opened I felt truly at home so I danced in the rain before retiring to my tent to let the shower pass.

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Sleep came easily here, despite the hot and sticky atmosphere we had created. The rhythm of the engine and the soar of the water past the boat sent me to sleep quite quickly and dockings and groundings barely registered with my consciousness. I was quite relieved not to be on the deck below with the multitude of hammocks and bodies being somewhat reminiscent of a refugee camp although tents on the top deck presented their own challenges: engine vibrations through the floor, some instability in high winds and close proximity to restless Challengers!

Overall, I find that travel frees me from life’s woes and worries; I am able to live in the moment and simply be. If anything, I’ve learnt that I don’t need the trappings of a ‘normal’ life. In fact, I’m at home with myself, and with the world, wherever I am.

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