Since Anna left me to fend for myself on this fascinating continent, I´ve sampled two very different types of travelling.
Firstly, I headed north to the coastal town of Mancora where I met up with 5 Australian guys who Anna and I had met along the way. Now, during the last few years I´ve had the pleasure of living with 6 Australians, and have travelled with many more and so I felt that I had a good grasp of just how wild this particular race can be. I´d underestimated them. Hugely. I can honestly say that these were the most outrageous, extravert and downright crazy Aussies I´ve ever known; we became known as ´The Wolfpack´ and I love my fellow wolves dearly.
We spent a week causing havoc in Mancora, each day promising that we´d leave the next day, before the nakedness, drunkenness and general inappropriateness began for another day meaning we totally forgot about leaving. We called it our holiday from the hardship that is travelling, and that´s exactly what it felt like, an 18 year old´s first ´lads holiday´. However, the time of the Wolfpack had to come to an end. With my body in ruins, my brain about as useful as mashed potato, and any remaining dignity in tatters, I finally escaped from Mancora.
My first destination was the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, where I bumped into another member of the Wolfpack, Mick, who still looked at dazed as I did. Over a quiet beer we tried to piece together an unforgettable but unrememberable week of our lives. We failed, and so I decided it was time to move on again.
Thus began my time ridin´ solo. It would´ve been much quicker and easier to fly to Colombia, but I decided that I wanted to do this prepoerly; to travel again. A short 6 hour bus-ride took me to the Colombian border, and then I had to negotiate one of South America´s most dangerous borders. I walked solo across the bridge over the Rio San Miguel which separates the two countries, all the while trying to avoid becoming an accidental drugs mule. Next I used my rapidly improving Spanish to successfully negotiate my way onto a local bus (on which I was the only gringo) which would arrive in Bogota in only 24 hours. My positive momentum was severely tested during this particularly painful journey which included one breakdown, no Air Conditioning (despite the equatorial climate), a screaming baby, and being rudely awoken by a police raid on the bus. However, with the soothing beats of Paul Kalkbrenner massaging my ear drums, I finally arrived into Bogota feeling like an authentic traveller again, rather than the obnoxious tourist of the week before. An unexpected bonus of the journey was that because I´d had to speak so much Spanish, in the few hours of Valium-induced sleep I did manage, I even dreamt in Spanish!
Upon arrival in Bogota, I felt that irrepressible, exploratory urge I always feel when reaching a destination. So I did what I always do; get completely and purposely lost. I walked for hours, through as many areas of the city as possible; rich, poor, crowded, quiet, residential and commercial. The feeling of freedom was unsurpassable, and I even ended up accidentally joining a mass anti-government demonstration! One piece of advice when using this exploration approach; take nothing with you. I carried the equivalent of £6, but no camera, phone, watch (I haven’t had one for 3 months anyway) or passport, just in case I got into any trouble. Being without all of these is also a blessing in disguise. Rather than photographing a scene, you simply observe it. Rather than listening to music, you hear the sounds of the city. And rather than constantly checking the time, you simply wander until you feel that it´s time to stop. After sampling the local cuisine and enjoying my first local beer, I found my way back using landmarks I´d noticed on the way (although this was slightly difficult in the dark), ready for another day of exploration.
Travelling completely solo tests your abilities in unexpected ways, but also gives you an unparalleled sense of achievement. Meeting and travelling with great people remains my favourite aspect of travelling, but you should cherish those moments when you´re free. Free to catch a bus to an unknown destination, free to wander without explanation, free to simply stand and stare.