In three months I will be flying to South America. I’ll be there slightly less than a month.
My thought when I booked the trip was to dedicate my time to one country, but the reality is I don’t have that luxury if I want to do most South American countries in 30 years.
I will spend one week in Peru before I fly from Lima to Santiago. In Santiago I am left to my own devices for almost three weeks. I intended on travelling to the far south into patagonia territory and flying back.
I want to visit my ex while I’m in Peru. If I’m not careful I will be blogging about my ex, and I do wish to avoid that. She lives in Cusco, which is quite far from where I intend to visit.
The good news is it could make sense to fly to Cusco if I consider another option. I could fly to Cusco from Trujillo, in the north where I used to live and want to see again, and from there bus it across the Bolivian border to La Paz.
I climatise in Cusco, stock up on items that I need, hang out with people I trust, and head to La Paz where I can see Isla de Sol and Death Road. It would be a 14 hour bus ride, which is a perfect distance.
After an uncertain amount of days in La Paz, I would travel south. A train or a bus for 12-14 hours will take me to Uyuni.
Uyuni is significant. It’s a good place to see the Uyuni saltflats for three days. The guidebooks tell me it will be freezing and uncomfortable. But from there I would have to try to coordinate a trip across the border to San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile.
I estimate 10 days in Bolivia, and 7 in Peru, giving me enough time at leisure to get to Santiago.
ONCE I went to Barcelona. It feels a lot longer than four years ago. A friend of mine paid for my trip as a birthday present. We stayed for the weekend. Back then, I was overwhelmed by all the Spanish, the names of train stations, of ‘El’ and ‘La’ and ‘Los’ and the idea there could be more than one ‘the’ in a language.
The lady at the hostel reception by the beach was lovely. She taught me ‘por favor’ and I recall the hard rs that she used to speak it. We practiced ‘hola’ but I could never say it with a straight face. And I learned ‘pronto’, for as we returned to the airport I saw the phrase on the sign ‘hasta pronto.’ I thought it meant ‘immediately’. Subconsciously I still do.
My friend knew as much Spanish as I did. We spent another night at a hostel called Wombats in London, and I fucked up our friendship a bit, because in the brick basement of the hostel, where the bar and the foozball table was, she wanted to dance. I did not. She tried to persuade me. I was quite blunt when I said I wasn’t dancing. So we didn’t.
She was the definition of chaos, the one who found herself getting out of trouble by going directly into it. There was always a reason she lost her phone, or broke it. She wasn’t afraid to do anything, and I always felt straight edged and boring besides her. When I returned home, I’d hear about her adventures from a mutual friend and I’d laugh and sy “that’s her”. She never used social media, and I never heard from her directly, except once when she came back for a holiday.
I moved to Peru, and maybe it was because I recognised I had to do something brave, courageous, something different like my friends who moved to London.
In the hard times I wondered how my friend would manage to survive if she was in my position, until I realised it was my journey and my way. I became a bit arrogant about it, feeling that nobody back in Australia could understand my mindset, from the little things like the 15 minute walk to work in the mornings and watching the people gather at the street juice vendors, or to wait for their buses, or the school kids with their backpacks, talking about their school projects, and always, siempre, with that sense of alienation from it all.
I’d pass the police officers with my head down, the panneria, the cafe on the corner near the cathedral which served the turkey sandwiches I enjoyed, but rarely tipped for. There were the grey bleak shops, and then the older, more colonial blue and yellow buildings, mostly converted to become government offices or a McDonalds. There was the super mercado and yet another busy road to cross with a dodgy reputation, Los Incas. There was the drunk men on the curb, sometimes, who began shouting at me until I got so angry that I did something all the locals would have warned me to avoid. I went to them and asked what they meant and because the conversation was in limited and awkward Spanish, they were embarrassed. For me, or for them. They never did it again. And then there was the lady in her fifties, a few houses up from where I rented my room on Avenida Moche, who I think was convinced that I was Venezuelan. I’d always try to avoid her, but sometimes she was in front of her place, sweeping the pavement or cleaning her window usually, and then she’d call to me. And it never seemed to feel nice.
I lived overseas 18 months, and I came back, bearded and blunt and for a while feeling my emotions rise up quickly whenever I was unhappy, until finally I felt a bit more adjusted.
I heard she was moving to South America.
I searched my shelves for a Spanish language guidebook I was given in the Amazon city of Iquitos, the sort of place I knew she would be drawn to, and I gave it to a friend who would be going to her farewell party.
She messaged me on an ambiguous social media account when she was in Peru. I enjoyed hearing how she thought of it, but liked giving advice just as much, and wishing, and waiting, that I could finally return. But that will be in another 12 weeks, and until then, I like imagining that I’m in her situation when she’s figuring it all out for herself. The roads she will take and the foods she’ll taste will be completely different from my own, even if I get pleasure from the sameness.
So much has been going on in a short time, and what it has meant is that I’m immersed. I’m hardly thinking of Peru or in Spanish anymore. There were three weeks during which I missed my regular Spanish lessons.
Life has been crazy, and I have many stories in a short period of time. I’ll begin with Friday night when I had my belated 30th birthday party with mates. The theme was ‘South American pub crawl’. Old friends met with my new friends.
We began at a pub called The East End Hotel, where my boss wore a Mexican hat (I did mention that Mexico is technically north America and if it wasn’t, it was central, but I allowed it), and a colleague dressed up as an eggplant complete with purple lipstick, and another dressed as a Llama farmer.
So we began at the East End (after pre-loading at my place), and then carried on to the Brewhouse where we played Giant Jenga. We had a detour for Maccas and then arrived at The Spotted Dog where I had two shots of tequila and a Jagerbomb (I think).
I can’t remember The Club afterwards, but I remember shout-singing to Teenage Dirtbag. And after that the rest of us made it to The Dirty C where I made it onto the dance floor. All night I wore my poncho I bought from a family on an island on Lake Titicaca, and although it may have been in the mid 30 degrees I didn’t notice after a drink or two.
And then, and then, a song by Cardi B and Bad Bunny began playing, called I Like It. It’s on the shortlist of the songs I listen to repeatedly in the shower to practice my Spanish listening and to feel like I’m still in South America. And I felt this sense of ownership as this Queensland nightclub played this song in among the dark and shining lights, as if it was so far removed from this life. For a moment I looked at all the gringos and knew, this was my song. I owned the floor and suddenly I was dancing with this girl, my hands on her waist, and I couldn’t seem to do anything wrong with my moves, a rarity, until the song was over and she disappeared for a smoke.
My friends and I made it to my place to play Nintendo until I passed out, all day, and I freaked out when I woke in the dark, afraid I had missed the Spanish lesson I had booked the following night. I wandered through the house and smashed my face into the wall, but when I found out the time I knew I still had 90 minutes to prep.
Back in early high school of the early noughties, when I liked Playstation 1 and Wheatus, there’s one moment I recall in between bland vacant times of no meaning. My teacher’s aid was having a bad day. She was turning 30. “I’m old,” she said, miserably. She was cool, someone allocated to keep an eye on me given that I was on the educational radar – the one to watch out for, a sign of troubling behaviour. She lent me her Playstation games, like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot: Warped.
I turned 30 today, and I’ve been struggling for weeks to write something that was a combination of humble-bragging of my past and a declaration of my positive future. It’s 6pm and I haven’t had a shower, and I’m having dinner with my colleagues in 55 minutes. There’s not a lot of time to write something, if I want it published on my birthday.
I’m tired. I just returned from Perth, where I visited my family for a few days. My mum drove me back to the airport and on the way we stopped at Grilled for burgers. And I told her how I feel that it hasn’t been the same since I returned from South America seven months ago, that everyone around me is starting to look old, even my younger brothers.
She gave me the look. The one where her lips are pursed, her eyebrows are raised, and is considering an “mmmm”. And she said, “well you’re not a kid anymore. You’re an adult. When you were in your 20s you could pretend to be, sort of. But you’re not.” And I had to absorb that for a moment, because in my heart I’ve thought I have the best of both mindsets, where I have experience in my profession, but am young. I guess I felt that everything I was doing was training me, preparing me, building me for something else in the future, when I was in my prime, when I’d have it all figured out and controlled.
Since I came back from Peru, I haven’t felt that. I’ve felt that where I am now is who I am. And I’ve felt a bit flat over it, as I see that I’m still not having much of a social life, where I’m still struggling with work at times and balancing the feelings of inadequacy that comes with it, with the occasional sense of pride that I know exactly what I’m doing. And I’ve felt that everyone else my age, and younger, have established themselves, have their voices too, and are prepared for this world that constantly is being branded as more frightening and dangerous, in its various forms.
As I continued eating my burger, I carried on with my rant to mum. “You know what the population is? 8 million. Sorry. I meant 8 billion. It wasn’t that long ago, maybe when I was in high school in 2006, when we were told it was 6 billion.”
In that time that has been another 2 billion people who now exist, who soon will indirectly compete with me for resources, food, and are part of a collection of experiences that I won’t be able to relate to.
“Haven’t you ever felt the same?” I asked mum, who would by my count be 48. She shrugged, as if she either hadn’t thought of it, or had long ago taken such a thing for granted.
While the population itself doesn’t directly impact why I’m 30, or the significance of it, I am saying there is a lot that can change in three decades, and even in 15 years.
Such as myself.
I was fostered for three years when I was 10, and I left home when I was 15. It was only the other week that I realised the odds of going to university and completing a degree was low if you were fostered, and when I look back to the kids I knew then, I know that I have accomplished much. People over the years have said I’m hard on myself.
I’ve had to be.
I guess what I’ve done though, in the meantime, ever since my Beenleigh Centrelink careers adviser helped me apply for university, is avoid stability. It’s only since Peru that I’ve even taken out a bond, and rented on my own. I kept a job in Mount Isa for more than three years, and I told myself I would serve that time, but I questioned it every six months.
I’ve always wanted the chance to escape, or have a choice to do so, without feeling bad about it. And I can still do that. Being 30 doesn’t change that. Reaching 30 doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a milestone year. And milestones help us to reflect on what we did and what we want to do.
That’s where I should wrap it. And I will. Today I didn’t do much. I tried out cricket powder in my breakfast cereal. I signed my rental lease for another six months. I bought an expensive pair of jeans from a store that offered me a 20 per cent discount because it was my birthday, only I didn’t see it until after I made the purchase. I bought Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and tried watching it. It’s not a good movie.
And really. That’s it. And I’m about to go out for dinner. And I’m okay with that. But I’ll have a birthday party in two weeks. It won’t be tonight, because I work tomorrow.
I cancelled my Spanish lesson on Saturday. And I haven’t booked again, although I should. I went to the beach at 5.30am that day for a fashion shoot, because I needed pics for an application.
There’s a modelling comp on the Gold Coast in two weeks.
I entered a comp two years ago, the same one really, and afterwards I vowed to tone up and change my diet. But that was about six weeks before I flew to Peru until further notice, and for a while I stuck to some exercise and protein foods. But the alcohol was too much, and by the time I had a full time job as a teacher, I gave up the gym.
I’m back, and have been for seven months, and I’d say I’ve been in a stable environment in my own unit for four months, and three months going to the gym. When I found out about the modelling comp two weeks ago I decided to ditch the alcohol, the dairy, the processed carbs and sugar, and increase my protein.
It’s been difficult but I’ve gained more from gym sessions. But sometimes it’s hard to know if I’ve replaced one obsession (Peru, and then spanish learning), with another one. I probably have, and this time, I tend to get drained easily and exhausted because of a low sugar level. And so, I really had nothing left to give with a successful Spanish lesson.
On Sunday I saw the pictures. And I was unhappy. The photos of posing in the water weren’t me. I had no abs, and there wasn’t much tone on my chest either. I was skinny, but not muscular. I’m okay, but I felt this discouragement as I laid in my bed that night, thinking, “what’s the point? Why am I doing this when I really won’t be ready, there won’t be much of a difference by the time of the competition”.
I went to work the next day, and then I cleaned the house, swept and mopped because I had a house inspection the next day (today). I waited in a chair because I’d mopped the floor and was trapped. And when it was dry I took off for the gym and went another round.
And suddenly, it happened, although it wasn’t really sudden because it had been happening for a few weeks. The program my once-off personal trainer made for me was actually doable. I would have to spend extra time on some exercises, and stop halfway through sets, but there I was, getting through them. And there was a difference in my strength compared to a month ago, and according to what I had written down.
And this in itself, the gaining this strength, was an accomplishment. I walked out of the gym feeling proud, and feeling like a muscleman in my mind, and even seeing myself as one. It didn’t matter then, at that moment, as to how I would look to others in two weeks time.
This monumental sculpture is about a historic event in Machupicchu Pueblo, which remembers the disastrous day in which a great mudslide almost swept the village and was marked in the heart of the villagers.
This fact is remembered not as a day of disaster but as a new beginning, a rebirth, and a new opportunity.
This mudslide was on 20 October 1947 and the data is based on the compilation made by the already deceased ex-mayor Jose Houchi Portillo and some ancient villagers. The story tells that there was a huge mudslide destroying everything in its path and the small town called Aguas Calientes (today Machu Picchu Town) suffered this catastrophic disaster and suddenly it was helped by the apus which sent giant cyclopean granite rocks blocking the path of the mudslide, protecting the old town of Machu Picchu.
In the sculpture the artists represent the protecting spirit of the rock saving and covering a child from the turbulent waters of the flood, this child represents the town of Machu Picchu and on both sides there are wavy lines and red dots representing water and rocks.
Sculptor: Francisco W Diaz Vampi, Manuel Quispe Poaquira, Misael Ballo Bellota.
This sculpture and story is among many found in Machu Picchu Town.
I’ve been pushed to work, I end the week exhausted. Perhaps that is why I was reading a book, and realised that I was 10 minutes late into my Skype Spanish lesson.
I rushed onto the lesson, and she was there, but what with the stress from work and from being late to the lesson, I was stressed. I couldn’t absorb what she was saying, when normally it flowed.
She sensed my resistance, and asked if I wanted to have the lesson at another time. That was kind of her. But we pushed on.
It was a sign of a good teacher that she recognised my irritation, and we warmed up a bit before she introduced the concept of conjunctions used for when we’re doing things to our bodies.
But I was resistant to learning, already stress breathing when she introduced an entirely new concept. Unusually for her, she had to speak in English to explain things.
I knew the anxiety was happening. I knew why it was happening…but soon, it clicked. I understood. And it worked out well.
Until the lesson was due to finish. My Skype started mucking up and I basically had to hang up. We’ve booked another lesson, and I know in theory she won’t mind as she still gets paid the same.
But it reminds me that a loss of interest, or stress, or anxiety, can block the goal to become bilingual. As it was in Peru, and as it could be.
And yet as I overcame it, as the lesson developed and I didn’t let it get the better of me, and when I absorbed new knowledge, I felt the stress dissipate, and the mental oppression from work become irrelevant.
There was a TedX video I watched two weeks ago, in which the man teaching it said it was possible to be fluent in a language in six months. I dismissed the idea at first until he explained that it requires knowing a certain number of types of words in order to express yourself.
But immersing yourself in another country of another language won’t work. People will talk over the top of you and you won’t understand the meaning. You need a native language ‘parent’ who you can express yourself with, even if you’re wrong. I’ve found that in my teacher, but I felt a slight sense of disapproval today because I didn’t come into the lesson fully absorbed.
I’ve started writing again. That’s been one of the changes. Last weekend I told myself to sit down and write for an hour. And not to write something new, but to continue on something I already started.
I did. Then carried on for 20 minutes on the Monday night. And then I did another hour today.
For a bit I’ve felt empty, like I’ve run out of things to say, at least on social media. And that’s okay, maybe, if I’m writing other things.
Now I am. It’s sci-fi fantasy and involves a compilation of works, but the characters are already twisting the story to what they want, and I’m 5000 words in, so that’s a good sign that they are doing that. I just want to write and write and see what comes out of it. I’m hoping for a solid mess of 200,000 words or so. An epic.
The other night I decided to buy face moisturiser. I’ve rarely used it, and I’ve failed to see the need to put more chemicals in my body. But my budget allows me to buy something for hygiene each week, and I wasn’t really needing much food, so I decided to get it.
I tried it yesterday. My face stung a bit like it was sunburned, and then in the evening, something happened.
On the side of my face, next to my right eye, was a white spot. It became noticeable near the end of my Peru trip, and it was a sure sign of my age. I’ve been troubled by it more, and I’ve been touching it a lot, when I’m thinking.
Anyway, the white spot fell off after using the moisturiser.
The same night I went shopping, I bought a muffin tin for apple and cinnamon muffins I’m going to bake for my colleagues tomorrow, at Woolworths, and a work shirt from a clothes store. There’s a cute girl who works there, and I know she’s friendly because it helps her sell clothes, but her interest does seem genuine, like she wants to talk. I joined up a membership the last time we spoke, and she got my birth date, and she seemed so surprised. “That’s my age!” she said.
This time around, we talked about life, and our car troubles, and how she was borrowing her parents’ car. And then she dropped in, “I had to pick my son up.” And I hope I hid my surprise, and I hope it didn’t mean I failed some sort of test.
Girls used to drop in “my boyfriend and I” into the conversation somewhere, if there showed some attraction from either us. Then it got more subtle, and more of the usage of “we” when she did something or went somewhere.
But since coming back to Australia, the women my age who are single also happen to be mothers, and they mention their child. I guess it doesn’t bother me, I don’t want kids for a while, but I suppose then there’s a fear that I need to know exactly what I want. I need to know if I’m going to integrate into another family’s life, and if I don’t, then I should stay out. The time for certainty is now. Or before, perhaps. I’m unsure about when the certainty needs to come into play.
I was driving this afternoon for a short while, and even though the car is still making odd noises, after I took it to the mechanic – who discovered a wrecked head gasket – I feel happy, like I’m getting ahead. I live in a nice place, and I’m able to save a bit of each pay. It wasn’t obvious at first, but my work is paying off for me, financially.
Last night I went to Dan Murphy’s, where there was a Chilean brand of wine I liked to drink in Peru, called Casillero del Diablo. I swear it wasn’t as good when I drank the bottle last night, but I still had a good time. There were times I was holed up in my room in Peru, and I’d drink a bottle, and reach out to everyone I could think of.
I tried not to do that this time.
I’m working on getting more clothes. Most of the shirts I wear to work were the best shirts I couldn’t bear to throw away when I left for overseas. They were for races and rodeos, and so are a bit expensive to wear out. A pink shirt I wore to work for years, before continuing to wear in Peru, is getting shabby and sun worn. I threw it out today.
It’s funny. Things. You get attached to them.
I went to the races with a work friend last weekend. It was the first races I had been to since before Peru. We got drunk slowly and gambled on horses, and I won the first race at odds of 7/1. We met a couple who recently moved to the area, and they met in Iceland. He was Australian but lived in various places overseas for four years, and she was from the Czech Republic. It was a long story but after a year of being friends, they tried to make it work, and she moved to Australia. But all the loopholes they have to jump through, the stress, the difficulty, it seemed to me like it was hard.
And to me, the longer I was with them, the more I felt an underlining tension.
Work is okay. I’m finding ways to be more efficient and reduce my anxiety. One good way I found was to try to reduce my talking to everyone, and just work quietly. I don’t need to have a presence, or know everything, or have an opinion about what’s going on.
And I’ve found, by doing that, that I worry less about if I’ve said something wrong, or not doing the right thing.
Another thing I did was I bought a news subscription. When I wake up for work (at 7am, formerly at 7.40am) I switch on the TV to ABC, and then read my news subscription’s email which is sent every morning. It gives me the highlights. By the time I come to work, and I have a news meeting, I feel mentally prepared to know what the agenda of the day is. I’m not spending an hour or two trying to play catch up.
I love a good Zelda game. Nintendo released a classic from 1992. A Link to the Past. Geez, it’s good. And hard. And brings in the best elements of legit Zelda gameplay.
I guess I’m starting to feel like I’m not playing catch up.
FRIENDS of mine drove from Brisbane. They brought up a box of stuff that I left behind before I flew to Peru, or in transit from Peru to my new home. And so what I had were memories from the times before, and exhibits of Peru.
There’s a framed cartoon the colleagues of my last job had made for me, from a cartoonist. It’s among the best work I’d seen him do, and in it I’m riding a llama with a box of beer and a bag of English books. I’ve owned it for almost two years, and for the first time, I get to hang it on my own wall.
There’s a box of letters from my students. Before I left I asked them to write what they learned from me. And I’m glad I did. And then, I’ve kept some of the drawings they did for projects; such as Tupac Amaru II, the last neo-Inca (not the rapper!), and the comics we did of Napoleon Bonaparte.
Some of the letters I’ve pinned up behind my desk, and I’ve had them there two days. Sometimes I look up and I read them during the day, and they make me smile. I’m in a good mood, and I remember the kids I care about, a world away, and I know I made a difference, in my little ways. It’s great that what I did before has found a small connection in what I’m doing now. There’s balance.
Here are some of the pictures, and letters.
“Sir, I’m gonna miss you. I think that the majority of the school, because you’re special, your accent is so interesting. I hope happiness for you and enjoy all your trips and travels…one time in a meeting you told us how was your child life and we appreciate it. Thanks to give us a second chance.”
“Australians are so different from Peruvians. Also I learned that Mr Burns is a good boxer.”
“For problems you tried a many times to help and appreciate that a lot and well it’s time to say “bye”. I guess well if someday I go to Australia and call you for give me a tour. Well, bye cowpoke.”
“Thanks Mrs for teach us about Peruvian presidents…(and) Wu Wo Tu (World War II). When you say it sounds like that. I really hate the times that you say ‘sit properly or ‘why are you talking’ but despite that you are a really good teacher. Thanks.”
“We learned so much with you as as teacher, we probably doesn’t learn with other teacher like we learned with you, with your dictation and your funny way of talk, and now we know what is happening in the world.
“You are the best teacher of History, Geography, and Economy in English.”
“I really hope that you will be OK and I liked so much your class, I learned a lot of things about politics and also I practice my English because the first day that I knew you I didn’t understand what you were talking, but then yes, and my English, it’s better thank you.”
“I learned that if you find interesting news you are going to memorise it faster.”
In this year I learn a lot of things, but I think that learn to respect others, was the most important. In my opinion the school is our second home, so I can say that you were a great parent.”
I had a bad earache during the week, and on my way out of the chemist, I ducked into the bookstore next door. That’s when I found the travel section, and more importantly, the Spanish book for dummies. It’s been quite useful. The first chapter is taking me through pronunciation of the alphabet.
Last night I squeezed in a Spanish lesson online. I went through a website called Preply almost a week ago, picked a tutor who I thought seemed professional, booked a lesson, and paid.
Then I waited.
It was 10pm my time, and about 8am for her. I was nervous, wondering if she was going to be late, and then she appeared on my screen, adjusting her hair and looking anywhere but at me.
She couldn’t see me, my microphone and camera weren’t working. Gee, that must have been creepy for her when for 15 minutes I couldn’t get it working, because after a while she turned the screen off, and we tried switching to Skype. Even then Skype was a problem for me, I was unfamiliar with it really, but at last, with 20 minutes of the lesson to go, we had it sorted.
My tutor was Colombian, I think, and I was attracted to her. She reminded me so much of the friends I made in Peru, the beautiful colleagues who I never could really talk to for too long, the ones who looked at me curiously in a similiar way, for to each other we were exotic.
In this way she seemed familiar, except she was a more experienced teacher, and natural, but she was testing the areas of my knowledge, particularly when it came to family, and directions, and the time.
Her mannerisms were so familiar, and when I couldn’t understand her, my reactions returned to how it had been in Peru for 18 months. I would awkwardly flounder for words, and say “como?” and while it isn’t the most endearing thing to do, I found comfort because a part of myself that I had forgotten about had returned.
I left the lesson with a smile on my face, and bought more lessons, booking one for Monday and another for the next Friday.
Then I fell asleep, eventually, ready to work on Saturday.