After several months of mostly sea-based nomadism, I find myself a fully-fledged tropics-dweller. This is something which feels as if it happened by accident. Which, perhaps, is a good thing.
Land crabs scuttle around your room at night, occasionally dying inconsiderately in a corner and leaving a foul stench. Toads hop about nonchalantly in the hallway. Monkeys dance in the trees and the sky dances with lightning. Geckos wage wars for prime spots around lightbulbs. Fire ants bite your feet while you gaze up at the scarlet macaws; flashes of colour high in the almond trees. Fireflies drift and bob through heavy, thundering nights.
I stepped in a small pool of toad wee on the way to the bathroom the other night. The following day, a scorpion stung me while I was washing up; it was hiding under a plate. Hurt like buggery. I hear the words of my best friend’s legendary mother ringing in my ears…. “Ooh, Emma, is it worth it?”
Funny how quickly it all becomes normal.
How did an Ashton girl, raised on meat and potato pies, come to be living here? I am ashamed to admit it, but I’ve come to take it for granted. It’s only now I’ve found myself in one place, with a real job, without the distraction of travel, that my incongruity here is thrown into relief. In particular, there was one night a few months back, when I thought I’d treat myself to a veggie burger at the hostel down the road. Having forgotten my torch, I strayed off the path and found myself stuck, in pitch darkness, in the middle of a grassy hillock. “What the bloody hell am I doing ‘ere?” I heard myself shout into the darkness. I hope no-one else heard me. And even if they did, they probably didn’t understand the broad Lancashire twang I’d lapsed into during that stressful moment.*
You’ll be glad to know I escaped from the hillock unscathed. But it got me thinking.
We humans (particularly the ones from Lancashire) are such avid seekers of routine. We like to know what time we get up, and what time we go to bed. We like to have a nice place to keep our toothbrush. Even on the road, travellers huddle together in attentive groups, sharing precious local knowledge, which they gather in order to feel more at home. We are creatures of habit. Even in moments of transience we call ourselves back to a centre point: who we are, what we like, what we don’t like.
“It’s the way a man chooses to limit himself that determines his character. A man without habits, consistency, redundancy – and hence boredom – is not human. He’s insane.”
A friend in Bocas told me that after living with her husband and two daughters on their boat for almost six years, she was concerned about her daughters losing their ability to be in one place. I can definitely empathise with that, and I know several gypsy-like friends who can too. For those accustomed to travel, is staying in one place a skill to be developed? Is it wrong to feel itchy feet after being in one place for a while? Or is the key to be able to enjoy both sedentary and nomadic lifestyles without becoming too entrenched in any one way of life?
What do you think, gypsy friends?
Nomad or no, I think it most definitely is worth it. Being aware of what keeps your inner fires burning. Embracing the in-between places: that’s what keeps you alive, whether in the heart of the jungle or by a roaring fire on t’moors with a nice cup of tea.
I’m on the road again. After an amazing first term at Azuero School during which a bunch of crazy children undoubtedly taught me more than I taught them, I find myself in Pavones, Costa Rica, enjoying epic waves, overpriced papayas, and a renewed love affair with the tropics.
On the way we stayed at the brilliant Bambu Hostel in David, which has a pool, and a presumptuous possum.
in Pavones we have rented a lovely room at Patrick and Susan’s lovely hostel Clear River, right on the beach.
Here are some photos from the trip.
P.S. I deliberately didn’t mention where the quote was from so you’d read my next article out of curiosity.
*During a slightly hairy moment on a paddle board recently I found myself once again regressing to a broad Lancashire accent, stronger even than my real one, whilst trying to get in past some big waves: “bloody throw me t’paddle yer basterd, or I’ll bloody do yer one” I hollered to skipper over the din of the waves. Why do I regress into the accent of my youth during moments of stress?