It's not every day people decide to go to South America - there's usually some sort of hilarious and heart-warming story behind each twist and turn in the build-up to any trip like this one.
Now of course this particular trip is no different... other than in almost every way. There was no real hilarity in the planning of my jaunt to Samerica*, and you're unlikely to need those Rennie tablets you have on standby: there is little or no heart-warming to be found. That said, and if you're still reading, then you obviously either have some sort of mild interest in what I'm doing or literally nothing else to do...
So why am I doing this? Why Samerica? Why now and not 5 years ago, before I'd spent twenty-odd grand on university? All of these questions will be answered, some satisfactorily, most of them less so. In fact, the short answer to all of the above questions is simply "why not?". Of course, that answer would lead you to believe that I am a massive, annoying douche. You'd be right...
With graduation looming, I had applied for jobs left, right and indeed centre, with little tangible success (how 'tangible' can an interview be?). Now apart from being quite disheartening and bloody annoying, it left me with no idea of what I wanted to do career-wise and a year of my life to fill while I sorted out some sort of future. At the time, I was in a relatively serious relationship and she was keen to have a post-degree gap year and see a bit of the world. Seeing as I had sweet Fanny Adams else to do, I thought "Oh go on then, I'll tag along." There were several obvious upsides to this: she could do all the planning and decide on the routes/attractions/accommodation and everything else, leaving me the simple yet painful task of finding some money and handing it over in one handily-sized, tree pulp-based payment vehicle (I believe the layperson calls them 'cheques').
By November 2010, things were progressing nicely: I had a job working in a local excuse for a restaurant and the money was coming in, various trip options were being researched and discussed and I was generally contented. Then along came a large, dump-shaped (make of that what you will) spanner that inserted itself into the proverbial works. I was given a relationship P45, I became a citizen of Dumpsville, I would henceforth be flying solo. I suppose the key point of that particular sentence would be that I broke up with the girlfriend.
Obviously this was irritating and immensely upsetting for me, so I had a good mope for a month or so. I carried on working and decided to press ahead with a trip somewhere. The next issue was choosing which continent to visit. I opted for South America.
Why there? It was the perfect balance of being neither too dissimilar to cultures to which I'm used nor too similar. I decided travelling around entirely foreign (if you'll pardon the pun) places alone might be ill-advised and take me way out of my - admittedly narrow - comfort zone. Romance languages being spoken would help as well... Africa? Too different and also a bit obvious. North America? Too similar. Asia? Too different. Oceania? Too expensive, too similar: too bad. Surely Europe then? I've already done most of western Europe and the eastern part just doesn't interest me. South America? Let's see: huge European influence, check. Mixed with indigenous cultures, check. Romance languages spoken, check. After literally minutes of consideration, I had decided Samerica was the destination for me.
Where in Samerica? It's a big place. I solved this problem by taking inspiration from the world of animation. I first drew a big circle, covering all but 2 countries. This circle, or my route, as it evolved into, was refined constantly by people's advice and recommendations. It turns out everyone either knows someone who's been, or has been themselves. This ranged from my corporate banker friend from the gym (his name conveniently being 'Jim'), who had been to Brazil and Argentina a few times to do some banking, to Lorna (not that one), one of the cashiers at my bank, who proceeded to try and sell me the HSBC Super Premier Platinum Advanced Plus Gold account in between regaling me with tales of how her brother was mugged in Venezuela.
It wasn't just bankers either: friends' housemates had their experiences to share, from a hostel recommendation for Germanophiles in Buenos Aires, to brief guides to the best museums in Bogota. Suddenly, Samerica no longer seemed 'original' and 'cool' and 'different'. However, I had booked my flights by this point, so there was no turning back.
Whenever I tell people about my trip, the most common reaction is jealousy. Some are jealous just of the fact that I'm leaving the UK for an extended period, others are jealous of specific aspects of the trip. I have one friend who had in fact spent a considerable amount of time in Samerica himself and to whom I am very grateful for providing endless tips and advice. When he was shown a copy of my itinerary, he became slightly geographically confused and informed me of his jealousy concerning my planned visits to what he called 'The Guineas'. He obviously meant 'The Guyanas', a region with which very few seem to be familiar. Suriname was especially difficult to organise, but that's a story for a future 'blog'.
If you're reading this and becoming jealous, then you're one of many and this makes me immensely pleased. In fact, the five and a half grand this expedition will cost me overall will have been very well spent if I invoke envy from just one person...
But for now, there's packing to be done, affairs to be arranged, things which need to be attended to and indeed other engagements to be carried out, so I shall endeavour to update everyone as often as possible on how it's all going.
Hugs 'n' kisses,
* 'Samerica is clearly short for 'South America'. If you hadn't figured that one out, then hang your head in shame.