The last hurrah
With the ending of the cricket season it also brought to a head the question of my time here, my time abroad. I was fortunate to have been away for over two and a half years, living life in the moment, following whatever fancy came across my path. I'd left everything I knew behind in search of that something unknown.
Up until this time I had been living off the proceeds of crypto but January saw one of the biggest market crashes in its history and I slowly watched my store of funds whittle away. I was shortsighted, thinking my investments would afford me this life for far longer.
I knew I was done, that the dream of staying abroad for the rest of my life was due for a correction. It’s unfortunate that freedom to explore life, humanity and this world comes at an expense, but its also the reality and one that I was soon to face.
But before I was forced to go home I wanted to do one of the last goals on my travel list – South America. So I set off once again, this time on my last travel hurrah.
First stop was a trip to Tokyo for an action packed week of excitement in one of the craziest cities I’ve visited to date. Tokyo by night was exploring alleyways within alleyways on a culinary experience. It was an insight into how millions of people manage life in the big city, packed for space, trying to carve out a living.
Each small vendor in the alleyways could seat about 5 or 6 people in their space and would serve their own unique dish. Workers would squeeze in together; others would wait in lines outside the entrance keen to sample their favourite dish. The beauty for me was that you could sample several in an evening walk. Try some kabuki in one, wash it down with some sake before moving on to some fresh dumplings and a beer in another, all the while sucking in the smells of a hundred cooks who’d been honing their craft over generations.
Of course, there was more than just food. Tokyo has Mario Kart on the streets, dancing robot waitresses, bubble baths and intriguing porn shops; Tokyo is a city with it all.
Generally, cities aren’t my thing but they do provide a valuable insight into a people, its food and their culture and Tokyo was rich in all of these.
I stayed with a friend, right in Downtown L.A for the first time. It’s one of those cities you have expectations of, built in your mind courtesy of the television and movies industry in Hollywood. My expectations were delivered a shock when on my second day my friends took me into Skid Row.
This small section of inner-city L.A is where an estimated 75,000 people live on the streets in tents, a great deal of whom suffer from mental illness. As you rush through, you’d almost think you were passing by a weekend festival in Byron Bay, except there is no grass nor open fields. This is the concrete jungle of L.A. and it smells to high heaven like piss, save maybe for the morning when the streets are washed daily.
Walking the streets one could easy mistake themselves for being in a giant mental ward, the muttering, head bashing folk wandering aimlessly only interrupted by the numerous sirens attending the area for whatever emergency. By day most of Skid Row's inhabitants sleep, taking refuge in the safety of daylight. By night they come out, too afraid to lower their guard by sleeping and giving someone the chance to steal from them. The night is dangerous.
Bordering it is the Arts district, where artists, craft beer lovers and food vans converge amongst the warehouses of the former industrial area. It’s safe and it’s popular. I have no idea how the young and wealthy visit it, bordering on Skid Row, but somehow it works.
To its north is Little Tokyo and the south the Fashion district. Again I have to marvel how this many people are left to their own in the middle of a city, isolated by an otherwise ignorant metropolis.
L.A is an odd mix. You have uber rich celebrities walking the street alongside screaming maniacs threatening to stab you if you don’t get away from them. In my first week there I was threatened physically three times, offered drugs at random, assisted a man having a seizure and was given a detailed lecture on how white people persecuted the African Americans.
I was then afforded my mates car, who said he didn’t really need it and I was given full license to take it wherever I wanted. Sick of cities I knew my trip here to the US was going to be primarily focused on the natural beauty elements of travel and so marked a trip starting from Moab and the Arches National Park at the further extremes of the canyonlands and slowly made my way back towards Bryce canyon and Zion NP.
This has to have been some of the most otherworldly landscapes I’ve ever come across. I remember saying to a mate that I felt like I was walking on Mars at one point. He replied by showing me the place where they filmed Total Recall. “Yes, this is Mars.”
I moved on through the Colorado river and Lake Mead towards Vegas, stopping only so I could access the Canyon and Red Rock for some hiking. Death Valley was a trip, literally one of the major filing locations for Star Wars. After sweltering in the hottest place on Earth, I moved on past the mountains and stayed at Lake Tahoe for a few days.
It would seem this is where my trip would end. I had planned on another week in Yosemite but as I neared the gates of the National Park I realised I’d lost my wallet. Frantic I searched the highway for forty kilometers, thinking I’d left it on top of the car whilst I fueled up. But I never found it.
With no cash, ID or bankcards I decided the only course of action was to head back to L.A. Problem being it was 600km away and I had no money to refuel. It was the first time I ever had to beg for money and as a result developed a new found respect for those in need who are legitimately desperate. I found respite, made the journey back and then had to wait.
It was at this point that I knew my trip away from my partner was going to be too long. Over the past three years we had been enduring this on and off relationship as I explored the world, so we hatched a last minute plan to fly her over during a break from her University studies. The plan was to meet in Cuba, spend two weeks together before she flew home and I continued on to South America.
Nearly three weeks had passed in L.A before, thanks to my sister, I received in the mail replacements cards and ID’s. I was ready to leave L.A and complete a quick trip in Canada.
Finally with cash I flew straight to Vancouver for some freedom mountains. Short on time because of the waste in L.A I hired a car and headed straight to Banff. After a few days hiking trails I then moved up into Jasper NP where I was lucky to meet a grizzly by the side of the road.
He was a good fellow, allowing me to snap his picture whilst he gorged himself on blueberries. Although he didn’t take too kindly to the Chinese fella who got a little close – dispersing the crowd that had gathered with a snort and a snarl.
It was during this trip that my partner and I would have daily discussions about our planned rendezvous in Cuba. But the closer the date came the more we realised the extreme difficulty with immigration laws in getting her over at such short notice. It wasn't going to happen.
At the crossroads of a decision to continue or to return home to her, I chose the latter. I finished my trip in Canada and flew back to Saigon, South America would have to wait for another time.
Last days in Vietnam.
I spent my remaining time in Vietnam working on finishing my novel and my second publication detailing the journey I’d been on. It was a small photographic memoir of the journey I’d been on for the past three years, something that I felt was full of meaning that I wanted to share with those I knew.
I called it Three Years Free as that was exactly what I felt it was. I got to go out into the world, live on a whim and open my mind to the possibilities of this world. At the time I felt completely defeated, embarrassed and saddened that it had come to an end. I wanted to live like that forever but it seemed fate had something else for me to learn.
I cannot describe accurately inside of ten thousand words what it is like to live free from the constraints of normalcy. Free from having to work, study or raise children, free to have time to explore a plethora of opportunities in this infinite place. I morphed from what I was into someone else.
The first three years after the crash changed me. At the completion of three years free I had once again changed.
I returned home, unsure of what life had in store for me next.