The stray dogs start barking at a truck that rolls in and I wonder if I should join them. Tonight, we sleep outside the same gas station.
Sitting on the ground somewhere in the middle of this industrial park, somewhere just outside of Antofagasta, Chile, the contrast with the Bolivian wilderness couldn’t be any sharper. White snow is exchanged for grey dust. Dirt roads for a four-lane highway. Flamingos for diseased dogs. Nature’s perfect silence for the forever ongoing beeping of backing-up trucks.
But we like it here. We’ve had our fair share of stunning landscapes and challenging terrain, and we feel accomplished. The last three hours were spent in the station’s restaurant making up storylines for Italian soap operas, after which we pitched our tent in the dirt. Don’t forget that the subtitle of our blog reads ‘In the end it’s all just jokes’.
There’s only one thing on my mind really: this morning I booked my plane ticket home.
I was thinking to say that it feels like the end, but with merely 2 weeks and 2,500 kilometers to go that would be an understatement. It is the end.
And feelings follow facts. It feels different to ride with such a clear destination and deadline in mind. A stroll through the park versus cycling to work.
I think about that first afternoon that we’ll sit in the park again, together. Friends reunited. The same friends, the same park and that same good old bottle of Mooi Kaap. Back into a familiar life with another life’s worth of unforgettable experiences.
Lots of people go traveling to find themselves. I don’t think that anyone knows what this means and I don’t believe in it. What I do believe, is that traveling changes people. The choices we make, the things we do, and the random shit that comes on our path is always defining who we are and therefore changing us. ‘He not busy being born is busy dying’, grandmaster Dylan once said.
You don’t need to be traveling to be changing, but traveling does tend to change you at a much higher pace than life back home. All these people you meet, all these things you see and all these experiences, experience, experience! A beautifully ambiguous word for the immense variety of ways in which traveling can shape you.
So did it? What changed in me? That’s like asking me the speed of Earth’s orbit around the sun. Judging is hard without a point of reference. Fucked if I know.
I do know you grow in unpredictable ways. If you go traveling looking for an answer to your question, chances are you won’t find it. You’ll find answers to questions you never had.
How do you feel when you just go on your first ride out of Vancouver and a bearded biker on a massive Harley throws a peace sign at you? Or when a Bolivian tells you they’re all poor because they’re stupid?
How do you say ‘I love you’ in Spanish?
Are you scared when you see one of your best friends crash his motorcycle at 80 kilometers per hour in your rearview mirror, after which you run back to help him, but you can’t find him? When you find a scorpion’s nest inside your tent when you wake up? When you have to race your coworker to the hospital after he got bitten by one of world’s most poisonous snakes and he might die within 20 minutes?
What does llama taste like?
Can you still be happy without wifi, electricity and when there is simply, absolutely nothing to do?
Does it humble you when people that live on a few dollars a day share their food with you? Or when filthy rich republicans let you stay in their aircraft hangar and supply you with food and beer for a week?
What is a carburetor?
How badass do you feel when you jumpstart a bike in a snowstorm with homemade jumper cables? When you get laid with a goddaughter of Pablo Escobar?
Are you lying when you say you don’t have that much money and that you’re just traveling on the cheap?
What does the sunrise at the Lagoon of Seven Colours look like on XTC, viewed from a catamaran filled with your speechless friends?
Can nature be so beautiful and desolate that it makes you cry?
What do you smell like after going without a shower for two weeks?
Questions that I never asked, but they and their answers make me who I am today, and for that I am ever so grateful for each and every single one of them.
The amount of experiences lived on this trip is overwhelming.
We laughed, we cried, sang, danced, bled, sweat, got drunk, scared, excited, we rode, we crashed, got back up, loved, hated, whispered, shouted, we remembered, forgot, we fought, joked, we were sad, happy, bored, awkward, rockstars and we LIVED and I feel like, I feel like, feel like I’ve lost my mind and it’s still gone and I don’t want it back and I swear to you that tears well up in my eyes as I type this and I’m shouting on the top of my lungs THAT. IT. WAS. SO.