Sunday, 7 November 2010

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Diver

Solo travel is liberating. There’s nothing quite like waking up in the morning and making a split-second decision to hit the road and move on. No debating, no compromising. Lone wolves are a breed apart from other travellers, a little more independent. It was nice to have the company of friends when I first set out in Vietnam; everything is bewilderingly new, and the support is welcome and reassuring. Meeting up with my closest friend in Colombia was great, too…despite some of the rows, myself, Jocky, Garfield and Speckled Jim had a great time. Most of the time.
In Thailand, in September 2008, I took my first tentative steps on my own. Jocky had woken up to heavy rain and told me “Fuck this…I’m off up to Chang Mai.” I’d said I’d come with him if my laundry was ready. Thankfully it wasn’t, as we both knew the time had come to head off alone. It was strange, after being together a couple of months, to walk up to the bus and watch him go. Before leaving London we’d both agreed we wanted to see some places alone, and that we’d know when the time came. The sunny afternoon as the clouds broke over Koh Tao was that time. And it was the best thing we did, any longer together and it would have been too easy to keep going as a pair. Obviously our experiences from then on were vastly different. I took my Rescue Diver course, smashing five ribs in the process, and ended up recuperating on various islands before heading for Australia. Jocky escaped the clutches of a rampant, middle-aged Glaswegian woman (“Nice body on her, like…but…”) in Krabi, and ruined his camera and iPod in the process (wading out to a boat with them in his pockets). He ended up meeting a cute girl and spending a couple of months with her in various beds and hot tubs from Thailand to New Zealand, smoking twice his body weight in weed. I know which experience I’d have preferred. You learn a lot about people when you travel, and it was good that Jocky and I only knew each other vaguely through work; we’re solid mates now.
So self-reliant is the way to go, for me. It’s a challenge, but it presents more opportunities for meeting people. It also forces you to make more of an effort to speak to others. And the most interesting people I met on the road were almost always travelling alone: Karl Biller in the Philippine Cordilleras, Jonathan Brodeur in El Nido. It’s easy to strike up a conversation with someone on their own. And don’t get me wrong, I am not knocking anyone who travels in groups or pairs; I just think the experience of doing it on your own is more rewarding. Of course, there are times when you wish someone was there to share a moment, but sitting alone and isolated on the edge of Bromo’s volcanic crater and watching the sun rise over distant Javan hills will stay with me for the rest of my life. I met an American in Siquijor this year, and he said he has what he calls the Two Week Rule: he’ll travel awhile with anyone he finds interesting, but after a fortnight it’s time to break up the party. So you get the best of both worlds.
You learn a lot about yourself on the road, too; you really see what you are made of. Not in that clichéd “finding yourself’ bollocks kind of way. Just organising yourself, getting around difficult areas unscathed, keeping yourself safe and out of trouble. I think if anyone needs to “find themselves”, they should be heading for the nearest Mental Health Unit, rather than the nearest airport?
Now I’d be lying if I told you travelling alone didn’t get lonely sometimes. It does. There are day you might be wandering a region and not meet anyone to talk to for a day or two. That probably explains my 52 books read in my first year away.
I’d break my rule on solo escapades for the right woman. I imagined I’d meet some hot Latina on my way around last year. Being with the boys didn’t do much for my Spanish, though…and believe me you need it there. And it’s no fun if you can’t communicate properly, is it? I went on a date with a Colombian air hostess on my arrival in Bogota (she'd actually chatted me up), but the prospects didn’t look good: a teenage son, and impending divorce from a hot-headed, jealous Colombian Marine sergeant. Leave well alone, I decided. There were other interesting girls I met on my way around but, like in England, it’s all about timing. They’re either attached, off somewhere else the next day, or not interested. I met a cool architect from Stoke Newington when in Coron. I’d seen her around, but our paths only crossed the day before she left. We arranged to meet up in Bali, but I was waylaid by Javan mushrooms and grass before we could meet up. That’s the way things go. No concrete plans.
Without diving, I don’t know if I’d be heading off as much as I do. There are so many places I want to see, but these could be done in short bursts between contracts. It’s likely I’d be living in Barcelona by now. I’m lucky enough to be able to get enough freelance work both to finance these trips, and also to allow myself as much time out, so for now I’ll go with the flow and literally see where the current takes me. Once the instructor course is out of the way, I may be spending 6 months a year away, or may simple keep going and enjoy that life awhile. Can I be a drifter for much longer, though? Who knows. Anything can happen. That’s the beauty of it.
Time seems to be flying by. Friends are getting married. Having kids. While I love what I’m doing, I’d like to have a Significant Other in my life. Especially if she travelled and dived. This life I’ve chosen leaves me feeling a little rootless: I have no base, no immediate plans to make one. I experience the odd moment of doubt in what I’m doing, but I think it’s just a case of social conditioning nagging at me. I didn’t for a minute think I’d still be single at 40. If you’d told me this as a schoolboy, I’d have laughed at you. It just seems the done thing to meet someone, get a place to live, have kids and watch the waistline expand. So when you choose not to follow suit, people question it. A girl at work, when told of my plans, raised her eyebrows and asked me “Don’t you think you should be settling down at your age?” Kids these days, eh?
The trouble is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence; I’ve lost count of the number of married friends who tell me they envy me my adventures. But, equally, I see them in a happy relationship and think that I’d love that, too. It’s been a long time since I split with a long-term girlfriend. So has this wandering life I’ve chosen made it more difficult to find the right girl, as some female friends are endlessly pointing out (and Mum’s given up, she said)? Time will tell. Travel has got a hold on me at the moment. And you only get one life; we’re here for a good time, not a long time, after all. I’ll take it as it comes, for now.


Megan said...

First off, I am planning on going to Vietnam in January do you have any tips? Second, I totally understand the whole lonely thing and from what my mom tells me you will come across the right person when it's right in your life. That doesn't help much but I think that 40 is the new 30 when getting married and all that and who says everyone has to live by societies standards? I think it's awesome the way you travel around and just do what you want. Even though the loneliness may nag at you at times overall it isn't that bad. You will find some great person that fits into your plan and your lifestyle perfectly.

old8oy said...

Hey Megan

Nice to hear from you again. I agree with what you say about 40 being the new 30; I just have these little moments of doubt now and again. But I'll just keep doing what I'm doing, as things have a habit of falling into place, don't they?

OK, Vietnam. I much preferred the North to the South. A lot of people said they are ruder up there, but I just find them more straightforward and less fake-friendly.

Hanoi is a great city, I spent a while there. Don't miss Sa Pa on the Chinese border (overnight train from Hanoi...lovely journey). Ha Long Bay is overrated, I think El Nido in the Philippines beats it hands-down.

Hue is the ancient capital, and very beatiful, full of historical sights. You can get trips out to the DMZ from the Vietnam War from here as I remember.

Nha Trang is the main beach in Vietnam, but it's ex-pat, robber and hooker hell. Stay a day or two if you really need a beach but beware, it's quite polluted.

Hoi-An is a lovely town to spend some time in, a pity it was flooded when we arrived.

If you go South beyond Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh...didn't like this city much) then make sure you have someone with you, as we had a few dodgy incidents. You don't get many westerners round the Mekong Delta, so stick to safety in numbers.

Have a look at September 2008 on the blog for more details, and have a great time!

Jacob said...

Hi Warren,

Yes, what to do at 40. I am 39 going on 40 and cherish the freedom I have and on the other, wish I had a rugrat or two with a man on my arm and achieve another kind of freedom; biological. Unfortunately for me, having children is a bit more difficult than meeting someone and letting the little swimmers swim. As I see it, I have four options as a single guy. 1. I could adopt which requires me to prove that I can house a child in a stable environment. This two bedroom flat price tag is at least £270,000. 2. I could rent a womb for £60,000 under a 9 month contract. 3. As my Russian female friend put it today over coffee at Tia, We Salute You in Daltston, that I could make a deposit at the sperm clinic and hope my English, French, Aboriginal, Ukrainian and Polish ancestry is deemed worthy for procreation. And lastly 4., I could pretend I'm straight, date a lovely mothering type that looks like a man a.k.a a breeder, take viagra and get a bit on the side from a man when I need it. Which at 39 seems to be every couple of months, maybe more.
The first seems to be the most feasible choice as getting drunk with an anti-abortionist from my local pub and take Viagra to make it all happen is as likely to round my choices to 5 as it is to complete any of the choices on my list. Maybe I should take up diving and learn from an instructor that can hold it until they break the surface. I'm glad you are still here Warren:-)! Can't let guys with an openness that allows a random conversations to blossom be extinguished because someone had to take a piss. Diving, kids, diving, kids, expectation, be your own man and if you can deal with it then the world will simply have to follow your lead.

defn: a breeder: a pejorative gay slang for a woman that looks like Pat from Saturday Night Live who through her na·ïve·té refuses to suspect that her camp, fashionable husband who chooses not to wear camping gear as a fashion statement, is gay.

old8oy said...

Jesus JP...those are some heavy options. Almost as heavy as the price tag on a two-bedroomed flat in this city. I suppose the baby will have to wait until you're ready to move out of town?