What was your favourite place?
I think my favourite time was my six week road trip in the US. Oregon is a beautiful state in particular, with waterfalls, gorges and tree-lined roads. The drive from California through to Utah and Arizona contained a lot of breathtaking scenery and natural monuments (Yosemite Park, Death Valley, Zion Park, Bryce Canyon, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley). A lot of the towns I used as stopovers were interesting in their own right, such as Mammoth Lakes, St George and Mexican Hat. It was both enjoyable and liberating being able to jump in a car and drive wherever and whenever I wanted so it was also a relatively hassle-free period. In my view the US is an underrated holiday destination - there's so much more to it than New York, LA and Vegas. Plus, Americans are generally very nice people.
Other highlights included:
- The US Open tennis in New York
- Taking a boat trip to the spectacular glaciers in Alaska
- Spending a week with my mate Jimbo and family in the fantastic city of Vancouver
- Dune buggying and staying with my mate Mark and his wife in Tangent, Oregon
- Snorkelling with sharks and rays off the coast of Caye Caulker, Belize
- Exploring a water-filled cave in San Ignacio, Belize, and seeing 1000-year-old human skeletons
- Reaching the top of the Acatenango volcano in Antigua, Guatemala after a 5-hour climb and seeing its twin volcano Fuego erupt
- Ashboarding (badly) down a volcano near León in Nicaragua
- The hummingbird cafés in Monteverde (Costa Rica) and Cocora Valley (Colombia)
- Bocas del Toro off the coast of Panama for the nights out in great bars with Irish lads Paul and Adam
- Relaxing for a week and a half in Panama City with my Mum (and staying in a proper hotel)
- Walking round the beautiful colonial town of Cartagena, Colombia
- Hiking to Tayrona Park in Colombia and unexpectedly seeing a wild caiman close up
- Monkeys jumping into our boat on the Amazon
- The salt flat near Uyuni, Bolivia
How much did it cost?
About 15 grand all in, including flights, car hire etc.
Nowhere was unbearably hot. It was nearing 100 °F in Death Valley, and hot in Tamarindo on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica and Rurrenabaque in the Amazon, but for heat and humidity, Cartagena on the north coast of Colombia was probably the most uncomfortable. Apart from at the glaciers of Alaska, Bolivia was the coldest place in general due to its high altitude, especially the two nights we spent on the Salar de Uyuni tour where several layers were required. But by far the worst was at the top of Acatenango at 5am where it was so cold and windy I could barely hold the camera straight to take photos.
Most dangerous place?
I can't remember feeling under threat anywhere. Clearly I look like someone not to be messed with. Even the drug dealers and prostitutes I encountered were friendly. The only times I was anxious were when I was high off the ground, such as walking across the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge in Vancouver.
Was it OK in the end travelling on your own?
Yes. There were a few occasions when I felt a bit lonely but not as many as I'd feared. At times I would definitely have preferred to have some company but I'm an independent person so spending a few days on my own is not a problem. I liked not having to compromise but, on the other hand, shared experiences are more rewarding so I wouldn't say it was better one way or the other. Usually, whenever I was staying in hostels at least, I ended up talking to someone.
Not much really. I regret not staying longer with my mate Mark in Oregon, and missing the odd trip like the Jaguar Rescue Centre in Puerto Viejo and the silver mines in Potosí, but I think I mostly got things right. I should also have made more of an effort to get to a Test match in the West Indies, although that would have meant missing out on something else in Bolivia or paying a fortune to get there (or taking a totally different route across South America).
What would you have done differently?
If I ever do it again I would be less ambitious. Eight months is a long time to be away as it becomes increasingly draining, especially when you're moving on regularly and staying in less than luxurious accommodation. This had already started to get to me by the time I reached Nicaragua (just over halfway through). Once I felt I'd seen a place I would move on in order to avoid missing out on something, meaning I had little time to relax, which contributed to the travel fatigue.
Did you make any friends?
Despite often being the oldest person in the hostels I met a lot of people that I liked. There were a lot of traveller types with their braids and guitars but I usually found someone less annoying to talk to. I added 31 new friends on Facebook from all over the world and I would be happy to see any of them again. Of these, I moved around with seven or eight over a few locations if they were going the same way, which made a pleasant change from travelling alone.
What did you miss most about England?
Apart from friends and family, mostly living in my own home and the simple everyday things such as having a full wardrobe of clothes to choose from, a proper shower, decent tea and coffee and watching the telly. Also, my weekly 5-a-side football games and playing squash.
That's all very interesting, but how many birds did you get off with?
Is that all? Details please.
No, my Mum will read this. Suffice to say I didn't manage to get my leg over. I don't feel too bad as the opportunity didn't present itself that often.
What are you going to do now?
Well, I've actually been back over a month now and have spent it sorting my house and garden out, socialising and generally taking it easy. I'm also helping out a charity that rehomes cats. I have no car any more but I do now have my bike back so expect I'll go off on a few cycling trips when the sun comes out.
So no work lined up yet then?
Not yet, however now things have calmed down a bit I'm running out of excuses. Over the next few days I will try to remember what I was doing at Deutsche Bank, tart up my CV and get a few applications out. The intention is to get another programming job but in another industry; the idea of getting back into banking does not appeal to me at all at the moment. In the meantime I will need to go over a bit of Visual Basic to brush off the cobwebs.
What state did your tenants leave your house in?
When I briefly met them before going away, they gave me the impression that housework would not be their #1 priority (three Northern Irish builders in their mid-20s). It may not have been, but when I got back from the airport there was a team of six professional cleaners beavering away on the place. What it looked like before they began I'm not sure but once they had finished it looked almost as good as new. There were a few scratches on the kitchen worktop and a couple of the plants were dead but I would have settled for that. The garden obviously hadn't been touched, but a couple of hours with the lawnmower, shears and weedkiller put that right. Most importantly, they also paid their rent on time every month.
Will this definitely be the last entry in your blog?
If I think of something else to put up I will, but frankly that is unlikely. This feels like a good place to stop.
Do you have any artificial plates or limbs?