Tulum: And so here we are at the end of this journey – 5000 miles from London, where it all started, but we’ll do the final push from Mexico by plane.
We’re finishing on the white-gold sands of Tulum, a stunning wild beach on the Yucatán’s Caribbean coast, where we’ve rented a stick and thatch cabin a few metres from the ocean. At night, the huge supermoon floods through the gaps in our cabin’s stick-sides and the roar and shhh of the waves lull us to sleep in our bed, which swings, suspended by ropes from the roof beam. Our little cluster of cabañas are separated from the big wide beaches by rocks, which protect our own secluded beach from other holidaymakers. We share our space with very few other people even when the weekenders descend.
Tulum was, until relatively recently, a Mayan walled-city, the ruins of which stand on a prominent cliff overlooking the beach. With such a stunning location, it would definitely have been my city of choice as a Mayan. The fortified port city traded obsidian along river, road and sea routes (a shrine marks a break in the reef where canoes can pass through) and survived for at least 70 years after the Spanish arrived. It fell because of introduced diseases.
In 2007, the Mexican government bought up privately owned Mayan sites and declared the area a national park. The few hotels and guesthouses located in this new park (ours included) are now the subject of closure orders and there is an ongoing court battle to settle the issue.
We spend our time reading, staring into the advertiser’s perfect turquoise sea, bracing against sandblasting winds and enjoying the golden sun on our pale skin. Michelle returns home, leaving me a brick of a book – the perfect traveller’s present. And I prepare myself also for the comforts and entertainments of a Western metropolis, its speed and its anger and hostility, its wonderful anonymity but also (and in all senses) its coldness.
What a great adventure it’s been, these past 27 months and 2 weeks! What a lot of the world we’ve seen – 37 countries! – but what a great, great part we have still to see.
It is time to go back – Nick knows this more than I, but my other travelling companion, my backpack, is also telling me. Over the last couple of weeks, one by one, my well-worn possessions have given up the fight as though they know their use is coming to an end: my t-shirts have become too raggedy to wear in public, my handbag has split so that it can’t be resewed, my knickers have holes, my scarf is lost, my hat string has broken and my much-scratched sunglasses snapped today…
Nick has been ready to return for a while, his bags are already packed in excitement, but for me it’s more difficult. To travel for this long, to live as a wanderer from a bag, from bed to bed, village to village, bus to bus, to rely on the hospitality and kindness of people we meet transiently and can never repay, is humbling and utterly exhilarating.
The journey has taught me much. Before we set off, I’m ashamed to say that I even took a certain pride in my cynicism and hardness – after all, what decent journalist isn’t so equipped? – but having my cynicism met so often by open kindness, generosity and a ‘naïve’ eagerness to help is rather like wearing armour to a beach party – inappropriate, to say the least.
We have visited the most desperate slums, the poorest people – some of whom are literally starving – stayed in dodgy, grubby places with no security, and yet, despite our obvious wealth, nothing has been stolen from us, we have never been physically threatened or robbed. People have responded to their duty of hospitality and made us feel safe and welcomed.
Not that I’m now completely uncynical, only that now it’s not a forefront impulse when meeting strangers, even if it remains at the fore when dealing with governments and other bureaucracies. Every new friend we’ve made has opened a new place in my heart that turns out not to be as full-up as I thought.
We’ve learned a lot of other things, too, during this journey, such as:
- The poorest people are often the most generous
- The world’s best breakfast is in south India: masala dosa
- The best coffee is in Ethiopia
- Every tribe has its own greeting method, from the Indian head-wiggle to the Guatemalan edge of hand-to-forehead – learning it makes you instant friends
- But a smile is universal
- The best fruit selection in in Amazonia (Columbia and Brazil)
- The most consciously sexy are in Rio
- The best place for an ordinary person to get a taste of filmstar celebrity is Bangladesh
- The dandiest men are the Samburu tribe of northern Kenya
- The best food is found at local eating holes, not tourist restaurants EXCEPT in east and central Africa, where foreign restaurants often provide the only decent meals and are wonderfully lacking in ugali
- The best place to get laundry done is India
- And the worst place to get laundry done is India
- Best mangostines (my favourite fruit) are in Indonesia
- There are always more stray dogs than seems possible and they start their barking just as you fall asleep
- Brazilians on the beach: in yer face with their bums; surprisingly coy with their boobs
- The worst driving is in Bangladesh
- Tropical deserts get much colder than you’d imagine
- There is no one cockier and more nimble than a developing-world bus-boy
- Bed bugs haunt even the nicer hotels
- Water purification tablets are your friend
- Carrying cipro can bring a swift end to runnybum episodes
- Always add at least 1 hour to all quoted journey times
- NEVER try to outstare an Indian (you will lose)
- Choosing your bus seat according to the sun’s passage can make for a shadier, cooler journey
- An African bus-boy can fit in 6 times as many passengers than there are seats
- Different societies have very different concepts of time and distance
- Always carry emergency biscuits/fruit and water
- Bolivians love a good strike almost as much as the French
- People can and do carry impossible loads despite the laws of physics
- If you don’t have a religion, invent one
- Likewise a spouse and children, if you are over the age of 25
- Most of the world has black hair. People are very interested in other-colour hair
- Travelling puts a lot of dirt under the fingernails
- Speaking even a few words of someone’s language makes you a quick friend
- A little (or lot) of brown-nosing at borders and embassies can smooth a difficult passage
- Never start a conversation without the appropriate greeting first – it’s like shouting at an Englishman in German
- The idea of travelling is alien to most people – they may feel sorry for you
- Scorpions can appear from nowhere
- You can never have too much patience
- Don’t let a simple misunderstanding/miscommunication turn into an argument
- Avoid shaming someone in their own country
- Hot water is often just a concept hoteliers dream up but rarely a reality
- Remember to charge your torch battery when it’s light outside
- People are all the same and everyone is different
- The world is a fantastically, fascinatingly big place
Oops, too many already, I’ll stop here!
This is not the end of my wanderings, just the end of this journey chapter and the beginning of a new adventure in perhaps the world’s greatest city, London.
I’m sad you’re finishing, Gaia and Nick, because I’ll miss your posts. I’ve loved seeing the world through your eyes. But congratulations on a wonderful blog. I am sure it has educated many people besides just me – and will continue to do so.
Thanks Clare, we’re sad too. In fact, I already have some missed-out places on my radar, so we’ll have to head off and see them soon x
The Inuit wait for you – big problem climate change, no problem malaria, scorpion etc etc
27 months and you missed a few spots? That doesn’t seem possible…but that just proves how vast our world is, I guess.
Can you share what you feel you missed or would do differently next time? Those of us who may plan a 27-month journey in the future may just learn from it…
Hi Mikalee, Excellent questions, thank you – let me think about it and get back.
Speaking for all those who have missed you – it’ll be wonderful to have you home – but how shall I wean myself off my blog-fix?!’
Wow! 27 months. What will you do with all your spare time now? What are the three things you want to do once you return to home soil? I will miss your adventures. Thanks for taking me along.
Hmmm, the three things I want to do are: see my friends and family; have a stonking hot power shower; read the weekend papers with a lovely cup of tea. Boring but true!
Sounds beautiful, that’s what I look forward to when I return from a jaunt. Happy Home Coming. Congrats on Freshly Pressed it’s well deserved.
That is exactly what makes home so sweet…well put!
I only discovered Wandering Gaia towards the end of 2009. It’s been wonderful travelling along with you both since then and your descriptions, reflections and photos have been superb. I can’t think of anything quite like it.
Returning home always involves a mix of emotions. What always hits me when I return from Africa is simply how materially wealthy this country is, despite all our economic problems, and how everything (eg power, telecomms and even transport) just ‘works’ most of the time.
There’s good and bad in the UK, of course, as with any country. But I really do think the positives outweigh the negatives. (I was going to list my top three but this is your blog so I’ll shut up!)
Thank you for everything – you will post to let us know you’re safely back, won’t you?
Thanks Andrew, and it’s been great having you ‘travelling’ with us!
I agree, the positives do definitely outweigh the negatives – the UK is a great country. Don’t ‘shut up’, tell us your top 3. This comment stream is supposed to be a discussion!
I just discovered your blog a few months ago, and now it is an end to your journey. However such an interesting list you made about things you have learned from your big journey. Great journey!!!
Safe journey home you two. I heartily agree that the best breakfasts in the world are masala dosa (but they’d be joint top with a proper fry up mind). Really enjoyed the blog throughout – are you going to keep it up back home?
I’ve got a feeling Nick has been mentally lining up the pints since Christmas – I have, and we’ve only been away for four months.
Thanks Adie, when are you back?
The blog will keep going, although it’ll be more about travelling through ideas than physical travel for now. Nick’s put his foot down about night-buses, so we’re not going anywhere for a bit…!
Wow. I found it hard to adjust to “normality” after I did a six month trip when I was 21. Still not fully adjusted and I am now 57!
Never fully adjust, Nick!
The wanderers go back home… for a while. Beautiful trip, great ending post.
Safe trip home.
What a beautiful ending to an amazing experience – you’ve seriously inspired me to fulfill my goals of travelling the globe. For now, I’ve started with Europe, but one day, I’d like to discover Asia, Africa, and South America too. I can’t wait to see soak up the hidden treasures of the world.
I’ve had the opportunity to travel to China and visited Hawaii, stopped in Japan and hit Hong Kong as well as seven other major cities throughout the Chinese Coast. It was inspirational and taught me alot on how the world is rather small and that we have so much in common environmentally wise …. in comparison to the U.S.A..
I hope you get the opportunity to expand your horizons in traveling and perhaps meet others more traveling inspiring individuals on your journey to doing so.
For example I went through a fellowships program through my college all of it paid for. The only thing I had to do was attend the class, and forfill a journal of the experience and share my experience with others in some way at my college. Perhaps this can be an avenue for you in achieving your dreams of traveling one day. Do you go to College?
Stunning journey. I loved this post! And find myself a bit jealous as well….
I read your post once and then I read it again. Makes me want to just pack my bags and travel NOW.
I am jealous. can you tell? 🙂 Have fun
Selfishly I wish you would go on travelling, but it’s very wise of you that you know when it’s time to return. I only discovered you in the last few months too, and I still have to go back and read right from the beginning, which I always do when I find a blog I really like. There are so many out there now, but yours is exceptional in every way; the quality of the writing and photography, the places you have been and your way of looking at things.
Please, please tell me that you will continue with your blog! There must be lots of people who read it who would love to know all about life in London too, about how you see it after the experiences you’ve had.
Thanks Islandmomma, what a lovely comment!
I will keep the blog going, although it’ll be more about travelling through ideas than physical travel for now!
All kinds of travel are travel. Life’s the journey (sorry to sound corny!). I didn’t even start my blog until I was forced to settle, and it made me look at things in a different way, but you already do that, so I am looking forward to your take on places and a life more familiar to me!
Wow! Amazing journey and fascinating photos!
“You can never have too much patience”- you said it 😉
What an amazing adventure! It was especially wonderful for me to see some of the Mayan places that I studied in university.
And the list was a great summation.
Glad to hear your adventure was more than you thought it might be – always a nice surprise.
Wow what experience. I’ll have to go back and read your blog to catch up. Congrats on being freshl pressed.
Fantastic journey! Try visiting Philippines – 1,107 islands!
It’s a good place 🙂
Now, I must go back and peruse the rest of your blog. I feel like I just started at the back end of a book and can’t wait to go to the front and start from the beginning! Oh, the adventures that must await me in words…I can hardly wait to start reading.
Congratulations!I discoverd this blog just surfing on the internet..but it is very very nice to see the world as you told us. your tips about people, places and cultural traditions are very smart. wheb will be the next your journey?
Interesting I would discover you on your last installment of your travelling blog! How wonderful…I cannot wait to read tghe read of them….fitting for me, I always liked to read my magazines from the back to the front! haha! I want to stay in that thatched hut badly. How lovely. I am looking forward to you going to see th Intuits…I want to visit them also. I am glad I have become aware of you! Look for more comment fomr me on your older posts!!! Very deserving of Freshly Pressed! Well written and lovely photos. AmberLena
I love the list of the things you’ve learned on your way. Hopefully I’ll have my own list before long!
What an experience. Thank you for sharing your travels and the wisdom you’ve gained.
I’m soooooo jealous! Wish I could be there and get out of this cold! brrrrrrrrrrrrrr lol
That was great. Especially the “don’t stare at an Indian women…you’ll lose. haha. Great post.
Great post and great pictures. So inspiring. You learn so much any where you travel to but I learned a few new things after reading yours. Sincere and funny.
What a lovely story to share. I got shivers when i read parts of it.
Couldn’t agree with you more, the best gifts come form the poorest people, hospitality, and the lessons of an open heart.
Thanks for everything
Excellent job!!! I hope you get to explore even more.
What an amazing experience you have had. You are so lucky to have been able to see so much of the world. I love the name of your blog, it definitely rings a chord with me!
What a glorious place to finish your journey! In the pics it looks llike your own private desert island! I loved reading your list at the end of your observations from around the world. India seems such a facinating place. Welcome (back?) to the- debatable- but possibly the greatest city in the world.
hi there just read your blogs… quite fascinating… really love them…
What a shame I have only just discovered your post on FP. Although in all fairness, I must say I’m only a fledgling blogger – 3 months from conception. Nevertheless, I’m excited at the prospect of acquainting myself with your journey. Having just quickly skimmed through the categories… Wow! What a fantastic journey! I myself am 10 years (it may as well be light-years) away from home ‘Australia’. A well deserved FP. Kudos and a safe and pleasant trip home.
A diligent, sincere and useful post! Life is like a journey, we need to travel it well, and the journey will only end when we die! Hope you will visit more countries and places and enjoy your trip~ And welcome to China if you haven’t been to China yet. O(∩_∩)O
I am so sad to find you at your journey’s end. Hopefully I can go through your blog and enjoy your journey. Continue please with inspiring photos of your present domain.
Hmmm… I must agree to your learning, they are simple yet effective and true. You should be considered as worlds most experienced person 🙂
World is global village and we the villagers
From a fellow traveller/wanderer to another, you are much richer for doing this trip. Fantasic memories will never be forgotten. What the world needs is more people to travel the world and see what is going on. Travelling the world is like going to the GREATEST UNI on the Planet, and you have done just that. Well done and I hope you get inspired to do some more travelling. I have met the most amazing people on the road which I would never have met if I stayed on my couch. People who have changed my life for ever in a positive and genuine way.
Best of luck trying to get back to a “normal” life.
Wow, I ended this with a lump in my throat. You have had an experience that I can only ever dream of having. You’ve chosen to shun the way the rest of the world is portrayed in the media and jump in feet first. What an amazing experience you have had! I plan to go to Africa over the summer and live and work with the poorest people. Everybody thinks I’m mad but your blog post here confirms exactly why I wish to do that. Thank you!
love your blogs so much, you let us see the FANTASTIC world through your eyes and camaras.
Thanks for sharing!
great post i love it !
It is sad that I discovered your blog at the end of your journey. But well, I am ready for quite a ride on your previous posts. Thanks for your great posts! And great that you enjoyed Ethiopian Coffee.
I just found your blog, but I am glad I can go through all your adventures. Looks like you learned a lot on all your travels. You definitley saw some beautiful places.
OK, so your last post is the first one I read? I’m still finding my way around the blogging-sphere and I am finding interesting and amazing people to follow on a daily basis. Please keep your blogsite alive – I really would like to look through your archives! By the sounds of it, there are oodles of entries about the fantastic places that you have visited and cultures that you have experienced. It may take me some time to get through them all! Safe travels home.. – Lu
“People are all the same and everyone is different” — this phrase I like the most! it’s so true…
hope you will never ever stop discovering 🙂
What a fantastic journey you took…and I just caught it at the tail end. Now I’ll have to go back and start from the beginning! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
Thank you for this insightful post!!! Great photos!
nice..,heve u traveled to indonesian island.., mentawai island , west Sumatra, Indonesia?
Everythings are provided by local people. Absoutly traditional hand made.
in my opinion, people know paddy rice, carrot, cabbage, shallot.., all of vegetable.., they dont know from where those are coming from.., organic faming system.., and of couse u will be a part if u want it. I think it will be ur best experiences.
Hi Julio, I’ve been to Sumatra, but not to Mentawai. It sounds fascinating: it’s on the list now! Thanks.
Just discovered your blog. I love your list of things you have learned!!! It is amazing what difference a couple of words in someone’s native language will make!
Keep posting from London!
I heart Freshly Pressed!
Your 27 month world-wide trip totally dwarfs my 12 months in oz. Be prepared for reverse culture shock when you return back to the big smoke (I too am a Londoner) we (my wife and I) found it really hard and with little sympathy.
I love your list of learnings, maybe these could be expanded into a series of posts?
Awesome pictures! I am an independent travel agent who is new to blogging and looking for followers. My blog name is Dream Come True Travel, be sure to check it out and contact me if you have questions.
Thanks for your comments! Those of you new to my blog, do take a look back – the journey began in December 2008 in Nepal. You can browse through by country or topic, using the ‘select a category’ button on the right-hand panel.
I will continue to post on the blog, although it’ll be more about travelling through ideas than physical travel for now.
And to think you had a Super Moon to end it all. Could you have a written a more perfect ending? Life is always better than fiction.
Thanks for sharing your journey…with all of the great writing and excellent photos I feel like I should get a stamp in my passport because I feel like I was there! Thanks for sharing.
Nice trip, such a beautiful sea. I’m planning to go to Mexico city… but the Yucatán’s Caribbean coast is so nice too… I may need to re-plan my trip
Top three things about the UK (see above), briefly.
Darwin – the fact that he did what he did, that we were able to celebrate him on bank notes without rioting taking place on the streets http://bit.ly/gdmpvC and the fact that we’re taking such good care of his home http://bit.ly/e4qY2L
The BBC, although I really fear for its future.
The diversity and beauty of the British countryside
It was really difficult to choose! Anyone else?
WOW…. what great pictures. Love the blog!
i think its pretty amazing, i love tulum,it such a beautiful place, there are a lot of places in mexico that i really like as acapulco or los cabos …you´ll love it…thanks for the trip i enjoyed it!!!
The wanderers go back home… for a while. Beautiful trip, great ending post.
Safe trip home.
mexico looks ssssooo pretty!!! [:
Wow, beautiful pictures on your blog.
I just discovered your blog a few months ago, and now it is an end to your journey. However such an interesting list you made about things you have learned from your big journey. Great journey
wow you really have had a great adventure and a great lesson in your life..nice post..