Today is 6 months since my Pop died, and tomorrow it will be 6 years since my friend Lee died. Both men were very special to me, and were instrumental in shaping various chapters of my life. I’ve been thinking of them a lot lately, and of the other people close to them who are still living – particularly my Grandmother, Lee’s brother, and Lee’s Grandmother.
Until this year I’ve been quite fortunate with regards to a lack of deaths of family and close friends. At 3 years old my best friend Samantha died of leukemia, and then 26 years later, Lee’s death turned my world upside down. Another 6 years on, and this year saw the death of my Pop, my step-father’s mother, and Lee’s Grandfather. There have also been a number of deaths of people just one person removed from me – where I’ve known their family member, friend, acquaintance or business associate. And, there have been a few occasions where my own death was also a potential.
2015, although not over yet, has already been an emotional roller coaster, although thankfully there have been some life highlights sparkling through the emotional rubble..
In January I travelled to Central Australia, and met a wonderful Argentinian couple. I was present for the announcement they were expecting a baby, and the subsequent bittersweet revelation that their beautiful young son had died only four months earlier.
In February I sold many of my things, moved out of my house, and commenced sleeping at friends houses while I said my goodbyes and got things ready for this trip.
In March I had my official farewell party, and felt very special and loved by everyone who came along. I was especially surprised by one young man – a shy teenager when he came to live in the Lead Tenant house with me, I was impressed to see how much he had grown in confidence, outlook and achievements in the few years since. It was my mission back then to improve his handshake, and he made me proud when he demonstrated how respectable it was now. Then he made me cry when he credited everything good in his life to his lessons in the house with me, and the flow on effects of my insistence he learn to have a good handshake.
That same night I experienced anger and disbelief upon realising my wonderful ‘farewell’ clock, where everyone wrote messages to me, had been stolen. I was furious and heartbroken, and cursing myself for not reading the messages as they were written (I was ‘saving them’ for later), I barely slept all night. Less than 24 hours later, my elation soared when I received a call to say my clock had been returned!
March was also the last time I hugged and kissed my Pop goodbye, and he teared up as he returned the gestures. Flying out a few days later, he was at the top of my list to let know I’d arrived safely in each destination on the way to South America. I met some lovely people in Argentina and Brazil, and began the dreaded, and often tearful, goodbyes each time I changed locations.
In April I began my Spanish lessons with trepidation, and was hosted by a wonderful Couch Surfer and her family in Colombia. Back in Australia my Pop was hospitalised, and died just a few weeks later.
In May I concluded my Spanish lessons with some degree of success, said more tearful goodbyes, and enthusiastic hellos to existing and new friends in Bogota, Colombia and Merida, Venezuela. Dazzled by the super kindhearted, generous and welcoming Venezuelans, I added that country and my friends there to my list of ‘must visit again’s’.
In June I returned to Brazil with the intention of seeing two friends with whom I’d had a brilliant, although brief, time with before. Being granted only 30 days entry on arrival (not the 90 days I expected), things got off to a shaky start. Learning very quickly that one guy changed his plans more often than I changed jobs, I spent two weeks travelling down the East Coast from Fortaleza to Aracaju – Brazil has some absolutely stunning beaches.
One week spent with the guy who changed plans hourly was more than enough. I likened the experience of travelling with him to a domestic violence situation, except he was gay and liked men, not me. I was completely confused, upset, and at times terrified, and the only thing that got me through that week were two wonderful friends of his. They provided some sense of normalcy in my world that had abruptly turned on its head. When his friends left to return to work, I panicked, and just managed to summon the courage to announce I was leaving too.
I escaped to a hostel, and a few days were lost to internal debates about what to do next, punctuated with emotional floods of fear each time my phone rang, and his name appeared on the screen. Thankfully, I met some wonderful girls in the hostels, and a friend in the USA was instrumental in keeping me sane when I thought the lingering dread and disbelief were sending me crazy.
Staying in Brazil, I waited and hoped I would again see the other friend, the guy I really liked. The wait was worth it, and with his sense of humour, my nerves and stress levels returned to somewhat ‘normal’. I laughed more in those few days than I had in a long time, and although we had a language barrier, we got creative with our communications – sometimes with very funny results.
In July I returned to Caracas in Venezuela to find a beachside location conducive to writing. I was oddly unwell in my first few days there, and was again blessed to meet some very kind Couch Surfers and their friends who took exceptionally good care of me. I began to learn the true difficulties in the country, beginning with a lack of available medicines. When I was well enough, I travelled along the North Coast from Caracas to Cumaná and then onto Margarita Island. Again and again, at each location, I met generous, caring and welcoming Couch Surfers (CS) and their friends. Across all my travels, the people in the CS community have seriously saved my rear end more times than I can count, and some people have now become dear friends.
The level of energetic fear was rampant in Venezuela, and I found it especially difficult in Margarita. I still didn’t understand the whole truth of what was happening in the country, nor did I realise just how heavy the energy was, or how it was affecting me. I found myself becoming more and more miserable on the Island, and except for the wonderful family I stayed with, I barely had anyone to talk to – everyone seemed scared of their own shadows, and they certainly didn’t want to talk to strangers like me. With the convenience of Whatsapp, a few good friends in other parts of the world became my lifelines, in what were a very depressing few weeks. At some points, I actually wasn’t sure I would see my approaching 35th birthday.
How I could go from such highs to such lows in a matter of weeks, days, and sometimes even hours, astounded me, until one simple question from a friend in Canada triggered a breakthrough in my understanding of energy. Or rather, energies, and how they affect me. A whole new world opened up just when I thought it was actually going to swallow me completely.
In August I encountered two guys with large knives who tried to steal my bag from me as I left the beach. My instinct to fight for my bag kicked in, and I came out very shaken, but alive. The realisation of just how close to potential death or dismemberment I had been kicked in when the adrenaline wore off a while later.
Returning to Caracas, I stayed for another week with the two sisters who had so kindly, gently and generously looked after me before. Those two women were honestly a God-send, and I will be forever grateful to have crossed paths then, and any time in future when we meet again.
The day I was to meet my original Venezuelan friend in Caracas and travel together to Merida, I was slapped hard in the face with the realities of the country. He and two friends were robbed at gunpoint the night before, and I had narrowly missed being out with them. We spent a very nervous and jittery 16 hours travelling to Merida, and arrived on high alert and exhausted. The more Venezuelans I spoke to, the more I realised that high alert, stress and nerves were the norm when you live there.
I spent my 35th birthday with the best group of guys I could have wished to celebrate with, while at the same time not certain I would be able to exit Venezuela and enter Colombia, because the Venezuelan government, for reasons unknown, had closed the land borders. I understand it makes no sense to any level headed person, however the government think only of money, power and themselves. And they do things that people in non-corrupt countries cannot understand.
In September, with information obtained from the CS community, I got out of Venezuela. I said many teary goodbyes to new and old friends, and although I prefer to say ‘see you later’ rather than ‘goodbye’, the reality in Venezuela is that I may never see some of those wonderful people again.
To look someone in the eye as tears stream down their face, while they wish you a safe journey and pray you get out of their country alive, is haunting. To hear whispered words ‘Thank you for daring to visit me, I’ll remember you always, and I hope to God I see you again one day when all this is over..” as they hugged me goodbye, was gut-wrenching. To see their pride dissolve, and feel their fear swell, was suffocating. Knowing I could offer very little help or comfort was devastating.
My two beautiful CS-hosts-turned-friends risked their lives in order to ensure I got out alive. We endured severe questioning by the Military Police on the way to the border, found our way through the eerily deserted border town, and waited. Eventually I got on an armed, Government controlled bus and after more checkpoints, was delivered exactly half way along the bridge between Venezuela and Colombia. Ordered to get out and walk the remaining half of the bridge, I entered mayhem at the Colombian side of the border. Locating my CS hosts’ friends, I was once again taken care of and looked after by more beautiful souls in human form.