Day 217. I arrived at Heathrow at 9:35am on what was a wet, cold and miserable Tuesday morning. Waiting in the queue for passport control I started to think about what I’ve just done, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve seen. What were all the people who I’d met en-route be doing right at this moment, the Nepalese confidence trickster in Calcutta India, who was he talking to now over Tiffin, would it be another unsuspecting tourist he was trying to extract money from? In Nepal would the manager of the hotel in Kathmandu still be cowering behind the metal grill of the door, hiding from the Maoist rebels? In Hong Kong what would the child who asked me why the British left be doing? In Vietnam would the minibus driver be stuck at the roadside with another group of unsuspecting tourists trying to fix his minibus with another tube of superglue? While in Cambodia, would people still be trying to transport outrageous amounts of material into the county balanced precariously on a moped? In Thailand would another young boy be all but sold to the waiting arms of an old European guy while at the same time in a Malaysian market would another chicken be losing its head while the others looked on? Will women on the Riverside in Singapore be prowling the bars looking for affluent westerners to pounce on and in Australia will there be some drunken British backpackers trying to mount anything with a pulse? Actually, that’s not a question, that’s a given! In New Zealand is someone having their first Bungy experience, jumping into the night sky over Queenstown and in Argentina are the duo of South American singers waking up the morning after giving tourists a rendition of a song about love lost over a coffee roaster? In Uruguay is the rubbish collector waking up ready to take his horse and cart into town to clean the city’s streets and in Chile would my old travelling companion Jack the Ripper be eyeing up women and making rude gestures on his return journey to Santiago? Would a captain of a little boat in Peru be showing a whole new bunch of tourists the delights of his Pusi and in Bolivia would the bus agent be rushing around trying to put another tourist on a bus he said he had but didn’t? In Paraguay, is someone being made to pay the police for a bit of ‘help’ and finally in Brazil is some poor sod getting an eyeful from a wrinkly old lady on Ipanima beach?
It’s amazing just to think how many different people I’ve met with so many different ways of life, what would they all be doing now. Travelling has made me realise how diverse the world is, something I thought I knew but clearly didn’t, but I also have a worry. I’d always been told that travel broadens the mind, but of this I’m no longer sure. I’ve seen snapshots of seventeen countries and yes I may have been lucky enough to see more than most will see in a lifetime, but these small snapshots of places and the people I’ve met has focused my thoughts on each of the countries through which I’ve travelled. This I believe has narrowed my mind. Ask me about Paraguay and I will tell you that all of the police are corrupt, Hong Kong and everyone is out to rip you off, and in Australia, Aussie girls get their breasts out for a dollar. All of these statements are not true, well apart from the last one, although everyone knows it’s actually ten dollars, but these opinions are just from my own personal limited experiences.
“Next”, the guy shouted to me at passport control. He asked how long I’d been away for to which I relied “Two hundred and seventeen days.” He looked up and raised an eyebrow and said, “Holiday?” “Sort of,” I said while thinking that a better description would have been the opportunity and experience of a lifetime. I smiled and he just nodded and replied welcome back Mr Cutts. “Thank you.” As I walked into the arrivals hall my hopes that someone would be there to meet me were dashed, everything seemed in slow motion with people rushing past to embrace loved ones at the barrier. I had told people not to come, but although it’s only been a little over seven months, I’ve seen and done a lot more than many who travel for a year or more and now realise that I was going through a form of culture shock in reverse, real life was about to take over. But now at least I know that if any friends do the same, no matter what they say I will do my best to meet them.
I only had a short journey to finish off my trip going from London to Guildford the hard way, so I headed outside to catch the Heathrow to Woking link bus and then the two short stops on the train to Guildford. While waiting I couldn’t help but think that if I’d just walked out of the tube station and straight onto the bus all those months ago it would have been a lot easier. As the driver picked up my bag to put into the hold he asked where I’d been, I said “Around the world in two hundred and seventeen days.” With typical British understatement he replied “That’s nothing, Phileas Fog did it in eighty, and without a bloody jet plane.” He has a point!’