On November 7, 2004, I returned to England 362 long days after setting off for South America. My father met me at the airport, and we drove home on a colourless, miserable morning, with fat rain clouds drenching everything in a forlorn gloom. It could have been the 15-hour flight from Buenos Aires to London that did it, but I was unimpressed, numb and had little to say. It was a long drive. I decided then and there that I was going to work very hard for the next 10 years so I could do it all over again. And so I did.
Just over a decade later, at 2.30am on January 12, 2015, I’m laying awake in my suite, 25 storeys above Dubai’s Sheikh Zayed Road, in the lavish H Hotel, wondering where the time went.
Contrary to my youthful expectations, the last 11 years were not spent in squalor, desperately saving every last dime for the big trip. I worked very hard indeed, but I also enjoyed a fantastic life living in Dubai, where, for the last four and a half years, I had a job editing a luxury travel magazine. It meant I was frequently able to stay in luxury hotels, eat in world-class restaurants and drive supercars along winding mountain roads, all in the name of journalism.
But to have it all is not always to have it all. I missed the call of the wild and the freedom of the road, and few days went by when I wasn’t haunted by a faint memory of that year in South America. It was fortunate then that the love of my life, Lucy Taylor, was of a similar mind.
During the first trip, on a cloudless January 2004 afternoon, I scrambled up a scree slope above a lake in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, and sat down breathless to contemplate the view below. The glacier at the back of the mountain lake was cerulean blue at its face, but from above, I could see that its upper surface was covered in a thick layer of snow and ice, dusted with dirt and debris from the surrounding mountains. I remember thinking it looked like a giant foamy cappuccino. I snapped off a picture (just one – these were the days of 35mm film), lay back and wished I had someone to share the moment with. I promised then that I would return to South America one day with someone special.
Lucy had her own fond travel adventures, backpacking and volunteering in Africa. We settled on a route that would take in some of the best bits of South America, followed by a thorough exploration of Central America, which is virgin territory for both of us, before hopping over the Pacific to hot-step it around Southeast Asia.
The rough time frame for the next Great Adventure is nine months – too long for a simple sabbatical – so we have both quit our jobs and bought a one-way ticket to Buenos Aires. What we will do or where we will end up at the end of our travels remains unknown. The only thing for certain is this: we are on the eve of the next Great Adventure, and no one is sleeping.