I Found Love to I Must Have Been Blind

MY diary for much of 2020 has not exactly been full. It has been – and remains – pretty much empty. My routine was sorted on the road, did not need a diary.

But the morning of April 21 has long had an entry inked in – Oasis Trans South America trip ends, Hotel Majestic, Quito.

It is still there on the Google Doc which acts as my calendar, diary, life organiser, time-wasting tool and handy record of where my travels have taken me.

What actually happened on the morning of April 21 involved being woken by a whining Labrador, rolling off the sofa, throwing some clothes on parts of me that can be seen in a Zoom chat, grabbing some toast and plugging myself into my laptop for another day working from the dining room table.

Not exactly what was planned, but that goes for pretty much all of us at the moment.

So instead of getting up in Quito, probably grabbing some breakfast at the bakery on the corner and checking out for somewhere slightly less ironically named for a couple of night’s before the final, sad farewells and a flight home, reality finds me back home and falling into some form of new routine.

Well, sort of back.

And some sort of reality.

Rather than bringing you up to date on the events of the final stretch through Colombia and retreading some familiar ground back to Quito in the South America blog – we will get there with a few mop up posts and some advice for anyone, eventually, following in our footsteps – we have the rather sooner than planned return of the A-Z iPod blog.

For any new readers who have stumbled across this site expecting tales of travel – or even marmots – the A-Z is an alphabetical journey through my iPod, listened to in order and chronicled in these posts amid a torrent of tangents and whatever is running through my mind when tapping away at the keyboard

Me from the past can explain how it works here:

A to Z – How To Get There

There are a few big differences between the return of the A-Z and when it went on its holidays in September ahead of my South American adventure.

For starters, until just before the off was single, ensconced in my flat, working on a paper and was free to wander, headphones in and working my way through the rising number of tracks on the journey – 14,739 tracks and rising.

Now am not single, know an awful lot more about Australian time zones, am locked down at my sister’s during the coronavirus pandemic and doing some freelance reporting with the avowed aim of writing an article that does not involve the words coronavirus pandemic.

And listening to the A-Z is mainly being done during my daily, government-sanctioned exercise – a walk around a variety of routes along the pavements (and middle of the road to maintain social distancing) close to home, invariably via a bit of shopping for some essentials. Wine, crisps, beer…

It has also been exclusively on the new iPod Touch bought not long before the off due to fears that my battered, well-travelled iPodClassic was not going to make it all the way round.

Those fears were grounded as, pressed into action for the first time when its new cousin had been borrowed by the person sitting next to me on the truck, it coughed, spluttered and gave up the ghost, the screen showing nothing but some bizarre pattern which was pretty easy to interpret – this is an ex-iPod.

So my daily wanderings and still fairly new, if much-used, companion have been continuing the lengthy meander through songs beginning with I.

I Am The Resurrection to I Found A Way

There are a lot of them. An awful lot.

It’s been an eclectic section from Palma Violets to Brendan Parry with a fair few familiar faces, plus a few you might not expect.

We had a fair few people declaring their hatred for things – Nerys Hughes (Half Man Half Biscuit) and This Town (John Grant) while The Jesus and Mary Chain vowed both love and hate of Rock ‘n’ Roll in different entries.

Other declarations of love came for NYC (Andrew WK, who with I Get Wet twice raised questions about why there was, briefly, so much excitement about him) and You (Billie Eilish – one for the kids there and perfectly good, bar the insistence on refusing to use capitals letters).

Half Man Half Biscuit were also back in this stretch with I Love You Because (You Look Like Jim Reeves) and Sun Kil Moon with I Love My Dad, all six minutes and 16 seconds of it in contrast to just one minute forty seven seconds of the rather more wordy I Know It’s Pathetic But That Was The Greatest Night of My Life.

Maybe that is what The Smiths were referring to in I Know It’s Over but I Might Be Wrong, which brought us two outings for Radiohead. The live version is better.

And there were notable outings from The Boo Radleys (I Hang Suspended from the wonderful Giant Steps album), the almost inevitable Billy Bragg (I Keep Faith), The Sundays (I Kicked A Boy) and Paul SImon (I Know What I Know).

Blink-182 popped up with I Miss You, a reminder that they had the ability to turn out a good tune, if not pronounce head properly. Which still grates.

But last word in this entry goes to John Prine.

When I Have Met My Love Today popped up fairly early in this section, it was just another in the long list of songs sending me towards further exploration of a veteran artist who had passed me by for many years.

His death from COVID-19 adds poignancy and has sent me down the rabbit hole of his substantial back catalogue to discover quite why so many artists name him as a major influence.

And provides a sobering moment of quite why we are going through this strange form of existence.

  • As well as John Prine, it would be remiss not to mention two other musicians lost to the coronavirus – Andy Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne, who certainly crops up on this journey, and former Soft Boys (among others) bassist Matthew Seligman. Not sure if he plays on anything on my iPod, but we were fellow members of a Facebook community which has provided me with plenty of fun and musical tips over the last few years. A member of David Bowie’s band at Live Aid, he is spoken of in nothing but glowing terms by fellow members of the group.
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Imperfect Circle

THIS is not what was planned. This post is not even in the right order. But after the events of the last week, plans and order have gone out of the window.

Last Sunday, we were cycling around the old town of Cartagena, looking forward to a day at the beach before heading to a mud volcano and more of the delights of Colombia.

There would have been a post outlining the delights of our first few days in Colombia (we will get to that), the start of the final stretch of this circuit around South America.

Instead, this is being written back in England. Far away from Colombia and, seemingly, what we had become accustomed to as normal life.

It has been a pretty fraught, frantic, fast-moving seven days (apart from the lengthy bits when there was no actual forward movement) as we found ourselves immersed in the escalating health crisis which had been only on the edges of our radar in the previous few weeks.

We were aware of COVID-19. Aware it was starting to impact well beyond its source point of China.

But South America seemed an outpost away from the hotspots we were seeing on the news, back in the real life we put on hold when we climbed aboard the big yellow truck six months ago.

Maybe our welcome to Cartagena airport was trying to tell us something

Right up until the point real life grabbed us by the shoulder and pulled us back in.

The first inkling things were about to change came last Saturday when news filtered through that neighbouring Ecuador was closing its borders in a bid to protect itself from the rising threat.

South America remains well behind Europe in terms of numbers – at the time of writing, Colombia has 158 confirmed cases and no deaths – but as we were about to discover, nobody was hanging around before acting.

We knew Ecuador’s decision would have an impact. It was, after all, our intended final destination for the final few days, a return to Otavalo and back to Quito to complete the perfect circle.

And a reunion with the truck which, after abandoning attempts to cross via ferry or barge from Suriname to Guyana, had made it back to Brazil ahead of a long drive to rejoin us – reuniting us with the stuff left behind as we hurriedly packed for an unspecified leave of absence.

There was a further hint of what lay ahead when local precautions decreed bars and restaurants operate at reduced capacity, forcing us to buy slightly less overpriced sundowner cocktails on the city wall than planned.

Little did those of us drinking, dancing and painting the night away (more to come on that) realise it would serve as a final evening out.

There is a corner of a foreign bar which will be forever The Shed

Sore heads were not helped by the news the next day.

Lisa’s post-trip adventure to the Galapagos Islands had been cancelled amid the first hints that getting home would become harder the longer we waited.

But by the time we headed out for more exploration of the considerable charms of Cartagena, by foot and on bike, the plan was to bide our time and wait for developments. Maybe flying from Bogota further down the road to meet the truck, collect our stuff and head home from there.

The plan for our last few weeks in Colombia and Ecuador – we managed the first three days

That was our thinking as we headed for pizza in the evening – right up until we ran into tour leader Danny and some of the others in a bar.

Peru had shut its borders (ending an idea to head to Cusco) and our planned trip to the beach at Playa Blanca and phosphorescent seaweed the next day had been cancelled amid growing restrictions being imposed across Colombia.

It was a quiet meal as the looming prospect of what lay ahead of us became impossible to ignore.

And by the time we rejoined those left in the same hostel bar an hour later, things had moved on apace – restrictions were being ramped up, limiting travel around the country, threatening the closure of hotels and making the final outcome inevitable.

Little more than 24 hours after the first inkling it could happen, we were going home.

Or at least trying to.

What was supposed to be a fairly relaxed evening became increasingly fraught amid the search for flights.

With connections in the USA not an option for those of us blocked from getting an ESTA by past travels and without a valid visa, the choices were slim – direct flights from Bogota to Heathrow having jumped from around £250 to more than £1,300 in economy. If you could find one.

Spongebob in Brazil, where he has been holed up for the last few months

And when you did find an alternative, affordable route, by the time you clicked on the deal it had been withdrawn. Or, for others, banking issues delayed payment and added to the difficulties.

But eventually, nearly all of us had flights over the coming days (the stragglers having arrived back in the last few hours).

Lisa and myself flew from Cartagena to Bogota the next day to hole up in a hotel before our flights home, her via Atlanta, Los Angeles and on to Sydney, mine on a simpler route to Paris and on to Heathrow.

At least it was supposed to be simpler. A delayed flight out of Bogota ensured a missed connection in Paris and an unscheduled night in a hotel before a morning flight back to Blighty.

Even then the adventure was not over, my bag enjoying a longer stay in France before we were finally reunited more than 48 hours later.

The last goodbye

We should have been in Santa Marta in northern Colombia today at the end of our detour north to a mud volcano and two more nights in a hammock at Parque Tayrona.

Instead, my hammock has been consigned to the things which will not be needed for a while bag and my bed for the night – after a few days in a hotel yards from my old flat – is my sister’s sofa. Sharing the room with a snoring Labrador.

All while largely with our warm clothing back where we stashed it on the truck heading out of Patagonia – flip flops, shorts and T-shirts are not much use at this time of the year at home.

It is not the way we wanted it to end.

Without the planned closing stretch and final night out, final bush camp, final travel day, final meal, there has been little sense of closure.

And then there were two – farewell from Bogota

Little time to get our heads around what is happening, that what has become our life came to an end very quickly. That further travel plans needed to be ripped up.

Farewells, if said at all, were hurried. At least the two of us had some time in Bogota to come to terms with what was happening before our goodbyes.

Not sure that process has been completed, especially having landed back in a familiar world which all seems a bit out of focus.

Real life means finding a job, finding somewhere to live but that can wait – it means, above all, doing everything we can to stay healthy and help those closest to us do the same.

Some have flown into an automatic 14-day self isolation, some are imposing it on ourselves, one in a tent in his parents’ garden in Sussex. Slightly colder than Colombia.

But most importantly, we are all home safe and apparently healthy.

And that is far more important than what we have missed out on.

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