I’m all over the internet and have managed to score articles in the odd newspaper and magazine, but there’s still a certain satisfaction to be had in finally getting one of my stories published in a book. Especially as that story took place during my first proper backpacking trip, my first time in South America, my first time in the rainforest and my first time volunteering abroad. They were all things I’d wanted to do for a long time – some since childhood – and it’s safe to say that that trip had a pretty profound impact on me, and changed the direction of my life and career from that point on.
“Where everyone knows your name” takes place in tiny Wimbí, an Afroecuadorian village along the farthest reaches of the Cayapa River, as it snakes its way through the Chocó rainforest. Separated from the Amazon by the Andes, the Chocó is remote, barely explored, and bloody hot. There were no roads, cars, running water, internet, mobile phone signal and barely functioning electricity, that could go down days at a time. Wimbí is eight hours from the nearest city of Esmeraldas, by dugout canoe, minibus, truck and coach. It is four hours from the nearest market town of San Lorenzo, a shady, FARC-infested town wedged up against the Colombian border. “Popping to the shops” entailed leaving at 6am for a precious couple of hours in town (during which time most of the women got their hair done, before a quick whizz round the market stalls) followed by another four hour journey, arriving back at the village at dusk.
I made plenty of friends during my month in the jungle, and “Where everybody knows your name” is really their story, not mine. Few people know that Afroecuadorians even exist; fewer still know the delicious dishes they cook, with recipes carried across from Africa, or the rhythms that they move to, before they even learn to walk, tapped out on marimbas and congas and maracas, all hewn from the forest that surrounds them.
It was a privilege to be able to spend a month in Wimbí, to be able to explore such a fascinating culture, and to be invited so warmly into people’s homes. And I’m delighted that this story – and theirs – will now be reaching a wider audience.
“Where everybody knows your name” appears in “Roam Alone – Inspiring tales by reluctant solo travellers”, published by Bradt Travel Guides (April 2017). Avoid Amazon and get your copy straight from Bradt – currently with 10 percent off.