Surprisingly, it’s not in the driest regions that I have experienced the worst water shortages. It’s in some of the wettest – Caribbean islands and equatorial rainforests. Water is a political issue as much as it is a geographical one.
People call it the rat race, but it doesn’t feel like a race. No one’s competing to get ahead of each other, we’re just trying to stay afloat. It’s a hamster wheel, treading water, a treadmill – every year I put money back into my student loan, and every year the interest mounts. I put money into my “flat deposit” – yet at the end of the year I’m just as far from buying a home as I was at the beginning.
Five years ago, over Easter 2012, I realised a long-held dream and flew to Cuba. The paradoxes were mind boggling. I had spent time in developing countries, in rural areas without electricity or running water. I’d visited subsistence farmers and township dwellers and tribal people living in mud huts. I knew what poverty looked like – and it didn’t usually have a framed Masters certificate on the wall and half a dozen letters after its name.
“Where everyone knows your name” is now published by Bradt Travel Guides. The tale 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.
For a fan of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the ancient wooden doors of Old Cartagena are each as exciting as a book cover – each awaiting to be opened to reveal the stories within, of traders, aristocrats and drug barons.
It’s not every day that you get a tattoo while 3,000m up a mountain. My tattooist was a delightful little Colombian named Maruja, and her simple tools were plucked from the Andean mountainside, just as they had been for centuries: a plant, and a pinch of soil. This was no ordinary traveller’s tattoo: this was a Muisca tattoo
“England, huh? So what language do they speak there?” It sounds like the punchline to a rubbish joke, but this was a question I was once asked by a Panamanian boat driver. As we cruised between Caribbean islets, I wasn’t exactly feeling close to home, but the question reminded me just how far away I really was.
In a small corner of Ghana’s Upper East Region, the buildings themselves tell stories. Faint patterns emerge on the adobe walls of the compounds and granaries and huts. Smudges of red ochre, ebony and ashy white flake from the baked mud, becoming richer and more visible the further north we travel.
As tempting as it is to see 20 things in a day, I need to try and just look at two or three, and evoke their essence on the page. Writing isn’t so different to drawing, after all.