I haven’t had any time to myself since September 2007 and, resultantly, am just about ready to throw myself into the Beagle Channel. (I have been too busy taking pictures of myself in the mirror, that’s the problem.) I have reached my limit. Enough. I need ME TIME. Peace. Solitude. I beg you, God, help me before I start foaming at the mouth.
(I appreciate that you are probably feeling limited sympathy toward me, given my current circumstances – but irrespective of how nice my life must sound, I want you to know that I am a human frazzle. I am not just burned-out, I am the incinerated piece of rectangular charcoal that you create trying to make drunken 3am toast.)
My mum came out to see me in January – in spite of a terrible phobia of flying – and all I could say was “Oh my god I am going to die if I don’t get some time on my own soon.”
The Man had less than three days left in BA and was trying to spend an afternoon with me. “I HAVE TO BE ALONE,” I howled into my phone. “I HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO. I CANNOT SEE YOU.” I have no idea why he didn’t get rid of me.
My sister came out to spend 2.5 weeks with me in spite of having no money. “I CANNOT WAIT FOR NEXT WEEK!!!!” I yelled at her, even though next week marked her departure.
In short, I am at the end of my tether and have been behaving like a total trollop for weeks now.
Which is why, as I finally find myself alone in a tin shack in the arse end of nowhere, I am so happy I could weep. This morning I SAT ALONE eating a bowl of cornflakes with literally the largest grin in the universe and then I sung Take That songs very loudly in the shower. I capered round in my room doing contemporary dance moves but then remembered I was exhausted and got the hell back into bed. I’m there now. Blue flowery duvet. Clapboard walls. Net curtains and a random picture of a park bench in pastel hues. Man, I am so happy!
My tin shack is in a Chilean town called Puerto Natales. Right down south. It’s where you go to prepare yourself for South America’s most dazzling mountain trekking range: the Torres del Paine. (And so really I’m not in the arse end of nowhere, I’m just pretending to be because it makes me sound cooler.)
However this is a funny town to be alone in, for a very good reason. Because you can’t trek the Torres del Paine alone, every solo traveller here is sizing up everyone else with the aim of hooking up to climb mountains together. It is totally bizarre. I have been Officially Sized Up by four different people already. One of them actually went as far to ask, in her opening question, if I was well and fit at the moment. I said no, I was a bit rotten round the edges, and she buggered off! Within seconds of meeting me! Up yours, you goretex-wearing knobber, I muttered under my breath. This is not a bloody livestock market.
It’s sort of like going to a provincial nightclub where people are circulating quite openly for sex. Except they are grooming you for a rather different endurance test. “Will that Robinson girl crack a joke and keep me smiling when I’ve been climbing uphill in the snow for six hours,” they wonder. “Does she do a good foot massage? Make a good cup of tea? How malodorous will she be if we have to share a tent together?”
I smile, knowing what a crap travelling companion I would be.
a) I normally want to kill myself after walking distances of more than 500 metres.
b) I smell like rotten vegetables when I get wet – more than the average person, for no obvious reason.
c) When the chips are down, my sense of humour is on a parr with that of a corpse who has just been in a fight and then missed the last bus home.
d) My fitness levels are… well, I do not currently have a fitness level. I haven’t done a day’s exercise since leaving London more than seven months ago. My plans for 20 minutes’ swimming per day in Brasil ended on day one when I discovered that it is much more enjoyable to lie flat on your back and eat pasties.
e) I don’t actually want to climb these bastard mountains. I just want to see all of the spectacular, life-altering scenery and then have a nice cup of tea. Maybe I will look into helicopter rental. Then I’d do it all in an afternoon of fun, rather than ten days of hell.
So for now I am studiously avoiding everyone’s eye. “Don’t pick me,” my hunched shoulders and unfriendly scowls say. “I’m a rotter! A nightmare! A stinker! I’ll break wind in the middle of the night! You’ll be suicidal after an evening round the campfire with me! I’ll nick your ipod! I’ll make food that makes you vom! STAND BACK!”
Last night, however, my plans for anonymity did not work out so well. I was sitting in a restaurant enjoying some outstanding Patagonian lamb barbequed to perfection on a spike above coals. Mmmmm. A little treat before returning to bad pasta cooked in a cup in a hostel. Anyway, I’d eaten all of the polite bits – ie those that are easily accessible with a knife and fork. But the truly delicious bits -the crispy, fatty bits between the ribs – I couldn’t get at them. I was so wasted with exhaustion that my usual table manners deserted me and something rather unfortunate happened.
Readers, I picked up the bones and started gnawing. Like a thirty year old Bugs Bunny. Gnawing loudly and desperately. In a restaurant. Not a roadside kebab stall at 2am; a proper restaurant where people eat with napkins on their laps and order wine that is worth more than two pounds a bottle.
After a few seconds, I realised what I was doing so, rather red-facedly, I put down my bones, mortified. But unfortunately I missed my plate. I instead put my bones in the space next to my plate, which was the floor.
I heard a snort behind me. There was a man – the sort of man I would probably have run off to the bogs to put on some mascara for if I wasn’t mad about a boy these days – sitting there, laughing at me. “Nice,” he said. I scowled and tried to make a joke.
His face became all serious and he came and sat at my table. “I’m looking for a trekking companion,” he began.
I picked up my bone from the floor. There was still quite a bit of tasty meat on it, with a fine covering of dirt and hair. Maybe, I thought, maybe if I chew on this, he will go away and stop banging on about the amount of dehydrated fruit he’s allowing per meal?
The bloke saw me inspecting my bone and looked alarmed. “I wouldn’t,” he said.
I stomped off home to my hostel, where everyone was assembled. In the two minutes it took me to make a cup of poor tea, I somehow got nailed by not just one but FOUR trekking vultures. Waves of tiredness overcame me. I needed to get out of this and get to bed, fast.
“I HATE TREKKING!” I shrieked at the goretexed crowd. “I LIKE MANICURES AND WINE BARS!”
There was a terrible silence and I left, quietly.
I am not adjusting well to travelling alone.