Travel

ITALY: AN ESCAPE WITHIN AN ESCAPE

I stood at the top of the escalators and peered down. I had two suitcases, two holdalls, a handbag and a huge plastic bag full of wrapped Christmas presents.

How was I going to get down the escalators with all of this stuff?

I was shaking with nerves and apprehension. It was Christmas Eve 2011 and my life in Italy had just come crashing down and I was having to return to London with all of my belongings at once. Panic rushed over me as rooted through my holdall.

Great. I had just left my £600 SLR camera behind too.

I had no money, no working phone, nothing to come back home to and I had just lost my uninsured ridiculously expensive camera.
Could this get any worse?

The whole of 2011 had been an entire whirlwind. Its gonna take me a very long time to be able to write about all my experiences from that one incredible year. But eventually I will get there. I had just returned from travelling Indonesia and had a job lined up in Trento, Northern Italy. It was an au pair position, with English tutoring for a family of 4 children, all under the age of 10. It was a well-paid position with numerous perks of job shall we say. This family was offering me 100 Euro a week, all food expenses paid for and a fully furnished all bills paid for apartment in the middle of the city. Honestly, who would turn that down? The family were desperate to find an English girl to speak to their children and not someone who spoke English with a heavy accent. I had seen pictures of the children and had an awkward phone call with the mother, Anna. I was set to go.

As you may be aware by now, I like to make snap decisions. I don’t always think about things but I like to kid myself that I’ve thought everything through and it will all work out in the end. I thrive on making spontaneous choices, they don’t always work out but breaking free from my so called comfort zone is what I do best. I honestly thought this would be the best way to shock a few people yet again and embark on another adventure.

What I soon learnt was that this was just another attempt to run away from my life at home. It was just another attempt to go and find my “reality” elsewhere and forge a new life. Could I have a shot of happiness out in Italy? I thought I might as well give it ago. The struggles and misery that my home life gave me was just another push to go and seek more adventure. After all, I knew it would give me some sort of temporary happiness along the way that I could do something with.

I know I’ll never be truly happy. As heart-breaking as that may sound to some, I know I’ll never be totally satisfied with everything that I’ve managed to achieve or where I am in my life. Knowing that I’ll always want to do better brings me a slightly warped sense of comfort.

Okay, okay so back to the story.
I landed in Venice on the 2nd of September 2011. I collected my suitcase, took a deep breath and walked out in arrivals. Here I was going to meet Anna and two of the children. What a daunting prospect.
As soon as I walked out I immediately locked eyes with Anna. She ran over to me, gave me a slightly shall we say cold hug and introduced me to Luciana and Rosa. They looked at me with a pained expression and said Hello.I was bundled into their car and we set off. I was due to stay in Jesolo, Venice for two weeks with the family at their summer house. The family spent their entire summers out in Jesolo while the father stayed in Trento working.

I could tell Luciana was the chatty one. She asked me all sorts of questions on the journey and it was clear she had very good English and enjoyed talking to people. I immediately realised Rosa was in fact a little terror and within the first 15 minutes of meeting her she was causing all sorts of trouble.
We pulled up to these beautiful apartments. All glass fronted state of the art stuff. I sat quietly in the front seat; I had no idea what was going on. Anna jumped out and opened my door.

“This is your home”
WAIT. WHAT.

My summer home was a brand new million pound complex of apartments on the beach with two swimming pools. I nearly cried with excitement, I couldn’t have even cared less about the family or the job really. As I lugged my suitcase up the stairs I peered in. I had a huge lounge, two balconies, two bedrooms, state of the art shower and plasma on the wall. Man, this shit was fucking crazy.
That evening after I had settled in, I was picked up by Anna and walked down to their own apartment where they were staying. The beach was stunning and the sunset just breath-taking. I couldn’t believe I was here. I was greeted by the family. This included Elizabeth (10), Luciana (8), Rosa (6) and Alessandro (4) and Nonna (probably about 90, Italians don’t age). Nonna didn’t speak a word of English. She didn’t even try. The children looked at me pretty puzzled and came across and shy and tired. We ate the most delicious pasta discussing my life in broken English and me wondering exactly how I ended up here.

My first few days In Italy were a nightmare. I was told by Tiziana that I was required to work all day during the summer and English tutor, put them to bed etc. It was boiling hot and we spent every single day on the beach. Most adults will know that children can quite easily entertain themselves on the beach, and to be quite honest I felt under pressure and on edge. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I t was quite obvious that the children weren’t really that keen on me, speaking English or learning English. Little did I know how much of a problem this would eventually become.

I spent my days on the beach tanning, sitting in silence with Nonna and the children barely speaking to me. We had a few moments playing games which they enjoyed greatly and I felt a connection, like the connection I usually have with children. Difference is, I was used to teaching and looking after underprivileged children and not spoilt brats.

I had weekends and evenings off, in which I spent the entire time by myself. It was a lonely existence, enough to make you go pretty mad and it echoed the lonely times I had spent in Honduras, unable to speak the language and not knowing my surroundings. I tried to venture out. I walked to the shops. I actually got lost for five hours on my first walk, I couldn’t understand the mental bus system, with no one to help me and I ended up cutting my foot and in floods of tears. Jesolo actually has the longest outdoor shopping district in Europe but it just wasn’t the same by myself. It’s famous for being a top Italian tourist destination, so there were pretty much no English speakers there. Perhaps I should have ventured in to Venice more to find travellers. In all honesty, I felt a little out of my depth here. I knew this was just summer. What was waiting for me in Trento? Maybe that was where my real Italian adventure would begin.

It was nearing the end of my two week stint. I was in the car with Tiziana, Nonna and the two youngest children. It was time to head to my new home. We pulled up to a small stone house. I peered out unimpressed after the summer’s CRIBS episode. I jumped out unaware that this was in fact Nonna’s house and we were stopping for lasagne.

Cut a long story short, my apartment was suited in a large square on the third floor right in the centre of the city. The family lived opposite and owned the whole top level of the block. It was a comfortable place, with a huge cosy bed and sofa area. I could see the mountains from my window in the morning and I could walk to the historical Piazza Duomo town square in 5 minutes. Maybe after all I could find some peace here?
I spent my days struggling with the children. I’d pick the two youngest up from school, attempt to walk them home and then spend hours being ignored by them. If they had homework they never wanted to speak to me and if they wanted to play a game it was always intentionally in Italian so I couldn’t understand and I’d lose. I started to notice serious aggression in all four of the children. They would intentionally hurt one another, physically and try to hurt me too. Once Rosa threw a wooden brick so hard in my face and laughed her head off. They used to pull my hair and try and slam doors in my face. It was a horrendous experience. I tried everything I possibly could to make fun activities for them, in English. They spoke fluently so it shouldn’t have been a problem, but I noticed they were sick of being forced to learn extra English when their friends didn’t. They would whisper behind my back genuinely be so mean. God, children really can be so cruel. I never blamed them once for their behaviour; I knew it was all down to their useless parents. Anna didn’t even work, she used to go off for lunch or to get her nails done and leave me with the children screaming and desperate for her attention. Sometimes Anna used to leave and I had to physically hold Alessandro down with him screaming and punching me because he was desperate to go with her. He blamed me, and at four he didn’t know any different. It took a good 2 hours to calm him down sometimes, after he’d smashed up his entire bedroom. He was then forced to take comfort with me, because Anna didn’t return until late and Emilio, his father was never there. The children were all so frustrated and had serious behavioural issues. They ran wild and took their aggression out on me. Sometimes Anna would have friends round, none of them would speak English and they spent their entire time bitching about me, I knew exactly what was going on. The children pretty much hated me through no fault of my own which was so hard to deal with. I thought I was failing.
I’d pick the children up from school and they would run away and hide from me. Alessandro would run in the road, in front of cars and locals would look at me like I was mad. I would be screaming in the streets desperate for the children not to get hurt or lost. They literally had no discipline whatsoever and the parents didn’t seem to care.

I soon learnt that children run the household in Italian families. Children are very treasured and are often put on a pedestal, which gives them the freedom to run completely wild. Dinner times consisted of all the children throwing their food around the table and everyone including the adults eating with their mouths wide open and me watching on in disgust. There was bad vibes all round. Hygiene was also particularly bad; the children refused to ever wash their hands and barely ever washed. Their hair and clothes stank. I will never understand how this was deemed acceptable. The children would argue with me telling me they never needed to wash their hair, and then cried when they were forced too, so Tiziana just gave up.
Once Anna told me I must be firmer with them. I must “shout” at them when they misbehaved. This is when I knew this woman had no idea how to be a mother. She really didn’t have a clue. I couldn’t understand how she didn’t notice the erratic behaviour in her children, and how Luciana beating Rosa with a wooden spoon so hard she screamed in pain was not acceptable behaviour.

I spent my evenings in tears. What was I doing here? I didn’t know what to do with myself. I had nothing here and felt as if I had nothing at home. I couldn’t do my job properly and I just sat in misery. I knew I was never going to give up though. Why would I? I’d been stubborn for 19 years; I wasn’t going to change anytime soon.

I took to the internet and scoured blogs, forums and Facebook. Holy shit internet really can save your life. I found a girl, Cristina from Spain who posted on a forum that she had just moved to Trento as an Au pair. We exchanged numbers and met the next week. Cristina was bubbly and full of life, exactly what I needed. It was amazing what abit of comfort could do for the soul.

Within the next few weeks, we make connections with a few more Au pairs in the area and created a Facebook group to connect us all together. Once you met one au pair I found that the group was ever expanding. Tiziana’s next door neighbour had also employed an English girl too who would be doing much of the same stuff as I, so we spent a lot of the time playing with the children together and taking them to the park. Life improved dramatically. We had a whole group of au pairs; Cristina, Sarah, Sara, Alex, Lucy, Charlotte and Erika and we took weekend trips to Verona, Bolzano and Austria. We stood on Juliet’s balcony, visited the Ice Man and knocked back jaegers and danced with a ton of Austrians in a Christmas hut. We had great times. These weekends were almost like an escape within an escape. This where the real adventure began, and this I knew was the reason why I was doing this in the first place.

Weekends were spent visiting all the local bars and strange clubs in the city, which were full of Italian students that paid us no interest whatsoever. Honestly I have never visited anywhere less welcoming. No one ever wanted to speak English and always looked down on us. Every weekend we got disgustingly drunk, drinking ourselves overboard on 2 Euro cartons of wine. I’m not quite sure if I could have been anymore obviously drowning my sorrows. I spent Sundays throwing up and feeling sorry for myself. One weekend it was a holiday so we had 4 days off. I got so drunk I ended up having a huge fight in the Cantinota club after an old man had groped me and I ended up throwing up for 2 days straight with severe alcohol poisoning.

By the time November came I returned to London for two weeks after the love of my life, my Grandma passed away. My Dad had called me and asked if I wanted to return as they knew it was the end. As the closest person to her there was no decision to be made. I was straight home and at my Grandma’s bedside. She had been completely unconscious until I arrived and managed to get through to her. She woke when I arrived, completely stimulated by my voice and turned around and said “you look beautiful darling”. My Grandma was completely and entirely unconscious for about a week and the only person that could get through was me. I spoke to her and cried for hours asking what would I do without her and I know she could hear me because she squeezed my hand, struggled to move and seemed noticeably distressed. I stayed at her bedside until she passed away in which I cried uncontrollably and disrupted much of the ward. I was completely and utterly devastated. I removed her wedding ring from her finger and put it on mine. It’s been there ever since.

After the funeral I made the entirely wrong decision to go back to Italy. I was deeply depressed and in a horrendous place. The last thing I should have done was to go back to being by myself. But I was too stubborn and I returned.

Life in Italy spiraled out of control to say the least. When I returned, if I wasn’t sleeping I was crying uncontrollably and if I wasn’t working I was drinking. My Au pair friends helped me out a lot. I relied on them as my only form of comfort. I never once saw anyone else form my building and I’m glad I didn’t, because they must of thought I was mad screaming and crying myself to sleep every night. It was an awful, awful time.
The children hated me even more, and Anna asked me why I hadn’t contacted the children when I was away in London. I asked her why she thought I would be asking about her children when I was watching my Grandma die and she looked at me in disgust. This woman was nothing.

She knew I was unhappy. I was unhappy. But I was too stubborn to leave.

It was a week and a half before Christmas. Anna called me into the kitchen. She confronted me as to what was wrong. She told me the children didn’t like me. This made me angry. I had tried so hard with her nightmare bunch of children and all they wanted was their parent’s attention. I told her exactly that. I also told her that they were badly behaved. She looked like she was going to kill me. She told me to be firmer with them and I told her I wanted to stay. I have no idea why.

Parents at the school stared at me. They whispered and gave me filthy looks. I have no idea what was being said about me.

Two days later I arrived at the flat and there was a horrendous atmosphere. Anna ordered the children to go upstairs and took me to one side. She started screaming at me. She told me that she wanted to know what was wrong with me and she had found my Facebook. I was so puzzled. Anna told me that she had seen a comment I had posted to a friend saying that the children were “an absolute nightmare, and that I couldn’t cope with these bastards” or something along those lines. I had no idea my Facebook was even public nor how she even noticed this. To me in 2011 this was a pretty regular sort of comment and to be pretty danm honest they were bastards. Anna started crying. I’m not sure whether she was confused as to what the comment was about or what really. Her English was terrible and it was just so awkward. She asked to me, quote “to remove all of these horrible things I had written about her family”. Genuinely I thought this was slightly overboard, considering it was just a comment on my Facebook and no one she knew would ever see it.

I gathered that was my queue to leave. I gave the children a quick hug, wished them luck and Anna waited by the door and pushed me out. The children actually seemed pretty distraught to see me go. I guess they spend their lives waiting for the next Au pair to come along and have to get used to someone knew. The children once confided in me how they didn’t want a new Au pair. Anna told me I was to leave ASAP and return the keys to her.

It was over.

Well, it wasn’t quite over because I had the next issue of getting the entire contents of my flat into my bags and getting myself to the airport. I couldn’t physically carry anything I had. It was a disaster. I ended up managing to grab a lift from my American friend, Alex and her host family.

So there I was, on Christmas Eve 2011

Standing at the top pf the escalators and peering down. I had two suitcases, two holdalls, a handbag and a huge plastic bag full of wrapped Christmas presents.

How was I going to get down the escalators with all of this stuff?

Advertisements

THE CURSE OF THE OH SO VERY SMARTPHONE

It has come to my attention in recent years that smart phones can potentially destroy lives.

No, not literally, but the ability we have to connect our (very) smart phones to any free wireless connection in the world can damage not only our experiences, but what exactly we are seeing in front of us.

As a traveller I have found it harder and harder to cope with the ever growing technological lifestyle. When I first set off travelling in 2010 I didn’t have an iPhone. I had a phone that wouldn’t allow me to connect to any sorts of Wi-Fi. I didn’t know any different. I relied on good old internet cafes. (And what a wonderful thing they are!) Internet cafes not only limit your time you have on the net also stop prevent one from being disgustingly vain (I mean you’re not gonna take webcam selfies) or talking to people, that quote frankly don’t mean a lot. The curse of having an iPhone to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots means that we have to deal with all that bullshit vibrating through (you know what I mean) WhatsApp messages from some guy you met last year in a bar, spam emails asking you to protect your life insurance, snapchats of pets, university announcements, club event invites, Tinder matches, creepy tinder messages, birthday reminders for some lunatic you haven’t spoken to in 5 years, chain mails, and most importantly JUST A LOAD OF SHIT THAT MEANS NOTHING.

The worst part about it is that WE ALL FALL FOR IT. We are all addicted to our phones. So we’re sitting out and before we know it we’re scrolling through Facebook blah blah blah and OMG JESSICA FROM COLLEGE IS PREGNANT???!!!! AGAIN??? I mean, honestly why are we even interested? Do we even know this person anymore? I hate myself for it.

It’s obvious that smart phones have their benefits, but what about the influence they have on the experience we are having? Personally for me, travelling, concerts and even nights out have all been spoilt by silly human beings (including myself) who are glued to what is actually happening on our screens rather than right in front of us. How many of us have been to concert and the majority of the audience are watching the actual concert through their screens rather than enjoying what is happening on stage? I nearly had to stand on a girl’s head at the Beyoncé concert this year because this bitch had her tablet out recording. That damn near huge piece of technology was nearly blocking my entire view of Queen B.

I hate myself for being so attached to my phone; it’s the one thing that aggravates me most when I’m out to dinner or in a bar and the majority of people are flicking through their twitter feeds or even worse snapchats. This is in no way a hypocritical blog, I myself when I am in London are glued to Snapchat and twitter to pass the time on long train journeys or lectures (shoot me!) But I personally am able to detach myself from that life, a simple read on the train or making a few notes in my diary is more than enough to satisfy me if my battery dies.

But do we really need to have our phones out on the tables at dinner? Where has the art of conversation disappeared to? Do we really need to be sharing with the world exactly how pretty our dinner is? Is this just habit? Unfortunately we have now become obsessed with sharing our locations, our food, our family, our friends, our selfies. But why do we feel the need to share everything with predominately strangers? Is it simply an ego boost? Do those 50 likes on insta allow us to sleep easier at night? Am I going to wake up in a cold sweat if my latest selfie hasn’t reached the crucial 11 like mark?

No, but there probably is someone out there reading this who knows someone who does.

Where do we go from here? It appears that the social media could possibly have reached saturation. Have we explored every avenue? Kyle Bylin for Hypebot describes what we live in now as an “always-plugged-into-social-network reality”. But with 2.5 billion global internet users the possibilities are endless. I am always intrigued when travelling to Asia the amount of locals that have a Facebook account. It really is so intriguing. I recently travelled India and visited the largest slum in Asia and low and behold there were tons of guys with their camera phones and some without, begging to take pictures for their Facebooks. Anyone you come across always requests to be your friend on Facebook, especially in Asia its an absolute privilege to have a white western on your friends list.(They show how happy they are by liking and commenting on anything and everything) In Nepal, our project leader told us to keep the Wi-Fi password a secret because otherwise all the locals would stand outside the house and start uploading pictures to their Facebooks.

Amazing huh?

When the world really does become your oyster (or maybe even your lobster)

To a non-traveller I don’t think I’ll ever be able to explain the passion of travel that gives me nothing but pure therapy. It gives me therapy in the same way putting all this thunderstorm in my head down on paper does to my soul. I mean hey, It’s cheaper than rehab or a one hour slot at your local support centre right?

Well maybe not, but the experiences and people give you nothing but riches. The famous Tumblr quote “Travel makes you richer” although it makes me want to punch a small cat is actually very accurate. Travelling isn’t just about having a year away from your clingy parents on a prolonged gap year, or an escape from a stressful and meaningless life at home. It’s so much more than that, and that’s the part that a non-traveller will just never get their head around.

When I first returned from my first set of travels in December 2011, the first thing my Grandma asked me was “How was your holiday?” I looked at her in disgust. I hadn’t just been on holiday. In fact I’d been working at two volunteer projects, one in Honduras and one in Fiji then travelled parts of Asia before landing myself a job in Italy. Each part had been nothing but tough and much more of a challenge than a lot of people could ever even imagine. I responded to my Grandma with “I went travelling for God sake Grandma, it’s completely different to a holiday.” This confused her even more and before I knew it we were having nothing more than a heated debate between a holiday and a travelling adventure.

I know we have to excuse the bemused elderly more times than we would often care but trying to explain to an 84 year old the prospect of staying in hostels crawling with cockroaches, cooking your own food over gas stoves, travelling by public transport with questionable locals and living on a budget is my idea of heaven.

There really is something about the people you meet travelling. There is no way of describing how interesting the selection of people you meet is. From the 33 year old hippy living in the Hostel smoking up every night, to the couple on the path to exploring Buddhism and to the bloke from London who took all his 3 weeks holiday off work at once. The variety of people is just incredible and the connections you make with people you only met 2 days ago even more incredible. The openness of individuals you meet has such a stark contrast to everyone at home. Why do I want to spend my entire life with people that are so closed and carry round this huge barrier with them? I crave good conversation, not just about travelling, but conversation with MEANING. Conversation which involves not discussing what I’m wearing at the weekend or what colour I’m going to dye my hair next. I have an awful habit of becoming extremely uninterested in people and conversations like this, I just switch off entirely. Famously, travellers all have a mutual respect for one another and this is my favourite aspect. No one is in competition with one another, you’re all there for the same reason and why would anyone want to spoil their own time away? Listening to people’s traveling stories is my favourite activity. It inspires me so.

People tell me about this incredible lost temple, this remote beach, this fantastic project and the culture, smells and vibrancy of a city and it excites me in too many ways. This excites me in perhaps the same way a gadget lover would queue up for the new iphone at ridiculous o’clock or a fashion lover would drool over the new Hermes Bag in Vogue mag.

I can only describe my passion for travel by thinking of it in a way which removes myself from the present. I feel as if though my life can just stop still for a while and I can just appreciate the smaller things in life. I appreciate that I am very fortunate to be able to detach myself so from everyday life, but perhaps I just was never that attached in the first place. To me, there is no better feeling than feeling free, and this is exactly the way in which I feel when I have the opportunity to embrace an entirely different culture to my own. The growing pains of facing everyday Groundhog Day in “reality” is a pull in the wrong direction for me. I want travel to become my reality instead, and I don’t see how it can’t eventually.

I’ve often been described as “intense” and “deep”. I take this as nothing but a compliment. Travelling has changed my life entirely and I will continue to grasp as many new adventures and wild experiences by the bucket load until I reach the end of my days. I may “over-think” everything but honestly what is life if you don’t overthink it? Life is anything but simple. It’s a complex web of years that require choices and fulfilment and so so so much adventure. Sure, travelling requires confidence, but what doesn’t these days? Going for that first grad job or first date can be more daunting than anything, but what the hell is life without a bit of fear and a little challenge?

I tell my Dad how happy I am. His response is this “Well I think everyone is happy while their on holiday, Flo”.
JUST NO.
The constant battle of being misunderstood. I mean what the hell I thought this only happened during your teenage years? Am I subject to this for the rest of my life?

I don’t believe in comfort zones. What I do believe is that comfort zones provide nothing but a false sense of security and an excuse for individuals to stick to with what they know. Escaping from your comfort zone is genuinely liberating, once you do it once you’ll do it again. Finding a passion that is against the so called “norm” makes you an interesting individual.

“The traveling bug” is one of my pet hates. I often associate this with gap year travellers, those who join tour groups and set off on a 6 month slot of nothing but partying and being promiscuous and return with the notion that they want to do it all again, but just end up going to Ibiza the following year, and well, just doing exactly the same thing all over again.

I suppose though, maybe I did catch the so called “Travelling Bug”. I caught and held on tightly to the sense of adventure and accomplishment traveling brought me and genuinely never wanted to let go. I’m sure there would be many people reading this that assume I’m a pompous rich bastard who can quite freely gallivant around the world but let me assure you this: I am not. But maybe I will be one day… Once I’ve made my millions out of being a writer and the world really does become my oyster (or perhaps even my lobster) I guarantee I will be gallivanting as much as I please.

I like that word. Gallivanting.

The U.N states that Honduras is the most dangerous country on the planet. I travelled here alone aged 18. My Honduras story finally told.

ARRIVING IN HONDURAS AGED 18

I’ve never really told my Honduran story before. But it sure is an interesting and complex one. I was 18. I quit my job working for TOPMAN in September 2010 and told everyone I was leaving for Central America in 5 weeks time. I was lost and to be quite frank couldn’t be asked to go to university. I just wanted to roam free and let my free spirit take over.

I had been browsing online and stumbled across a link for teaching English up a mountain in a remote place.

SOUNDS PERFECT

I can’t even lie. I barely read the info. I called up the volunteer programme that day and booked. I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t even know where Honduras was. Lord only knows where I inherited this spontaneity from. Virtually nothing fazes me. The UN states that Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world. I didn’t think much into it. For me, it’s all or nothing. I like extreme experiences and half-hearted adventures leave me nothing but disappointed. I googled where I was heading. Copán Ruinas. Copán Ruinas is a municipality in the Honduran department of Copán. The town, located close to the Guatemalan border, is a major gateway for tourists traveling to the Pre-Columbian ruins of Copán. It looked beautiful. And most importantly peaceful. Maybe I would finally find some peace here.

I told my Dad. He turned pale and asked why I always have to “go over the top” with everything. My answer was simple. “Yeah whatever life’s short”. I wasn’t fazed by this upcoming adventure but was perhaps very naive as to what I would actually encounter in this incredibly third world country. What I was to come up against was weeks of emotional turbulence and huge challenges. I never believed that such an experience would honestly change everything about me but It 100% did. I returned with an entirely different outlook on life and can honestly say was one of the hardest times of my entire life.

The day arrived. My Dad was completely and utterly shitting himself but he knew there was nothing that would stop me on this adventure. I have always been incredibly mature for my age, even at 18 I felt like I could take on the whole world and the challenge that I undertook was a mean feat for someone so young. Honestly most people my age or even now would have crumbled under that immense pressure.

First up I arrived in New York. It was late at night and it was an 9 hour wait until my next flight. I was due to wait in the airport but two hours after waiting the cleaners started arriving and I knew something was up.
They were shutting the terminal.

What the fuck. I didn’t have a hotel or even a phone that worked. Next minute I know I was having a huge panic attack. I’d never had a panic attack before. I couldn’t breathe and I was screaming and crying and trying to suppress my tears in front of the cleaners. I was genuinely panicking so hard with what to do. I sat outside and snow started to fall. I smoked a whole packet of fags and got it together. I bought a phone card and rang a nearby hotel.

My alarm rang. It was 4am and I’d paid $120 dollars for 5 hours in a hotel. GREAT.

Soon I was back at the airport, boarding my flight to Honduras. I was sat next to a tiny Honduran woman that kept giving me boiled sweets. I think she sensed my nervousness. As we landed into Honduras I leant over my flight partner to look out the window. It was the most green, plush place I had ever seen. SO SO BEAUTIFUL.

I was met at the airport and boarded a bus with my new project leader. It was a local bus and full of drunks and screaming children. I sat on the bus for a total of 3 hours up a mountain next to a huge man with a large beard. Every time we turned a corner he fell closer to me and his sweet smelling beer spilling onto my plimsolls. The sides of the bus were open. I could smell the air. It smelt so fresh. The climate was muggy and uncomfortable. Children noticed me from the paths and screamed and shouted and even waved passing through each village. This was my first taste of absolute poverty. People were sitting in the gutters begging and children so skinny. I automatically felt touched by these people, a feeling I soon realised would never go away. The scenery was incredible. Honduras is a mountainous country, with beautiful rolling hills covered in rainforests.

We arrived into Copán Ruinas late evening. The place was small and full of cobbled streets and Spanish style open buildings. I was walked up to my new home. I knocked on the door. My new Mum opened the door. A small smiling Hispanic woman opened the door and hugged me so hard. This was Tina. Conversation was limited. She only spoke Spanish and I, only English (minus the few phrases I’d learnt on the plane).
I entered my room. It was a simple room with an en suite and huge bed. I was told my host family was one of the richest in the entire town. Tomorrow I would be meeting for orientation and to enrol in Spanish school.
So here I was. Up a mountain in the middle of “The most dangerous country in the world” without a single word of their spoken language nor a mobile phone. I was petrified. I slept deeply and awoke with Tina knocking at my door asking me numerous questions I could not understand.

I enrolled at Spanish school. I automatically felt relieved. The school was outdoors and I could see vivid parrots flying overhead while I went through my lessons. Nelly was the most beautiful teacher and spent hours smiling at me from the other side of the desk and hugging me after each lesson. I had two days before I would start at La Escuela at San Rafael. It took me a couple of days before I built up the confidence to wonder about Copán Ruinas. It was single handily the most intimidating place I had ever been. As I wondered the streets I was petrified I’d get lost and not be able to ask for directions back. I soon found out I was pretty much one of about 5 people that could speak English in the whole town. Armed guards marched the streets and questioned locals. Anyone and everyone stared. I Wherever I wondered I would turn around and find a group of children following me. They would laugh and giggle and chase me down the street. I stopped and sat on the kerb while the girls played with my hair. They tried to speak to me but I found it so hard to communicate and became more and more frustrated. They opened a black bag. It was full of handmade corn dolls all different shapes, sizes and colours. I was immediately taken a back. They were beautiful.
I reached into my bag. Careful not show my money. (I was a millionaire in this country) I gave them all the equivalent of £20. The children couldn’t believe their eyes. They kissed me gave me the entire contents of their bags and ran all the way home shouting. I now was the proud owner of 26 corn dolls. Not bad for £20 I thought. I later found out this is more than most families earn in months.I continued to give the children majority of my money throughout the stay without telling my project, and i don’t regret this at all. Actually, on my last weekend the street children came to find me to give me a homemade card and CD that they’d found to say Thank You. I was absolutely touched.

150026_459947875543_1926925_n
75876_459193465543_2659083_n

My alarm buzzed, it was 4am. This was life now. 4am everyday set for school. I ate my pancakes in Tina’s kitchen surrounded by chickens and children. In my whole time living with Tina I never understood how many children or grandchildren she actually had. I walked the three streets down the hill to the main square where the pickup truck arrived. We all scrambled in. This was the journey now to school, all piled in the back of the truck sitting on plastic bags up the mountain. The air was so heavy and the clouds hadn’t cleared. By the time I got to the top my hair was easily 6 times the size. We passed the rice plantations as workers waved at us every day and hundreds of men sleeping on the streets.

I was introduced to my class.It soon became apparent that i wasn’t in fact teaching English, but ALL classes in SPANISH. WOW. Just another challenge i knew I’d have to overcome. I was overwhelmed. My class was a group of 22 7-8 year olds and I was named Miss Flor. (short for flower). The children immediately welcomed me. I was jumped on a hugged as soon as a arrived. The children were so loving, they felt my face as if they couldn’t quite believe I was real. My first week consisted of assisting the only existing teacher at the school and attempting to communicate with the children. I felt pressured and had to learn quickly when it came to answering the children’s questions. They were understanding and so full of life. Within a week I was dictating to the children to read pages, answer questions and teaching maths and natural sciences in Spanish. I was so overcome with the progress I had made after a tough few days. I rewarded the children with sparkly London stickers and gel pens. I really didn’t think anyone loved sparkly stickers as much as me.

76952_460135580543_4986250_n

At 12 every day we would offer the children a meal. This was rice, beans and a flour tortilla. Each child brought a container with them to collect their food in. The most suffering of children didn’t even have a plate to eat from and I watched as they ate from their hands. I was heartbroken to watch the almost skeletal little ones fight in the queue for food and then eat two or three beans and put the rest under their desk to take home for their families. They were starving themselves and I later found out that nearly all children walked a total of 2 hours each day across the mountains to school on an empty stomach.

75780_459960870543_7408072_n
154293_460167660543_4628227_n
148495_459974550543_2485445_n

Each evening was spent at a roof top café lesson planning overlooking the entire town. I never anticipated how much work it would take. The project run by GVI (Global vision international) was dedicated and clear about what they wanted the children to learn and how much work we were required to put in. There were two other volunteers. Both in their 30s and two project leaders in their late 20s. They constantly supported me and were astounded at how young I actually was. I will be forever thankful for them. Each night I spent doing Spanish homework and making worksheets. In between the tears and being terrified of my surroundings, I had never been happier.

On Tuesdays we volunteered at a local orphanage. We had been briefed before of the low standards and utter poverty that these children were living in. I prepared to have my heart broken. The orphanage was a short walk from the village. It was a small house run by “nannies” which I later nicknamed “evil bitches” when I found out they had been abusing the children and stealing all of the donation money. I arrived and was met with the most overwhelming love I have ever experienced in my entire life. The children (and roam dogs) jumped into my arms. They stunk of urine and were filthy and were unclothed but I didn’t care. I wanted to give them everything I had. We played games and activities and read stories. There were babies there too and the “nannies” allowed them to sit in soiled nappies and hit them when they cried. Each week when I left the same children held onto my legs and screamed when I left. They were so adorable and I still hold my promise to this day that one day I would love to look into returning and finding some of those children again. We were not allowed to take photos here but I can still remember their faces so vividly.

154205_460161550543_8170504_n

I spent the whole evening sitting in a bar myself crying my eyes out desperate to think what I could do to help. I was at loose end because I knew I wasn’t allowed to involve myself in the project and damage the reputation of GVI. If I was to enforce anything on the nannies then it could risk GVI being involved at all at the orphanage and putting the children at an even higher risk. I couldn’t donate money either; it would go straight into the pockets of the wrong people. I was so frustrated I was unable to do ANYTHING. My friend Jesus who worked on the bar informed me of the reality of Honduras and how there was little anyone could really do. His country was corrupt and it upset him so. This really hit home. (I was a regular at the bar by now)

Virtually my entire time in Honduras was spent alone. This was one of the biggest mental challenges I had ever come across. It was a lonely time but was overshadowed by the vast amount I was achieving. I visited the famous 5th century ancient Mayan ruins alone and climbed to the top of the pyramids to take copious selfies. (pretty sure selfie didn’t exist in 2010, but yeah) This was incredible and just felt so alive.
Weekends following included a stay at a coffee plantation, wild horse rides to a ranch and bathing naked in the hot springs. (here I felt really alive as you can imagine). I met numerous Americans who helped me along the way and were untimely puzzled to come across an 18 year old traveling alone.

155215_459987960543_7925476_n
77192_459984310543_6866481_n76177_459411255543_2180521_n150084_459997055543_1182664_n
155665_459950695543_6169712_n

I spent weeks working at the school and building incredible relationships with the children. I was comfortable to have my own class by now without supervisation and we played outdoor games and i bought them craft resources they’d never even seen before. Each day was a mental and physical challenge and i was undergoing tests at Spanish school which I was struggling with. It was a constant battle but bought me nothing but rewards everyday. Each day I spent smiling and overwhelmed with love from all the children at that school I can still to this day remember all of their names and have photos and mementos from all of them.

76852_459973610543_4429214_n

522187_10151094868660544_400994966_n (1)

148300_460173505543_4956277_n

The day I departed the school was single handedly the most overwhelming day of my entire life. Each child had drawn me cards and posters and made me feel so special. I later translated all their letters which were along the lines of “Please come back you have taught us so much and we love you”. I was so sad and disappointed I was leaving but i knew it was time for another challenge. The children screamed and hugged me as i left and some even cried. They begged me to come back “Te vamos a extrañar” and “cuando vas a volver” was ringing in my ears. As the truck drove off the children ran down the street screaming my name. I cried way too much.

My journey home from Honduras was the most eventful I have ever embarked on. This was the amusing part of my entire adventure. The evening I left I headed to the bar to see my friend Jesus and two other volunteers. There were Americans and two hours later I’d had 5 tequilas and 3 wines and was running the streets of Copan. Alicia and I headed to an Honduran club. What an experience. I can barely remember this entire time but i certainly remember being groped by numerous men while there was a live singer and no DJ and there was certainly sand between my toes. Very. Very confusing. I had been abandoned by new American friend who had run off with a short local and i was returned to my house. I had three hours to sleep this off and i was already throwing up all over the entire room. WHAT THE FUCK I HADN’T EVEN PACKED.

I awoke to Tina knocking on my door. I was SO ill and I started throw the entire contents of my bag on the floor. Tina was so upset I was leaving. We had an emotional depart and i gave her everything. I just abandoned most of my stuff and legged it to the bus. I bought a beautiful handmade bag to which i spent the entire journey to the airport throwing up in. The whole bus had moved away from me and I continued to throw up on myself and the seats. It was horrendous. I have barely ever drunk tequila since. The memories haunt me. I left the bag on the bus and ran to the airport.

I checked in. My bag was mental overweight. I bought plates and everything and would have had to pay hundreds to get it home. I grabbed a load of clothes asked the security to watch my bag and legged it outside. Surrounding the airport was thousands of beggars. I gave everyone a pile of clothes and food. They looked at me like i was mental then grabbed my hand and kissed it. There we go. I AM NOW GOING TO HEAVEN.

I ran back inside. It was under an hour til my flight. I went through security and noticed a sign. “MUST PAY TAXES”. WHAT? WHAT TAXES? I ran to the cashpoint. The screen flashed BLOCKED. My card was blocked. I grabbed my phone. INSUFFICIENT FUNDS. SHIT. I CAN’T LEAVE THE COUNTRY. I had no money and no phone credit. I had to board my flight in 20 minutes. I sat on the floor and cried. I couldn’t speak to anyone and i just felt pathetic.

10 minutes til my flight…

I WAS GONNA MISS IT. I felt a tap on my shoulder a small woman with glasses looked at me with piercing eyes. “Stop crying my darling what is wrong?” I told her my situation through floods of tears and she spoke to me in an American accent. She owned a bookshop in Rotorua. She placed 50 US Dollars into my hand and closed it. This angel gave me her business card and told me to run. So, just like Forrest i ran to the gate and paid my fines. I made it onto my flight just at the gate was closing. I let out the biggest sigh of relief, and that was that.

I MADE IT.

154182_459405410543_2327258_n