I guess it all started with Australia. After failing to get into university, a new world opened up for me. They say when one door closes, another opens, and this is fundamentally true for most of my life.
Whilst some opportunities didn’t work out the way I thought, others blossomed into a world I could never have expected. In the four years since I left education, I have learnt more than I ever did in my first 18 years. I worked like a dog, in-between numerous road trips and make shift houses, travelling around the southern hemisphere. After surviving the deadly creatures of Australia, the reefs of Bali and dengue in South East Asia, I once again fell back into the clutches of a ‘normal’ life. I was working in a cocktail bar full of people who maybe I would have become, if I had succeeded in my attempts to get into university, but everyday, whilst serving drinks to the suited and slicked clientele, I couldn't help but realise how far I had slipped from this world that I had at one point been so eager to be a part of. I longed to take off my shoes, let my hair loose, feel the sun burn my skin and eat food fresh from the ocean.
I was stuck in a rut, as many of us find ourselves. Earning enough to live but never feeling alive. Until one day, one grey, damp, January morning, I woke up with just a little more freedom than I had gone to bed with. I had been granted my tax rebate from my year abroad working in Australia, and I ran. I remember not even thinking, I needed no more encouragement. I walked into the bar, elevated and full of the promise of what was to come. It wasn't hard to quit that job. I felt no worry or remorse. By saying a few simple words I granted myself the life I had been longing for.
As spring rolled around, the van still had plenty of work to be done. But with the warmer temperatures and the roadie knocking at the door, our productivity skyrocketed. The bed frame was assembled, we finished laying the floor, built some storage boxes, and mounted some 1970’s pivoting captain’s chairs that were fresh out the box. As Lova put together the final interior touches it was time to move in – ohhhhh lordy, a full house squished into a van. We ditched everything bar the essentials: books, guitar, summer clothes, and hiking, camping and camera gear. We donated everything else – anything we couldn’t shove away in a tight space. Then, with a little persuasion, we gently closed the doors and cracked ourselves a beer. We had somehow managed to create a functional rolling home for the next six months.
The sun seemed to appear from behind the clouds that had been hanging over me, and a week later I was flying to a country I had never heard of, with no previous knowledge of the language, culture or climate. With nothing but a backpack and an outlook that asked for everything to be thrown at me, because I was ready for anything.
So maybe it all started with a little black dog, no bigger than a beer bottle, lying on the scolding pavement, skinny and shiny, barely opening its eyes, a chain around its neck and no future in sight. I saw myself in that little dog, that feeling of no escape, of a life unlived, and bleak prospects. And once again, I did not think or worry, I hardly even questioned the feat I was about to attempt. I had no plans until that moment, and a new adventure started for us as we walked away down the street, and hopped on a bus heading north.
In Central America you can ride on the roof of the buses. Sitting on the rusty racks, with a puppy on a my lap, ducking stray branches, feeling the hot, dry air dance with my hair, I questioned where I was going, what I was doing. The houses we passed were barely standing, fashioned from metal salvaged from scrap yards, wood washed up on the untamed shores, plastic stolen from abandoned machinery and factories. The kids playing in the street laughed and waved when they saw the girl with skin so pale, hair so blonde from sun and salt she must be from worlds away, and the black puppy in her arms. The Nicaraguan sun beat down upon us, and we rolled to a stop in a tiny town, with little more than fishing boats and farmland scattering the sides of the only road, in and out.
Here me and Nica hid from the decision I had made, met many beautiful people, learnt to speak a little Spanish and to ride horses, and surfed in all the free time I had from the project we were living on, in a converted school bus abandoned from the North of America, teaching children to share and play, and keeping them out of trouble. The sand burnt my feet and Nicas paws, as we ran towards the waves and the warm waters with all the little boys that spent their days surfing and repairing boards in the shade.
I met a boy called Carlos, who’s uncle was called Carlos, and who's father was called Carlos, and who's little brother was called Carlitos (little Carlos). They lived on a shrimp farm miles away from the village. One day, he took me to his Finca. We set off in the afternoon, after surfing and having helped the fisherman push their little wooden boats down the beach to the waters edge for that nights fishing. When the tide was low, the peninsula was half dry, and me, Nica, Carlos and Kenny walked silently across the sun baked mangrove flats, away from the village and into the forest. As we delved deeper into the mangroves the water returned, and we picked our way through the roots, ankle deep in dirty water, the mangroves forming a tunnel, often trodden, away from the ramshackle houses and children playing in the dirt.
Carlitos cycled as far as he could on his rusty bike, then abandoned it, splashing through the sodden path behind us, playing with Nica and singing in Spanish. The water was rising and I held my skirt up around my waist, with my boots over my shoulder. A little boat was moored on one side, and lifting Nica in, we clambered aboard. We paddled out of the forest with a shovel, and broke into the light. The sun was setting and we crossed a huge river, the water shining pink and the sky glowing with the dying fire of the day.
I dropped Nica over the edge of the boat to swim to shore, to cool off and avoid the mosquitos. Tying the rickety little rowing boat to a tree on the opposite side, we walked barefoot down the dirt track, meeting relatives of Carlos along the way, some in their own little boats upon the lakes on either side of us, slowly manoeuvring through the shrimp farm with long sticks and nets. Everything shone in the sunset, the earth and water was bathed in gold.
That night we sat in candle light in Carlos’ mud house, surrounded by cats and dogs and chickens and pigs. White cattle with curling horns grunted outside, the stars shining so brightly in the darkness of a night, undisturbed by light or electricity. A full moon hung over us, the men lying in hammocks strung up above the kitchen table, a small fire in the corner to deter insects and keep us warm. The world was silent, and we talked of my mission to bring my little dog home safely, the adventure I was soon to undertake.
The plan that I would have to formulate with much thought and research. It sounded impossible, the words I was saying. Carlos even offered to keep Nica, he said he would look after her on the farm, he would love her how I loved her, maybe the things I was saying were crazy, maybe I needed to be realistic. But with Nica curled up on my dirty feet, her tail wound around my ankles, I knew there was no leaving her. There was no me without her anymore. And with that we slowly formulated a plan so complex and confusing that I didn’t really know if it were possible, but navigating half a country alone had proved that I had the ability to navigate a few more. I knew a few sleepless nights, hungry days and dodgey hitch hiked rides were to entail, but when I looked at the scrawny animal curled around my legs, I knew I had asked for her, and she had asked for me, and there was no getting rid of each other.
Words by Lottie Lewis