Trying hard to stop the paralysing wave of panic, he compared the red bite marks on his leg one last time to the photos on his laptop’s screen. There was no doubt about it now. He bit his lower lip as another drop of sweat formed at the top of his spine and made its way slowly down his back. A tuk-tuk driver screamed something intangible at one of the waitresses as he whizzed past. The ceiling fan whirred away noisily over his head. And he just sat there, motionless, listening to everything and nothing, as he allowed that bitter feeling to sink; he was a victim.
Eventually, he took a deep breath and picked up his burger in order to steady his wild thoughts. But the place stank of old ketchup and fried meat and he couldn’t get the images of the slaughtered animals in the town’s market – river turtles cut in half, juvenile caimans tied up with filthy ropes, and huge, sinewy vultures sitting on the roofs and squabbling over the animal innards scattered all over the place – out of his mind. He put the burger down, took a sip of his lukewarm bottled water and pushed the plate away.
He paid his bill, thanked the waitress nonetheless, and walked out into… a light drizzle. ‘Of course!’He thought bitterly to himself as he lamented himself for leaving his rain jacket back at the hostel. Suddenly, he had a strong urge to have a good cry.
‘At least no one would see the tears in the rain‘ he mused, as he dodged people and puddles on his path back to his hostel.
He was alone and somewhat lost in Iquitos. Located deep in the Amazonian rainforests of Northern Peru and without a single road connecting the city to the outside world, Iquitos was nothing like the tropical haven of wooden structures and thatch-roofed edifices he had imagined it to be. It had clearly seen better days, as remnants of the once-grand, but now-forgotten promenade with its colonial architecture proved. But 21st century and the booming tourism industry had brought the city nothing but more Capital, crowds and a general feeling of a lost opportunity.
He had travelled to Iquitos on a river boat over three days. The long daylight hours stretching from the horizon to horizon were filled with books, music or conversations with the only other foreigners onboard the vessel. Surprisingly mature and well travelled, they provided marvellous company in one of the loneliest stretches of his trip.
But of course their paths had to separate at some point, and now they were gone. Perhaps unwisely, he started listing all the other unfortunate events which had befallen him over the last few weeks; his phone broken, fixed at a high cost, then water-damaged and gone, his hard-drive damaged with all his photos and stories, his GoPro playing up, his laptop’s battery in need of repair… God, how he hated whingeing! He tried to remain positive, but then he remembered the bedbug bites on his legs and he felt well and truly cursed.
But was it really all those incidents which were the cause of his unhappiness? Or was he simply depleted after months of solo travel, having to endure the constant demands of the open road on his own? Of course, he knew that that was just the price which every solo traveller had to pay in return for their boundless freedom (at least on the surface), but knowledge alone does not always make one feel better about something.
By the time he got back to the hostel, the rain had stopped and the air felt somewhat fresher. He bought a beer at the reception and climbed the stairs to the rooftop, where he hoped to enjoy a sun-downer.
But before he could crack the bottle open, something draws his attentionIn the gathering darkness; a black resistance band resting like a black snake on the waist-high wall. He picked it up, holding it by its handles and felt his tension melt into the band’s elasticity. It felt like a sign; as if the snake was beckoning him to take the bait. He hadn’t done a good workout in a long time and he knew that band could get him out of his own grim head-space.
He put the beer down, untouched.
‘Always remember that you at least have a choice! You can always just pack up and go home if you ever stop enjoying travelling.’ He remembered someone telling him once. And now, as he physically pushes himself ever harder, his muscles aching with the effort, he realises that he does have a choice; he can either mourn for himself or do something about his rotten spirits.
Perhaps it was time for him to realise that travelling – just like life itself – can cause one some real fucking pain.
‘But what that pain leads to, whether it kicks me down and keeps me there, or makes me roar and get back up again, that bit was all up to me.’ He thought to himself as he got down on another set of push-ups.
‘And me alone.‘