Wanders and Wonders
I find that living abroad is a bit like having two lives. While your current, physical self is getting on with the day-to-day realities – banal as well as surprising – of making a life in a South American metropolis, the ego also imagines another, doubly absent self that continues to somehow be part of the home and connections you’ve left behind.
So to take a holiday from being abroad in order to go and – briefly – re-inhabit the ‘you’ that exists ‘back home’, and then to return again to the foreign life, is to feel acutely this split existence. I was in Cochabamba long enough last year that returning to the city this week after more than a month back in the UK for Christmas has, like arriving in England itself, a feeling of going back to something very familiar. The home from home. (Even though I don’t actually have a fixed abode here right now…).
Moving into a new year is an odd thing. 2010 – when I initially left for the Americas – now seems like a very long time ago (I was still in my twenties!). It was already last year, the start of December, that I schlepped across Peru to catch my homecoming flight to London; a timeframe that feels even more distorted since I have just reentered the southern hemisphere in midsummer (mainly hot and sunny in Cochabamba, though the rumbling of thunderheads right now recalls that it is supposed to be rainy season here in the Andes).
I bracketed the trip home at both ends with a few days by the Pacific (why not eh?). On the outward (i.e. homebound) journey I finally spent more than a handful of hours in Lima, and now admit that the Peruvian capital does have its charming elements. Mainly Barranco, a boho-chic seaside neighbourhood designed for drinking sundowner cocktails and getting chatted up by stoned percussionists. Coming back (home??) to Bolivia last week I again flew into Lima, slept in the airport, then took a 1,200km detour to Mancora on the north coast. After six weeks intensive socialising in the UK I needed a bit of a break…Mancora’s a fairly notorious party spot in Peru; a still pretty makeshift pueblito whose entire existence is geared towards tourism of the ‘get drunk-wake at midday-mooch on the beach/go surfing-get drunk again’ variety. So that’s what I did for a couple of days (with mooching, not surfing). Special mention to the DJs in the reggae bar for some great selections, and especially the late night old-skool D’n’B set. Clásico.
In between is a well-fed blur of “catching up”. I definitely achieved my goal of getting reacquainted with the inimitable Great British Public House. Another special mention goes here to The Britannia by Vicky Park for being huge, selling bottles of Prosecco for ten quid on New Year’s Day, and having a ping-pong table.
I had grand plans for cultural immersion, but in the end sitting in the pub with mates you haven’t seen in over a year was the most appealing kind of entertainment. I managed one great gig though – Getatchew Mekuria and The Ex at the ever-refreshing Rich Mix. A mention here to the tiny, unassuming-looking Dutch woman who was both an excellent drummer and sang in fluent Ethiopian with a nightingale’s voice.
If you’re only going to manage one visit to the theatre on a visit back to London, then it might as well be ‘Hamlet’. Michael Sheen absolutely lived up to expectations as the Prince in the Young Vic’s production, which was impressive overall. Gallery-wise I loved the Gerhard Richter retrospective at Tate Modern. Previously only familiar with his photorealism stuff it was a joy to discover the breadth of his work, including (rare this) some genuinely captivating abstract paintings.
Other than that it was mainly eating and drinking, as the Christmas period should be. Though I’d hoped nostalgically for snow, in fact the clement weather made for some lovely English walks. The sun was also out for a couple of trips to Brighton & Hove Albion’s brand new stadium. Not exactly pleasing in terms of match results, but to walk into a home like the Amex after so many years of lodging in rubbish accommodation was quite an experience (with Harvey’s on tap – and vegetarian pies. You know you’re in Brighton. Well, Falmer…).
And now here we are. Escaping the bleaker English winter months back at work in Cochabamba. It’s situation normal here. Mangoes, cherries and nectarines are in season; hummingbirds the size of beetles and beetles the size of hummingbirds flit about the garden; and on my first day in the office the city centre streets were blocked off for demonstrations by the city’s commercial stallholders, who were marching past the windows shouting protest chants by 9am. Welcome back.