|The unbelievable has happened...
I found myself back again in Europe.
It wasn't so bad when changing planes in Madrid airport... it was still kinda foreign. On the short flight to London Heathrow, the lady next to me was just going home (down the road from my parents'!) after six weeks in Cuba. But I was still feeling somewhat detached. Even as the plane circled above the airport, and I could see the huge arch of the new Wembly Stadium in the distance, it still didn't feel like I was coming home. Maybe it was because I didn't seem to recognise many of the sights near the airport??
Even as I passed through immigration (and requesting for my passport to be stamped - my first British entry stamp!), collected my bag, I didn't really feel any special emotions. Walking to the Underground station, taking out less than £100 (for once!) out of the cash machine, buying my tube ticket, and getting onto the awaiting train felt...just normal. Familiar. No swelling of sensations of being back in *civilisation*. With my backpack by my side, maybe I looked just like any other traveller arriving for the first time into London.
Actually my first culture shock was going to the toilet. Where's the bin??? Surely all that paper won't flush down the loo??? It does seem pretty amazing, our plumbing system!
The other thing was going into a newsagent to buy a phonecard to make a surprise call to my sister. "International calling card, or mobile top up?", the guy asked me. Just a regular phone card for the payphone, thanks! He looked at me like I was some prehistoric animal. Who uses a payphone these days?? Think even British Telecom had stopped selling phonecards!!
Oh, and all the weird and wonderful technological advances we have made in my year's absence were a little overwhelming too... Automatic top up on the electronic Oystercard (for London transports), Stop-the-Clock promotion on pre-pay mobiles (up to an hour's chat for the price of only the first three minutes)... Ah!! Give me some time!!
On the other hand, internet cafes seem to be hard to find... Especially in Southampton (south of England)! Probably explains lack of backpackers there then!!
Had planned lots of surprises for people at home. Most people (and me, included) thought that I would stay out for another half a year. Had worked out a creative way for each surprise scenario for my friends and family. Though some knew of my approximate dates, no-one knew exactly when I would be back.
My first surprise backfired. Upon some gentle probing previously, my sister told me she doesn't do anything on weekday evenings, and is usually home from work by seven. Found my way to her new flat, and buzzed her doorbell, trying to suppress a smile. Waited and waited for the door to open - then realised the lights were off. Tried calling her mobile, but no answer. Typcial, I thought! Ended up waiting on her doorstep for almost an hour, and feeling slightly uncomfortable, so left for somewhere slightly safer. Turned out that she had a work function that evening. Whoops!
My mum missed my call, and I stupidly picked up the phone when she called me back. So she worked out that I got back! She didn't seem too angry that I didn't go home straight away, but she sounded a little teary as we chatted on the phone. Had resolved to go home the next night, but didn't tell her. When I picked her up from work, the element of surprise had already gone, but she was very pleased nonetheless. Made it back for her birthday!
Thought that I might have caught the same train as my Dad, and I looked through the windows of all the earlier carriages. But no Dad. With hindsight, that was for the best, as he might have had a heart attack in public! Both my parents weren't expecting me until the 2 November. :p
It was a nice first evening with my parents, and my Mum was very mummy, fussing that she hadn't got my bed ready, as she didn't think I would be back for another week, hence the kitchen hadn't been stocked (with Pringles) neither...and etc.
Haven't really met up with most of my friends yet neither... Most are not in London anymore, and weekends would be the best time to see them.
My first weekend was awkwardly split between my family and my best friend Iris, who you may remember from my entries in Ecuador. She's also my biggest fan - you can see her messages in my guest book! Spent a few days with her in Southampton, alas, with only one bottle of Argentinen wine! But she made sure her fridge was stocked with beverages, and her boyfriend even made sure there was food on the table. Lovely! She let me use whatever I needed in her flat, and I did a very good job of distracting her from work with emails. We were only five minutes walk apart! Additionally, made sure that she didn't get enough sleep the nights before work, and we chatted until late. Well, that's what friends' are for, right? :P
Well, thank you Iris for the post Big Trip support, your chats whilst I was away, spending most of your annual leave with me in Ecuador, my pre-Trip last minute shopping, and your constant friendship for the last eight, nine years?? :D
Apart from that, haven't been doing a great deal, and still living South American time apart from meal times, of course!). Been meaning to catch up with my journal, but was doing catching up of a different sort on MSN! Been playing alot with my sister's new puppy Dashie, and taking him out on some walks. Slightly miffed that everyone on the street seems to notice tiny little Dashie, and make a fuss of him, and no-one gives me a second look, and I'm much bigger than Dashie! :P
Bit by bit, am going to different parts of London, eating with various people, but still feeling quite unsettled. And also facing the usual question of "what's next??". Have a rough sketch plan of what to do, but lots of decisons requiring commitments... Have to admit, was very tempted to pick up my bag again and take off to another country! But now my short term plans are slowly taking shape, and hopefully things will fall into place. Going on a trip to Hong Kong shortly with my Mum doesn't make me more hurried to make these decisions yet.
So that's me going back to *real life* one week on, after a year in Latin America...