Overland miles: 5618 Bus hours: 166 Empanadar: 3
Despite having clocked up over five and a half thousand miles across land and sea over the last five months, it’s hard to believe we are already half way through our journey. We’ve shared so many memorable moments, from, well, eating prawns for breakfast (for Jovian at least) to taking a rare train ride through Mexico’s Copper Canyon – from learning Spanish in Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan to searching for treasure in the cloud forests of Panama. And of course, our five day sailing voyage from Central to South America, via the idyllic Kuna Yala (San Blas islands) was something to write home about.
But while we’ve been lucky enough to have some incredible experiences, there’s been tough times too. Communicating in a foreign language is getting easier – but still hard, being ever-reliant on the kindness of strangers to tell you when you need to get off a bus travelling at breakneck speed around an unfamiliar town can be deeply frustrating, and not having a place to call home for more than a few days at a time makes you long for your own comfortably familiar bed.
As Christmas draws close, it is hard to be so far away from the ones we love – and the things we miss – back in Blighty. So here, in order of desperate need, is a misty-eyed countdown of the home comforts your loyal correspondents pine for the most:
10 (Lords a-leaping) Being able to drink water out of the tap
In virtually all parts of Central America, travellers are advised strongly to stay off the mains and drink bottled. Naturally, the Coca-Cola company – in the guise of Dasani, Brisa and its many other filtered water guises – cleans up. Yeah, we know that these days half the western world lusts after an ice-cold Evian, but we like necking it from the tap. A clean mains is one of the Victorians’ greatest gifts to England, a present we appreciate even more now we must pay drinks corporations dearly to drink the clear stuff.
9 (Ladies dancing) Lightshades and reading lights
We’ll admit this is an odd one but believe us, these rarely exist in Central America, at least not in budget accommodation. Checking into a hotel/hostel of dubious quality, and flicking on the light switch to reveal the room’s uncomfortable bed, tired walls and rusty fan in all their un-shaded, incandescent glory, is particularly tough sight for the eyes. And trying to read a few pages before bed generally involves angling yourself so your book blocks out the burning glare of the unshaded light, then giving up after 10 minutes because you’ve had to contort your body into such an uncomfortable position in the first place it’s impossible to hold it for more than that long.
8 (Maids a-milking) Fat reds and foaming ales
Here we should give special mention to La Rana Dorada, a craft beer microbrewery we visited in Panama City – but even they kow-towed to Latin America’s love of cold lager, and served an excellent pale ale in a frosted glass. And yes, over here national beer is same price as water, but that’s generally because it has the same strength and taste. At this time of year, we would practically cut off our own arms for a steaming glass of mulled wine and a rich, malty, room temperature ale around a roaring fire in a country pub.
7 (Swans a-swimming) Clean public toilets
Malls and big city bus stations are the only places you’re likely to find a clean public loo in these parts (and toilets simply aren’t plumbed in on the buses themselves). For the most part, it’s a case of avoidance unless you really have to go when you’re out and about. If you’re lucky, there’ll be seats, or at least a lockable door to your cubicle. Soap is a luxury; hand-driers simply do not exist. Sometimes restaurants will offer a piece of cloth that was recently used to wipe out the grease extractor on the griddle, thus allowing you to pick up and transmit some exciting new germs on your way out.
6 (Geese a-laying) A new wardrobe
Being able to choose what to wear from a wardrobe of clean clothes and not from the only non-dirty/stained/smelly/creased items (which aren’t many) in your rucksack seems like a distant memory five months in. Tops and shorts that were fine for an English summer offer little comfort in the face of the punishing humidity of Central America, but they’re all we’ve got so we’re going to wear them ’til they develop embarrassing holes in the crotch.
5 (Go-old rings) Decent pillows and sheets that fit the bed
Another bourgeoise craving we know, but we’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve woken up in the middle of the night with the bottom bed sheet half off because the elastic has almost all but lost its stretch. And any hotel that doesn’t have pillows that feel like they’ve been filled with lots of tiny hard pieces of sponge immediately goes up in our estimation.
4 (Colly birds) Our breadmaker
Great as Bimbo’s range of bread products are for staving off the hunger pangs on those long cross-country bus journeys, one food we crave more than most is a simple loaf of bread. And by ‘bread’ we mean the real stuff we could whip up in five hours back home: absolutely fresh, preferably wholemeal, if possible seeded and certainly not something that tastes like papier mâché laced with high fructose corn syrup that never goes stale in a month of domingos.
3 (French hens) Having a bath
Whether you’ve spent the day hiking a challenging volcano, riding a barely road-worthy bike, or simply braving a chicken bus, one thing you miss is being able to soak in a hot soapy bath at the end of it all. Thankfully, as Central America is a hot-bed of seismic activity, we have been able to get an occasional fix in thermal springs. It’s not the same as home, and Jovian still misses his rubber duck, but travellers can’t be choosers.
2 (Turtle doves) A Nice Cup of Tea (And a Sit Down)
In a land of coffee (generally Nescafe or a similar low-quality brew) do we even need explain why this is at number two? Let’s face it, tea is what makes us British: it’s why we can get up every morning to complain about the weather and run our public services ineffectually. A well-made cup of proper black leaf tea is a well of beauty, liquid gold, nature’s greatest gift. Oh Lordy, how we miss a nice cup of tea (PG Tips in the morning – Twinning’s Earl Grey in the afternoon if you’re asking), a piece of cake, and a good sit down.
And at number 1 (A king prawn in a fish pie): England at Christmas!
The crackle of a log fire, the smell of a real Christmas tree, decorations made by our nieces and nephews, a smattering of snow that quickly turns to slush; heck we even nearly miss the annual Oxford Street hoe-down. Gaudy Christmas decorations and icicle-style fairy lights just look odd in hot countries.