As 2017 came to a close I knew the coming year would be special.
I’d just signed a contract with the biggest 360 camera company at the time, Ricoh, and in a few short months I’d be onstage at Rio Carnival, the woman I love by my side, sharing Brazil with the world through awesome, interactive content. They’d gifted me a camera and hundreds of pounds worth of accessories to capture the true magic of Brazil, in all 360 degrees.
Then we’d hit the road… first gobbling up all that Brazil had to offer, and then taking on the rest of the world together. 360 camera in hand, we’d set the world alight! Money would flow freely due to the unique and eye-catching content, and we’d wander freely, unbound by worry or fear.
12 months on, December 2018, and I’m sat alone, deep in the Argentinean wilderness. The woman I love is 1500 miles away, worry and fear are regular drinking partners, and the world is still waiting for the lights to be switched on.
It’s fair to say that I’ve completely nailed the stare!
This isn’t my first rodeo. According to my pitiful National Insurance contributions I’m the King of the Rodeo! It’s not even my first time in South America, so you’d think I’d have a handle on things this time. You’d think…
Every trip is different, every journey filled with its own challenges and tribulations. A city break, a fortnight on the beach or 14 months bouncing around a continent or three… they each carry with them their own tests and problems to solve.
So let’s look at a few of the tests, shall we?
When the camera was knocked over by a customer on one of our photoshoots high up on the Sugar Loaf mountain, crashing down onto the concrete, its inners spilling out, I felt cold.
This was my primary weapon… the future of our wealth and fortune. I’d regaled my friends back home of the videos I would make. The photos that so often brought a satisfying “Whoa!” and “How???”
I had a second, but it was a dagger compared to this great axe.
Not to worry… insurance will pay out. I still have the contract… surely they will offer a solution. This was just a stumbling block.
Insurance did not pay out. They have a little loophole that says they’ll only pay the money when I present to them a return ticket back to the UK… not so handy for a longterm traveller.
But the contract? Surely my contract counted for something. Apparently it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on as, unbeknownst to me, Ricoh were undergoing major internal restructuring. The arm that had granted me the contract had been dissolved and my response was “Oh well… maybe we can work together again in the future”.
When you hitch all your plans, ideas and your entire future to one thing, you’re invariably destined for failure and heartache.
This was my first lesson.
The fact that this event happened weeks before leaving Brazil only compounded my misery. Carol was having her own issues with work, and thus would be unable to join me on the next leg. Having managed to survive a 4-year long-distant relationship, we’d again have to be apart, this time for a minimum of 6 months until my Brazilian visa reset.
Not to worry… On my way out of the country I was heading through Iguazu Falls. The perfect distraction to take my mind off my problems.
And then my mobile phone decided to call it a day. My beautiful Sony XZ Premium, with the amazing photos and lightning quick connection… he passed away.
Not to worry… After Iguazu Falls I would hit Ciudad Del Este… the Wild Wild West of Paraguay… where electronics and life is cheap. I’d break the bank, buy a new camera and phone to control it, and then I’d be back making money in no time. Sadly they had no 360 cameras, but I picked up a Xiaomi phone with amazing camera… a small victory.
After a few weeks to relax and reset in the heart of Paraguay with some old friends, Lucas, Andrea and their beautiful children (I knew that was certainly not goodbye 4 years ago), it was time to head to Argentina to try and regain my mojo and get back to winning ways.
When your shiny new phone is stolen within the first few days, it was almost one kick to the nutsack too many. That shot to the babymaker almost broke me. The finances that once seemed infinitely adequate were now paper thin.
You start to question yourself. Are you too old for this? Why are you putting yourself in these situations? But worst of all, you start to question other people. You start to lose trust. You’re following your dream… you’re busting your gut to finally make it, and everyone else seems to be f###ing it up! Either intentionally or not, when that dark cloud descends it seems like there’s some kind of agenda against you.
This was possibly one of the darkest times of my life. It’s nothing when compared to a real tragedy or a great disaster, yet for me it was the loss of belief. It was a complete desertion of self-confidence, direction and desire. It was watching my dream getting choked out as I’m stood by the ring, screaming at it to get up… to fight on… don’t tap out.
As I typed that last sentence I almost welled up. That memory is seared in my brain: Sat bolt upright in the bunkbed in Buenos Aires, looking at every face coming in the room, wondering who stole from me, staring down at my meagre possessions and considering what was next to break, be stolen or just disappear.
I’ve rarely asked myself “why?”
That day I did.
But then something clicked.
Not clicked so much, as a tapping sound.
The tapping sound of friends, family and the love of my life taking a pickaxe to the dark cloud that had enveloped me. Their kindness, warmth, love and support is unending, yet sometimes it takes a loving kick up the ass to snap you back and drag you out of yourself.
With their support and generosity, I was able to purchase yet another phone (which didn’t work so I had to buy ANOTHER one a little later), I took a position teaching English, managed to find some paid VR work, and then came the Amazon rollercoaster.
The decision was made in Bahia Blanca, Argentina, to finally get my ass in gear and produce my long-awaited first book. I’d planned, half-written, and scrapped more drafts than I’d care to remember, but now I had motivation. I was still a little jaded from the previous months, but I refused to tap out.
Maybe it comes from years of watching WWE wrestling in my youth, but now it wasn’t just me by the side of the ring, screaming to get up. Now I could see my family by my side, my friends and Carolina. They were all cheering me on!
As the referee lifted my hand that 3rd time, waiting for it to drop in submission… NO, NO, NO!!!
Channelling my inner Ultimate Warrior, it began to shake… to reach up to the heavens and draw power from Parts Unknown!
I found an Airbnb in Mendoza, surrounded by a salt of the earth family, and I began to write. Day after day, night after night, I wrote, drank juicy juicy Mendoza Malbec, and wrote.
And then I’m speaking to a local newspaper, giving an interview about my travels and dreams… then in a recording studio in Buenos Aires, speaking live on radio to an unknown number of people…
And in the blink of an eye I’m an Amazon #1 Best Selling Author…
Celine Dion said “Let beauty come out of ashes”, and it did.
There was a minor glitch afterwards when I started to go insane whilst volunteering at a hostel a few months afterwards, but that feels like a tale for a different time.
So now I’m sat alone in the wilderness, deep in the heart of northern Argentina, working away on book #2, and feeling stronger, wiser and more determined than ever to make this dream become a reality.
In 38 days I’ll be reunited with my soul mate, and we can continue the dream… in whatever form that takes.
At the end of 2019 I’ll look back and reflect on how crazy 2018 was, and how little it mirrored our initial plans… but I know that our resolve and determination is strong enough to get through.
Travelling can be beautiful and brutal in equal measure… but the journey is worth it.
Thank you for an amazing year. May 2019 bring you everything you desire.