I spent one more night in Tupiza then took a bus to Villazón, where I would cross the border with Argentina. The lady sitting next to me in the minivan was travelling with two children. Or, to be more precise, two babies. One of them only a few weeks or a few months old and the other one, a lovely little girl, probably just under 2 years. There wasn’t a proper seat for the cutie. She was sitting opposite her mom, back to back with the driver. Without seatbelt, goes without saying. Each time the vehicle was taking a turn, the mother had to bend over to make sure she didn’t fall as she wasn’t able to keep her balance by herself. After the second turn, I offered to take her on my lap, which the mother accepted. The little one fell asleep within the minute and woke up two hours later. It is amazing how children can provoke headaches when they are awake and transmit peace when they are asleep.
The border between Villazón and La Quiaca had to be crossed by foot. Once on the other side, I would be able to catch another bus that would take me to Salta, where I had a flight for Buenos Aires on the following day, December 2nd. The journey took me, once again, through the Quebrada de Humahuaca, where I had such a good time a few months earlier, in July. I had a strange feeling. I had been longing to go back to a place I knew, to social life. But, at the same time, I wanted to go on with the adventure as I was now sensing how close I was to the end of it all.
In Salta, I stayed in the same hotel as when I had been there in July, still hoping I wouldn’t come across the lady ghost.
My flight back to Belgium was 9 days later, so that I would be back in time for my goddaughter’s birthday, on December 12th. I spent that time doing exactly what I had planned to do: seeing people. I first went back to Uruguay and Montevideo for a few days, two of which I spent at Valentina’s place, whom I had met on my very first day in South America as she welcomed me with mate on her doorstep. Then I spent two days with Bruno and Niko, on whose couch I had already crashed in May, wondering for a while what I had come to do in South America.
Coming back to places I have already visited, making sure to meet again with people… I guess this is all very “me”. The whole idea of this trip had been to “let go” of things. By now, I could say I had reached that objective. But 7 months later I was trying to hold on to other stuff, other people, other memories. You can’t change people to the bones, can you?
In Buenos Aires, I met again with Claudia, with whom I had been smoking a cigarette outside a bar in Tilcara. She took me to a picnic organized by friends of hers by the pool. Leandro and Javier, who I had also met in Tilcara, where available for a few drinks at the “Bomba de Tiempo” drums concert. But most of my porteño time I spent with Eva, another one of my generous couchsurfing hosts, who had already endured my presence for more than two weeks back in June. I also took a few hours to buy my last presents. This was exactly what I needed: quality time with friends and shopping. Every now and then, one needs a break from a holiday too.
Both in Montevideo and in Buenos Aires, I took the opportunity to stuff myself with mate, meat and dulce de leche. I had been very sick during two weeks in Bolivia and lost a lot of weight so it was a good excuse to jump on calories.
Saying goodbye was tough. I didn’t really want to leave. I could have continued that kind of life for another few months. But I had made a promise to go back to work and take care of a project. How jealous I felt of all these people I had met and who didn’t have a return date, who could travel for as long as they wanted. But did I have that courage? Was I willing to bear the insecurity of their situation? If I had to ask myself the question every day if I would find the money to carry on, would I still be crazy about traveling? Some questions remained unanswered. I still wasn’t sure about what I wanted to do with my life. Which risks was I willing to take to be fulfilled? Having only my backpack with me and a few clothes during several months, I learned to hold on less to my material belongings. However, I couldn’t let go off them completely.
These thoughts, and thousands of memories, ran through my mind as I was waiting to board the plane. The flight had been delayed. Unnecessary cruelty.
From Buenos Aires straight to Barcelona. What struck me immediately when I got off the plane was how quiet everything seemed… Quiet? An airport? In Spain? It sounds incredible but it was exactly like that. I felt instantly at home and relaxed. I was still in El Prat when I connected on the internet and chatted for a while with a friend who had already spent quite some time on the other side of the Atlantic. His metaphor spoke to my mind: “it’s like coming home after a day at the market”. And that was the exact feeling: coming from noise and disturbance into the quiet safety of the home. Because they are so impressive, even the deserted places in South America don’t inspire peacefulness. Or maybe is it just because of that: it isn’t home and, therefore, it stresses you. In any case, being back wasn’t that bad.
No time to visit friends in Cataluña for the time being: I had to surprise a little girl for her birthday in Belgium on the following morning. It was past 23.00 when my mum welcomed me at the Brussels Airport with tears in her eyes. Although it is easily understandable, at the same time, it seemed a bit odd to me: I had left Belgium for longer than that in the past. But not that far away. In the end, it’s not about how often you see a person but about how you estimate your chances to be able to get an access to that person when you feel the need to get physically connected.
December 12th, at 7.00 am, a little girl in her pyjama’s run into my arms. Through my already growing nostalgia, holding Gabrielle made me remember why I had come back, why I wanted to be there and why I probably wouldn’t be able to travel for years in a row.
By then, I was afraid of being “back to normality”. And I would be confronted with my habits, my reputation, the image others had of me and everything else I had been distancing myself from. However, one never returns unchanged from such an experience. It would take a little time to realise to what extent but one thing I could already apply in my new life: one day at the time. No need to worry about tomorrow now. It will be there soon enough.