I had started to hit that point of exhaustion at work middle of last year sometime. I am not sure if i noticed the signs at the time, but one key indicator should have been that i was going out clubbing less - and clubbing was the main reason i moved to Berlin. I also made some personal "life changes", which tends to be a common theme when i am trying to solve the feeling of malcontent. I quit smoking. I cut down on drinking. I decided to eat vegan as often as possible. I started walking everywhere. But, as always, none of those things made a big difference to my mood. Early in 2016 i was ready to move on.
And then Brexit hit. It hit me and it hurt and it robbed me of that brief sense of belonging that i had enjoyed since moving back to Europe in 2013. I started to think, since my own country has revoked my citizenship, why bother staying in Europe at all? Then, the summer of unprecedented police oppression in my Kiez. Getting rounded up by jackbooted thugs and watching my neighbors get pepper-sprayed and arrested for nothing destroyed any remaining illusions i held of Berlin being some kind of open-minded raver's paradise. Yes, there is great art here. Living is still relatively cheap. Eating vegan is easy. But just like every other city in the world, it's full of self-interested gentrifiers and profligate consumers and wage slaves scrabbling to survive in the capitalist machine so what difference does it make whether i am here or anywhere else?
It's time to go. Out of principle i want to leave Europe. Since a bunch of racists in England have stolen my identity away from me, fuck the whole place. If i am sentenced to be a foreigner in Europe - a union, a community that i was born a citizen of - then why not be a foreigner in Africa, or Asia, or South America, or Antarctica?
I always wanted to travel more, but up until now i have stuck to countries where i could communicate fairly well in the primary tongue. Being able to read, write, talk - that is extremely important to me, wherever i am. Something i am not comfortable with is living inside an ex-pat bubble in another country, where the only people i talk to are the people who speak my language. I am not comfortable with traveling inside that bubble either, which is the impression i get of the banana pancake trail and other backpacker superhighways. I would like to be able to communicate with people who live in a place. Read the local newspaper. Just hang out there and live for a while. That's hard to do in huge parts of the world when all you got to fall back on is West European languages. But i guess i will never have the opportunity to learn to communicate outside of my comfort zone if i never get outside of my comfort zone.
So, the Middle East. I would love to visit the Middle East. I have wanted to for years. Cradle of civilization. Deserts. Nomads. Unfortunately there is also lots of social conservatism that i am not sure i can put up with right now. Anyone who knows me knows i have major anxiety issues with clothing, probably stemming from my gender issues... I will not cover my shoulders when it is warm. Period. It gives me so much anxiety. I will not wear a dress again. Ever. I have done it once or twice and literally had to fight back vomiting and intense panic attacks i hated it so much. Here is what i wear. Jeans and a tank top in summer. Jeans and a hoodie in winter. That is it. No T-shirts. No blouses. No skirts. No dresses. No no no no no i cannot.
Of course, there are plenty of places in the Middle East (and other Muslim majority countries) where people dress freely. In the bigger cities. In the more touristy areas. Whatever. I am just not ready for that level of anxiety right now. I want to go traveling so i can feel free for a while. I don't want to worry about work, or the future, or anything. It doesn't seem like a great idea to go places where i will worry about clothing - one of my absolute worst anxieties.
So, Africa. I would love to visit Africa. I guess i already did - sort of - when i took a ferry to Melilla a couple years ago. Or last year on my trip to Namibia. What a diverse and incredibly interesting continent. So many languages. So many cultures. So much natural beauty. And, sadly, so much poverty and exploitation. I would like to visit North Africa, but yeah, the clothing thing. East Africa! The plains of Kenya and Tanzania. Lake Victoria. Back to Namibia, maybe via Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana - take a car this time so i can visit the places in between the cities. Angola! Cameroon! Nigeria! A few months ago i was considering making my way down to Kisumu and noodling around there for a while to figure it all out. But then Trump got elected.
Trump's election and the subsequent hysteria i went through made me realize it's not enough to just leave Europe and visit someplace new. I also need a serious retreat from the internet for a while. A current events detox. It is not cool for me to wake up in the middle of the night and immediately check the news and then spend the next several hours in despair. I need to get a fucking grip. Given that even in the second least-populated country in the world (Namibia) i could still get internet on my phone, i decided to think outside the box. Where's the one place on Earth where no one has a phone? The ocean. I mean, obviously there is still satellite communications, but it's pretty much the most middle of nowhere you can be. And how to travel the ocean in relative solitude? Book a berth on a freighter. So that is my new plan.
Container ships take 3-4 weeks to get from Europe to (East) Asia. And there are lots of places i would like to visit in Asia. Not least of which Hong Kong, where i visited my grandfather as a child. The Philippines, where he passed away. Taiwan, where an acquaintance has been bumming around for the past few years. China, where in my opinion the world's richest and deepest culinary traditions developed. Mongolia, the number one least-populated country in the world. More deserts. More nomads. More so many languages, more so many cultures. Yes, i am going to take a container ship to Asia. And then, i don't know.
What are my next steps? My job finishes end of March. My mom will be in Europe briefly in March and will come to visit here in Berlin. My father lives in Vienna but will be visiting New Zealand in mid-April, so i would like to get down to see him before he goes. Prague is on the way. I have never been to the Czech Republic, so that would be interesting. Then i would like to do a "greatest hits" tour of Europe before i leave. My "number one hit" is my home country, the one that cast me out. I haven't been back to the UK in 30 years. But the UK is in the opposite direction from Asia.
The ship i am planning to try get a berth on leaves from Athens. So i am planning to either follow the Orient Express route through Budapest and Belgrade, or take what i am calling "the Venetian route", which would take me down to Croatia and the Adriatic. The only downside of both those routes is they would miss out my most favorite part of Europe to date which was Andalucía. A more ambitious route would be "the Phoenician route" - backtrack all the way to Almería to say goodbye, then hop back and forth across the Med between North Africa, the Balearic Islands, Italy etc till i get to Greece. But that's a much longer journey.
My backup option, by the way, if booking a freighter falls through (you need several visas, vaccinations and a doctor's note) is the Trans-Siberian through Russia and Mongolia. That is a more traditional backpacker route, so i anticipate visas being easier to get. Also, visiting Russia would be very cool.
What's the underlying theme? Peace. I like the idea of traveling around the world without getting on a plane. Planes are awesome in how they have shrunk the world, but they also really reinforce this capitalist notion that you have to get where you are going as quickly as possible. Get back to work! Maximize that tiny sliver of free time! Ugh. For me, this journey will be about slowing down. I don't know exactly how long it will take or where i will end up, but i just really need to spend some time precisely NOT worrying about that.
- What now?