Bored with life's predictable eddies and swirls at Christmas I decided to do something unpredictable and different this year, to step a bit further out of my normal circles and see what the world had to offer. I toyed for a while with the idea of voluntary work sabbaticals or large career switches but couldn't summon up the courage needed for such life-wrenching changes. I needed something challenging but not too disruptive, a source of anecdotes and experience, turning everything upside-down is next year's project.
In February an e-mail invitation dropped into my inbox. It was from Dervala, whom I had met for one evening last July, and had been in occasional e-mail contact with as she travelled the world. I had been following her excellent website (which now forms part of my daily work-avoidance half-hour before I reluctantly convert my computer from internet-browsing device to word processor) and knew she was heading to South America. Did I want to join her for a bit of Andean trekking?
The perfect opportunity. I knew the answer right away, but deliberated for a couple of months as I attempted to generate the impetus to get over the "Travel? In a strange country? For two weeks? With someone I've only met once?" kneejerk reaction. Then I booked my plane ticket to Lima and told her I was coming over.
So tomorrow morning I report to Heathrow for 18 hours of flying and a step into the unknown. I'm about to travel halfway around the world to hook up with someone I've only met once for three hours and exchanged a grand total of thirty e-mails with. My paranoid side tells me that I could be her money-mule, she's gone bankrupt and she'll mug me at Lima airport to run away cackling with a fistful of US Dollars as my pathetic figure lies prone on the unyielding Peruvian formica. Or maybe this is all an elaborate hoax - she's moved our rendezvous point twice in the last month, from Lima to Cusco and now she's suggesting Puno - I'll spend two weeks criss-crossing Peru looking for a non-existent Irish lass while my increasingly desperate movements are filmed from space for the delight of the Fox Network subscribers (I'll admit it's unlikely).
Oh well, here goes nothing.
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