Kay Green, from Huddersfield, who started a new life as a single woman at the age of 50 and embarked on a year touring the world, concludes her series Shoulders Back, Deep Breaths with a reflection on her adventures and their publication in Northern Life.
For the first time since I started writing this article for Northern Life, I saw a copy of the magazine in the supermarket.
It was on the shelf, for sale, with all the other glossy magazines, and suddenly something struck me; I’ve been writing and submitting my articles and photos via email from where ever I’ve been at the time of my deadline. I’ve always been aware of the fact that my words were being printed but when I actually saw the evidence of the magazine in all its glory, the enormity of what I’ve been doing hit me.
I’ve been sharing my life with complete strangers. I’ve been as honest and open as I can, but when I’ve sat in front of my laptop screen and typed my tales, most of the time I’ve been making sure my mum and dad and Aunty Joan will enjoy it. I know for sure those three read it, but until last week I didn’t fully understand that there might be other people reading it, too. It was a bit of a shock, I confess, to standing in the middle of the store on a busy Sunday afternoon, lifting the magazine off the shelves, flicking through it and feeling a tiny thrill when I came across my pages. I also felt an immense amount of gratitude to anyone who has been reading my article and sharing my trip with me, and if you’re doing that now, then I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you.
Seeing the photos from my last article also caused me to reflect on how much time has passed since I was first invited to write for Northern Life. It made me realise how much things have changed since then, how much I’ve changed. I hardly recognise myself.
When I first left for my trip, I still had a semi-broken heart from the end of my marriage. I’d gone a long way towards repairing myself before I went away and the first 10 weeks I spent travelling with my parents gave me the last of the courage I needed to believe that I could be alone and away from home for so long. I had no firm ideas about what my plans were, and I refused to look too far into the future.
I’m glad I did it that way; it created a sense of freedom in me that left me open to experience as much as I possibly could. To be honest, there’s no way I could have even imagined most of what happened; never mind planned for it. Particularly my time in the Philippines, because without Andrea the incredible and unique experiences I had would have been out of my reach.
The boat taking Lola and Anni back to the mainland dropped us off at San Antonio, the island Andrea’s dad lives on. He has a farm in the mountains about an hour away from where we were staying, and we planned to surprise him the following day.
We hired a trike and driver to take us, and as we climbed up and away from the towns and villages the roads became more isolated, and the views became more spectacular. Huge stretches of rolling green hills interspersed with palm trees and paddy fields, with glimpses of the ocean in the distance. When we eventually stopped, we seemed to be in the middle of nowhere.
Andrea knew where she was going though, and I followed her as she started walking off the main road. We walked through fields of crops and part way through the jungle until we came to a clearing with her dad’s house in the middle of it.
The surprised and delighted look on his face made the walk worthwhile and he accepted our gifts of cigarettes and a couple of bottles of gin with a huge smile. It didn’t take long for the news to get around the tiny, scattered community that Arnulo had visitors and within half an hour there was quite a crowd gathered. We spent the morning drinking shots of gin, and singing and dancing to tunes from the wind-up radio while Arnulo playedhis guitar and drums. There’s no electricity, no toilet and no running water for miles, but there is a fivepiece drum kit! He wanted to cook us chicken for lunch and invited me to choose which one I wanted from the ones running around our feet. Needless to say, I politely refused so he made us fish and rice instead.
We left in the early afternoon, and once we arrived back in the main town we sat by the harbour to have a beer – when a day starts with shots of gin it kind of goes downhill from there, sobriety wise! Andrea confessed to me that Tani had pleaded with her not to take me to meet her dad. He felt it was unsafe for us to go. There had been shootings and robberies on the mountain roads, and he felt that we were going to be in danger because of the curiosity we would create with us being on the island.
My admiration for Andrea knows no bounds. After the conversation with her brother in law, she could have changed her mind about us going to see her dad. We could have simply returned home at the same time as Lola and Anni, I would have understood, but she didn’t and we went anyway. She took a huge risk so she could share another incredible experience with me.
I wanted to give her something back to show her how much I appreciated everything she’d done for me. As we’d been sailing from Bernabi San Pasqual, we’d passed several much smaller islands that were stunning and tempting in equal measure. Andrea and I had looked at them longingly. I’d asked her if she’d ever had the chance to visit any of them; she’d said no. I wanted us to share something that was a complete treat for her as much as it was for me. I wanted her to have her own time, for it not just to be about her showing me things, but for us to experience something new together.
The following morning we hired a tiny boat and sailed to Sombrero Island. It has the whitest beaches and the clearest stretch of water I’ve ever seen. When we arrived there was a guy laid on a hammock playing the guitar, not another soul around, just him and us.
He was the owner of the island, and as it turned out an incredible host. Within minutes of us being there, we had ice buckets full of bottles of lager, somewhere to sit that gave us shade when we wanted it and a couple of dodgy-looking snorkel masks to play in the sea with. The only other visitors were the local fishermen that stopped off part-way through their day for a beer. They were the ones that provided us with our fish for lunch. I’ve never eaten anything as tasty as the tiny octopus that was deep fried as a snack for us during our hectic afternoon swimming and learning how to open bottles of beer on the side of a table – I told you I’d changed; I couldn’t do that before I went away.
We left the island as the sun was setting and sailed back in the semidark just as a storm broke. We sat on the boat watching the lighting illuminating the mountains and hearing the rumble of the following thunder. We’d treated each other to an immeasurable experience, and I couldn’t remember ever having felt as happy as I did at that moment. I think that’s when I realised that my heart was well and truly mended. It’s true what they say; time is a great healer, and so is a day spent with a wonderful friend on island that’s as close to paradise at you can get.