JANUARY IS THE LONGEST MONTH OF THE YEAR

“January is going to be our year.” I was Skyping with my overseas bestie a couple of days before Hogmanay (that’s what us Scots call New Years Eve by the way). I thought ahead to my January work pattern and felt a tidal wave of giddy wash over mewhen I thought about the two weeks of annual leave that needed filled with some plans. Yeah, this year is going to be the year I travel more and actually have some more adventures, I told her.

Fast forward to the first week of February, and if that first month was a taster for the year ahead, then please tell me that the first month is just a trial run? 

Greedy about how much world I have still yet to cover, (a new anxiety is that I am running out of time – time for what, I don’t quite know but it’s moving fast) I decided to split my two weeks off, not just between two countries, but two continents; Asia (by means of one week in Hong Kong) and Africa (I’ve wanted to go to Zanzibar for years).  Non-plussed by my well travelled friends concerns that this might be quite an over-ambitious plan for a under-qualified adventurer, I quashed their doubts to the back of my mind, and booked myself a return ticket to Hong Kong, fantasising about the pretty pictures I’d snap all over the city in my preplanned outfits reserved just for the occasion, and started looking for hotels in Zanzibar, firing off links to hotels for my mum to review since she’d be accompanying me on the trip.

As a holiday treat, I booked appointments for my nails, threading and eyelashes, and I even managed to slot in a driving test for the day before the trip – only for me to fail the test epically; the eyelash technician to pull out and reschedule for bleary-eyed o’clock on the morning of my departure, and the nails to turn out not so nail art, and more ‘basic bish’. Knackered from jet-lag fulled late nights, and repeated early morning rises after a meagre tossy-turny four hours of sleep, I was feeling too tired for excitement, and I had yet to even pack.

As I scanned over my packing list, bf asked me about the weather there during this time of year. “Nice… I think.” I mumbled, whilst contemplating which sandals to pack. After some badgering from his part, I decided that perhaps I should check the weather, just incase, and so, last minute, mid packing, I had the shocking realisation that the Hong Kong weather was actually not the in the high twenties as I’d presumed, but several degrees lower than I had anticipated. The entire packing list and outfit planning rigamarole returned to the drawing board. (Thankfully, he also checked the weather for me in Africa, and as I thought, it was just as hot, if not, hotter, than I imagined it to be).

I once found a meme online that said “Find someone who likes to leave for the airport as far in advance as you do” and it crossed my mind more than a couple of times in the frantic rush to the airport for the flight to Hong Kong.

“I just want to be there early” I whined to bf.

“But, they’ll only make you wait since the flight is so full. You’ve got lots of time.” Of course, in the end, he agreed to leave at the time when I wanted, only for me to reassess and go with his original suggested leaving time, purely because I was still tangled up in clothes, frantically last minute packing.

“I’m sorry for being antsy.” I mumbled, “It’s just that, it’s rush hour and there might be bad traffic since the airport’s practically in Sharjah.”

Fifteen minutes later, as we sat unmoving in eight lanes of traffic, sandwiched between hundreds of heads trying to catch a glimpse of the overhead blue flashing lights, I could see beads of sweat forming on his head.

As I sprinted to the staff travel check in, I was acutely aware that this was not how I envisioned my holiday beginning. ‘Expectation is the root of disappointment’ I muttered to myself again and again.

“It’s the farthest gate… you don’t really have much time.” The check in clerk told me. “It  around a thirty to forty minutes walk.” I’d be lucky if I was going to get a coffee never mind a spritz of perfume.

Sandwiched in the middle of the row, with a little drink in hand, my shoulders finally relaxed. It wasn’t quite the relaxing start I imagined, but it didn’t even matter. I was finally, finally, on holiday, and going on an adventure.

First and foremost, HKG is expensive, which is most unfortunate when your bf eats as much food as a world champion swimmer (okay, maybe not quite that much, but he eats a lot of protein!) and secondly, it is very busy. On Day two, during the preparations for my friends opening night and her husband’s birthday dinner, I started to feel quite unwell. I didn’t want to alarm anyone – we were all really busy and there was a lot of finishing touches to be done in time for 6pm, so I soldiered on, telling myself to drink more water and hopefully I’d feel better. But I didn’t. As the evening went on, my eyes kept closing and the room kept swirling. I was worried that the other guests would think I was rude, or maybe even drunk from the celebratory glass of bubbles.

My head was pounding and my body hurt all over. When I woke up the next day, drenched in a pool of sweat and shivering, the thermometer confirmed that my temperature was sky high.

“I think you need a doctor…” I didn’t even argue.

Sat in the office of the doctor, looking around at the pictures hanging up, we waited for the result of my flu swab. “I feel like it’s a chest infection. It feels like the time when I had bronchitis and I felt wheezy when I walked. I’m just really worried because I’m supposed to be going on holiday to Africa on Saturday.” I told him. “Well, the good news is, you have the flu! We will get you well enough for your holiday, don’t worry.” he beamed at me. This was good news how? I thought back to my flatmates and bf telling me to go get my free flu jab and cursed myself for not bothering. “You’ll need to buy everyone you’re staying with the same medication too, and tell them to take it as a preventative measure. Now, the cough medicine has codeine in it which can wreak havoc with your stomach. Some people complain of diarrhoea. It didn’t affect my stomach when I took it though, so I guess it’s just your luck.” I dragged myself to my feet feeling heinous and just as I turned to the door, he called back to me, “Oh and you’ll have to put on this.” I stared down at the surgical mask he’d just handed me. Seriously?

As I queued to pay my bill, I was so annoyed at myself. What a rookie error, to think myself so young and invincible – to not take out holiday insurance. I’d gotten so used to work covering these costs, but work would never cover this. I looked at the date displayed on my phone, two days before payday. Fuck. I’d have to transfer money from my savings. Hoping that the transfer had already gone through, I handed the bulky woman behind the desk, my card. “It’s been declined due to insufficient funds.” She bellowed loudly for the entire surgery and his dog to hear. People glanced up. I took down the mask, so she could better hear me as I spoke softly. “Try it again, please.”

She glared at me incredulously – “YOU HAVE TO POP YOUR MASK ON LOVEY.” People in the surgery looked at me differently now that I had the mask on. Who was this girl, refusing to contain her diseases!? They looked a lot less sympathetic, and a lot more wary than they had when I’d arrived without it. This must have been how lepers felt. I felt like a leper. A poor one at that. Jesus Christ!!!! I started coughing as I started down at the paper slid in front of me that required a signature for the medical expenses. This was an expensive trip and it was lacking in adventures so far, thanks to the bloody flu.

Assured that I would feel better in one or two days time, I awoke on the day I was due to fly back out, feeling worse than I had felt the entire time, which judging by the fact that I already felt bad, was not a good sign. I couldn’t swallow and my throat felt like I’d swallowed razor blades. I couldn’t speak and my face and teeth hurt. My friend suggested another trip to the doctor, and despite knowing that it’d be expensive, I didn’t even protest. I needed antibiotics or something; anything that would fix my throat. I was supposed to be flying to Africa in 24h, and I wasn’t even sure I’d make the flight out of HKG. Wearing everything I’d packed in a bid to keep warm, despite it looking like I’d gotten dressed in the dark, we trudged back to the doctor.

“One of the parent’s in my kids running club sent the group a quote. It said, ‘Run when you can. Walk if you have to. Crawl if you must. Just never give up.’ and that’s going to be you, getting on this holiday!” he chuckled as he wrote out a prescription for me. He gave me antibiotics along with several other things that he promised would get me through the flight. “Just to let you know, these antibiotics can cause serious diarrhoea, but you’ll be fine! To be fair, you don’t look the worst. You actually look quite fresh, considering!” I didn’t bother telling him I’d been slapping on make up in a bid to look healthier than I was feeling. “So, we’re all done here now, I think…Enjoy Africa!” he winked at me.

Terrified of being airport quarantined, and worried about infecting everyone surrounding me, I curled up on the aeroplane seat in a face full of make up, sipping warm water and tea throughout. The passenger next to me kept intermittently asking me in disbelief ‘you’re not hungry?’ He soon stopped, probably fearful of catching whatever flu I had after numerous coughing fits, and husky replies that sounded more manly than the butchest of men. I had gotten the last seat on the plane, again. And this time I checked in my baggage because I didn’t have the energy to drag it through the giant airport. Even though I had time, I didn’t bother to buy a coffee or stop to sniff a perfume, instead I called my mum from the plane and told her about the situation, asking her to bring cold flu and throat supplies to get me through our trip to Africa.

Supplies

“You look terrible.” She told me, looking concerned as she tipped out the contents of her pharmaceutical shopping spree, “I think we should cancel the holiday. Or at least go a day later.” Bf agreed with her. “You can’t go like this, Pam.” I was frustrated. It was only the stupid flu

“But it’s non refundable. And, I want to go.”

“People die from the flu!” My mum chipped in.

“No they don’t – unless they’re like eighty. I already Googled it.” and I had. I had genuinely Googled, ‘can you die from flu’ while in my sickbed in Hong Kong. Right after I googled the hotels refund policy looking for a loophole, which of course was solid.

We compromised, and delayed the flight, cutting our holiday short by one day much to my frustration, and I slept for almost fourteen hours instead.

***

Look at my bargains I got in Accessorize.” My mum beamed as she waved a straw bum bag with embroidered flowers and a £6 label attached to it at me. “I just loved having my bum bag at the airport Pam,” she continued, pointing to the black one strewn on the table, “it was just so convenient to have everything so close to hand! 

Bemused, I started at the offending articles. I’ve never liked a bum bag. “Mum, I think I’ll call you Fanny Annie.” 

Waiting at the airport again, to see if we could get on the flight, once again, I couldn’t stir the excitement in me, because this time, I felt zapped of all my energy, but as we checked into the hotel, (which didn’t quite look as good as it did in the pictures), I took one look at the beach and instantly felt so much happier. Yes! I was finally, after four years of wanting to visit the place, here! ZANZIBAR!

I slathered myself in sun tan lotion, and made a beeline for the spongey loungers which had sold the place for my mum. Coconut in one hand, and a book in the other, I was in my happy place.

Except, three hours later, and a realisation that the book I was reading was in fact crap, I also realised that my body looked rather pink and felt a bit hot to the touch. My mum couldn’t notice it at first, but I felt like I was burning, and despite scurrying into the shade, the damage was already done. “Some antibiotics can make you sensitive to the sun, Pam. Check the little leaflet.” she told me (since the WiFi was too slow to even load emails, never mind Google!), looking seriously concerned as she scanned my body. And so it was confirmed. The sun had cooked me like a piece of ham on the grill, and the antibiotics were a catalyst. Like throwing petrol on flames. I might as well have doused my body in carrot oil!!! My body was flashed with angry red purple looking patches, and my stomach was in bits just as Dr Wan said it might be. Even Imodium didn’t work. “I can’t even tell if that’s the antibiotics, the other medication, or wether now I’ve got bloody sunstroke!” I moaned to my mum. Thank God I was just with my mum. If I’d been travelling with anyone else, I’d have been mortified – particularly with the unreliability of Tanzanian plumbing.

Despite being on what we later learned was the “extremely quiet, rocky coral and windy” side of the island, the location was very beautiful. It just meant we couldn’t really swim in the ocean easily (you needed sea shoes available from reception HAHA) and there wasn’t much selection of bars and restaurants (there were only two, and one belonged to the hotel we were staying). Five of my friends messaged me asking why didn’t we go to Nungwi on the North side of the island? I didn’t dare tell them that my mum chose the hotel, purely on the basis of how comfortable the sun loungers looked in the pictures, and was adamant that these looked the best. She later admitted that she hadn’t actually looked at the location.

Mortified by my roasted complexion, I hid the front of my body in the shade, but in doing so, somehow managed to burn the back of my body even worse than the front. “This is just so unfortunate. Just bad luck.” My mum sighed as she attempted to smear aftersun onto my shoulders.

“Just typical isn’t it, Fanny Annie…” I replied, feeling a bit sorry for myself.

“I think I’ll call you Zebra because of that red stripe you’ve got on your nose.” she retorted, not amused that I had taken to calling her Fanny Annie.

That night, the AC unit in our bungalow broke. It made a sound like a turbo jet roaring down the runway, water sprouting out of it, soaking the stuff on the floor. The bedside lamp flickered on and off too due to a loose wire, feigning some kind of haunting. Sleeping without AC in African heat whilst as red as a cooked crustacean isn’t ideal, but hey, I wished for more adventures, and this was definitely one to tell my friends.

The next morning, staring out at the sea, my mum asked if I’d like a picture taken. I did, but I didn’t. My hair was wild and beachy, and my skin was angry and blotchy. I had always envied these holiday makers who looked great on holiday; whose skin glistened golden, their faces all dewy and sun kissed. In a stark contrast, my skin got spotty from the excess grease of sunscreen on my face. My hair got tangled from being blasted with salt and wind. As for my skin? Usually, I just amassed new freckles, but this time was an extreme case of beetroot on feta. I’d imagined pictures of us looking sun kissed, sitting in paradise. I looked sun blistered in paradise. “Expectation is the root of disappointment.” I muttered to myself.

“Why is it mum, that any time I am excited, I build up all these expectations in my head, and it never, ever turns out the way I imagined it to be?” I thought back to the friends who I invited to my 30th birthday party that didn’t show up and to the just-passed Christmas Day which didn’t look like any of the Christmases that came before; the immediate examples springing to my mind.

Maybe it’s just society nowadays. Everyone posting their carefully edited highlights, hiding the not so picturesque realities. There are no pictures of the broken air con units that gave up during the sweltering heat. No pictures of the surgical masks or the incurred medical bills from an overseas visit to the doctor. No pictures of the sea when the tide goes out, revealing the not so pretty rocks hidden underneath. No pictures of the sunscreen pimples in their angry natural glory – they have all been airbrushed out.

Maybe I’m too romantic, imagining how things will be, when in reality, that’s not it at all. And then, as we sat watching 30 men playing football, aiming shoeless at the world’s smallest goalposts, made out of old lobster cages, I felt grateful that I had the money and the opportunity to afford the medicines and medical help I did, despite the blips from the side affects. I felt grateful to have the opportunity to see the other countries and cultures, taking snapshots of their lives there on a fancy pants phone. I felt grateful to be literate and able to read books despite the less than thrilling plot. We were blessed with the availability of sea shoes, when there were people here in front of me who didn’t even have land shoes for crying out loud! But most of all, I felt grateful to have my mum sitting beside me overlooking a beach in paradise on her comfy lounger, thinking that everything doesn’t have to be perfect to be good fun.

Checking out of the hotel, the staff looked confused. Apparently we’d paid them for an extra day, and I am not sure how this happened. I’d been haemorrhaging money this month between the driving test, the medical bills, changing flights and now this, not to mention the upcoming birthday brunch I was expected to go to the day after I returned. What to do. I laughed.

This last and final straw really summed up the entirety of my ‘adventure’. It was only fitting that the holiday should end on a note like this. “Mum, would you like to stay another night longer?” I had to get back for work. “I do, but not without you, Zebra.”

Maybe nothing ever turns out the way we imagined it would in our head; relationships, love, work, holidays, money, adventures, and instead we just need to be embrace it for how it really is, and laugh about the disasters that we encounter along the way.

But on a serious note, I’ve learned that the most important things, are not really the ‘outfits’ that you pack for the pictures you’ll take, but that you research your holiday and the hotel’s location to amenities. Your health is more important than the busy little ends you need to tie up before you go, and the biggest knot you need to tie before you go is booking decent travel insurance!!!

As I showed my flatmate my sunburn, moaning about what outfit I should wear to hide it for brunch the following day, she told me about the time years ago, when she was sunburnt so bad, that her ‘tan’ lines lasted for almost two years after. “You’ll look like you’re wearing permanent pants!!!” she howled at the other end of the video call. “That’s the most hilarious souvenir I’ve ever seen!!!!”. “Oh girl, don’t!” I replied, “Last week I felt like a leper, and this week, I feel like Samantha from Sex & The City!”

20130211-172004

Okay, so it wasn’t quite the adventure I’d pictured, or the souvenir I’d hoped for, but it was an adventure nonetheless, and while January might be the longest month of the year, I have a feeling that February, will be one long stretch of applying moisturiser, practicing parking and saving pennies.

Look out for more ‘adventures’ of mine, coming to your screens some time soon!

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