Now I’m on my own I should probably start doing a few more video diaries. And talk a bit about what’s been going on the last few days. Where to start . . . erm . . .
So today was a very long and eventful day.
This morning, after I got up, I had an email from the embassy – from the British Embassy – saying that my sleeping-bag was available for collection from the airport, and would I like to go with the driver to the airport?
So I arranged to do that. And I thought in the meantime I’d go and buy myself a new head-torch, which is something that I’ve been lacking for . . . well, several months, actually. I’m not sure how long this one will last, but nevertheless I think it was a pretty good buy, for just over a quid.
I also bought a lighter for lighting my stove, which also conveniently comes with a digital clock, that you can’t change, and that has the wrong time on it.
After that, I went to a second-hand shop and got a down jacket. So, together with my new hat, which is made from real rabbit fur, I’m prepared for the cold mountains of Iran, and hopefully for the coldness of any Central Asian mountains I might venture through. And all for the bargain price of about six quid.
And after that I went to the British Embassy, and while I was waiting I met the French couple who Andy was staying with before he went back to Tbilisi. And – hah! – unbelievably, Vincent just happened to have been given my bank card by Andy! I haven’t had a bank card since September in bloody Romania!
And so I went to the airport with the Embassy driver, and I was so pleased that everything was going really well. And then we were told that the computers weren’t working, so we’d have to come back tomorrow! So I got as far as the airport – I was even in the same building as these bloody sleeping-bags, after three months of trying to get hold of them, including one month of waiting here in Yerevan – and I still don’t actually have them!
So, tomorrow – fingers crossed – I’m going to get them. And I’ll probably be a hundred quid worse off for the privilege. Which is about as much money as I need to cycle across the whole of Iran to Turkmenistan, so it’ll be a bit of a financial blow. But it just means I’ll have to spend another week picking peaches in Australia or wherever, so I’ll just try and think of it like that.
Because I saved up enough money to cycle round the world. In reality, at the rate it’s going, I can probably get to Australia or New Zealand, as I’m spending no more than two or three pounds a day. I’ve had to pay for accommodation on . . . what, nine nights out of the two hundred and fifty or so since I left England? And things like this down-filled jacket – well, I found it for a fiver in a second-hand shop. It’s got a bit of paint on it, but – you know – it doesn’t really matter, does it? It’s going to keep me warm. That’s the important thing.
So tomorrow I’ll try one more time. And if I don’t get these bloody sleeping-bags tomorrow, then I’m going to go to a party, get very drunk, and pass out in a ditch. And if I do get them, then I’m going to celebrate. By going to a party, getting very drunk, and passing out in a ditch.
The next morning felt like the morning before my first driving test, when success felt so close yet still so tantalisingly out of reach, because it depended on everything happening a tiny bit more perfectly than was reasonably possible.
I was outside the Embassy gates at nine-thirty, in time to watch them creak open, as appointed, and the friendly Armenian driver to emerge in one of the British Ambassador’s big luxurious four-by-fours. We sped along the highway leading south towards the airport and the cargo depot. It was a glorious late winter’s day, the sun vigorous and confident, the sky a blemish-free blue, the roads and pavements licked with meltwater. The objects of my last quarter-year of travail drew closer. Soon there would be a box in the boot and we would be speeding back to the city, and I would realise that winter was already ending.
‘I can’t actually believe it. I can’t actually believe it’s there.’
I stood, hands on hips, looking down at the cardboard box wrapped in packing tape in the middle of the living room floor. My mother had obviously paid a visit to Lidl and nicked one of those packing boxes that they leave there for the shoppers too stingy or environmentally-conscious to pay 2p for a plastic bag. The box’s exterior advertised not sleeping-bags but Ecuador’s finest bananas.
‘It’s . . . it’s not real.’
I gave the box a tap with my foot. My Couchsurfing hosts Lucila and Anton stood around in their slippers and tracksuit bottoms, having just got up, watching with amusement as the hairy Englishman’s dreams came true in front of their eyes.
‘Did you check what’s inside?’ asked Anton.
‘Er – well. I really should have done. But the driver said that . . . if there’s diplomatic mail, then what the do is they put it in the car, lock the doors and windows and then drive really fast back to the Embassy without stopping, because . . . it might contain something sensitive.’
Lucila handed me a pair of scissors and I began to hack at the layers of parcel tape.
‘How the hell do I get into this box?’ I laughed. ‘My mother – as usual – has packed it rather too well.’
Ironically, it was my dear unwitting mother’s diligence that had created the one-month hold-up. Worried that falsifying the price of the bags would be an insurance risk, she’d ignored my pleas to declare them at a tenner each and instead written their true value on the customs declaration form – which, unfortunately, was several hundred pounds; easy prey for a hefty bill of import tax.
‘Carina, you’re missing this moment!’ called Lucila to the third housemate, who was still getting dressed.
‘Exactly!’ I shouted, slicing away at the box’s seams. ‘This is something monumental!’
And then it fell open and two tightly stuffed bundles rolled out onto the floor.
I leapt up and punched the air – someone’s camera flashed.
‘YES!!! Oh my GOD!!!’
I picked up one of the bundles and tossed it into the air, catching it with a flourish – ‘Yaaaayyyy!!! Amazing, amazing, amazing . . .’ – while the three Italians watched in disbelief. They’d clearly never seen a fully grown man get this excited about a sleeping-bag.
‘Sleep in comfort at minus twenty-five degrees!’ I said, reading the label on the bag. ‘Well, that’ll be useful now!’
‘There are other things in the box,’ said Anton, pointing, as I pulled the sleeping-bag from its sack and measured it up against myself as if it were a shirt on display in a clothes store.
‘Oh – yes.’
Alongside Andy’s sleeping-bag was a padded envelope containing a book of some sort, and a thin envelope with my mother’s handwriting on the front. I carefully opened it and unfolded the handwritten letter. Something slipped out and fell to the floor.
‘Ah – what’s this?’
Putting the letter on the sofa, I reached down for the folded piece of paper. It was a newspaper cutting. I stood up straight, opening it out.
‘It’s an article. Oh dear . . . hah! I don’t believe it!’
The piece had been cut from the Harborough Mail, my local newspaper. At the top of the full-page spread was a big picture of me, sat on the floor on the left, and Andy squatting down on the right, grinning widely, both of us cuddling the giant toy panda that sat between us: the mascot of the WWF, whose offices we had visited in Istanbul. Below the picture, the article’s words painted a picture of two intrepid young Englishmen from the Midlands living a dream of adventure on the open road, in which each day was filled with acts of heroic defiance and fortitude, winning over foreign lands and people, forging ever onward. Their mission, it seemed, was going from strength to strength. What could possibly stand in their way?