Forgive me Father, it's been... well, far too long to keep count, but it's certainly been a while since I did any travel writing. If you're talking about proper, no holds barred, tell the grandchildren-type travelling, then I guess we've got to go back more than a decade to when I found myself sheltering in Ghana after being ground down and beaten by West Africa; and my last travel writing of any kind was over six years ago, when Peta and I spent a couple of weeks exploring Kerala in southern India. To say that I'm rusty is an understatement.
So this new project is all a bit of a shock. Sure, we've talked about going travelling for a while, because that's what you do when you're stuck inside on the sofa, huddled up in front of the fire while the winds howl through the telephone wires outside. 'We could be on a beach right now,' you can't help pointing out. 'Look, the weather app says it's 37 degrees in India, and we've got to tackle the bloody Tube in the morning.' And life goes on, as it should.
But we've finally managed to convert words into action, and we're now staring into the abyss of a year travelling through Central and South America, starting in Mexico and finishing in Brazil a year later. Today is our first full day in the tropics after yesterday's 20-hour marathon from London to Playa del Carmen, and the warm tropical winds here on the eastern shores of the Yucatán Peninsula are starting to blow away the cobwebs of six hours of jet lag. The sun is out, the mercury is brushing 30 degrees, the humidity is solid enough to spread on toast and the white sandy beaches are therapeutically soft.
But don't get excited, because this isn't yet anything like travelling; truth be told, we're on holiday at the moment, easing ourselves gently into the travelling mood. This isn't an indulgence, it's essential; I had no idea that ditching your workaday life in your mid-forties (for me) and mid-fifties (for Peta) would be quite as much of a shock as it's been – particularly the last four weeks – and we need to take a breath before doing, well, anything. On our last night in London we popped round to my brother's for a farewell supper, and it's fair to say that by that point we both looked like death warmed up. This followed on from a concentrated few weeks of packing up all our worldly goods and sticking them in storage, saying a permanent goodbye to our rented home of seven years, sorting out the reams of paperwork associated with changing addresses and putting my contractor company to sleep, and randomly bursting into tears every time I realised I was doing something for the last time. Hell, I even started welling up when I packed the dishwasher for the last time, and they weren't tears of joy. Uprooting yourselves when you've really grown into a place is harder than you think; those roots wrap themselves into every nook and cranny, and it's inevitable that it will hurt when you yank them all out.
But looking through my toes at the blue horizon of the Caribbean Sea as it slips into azure and turquoise waters just off a white sandy beach... well, it's amazing how quickly it all starts to make sense. Yesterday, as months of build-up collided with 20 hours of transit and a six-hour time difference, I could feel the panic rising like hot mercury in my lungs; today, that chilled bottle of Sol tastes like the future, and the future tastes good.
We might not have started travelling yet, but we've certainly started something, and that's enough for now. It might be a long way to Rio and the road will no doubt have plenty of ups and downs, but at least we're on our way. And about time too...