I'd been really hoping that a Christmas break in Kokrobite would recharge my physical and mental batteries, which would in turn unearth the travelling spark that I've always had on my previous trips. What I didn't realise is that I'd have lots of time to sink myself deeper and deeper into the emotional hole I've been digging for myself since leaving home.
When I arrived here, Kokrobite was full of people, but because most of them were from the trans-Africa trucks, and most of the rest of the residents were couples or groups of some kind, I still felt pretty lonely. I made some friends, but a lot of the time I was free to relax by myself, which meant I was able to sit and stew on just how much I miss Peta. Even when great things happened – such as sitting on the beach with a group of friendly people, listening to impromptu drum concerts in the moonlight – I couldn't think of anything except how great it would be to be sharing this with my girlfriend. I tried to write, and found that for the first time in ages, it felt like work, not pleasure. I went swimming in the sea, and discovered how boring it is without someone to splash. I sat in my room listening to the World Service, and every time they read out the postal address – Bush House, London, England – I instinctively thought of home. Instead of relaxing in paradise by the sea, I was driving myself nuts. There were no two ways about it; I was lovesick, and Christmas was only going to make it worse.
Salvation came in the form of John, Rowena and Mike, who had driven from England in a Land Rover, and who proved to be excellent company. We chatted away in the bar at Big Milly's, and it turned out that Mike, a Canadian traveller who'd joined up with John and Rowena in Morocco, was looking for someone to team up with after Christmas to explore the Ghanaian coast, at exactly the time I was planning to head there myself. This sounded like a plan; I could relax until after Christmas, and then try to get back into the travelling lark before flying out of Ghana in February. Perhaps things would take off after the festive season.
The next morning I grabbed some breakfast and bumped into John and Mike, who were getting ready to leave for another spot down the coast.
'It's paradise over in Busua, Mark,' said John, and proceeded to describe a perfect beach, with an idyllic island not far off shore that was ideal for snorkelling. He described a place not unlike Big Milly's, but which was even more secluded and a great spot for Christmas. Basically, he sold it to me, and then added, 'You can come along if you like. It'd be fun.'
I weighed it up for about a minute, and figured that if I went with them then I'd have good company for Christmas, I'd have someone to travel with after the festive season had ended, and I'd get to see some of the coast in a vehicle that would get me off the beaten track. It sounded great; I said I'd just check that it was OK with the hotel management if I left early, as I'd booked in for a whole week. I was suddenly part of a new group, and it felt good.
Paying the bill was no problem, and I wandered over to John's truck and told them I'd be 15 minutes, as I had to pack. 'No problem,' said John. 'We've got some things to do here anyway, so there's no rush.'
But I wanted to get on the road again, now I'd been all fired up, so I ran back to my room and started packing. I hadn't been expecting to leave so soon so my stuff was all over the place, but packing is my speciality, and 15 minutes later I'd shoehorned everything into my pack and dragged it out into the sun. Blinking, I thought I'd taken a wrong turn, as John's Land Rover had disappeared; but no, that was where they'd been parked, and they were nowhere to be seen. I was a bit stumped; where were they?
I wandered over to the bar to see if they were waiting at the gate, and one of the guys behind the bar said, 'Hey Mark, where have you been?'
'I've been packing,' I said. 'Have John and Rowena gone?'
'Yes, they just left,' he said. 'They were running round the camp looking for you, but then they just left.'
'They left already?' I was stunned. 'But I've checked out of my room and they said they'd wait for me. Why didn't they come and find me?'
'They didn't know which room you were in,' he said. 'They tried to find out, but couldn't find you.'
And with that I realised that the chance of grabbing a great Christmas down the coast had just left without me, fairly inexplicably. I felt completely and utterly rejected, the last thing I needed in my state.
A Moment of Clarity
I didn't know what to do, so I went back to the office, got my room back along with commiserations from the sympathetic staff, and plonked my bag back on the bed. I figured I'd go back to my original plan for the day – trying to ring home before Christmas, when the telecentres would all be closed – so I wandered into the village and tried to call my parents and Peta. It took two hours and two telecentres to get absolutely nowhere (the lines were constantly engaged), so by lunchtime I was back in my room, wondering which god I'd managed to offend this time.
So I pulled out my pictures of Peta and settled down for a good, long cry. It didn't fix anything but it sure made me feel better, and it made me realise that unless something truly spectacular and unexpected happened in the next few days, I was going to be returning to Accra, buying a flight to London, and aborting this awful, solitary nightmare for my old life. I'd hoped – and expected – that travelling alone would be as good an experience as it used to be. I now realise that however good the travelling, I just can't handle being alone. I want my girlfriend here, and as I can't have that, I want to be where my girlfriend is. My priorities have changed; travelling comes second to Peta, and until I can combine the two, I'd rather be at home with her.
At least my time in Kokrobite helped me realise this, once and for all. There's no doubt in my mind that back in the desert the Lariam affected me in a very palpable way, but underlying the chemical effect was this growing realisation that I can't do solo travel any more; it just hurts too much. It took a place like Kokrobite, and the awful feeling of being rejected and alone, to make me realise just how little I've enjoyed travelling this time round.
The upshot is that I've decided to come home. In my original plan I needed to fly from Accra to Nairobi to cross over to the East African leg of my journey, but instead I'm going to fly from Accra to London, and take it from there. I can easily buy a flight to Nairobi to continue my trip, but whether I will depends on what happens back home. Making that decision has taken two-and-a-half months of soul-searching and scraping the bottom of the barrel, but after that length of time travelling, I know the root cause of all my angst. I'm in love and I want to be back home with Peta.
It's the surprise of this realisation that is the strangest part. I have always thought of myself as a traveller rather than anything else, and I've always viewed my fly-by-night careers as a means to an end, that end being saving up for my next trip. I've felt like this since I started really getting into travelling back in 1995, and I've always had this trip to Africa as my goal. Now I'm actually on it, and I hate it and want to come home. I'm reeling from the shock; suddenly I've found that one of the cornerstones of my life is shaky.
On the other hand, as I keep telling myself, I'd rather be in the situation where I'm lovesick and pining for my girlfriend than being the single guy I was for the three years of my last trip. My days of year-long solo trips might be over for now, but that doesn't mean I'll stop travelling. I don't think you ever really do.
But first I need to come home and sort out my priorities. Perhaps I'll look on this day as the moment I finally realised I'm putting down roots. If so, I hope the above doesn't sound as corny then as it does right now.