Exactly one month into my trip and I think it’s time to start writing about feelings. Extensively writing. Writing myself into some discoveries of how this has really been going so far and what is actually going on inside.
It’s strange; in a way, I feel like I’ve gone through this first month quite emotionless. Yes, there was the all-over body tingle in the first moments of finally being on the road. Of being fully packed, as organised as is obsessively possible, as ready as I ever will be. The freedom of knowing that even if there was a forgotten purchase or download, it’s too late to worry and that I was too contingency’d to be massively affected should such a neglected recovery item or contact or How-To video be needed and missed.
I, solo traveller and now Africa-adventurer, was on the journey that I never knew my soul always needed.
But where are the feelings?
In Botswana, my initial excitement tamed into landscapes and city malls that were wholly familiar. A Wimpy for another holiday burger, Incredible Connection for a spare SD card, family of family to hold me in my final known nest. And even a border post that had a working credit card machine when my well-researched and well-rehearsed crossing left me 100 Pula short of the vehicle levy. A very soft landing indeed.
Then Zimbabwe exploded into the story.
Non-happenings of the sort of explosion I was worried about: Not an aggressive policeman nor confrontational roadblock during my entire visit. My faux wallet—a tip from friends—full of small denominations to hand over in a “This-is-all-I-got”-shrug, sat unused and dejected in my front pocket.
Actual—metaphorically speaking—explosions where I least expected them: In my heart and in my soul as I sat in and drove through landscapes that titillated every energy meridian running through my body. What wonderful surprises lay waiting for me in empty-of-people, full-of-wonder, forlorn but not beaten Zimbabwe. My spirit soared alongside my drone in the Matopos, climbed to great heights with me in the Chimanimanis and floated, happy and content, next to our boat on the Zambezi. A recurring feeling of disbelief in the spectacular vistas of this country which has been hammered so hard by unconscionable leadership and its resultant decrepit reputation.
Maybe the secret to truly ecstatic experiences it to deeply believe the opposite; that there will be nothing to see except bloodshot eyes of aggressors, and nothing to feel but respite when this chapter is over, survived.
But I had those same non-expectations of Mozambique and, unfortunately, this time they delivered. Whether it was the much more impermeable language barrier or a people that held a deep knowing that they really didn’t need the likes of me… Maybe it was my own attitude, together with my itinerary being deliberately that of pass-through and not an extensive investigation… Whatever it was, even at the shores of picture-perfect Cahora Bassa, I felt alien and somehow excluded. My Zimbabwe-high acrashing, as all ecstatic adventures do, in a depressing comedown of sober and sombre awakenings.
Nevermind, I thought. Malawi is next. The country I was probably most looking forward to of the entire trip.
And here I sit. A third of the way through my time here, grappling with the double-layered wonderings of how Malawi is doing on my adventure barometer, and how I am truly doing on my general state of emotions-measure.
That’s what got me thinking about expectations. Possibly, arguably, Malawi’s vistas so far have been more diverse and more visually powerful than Zimbabwe’s. Climbing in Mulanje tops Chimanimani, and not just in the height I reached or distances I covered. Those peaks and plateaus thudded in my chest and spoke a language to my soul that I could nearly fully understand. Zomba had its own beauty, equal to the Bvumba. And the Lake!!! Lake Malawi had me mute as I stared into the endless water on our boat outing yesterday. She lapped me to sleep last night, camping right on one of her beautiful beaches, and gently nudged me awake this morning. I’ve met and been accompanied by more travellers here than in Zim too.
Yet, now is when I’m starting to feel emotionally withered.
Why this dampened feeling? A neuropathy in my fingers, hands, feet and being. Nerve-endings that refuse to awaken or to send thrills back to my brain that are supposed to bring smiles wider than my face.
Maybe I am finally lonely. Something many suspected would happen but an opinion that I swotted away with the self-knowledge that I travel better alone. And, besides, I told them and myself, I would be meeting many people along the way for regular social injections.
Maybe it’s the shadow caused by an expectation gap realised? No matter how blue the lake’s afternoon glow is, it can never shimmer in the glitter of my earlier, uninformed fantasy.
Maybe, four weeks into pervasive silence that’s only broken by the getting-to-know-you sentences—in other words, surface ones—spoken to other adventurers, and the silt in my soul is finally starting to surface. Silt from chapters past yet still settling; scars mostly healed yet still visible. And because they’re there and able to elbow-nudge their way into my present, they’re getting the airtime they need.
It’s probably a little bit of all of these things. It’s just as likely merely a patch of subdued social energy. I have spent years trying to be, but finally accept that I am just not, massively outgoing. I recharge internally and not externally. Contrary to years of living otherwise, I actually prefer the still and not the clamour, even if it is lined with a cloud of melancholy. And my reaction to my current state might also just be hardwiring activating those feelings of “this is not how things should be nor how you should be responding,” causing a double-wham of reactions for me to hurdle over.
This, then, is where I find myself: a front-row camp site overlooking gentle, beautiful, majestic Lake Malawi, and a seat right up front with my emotions. Feelings of not being quite sure of what I’m supposed to feel. Feelings that have swung from pure joy to unfiltered numbness. Feelings that are trying just as hard to be something they “should” as they are to reach some consistent high in appreciation of this glorious adventure with its rare, exceptional, probably-never-to-be-repeated chapters.
People whose counsel I trust would urge me just to sit with whatever these things are that I’m feeling. Sit in the joy when it’s there; sit in the sulk when it rolls in. To acknowledge the fog along with the sunshine. Because both need each other, in a weird way, to feel productive. To feel alive.
That’s what I’ll do. Right here in one of the best seats in the world right now.
Lots of love from Cape Maclear in Malawi.
[Just in case this piece worries you—and it shouldn’t—here’s a note I recorded in the car recently. Have a listen.]