“Maybe the strangeness only ever was to hide ourselves from some kind of happiness” – Manic Street Preachers.
So the five year gap has finally happened. This week I hit another sentimental and perhaps unwanted milestone on my wacaday journey. 21st August 2020 saw a five year story come back to haunt and for another reality check.
It was the 21st August 2015 and there I was living in the Kong. I had spent over 4 years using Hong Kong as a base. It was there in the Kong, that I first became a professional English teacher. It was there in the Kong where I first worked in a pub in Asia. It was there in the Kong where I took my mediocre hobby travel blog and turned it into a 6 figure business. All that stuff happened in Hong Kong.
But on 21st August 2015, I boarded a flight from Hong Kong to Singapore and I left Hong Kong behind. After the Pore, I whackpacked through Bangladesh on route to Bahrain. It was an ongoing topsy turvy travel lifestyle. But when I left Hong Kong on 21st August 2015, I expected to be back there just two months later. I could have been sure about that. But somethings happened and life was to change in more ways than five. The 21st August 2015, five years ago was to be my last ever day living in Hong Kong.
“I’ve been meaning to tell you. I’ve got this feeling that won’t subside” – Eric Carmen.
When I boarded the plane that day out of Hong Kong, it seemed like just another of many departures from the Kong down the years. It was my base for backpacking and I even visited Australia, Africa, South America, North America, Middle East, Europe and always ended up back in Hong Kong. This time shouldn’t have been any different. But it was. Here is what happened next and why I never ended up back in Hong Kong.
Whackpacking Micronations in Scandinavia
After Bangladesh and Bahrain, I transited in Istanbul (again – I must have transited Turkey more times than most other countries I visited). From Istanbul I flew straight to Denmark. Here, I visited not just Denmark and Sweden, but I swallowed two “Micronations”. First I toured Christiania with fellow blogger Abbi Morrison and secondly I toured Ladonia with Daniel Evans.
Once that madness had ended, I boarded a flight with smoked salmon and quirky beer from Copenhagen to Vágar in the Faroe Islands. It was here that I managed to visit 8 of the Faroe Islands and watch an oh so important football match.
Gareth McAuley’s Brace in Torshavn
The first week of September and I was in Torshavn in the Faroe Islands. After touring a fair chunk of these beautiful islands, I ended up in the national football stadium for a big one. Northern Ireland were top of the group and aiming to qualify for our first tournament since 1986. Could we really do it, and could we do it on a plastic pitch? The only previous time we played Faroe Islands in the Faroes was a 1-1 draw. (There was a 5-0 win for us in 1991, but that was played in Sweden).
Tonight, Gareth McAuley stole the show, scoring two goals in a 3-1 away win. We now only needed 1 win from our next two matches to qualify for Euro 2016. We whispered it slowly and partied that night in Torshavn.
AFC Bournemouth in the Top Flight
By September 2015, working online for myself as a travel blogger, reviewing hostels along the way, suddenly my life in Hong Kong seemed to be left long behind. Football was key this time. AFC Bournemouth were in the top flight for the first time in our history. I simply had to be there in the stadium to watch a match. September was dominated by football.
I ended up attending 5 AFC Bournemouth matches in September and October 2015, including our first ever Premier League home win, 2-0 over Sunderland.
More Micronations and Wacky Trips
While I was back in the UK on this occasion, I visited my family in Northern Ireland, some friends in Birmingham, Bournemouth and London and I also visited my brother in Liverpool. Aside from this, I visited three Micronations that border the UK, I backpacked through Podjistan, Adammia and Lagoan Isles, bringing my UK based Micronation count to 5 at the time.
Northern Ireland in Euro 2016
When all the madness of backpacking micronations calmed down, Northern Ireland beat Greece 3-1 at Windsor Park and sealed our place at Euro 2016. That was it now. I always expected to be told “well done, happy for you, congratulations” from my ex girlfriend. However, when Bournemouth got promoted to the Premier League in May 2015 (I was at the match v. Charlton), when Glentoran won the Irish Cup in 2015 and when Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016, I didn’t get any messages of thanks. Something was up and I cried about that. When I needed someone the most, with just a message, it wasn’t there. So in October 2015, I decided not to go back to Hong Kong just yet.
I returned to visit my family, got some more Glentoran and Bournemouth matches in and I was working online a lot on my blogs. My book was also finished, titled and ready for release. Hong Kong was now put on hold. I decided on a return to Poland, to visit some friends there before going to Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Poland was chosen this time for a few reasons –
1.It had been 8 years since I was there. It was too long a gap.
2.I still hadn’t properly seen Poznań and Kraków.
3.The flight from Luton to Poznań was very cheap.
4.I had never been to Auschwitz and wanted to see it.
5.I now had friends in both Poznań and Kraków and could also meet them on route.
6.Poland to Ukraine by night train had all the travel dreams, I could ever hope for.
The Return to Poland
This time, Poland was brilliant. For some reason, I felt young again. I was 35, but felt more like 25. Perhaps Asia had drained me and aged me. As I met up with people younger than me here and suddenly realised all I loved about Slavic countries and the spirit here. Plus the bars. I always loved the bars in countries like Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. After touring Poznań and Kraków, I got that night train and made plans for Ukraine, and the STANs.
Chance Here For STANislas
After Poland, I veered intill Ukraine. It was here that I enjoyed the charms of Lviv and Kiev. I was back in love with such Slavic cultures. Even a gory trip to the horrors of Chernobyl couldn’t deflect such magnetic memories of Slavic lands. Hong Kong was not in my mind, and somewhere along the way…my relationship ended and I was single again. There was no exact turning point on that. It was clear I had gone my separate way and I didn’t miss Hong Kong. My girlfriend didn’t ask about me often, or decide to come visit me. As I sipped beers in Ukraine around Christmas time 2015, I knew I was single again. For the first time in 5 years, I was single. I also visited the sex bar in Lviv, flirted with a Ukrainian lady and booked the STANS for Christmas and New Year. At the same time, Felix Junior STANislas had scored a screaming 2-1 winner for AFC Bournemouth against Manchester United.
New Year’s Eve in Bishy
After Almaty in Kazakhstan, I found myself in Bishy. Bishkek, capital of magnetic Kyrgyzstan. I was really loving Bishkek and ended up using it as my base until April 2016. I had New Year’s Eve in Bishy, had a lot of fun at Apple Hostel and touring Kyrgyzstan. What followed was me touring Kazakhstan, Afghanistan, Gorno Badakhshan, Uzbekistan, Karakalpakstan, Turkistan and Tajikistan, getting all those visas in Bishkek.
Bate It India
I even ended up doing 5 weeks in India. It was actually my first time ever in India outside an airport! India was certainly a wildchild but it wasn’t the whackpacking joy that I’d heard about it. It was an intense 5 weeks but good to knock it on the head. Europe beckoned again. Hong Kong was miles from my thoughts.
Euro 2016 in France came round and it was amazing. To be finally at a tournament supporting my country felt emotional. I went to every match and partied a lot. I also worked in between on my laptop.
Of course, I had expected Northern Ireland to win the tournament, or at least be in the final. I had no flights or trains booked out of France of course. I planned just to stay in the country for as long as we were in the tournament. The night Northern Ireland got knocked out by Wales, I booked a last minute bus, and left France as soon as I could. I ended up in Brussells. I backpacked a bit of Belgium and the Netherlands.
A flight company gave me a free flight from Amsterdam to a choice of cities. I picked Gdańsk one morning, on a slight hangover. I had watched Poland v. Portugal in the semi final the night before and supported Poland. From Gdańsk, I expected to tour for a week, visit Kashubia and Kaliningrad, meet some travel friends and maybe just maybe head back to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan and finish my book there.
Gdańsk and that was where it ended
But once in Gdańsk, that was it. I was done with backpacking and have lived in Poland ever since. July 2016 basically over 4 years. In 2017, I did have to pop back to Hong Kong to collect all my belongings and move them to Poland, but that was it. It has been a strange life, never a happy one. It’s ups and downs and I met some nice people and some very nasty people on my journey.
All the while, something deeper was brewing. I was in love with someone new and life was changing. As I reflect on these five years since I left Hong Kong, I know there was love that tinged my journeys here and there. I don’t want to be alone forever, nobody does. But sometimes our mind is made up by others.
That said, I cannot wait to finally release the Backpacking Centurion trilogy and start the next chapter.