‘The only time you should ever look back is to see how far you’ve come.’ – Ian Knabel.
On a personal level, 2016 has been a good year. Not as great as 2015 – you’ll remember that in Reflections on 2015, I boldly made the claim that 2015 was the best year I’d had yet, and 2016 didn’t top it, but it wasn’t bad. On a personal level.
On a global level… My, what a year! We had Brexit, we had (have, oh my GOD!) Trump, we had terrorist attacks, racism, Syria, Yemen and some major celebrity deaths, including the author of my favourite book, Harper Lee. I’ve had days where I’ve read or watched the news and literally despaired at the world we are now living in. I wrote about it back in November, but I still cannot believe the tough year we’ve had across the world.
Before I launch into the highlights (and some lowlights) of my year, here is a quick recap of everything I’ve been up to…
January saw Mum and I in Pembrokeshire for a couple of nights before I headed back to the Southern Hemisphere for summer in New Zealand after a great Christmas period at home. I spent February and March planning and preparing for The Long Journey Home with P, with lots of NZ fun thrown in for good measure.
By April, I’d quit my job and was on the road again, road tripping around the South Island before heading back to Wellington one last time and then onto Auckland to see C before I flew out of the country. I spent a wonderful week in Mongolia, then flew to Beijing to meet up with P and start The Long Journey Home from there. We spent the rest of April, May and half of June traversing across China, Mongolia, Russia and half of Europe in our bid to get back to the UK overland.
It was an amazing, awesome adventure and we were gutted when we arrived back in the UK on June 16th. After a reunion with friends from New Zealand, I headed back to Wales for a wedding and set about job hunting. Within two weeks, I was back in London starting my job at JustGiving. I spent the summer exploring the city I now call home, and getting out and about whenever possible for weekend trips.
As summer slipped into autumn, I moved into my current flat, headed to Berlin for a fantastic weekend with C and L, spent a few days celebrating Mum’s birthday in London with lots of fun, laughter, food and a trip up The Shard and finally, we slid into December and the present. The weekend before Christmas, we went to Allihies for a big family reunion and then I headed back in Wales, ready for a family Christmas.
This year has been a whirlwind, a kaleidoscope of fun and activity. I’ve felt extremely grateful to have some wonderful friends, in Wales, in London, back in NZ and scattered around the world. This has definitely been a year of friendship and without a doubt, my friends and my family have been the biggest highlight in 2016 and it’s been great to reconnect with old friends, continue making new friends and enjoy some quality time with my family after living abroad for nearly two years. A special shout out to P for being the best travel companion anyone could ask for!
I’ve had many highlights this year – road tripping in New Zealand, sunset at Richmond Park, my trip to Berlin, watching the sun set over Budapest, climbing Rocky Mountain in Wanaka, drinking beer across Europe, yet another sunset as viewed from the top of The Shard with Mum (can you tell I love a good sunset?!), our trip to Pembrokeshire in January, the day at Wellington Races, being reunited with friends I hadn’t seen in ages from both NZ and Wales, getting my job at JustGiving so quickly and then going from temp to permanent at such a great organisation… Most, if not all, of The Long Journey Home! But there are three particular personal highlights that top them all.
Horse Riding in Mongolia
When I went riding with S and P during my second visit to Mongolia, I was given a really lively horse that I secretly named Billy. He was impatient and raring to go and as we galloped, wild and free, across the steppe, I felt on top of the world. The wind whistled past my ears and I couldn’t keep the smile off my face as we raced away from the group, to pause and wait for them to catch up and then repeat. Billy whirled on the spot, eager to keep moving, and we jogged along instead of walking, but after years of not riding, this really brought home to me how much I still love horses and still want to ride again in the future.
Sunset over Lake Baikal
I wrote about this sunset here, but looking back, this evening was one of my biggest highlights of the year. I felt completely at peace with the world. This was one of those rare pauses, when I was truly right there in the moment, absorbed by the sunset that was unfolded before me and how cold it was and how happy I was to be there, at that very point in time, with P, to enjoy such an amazing show of nature. The sunset followed a lovely day when we’d eaten a picnic on the shores of Lake Baikal, wandered around Khuzir taking photos and generally just chilled out in the middle of nowhere!
Family Reunion in Allihies
Just a couple of weekends ago, I returned to Allihies for the happy occasion of my Great Uncle’s 80th birthday. My entire family on my Dad’s side made it for the weekend and it was fantastic to see everyone again, particularly my Granddad, who I’d not seen for two and a bit years. My Great Uncle seemed thrilled to see us all and after a big dinner in the local pub, we drank, chatted and caught up until the small hours. Both my Great Uncle and my Granddad got up and sang songs accapella, which was amazing. The next day, I wandered along the cliff path and sat for a while, watching the breakers rolling in off the Atlantic and smashing against the rocks, sending a fine spray up into the air. It was my first time by the sea since April and I left Allihies feeling more peaceful and relaxed than I’d felt in a long time.
These highlights, amongst the many others, have helped to make 2016 a pretty great year. However, there were a few personal lowlights that brought me back down to earth with a bump from time to time and occasionally pulled me up short.
This made that fortnight really tough, especially as I was largely travelling alone and lived in my head a lot more – I had so much more time to over-think everything. Leaving New Zealand was hard too – I still miss this beautiful country. Every. Single. Day. I definitely left a piece of myself in the Land of the Long White Cloud and often think wistfully about returning, even though I know it’ll be different and nothing is ever the same twice.
Literally everything that could go wrong did go wrong and I ended up arriving in Ulaan Bator around 13 hours behind schedule. Thankfully, everything worked out in the end, but it was touch and go for a while and I definitely am not ashamed to admit that I locked myself in the toilet mid-flight between Sydney and Beijing and had a wee cry to let some of the stress out!
I’ve also had some terrible knee pain this year.
Back in March, I hit my knee hard whilst boarding a bus (don’t ask!). It hurt a hell of a lot but the pain disappeared after a few days and I thought nothing more about it. But, after several days of riding in Mongolia, my knee flared up again and I was in agony throughout the end of my time in Mongolia and then during my entire time in Beijing. Walking was hard work, I limped, could barely make it up or down stairs and nearly cried from the sheer pain of it after over-exerting myself on the Great Wall of China and climbing lots of steps! It has slowly healed throughout the year and I’ve been told by the doctor that there’s nothing too much to worry about, but it has caused me a great deal of pain and irritation this year, not least the time I broke down in tears on a car journey to Suffolk at the end of July when it was so painful I could no longer drive and my sister had to take over whilst I stretched it out in the passenger seat.
However, I count myself lucky that these have all been pretty minor complaints compared to some, and the highlights of my 2016 far outweigh the lowlights! I’m now starting to look forward to what 2017 has to throw at me – I already have lots of travel plans, starting with a trip to Bruges for my birthday next month. I know that globally, 2017 is likely to be another tough year, but I hope that on a personal level, it’ll be a good year, with plenty to keep me busy, lots of fun to be had and of course, lots more travel to be done!