It´s funny the effect losing my bag has had on me. I´d spent weeks carefully constructing this travel self, prepared for every eventuality. Scoured shops for clothes that would cover me up against the insects and dry quickly if I hand-washed them. Packed universal bath plug, two kinds of adaptor, earplugs, a mini-pharmacy. Hunted for tiny toiletries so I wouldn´t have to haul about big bottles of shampoo etc. The careful packing was proof against all the dire warnings and something I used to reassure all the people who were worried about me. It was a mental security blanket. And then it got lost, and I had the odd experience of having to re-buy everything haphazardly, having a foreign rucksack full of unfamiliar Peruvian products and an odd assortment of clothes, all the best of a bad lot rather than anything I´d have chosen. The security blanket is gone, and... I kind of like it. Only having a small bag is brilliant. I´d packed light but this little bag is even lighter. When I´ve been travelling before, the transitional bits between one place to stay and another have been an ordeal. Haul the big heavy bag to the new place as quickly as you can, dump it, lie and gasp for a bit and then explore. This way you can check out of somewhere in the morning, wander around all day, arrive at the next place in the evening and not even be tired. The line between essential and desirable things to bring has moved.
Then there´s language. I know a bit of phrasebook Spanish. I can book things and ask directions and stuff. Somehow (arrogantly, it seems now) I thought this would get me by. I was picking it up all the time, after all. But obviously it´s not enough to talk to people, to understand them, to express things beyond the sort of "Mrs Lopez works for Rover. She has a good salary" stuff in my Instant Spanish book. I am saying things are very good, with the genders mixed up half the time, and saying thank you a lot. And like I found in China, when a lot of your coping strategies revolve around language it feels pretty naked to be without it. But I´ve discovered something very interesting. If you haven´t got much language you are forced to be open and straightforward. You meet some little village kid who throws a handful of leaves over you to welcome you to her village and instead of trying to think up something sensitive and appropriate to say, you just ask what her name is. If you want to ask for something you just ask for it, just the words you need, without ringing it round with a maze of caveats, circumlocutions and apologies. You just say what you mean.
So I was lying on my mat on the floor of a wooden house deep in the jungle last night, staring up at the dark rafters of the banana-leaf-thatched roof. There was a crack in it where you could see one star. The room was full of zigzags of cricket noise, punctuated by dripping from the trees. And I realised, suddenly, that everyone in this house thought I was Dutch and none of them knew my name.
The guide/interpreter guy who had set it up for me to come here, the son of the painter (thereby hangs a tale), had gone home, as had the nice English-speaking boy who drove the mototaxi. I had heard the others, all exclusively Spanish-speaking but for a tiny Japanese girl with no English either, saying I was from Holland. It was what they heard no matter how many times I said "Irlanda". And when they´d spoken to me earlier they thought my name was Gloria or Ji-dah or Dray-da, and I´d say it again and they´d look puzzled, then shrug. It was just an impossible collision of consonants. So there I was, in the middle of the forest. I´d lost my stuff, I´d lost my language, and now it was as if I´d even lost my nationality and my name.
And that felt kind of liberating as well, so that I nearly laughed out loud. It was as if all the extraneous nonsense had been stripped off some fundamental thing that was me. But who ´me´ was wasn´t important. I´m Nobody, I thought, so I can be whatever I like.
Unfortunately all I could actually do at that point was go to sleep, but it´s the principle.