Finding myself – Turns out I was in Central America all along
I landed in Havana, Cuba around 8pm and had arranged to meet my fellow comedian and top friend James Beatty at a bar in Old Havana. I had no money, no map, no lonely planet, no wifi, no hope. I arrived at the bar and James wasn’t there. Shit! The taxi driver was shouting at me in Spanish and I was stood In the square in old Havana with no money and my lifely possesions in my backpack.
I was well and truly lost. Literally and metaphorically. This wouldn’t be the last time on this trip but “If you never get lost, how can you ever truly find yourself?”
I remembered that James text me 3 days earlier saying he was sat in Hotel Inglaterra in Havana as was using their wifi. I decided to get the taxi driver to drive me there and after that I wasn’t sure. I managed to change some money at the hotel, pay the driver and then sit on wifi. James finally turned up an hour later and the tension mounted as I had nowhere to sleep that night. I ended up spooning him in a double bed in a Cuban families spare room. I was big spoon.
The aim of the trip was to do 2 weeks around cuba, fly to Mexico, travel on a bus to Belize, Guatamala, fly to Panama then Costa Rica and Columbia. What an adventure but I knew my budget wouldn’t last that long and I have my 2nd follow up scan booked in for March 12th at Southampton Hospital so needed to return home before James was intending to.
Now the trip is individual to everyone and so I won’t go into detail about what to do or where to see but highlights were beaches, salsa dancing in the streets, meeting people from all over the world, learning the history of Cuba and Che, plus visiting a new wonder of the world Chichen Itza, and then partying in Cancun.
If you haven’t met James he is a charming man who runs comedy nights and pantomimes in Essex. I’m sure most of the punters don’t even go to see the shows they just come to get a compliment from James as they arrive. He is a positive person and positivity breeds positivity. I knew if someone could make me charismatic again and show me a good time then it would be him. For the first two weeks in Cuba I could not get near him on entertainment wise or social skills. He can talk to anyone in the street, no matter where they are from and everyone walks off with a glowing smile on their face once they’ve spoken to James.
Its only since finding myself again I realised how lost I was. For over a week in Cuba I was struggling to even say hello to strangers and even the slightest form of conversation. I was living in James’s shadow but I was very happy with that. When I meet a positive person in life who has good characteristics I always want to install those characteristics into my life and become the best possible version of myself. The most difficult thing at the time of travelling was when people would talk about what jobs they did, where they live etc. If I didn’t think I would ever see the person asking me again I would just say my name was Ross and that I was a dolphin trainer and lived on my own. It was difficult if someone kept probing the questions because I only told 3 people on the trip my situation. If I tell them the truth that I was working at Rio Olympics when I found a tumour and have just been going through chemotherapy and only recently recovered from Cancer. It gets a mixed reaction! Usually of total disbelief followed by lots of crying. So I decided to keep it to myself.
As the weeks went on we left the truly tremendous Cuba for party time in Cancun in Mexico. James had sorted everything on the trip, the accommodation, where we would eat, who we would talk to, the travel. On our third day in Mexico I decided to book onto a tour on my own to one of the wonders of the world Chichen Itza. As James had previously visited he wanted to stay in Cancun and do some comedy admin and also moved our bags from one hostel to another new hostel that we were going to stay in that night.
I had a great day at Chichen Itza and was speaking to people on the bus and making new friends. As I returned to Cancun and found our new hostel I was thinking I bet James Is running the show and entertaining all the guests. I thought tonight I would try and “be a bit more James Beatty”. As I walked into Hostel Ka’beh everyone was sat down doing a pub quiz run by the Hostel cruel mistress receptionist named Amy. I gave everyone a wave as I walked in and introduced myself and sat myself in the middle of the table and started to make new friends. I joined the team with James and two Australian girls called Kaitlyn and Sam. I wasn’t allowed to give answers as had not paid an entry fee and they were probably nervous about my quizzing general knowledge. They obviously hadn’t watched my episode when I lost on The Chase.
We all went to a club that night at Coco Bongo which if you are in Cancun you have to go! I was hammered drunk and ended up falling asleep outside the club, then slept on the bus home from the club and then in a hammock in the hostel garden. The next day we took a bus to the beach and again I slept on the way there before sleeping again on the bus home and then again in another club that night during a bikini competition. Everyone kept asking why I was so tired all the time, and the girls all wanted to stroke my hair as couldn’t believe how soft it was and like baby hair. They were all asking what conditioner I was using as they all wanted to use it. Oh no, this is a type of hair conditioner I hope you never have to use. My hair is beautifully soft though. It was a strange feeling because before travelling everyone I spoke to knew what I was going through but during travelling I can’t just introduce myself as Hi I’m Af I’ve just beaten cancer. Because you never know how people are going to react. It was like a great weight on my shoulders that I was carrying around with me.
Everyone from the hostel was at the beach and enjoying the sunshine. James had decided to go for a walk, something that he did each morning of a major hangover. I was feeling great though from my sleep outside Coco Bongo and was cracking jokes left right and center, mainly aimed at Amy who was digging me out for being a gobshite. She was continuously trying to put me down but deep down I knew it was her way of flirting and she loved me really.
I felt really good about myself and at one point I had noticed myself saying out loud “I am so happy right now, It’s great to be here”. I had said it for the third time and noticed that I was commenting on how happy I was. I was back to being me. Later that night we went to the bikini competition and Sam from Sydney was cracking up at my pathetic jokes and said I reminded her of Ricky Gervais, possibly the second biggest compliment you can give me comparing me to my hero.
Sam then went on to say “Af we have travelled for over a month and met a lot of people but you are the best person we have met on this whole trip” wow what a compliment. As Sam left to return back to Sydney with her equally entertaining friend May, she sent me a message to say “There’s seriously so few people I’ve met in my life where I could sit there and be forever entertained by their presence but seriously you have something about you”
Such an amazing thing to hear from someone, and in case you think she fancied me and this was all a sexual ploy to get into my pants. It wasn’t. Trust me I found that out the hard way. #Friendzone
In the morning James and I were supposed to catch a bus to Tullum on the Mexican coast on our way to Belize. James however had to arrange a stag do for one of his friends so we didn’t leave the hostel in the morning. I went to grab some lunch on my own. I had major beer fear and was at anxiety level 100 and doing some serious self-reflection and decided I would go home instead.
That compliment from Sydney Sam could have just been a throw away comment that she did not know the impact she would have with it. James asked me how my hangover was and I said “I’m going home” He was in disbelief but as I explained it to him I told him that I had achieved what I came out here to do and find myself again. I was straight onto sky scanner and the cheapest way to get home was via New York so I text my friend Alex living in New York and booked the next flight out there.
James and I recorded a podcast most days as a travel diary and mentioned in it a few times that he wanted a compliment from me and I would never give him one, which became a running joke. I realise now that I have always been awful at receiving compliments and it used to make me feel totally awkward even if I knew the compliment was true and heart felt. Now I realise that I was so bad at receiving them because I was so awfully bad at giving them. Part of that reason might be due to the fact that I thought If I gave someone a compliment they might actually give me one back and that’s not what I wanted.
I spent 4 weeks watching how James talks to people and interact with people. Then when I mastered it myself I felt like it was mission complete and went home. What he didn’t notice is I spent the whole trip trying to become more like James and that imitation is the finest form of flattery which is the biggest compliment of all.
As we also came to a conclusion that the world is a reflection of yourself. If you aren’t aware or conscious of you giving out compliments then just try it this week. Try giving one person you know a compliment without expecting one back and without them being aware of it and try giving one to a complete stranger. One because it makes you feel good but more so because you never know the impact it will have on their day, week or year.
James and I spent the last night reflecting on what had been an incredible month of fun and one of the most valuable journeys I have ever been on in my life. My flight to NYC was at 7am and we stayed up till the early hours in a hammock hopelessly flirting with Megan from Cheshire who was out smarting us with her Physics degree but she still fell for the ‘name of the game is snaps’ and the classic eyelash gag.
What a time to be alive,
Thanks for reading, Oh and by the way…….Have I told you how beautiful you look today?