8 weeks with Patch
Patch and I have always been close. Our childhood was very family orientated, we were lucky in that way. Sit down dinners together most nights but always on Sunday’s, when mum would cook an amazing three course meal, my favorite was leg of lamb with her onion white sauce. Bank holiday weekends were full of hikes along the west coast of Ireland, mussel picking and cheese and ham toasties in the pub after getting soaked by the winter rains.
We had amazing family holidays; weekends in Paris, skiing in Austria and sleeping rough under the endlessly bright Summer sky’s of Iceland which would only see the sun dip and move along the horizon as the sky turned from bright blue to dark orange, then pink and back to blue.
But I guess there was a period when we weren’t quite as close, not by any fallout but purely because patch was becoming a young man and perhaps including his little sister in his football games with the boys wasn’t as cool as it once was. And I was a little girl desperately trying to deny that I had a growing interest in barbies and Sylvanian families. So naturally, we grew apart but still close.
He went to university as did I, he went to Dublin Institute of Technology, I went to University College Dublin, we had very different lives in different parts of Ireland. He was Dublin based, I was more Wicklow based, hanging out in my hometown, lovely little Greystones.
Fast forward 5 years and I was living in San Diego and when I returned, almost immediately he left to spend the summer months in San Francisco, his return date crossing over with my leave for Africa and aspirations of at least a one year travelling period. So it would be a long time without seeing one another.
I got a serious shock whilst living in Africa, I’ve written plenty about it. Then there was Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, back to Panama then into Mexico briefly and eventually Guatemala.
When I was on the road, I never struggled to make friends or companions for a couple of days or so, anyone that knows me knows I can give a good chin wag and go along with almost any plan. But after a certain amount of time I would always release the anchor from whatever group I had joined and carry on along my path alone. No hard feelings, never a fall out, but I would always get that urge for complete independence once again, and off I would trot.
After a year in Guatemala my family assumed it wouldn’t be a reunion in Ireland we were going to be having anytime soon, so Mum and Dad decided they wanted to visit me in Antigua. Coincidently patch was finishing up in college and was ready to begin his dream adventure of going to Colombia to teach english, so he left early to go with mum and dad and see me, then work his way down alone.
As anyone who’s travelled for an extended period of time knows, you never plan, because your plan will most defiantly not happen.
Fast forward 10 months and patch and I are still in Antigua, working our separate jobs but living together with my beloved dog randy who has since become “our dog”.
Mum and dad stayed two weeks and left patch here with me.
The first month was exciting of course, there was an element of “welcome to my town I want to show you everything,” with me for him, but he quickly made his own trail, as patch always does. It was almost like getting to know each other again. We’re both adults now and have been through very different journeys in life. We were hanging out in a sophisticated manner, beers in a bar with some tapas. Home cooked meals and a bottle of wine, dinner parties.
Then there came a period where patch reached a low point. He was sick of Antigua, sick of his job, sick of his horrible routine which was bound by a 6 month contract. Then came heart ache and anxiety, anxiety is something that’s in our family. But I couldn’t relate. I didn’t understand. I had a very free job and an easy go lucky status in town. I didn’t stress or “get low,” I simply couldn’t understand the intense misery in a way. But I tried my best to be his company at any free minute I had, to always sleep at home and always stay out late drinking emotional confessional beers with him.
Of course he came out of it stronger than I’ve ever seen him. Very sure of what kind of person he was and what kind of person he wanted to be. He was determined and had goals and a vision. He transformed into a different person, the real Patrick that was always meant to come out the other end of his last stages of development.
We both decided it was getting close to the point we needed to leave Antigua and go travel a bit together, as that was our new thing, we wanted to travel and have fun, together for two months or so, maybe go home after, maybe return here, either way we were sure we wanted to leave Antigua for an amount of time.
Then it hit me, it was my turn. The anxiety, the heart ache, the sadness. The end of a complicated on off relationship with someone I loved. I needed patch more than ever. My heart ached, I was uncontrollably sad, my mind couldn’t relax in anything, and then came the constant beating heart and the cold sick feeling in my stomach. “What is wrong with me? Why am I like this?” I asked patch one sunday morning after waking up sweating and unsettled. “It’s anxiety, don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
He related to me, which made me feel sane, and he nursed me in a very typically subtle patch fashion. Always around, always checking in, always up to hang out. It was the first time in years that I remembered he was my older brother, my carer. Eventually the pain and anxiety somewhat settled. He made it better.
When we left Antigua, last Friday morning, we were over whelmed with the love we received from our friends and co workers. But it wasn’t so much separate individual love certain people had for me and then certain people had for him, it was a love that Antigua collectively had for us because we’re Patch and Tash, the brother and sister.
Our first stop was lanquin, then onto Rio dulce and Livingston. No matter what the clientele in any of the hostels was, we got the same reaction on arrival and departure; “you’re brother and sister? I could never do that with my brother.” I realised that we were exceptional. We were the minority, we were the little box that nobody ticks when asked who you’re travelling with; family.
The other night we were sitting in the lounge area of Zephyr Lodge looking out over the valley and we were gushing in our current situation. Realising we had 8 weeks of pure adventure and relaxation to go through together. I confessed to patch that he was the best person I had ever travelled with, his response was “well of course, I’m your brother,” and yes he is my brother. But what I was realising was something different, because there is an instant connection with the word brother or in his case sister. That’s a given bond, that’s already there. What I have realised over the past 10 months is that not only is patch my brother, he’s my friend and it’s a pretty cool feeling.
We’ve been in Livingston for nearly a week now. We just can’t bring ourselves to leave because we love it so much and we also have no rush.
I can’t believe it wasn’t recommended to us before? Nobody ever said oh yea go to Livingston. Maybe that’s why it’s so great, nobody comes here. It doesn’t feel like we’re in Guatemala at all. The African Caribbean influence here is so strong, you can cook a steak quicker than the waitress will take your order that’s for sure.
There’s a dish here called tapado which is like a fish, crab and shrimp soup with coconut milk which will blow your mind. All the food here is fairly incredible really. So much fresh seafood, spice and plantains.
The jungle is so rich and dense, yet the coast is stripped of that and dotted with coconut trees and docks. The jungle which covers the land on either side of the river passing from Rio Dulce to Livingston is truly breathtaking. It makes you feel like an ant.
The way of life here seems very simple. The Garifuna way of life. You work where you can but money doesn’t seem to be the most important thing at all. Life here is very minimalistic and slow. I also feel very safe here, both of us said that and we’ve since learned that it wasn’t always so safe. There were a lot of shootings amongst locals and then the robbing of tourists started happening, but the island life mentality took care of this. The owner of the hostel were staying in was explaining that when bad things started happening to tourists, the people causing these problems were “taken care of,” because the people who live here don’t want trouble nor do they want Livingston to be known as somewhere tourists can’t come because they’re heavily relying on the small amount that do pass through.
Having said all that, the easy breezy life of a local here does have some skeletons. I was talking to Angela, the assistant manager of the hostel. She’s a very tall slim black woman who was born in Belize but has spent the last 7 years here in Livingston. She’s 27 with two sons, Frederick who is 12 and Angel who is 4.
She had Frederick with a man from Belize who she was with for 7 years. He had three daughters previous to meeting Angela. He is now in prison for the rest of his life as he was accused for raping all three of his daughters when they were all under the age of 10. The day Angela found out, was the last day she saw him, and now he’s facing a 75 year sentence.
Angela moved to Livingston to be with her family and 5 sisters. She fell almost immediately into her second relationship and then became pregnant with Angel.
4 years ago her sister of 26 was shot dead in front of her two sons. Her husband was involved with drugs and two men came to their house to kill him, she stepped in front of her husband in the hopes that he wouldn’t die, along with a father for her sons and their income. Unfortunately they shot them both, leaving the two young boys severely damaged and parent less. They were sent to New York where they now live with their grandmother.
Hearing this whole story over my first cup of coffee the other morning was a lot. Angela speaks with a very soft kind and warm voice, her english is perfect due to the years in Belize. She says she wants to be alone for the rest of her life, just working and raising her two boys because she can’t handle more disappointment.
I feel we’re learning a lot here, especially patch. It’s very interesting and the sense of family here, is very strong, even in the hostel towards us, perhaps that’s because we’re two of 4 customers. Never the less it’s safe to say we like it here and I’m sure we will continue to find wonder over the next 8 weeks together.