In early 2005, I set off backpacking for 5 months in South America. I’m a stickler for detailed planning, so nothing was left to chance. I’d meticulously mapped out my route following the “Panamericana” – the stereotypical beaten track running south down the Peruvian coast.
Barely two weeks in to the journey something strange happened at a bus station. I don’t know if it was the Hemingway novel I’d been reading, or the unhealthy amount of Pisco Sour I was imbibing, but I was overcome by a strong urge for adventure. In a moment of wild abandon, I took a leap of faith, threw my map in the bin and jumped on a clapped-out old minibus heading towards the Amazon jungle. As the bus pulled away, my heart was racing, and an exhilarating feeling washed over me. I was free and in total control.
That feeling lasted for about 1 day.
During what was meant to be a quick overnight interchange in a remote, one-hotel-town, there was a biblical downpour, washing away the roads in both directions, making them impassable.
I spent the next 8 days counting the cost of my recklessness. What had I been thinking? I couldn’t go forwards. I couldn’t go backwards. I was trapped. Worse, I was trapped in a small cockroach infested hotel run by an unhinged taxidermy enthusiast who clearly belonged on some sort of register.
I’m reminded of this incident whenever I read about our government’s Brexit strategy.
I haven’t worked out who is who in this metaphor. I’m certainly not implying the British electorate were off their face when they voted leave, any more than I’m saying Nigel Farage is Ernest Hemingway. Nevertheless, my decision to head into the unknown without a map seems sadly analogous to the current shambles. Also, the presence of an untrustworthy bus seems to work on a number of levels.
To be fair, since the referendum result in June, there have been plenty of positive signs for the travel industry to cling on to. Most recently, the September GfK Leisure Travel Monitor showed a strong finish to bookings for the Summer 2016 season, which should end around 4% ahead of last year. Bookings for Winter 2016/17 also look a very healthy 17% up and it seems there is lots of early demand for Summer 2017 too. Its tempting to infer that consumers have “shrugged off Brexit”. There is one very good reason for that, though. It hasn’t actually happened yet.
A September Private Eye article sarcastically summed it up: “Amazingly, the economy is continuing as if we were still at present a member of the European Union and able to trade tariff-free across the 27 member states” and then in slightly more agricultural terms: “the sh*t has not hit the fan yet as Theresa May tries to avoid turning on the fan for as long as possible”.
At the start of October, as May got tough and talk of Article 50 got serious, Hard Brexit became a thing and Sterling fell through the floor. The fan has now been turned on, and its massive, like the one in the Crystal Maze. Only its not sh*t thats hitting it. Its Marmite.
Back in 2005, I did manage to “shrug off” being trapped in a Peruvian episode of Twin Peaks. My South American adventure finished 5 months later in Rio de Janeiro, lying on a sunny Ipanema beach, drinking coconuts.
Maybe Brexit will all be alright in the end too.
This article first appeared in TTG on October 27th