I´m in Moquegua for a few days for a conference and a party. Its all very quiet and peaceful here – the sun shining, the streets decorated for the big fiesta on the 28th. Hard to imagine that just over a month ago thousands of people nearly lynched a priest and a general in the town square less than 2 minutes walk from where I´m sitting now.

Despite the fact I still haven´t resolved what to do about my collapsed PhD, I´m feeling a lot better now than I was a few days ago. Three days holiday in Arequipa did the trick after all. I even did a bit of tourism one afternoon, and took some pictures in the ridiculously beautiful convent of Santa Catalina. Get thee to a nunnery wouldn´t be such a threat if they all looked like this one. Anyway, so I still don´t know what to do to salvage my research, but after contemplating the damage for a few days in the peace and quiet of a sunny, warm city (rather than while living with 15 other people in the freezing cold Altiplano) at least I´m feeling more relaxed about it! That´s progress, surely…

So I’m hanging out in Arequipa at the moment, meant to be taking a few days off on holiday. But I’ve got a horrible cold, and the last few days have been a bitch. I got screwed over by a guy in Arica who robbed me blind, one of the best advisors I’ve had emailed to tell me she’s got a new job, I have spent the last few days trying to get back several hundred dollars from the LAN website after they charged me twice for a ticket I didn’t need, and half of my PhD project collapsed around me – all in one weekend. My reaction has been to stick me head in the sand and feel sorry for myself. So rather than wandering through the streets of this rather lovely little town doing sightseeing and what have you, I’m sitting in a very comfortable hotel room eating biscuits and reading trashy novels. Somehow I feel I ought to be doing something more exciting and stimulating. But frankly, I need a break. I just realised on my bus over here that my last holiday was a week in Mexico in Nov 2006, and even then I was officially there to help with a museum exhibit. The fact that I didn’t do any of the work makes it the closest I’ve got to going away on holiday rather than for work or family since… er… maybe a trip to Barcelona in 2002 or something. Jesus, that’s so depressing.

So I’m having a holiday, for three days. And my ideal holiday is to sit in bed and do nothing. To not feel the slightest bit guilty about not working, and to not feel obliged to walk anywhere, look at anything, or think about anything more demanding or interesting than a paperback thriller. Which I’m sure makes me sound not only ungracious, but also kinda dumb. I don’t care.

Traveling, apparently, broadens the mind. So people say, but Ive seen plenty of tourists who travel from one end of the world to the other, only to demand exactly the same kind of food, accommodation and company that they are accustomed to back home. If they really wanted to meet new people and have a new outlook on life, they could do that in the poor neighbourhoods of their own cities, rather than traveling half way across the globe to hang out with other tourists. Traveling to new places is only interesting if you are doing new things there, or meeting new people. Which you could probably do just as well back home.

No, I used to think that traveling to new places would my life more interesting. But my life is just as undramatic as it ever was now that I hang out half way around the world most of the year. The problem is that its not places but people that make life interesting. Hanging out in a new town is no fun if you don’t know anyone, no matter how beautiful or exciting that town may be. Or if you are basically bored with yourself at that particular moment in time. My ideal holiday right now would be to be back home with my friends, but with time to spend with them. If I could be with the people I’d like to be with, with the time to enjoy it – to relax with them, have some fun, do things in our own city we never have time to do, have conversations that don’t have any purpose other than to connect. That would be my ideal holiday.

I noticed a while ago I stopped taking photographs when I go away somewhere new. A pretty doorway here, a mountain range there. What’s the point of recording it? But I do still get a thrill when I meet someone new who I have a great conversation with. That’s the kind of thing that’s hard to find, and worth savouring. What I need is a holiday that gives me time, not new places, and time spent with people I care about and who make me and my life interesting.