Exploring life's passions

The ‘Have you been there?’ rule

Iguaçu Falls, Brazil

Iguaçu Falls, Brazil

We recently visited the amazing waterfalls at Iguazu. They span the border between Argentina and Brazil. We stayed in a hostel in Argentina, but a half-hour bus trip took us to the Brazilian side. We arrived in the morning, took many more photos, were super impressed, had lunch and got the bus back. About four hours in total.

So, can we now say we’ve been to Brazil? Can we now add that country to our Where have we been map? We had our passports stamped. Even more importantly, we got the welcome to Brazil text message (very important these days, especially if you’re travelling in Europe, how else can you show you’ve been in a country once you’ve got through that first border?). But can we now really say we’ve been to Brazil?

Some of you might debate the answer, but there is, in fact, a very simple rule to decide for sure. It’s a rule I came up with many years ago.

I had my first taste of travel in the army, or The Regiment as me and my brothers in arms prefer to call it. I could mention some of the places I visited, but I’d been in breach of the Official Secrets Act and be sent to military prison. Or, more likely, you’d never hear from me again.

OK, I’ll stop with the nonsense before I get too carried away. But it’s true that I first travelled a little back in my day in the army. That’s not a typo. (How dare you even think that.) I only had one day’s training in the army. I probably didn’t even manage a full 24 hour day. In the early afternoon after my first night, we all had a medical, and they discovered blood in my urine. Hospitalised. I was in the camp’s clinic in Harrogate for a few days, then transferred to a proper hospital. I was only a boy. A teenager. I had my 16th birthday in the military hospital in Catterick. (Notice I didn’t say celebrated).

I was there for about ten days, but they couldn’t find out what was wrong with me (and, to this day, nobody ever has). They sent me home until I was called up to another hospital, this time at RAF Holton in Buckinghamshire. After about two weeks (and a painful kidney biopsy without general anaesthetic) they sent me home again. I also had to visit my base camp once or twice before I finally voluntarily left my military career behind, having never gone beyond that one day’s training.

All these trips to hospitals, home and army camps meant I spent a fair bit of time in trains, especially the UK’s east coast line. I’d pass all these places, like Leeds, York and Darlington, and one time I wondered if stopping at the station was enough to say I’d been to that place. Of course not, my sixteen-year-old self said (I was very advanced for my age), so I got out at the next stop, Carlisle, and had a look around. That means a beer (I looked quite old for my age).

This is what we look like when we're in Brazil. Like those Soviet-era statues where starry-eyed peasants look into a bright new future. We were just glad we'd finally worked out how to take selfie.

This is what we look like when we’re in Brazil. Like those Soviet-era statues where starry-eyed peasants look into a bright new future. We were just glad we’d finally worked out how to take selfie.

When I got on the later train, I decided that a beer was the minimum requirement to be able to say you’d been in a place. But, then I thought, there had to be a distinction between places like Carlisle, where I’d only had a beer, and places like Harrogate, Catterick and Buckinghamshire, where I’d actually ‘been’. I didn’t conclude the obvious (at least an overnight stay). Instead, I decided the difference was that I’d taken a shit in these places.

And so the rule was born. To determine if you’ve ever really been to a place, you have to have been there long enough to have had a beer and a shit there. Easy.

Now, whenever we travel to some place, we might be in a bar, on our second beer, and Leonie will say, ‘You only need your shit now.’

‘True,’ I might reply. And depending on how long we’d be staying, I’d maybe disappear for half an hour.

To answer the question then; no, I haven’t been to Brazil, but I’m pretty sure Leonie was halfway there. And suffice to say: we didn’t have a pub lunch that day.

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