Dérive

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dérive: (French n.) lit. “drift”; a spontaneous journey where the traveller leaves their life behind for a time to let the aesthetic spirit of the landscape and architecture attract and move them.

Thanks (again) for sharing, Amit. (:

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El otro lado: caras de los pobres, (the other side: faces of the poor), Cuzco, Peru

I got into Cuzco three days ago from La Paz. Without going into too much detail (maybe in another post), La Paz was an eye opener. Places like La Paz and Cuzco are the reason I left Chile and Argentina. I wanted to get in touch with the raw and gritty side of South America again. I had gotten too comfortable in Chile and Argentina, especially Patagonia. While the cities are immensely beautiful, crazy, buzzing with activity and commerce, there is an extremely sad side to them. I’d felt a little unsettled in Cuzco and I didn’t know why. The more time I spent walking around the historical centre and observing people’s way of life, the more unusual I felt, but I couldn’t work out why. Today it struck me: the divide between rich and poor in these cities is vast, and evident almost every ten to fifteen meters on the sidewalks. I couldn’t ignore it or look at anything else. For almost eleven months I have been spoiled with the natural wonders and beauty of nature in this continent. Now I had become fixated on the other end.

Westerners like myself walk around toting smart phones and digital cameras while cripples and homeless people beg on the street for money in order to scrape out a living. It’s happening on every block, every street, in every square or park. I think Peru and Bolivia are some of the worst examples I’ve seen. For days I passed by these people trying to shut out the sadness in their eyes, in their lives. What could I do?

I had lunch with my friend Clare today and was talking about my lack of camera use since arriving. Cuzco should be a wonderland for an architecture student, but for some reason I was just not interested in the city’s architecture. Something struck me at lunch and I decided, telling Clare also, that I was going to spend the afternoon with my camera, capturing the other side of Cuzco, of South America.

All I have really exposed my friends and family to are the beautiful points and places and experiences in these countries of South America; the great volcanoes and snowy mountain peaks of the Andes, the lakes, the forests, deserts, salt flats, animals, plants, flowers, gorgeous architecture. I think I felt sick of capturing the same thing. I decided to try something different. To talk to the beggars, to get their stories, to capture their sadness and hopefully get a point across that is not just historical relics, mountains, beautiful sunsets and clear star-addled skies by night. All this poverty is as real as everything else. It matters too. I love Cuzco, but there is more than just the tourist attractions and beautiful historical centre. There is a world of sadness and poverty here, and it’s not unique just to Cuzco and Peru.

In the following photos are some of the people I encountered. They were all mostly friendly, some I got to sit down and talk with for a while. One homeless man, when I asked if I could take a photo, had no idea what I was saying, perhaps thought I was trying to threaten him, lashed out and scratched me in the face with his long unkempt nails. I was fine. I left him some change and moved on.

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Three Cuzcqueña women take a break from hounding tourists to take photos of them with their baby llamas outside the Iglesia de San Francisco.

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Benito, a Cuzqueño, makes a living by hand-fabricating beautiful coloured bags, beanies and bracelets.

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A homeless woman crosses Iglesia de San Francisco with all her belongings on her back.

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A woman who sells bananas on the street stops for a break and something to eat.

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A homeless woman walks amongst locals, carrying all her possessions on her back.

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A street vendor hides from the camera.

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A woman and child both clean nuts to sell to people passing by on the street. They sat meters away from the beggar who swiped at my face. She laughed at the scene. I saw the humour in it too.

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A man organises his products on the street near my hostel.

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A blind man sings loudly as he begs for attention first, and hopefully some money.

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Children play around their mother who waits patiently to sell street food to locals or tourists.

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Another woman waits patiently at the Plaza de Armas to sell street food.

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A woman spends her days selling sunglasses to tourists.

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An aged and frail, homeless beggar-woman who was incredibly grateful of my attention and generosity, despite having to do this every day of her life.

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This incredibly friendly woman makes her living selling delicious plates of food on the street for less than $1 USD.

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A woman and a child beg for money on a busy Cuzco street.

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A lovely woman whom grew up in a small town just outside of Cuzco now makes her living selling Artisan products to tourists on the street. She said she does okay and is happy.

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A boy studies while tending to a street cart.

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Business as usual for this man and his street cart.

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A lone child sits outside the Iglesia de San Francisco and waits for her mother whom is nowhere to be seen when I took this photo.

***

These are all photos from your world. Our world. This is not television. This is not MTV. This is real. This is all happening right now, not just in Cuzco, but in many, many parts of the planet. As I said on Facebook, it was the saddest day of my almost eleven months travelled. Despite the hardship, the struggle for life, these people all maintained an air of respect and friendliness towards me – something, that sometimes, people who have everything in more fortunate societies seem to lack. We live in a strange world.

What is Happenning in Istanbul?

Turkey & totalitarianism control of our world. Please read this

İnsanlık Hali

To my friends who live outside of Turkey:

I am writing to let you know what is going on in Istanbul for the last five days. I personally have to write this because at the time of my writing most of the media sources are shut down by the government and the word of mouth and the internet are the only ways left for us to explain ourselves and call for help and support.

Last week of May 2013 a group of people most of whom did not belong to any specific organization or ideology got together in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Among them there were many of my friends and yoga students. Their reason was simple: To prevent and protest the upcoming demolishing of the park for the sake of building yet another shopping mall at very center of the city. There are numerous shopping malls in Istanbul, at least…

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One year is not enough…

Not in a place like this. A place so rich in everything, right down to suffering and poverty and perfectly less comfortable than the life of luxury I led back in Australia (it was too comfortable for me – that is one reason why I left). South America will captivate you in ways unimaginable. Unexplainable. I’ve been travelling for ten months now and have got to see Colombia, Ecuador and Chile very well. I just spent a month in Argentina. Summer in Chile was the best in my life. My main aim was Patagonia and I spent just over two months in what you could call greater Patagonia, from Pucon as far south as Punta Arenas, Chile and from Rio Turbio up to Bariloche in Argentina. It was an amazing, beautiful, challenging time.

Ever since I left Patagonia I’ve felt a bit lost. It started after Torres del Paine. I haven’t known where to go, what to do, with time running short my life of slow travel is coming to an end. With all the things I’ve done I’ve still not been to the Amazon, have only been to Lima in Peru and have not visited Bolivia. I miss those big, mad, Andean cities: the noise, the chaos, the food, the indigenous, the rawness, the bit of danger, the soul. So kicking and thriving.

I’ve even considered going back to Colombia. I want to experience that brilliant country now that I can speak (I am still learning) Spanish. One of my best mates just moved there. A girl I love is there. Colombia was one of the first places in South America that really helped me wake up, grow, realise what is important in life. Changed me for better. Forever. An amazing land full of amazing people. But I could say that about every country I’ve been to. South America has something we don’t have in the west. I can’t explain it, can’t put it into words. If you’ve been and you’re reading this then you know what I mean. If you’re wondering, don’t wonder any more – go.

Twenty minutes ago my Peruvian friend Julio sent me this brilliant video on Peru, it goes for two and half minutes, watch it here.

It almost made me cry. Nostalgia from the last ten months and my journey slapped me hard in my face. It took me back to my early days in Ecuador. In Quito. In Riobamba. It blew my mind. I realised I had missed a great land (Peru). Then I realised, I have two months, and this video is a few weeks in Peru. Chance moment? I think I’m going to Peru and Bolivia. Call it fate or something, call it whatever. But I think I am going to travel fast for once and spend a few weeks in these countries.

So a year, it’s been wild, crazy, fun, scary, challenging, demanding, loving, up, down and around again. Two would have been ideal, even a year and a half. I’ve never felt so alive as I have here in South America. So what is it about this place? I’ll go home soon, but I will be back. I love South America – it has shown me so much love and I will show it back, wherever I am in the world, and to whoever is in my company.

Thanks a lot Julio, it was timely, and touching.

After three days of waiting I’m going to get my bus across to Mendoza from Santiago. Paz.

The lower end of backpacking… long buses and borders

It’s not all amazing mountains, wild animals, raw nature and beautiful Pacific sunsets. If you’ve been following my activity on Facebook you probably only see my photos and rarely hear of the delays, long bus rides, being seated next to stinking toilets, people trying to scam you at borders, forgetting toilet paper (that’s breaking the number one rule :p ).

When I left Ecuador for Peru back in January, I said goodbye to one of my best mates, Jake, after a blinder new year and a lot of fun in Quito, Riobamba, Alausi, the coast. I got on a bus from Quito to Guayaquil at about 1pm. I plowed through Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in a few hours and listened to music, failing to drain out sellout Hollywood movies dubbed in Spanish and an Indian man who was singing loudly. I got to Guayaquil at about 10pm and had to take a taxi for two minutes to the terminal. The woman drove an absolute bomb of an 80s Charade or similar and tried to rip me off at $3. I had to do something between charm, beg and bargain with my poor Spanish to get her to lower the price. I got into the terminal and bought a ticket to my next bus off a suspicious character with a solid moustache. The bus was bound for Huaquillas, near the Peruvian border, where I would cross into Tumbes and then take another, long bus, to Lima. It was late, I was already tired, and had a long way to go. The bus was full of suss cunts, as we say in Sydney, or rather suspect people – all men, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, no woman. Lots of rats tails, mullets, men old and one, and young gringo. Me. There was an empty seat next to an old man with a crooked smile at the back of the bus, there was one more row behind, and an old man sat with his shirt covering his face to mask the shit and piss smell eeking out of the toilet. There were people standing, but the seat was vacant? I wondered if it was defective or covered in shit or something absurd. A young guy offered me the seat and I took it. Five hours next to a toilet. Nice. After some bullshitting about we left, I got some crappy sleep, clutching my backpack, hiking boots and other assorted items in another bag above me (I was carrying too much at this point). I was hugely suspect of the crossing  and have heard some stories. Jake advised me of this route, but before I left his mate from Otavalo had turned up and was laughing saying it was no better at this time especially. Jake. Haha.

I woke confused and stumbled off the bus at between 4 and 5am glad to be in fresh air, but was presented with a small and mostly deserted border town. I was tired. I was fucked really. A fat Peruvian changed my USD for Soles (at a shitty rate, I was half asleep and my sensible was too), I had forgotten to get my Soles out of my large backpack and wasn’t going to attempt to do so here. His mate, another Peruvian character was being super friendly saying he could take me to immigration and across the border. The other people on the bus had disappeared, there were no connected buses to get to the border. What was going on? In a haze, I agreed, and he took me into a gated property into a nice, almost new Honda. Wait, what the fuck am I doing? Why did I agree to this? The guy was friendly but I was in semi panic mode and started to wonder where I would end up. We got to the border, I took all my bags into customs with me cause I was not giving him the chance to drive off with everything, he said I could leave, but I deflated the situation saying my passport was in my big backpack. He had been asking me all these questions about money, cards, how I travel etc on the way in, so I felt hugely stupid for the situation I put myself in and massively suspect of him.

The border was full of sleepy travellers and families, and immigration officers who did not give a fuck about anything and didn’t even say hello or thanks. A sharp contract from the reception in Colombia. Anyway whatever. Signed out of Ecuador and into Peru. Buses full of smart people that had taken one single bus turned up, filtered through customs and left. Why did I not do this?

The driver had agreed to take me to Tumbes, where I could get a colectivo to Mancora and then a bus to Lima. When we got to the car he wanted $20USD. I got into an argument with him, took him back to a tariff notice at customs where he tried to mask the price at $20 per colectivo meaning $5 per passenger, in front of a Peruvian cop, who I asked what the price was – he wanted nothing to do with me, didn’t say a word and perpetuated the rip the gringo show. Fuck these people.

To be fair the cabbie had waited a while, but that’s the way it goes at borders. We had the shits at each other, I wanted to get to Tumbes and leave, so I offered $10 and no more. He took me to Tumbes and we sat in silence. To be honest I was super pissed too, after months in Colombia where everyone was so honest, my patience for this was slim. We got to Tumbes, I took my bags and bailed. He added more USD to his ever growing stash of paper and took off. Not a word was spoken. Dickhead.

It was now between 5 and 6am and I was in a dive Peruvian border town. A man was mixing some kind of drink for people on the street. There were a lot of construction workers eating at a street-stall. It was all typically South American. I had a while to go. I paid for my next colectivo. A black woman with several kids vomited rapid Spanish in my face but I asked her to slow down as I was learning. She was from Tumbes. She said there were too many mal gente around, bad people, and that I should be careful. We took off to Mancora. I was retarded from lack of sleep. The sun had come up and was blazing. I was in a large van rammed with Peruvians. I love the road but this journey was just total ass.

I was woken by the family in the back, who told me we were at Mancora. What?! I got off and took my bags. This is Mancora? It’s a small, very small, mainly one street town on the northern coast of Peru, popular for surfing. The place seemed full of people who also did not give a flying fuck about anything, locals, and travellers too. All I saw were waster gringos, drifter hippies and surf types bumming about. There was nothing going on. I spent hours trying to get a bus ticket to Lima while everyone tried to rip me off. The power in the town had gone out and all the booking systems were down. Goddamnit. Never before had I wanted to leave a place like I had in Mancora. Hours passed, hours and hours, I bummed around town tired and frustrated. I decided I would not commit to staying here a night and had to get out. Eventually I got a ticket at a reasonable price and the owners let me bum out on their couch until the bus came at 5pm. Power came back on at about 3. I had killed about 7 hours here and finally got a bus. Never before had the road seemed so appealing…

Though, I had an 18 hour journey to Lima ahead of me, and once again, I was seated next to the toilet. 18 hours. Not 5. 18 hours of people pissing and shitting in this thing. Damn man. I sat next to a filthy but friendly construction worker from Lima who kept waffling about things beyond my Spanish comprehension at the time. This time I had remembered to bring my Valium on board, so I ate something like 3 or 4 tablets intending to hit a state of heavenly bliss before drugging out to sleep for hopefully a huge distance. Fucking buses. Toilets. The smell of urine. Mancora. Border hounds fixated with hoarding USD and shafting gringos.

I had no idea the desert was so huge in Peru. The coast is littered with tiny fishing towns and many smaller towns a little further in land with no electricity, very basic, basic, sometimes only stick-housing or stick and board housing. The things I saw on that bus ride were crazy. People living like that. Among all the crap, it was incredible to see. Jake had said it would blow my mind. The desert, and its inhabitants up there really did. The sunset was ace too. I had to leave the window open all night to help ease the toilet smell but late on the air was damn cold. And loud. But I’ll take that over 18 hours of toilet smell.

At some point I fell asleep, waking up like an utter cripple about ten hours later. Not bad, about 8 to go and this ridiculous journey would end (I had to get to Lima to get my flight to Easter Island and I had fucked about having the time of my life in Colombia and Ecuador for six months haha, this is why I was rushing). Eventually, we approached Lima. Insane poverty and shack housing on the fringed of this incredibly massive city, huge, huge, huge, on the coast, surrounded by red desert. Chaotic street scenes, mental South American traffic. What a buzz. Buildings got bigger and more dense and we came further into the centre.

Feeling like a new man I got off the bus, having now travelled about two full days and spent  something like 36 hours in buses and colectivos. I played the rip the gringo game once more with a cabbie (I rarely take cabs, I usually walk or save money by using buses or whatever) as I was not getting on a packed Lima bus in a post-Valium haze and having to watch all my stuff when my guard was still so low. Finally I got to Che Lagarto. I was able to wash days of bus and scum and sweat off me and relax for a day before going to Easter Island. I met up with my friend Nicolle who showed me around Miraflores and took me to a see an excellent Afro Peruvian band play. Peruvians are a solid bunch. Lima was cool but my time was short.

Lesson? Get a bus that does all the crossing for you – not three or four buses and ridiculous AM border crossing when you’re a total zombie. That’s just stupid. I was lucky, sort of.

When I came back from Easter Island I took another lengthy journey – from Lima to Tacna on the Peruvian border with Chile, in order to cross to Arica and get to Atacama to meet Poliana from Colombia in the Atacama desert.

I didn’t have to sit next to the toilets but I almost missed my bus from Lima cause the girl at the hostel got the terminal wrong. I took a fucking wild, wild cab ride to the terminal with a cabbie wanted to hear about Colombia and especially its women. He drove like mad. But he got me there just in time. He tried to rip me but I laughed at him and told him I was not an ordinary gringo and paid him the normal fee plus a tip for his fine driving which got me onto my 20 (!!) hour bus to Arica. The woman I sat next to lived in Tacna, she was super nice, dug that I was learning Spanish and left me her number in case I needed anything. She said I could crash and eat with her family at the border but I wanted to move on and get to Atacama, get stoned and stare at the stars and not think of the smell of urine and of crossing borders, people trying to rip me, lengthy bus rides. At Tacna, she assisted me in getting a colective to the border. The drive was a woman who was also obsessed with USD. Fucking money.

I crossed into Chile. another full day behind me. From Arica I had to wait from about 11am to 8pm for my 8 hour bus to Calama. I spent the day trying as much Chilean beer as I could, remained on a bar stool for the entire time bottle after bottle talking to a bunch of friendly Chilean characters as best I could. The bar staff were awesome too. I’d heard Chilean empanadas were best and it was true. Anticipating another bus ride I hoarfed a Xanax before I got on. By the time I went to board I had a cigarette and was a floppy mess. I got on the bus and my head started spinning from all the beer. I almost yakked. Soon the Xanax kicked in and I blissed out and woke up at the freezing mining town of Calama in northern Chile. There were a lot of happy, friendly dogs at the terminal. After about 1.5 hours I got a two hour bus to Atacama and arrived at around 9am. It was quiet, cold, eerie. But I was finally in Atacama and could stay put for a while. More on Atacama later.

I am currently in Santiago, having come from Pucon (10 hours) yesterday, arriving at 8am, and having to wait to 9pm to get a bus back into Mendoza in Argentina (all this is actually cheaper than a bus from Bariloche to Mendoza). I crossed from Bariloche to Osorno (almost got caught with 5g of weed at customs – another story for another time) then took a bus to Pucon to get my USB and check in with my wonderful friend Anita for two days. Last night, after killing a day in Santiago I was told the border was closed due to snow. I checked into a hostel for the night. At 4pm I find out if the border is open.

In the end, none of this matters. I should have been a little more careful crossing into Peru, but it worked out. The road, as always, remains one of the most electric and exciting parts of the whole journey. Getting on a stinking bus full of crazies, Indians, even a chicken or whatever, and just going. All that really matters is that which is ahead. Whether I am on a bus, in a Kombie, hitched with a truckie in the south of Argentina or Chile, the road is always one of my favourite places. That point in-between destinations where I am taken back to my childhood, eagerly staring out the window and admiring everything around me, everything new, places I’ve never been before. Ten months in and I still love the transit phase. I always will.

I thought I would share a bit on the not so glamorous side of backpacking. The year thus far has been full of things like this. From the northern coast of Colombia to Punta Arenas in the far south of Chile, I traversed one entire side of the continent all by road. It’s been immense.

Stuck again, now in Patagonia, Chile.

I have been in Chile for 88 days, somehow that much time has lapsed. What the fuck. My tourist visa is about to expire. The idea of fast(er) travel is clearly a completely alien concept to me. The time has absolutely flown by. It was the best southern hemisphere summer of my life. Though, after close to almost eight months of summer in South America, the summer show is well and truly over. Here in Punta Arenas it is averaging about 5-10 degrees during the day and close to zero at night. I need to get into Argentina but that isn’t exactly evading the stronghold that the arms of Patagonia have on me.

I’ve been accommodated and fed by a wonderful Chilean family for three nights now. All my clothes have been washed but are still soaked wet on the line as the rain has not stopped in about 24 hours. Hopefully it clears and I can move tomorrow, otherwise it will be Wednesday. I’m getting restless again, and after the raw magic and power of Torres del Paine, recent days have been a bit boring. Spent studying Spanish, uploading all my photos, drawing and hanging around Punta Arenas which is beautiful and full of character.

I have three options; a) hope the navy can take me on a bare bones trip to Antarctica and back across a week while they move personnel and cargo between their research stations, b) get to Ushuaia, Argentina and then cross back into Chilean territory onto the real end of the southern world, Isla Navarino, with Colin from Washington who I met and hiked with in Torres, for one or two weeks of map, compass and machette hiking and fishing, getting lost and living off the land or c) bus or hitchhike to El Calafate from Punta Arenas and start moving north towards Peru and Bolivia while checking out more of Patagonia via places such as El Chalten, El Bolson, Esquiel, Bariloche, Perito Moreno. For a person with very little loose and every changing plans, this is all over thought. I need to buy a bus ticket, or get my thumb out, start moving, and get back into the flow.

I have no idea whether to stay in Argentina for the rest of my trip and get to know it as well as I have come to know Colombia, Ecuador and Chile, or to spend roughly a month each in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia. It’s not the end, I know I will be back. I think I will get off my ass and hitch hike into Argentina or take a bus to El Calafate or Rio Gallegos and then commence hitch hiking my way north along the Andes, as the bus ticket prices in Argentina are phenomenally high and will potentially bust my budget and make me spend the last month of this awesome trip eating rice. Fuck that!

I know Argentine Patagonia is going to be as addictive and wonderful as Chilean Patagonia. No matter, Patagonia was the principal reason why I came to South America, and here I am. It is better than I ever could have imagined. Old Pat. Love her.