South American hospitality

You’re going to South America for a year on your own? You’re crazy!
You went to South America? Was it dangerous?
You’ve been to Colombia? Isn’t it really dangerous there?

Many of us have heard all this nonsense before, but for some, this is how Latin America is blindly perceived, hopefully this post will shed some light on the real South America. I did spend one year there and it was by far the best year I have ever had in my life. Below are ten short examples of the finest hospitality, which, no word of a lie, I was treated to year-round.

1. Victor, Ecuador
I met Victor through my mate Jake who had been living in Ecuador for about two years, we went to visit Victor’s organic farm on a small town to celebrate his birthday. The night I met Victor he treated us all to a wonderful, wholly organic home cooked meal and a solid night of partying on the farm. Victor was an incredible host and we bonded instantly, he offered me work on his farm for as long as I wanted. I instantly took up the offer, and after a week on the coast I returned to the farm and spent a month there, with Victor and his family, learning to work a farm, be on the land, in the sun all day, using my hands and my body. It was excellent. I started to study Spanish there, had my own room, ate with Victor and his family at every meal, as I was part of their family. It was one of my first big experiences,in South America and one of the most fulfilling. I had been received with the warmest, most welcoming arms and felt completely at home in an Andean mountain town in the Chimborazo province. We all wound up on the coast for a blinder new year, and I went back to the farm for a weeks in the new year. I have made a friend, a brother for life with Victor.

2. Eliana, Colombia
A few friends and I met Eliana on the coast of Ecuador, and we stayed in touch as she knew I would visit her country. The moment I arrived in beautiful Popayan Eliana was on the case. She went out of her way to make sure we met up, ate, assisted me with learning Spanish and communicating with the hostel staff, showed me around the city, took me to her faculty at the university (we both study architecture) and many other landmarks, I went out with her friends, she even took me to her dad’s photography studio where her dad happily cleaned my lens, as well as to her family’s house before going out one night, where her mum and brother were just as friendly and patient with my early and terrible Spanish. This reception was the start of a long standing love affair with Colombia and it’s people.

3. Poliana, Raquel and family, Colombia
Two mates of mine had met Poliana when she worked at the Media Luna hostel in Cartagena the year before, and had suggested I check in with her when I got to Colombia as she was ‘on our level’. To keep a long story short, we ended up travelling together for about a month and finished at Bogota, where I stayed with her step-sister Raquel and her dad Jesus. ”You can stay here as long as you want”. This wound up being such a typically South American line. Need anything? Ask us. Wanna go somewhere? Ask. It was as if they were there to make sure you had the 100% best and most fulfilling time. Poliana had to get back to the coast. I stayed about a week in the capital and got to hang out plenty with Raquel, who took me all over Bogota, showed me buildings, museums, places to eat, graffiti, helped me with my Spanish, I could go on but I will keep it relatively short. Again I was blown away but such warm, caring hospitality. I even met their mum who as you would imagine, was another wonderful human being. By this point I had been in Colombia almost four months and was completely infatuated by the country and the inhabitants. Funny, I told Jake and Victor I would be ”back in a month” when I left Ecuador. But hey, that is Colombia for you.

4. Eduardo, Galapagos Islands
I was lost on my bicycle trying to make my way inland to one of the craters when I asked a local man near the town of Santa Rosa for directions. We got talking and apart from giving me the directions to where I was trying to go, Eduardo remarked that he had wanted to host an Australian in his house, and instantly offered his home to me for a few days. The man was all smiles and incredibly pleased to have an Australian on enjoying the islands. Sadly I had to get back to another island the following day, so in this case it wasn’t to be, but the heart was all there. Eduardo knew I was super grateful that he had wanted to have me over for, once again, however long I would have wanted.

5. David, Chile (Easter Island)
He was one of the first Chileans I ever met. I had pitched my tent near his when I arrived at Easter Island and he was, of course, friendly as. We got talking and David was working for the head chef at the hostel before heading back to work in Spain for a few months. Within minutes he got me stoned and was sharing food from the kitchen: We had a blast across the week I was there, he was always generous and willing to help in any way, we laughed our asses off and had a pretty swell time around Minihoa. He left me all his details as he would be back in Santiago for a few weeks to visit family, and said to get in touch if I was there at the same time. He told me in Spanish that I could stay with him and his family, and begged me to visit some of his favourite places in wonderful Chile. Otherwise, catch him in Spain – same deal!

6. Rosa Marie and Rene, Chile
I had just arrived in Chile proper, having spent about two days busing from Lima. Exhausted, I hauled myself off the bus and started looking for campsites. I found one and there were a lot of Chileans lying about, hungover, still partying – whatever (they party). I noticed Rosa Marie and Rene cause Rosa Marie has the most hideous cough. No one was in their tents (it was about 9am) and everyone was drinking wine. They called me over and we got talking. They showered me with food, I mean a lot of food as they were leaving, gave me a pocket knife and bottle opener to keep, Rene gave me the last of his weed. A bag of fruit. Vino? Hah! You can’t turn down Chileans when they offer you anything. And they will offer you everything. I wound up having quite a few glasses of wine with them and talking for ages. They left me their details and said I could check in and stay with them any time, should I pass through Calama again. The last thing they gave me was a magnetic travellers charm and a Bolivian coin that stuck to it, even though tried to refuse their excessively overwhelming and endless generosity. I will travel with that thing until I die.

7. Nat, Kelly, Lorena and Carolina.
I met Nat and Kelly in Vicuña and us and a few more Chileans who I am still in touch with had an absolute ball for several days, it got a bit wild at times, all that cheap and nice quality wine, weed, pisco. Endless. Nat and Kelly set me up with two of their friends, who had me over when I got to Valparaiso for eight days. They gave me a couch, fed me, had me perpetually stoned, took me out, gave me a key and said do as you please, our house is yours. And they mean this when they say it. Not only do they mean it, they show it. I had a kicking time in Valparaiso and it was all cause of my Chilean hosts.

8. Daniel, Chile
I met Daniel and his girlfriend in Vicuña too. They pitched their tent next to mine and we got talking. They loved that I loved Chile, that I was learning to speak Spanish. Daniel immediately offered me a canister of gas he did not need any more. We hung out for a few days and I had to go, but Daniel insisted that when I come to Santiago, I stay with him. He put me up in his apartment with great views, again gave me a key, my own room, food, drink, you know how it is. Showed me Santiago, the gardens, a few bars, even took me to an antique fair and lunch at his grandparents place where I had wonderful Chilean food and talked football and travel with him and his grandparents.

9. Anita, Chile
Anni and I met on the Caribbean coast of Colombia. We shared the same dorm and got talking. She was from a place I had never heard of before, Pucon in Chile. Although she left the next day she was interested in my travellers and had been a few places I was going to visit, so we kept in touch – I was also going to pass through Pucon most likely. By the time I got down there she gave me a couch for again, as long as I want. Another key. More food. Wine. Use of her bike. Whatever. The moment I got in the door we smoked a joint and went out around the lakes (it was about 9am). Later we went to one of the national parks with a friend of hers. She invited to me to a friends party, we saw a bit of Pucon, she minded my gear while I disappeared for days in the Huerquehue national park and generally had a great time. She was one of the best friends I made there. Pucon was beautiful. I went back and stayed with her for a few more days after wrapping up Patagonia entirely. Chilean hosts. Epic.

10. Juan Carlos, Chile
I took the Navimag boat from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales to get to the Torres del Paine national park. Feeling on top of the world, and endless creativity, I was on the top deck before we set off when an older male saw me drawing and approached me. Juan Carlos was a comic and landscape artist from Punta Arenas. We got talking of all things. Showed each other drawings, photos we’d taken. In short, we got close, and Juan Carlos instructed me that when I got to Punta Arenas, I was to contact him and he would have a room for me with his family. I stayed with them for a week, and again I was treating more like a son than a traveller. His mum reminded me of my grandmothers – her kindness was simply infinite. She fed me the most amazing Chilean food every day, washed my disgusting load of hiking gear, even knitted me a home made Region XII flag (Chilean Patagonia and Antarctic territory). I spent my days relaxing, photo editing, drawing a lot with Juan Carlos. It was great. He had mates over quite a few times and they wanted to hear all my stories, and I equally wanted theirs. All these older Chilean mad cats, wild characters, brimming with the raw pulse of life. It was the farthest south I have ever been in the world, and I had a damn swell time.

11. Fernando, Argentina
I had spent about 11 hours on a 300km hitch hike. It was one of those days where the going was slow but numerous Chileans and Argentinians had helped me along my way and given me their stories and I say in the passenger seats of an off duty taxi, a delivery truck and two cars while soaking in the immensity that is the Patagonian steppe. I wound up crossing the border into Argentina really late, at about 9PM. This did not go to plan, but that didn’t matter, all the best experiences has been unplanned and in the precise moment that is life. Two friendly Chileans had helped me across the border, they were heading into Argentina briefly, as Chilean border folk do, for cheap cigarettes and cheap fuel. So there I was, in a city I had never been to, at 9PM, in the rain, with nowhere to stay. I walked around looking for places. Nothing. Rio Turbio is not a huge place. I was about to spend the night in a half constructed house near the bus terminal so I could hitch hike out in the morning when I decided I should ask one local about cheap places for backpackers. I asked a sprite man who was passing by on the street, who, upon being asked if he knew of any cheap hostels or guest houses, promptly replied ”come with me, I have a room and mattress at the back of my restaurant, you can stay with me, welcome!” So, it was one of those times where my western conditioning got the better of me. Why was he being so nice? Is he gay? Am I going to be robbed? I quickly silenced my conscience. In the end, I spent two great nights with Fernando and his girlfriend. They fed me the best restaurant food, every day and night. Introduced me to all the staff, friends and family. Refused to take my money. Threw beer and wine at me. On my second night I had dinner with Fernando’s entire family. He said I gotta come back and visit one day, so I can properly see the Rio Turbio and around. And here I was worrying about him, after I almost slept in an abandoned house. Idiot.

12. Mauro, Sebastian and Marian, Argentina.
I had spent my second day at the Perito Moreno glacier after about six weeks of a lot of hitching around the south of Patagonia, and I had to get a ride back into town. There was a beautifully painted Kombi van outside the entry to the glacier. I hung around, liking my chances, knowing that soon a few hippies or travellers would appear. A gaucho like Argentine guy showed up, bearded, scruffy looking, like me really. I asked if the van was his, and when he said yes I asked if I could hitch a ride back into town. Of course! Once my cousin and friend get here. Not only did I get a ride back to El Calafate, but I wound up travelling with these guys twice. They had spent two months seeing their country and had picked up a few travellers, loved that I spoke Spanish, they kept doing Spanish Godfather impersonations. They gave me whisky, pipe tobacco, fed me constantly. Top blokes, I had the best time with them. We stayed in touch in order to catch up back in Buenos Aires. The van was sick. They loved singing ACDC. We saw Esquel, El Chalten and a bit of El Calafate together. I got to travel with thee legendary local boys throughout Patagonia in a Kombi. I’d thank thank them for dinner or something and they would roll their eyes, as if I was paining them, and it was their duty to cater for a guest in their country. Nooo! Por favor! Por nada! Noooo, please! Thanks for what! Love ’em.

I could go on, but I’ve kept it at twelve. This happened throughout the entire year, in every country, some more than others, but all in all, Latin American hospitality is the finest I have ever experienced. How could I possibly get home sick? The continent and it’s people showed me a lot of love, I mean a lot, and in turn, they changed how I saw the world and the people in it, they evidently taught an already generous and good natured person even more about generosity and kindness. The showed me how you should treat guests, treat anyone, with endless friendship. It was a truly profound and joyous experience from start to finish. Forget what you think you know about South America.

I am still in touch with most of the people, and I know I will see many of them again one day, either here in Australia, or in South America, or somewhere in the world, that’s the kind of friends they are. My travel diary is littered with contacts and addresses of people who gave me the ”when you come to xxx call me and you can stay with me/use, come have dinner with my family” etc. What a time, what great people.

Enough for now, I have been offline for too long and forgot how long it takes to put up a blog post. But there will be more from me from now on. In short: go experience South America – it fucking rocks.

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(reblogged) FALSE POSITIVE: The Punk Rock Musician on Dialysis That Colombian Police Cant Silence

A friend has spent the last four months putting this photo essay together of a terminally ill renal dialysis patient from Medellin who was framed and sent to prison by corrupt Colombian police. It is great stuff, a real look at a gritty and raw side of Latin America and a sharp contrast to the less important and more often discussed topics of beautiful women, plastic surgery and Escobar.

Check it out here.

If you’re interested in attempting to bring further light of this  issue to the media and the world, there is a Chance.org petition that you can sign. Links are on the article page. Please help end corruption.

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.

About this blog…

I can be lazy, though I have a genuine reason for being close to six months behind in this blog.

I went to Europe in 2008 and it was one of the first times that my eyes were stretched wide open to the world and one of those defining epochs where you realise how truly huge the world is, that you are not at the center of it, that you have much to learn and many long roads to walk, that there is more to life than work, money, buy stuff, repeat until you immerse yourself in a series of walls and roofs and a huge load of material possessions to the point where you have blindly convinced yourself you have attained some form of happiness. I had been doing it all wrong… it was an amazing, life changing experience, it was also the catalyst for years of personal, existential struggle, denial, anger and depression, but that’s for another time. It was all part of a huge growth cycle.

Anyhow, I was stoned one day thinking about all the things in my life and looked back at that trip, I realised, without the photos, or without talking to my friends whom I had travelled with, it had all become a complete and total dream. I know where I went, some of the things I did, people I met and saw, but overall, the months I was away had become a far distant memory, something I did some time ago. Those vague kind of memories were so blurry, so far from the soul crushing reality that is 9-5 city living. I couldn’t recount as much of it as I liked and I knew with time and evidently age, more of the already hazy memories from the trip would fade, fade, fade.

It was similar for my trip to Japan in 2009, I loved it, I loved the country, the people, it was amazing, but again I did not keep a journal and apart from talking with my ex-girlfriend who I went there with, it was another blurred memory of an awesome time mostly forgotten amid the chaos of ‘reality’ back home, the place I always seem to end up back at, all my fondest travel memories slowly being eroded away by the mundane regularities of my life.

So, three years without travel, an incredible desire to get out of and smash up every single thing that had become normal in my life, and I went to South America. I promised myself, again, that I would keep a journal, only this time I did.

This is why the blog is almost six months behind, because I write obsessively in my travel journal almost everyday, where I was, what I did, who I was with and how we did what we were doing, where they were from, funny or beautiful things they said, things that inspired me, things that made me sad or want to cry, good things I have seen, horrible things I have seen, what I learnt, what I struggled with – whatever. Its all in there. I can look back at it all in a month or a year or a decade and laugh or cry or look at what I learned and how I grew, things I achieved, forgot about or wanted to do but didn’t. It’s incredible to go back and read it all, realising how much you already forgot, what someone said, a place you visited or something strange you saw, having these passages of text trigger a world of colourful nostalgia that makes your memories even more beautiful and vivid in a way that your mind would not have ordinarily permitted.

Slowly, in time, I will update this blog and one day it will be finished, probably at the end of the year (given I go back home). I share everything with everyone in here, there are no secrets, no lies, its all raw and straight from my heart, how it was, is. I ramble. I go on tangents, I spew reams of information in enormous detail; I have no education in writing, I can’t keep it short or be concise. May one day.

Either way I hope you enjoy reading all this stuff, I hope you can take something from whatever it is I put online here and its of use to other people in their own way. I just didn’t want to be back in Australia in five years time lying down stoned, staring up at the stars thinking about how awesome South America was, but only been able to recount it all in a very ‘top of the iceberg’ type of fashion.

Snail pace blogger. (:

IMG_5898A beautiful photo of some cumulonimbus clouds in Salento, Colombia, one of my favourite places in the world. This is something I would rarely have the time or even thought to bother looking at when I am in Australia cause I am always so tied up in that mental existence centered around work and money. It is amazing the things you notice when you are living life at your own pace and no someone or everyone else’s.

Six months in South America: some numbers

6 months, or 183 actual days:
Argentina 9 nights
Brasil 1
Ecuador 67
Colombia 106

Stayed at 36 different hostels
Stayed at 5 locals houses
Slept in an airport 1 night
Slept in a basement 2 nights
Slept in hammocks 12 times
Spent 40 nights in my tent
Stayed on 4 different farms
Stayed at 4 different mountain refuges across 5 nights

Took over 60 buses between locations
Took 6 overnight buses
Took 6 flights across 3 different trips
Roadtripped in a VW Kombi 1 time
Took 5 inter-island boats

Tripped on LSD 3 times
Took Ayahuasca 1 time
Took mushrooms several times

Lost an iPod
Had an iPod and phone stolen
Cracked and iPod touch
Broke a camera indirectly
Lost a 50mm lens cap

Read 22 books
Learning a language
Found love

Vomited 2 or 3 times (alcohol)
Had stomach problems 2 times

Saw dozens of sunrises, dozens more sunsets, moonsets and moonrises, geeked out at celestial activity at every chance I got. Hiked many trails, swam many rivers and beaches, climbed a few mountains, had an insane new year, turned 28 in Guatape, Colombia and celebrated with some brilliant people. Abused cheap tobacco in Colombia for months on end.

Experienced many new things
Learned a lot
Grown immensely
Am hairier

Its been amazing.