Hitting the road again

Every time I go somewhere, I meet all these travellers who tell me things about places they’ve visited in Australia. Places they have loved, places I have never seen and sometimes never even heard of. Astounded with the wonderful things backpackers and tourists have had to say, to show me and to teach me about the place I call home, I have since made it my mission to slowly see Australia. Sometimes you have to leave home to appreciate all that is going on back there, all the beauty, the simple things, the obvious. I’ve done that, and since have had a deep fascination with this island-continent that is my home.

This all started with a visit to Tasmania shortly after my year travelling South America. Tasmania was another place I had never been to and only under two hours away by airplane. After almost a half-decade of talk and intent, I completed the Overland track and spent a week roaming the remarkably beautiful southern island. I later checked in with long forgotten New South Wales national parks and road tripped from Melbourne to Adelaide and back. In the new year I got news on a job I had really been hoping to get, and I wound up moving to Tasmania to work as a guide on the Overland track which I have come to love so much. Months on, the season is over and I am itching to move again. I’ve managed to stay mobile. To not get stuck in big cities or the regular, comfortable and repetitive flow of life. I had thought long and hard about the travel I recently done and how it made me feel, how exciting life can be with only what you can carry on your back, with little or zero planning, living in a state of total open-mindedness, with no restrictions, no limits, in complete freedom. Moving about so that the only place you really ever remain is outside of the comfort zone, away from the stink of the familiar. The crest I have been riding feels far too good to get off, to abandon, to pass up for places and processes that just make me feel bored and less human.

In the spirit of travel and adventure, I have decided to take a flight from Launceston to Perth, check in with a few friends in Western Australia’s capital, friends from long ago and also from recent travel, and then head north up the coast or through the interior, into the northern parts of Northern Territory and then south to Alice Springs where a few friends are working for the winter, and finally east back to Sydney. I’m intending to only use my legs and my thumb, to hitch hike, hace dedo, the whole way – not to use any paid public transport like buses or airplanes in order to complete what will be between a gargantuan 7000-8000km journey through the vastness of Australia in order to get back to the east coast. Yeah, I could have spent a fifth of my airfare to Perth and bought ticket that would get me from Launceston to Sydney in under two hours, but really, what fun would that be? What would I see that I hadn’t seen before? I wouldn’t meet anyone, it would be easy and not difficult. There would be no waiting, no hitching on dusty roads, no tests of my patience, my determination, no satisfying my lust for the outdoors and nature, no outback, no town pubs and no characters, no odd accents, no rocks, no lakes, no eucalypts, no backpackers, no vans, no trucks, no stars, no sunsets, no moon rises and no stories. There would be no uncertainty and no time to stare out to a place you have laid eyes on for the very first time in your life.

I had originally intended to hitch directly across the country from Perth to Sydney, but heading north makes it more interesting, lengthier and gets me into more uncharted territory. Having two housemates and some other friends working on the Larapinta trail outside Alice Springs made an excellent reason for making that the only planned stop along the way. The other things that inspired this trip were traveller’s yarns, globally, camper van graffiti on the inside of Wicked vans that had journeyed all over Australia by people all over the world, having never been to WA and NT, two weeks of hitching and road mayhem with a good mate in New Zealand and a love for the vastness and unpredictability of life on the road.

I haven’t felt this excited to travel in ages. This is one of the first times such a long journey doesn’t require a passport and an airplane ticket worth a few thousand dollars. It’s home, but it’s so new and unknown and massive. I have no idea what to expect and no idea what will really happen or where I will end up (apart from Alice Springs I guess), but this is really what makes it all so exciting. Sometimes it’s good to just pick up your backpack and go for it. 

IMG_1234A long and lonely road through Argentinian Patagonia. May 2013.

 

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.