Archive for August, 2006

life on mars

Thursday, August 31st, 2006

we’re here in the driest desert on earth. i’d forgotten how otherworldly deserts can be. vast expanses of flat. shimmering mirage oases that dance at the horizon, tantalising. dunes and valleys, a palette of pastels and earth tones. deep purples and light greens highlighted against blue blue sky. shadows and light hide in crags and crevices, creating landscapes from another planet. the blinding light of salt crystals and the cracked floodpans, opening their mouths in anticipation. it’s unbelievable that this place could sustain life. yet here the residents of san pedro de atacama thrive.

welcome to mars.

(i have some amazing photos to go with this post. sadly, the internet connection in san pedro de atacama is from the dark ages, so they’ll have to wait. tomorrow we *hopefully* head for bolivia [a 3 day journey by jeep], although the mountain pass has been closed up to today due to snow, so fingers crossed!)

pedazos de corazon

Tuesday, August 29th, 2006

we’re on a long bus journey to the north of chile. i don’t know what it is about long bus journeys that makes me so contemplative, but they do. there are cactii and cliffs rolling past, and suddenly a music video on the “in flight entertainment” reminds me of watching “the long way round” shortly before our departure. it seems like yesterday, and it seems like a lifetime ago.

the purpose of this trip was never to try to “find myself”. after thirty some odd years, i have a pretty good handle on who i am. yet i suppose it’s inevitable that when undertaking a trip of this type, you learn a few insights along the way. stuff about who you are, the nature of humanity, the nature of life. new experiences and challenges have a way of teaching you something, in spite of yourself.

there are people who subscribe to the belief that those who live in underdeveloped countries, who have less or lead “simpler” lives, are somehow happier. purer. or, alternatively, that they lead lives of quiet desperation. i’ve found i don’t believe either of those to be true. based on my experience, i think they lead lives just like everyone else, and the only difference is the scale. they don’t sit around pining for a western way of life. what they see on tv is so far removed from their daily reality, that it might as well be science fiction. so in much the same way that my happiness is not tied to the fact that i can’t live like a hollywood megamogul, they don’t lay awake at night because they don’t have the apartment from friends. like most everywhere, life doesn’t let you spend too much time wanting that which is far out of reach. instead, they want things like healthier children, better schools, the ability to provide for their family. same things, different scale. there’s really not so much that separates my life from theirs except scale. people are not happy or unhappy based on how much or how little they have. they are happy or unhappy based on how achievable their dreams for their family are. everywhere you go, it’s always the same.

i was worried that this trip would make me feel old. after all, i’m roughly 10 years ahead of your average backpacker. not everything is as fresh or new or exciting to a thirty-something as it is to someone just out of university. and part of that is true. i had no desire to join the hoardes getting wasted in bangkok on a friday night like it’s mardigras, and my patience for those who did was definitely thin. yet there were advantages to being a bit older and wiser that i hadn’t counted on. like a greater appreciation for the sights and opportunities. like being able to rent a car. like being taken seriously, and not targeted for scams. like not losing your passport because you’re out clubbing and too drunk to keep track of your bag. and the best part has been the inspiration of seeing others older than myself who are still travelling. people with grey hair and well worn passports who still get a thrill out of life on the road. people with a lifetime of stories that i can only aspire to. i hope that’s me someday (without the grey hair, of course.)

this trip has also brought me further out of my shell. i am, by nature, a very shy person (yes, really) and left to my druthers, i’d be a quiet observer on the side. but travelling just doesn’t allow for much of that. you want to eat? you’re going to have to find someplace to go, figure out how to ask for what you want to order, etc. etc. etc. at almost every point in the day, travelling requires you to decide, interact, and do. periods of “coasting” are few and far between… and that’s not really what you signed up for anyway. you can “coast” for free from your living room sofa. if you want adventure, you’re going to have to go out and find it.

quiet observers do not have adventures.

so there has been understanding, and wisdom and adventure – and there has been renewal. a renewed appreciation for all things wild and wonderful, bright and beautiful. renewed belief in the possibilities of kindness and future. renewed hope for happy endings and goodness. a lightness of heart and optimism which i have missed. it’s so easy to fall into thinking the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

my eyes and heart tell me differently these days.

there has been all this and much more. and even if i never set out to “find myself”, i have tripped over these things along the way. pedazos de corazon, just waiting to be discovered.


Monday, August 28th, 2006

to nicola and ben on the arrival of jasmine rose. she’s a beauty.


it’s the little things

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

well you know what they say about the best laid plans… we didn’t manage to get today’s bus to san pedro de atacama, so we’re chillin’ like a villain in santiago for another 24 hours. rest up, get a hot shower, then catch tomorrow’s ride.

but what that did mean was that i got to head over to dunkin donuts for a real boston creme donut. haven’t had one of those bad boys in prolly a year. something about the sweet custard filling, crispy sugared pastry and chocolate coating took the edge off my irritation at our foiled schedule. (sadly, the coffee left much to be desired… but nevermind.)

sometimes, it’s the little things.

dirty, tired and cold ain’t half bad

Saturday, August 26th, 2006

we’ve been bopping around the lakes district a bit for the past few days, and although i’m sure it’s as beautiful as reputed to be, we’ve come to the conclusion that you can really only appreciate it fully if a) you have your own transportation b) you have the cash for the cool (but expensive) tours, like volcano climbing or trekking patagonia or c) it’s warm enough to camp. unfortunately none of these are applicable, so although it’s been enjoyable enough, we’ve been a bit underwhelmed. which is why, in a fit of madness, we’ve decided to untertake 35 hours of bus journey in the next two days. this evening we hop back to santiago (15 hours), arriving early tomorrow morning. not so bad. but then at 3 that afternoon, we jump back on a bus to san pedro de atacama (20 hours) to get up to the desert region in the north.

madness, i tell you. i’m sure there will be an interesting post to follow.

a few notable milestones:

1. both j and i have now visited all continents except antarctica
2. we’ve hit the quintuple-fecta, having travelled by planes, trains, automobiles, buses, and boats.


people have asked me if this trip has made j’s and my relationship stronger, or if it has tested it to the limit. i’ve thought about that question a lot, and the truth is, i don’t think it’s been good *or* bad for it. there have been fluctuations, just like back at home – times when we’re totally on the same wavelength, or just sharing a moment. and times when we snipe and gripe like characters out of dr. seuss. there were about two straight weeks of hell at the end of fiji/beginning of nz when it seemed all we did was argue. but overall, it’s only reinforced what i already knew: j’s the one for me. i never get sick of being around him (all those of you who’ve seen “high fidelity” are excused to go retch). i never get bored with him. he can always make me laugh, and always sucker me into a debate. and most importantly, he keeps me balanced and sane. whenever i’m in danger of losing it, he reaches out and reels me back in. my even keel.

lord knows what he sees in me. but i’m more convinced than ever that i’m pretty damn lucky.


people have asked me if i’m ready to come home. and (in spite of what i said last night when i was storming around the freezing hospedaje bitching about being cold) the answer is unreservedly “no”.

i’m tired of wearing the same clothes. i’m tired of packing up every few days. i’m tired of cold showers. i’m tired of working out budgets in kip/renminbe/pesos. travelling (for those of you who’ve said you were jealous) is not all sunshine and roses. i’m not a huge fan of the lonely planet books, but they hit the nail on the head:

“the road means getting up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus… maniacally trying to guess which of the towns you keep passing through is the one you intended to visit…blissful relief when you finally arrive and find your pack still on the roof… begging children, the arduous haul to the hotel, a screaming bladder and the excitement of a new town all catapulting your mind from one emotional extreme to the next. the hotel manager says the showers are hot, but the water hitting the skin is as cold as the bottom of lake titicaca. there’s no seat on the toilet (at least the bowels are behaving)…ok, food. leave the pack in the corner, get out the map, locate the market… you get lost, your mood turns sour as your blood-sugar crashes… try to haggle but have no clue what the fruit seller is saying. you finally hand over the cash – did i just get ripped off? – and walk out to find a good place to eat. is this easy?”

still and all: at the end of the day, i’d rather be dirty, tired and cold in the middle of nowhere, than warm, clean and bored in london… because i’d be wishing i was anywhere else.

i’ll try to keep that in mind for hour 27 of the marathon bus journey. meanwhile, here’s a few of our southern pics.

see you on the other side…

lost in translation

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

so last night we decided to splurge a bit and go see a movie. the cinema advertised the premiere of a new sean penn flick, so after ascertaining that it was indeed in English (and not dubbed), i talked j into seeing “dias de furia” (translation: days of fury) over “los piratos del carribean, parte 2″.

bought popcorn, sat through the previews, and then the title screen of the film comes up: “the assassination of richard nixon”. which is actually a great film – i happen to know because we’d already rented it on dvd nearly a year ago. sigh.

now i ask you – how was i to know?

doggie style

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

the country of chile is obsessed with hot dogs. they’re the preferred fast food, and they’re everywhere, served in every style imaginable. with fries, with beer, with avocado, *on* fries, on pizzas, in sandwiches.

need i even mention that j is in heaven?

fun photos

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

there’s boston love everywhere!

and specially for benal and kay bee:

more santiago photos here.

el amor

Monday, August 21st, 2006

flashing back to my high school years, i vividly remember my excitement at signing up to be a foreign exchange student for a summer. i also vividly remember my disappointment at being assigned to go to paraguay, rather than spain as i’d so earnestly hoped.

sometimes life has a funny way of giving you just what you need, because my summer in paraguay turned out to be a seminal experience for me, which i wouldn’t have traded for anything. not only did it spark my lifelong love of travel, but also my love of español and latin culture. i remember coming back from being abroad with a lightbulb over my head, thinking, “ahhhh, so that’s what i am going to do with my life – something with spanish and travel. perhaps an international aid worker, or diplomatic interpreter…” i was convinced that spanish would become an integral part of my future.

of course, life rarely works out the way you think when you’re 16. somewhere along the line, obstacles cropped up, priorities changed. and it’s now been 17 years since then.

still, i am in the throes of remembering how it felt to fall in love with a language and a lifestyle. there is something about spanish which has always felt like a second skin – the more i find myself immersed in it, the happier i am. being able to navigate through a non-english world is a secret sense of pride – it’s like having a second home, or being a member of a club. and as a traveller, it is the difference between real interaction with a strange culture, and gawking it at from outside. and for most of the trip i’ve only ever been able to do the latter.

so maybe i didn’t end up living in costa rice teaching english, or working with street kids in mexico city, or acting as an interpreter for a UN official. still, it’s a great feeling to discover that no matter how far you stray from your passions and dreams, the love is always right there below the surface, just waiting to be reawakened. and it’s as easy as a visit home.


Sunday, August 20th, 2006

¡buenos tardes a todos, estamos en chile! i am actually really proud of myself – my spanish has been more than good enough to get by, and i just waded right in. it all came flooding back to me, as soon as we got off the plane and i realised that the only way we were going to get the 20 kms into town was if i tried actually, you know, conversing. there is (thankfully) very little english in these parts, which has forced me to get over my fear of embarrassment and just go for it. and all the chilenos have been very warm and helpful (even if they do speak really fast and indistinctly), making it easy for me to blunder through with a smile. immersion is a wonderful thing. (and yes, i rock just a little bit.)

crossing the international date line has not been as wonderful, as we essentially went 48 hours without sleep in a single day, and are now back on eastern standard time, so still rather jet-lagged (which explains, and hopefully excuses the very disjointed post). we finally ventured out this afternoon for a long wander through santiago, which, interestingly enough, reminds me most of rome (and, of course, spain). there is something very european about the city, which is both familiar and different – lots of plazas and wide avenidas, cafes and sidewalk restaurantes. they seem to have an inexplicable obsession with hotdogs and ice cream, but you can’t beat the empanadas and cerveza. yum. the architecture is to die for.

the current, very tentative plan is to head south for a while, perhaps to the lakes district (want to go to patagonia, but that might not be possible in the off season), and see how far we get. it’s also occurred to me that we have only 8 short weeks left of this incredible experience, so we must make the very most of it.

more soon, mis amigos.


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