Almost 48hours back in London. Second day in the office.
We landed on Monday in a cloud of typical London rain and low hanging grey clouds; we had not seen rain in 5 weeks. When not sleeping on the flight I kept thinking about our trip; the good, the bad and the ugly. Before I forget here’s my attempt to summarise key points.
Best place we woke up at
A deserted beach with no name by Lake Titikaka. We were woken up by the sound of the fishing boat’s engine as he was taking his boat out to pick up the net he’d laid out the night before. The stillness and quietness of the morning and the vastness of the lake.
Worst place we woke up at
Without a doubt a construction site behind a petrol station (it keeps getting better) at about 4200m as we were crossing the Andes going from Cusco to Arica. It had not stopped raining all night and I REALLY needed to use the bathroom.
Best food we ate
The asado Andy made in San Juan (Argentina). We bought the meat at the local village were we patiently waited for the shops to open at 6.30pm after their siesta. Andy handled all the discussions with the local butcher and cooked the meat at the grill provided at the camping ground on the foot of the national observatory.
Also not to be forgotten is our impromptu 5 course lunch at the Septima vineyard.
Worst food we ate
Tough call. The curanto at Chiloe definitely makes the list of top three. The banana and tuna lunch Andy made for a post surfing session would also make the list had i eaten it but still deserves a notable mention here. Other than that there’s been a lot of instant noodles and Knorr soups consumed as well as plain half boiled pasta. Once again all the things you never see on social media but definitely happen behind the scenes.
Needless to say there are no pictures for these 🙂
The books I read. The time I had to really read them, think about them and fully digest their meaning. The 100 year life weighs heavy on my mind now. If I have to work until I am 70-80 what would I want that life to look like? Where would I live it and who would I want around? If I live to 100 years that 65 more years on this planet. That’s a long time to spend doing something that you kind-of like and surrounding yourself with people that you kind-of get along with. I now know that I am an ambivert (yes that’s a word) and that I need to build safeguards so that my extroverted nature does not take over, that I need to save some of my energy for my weekends and the people I love.
Sleeping in a small bed and ‘surviving’ on a suitcase’s worth of clothes. I came back to find a box of exercise gear at home. A whole box. I spent 6 months with only a pair of leggings, a pair of shorts, a couple of t-shirts and sports bras. Why do I need all this stuff? I am looking forward to going shopping in my closet and not buying anything for a while (I reserve the right to change my mind the moment I walk past Zara).
The calmness. Over the last couple of weeks as the return day got closer and closer I got more and more stressed. My list of things to do in London got longer and longer. From minor things (cancelling Sky subscription and going to the dentist) to more complicated stuff (eg how on earth will we fit all of our possessions in NH); the weight of London life at times feels unbearable. Life can be a lot simpler and I need to remember that.
Andy’s excitement for photography, his unbelievable patience (with me and when it comes to waiting for weather conditions to change) and relentless pursuit for deliberate practice when learning something new.
We rocked up to the tour operator’s office at 9.15. His wife looked at us with complete bewilderment when we said we are here for a tour. A couple of frantic calls to her husband later and it’s clear that we are not going anywhere that day. At least not with him.
Honga Roa, the only town on Easter Island is everything you’d hope a Polynesian town to be. A maze of small fire red streets with only a couple of cobbled roads. Cars drive by idly (speed limit is 30km) whilst most locals either cycle or gallop down the road on horseback.
At the only pharmacy which we visit to buy a thermometer we are told that because of the winds and swell the boat carrying supplies to the island has not been able to unload its cargo. Boats do not dock here, the port is too small and shallow and so cargo is carried to shore in smaller boats. As a result, the island has run out of mosquito repellent, small gas canisters and tomato sauce.
We look into signing up for a tour of the island. Predictably all outlets offer the exact same tour options at comparable prices. At a tour operator off the main road we talk about surfing, the break right in front of the port looks tricky; both left and right lines are available but both break in shallow water on volcanic rocks.
He eyes us warily. “Do you have your own boards?” he asks.
“No we will need to rent”.
“Gringos come with their brand new boards and steal all our waves. We don’t have that many boards on the isnand and what we’ve got is old”. We heard many stories of gringos being shouted at on the line up or being abruptly cut off by a local as they paddle for a wave. Assured we would not be stealing all the waves he happily gives us the low down of the break and in return we agree to take the tour with him the next day.
Later the same day we stroll to the beach to look at the surfers. There’s quite a swell and 3-4 meter waves keep braking right in front of us.
“Not sure I can surf this” I say.
“No guts no glory” responds Andy.
In front of us a bare chested local holding a young baby on one hand and a freshly rolled spliff in the other is cheering his girlfriend on. From one of four sailing boats anchored at a distance a small dingy appears. On board a family of five.
“Familia loca” he tells us (“crazy family”). Not sure who’s more crazy. Them or him, now balancing with baby in his arms on the volcanic rocks where the waves break.
As the little boat makes its way past the line up the man starts waving his hands. He shouts but we can’t make out what he is saying. And then we see it. The first wave of the set rolls up, the best surfer of the group paddles for it and catches it. As the wave breaks he jumps off his board.
“How did he miss that? I thought he had it” I say.
And then I realise what’s happening. The wave broke right on the little boat throwing the father who was sitting by the motor off the boat. The surfer paddles to the dad and hands him his board to use as a raft.
By now the second wave is rolling up. The man on the shore has dumped his baby by our feet and has run off. Loud voices, hands gesturing and pointing, a fisherman jumps in his boat. In the water the rest of the surfers are all paddling for the wave. No one pops up, they all body board to where the little boat is.
The wave crashes mere feet of the boat which flies off the surface. When it lands back in the water all four passengers are still on board. The mother is trying to restart the motor but with all the water it stalls. About five surfers jump off their boards and hold on the the rails of the boat. They seem calm, orchestrated as if they have done this a million times. The third and biggest wave of the set is about to hit them.
Once again it misses them by a hair’s breadth. The force of the white water pushes the boat (with surfers and their boards all around them) a good 10 meters forward close to where the father, still holding on to the surfboard for dear life, is. He swims to the boat and tries to jump back in but the surfers tell him not to.
The fisherman approaches, takes a ladder and secures it on the side of the boat. The father slowly makes it onboard. The smaller boat is now on starboard side. Both boats slowly make their way to the harbour whilst the surfers paddle back out to catch the next set.
“Familia loco” says the bare chested guy who has now come back to pick up his child. “Loco loco loco” he says rolling another spliff. At a distance, the fisherman slowly pulls out of the harbour with the whole family heading out to their sailing boat.
Looks like the locals are not that unfriendly after all.
Visiting Easter Island has been on my list of places to visit long before I knew what a bucket list was. So when we were planning the trip and listing what we’d like to see, do and experience, Easter Island was the first thing I noted down and the one I refused to budge on.
We finally made it to Santiago on Wednesday afternoon. We did not plan to be there that early; I was hoping we’d spend the day exploring Valparaiso, visiting Pablo Neruda’s house and shooting a dress series shot in front of some of Valparaiso’s iconic graffiti. But from the moment we woke up we could tell something was wrong.
Whilst petrol stations were open the little shops and restaurants in them were all closed. There were no trucks on the streets. We counted 3 cars in a 250km stretch of road. In Valparaiso, everything was closed. Deserted streets with only bewildered tourists and homeless people. We asked a police officer were everyone was. “Censo” (census). Turns out Chileans take their civic duty very seriously and they all stayed at home.
I have come to the realisation that I am not very good (read crap) at learning new things, especially if I don’t excel (or at the very least do better than my colleagues / classmates) pretty quickly. The last couple of weeks have been humbling and thought-provoking, rewarding and tear inducing, frustrating and exhilarating.
Our original plan was to continue heading north from Cusco to Lima. We planned to drive to Pamela’s wedding and then head out to the Amazon before flying back to Santiago and from there to Easter Island.
But reports of flooding in northern Peru, ruined seaside towns and 70 dead gave us pause. We need to sell Gellan before we go so this is clearly not the time to adventure. Selling a foreign car in Peru is somewhat complicated compared to Chile and there are reports of car owners (Andy) not being able to leave the country without proof of having sold the car or left it with a Peruvian for safekeeping. Last but not least, most travellers are looking to buy cars in Santiago…
We left La Paz behind us on a Friday afternoon, heading north to Copacabana on the shores of LakeTiticaca. Driving out of the city we were greeted by the usual traffic, crazy driving and hordes of people walking up and down dusty streets. Once again, we talked about how much La Paz reminds us of Mumbai, with slightly fewer people.
Time flies. In 6 weeks we will be back in London. Before we left, we noted down a list of things we’d want to do and achieve on this trip. Not just places we’d want to see but things we’d want to:
learn (e.g. improve our surfing),
experience (e.g. Spending 6 months together in a van and meeting people we don’t usually come across in our London life) and,
do (e.g. Spend more time reading books, meditating etc)
But with 8 weeks to go we realised we had to make some choices as to where we’d go, how much time we’d spend there etc. Cusco or the Bolivian salt flats? The Amazon or Easter Island? More surfing or more trekking?
This has led us to create a list of things that we have had to skip. On this trip. Here’s where we got to and where we’d probably start next time we are thinking of taking a holiday.
Antarctica. Would have blown our budget and seen us return to the UK 4 months too soon but it’s definitely on the list
Galapagos. Again, expensive and something we keep telling ourselves we can easily do when older
Amazon. Up until yesterday the plan was to go to Iquitos and spend a week on a river boat in the Amazon. Unfortunately, Iquitos flooded and the other option in Peru, Manu, was as expensive as the Galapagos (but a bargain compared to Antarctica)
Bolivian Salt Flats. This was skipped in favour of Cusco though we might, might, be able to visit the salt flats as we drive south to Santiago
Equador, Colombia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil. There’s clearly a need for a northern Latin America tour
Fly fishing. Andy’s finally come to terms with the fact that he did not get to try this out
Carnival. I had this vision of us spending carnival at a remote village somewhere but we spent Carnival on different continents
This is by no means a list of complaints. We have seen, done and experienced a whole host of different, surprising, exciting, disappointing, hilarious things. But there’s only so much we can squeeze into 6 months.
We are in Cusco and we are alive. We have not updated the site in a while because internet in Bolivia (yes we were there) was crap and then when we crossed into Peru I managed to give Andy “Deli Belly” (με αλλά λόγια γαστρεντερίτιδα).
We have spent the last week in Cusco. Andy went mountain biking in the jungle, I went up to Machu Picchu. Most of our free time has been spent debating what we will do with our last 6 weeks in the continent in light of the floods in northern Peru. 2 pisco sours in (each) its looking like there’s a lot more surfing in our future – but who knows.
There are more blogs and updates of our shenanigans coming up over the next week or so to catch you up with our adventures.
Rest assured we are safe, not in imminent flood danger and, 5 months in, still talking to each other.