Final thoughts

We agreed to write up our thoughts about this trip separately. Guess we thought it might be interesting to see what we saw as the highlights and then compare and contrast. I know you lot probably don’t care but having spent six months in each other’s constant company we became adept at thinking of things that might give us something fresh to talk about 😉

So, below are some of the things I’ve really enjoyed on this particular trip

Highlights

Cerro Castillo, 5am dawn patrol to shoot alpen glow
Down in southern Chilean Patagonia. We’d hiked up the afternoon before in glorious sunshine and spectacular views down the valley. We’d pitched on the col, and I set the alarm super early to try to ascend the final few hundred meters of the ridge and shoot dawn light and sunrise on the facing mountain. I took the jetfoil for coffee and sleeping bag given the sub zero conditions. I looked like this:

Cerri Castillo
An hour and a half like this, for a three minute window. That I was in the wrong place for. Win some, lose some.

But underneath the ‘morning face’ is a very happy boy. Me, a camera, a beautiful location and the solitude of being stupid enough to get up at 4am to be there. As it turns out, I was sitting in the wrong spot, the light I had trekked an hour for that morning and waited half an hour more to see…. lasted less than 90 seconds and I missed the shot I had visualised. Didn’t care though. I was there, and shot this:

Cerri Castillo
Sunsrise at Cerro Castillo

Boat trip on Magellan Strait
I have long been fascinated with early exploration. My childhood bookshelves testify to an interest in Shackleton, Hillary, Cook, McKenzie, Livingstone and so on. More recent reading of the likes of Slocum and Magellan in their respective circumnavigations, Darwin and Fitzroy and other early visitors to the Patagonia and a few collected stories on the trials and tribulations of early life on the southern tip of the ‘new’ continent meant that I was excited to share a view of this wild and rugged land.

A boat trip down the Magellan Strait, the discovery and use of which is steeped in history was fantastic way to experience the area. And there, on the shore of a stony, wave and wind swept island, stood a solitary Emperor penguin. Few animals are more iconic and redolent of Antarctic than this. Very happy.

Bariloche mountain biking
A step back to the 2009 Pacific coast trip in a way; car park bike assembly leading to new friends to ride with.  Exploring the bike park with these two was really good fun. The sun, dust, and slalom line of the track was hilarious. Having hung out with these guys and their sister, their invite to join them and their crew in venturing down to the lake with cold beer, and an evening of fine steak and booze seemed the natural way to round off a perfect day on the riding scene

The final wave in Arica, a long left at La Machas
Not the longest, nor the biggest, but certainly the most er ‘accomplished’. Felt like the culmination of the previous three weeks of learning, but also a neat way to tie up the time hanging in the surf house, enjoying seafood BBQ’s and the chilled environment. A close second would be the sunset sessions surrounded by turtles and wheeling gulls spiralling in thick flocks, in a flame red sky reflected in a glassy ocean.

Steak in Buenos Aires
Whilst being a pretty damn good piece of meat on a plate, this treat was something of a box tick. Never-the-less, to seek out one of the best steak restaurants in the world was an opportunity I would have been sorry to miss.

Meat. Done. Well. One of Buenos Aires’ many parilla (steak house) Queues everynight for this place.

#Vanlife coffee
Many many opportunities to wake up and take coffee in secluded locations; by the cave on lake Titicaca, in the middle of the empty desert in the Atacam, by the side of the salt hut in the high Andes or watching condors rise on early morning thermals. But one that stands out: by a lake on a deserted white beach in Chilean Patagonia whilst travelling the Carretera Austral. The pristine mountain environment was stunning, snow capped peaks crowning the lush forested slopes and the gin clear water of the lake was lapping at my feet. (The encouraging  preservation efforts also left me with a positive feeling, a sense of wonder and respect shared with the local community and visiting gringos.

An evening at our camp spot.

Shooting night skies
Having made the effort to get up 3a.m. for the window between moon-set and sunrise and tramping about in the mesa near Mendoza to find a spot the result turned out well. I like making pictures. The harder or more involved they are to make, the more I seem to enjoy it.

I was reminded of this as we drove two days off route to visit the Atacama (again) drove up to four and a half thousand meters and used my new F2.8 14mm lens in compiling a 13 image stacked composite. A very involved process I’d been studying for a while. Hours and hours poured into a single image. The results are, admittedly, stunning, suitable for wall hanging, not for poor quality low res blog posts, so you’ll have to imagine something like the above with 5x cleaner galaxy shot.  (soz, not soz)

Best things, tools, toys

  • Jetboil – coffee or noodles is only 90 seconds away
  • Spyder Co. paramilitary 2 knife – seemingly constant use and remains a hugely versatile and useable blade. Worn everyday in pocket.
  • Canon 5D – a new camera to play with. Mmm toys.

Downsides:

Dogs.
I re-read my travel notes from Siberia and India the other night. I was 25. Even then I was berating barking dogs and feeling that they were following me around. 14 years later, some things haven’t changed. As soon as I closed my eyes a dog, somewhere, realises it is his time to sniff out where I am, stand outside my window and bark for a few hours. Even in the Atacama desert. Given a mosquito fart 100m away wakes me up, a pack of dogs just outside the tent is a sleepless night.

Feeling rushed.
I know, I know, six months right. We pootled around Chile and Argentina (with a mini loop around the ‘Gringo Trail’ in Bolivia and Peru). Some people manage to squeeze so much more in. At least in terms of distance and ‘must do sights’, visiting Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador. But even so, even with our limited geographic coverage, there were things left undone and opportunities turned down. I would like to have spent more time in the mountains, more time surfing, more time on a bike. Only myself to blame of course, and it is a familiar feeling, most trips require a degree of compromise on this front. Perhaps more so when travelling with a partner.

Not much else
Yes there were break-ins, yes I got the shits a few times, and yes, six month cabin fever with your partner can be a bit of a strain, but frankly I see all these things as just part of any extended trip. Ultimately no injuries, and no proper fall-outs so I’d ‘count that as a win’ as modern parlance puts it.


I was going to leave it there, but I naughtily checked Daphne’s post and saw she also included a few more points. Interestingly Daphne included food and books. I thought of things we did.

Anyway for what its worth though:

Best food – possibly the steak in BA, though also ‘Patagonia salad’ always made me smile. It was basically all the veg we had plus a chopped up apple and a tin of lentils. We had this often and frequently with great views.

Worst food – I’ve always considered myself best described as ‘eats everything’ so am rarely fussed by bad food. But the smashed chicken bone and scrappy meat in Peruvian roadside truck stops took a long time to dissect and consume and I was normally starving, so probably that.

Best place to wake up – Either on the ridge in Cerro Castillo, or at base camp for Mt. Fitzroy. Both times because it was in a tent and I knew what was coming next (some time in the mountains with, probably, a fantastic view). Incidentally, both times were before first dawn light, odd given my dislike of mornings.

Worst place to wake up: tied in first place: the gas station in Eastern Argentina because I’d spent the night dealing with poopy disasters and stomach upset or the gas station in Western Argentina with the baking heat, banging headache and a tent full of recently fed mosquitoes. Photos of neither surprisingly.

Books: Well, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ Viktor Frankl, is a bit of a classic and was a good early read. Other than that, the border trilogy – Cormac McCarthy was a page turner and the Kite Runner was appropriately devastating.

Any final words or thoughts? Well…

I am always struck by just how beautiful, green, and pleasant the UK is. Happily I’ve nearly always arrived home from long trips as spring is springing. Few other places are genuinely as pretty as England in the spring. My first 48 hours has been spent saying goodbye to a close friend. The trip to the funeral was a train, London to Manchester, through the rolling fields and hedgerows. Bluebells waving in the breeze dandelions nodding, and the intense green of the buds of May. Bright, hard, direct light and bluebird skies softening into a mellow sunset of gold gilded rose hues. (Yes, yes, I appreciate the sterile monoculture of industrialised agriculture means that the green fields  aren’t always as natural as might be, but c’mon give me a poetic licence here people!). Glad to be home? Well on days like these, fo’ sho.

However, as you may know, in the past 15 years I’ve been ‘out and about’ for six month trips three or four times now and coming back is always a flat experience. People assume you’ll have had some kind of mystical experience and to have ‘found yourself’. I assume its because they equate time living in a van with popular instagram versions of ‘living the dream’. Its not of course. You are who you are irrespective of external circumstance or geographic location. Fortunately I haven’t lost myself down the back of the sofa or under the fridge and so rarely head out on one of these trips looking for ’me’. When I come back I find that once I’ve shaken off jet lag (working on it) I slide back into what ever happens next pretty easily, with the quiet contentment the comes from the knowledge that the fun is always available ‘out there’ as much as it is ‘right here’.

Oh and one other thing. The other phrase people often say is ‘I’d love to do what you’ve done’ (admittedly because the imagined version of travel excludes the hardship and low grade living often required). “Rent your home, take the kids out of school, switch jobs, take a career break. Its all out there for you to go see” Always been easy to say. (Usually as I’ve been a single man, with no kids and no mortgage yeh).  This trip though, in particular, showed me that it really is that easy. We met people schooling their kids on the road, people with a babe in arms, people flex-working from their laptops, people who’ve sold up everything in a dramatic leap toward nomadism and people who simply got a lodger in, took a three a three month sabbatical and were travelling with a degree of luxury that cuts much of the hardship. It really isn’t that hard to do. Perhaps the biggest obstacle then is simply imagination…

Get out there.

Nice one.

Andyboy.

On the way to Fitz Roy

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