Monday, February 27, 2006

INDIA - the word speaks for itself

I am sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow with oh so many thoughts rushing through my head. In 30 minutes time I will be in the air and off to India. A place I have long dreamed of visiting. In short I can not wait and amongst all the strong feelings of the people I will miss while away, the feeling of excitement and anticipation of what the next 5 and a half months will entail narrowly prevails!

This journal and my travels in general are an open book just waiting to be written...

Friday, February 10, 2006

Minor Note: This blog will continue with renewed energy in India in 3 weeks time! Adios

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Farewell to a Dream

This is my farewell to South America after quite probably the best 4 months of my life. In this mere 26,000 words I have attempted but failed miserably to even start to describe the incredible experiences and friends this trip has given me. In the past I thought that a continuum of ones person was a sign of the strength of your character and personality. While I still think that to a degree I have seen the benefits of core change. Seeing sights that both elate and depress to heights and troughs very rarely delved in day to day life can not help but change the way you look at this oh so beautiful world. South America has scarred me so deeply while I have barely left a scratch. Until my dying day this experience will have altered who I am and who I become and, furthermore, I believe for the better.

I find myself often looking at the world in a far more abstract way. I conclude stronger then ever that many of the things our society convinces us to care about and stress about are nought but a con. They distract us from far more important issues that if faced are key to our happiness both as individuals and as a people and planet. This involves both very personal ways in which we can view the world and the way we draw together to hopefully make the best of what by hook or by crook we have been blessed with. Many may call much of this hopeless idealism and I am sure some of it is. In fact my own thoughts are barely embryonic. I would though reply with a quote from a book that has left me breathless:

"He who would do battle with the many-headed hydra of human nature must pay a world of pain... only as you gasp your dying breath shall you understand, your life amounted to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean

Yet what is an ocean but a multitude of drops"

Oh how I would love to end this blog there with words far superior to any I could conjure up, but I can not. This is because these scribblings have to be devoted to the amazing people who have given me so many memories. There are too many and my brain not sufficient to name all of them but here a just a few - to Dave, Mik, Arnie, Claudia, Eliana, Talia, Jez, Anna-Marie, Natie, Nana, Avie, Monique, Anita, Shaun, Mark, Sebastian, Geoffrey, Andre, Alex, Alexis, David, Helen, Orit, Sarit, Vroni, Mill, Princess, Buster, Saudia, Maria, Nicky, Cath, Sam, Kye, Leah, Rowan, Ulla, Heiko, Helle, Claudia, Gloria…… the list goes on and on. Even to the last hour when Dave and Mik raced across a whole metropolis and ran around an airport largely to say goodbye and have a final beer, they have been more than great.

I would whole heatedly recommend to anyone this wonderful continent. Here I have climbed huge mountains, crawled deep in mines, hurtled down mighty rivers and the death road, participated in riots, visited the places of my family, seen the most beautiful wildlife, witnessed the sun rising over Machu Pichu and setting over the Caribbean, galloped, attempted another language, been held hostage, dived into volcanoes, ridden on the top of buses, partied until dawn, seen abject poverty and towering wealth, learned to enjoy salsa, tango and even electronica, grown a tache, driven under colossal Iguazu, seen the amazon, scarred myself for life, philosophised deeper then ever I thought I would, and become besotted with this wondrous continent.

In short I am in love and have no choice but to return!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

New York New York

What can I possibly say about this fantastic city that has not been said ad verbatim before. New York looks, smells, tastes, and feels like it is meant to!

From spending hours confusing locals by walking 100 blocks at a time, to New York pizza, crazy nights with guys from the UN, catching up with Eliana in Soho, ending up at a random rocker's pent house apartment at 5am in the morning for "dominoes", a fabulous David Smith exhibit at the Guggenheim, the Met et al, a bagel in Central Park, pretzel down 5th Avenue, Time Square at night, the Manhattan skyline from Brooklyn and, perhaps most memorably, Toad Hall in general.

I hate to quote Sting but there is definitely something about an Englishman in New York. The place captured me and the people were wonderful. I have to return here, correct that I have live here - at least at some point! Possibilities, possibilities......

P.s. that quote from Theodore Roosevelt is rather wonderful!!

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Buenos Aires

Throughout my few months on this exciting chunk of earth stretching from the northern tropics to the southern tip of the colonized world, one city has been complimented far more than any other - BA. Hence I decided a long time ago that whatever happened and wherever whims would drag me I had to have at least a week in this city. I have stuck by to that decision and that very time is now fast coming to its inevitable end. It has not disappointed.

On each side of my trip to Iguazu (by far the majority post the cascades), I have spent many very enjoyable hours soaking up this mega city. Approximately 13 million people live here, and driving in and out such figures do not surprise - it is huge. By recommendation I have stayed at The Clan Hostel on Alsina y Tacuari and right am at this moment listening to OK Computer as I recover from the endeavours of the last night in The Clan's chilled out ambience. I have no doubt it was the right choice. Occasionally hostels attain just the right mix between aiding relaxation and fiesta, functionality and easy-goingness, and The Clan succeeds.The staff are really friendly and the place well set up from the comfy loungy thingys to the roof terrace where you can sit for hours soaking up the noise and heat of this metropolis.

Days have been spent simply walking and walking where whim has taken me. I reckon my havainas have put way over 60 kms on the clock since I arrived. For me, this is the best way to see a city. Turn left, turn right, get lost and see what you find. It is also a great opportunity to think, either with company immersed in hours of conversation (cheers in particular Dave and Claudia) or on ones tod. The situ of intense sights, noises and smells. So much going on, so much alive that is largely oblivious to your presence. This facilitates my mind detaching from the day to day. I have loved it. Whether it is touching 40 degrees burning singlet marks or chilly and raining, the city has interested and enchanted me. A sort of Barcelona crossed with London as far I can tell, so many different barrios with so many different characters. I really am a city person and this one has everything, from charming piazzas in San Thelmo where you can watch tango and listen to Spanish guitar as the day winds slowly on, to the buzzing centro, slightly poncy Palermo, and poverty stricken docks of Boca. Real character.

One wandering that sticks out in my mind was with Dave to Boca and back again. This city in many ways appears European. But occasionally you see places that are a reminder that this is not Spain or Italy, but a long way away from where I grew up. Boca, once you get way from the one famous brightly coloured tourist street (seriously we saw police chaperoning rich tourists as they dared to venture a block or two away), is a very poor area. Both Dave and I have a strange need to find excitement, so we ended up in certainly one of the dodgiest areas of BA in our thongs (flip-flops - sorry I am being Australianised) rambling along as we were pestered by street children and given some severely dodgy looks. Boca is the docks of BA and docks have similar tendencies all over the world.

While such cities in Europe undoubtedly have much poverty, as in most places in this continent, BA has more. While there is a middle class in common, the difference here is the sudden drop below it. It reminded me of Colombia, where you have a lot of wealthy people with a very high standard of living, while at the same time having millions living in poverty. Here it is the divergence in wealth that strikes you rather than a lack of it in general (as opposed to Bolivia for example). I was lead to believe in my studies that it is your relative wealth to the man next door rather than absolute wealth that is most important in determining a persons happiness. In the light of this, it is not hard to see the route of many of this continent's problems. The economic collapse here did not help matters and fascinating street art is a product of the problems (pictures of a sample are above).

For those footie fans out there I will not fail to mention that we went to the Boca stadium which was impressive. Unfortunately I missed a match in arguably the most passionate theatre of the world's game by a day - grrrgh. Yet another reason to return - soon!!

Another wandering of note was all the way from Palermo (the sort of Notting Hill of the city) back to the far side of central with a slightly hungover Claudia. Loads of fun chatting largely about politics (from those of a bus to the Falklands) and adventures since we last caught up in La Paz. The highlight of which was an hour or so in what is often called the City of the Dead - Recolete Cemetary. It is a severely odd place. Row after row of 4,000 odd overtly decorated crypts. There are rows and rows of streets (sign posted and all) where peering in through the windows of grey buildings of mulitudinal design you catch a glimpse of the coffins of the great, good and bad of the city's past. From Evita, to generals, to children, they are all here. With the sky overcast and a drizzle that reminded me all to much of my imminent return to English weather, the place is undoubtedly eerie. The large statues, columns and Gothic nature of the tombs would be enough, but many a cracked open coffin and lurking cats are the coup de gras (I really hope I have spelt that correct).

The cats deserve more mention. There is something intrinsically strange and perhaps wrong with cats that are more comfortable with the dead then the alive. It may just be me, but I swear there was a strange look in their eyes as they creeped around the lavish resting places of those past. A really strange experience that has put me off the idea of seeking to stamp myself on this world after I am gone. However lavish the memorial it will fall to dust eventually. Yes, I do believe it is important to have some place where those who knew you and loved you can do there grieving and remembrance, but beyond that it does not matter. Such attempts did though create a very interesting experience, so I thank them for that.

Inevitably many of my memories of BA will surround something it is famous for - fiesta. A couple of highly successful poker nights, a crazy one at Bloody Sound an electronica club 35 minutes out of centro in a taxi going up to 130kmph (freestyle sports will never be the same again - Mik), a surprisingly enjoyable drum and bass night (where I discovered that dancing frantically when in the right mood can aid the accessing of some of the most well hidden recesses of the mind - I could not crack the ontological question), a large one to celebrate the opening of a hostel bar, a very heavily vino tinto influenced night in San Thelmo (ending in exceedingly interesting circumstances) and my final night out. The latter of which involved a tango show at one of the most famous old bars in the city, drinks at some nice bar, a lot of hope at club 69 dashed by confusion, many more taxis and the most stunning sunrise I have been blessed with. It says a lot about how people party in BA that a night which did not fully blossom still ends up with you watching out east over the docks as the sun rises red. Not surprisingly, by my final day I was and am knackered.

What has really made my time in BA has been the people. This trip has increasingly been a case of meeting up again and again with the same great people on a similar trail. This has meant that where there were originally brief acquaintances, there are now friendships. To name just some I have had the pleasure of meeting up again with the likes of Shaun, Anita, Helen, Adam, Claudia, Princess, Buster, James and, in fact, Mik and Dave as we had briefly been separated while I headed north. I hope I keep in contact with as many of them as possible so that we can recount a myriad of shared memories.

So to sum up BA - I think it is an exciting world city in which I would be delighted to not only return but if the circumstances arose live in. My closest thing to a criticism would be that people are not as openly friendly as in some other places I have had the privilege to visit. You only have to look at Paris or London where the people are even more standoffish to understand that this does not necessary bode negatively for a city - it is just another part of its character. Ummm, the possibility of a masters here in a few years time might just float my boat!!!

Friday, February 03, 2006


HERE YOU GO BOYS, thanks Jim!

Here are a few pictures of volcán Villarrica in Pucon, Chile.
Mik and I (Dave!) took a three day detour out of Argentina into Chile to climb volcán Villarrica.

Our journey involved crossing over the two borders a number of times, (one of the slowest unorganised crossing we^ve both ever encountered!!) two nights in Chile and crossing back through a City called Neuquen, which were positive we were the only blancos out of a population of more than one million, then on to the now infamous Buenos Aires.

Three days and more than 40 odd hours in transit but we both agree that trekking Villarrica and finally looking down into the spurting, glowing lava and inhaling the eye-watering lung-killing toxic gases made the journey more than worthwhile!

Dave & Mik

Spellbinding Iguazu

In a similar way to seeing Machu Pichu drenched in the first rays of the day, immersing yourself in the wondrous Iguazu falls is something probably better left for individuals to discover for themselves.

What I will say of the few days I took heading to the very north of Argentina were that they were highly enjoyable and memorable. A good 36 hours on buses over brimming with contemplation, a day at both the Brazilian and Argentinian side getting lost in the seemingly endless scale, power and beauty of water cascading as far as the eye can see, a few hours in Paraguay that strangely reminded me of Asia and some enjoyable meetings with Wolfie, Shaun and Anita. Rarely have I been bought down to the level of shouting "this is just stupid" while laughing and sporting an inane grin. Nothing quite like being driven direct into the falls in a meaty powerboat - ridiculous, but ridiculously fun!

Staring into the Devil's Throat with all its mesmerising and monstrous power, water seemingly exploding within itself as it descends with such force that the collateral damage blocks out any view of the bottom while simultaneously creating spellbinding rainbows (I am sure there is a moral in that somewhere). I lost myself deep in a pattern of thought that such wonders have a unique way of conjuring up in me. This is why I travel, this is why I am alive. JD

p.s. Koatis are cool!!