Saturday, November 26, 2011

on the road for 1 year - pictures and reflections

The day of my first ever riding lesson... when my South American travels changed forever...
the thing is, it's been just over 1 year of travelling. it doesn't feel like it, i wonder whether i've changed or become a more balanced person, how my experiences, who i've met, what i've seen - the good and bad, will shape my future and whether it is all worth it?? in the moment i think, well i'm the same person, i've not changed, but when I remember back over the months of travel, things emerge that start to make me think that yes, it has been worth it and I have/am becoming a better person for it. 

so. time for some reflection. but before I dive into that heavy stuff, i thought in memory of my simon's cat t-shirt given to me at the start of my travels by mike in london (that is now about to be retired due to overuse), I'd mention that i've put together two highlights reels (one of Simon's Cat, other of all highlights) of experiences that have made it so wonderful. The full albums on Picasa have more detailed captions that I didn't reproduce in full in this post.

Chasing South America - 2011
A year with Simon's Cat

Not all the pictures are mine.. so thanks to... Sara and Kim for pics from Buenos Aires, Rick and Shai for pics from Antarctica, Ushuaia and Torres del Paine, Dana for pics from Antarctica and Mendoza, Julia for pics from Bariloche, Fred and Philipe for pics from Bolivia and biking, Mark for pics from Sucre and rafting and Matt for pics from Santiago.

so onto the heavier stuff... for me, the past year of travel has not been like a holiday... i'm not 'taking a break' from the routine of daily life, i'm not resting and getting over a stressful six months or project, i'm not trying to make best use of the little time I have... rather travel IS my routine, I have no time pressure apart from that which I create for myself, there's not really any tickboxes of things to see or do, and it's who you meet that mostly shapes your travels.

for all this, it does sound pretty luxurious, and I'm really thankful that I've had the opportunity to do it, but, (I guess there's often a but) there's times that I crave having a job to put my effort into, regular friends to muse about how shit and wonderful life is over a glass of wine after said job, having my own kitchen, having comforts of books, artwork and creative activities around me that I could dapple into when I felt like it, and the consistency to really get into and enjoy life in one spot. Moving around constantly, or even staying somewhere for a while (like I have done for the past 2 months getting dental treatment or studying spanish) does have a routine, but you get lazy. You stop making efforts to be 'touristic', you become conscious of the money you're spending to just live, you get sick of eating out nearly every meal, you get anxious about moving on, then you stress about finding a suitable hostal or hidden camping spot as dusk falls, and all in all you feel just a little guilty that this is all you really seem to worry about.

goodness, it all sounds like I'm a little down with it all; partly I think it's because of the thrice weekly dental appointments of the past 2 months, partly because after 1 year money is not something I can happily ignore anymore, partly becuase at some point I'm going to have to decide what's next. But I'm going to stop with all that now. It's enough no?!

So... what about the things that make it truly worthwhile? For me they have been...
  • the wonderful experiences of meeting people who work 6 days a year and earn less than $10/day to support their family, yet still welcome you into their home and share their food, or others that invite you to spend a week living in their house and sharing their lives
Stewart in the Bolivian jungle invited us to stay a week at his house
Invited to share beer, chatting and food (and the verandah to pitch our tent on) after being stranded near Rurre, Bolivia.
We camped in Eva's grandparents yard, and even had a delightful orange grove shower in Bolivia.
  • meeting other travellers on similar journeys who are going about it in different ways - like cycling the length of South America up 4500m passes and through the desert, or volunteering at various farms, education, construction and other aid projects
Chase, Urban, Steffan, Ziss, Carmen, Miguel, Jon, xmas orphans Dec 2011 Buenos Aires
Paulus, from Lithuania... pass conquering, cold bearing, chain smoker cyclist!
  • seeing the wonderful colours of indigenous communities who still preserve their way of life (partly for tourism, but partly to retain their cultural identity) I love the top hats worn by Bolivian altiplano women... doesn't seem to have any practical use but matches their gold or purple billowing skirts and tights
Bolivia women in their bowler hats
In the Lares Valley near Cusco... beautiful embroidered hats and colourful ponchos still worn by kids going to school
Ever enterprising... the girl without the hat is 12 years old and weaves before and after school to help support her family. THe little boy is wearing the traditional poncho.

  • learning about practices of indigenous cultures, and the steep learning curve of aid organisations when they try to make improvements (from their eyes) 
  • becoming aware of the person you are in situations - like pushing on extra kms to find water or a safe place to sleep, not being able to sleep because it's too cold and there's ice forming INSIDE your tent on your sleeping bag, how you tell your story for the 176th time to the new traveller you meet, how you deal with feeling alone, away from your family and friends and the isolation of where you've got yourself, how you feel when you're in one fo the most amazing places you've ever been, and you want to remember it forever.
Bundling up against cold camping at 4200m. The evening before ice on sleeping episode
Taking refuge on the altiplano winds in Bolivia
Just a routine chain tightening on the lowlands in Bolivia
  • experiencing things and conquering situations that you never thought you'd be able to deal with - taking 1 step forward for every 4 steps backward in rain on slippery rocks after falling into a river because of the ferocious wind while hiking, swimming in Antarctica, getting just a little lost following pig tracks in the cloud forest, being awed watching your 70 year old parents ascend 1200m in 4 hours at 6am in the morning
Dana and I swimming in Antarctica. Yes. it was bloody freezing.
Perfect day in Torres del Paine after 4 days of rain
Cerro Piltriquitron in El Bolson, Argentina... my first view of the entire expanse of the Andes mountain range
First solo 4700m pass, 1 month after learning to ride a bike
  • challenging yourself to keep going when things are not great - reminding yourself why you got yourself there, and finding a moment to put you back on track again
Near Laguna Colorada, Bolivia. The hardest riding I've ever done.
Trailing after my parents descending into the deepest canyon of the world in the Colca, Peru

  • having the time to think, write, take pictures, draw knowing that's your main activity for the day
Being awed by the Andes yet again, this time from the other side (Chile)
  • and of course.. the beautiful landscapes, inspriring people and moments of pure happieness of being where you are at that moment.

Inpromptu tango with Kim in Buenos Aires
Enjoying finally being in the mountains 2 months after arriving in South America
Jumping with Julia at Nahuel Haupi NP near Bariloche in Argentina
Blimps in Argentina
Bit of salar yoga is good for the soul no?

Trailing after my parents descending into the deepest canyon of the world in the Colca, Peru.
Thinking back over specific memories that make me smile, the following are a start at what I hope will stay with me forever..
  • Riding out of Calama on my small 200cc bike at the head of 3 other big bikes (and big german/swiss men - Fred, Philipe and Kurt) .. about to conquer the Bolivian Altiplano and largest salt flat in the world as part of a very special family
Oh yes, my 200cc bike led this 650, 1100 and 1000cc bike out proudly!
  • The immediate comradry of meeting other bikers, swapping notes on good and bad routes, discussing mechanical issues, the joy of travelling on two wheels, and the feeling of being with people that know what it's like to travel on a bike! 
  • Travelling with my parents in Peru - trekking, camping, visiting Machu Picchu, having wonderful conversations about life
Mum in the Lares Valley near Cusco

Looking down at Machu Picchu
  • Being awed by the light, expanse and majesty of Antarctica, and being introduced by Dana to the luscious but deadly Pisco Sour on the boat in Antarctica

Dana's photo - thanks!

  • Riding out of Santiago on the back of the bike after approximately 2 hours driving experience, and then riding the bike back in, fully loaded with a passenger 2 days later after finding my 'wheels' riding gravel in a quarry in the Cajon del Maipo outside Santiago in Chile. Sure beat doing circles around city parks in Santiago!
Finding my wheels in the Cajon del Maipo.
  • Maneouvering my bike into a run down gatehouse just off Ruta 40 in Argentina and being treated to a beautiful sunset (one of those moments to put things back into perspective and on back on track)
Riding 20kms of muddy road only dropping the bike once, after the 4 drops and 4 hours of travel on the way in. Northern Argentina (Baritu National Park)
  • Being surprised by the natural formations of the Lago Queni hotsprings in Patagonia with Max.. natural pools in a cascading river, then lathering up in mud to have some spa treatment
  • Hiking the full circuit of Torres del Paine in 5 days instead of the normal 9 - for this I have to thank Rick and Shai

  • Seeing the length of the Andes mountain range stretch out before me from Cerro Piltriquitron in El Bolson 
  • Going for dusk runs and morning meditations in the Eco Yoga Park near Buenos Aires.
Remolacha = Beetroot - one of my first words learnt in South America
  • Camping on the floor of a tourist restaurant in isolated southwest Bolivia near the Arbole del Piedra (Rock Tree), and being greeted in the morning by loads tourists bundling out of 4WDs to have their breakfast
  • Having the hot spring next to the restaurant to ourselves after a week of really hard riding and not so hot showers
At the Arbole de Piedra, Bolivia
  • The hot shower in Tarija bolivia after 1 week of bathing in rivers 
  • Being culinaryly creative with Yas and Matt in our hostel kitchen in Santiago, then going for hike with fig and goats cheese tart as a snack!

Easter egg hunting ... 5.45am:)
I'm going to stop now... i'm getting all nostalgic and want to do bits of it again! But the journey continues... I'm now in Arequipa in southern Peru, but I'm about to fly fly fly away.. northwards for a European Xmas. (what!!!) I'm going to Vienna (with a lil side trip to London) to spend xmas with Philipe and his family and friends, and then we will head back via New Orleans (to eat eat eat which I've been dreaming about for a very long time), a 10 day silent (now, don't laugh, i'll see how I go!) meditation seminar in Dallas, and for me a very anticipated reunion with my cousin Lisi. Then its back to Lima first, then down to Arica in Northern Chile where we've left our bikes (Peruvian visa reasons) and back on the road, 2 up on the sidecar, up to Ecuador, Colombia and then who knows?!

My travel is still evolutionary, it's still chasing serendipity... and we will see where the next year takes us all!
Thanks for keeping me company and inspring me to keep on going;)
Lots of love


  1. Wonderful Susan ! It's a pleasure to keep following your geographical / philisophical travel. Enjoy the european vacation ! See you one of these days whe you settle ... ;) Chilean hugs

  2. From Margaret and Tariq:
    introspective and lovely. We wish we were young enough to do what you have done so far. Yes, we all do yearn for stability i.e. a secure job, our own home and an assured routine, but all these things happen in good time. It is cliched but true, that life is a journey from birth to our end so do enjoy the freedom and the opportunity to expand your horizons. We found it quite interesting about your planned stay at a meditational retreat in Dallas!!! Is this some kind of a New Age centre, and no we are not laughing. We hope you have a great time there. It really was a joy meeting you in Arequipa and we can't thank you enough for all your help and kindness. We will keep in touch.

  3. hi susan,

    while going through my wallet discarding old receipts, i came across the little note with the e-mail addresses four of us had exchanged at the vipassana center in texas. it was a pleasant surprise to find the web address to your travel blog on there, too! thanks for sharing your travel experiences here. i admire your courage to motorbike through south america. reading your reflections reminded of the joys of travel and the ways it expands of your horizons in such unique ways. stumbling across your blog made my night! thanks :)

    the best of luck to you,


    1. HI Melody,

      Thanks for your lovely comment! I agree... travel is such a joyous way of discovering the world and yourself... I'm glad that you were reminded of your own travels too! I checked out your Brasil trip - a country that I missed... but it sounds as though you came back with some great stories and experiences!

      Best wishes and also for continuing practice too:)