Wednesday, August 31, 2011

For Your Consideration

Ryan Gosling - or, "the guy from that movie" apparently - breaking up a fight.

Note, if you would, Mr Gosling's truly ridiculous gun show on display. Personally, I'm partial to the scrawny boys of the world, but holy jeezum crow.... I wonder what they're called? Maybe "Thunder" and "Lightning" (there's always a storm!).

Sunday, August 28, 2011


I've returned, I'm back, lo and behold here I am on Australian soil once more.

Melbourne, you look the exactly like how you did when I left. Same to you, Wantirna.

The sun's streaming through my window as I listen to a record and my family sits in the backyard, elated to have me back amongst them. This should be a beautiful image. It is. The overwhelming feeling I have however, is that I might at any moment wake up from some strange dream and I'll find I was merely napping on the couch in front of the TV at the Moai Viajero. The pisco I bought at Santiago airport leaked a little, so now my bag smells like countless nights and mornings spent at the Moai, the crazy house that became my home.

Maps, ticket stubs and photos are strewn on the ground and I can scarcely believe it was only yesterday that I was still in South America. It's bizarre. Bizarro, bro. I have no clue as to how I should be feeling. How on earth does one try to explain and do justice to all of the crazy shit, the amazing adventures, the incredible people met? The landscapes and cities and culture, compared to the mundane, everyday familiarity of what I just returned to?

I promise I'll try not to become That Person who seems to begin every sentence with "When I was in Argentina..." or "This guy I met in Bolivia...", but I tell you what ... it'll be tough going I think.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Things I've Learned in South America

I have learned a great many things.

Please to enjoy.

  • The usefulness of a big friendly smile.
    This cannot be understated. A big charming smile and a bit of Spanish and one will find many pesos cut off their cab fare, maps drawn for them, or even an escort to the bus station through tear gassed streets of a beach side town.
  • The South American personal space bubble differs greatly to that of the Australian personal space bubble.
    This especially evident on public transport and during public events such as Inti Raymi.
  • You WILL get pick-pocketed in South America.
    During my time in Peru and Bolivia, my friends had all manner of things stolen. Cameras, replacement cameras, phones, backpacks, their entire Big Pack. I didn't. Thinking myself indestructable and vaguely non-gringo, I let my guard down. As soon as I got to Argentina, things stolen. Lots of things. I now have nothing of value worth stealing and thus the space around my bunk is a bomb sight of clothes and food and assorted shit.
  • After spending time in Peru and Bolivia, I will never, EVER take a clean toilet for granted.
    For that matter, I will never take for granted free available toilet paper, and a toilet in which one can flush said toilet paper. I think when I return to Australia I'll be puzzled by the absence of a bin next to the toilet for the paper.
  • I will never take a hot shower for granted.
  • But having said that, I am now completely comfortable with not showering for days on end.
    Speeding your way through Bolivia? Pfft, 'sif shower. Can't be bothered showering? You don't need to shower, dude. Haven't showered for a few days? One more won't hurt. I kid you not, I didn't shower for over a week in Bolivia. And I was fine with that. Arriving in Salta (Argentina) however, the presence of wi-fi, cafes and designer stores made me feel like more than a little bit of a bum. I had a shower at that point.
  • If you're a gringo in Cusco, the phrase you will utter more than any other on any given day is, "No, gracias".
    You will be offered hats, llama jumpers, weed, coke and massages at every corner. As well as in between every corner. I mean, of course occasionally you'll say yes to one of these offers, but there's only so much I can stand and only so much money I have to burn. And I'm going to go out on a limb and say that when I'm about to get into a cab with my pack and I'm in the middle of a tearful goodbye, it's probably not a moment when I want drugs.
  • I love travelling alone.
    At first I was somewhat apprehensive about travelling by myself for a few months after hanging with Linc, especially leaving Cusco, this place that I'd come to call my home. My fears turned out to be unfounded however, as it soon became clear how much I prefer doing it solo. Honestly, I don't think I could go back to having a permanent travel buddy on a trip.
    Travelling solo you're forced to introduce yourself, to make friends. You end up getting to know cities better. It becomes incredibly simple making split-second decisions and changes of plans. Stay in Salta one more night to watch the Argentina game with some friends? Why the hell not? Go to Uyuni instead of Tupiza cause I met a cool guy on the bus on his way there? Fuck yes I will.
    Travel buddies picked up for a few days, a week, fun had then good byes said. I tell you what, never have before have I met so many incredible, interesting people in such a short space of time than during these three and a half months. And never have so many comfort zones been barrelled through, so many stupid risks been taken to amazing, lovely, ridiculous results.
  • So on that note, I have learned exactly how goddamn interesting people are.
    They are. Everyone. People are fascinating.  
  • I'm interesting too.
    That may seem like a stupid thing to say, and an incredibly dumb thing to have discovered, but it's true. Apparently I'm interesting, and I shouldn't be shocked when people want to spend extended amounts of time with me. It's a nice discovery to have made.
  • Judging a book by its cover is a bad move.
    Which is not to say that I was a judgemental person before I got here, but certainly occasionally I would look at someone and in spite of myself, make a snap judgement about them. Interesting People come in all shapes and sizes though, kids. I met a bunch of boys in La Paz, who a few months ago I may have dismissed as a bunch of irritating 'Gap Yah' dudds. However, a night spent with them ended up being some of the best fun I had in all of Bolivia. I ended up staying another night in the city (albeit not in a bed for a second), enjoying all manner of incredible conversation, dingy nightlife and weird experiences one can only really have while on the road, in Bolivia. 
  • There are no problems, only solutions.
    Phone got stolen in a crowded club? Wallet too? Don't cry about it, pussy. Deal with it. 
  • Argentinian guys are very often completely gross and disgustingly forward. 
    Walking down the street, expect yells, loud kissy noises, assorted shit, from hoardes of men. 
  • Irritatingly, Argentinian men are also the best looking I've come across in South America.
    Soz, Bolivia and Peru and to a lesser extent, Chile. 
  • Booze is cheap. So are cigarettes.
    As such, it's incredibly easy to succumb to peer pressure. A favourite phrase of my main Chilean pal is 'PEERPRESSUREPEERPRESSUREPEERPRESSURE'
  • Tattoos don't hurt that much. Tear gas does.
  • Cities at high altitude mean that you won't be able to climb a hill in one go, stairs will be a challenge, slight inclines are irritating, and hangovers are excruciatingly horrid.
  • South Americans like football.
    I knew this before. It just became all the more clear upon going to a Copa America semi final in Argentina. It was intense. 
  • Argentinian steaks are incredible. 
  • There is never pepper on the table at Chilean restaurants.
  • Chilean wine is great.
  • They weren't kidding about Chilean smog.
  • There's a lot to be said for a good house party.
  • Climbing a volcano is hard.
    It is.
  • Peruvians, Bolivians, Argentinians and Chileans are some of the most lovely, hospitable and generous people you could ever find. 
    Which one can forget momentarily when your phone, iPod, camera and wallet are stolen in quick succession. One is quickly reminded however, when a lovely stranger goes out of their way to help, or when one meets a group four Argentinian buddies travelling through SA in an old '67 Bedford and one spends a night hanging out with them in said awesome bus.
I'd add more things to this list but I hear goings-on in the kitchen of the hostel I'm in at the moment. This hostel, which has become my home for about three and a half weeks, full of the craziest, strangest little family  of guys that make up the staff. Of all the places I've been, I'd venture to say that this place - the Moai Viajero Hostel - is up there near the top of the Places I'll Miss the Most. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011


First of all, yes I am still alive. Yes, I am still in South America. I have HONESTLY been meaning to blog more, and I have a back log of things I want to jot down for y'all on here but ... you know. Things to see, places to be, people to meet. But here I am in Pucon, with a day to kill. I was going to climb Volcan Villarica (that's a volcano, for those of you playing at home) today, but unfortunately after hauling myself out of bed at 5:30 (in the AM, for those of you playing at home) and getting to the office at 6:45am, I was told by our French guides that there was snow falling today. I had planned to be in Valdivia by tonight, but you know what? I want to climb this goddamn volcano. This'll be my fourth time seeing snow up close and personal, and my first time 'mountaineering'. How very out of character for me. We'll soon see how this little flight of fancy pans out.

At any rate, I'm in Chile.

Chile is a great many things. It's long and thin, with the Andes looming down upon it on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other side. There are deserts up the top, and the glacial, volcanic tip of the earth on other end. In the middle, are mining towns and tourist towns and big cities that withstand earthquakes, and indigenous people that withstand centuries of every invading force imaginable (seriously, the Mapuche are badass). Chile is the last country in South America that I'm visiting before I return to Australia, and it's also the country where my parents, and their parents, and their parents' parents were born. Needless to say, it's been interesting to be in Chile.

Whilst growing up (for lack of a better description), I had a strange relationship with my heritage. One one hand, I was proud of it, was proud to have a family history steeped in a culture more interesting (in my opinion, at least) than that of white Australia, that I got to eat far more interesting food on the weekends with my hoards of rowdy aunts, uncles and cousins. My parents told me of how their parents had packed up their families and all their worldly posessions to come across the seas to a strange country in order to escape a very rude dictatorship, and to give their kids a chance at a better a life. They told me this and I'd feel epic buckets of love for my grandparents. On the other hand however, I took pride in how well my folks had then assimilated, at their flawless English. I was pleased that they have Aussie friends, and that they sent us to a school with a broad spectrum of pals and a good education instead of occasional gangster delusions. I take that back. That's incredibly snobby and a gross generalisation, so allow me to explain.

I suppose it's a result of my folks speaking with irritation at their fellow Chilenos in Australia who only associated with each other, only speaking Spanish. I suppose it's the result of so many of the distant relations we have sending their kids to school in places that are conducive to wannabe gangstas driving horrid hotted up cars. I suppose it's my love of the skinny nerd whiteboy. But into my teens it became clearer and clearer that I (and my brother, for that matter) stuck out at gatherings of extended family that we rarely saw. Not only because of the things I would wear and my hair, but because my lack of any skill in speaking Spanish and my complete inability to remember the names of anyone I'd met in the family.

I tell you what, it's a strange headspace to be in. On one hand, I'd wear my Australian-ness and well-assimilated family as a badge of pride, but on the other hand I longed to spak Spanish and occasionally inwardly shook my first at my folks for not continuing to teach me when I was a kid. I was almost pleased with how much I stood out at family gatherings, yet was also pleased with my not-overly-Australian accent and my hatred of Vegemite. My eyes swell up when I watch someone dance traditional Chilean dances, and I get choked up at ANZAC Day services.

So. With all of that in mind, it's been interesting as hell to actually be in South America. My first run-in with Extreme Emotion was one afternoon in Cusco. Walking through the Plaza de Armas I saw one of the many parades/dances that occurred during the most festive of months for Peru. It was the beginning of June, so I hadn't really seen any properly at that stage. I saw the men and women dancing in their traditional Andean dress and I couldn't help but burst into tears. Of course, I was feverish, had just thrown up, and hadn't eaten in about two days (I was on my way to the doctor), so that may have been it.

I know I've mentioned in my previous (sporadic) blog posts written whilst I've been over here that I feel like this is exactly where I'm supposed to be at this exact moment. It's true, and I'm going to have to reiterate it. In a bus bumping and flying over the rocky terrain of Bolivia, chatting to a kid on my way to the Argentine border, swimming in an Amazonian lake, watching a football game in La Plata, down a mine in Potosi ... everywhere, I've found myself constantly having moments in which I can scarcely believe what I'm doing, and where it is that I'm doing it. At the risk of sounding cheesy as fuck, I'm a hell of a long ways from home yet equally, I feel incredibly close to it.

I'vemet a grand old big chunk of my family over the past few weeks. It was fascinating. The brothers and sisters of my grandparents, some of their kids, and in turn some of their kids. Tia Lucy, whom my mum and her siblings always speak of so warmly, lovingly, proved to be an absolute blast. This tiny tiny lady declared "I'm the oldest!" as she burst in the door and gave me a big hug. She then demanded to know who looked more like my grandpa, her or their brother, Manolo. The day was full of loud Chilenos talking over each other constantly, with a gigantic paella too big for the table feeding us all. Frankly, it reminded me of a weekend get together back home. My mum's cousin's husband (I don't know what on earth that makes him to me) played the piano and everyone sat around and sang me a traditional folk song about a woollen beanie. I videoed it, a little choked up, thinking, "Mum will SHIT BRICKS when she sees this". My broken, grammatically feeble yet vastly improved Spanish served me well, with glowing reports soon getting back to my parents through the grapevine of relatives.

It again served me well when I journeyed an hour or so south to Rancagua, to meet a portion of my dad's family. I admit that at one point on the train journey I wished I was back at the hostel, warm in bed, with no pressure to be on show for two days, "representing the Australian offspring". As soon as my dad's cousin began showing me around however, I felt otherwise. I saw the street, the house where my dad had grown up. I saw the mechanic in which the men of the family had worked. I saw the ice cream shop where a young Panchin would buy snacks. Holy jeezum crow Batman, that shit is priceless.

I had no idea I'd feel this way when I got to Chile, and to South America as a whole. That's not to say that I've spent the entire time being sentimental. I'll have you know that there have been myriad ways in which I've shown my badassery. But at the most curious of moments, I'll feel really in touch with my South American side. Like crawling through a mine in Potosi, barely being able to breathe. Like standing under Iguazu Falls. Seeing some tango in Buenos Aires. Like being on this horrid, horrid bus on my way out of Uyuni, Bolivia, and I happening to look out the window after literally getting air during one bump in the road and I seeing pretty much every star, ever. During that same horrid bus, I happened to find myself chatting to a little girl travelling with her even younger brother (seated on the floor amongst the boxes and bags of shit knows what) from Uyuni to some other town. She asked how I'd liked the salt flats. I said they were amazing. She looked pleased, and assured me that they're much, much better during the summer months.

Throughout my trip here, I've been struck by how proud South Americans are of their countries. I mean, I'm a proud Aussie I guess, but this is different. Maybe it's a result of having been through many years hardship over the years (when I told a local artist in Valdivia the year my parents came to Australia he shook his head sadly and replied, "Mm. I went to Paris"). My Tio Juan spent HOURS proudly explaining the history of this building, of this statue, of that park, during our tour of Santiago. Every cab driver I met in Bolivia genuinely wanted to know what I thought of his country, his town. That little girl seemed chuffed as hell when I said I loved the salt flats. I met so many Peruvians that were incredibly proud to still speak Quechua. I guess if your heritage and your history is that interesting, it'd be hard not to be. And it appears that upon seeing it for myself after all of this time, I am too.

In front of the house where my dad grew up.
Phew. No time to proof read, am using a hostel computer.