Dec 012014
 
 Posted by on December 1, 2014 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  1 Response »
Fitzroy, Melbourne

Fitzroy, Melbourne

Starting in January 2015 I will be taking a one-year break to travel slowly and write (slowly) about traveling. I will travel from Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia to Fitz Roy in Patagonia, Argentina (and yes, they are both named after the same illegitimate  Fitz Royals!).  It is something that I have wanted to do for quite a long time, but the common aspirations kept trumping the uncommon ones. During my time away I will be traveling independently from place-to-place, starting in Fitzroy, Melbourne, and ending in Fitz Roy, Argentina (a big-arse mountain in Argentina).

I have done a lot of traveling before, but never for quite so long and never for quite so far. In my mind, much contemporary travel has become far too banal and ‘instrumental’ in terms of traveling to a specific place for a specific purpose for a specific amount of time. But not much fun in that!

The first part of my journey will be on familiar territory in South and East Asia and Europe, however the majority of the journey will be in unfamiliar territory in South America. I suppose I could have gone directly to South America and skipped the other places, but I needed to re-trace a few previous paths. Travel is a bit like re-reading a complicated book; if you don’t re-read it you will end up reading the same book over and over again.

Below is the very rough itinerary. It is both old paths and new. The first part is re-visiting places whist ‘leaving behind’. The next bit is ‘death’ (after you leave behind but not literally) and the final bit is ‘re-birth’ (Fitz Roy here I come!). I will develop this Camino de Santiago-style theme some more whilst I travel as like all good research, insights will arise along the way in which I will share with you (and sorry if you subscribed to this blog expecting something else).

  • January 7-April 1, South East Asia and East Asia (Thailand, India, Nepal and walking the Annapurna Circuit)
  • April 1-30, Western Europe (London, Porto, walking the Camino de Santiago. Barcelona, Berlin)
  • May 1- December 31, South America (Bogota, Columbia  to Fitz Roy, Argentina)

I will write a blog post here about once per week, so I hope you will join me!

Fitz Roy Argentina

Fitz Roy Argentina

Sep 022015
 
 Posted by on September 2, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »
Inca Pizza Oven

Inca Pizza Oven

The Incas in the 16th Century controlled an empire of states and bands of indigenous South Americans that stretched from the south of Colombia to just below Santiago in Chile. To connect the empire, they constructed a large and complex road network, similar to the Romans in Eurasia, but unlike the Romans, the Incas had never figured out how to make a wheel nor ride a horse, so they had to walk everywhere. The roads are often called the Inca trails and there are many of them weaving their way through the hills and river valleys near Cusco, Peru (the Capital of the Inca empire).

Chris pointing out an Inca Trail at Saqsaywaman near Cusco

Chris pointing out an Inca Trail at Saqsaywaman near Cusco

The trails are lined with rocks and paved with stones and usually go past Inca ruins, particularly the stepped hills used for agriculture. I spent a few days wandering aroud the Inca trails near Cusco, that are surprisingly deserted (free of instrumentalists!). I met a friend of mine, Dr Chris Shepherd, an Ethnographer working on the impact of mining upon traditional indigenous communities in the Amazon, who showed me some of the local trails. There is a whole network of trails running all over the Andes, but as the Incas also hadn’t figured out how to write, I am not sure what records remain of them.

 

Aug 302015
 
 Posted by on August 30, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »

After riding the Pre-columbian moto for half the length of the Inca empire in about two weeks, I decided to stop in Cusco for a while where there is good food and coffee. Cusco was the capital of the Incas, the largest South American empire, that violently imploded with the arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s. The Spanish in 1532, with a troop of 168 soldiers led by Francisco Pizarro, tricked the Inca emperor Atahuallpa (who had 80,000 soldiers) into a meeting at Cajamarca, high in the Andes. They captured him and demanded an enormous ransom of an entire room full of gold for his release. In fact the random was so large it took 8 months to collect.  After the gold finally arrived, the Spanish killed Atahuallpa anyhow, thus sparking one of the most devastating encounters between people in history (95% of the Inca population of an estimated 20 million subsequently died of European diseases).

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Ironically what we now have in Cusco, 600 years later, is Europeans returning the gold. They come in their droves with their credit cards and euros, dollars and rubles, willing to pay many hundreds or even thousands of dollars for the opportunity of selfie in front of an Inca ruin or a photo with a slightly overweight Spanish bloke dressed up like an Inca in the Plaza de Armes. The most expensive hotel suite in Cusco is $5000 USD a night (and this is in a country with an average per-annum salary of $7000 USD), the train to Machu Picchu can cost up to $450 or more and the Inca Trail, one of the Inca walking tracks to Machu Picchu, is many hundreds of dollars and is packed with pre-literate New Zealanders, Australians, Brits, and Catelonians. Still, where there is a will there is a way and it is possible to get to Machu Picchu without conflating the market for history.

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There is a beat-up road that goes to the romantic named town, hydroelectrica, where one can walk along the train tracks for a couple of hours to the pueblo just below Machu Picchu. There you can stay the night, get up at 430 AM,  then hike up the mountain (in the darkness of night) to the entrance of Machu Picchu that opens at 6.00 AM. At this time of the morning, there isn’t as many pre-literates and the view of the ruins in the mist with the sun sneaking through the magnificent Andes is one of the great images of South America.

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Although Machu Picchu has been captured, it is still one of the most beautiful ruins in South America and it is possible to hike to it for free on a number of alternative trails or even walk the entire length of the train line, along the scenic river valley. And around Cusco there are many other Inca trails that haven’t yet been captured by Francisco Pizarro, thus one can walk like the Incas (but unlike contemporary Andeans they must have had really long legs as some of the big steps up are a real pain).

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Aug 202015
 
 Posted by on August 20, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »

Roads come in all shapes and sizes and some are undoubtedly more dangerous that others (and for different reasons). Some roads are dangerous because of banditos or revolutionaries, some are dangerous because of their condition or environmental placing and some are dangerous because conforming Modernists are unable to independently repond to uncertain, non-pre-programmed conditions (it is the last one that most frightens me, like the angry robots on an LA freeway, soon to be in silly self-driving cars!).

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The road to Caraz via Canon del Pato

The road through Canon del Pato in Peru is a largely unsealed and almost entirely deserted stretch of road that starts in Santa on the Pacific coast, follows the Rio Santa through a spectacular river-valley, and ends in Caraz high up in the mountains (perhaps about 200 kms). To say the road is spectacular is almost an understatement as it is by far the most interesting stretch of road that I have ever been on (and this isn’t just the scarey bit that goes through Canon del Pato).

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The road to Canon del Pato

The road is sealed about half way until Chuquicata which is little more than a salmonella-restaurant and a few beat-up adobe houses. To Chuquicata, the road winds through a deep river valley of enormous rock cliff faces, lonley cactus clinging for their life and a few adobe houses, brightly splattered with straight-forward political advertising for presidential candidates. The Rio Santa rapidly flows through the centre of the valley, brown and muddy as it eternally eats away the gravely Andes.
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At Chuquicata I stopped and asked for directions as the sealed road went over a bridge that crossed the river to the left, but my GPS said straight-ahead on the exhausting, unsealed road. GPS is unreliable in the mountains as; one, it often difficult to get a signal; two, the road is often not listed and three, digital maps rarely distinguish between gravel and sealed roads. So I went straight-ahead on the unsealed road, not really knowing how long it would take to get to Caraz as riding on gravel with two wheels is a hell of a lot harder than travelling with four.

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Rat hole!

The 125cc Yamaha, which is little more than a mountain bike with an engine, handled the road well but at 25 kms an hour it was slow going. And gravel roads have recalcigent personalities all of their own and their moods can change unexpectedly at any given juncture.

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Canon del Pato

After a couple of hours of jaw-dropping scenery, feeling intrepid, if not slightly out of my depth, wondering how to fix flat tyres on motos, I came across the first tunnel into the mountain so knew I must be nearing Canon del Pato. The road through Canon del Pato consists of dozens of one-lane tunnels, roughly hacked through the mountains by a big rat. The tunnels are pitch black and look like gold-rush-era mine shafts and just to make things more intersting, are one lane. On entering the tunnels one must toot their horn hoping that the big rat isn’t still in there boring it’s way through the Andes.

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Canon del Pato

After traveling through dozens of these things, some with rough holes conveniently blasted into the side to let the sunshine in, the road became sealed again which was a welcome reprieve as this cut hours off my travel time which meant that Canon del Pato wouldn’t have to be fooleshly traversed in the Andean moonlight. I arrived into the beautiful city of Caraz set beneath snow capped, jagged Andean peaks at around sunset wondering if I could ever bring this intense individual travel experience onto the straighter roads of many others.

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A typical section of many Andean roads

Aug 182015
 
 Posted by on August 18, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , ,  1 Response »

After leaving Vilcambamba in Ecuador, I rode a blissful 200 kms to the Peruvian border at Macara in the belief that this was the most important land border and thus the easiest to cross.  But it turned out to be little more than a grumpy man in a hot shed who insisted on seeing my Chilian drivers licence. After an anxious couple of hours of paper shuffling, he finally let me cross the border with the moto. The contrast to Ecuador was quite stark as gone were the vegetated high mountains and hills to be replaced by flat and dusty desert. Also, Peru is a lot poorer than Ecuador so there were lots of apocalyptic, Mad Max style towns on the side of the Panamerican, proving that humans can survive an impending environmental collapse. There were no ATMs at the border so I had no Peruvian Sol, but I managed to swap five American dollars for a gallon of petrol from a bored young man standing next to a lonely petrol bowser.

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A Peruvian town near Ica

This was a hard days riding of about 500 kms and I arrived at Colan on the Pacific coast at around sunset. Colan was a desolate Peruvian holiday town; a mixture of plastic and thatch restaurants and authentic South American village. It had a sleepy town square, colourful adobe houses, and a very prominent and strange looking church thrusting out of the desert. I had fish and rice for dinner and slept peacefully in a hotel right next to the ocean with the feeling that the sea was lapping at my bed.

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The church at Colan

The next day I rode to Chiglayo, a reasonably large city, but with not alot for a traveller to do. I couldn’t decifer the crappy guide book map of the city, so spent a long time looking for a budget hotel where I could store the moto. The last hotel I visited initially said no, but then the proprietor said I could keep the moto in her bedroom. It was a nice hotel and I slept well and rose early to visit the witch doctor section of the local market. But witch doctors obviously don’t get out of bed as early as I do and thus I couldn’t find it.

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Riding through the Peruvian desert on the Panamerican highway

I then rode to Huanchaco, another beach town, next to Trajillo on the Pacific coast. This was a nice enough town near a large pre-colombian, adobe ruin called Chan Chan. I rode the moto around the large ruin, but there wasn’t much left of it which is probably to be expected of a city built 700 years ago out of mud.

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The ruins of Chan Chan

The next day was possible the best days riding of my life as I went from the Pacific coast up into the Andes past shear 1000 metre cliff faces and deeps georges. The highlight was Canon del Pato which many Peruvians call the world’s most dangerous road. The road disappears into spooky, roughly carved, one lane tunnels cut into the mountains (I will write a separate blog post about this very special ride).

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Riding through Canon del Pato. the most dangerous road in the world…

I arrived late in the day in the very special city of Caraz, set beneath jagged, snow covered mountains. I stayed in a rather generic hotel, but with a balcony over looking the lively town square. The next day I rode 25 kms up a drunken goat track to visit Laguna Paron, a bucolic lake that looked like the wall paper in the bathroom of a flashy London club.

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Laguna Paron

The ride from Caraz to Barranca was again a long one,  but it was downhill so it felt as though I was on a real motorcycle. Barranca was a sad, Peruvian holiday resort geared up for a party that had long gone. I didn’t leave my hotel room this night as the beach was very cold and the town a bit scetchy.

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The road from Caraz

From Barranca I did a small detour to Caral; to visit the ruins of a one of the worlds first large cities dating back to 4500 BC, pretty much the birth of civilisation (along with the Chinese, Indian, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian formitive contributions to what we call civilisation). The place was totally deserted as most tourists would prefer to visit the over rated Inca rock stars who have a better promoter.

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The ruins at Caral, 4500 BC

On the way back to the Panamerican I took a short cut, but the road disappeared into the fields so I had to turn back losing a valuable two hours of travel time.  This was bad news as I had a big day of riding ahead that included riding through Lima. I had decided to give Lima the flick as I had already spent a month in a large, modern South American work horse, Bogota, and Lima is a lot meander and tougher than Bogota. Luckily there was a road that went straight through the centre, past the many kilometers of colourful shanty towns built into the hill (in developed countries it is the rich people who have the best view).

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a Peruvian town near Lima

After Lima, a strong head wind, whipped up from the desert, brought with it mouth fulls of sand. I closed my visor but couldn’t see very much, so blindly rode on at 60 kmph for the next 300 kms to Huacachina. At 8 PM that evening I arrived in Huacachina,  a desert oasis a few kilometers from the major town of Ica. The oasis was really a stagnant pond with a few palm trees and pissy party hostels, but the sand dunes were magnificant (and fun to climb).

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Huacachina as seen from Google Earth

From Huacachina I rode to Nazca, along the Panamerican and through the Nazca lines. The Nazca lines date from 450 AD and were made by aliens. The aliens drew animals like geoglyphs in the desert so that the Discovery Channel could make gee-wizz documentaries about them to make mysterious things sound more interesting than they actually are. The Panamerican goes straight through the centre of one which was sort of convenient as I was hungry and wanted to get to Nazca for dinner.

I had dinner with a nice Italian couple I met in the main square of Nazca, slept well, and set off very early the next morning on the long, two day ride to Cusco (with stop-over).  I rode past the world tallest sand dune (at 2000 meters), but didn’t have time to stop and do what ever you do at exceedingly tall sand dunes. The two day ride was spectacular but the higher I got into the Andes, the colder it got. Then, what all 125 cc moto riders on high mountains with ten dollar gloves fear, it started to snow.  I stopped, pondered the situation, then put a pair of my bamboo socks over my gloves and soldiered on. After being chased by dogs that were possibly rabid (and didnt respond kindly to sligh kicks-in-the-head), riding through rock slides, rain, and intermittent snow, I arrived in Cusco where I am now at. I plan to stay here for a while and rest after riding 3000 exceedingly diverse Inca-kms in less than two weeks.

Aug 042015
 
 Posted by on August 4, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  1 Response »

Vilcabamba, about 200 kilometers from the Peruvian border, was the last town I visited in Ecuador. It is a classic small Ecuadorian town, built on an orderly grid, lined with wobbly, white-washed adobe houses with a shaded town-square in the centre (with the ubiquitous Catholic Church baring down). But what makes Vilcabamba different to other Ecuadorian towns is that everyone has been preserved with secret herbs and spices and thus resemble Colonel Sanders. Apparently in the 1950s the venerable Readers Digest wrote an article that claimed that Vilcabamba had more centenarians than any other place because of the climate or fresh air or such. And the individuals that read that article, who were possible already pushing a century at the time, came to live in Vilcabamba. And now they aimlessly wander the streets with their American dollars buying over-ripe avocados and 1 dollar pilsners then sit in cafés all day and yell at each other.

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Vilcabamba, adobe houses

But in reality, Vilcabamba isn’t just a retirement village for the feral-edges of the American empire, it is also a friendly community of diverse peoples from all over the shop.  A mix of lethargic 1960s hippy-trail, meets Catholic Ecuadorian rumba, meets wholesome instrumental backpacker.

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Welcome to Vilcabamba where people live forever!

When I arrived in Vilcabamba I checked into a well-designed, adobe hotel with a huge jungle – garden in the centre; a long way from my windowless room in Cuenca. And after swinging on the hammock for a century or two thinking of nothing in particular, I decided to go for a walk to check-out the local geography. But the map that the owner of the hotel had given me was extremely dated so after an hour or two, I was lost in a deep valley next to a rapidly flowing, muddy river. When I walked up a drive-way to ask for directions, I stumbled upon a sign that said “cabins with kitchens for rent”.  I followed the sign and met the proprietor, a gentleman named Charlie with an arresting Wolf Creek stare! We had a brief, nervous chat about the  birds in the local national park (a whopping 6% of the world’s species), hiking and the lunacy of riding a 125cc moto to Chile. And the next day I moved into Cabin number 1.

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Cabin at Vilcabamba

It was a rustic cabin with a basic kitchen and a balcony overlooking the river (with hammock). And as I was a little afraid of my upcoming ride through the northern Peruvian desert, I decided to stay for a while whilst I let my itinery germinate (and confidences build). A new friend came to stay from Cuenca for a few daya and we spent long evenings discussing Ecuadorian politics, money laundering of US Dollars, and the South American drug trade (whilst eating over-ripe avocados and drinking Pilsner). After he left, I spent a few days walking the wonderful hiking trails of Vilcabamba, preparing the strong local coffee in the cabins kitchen, and reading an historical novel about the Dutch East Indies company’s outposts in Japan in the eighteenth century. Good times!

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Bridge near my cabin

When I left the cabin and climbed on my trusty moto bound for the Peruvian desert, I saw a very long line of empty beer-bottles that I had left for Charlie. There seemed to be so many, I must have been in the cabin for a very long time.  But then again, perhaps it was only a short period as time is measured in strange ways in Vilcabamba!

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Walking trail above Vilcabamba

Jul 212015
 
 Posted by on July 21, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  1 Response »

Occasionally when traveling with a bit of time on ones hands, one stumbles upon a place in which they identify so strongly , that they find it difficult to leave . Cuenca in southern Equador was such a place for me. With a rich historical landscape suited for flanerie, a vibrant nightlife, small bohemian bars and cafes, and well-dressed indigenous Equadorians in fine top hats, it seemed like a good place to bed-down for a week or two.

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Main square, Cuenca, Equador

I checked Into a large wooden hotel in the centre of town, left the muddy moto chained-up in the lobby, and proceeded to walk the cobblestone steets lined with wobbly adobe houses, imperious churchs, grand 19th Century civic buildings, and handsome 21st Century Equadorians. However, interacting with the last of this list is difficult if one does not speak the local language; a great incentive to go to Spanish school!

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Cuenca

Cuenca has a good reputation for Spanish language schools and many offer inexpensive one-on-one instruction; well-suited for those of us with intractable learning difficulties. And after 20 hours of one-on-one instruction from a dedicated and rather Catholic instructor, I finally cracked a great mystery of life, the Spanish verb. A Spanish verb can be conjegated in about 85 different ways depending on who is doing what to whom, in what tense, in what irregularity, and in what country. Lots of fun!

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Beware Spanish los verbos!

And after Spanish language school each day, I would lock myself in my window-less hotel hotel room, practice los verbos and read Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment. And after 2 weeks of this I was happily ready to take Rodya’s Raskolnikov’s axe and conjugate the Cuencans.

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19th Century building, Cuenca

After many clumsy sentences, cheap Pilsner, strong espresso and agitated long walks, I discovered that Cuenca is a very special place. It has a relaxed and sophisticated bohemian vibe, good haircuts (rare in Equador), a human intimacy, and a Keynesian heart (a colletivist ideological barrier against the worst bits of that Northern continent’s globalising trash!).

As I rode along the spine of the Andes away from Cuenca, a thick mist developed and it started to rain (heavily). My shoes filled with water and my hands began to freeze. I thought of Cuenca and imediatetely missed it, but there is always another town up ahead within the mountains and valleys of the Andes and within the high and lows of traveling.

Jul 162015
 
 Posted by on July 16, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: ,  3 Responses »

I have never been the greatest fan of empirical observations that proport to measure the “world’s highest” or the “world’s biggest” or the “world’s longest”. There is something a little bit hillbilly about seeing the world this way; something a bit Western Australian or Alaskan perhaps (ie. lots of geography with a sprinkle of culture). Nothing confuses a hillbilly more than measurements that can’t be generalised to two opposing, acrimonious positions, or even generalised across imaginary “homogenous” populations (something like the “global” livabiliy indexes that my very own Melbourne continuously uses to polish its banjo).

So, many otherwise intelligente amigos repeatedly say that La Paz in Bolivia is the world’s highest capital, but Quito in Ecuador is really the world’s highest capital. This is because La Paz isn’t the capital of Bolivia, Sucre is the capital! But if you look it up, you will find it is a little bit more complex than this (things usually are!).

Anyhow, Quito it is very nice city, I went there for a few days after Banos and wandered around the picturesque old Colonial city and visited a few clubs and bars. I am trying to avoid the large South America cities, but for Quito I made an exception as its’ beautiful colonial centre is designed with humans in mind (and for those humans that like to walk).

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Quito, world’s highest capital?

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Quito, city of God.

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Main square, Old City, Quito