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

Feb 052016
 
 Posted by on February 5, 2016 photography, travel, travelogue 1 Response »

I have managed to place all the photos I took during my travels in 2015 on Flickr. At this early stage, they are simply categorised in order of the countries that I visited. Over coming months, I will add descriptions and ‘meta-data’. If you are curious about something, please do ask and I will respond.

Enjoy,

Craig

2015-03-21 20.17.11

The Flower Market near Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India

 

2015-03-21 20.18.34

The Flower Market near Howrah Bridge, Kolkata, India

Jan 252016
 

The transition back into Melbournian and Australian life after a long hiatus is a particularly inspiring time. It is a time of ‘renovation’ with renewed acumen, of putting new-found perspectives and confidences to the fore and weaving new paths through Modern life that all-too-often celebrates and rewards the regularity and predictability of well-managed lives versus the synthesis and judgment of well-lived ones. Perspectives are not given, they are earned and genuine travel is never a diversion from a centre, but a movement towards a core.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.
― George Moore, The Brook Kerith

Things

I started this journey just over one year ago and in a pragmatic sense, all worked out fine. I returned with the same small backpack that I left with and apart from an expensive mobile phone snatched in Kolkata and a much-loved Kindle carelessly dropped from my motorcycle in Colombia, I pretty much survived for the entire year with the same stuff (see: ‘How to pack for a ‘minimalist’ one year journey). The important lesson here is always travel as lightly as possible, with high-quality gear, as travel is one of many contexts where more is not value (just like Café Lattes!).

To be invisible, paint yourself with the direct shade of zero. Leave nothing to chance, by taking nothing with you wherever you go.
― Jarod Kintz, This Book is Not FOR SALE

Itinerary

I visited thirteen countries in twelve months and pretty much followed the loosely sketched route that I originally fashioned (but I never considered that the majority of the time would be spent on a tiny 125 cc motorcycle!). (see: my Itinerary on Google docs). Itineraries are largely subjective and unless you understand yourself (and your inner-android), you have very little chance of discovering the world around you with your own eyes. For-instance, people from ‘lots of geography, no culture’ sort of mindsets tend to fly vast distances in airplanes whilst missing all the good bits in-between. It’s like picking up a book by Dostoyevsky, reading the title, taking a selfie with the book, and then claiming an insight into 19th Century Russian literature. Travel is as much about un-learning as it is about learning and it is not always about where you go, but what you take with you (or do not take with you) that counts.

A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveler does not know where he came from
― Lin Yutang

On the meta-scale, I constructed my itinerary around old paths and new, meaning that the first four months of the journey I visited seven countries that I had visited before and the last eight months I visited six new countries. I have not fully reflected upon what this meant in practice, but re-visiting a country during key junctures of your life is tremendously rewarding on a number of levels. It reminds you that not only do countries change overtime, but perspectives change. Countries are largely ‘imagined communities’ and if you do not understand your own community and how it and you travels through space and time, you have little chance understanding how others do.

Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.
― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

In terms of visiting a country for the first time, this is perplexing as like a child you have to clumsily wade through all the bad-bits before you get to the good-bits (and South America has a lot of bad bits!) Countries are inductive, not reductive, meaning that you need to go to them and move through them to discover how they embrace or resist the world (in a holistic sense, not just via lazy symbols like the Sydney Opera House or the London Eye or trophy skyscrapers full of hillbillies in the Middle East). And whilst you are doing this, perhaps you will not only learn something about that particular country but un-learn something about your ‘inner android’ in the process

I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses. ― Bill Bryson, Neither Here nor There: Travels in Europe

Time

One year is an incredibly long-time to travel, much longer than I assumed at the beginning of the journey. This is because whilst doing equivalent things, year-in-year-out, years may seem flavourless and similar and of the same long stretch of highway. It is like traveling across the Australian Nullarbor desert, looking out the window at a landscape that does not appear to change. A hundred kilometres looks like the past one hundred and each new day looks like the past day.

But a year of traveling is like no other as each and every day is full of challenges, such as finding food and shelter, discovering interesting things to do, building common ground with strangers and constantly improving the skills and motivations required to enter into geographical and cultural contexts bigger than oneself. In terms of ‘un-learning’, one year is just about right as one never truly un-learns until about eight months into a journey. This is the time that the imagined communities that we inhabit (with their android views of ‘the other’) are well and truly behind us and then we can finally discover the world with fresh eyes and a clear intellect.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
― Marcel Proust

Distance

I learnt much about scale and distance during the past year as I did not use many airplanes which have become to travel what McDonald’s has become to food! I love walking and at a conservative estimate, I must have walked over two-thousand kilometres in the past year. This includes walking the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, about 200 KMS, the Camino Portugués in Portugal/Spain, about 240 Kilometres, and the W Trek in Chilean Patagonia, about 80 KMS. Plus there were numerous other shorter one or multi-days treks in, for instance, Peru, Ecuador and Argentina and days upon days of rambling over the cracked and uneven pavements of major South American, European and Asian cities and towns.

Then there were trains, taxis, jeeps, buses and boats, but most importantly, there was an enduring Yamaha 125 cc motorcycle that hauled my ass twelve thousand kilometres for five unhurried months down the spine of the Andes from Santa Marta in Colombia to someplace near Santiago in Chile. Again, this may not seem like a long way in raw numbers, but remember this was through deserts and snow and over five thousand metre mountain passes, through the relentless winding valleys of Peru, the sweaty and sketchy Amazon, and on the isolated unsealed roads of Bolivia. I think one of the greatest take-aways I got from the journey is that the environmental world is as equally spectacular as the cultural one as it challenges, extends and motivates an individual in a similar, enduring way.

Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
― Gustave Flaubert

All the places I visited in South America during 2015

All the places I visited in South America during 2015. Link to .kmz file. This is the GPS coordinates of all the towns, interesting sites and hotels I visited during my travels. This file may be imported back into Google Maps or Maps.me)

Books

Traveling and reading go hand-in-hand and I read twenty-seven major books over the past year (download .pdf reading list). This may not seem like a lot, but books like Dostoyevsky’s the Brothers Karamazov took a slow-reader like me eighty hours, or two weeks, to read! I am attracted to travelers that are well-read and I think it is one of the best aspects about traveling (and indeed, it gave me something to do during long, lonely nights in dingy hotel rooms). Before I left, I asked many of my friends to suggest a favourite book to read and asked fellow-travelers along the way as well. Many of the books I read had very little to do with South America, such as Crime and Punishment, but then again had everything to do with a universal human condition.

Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home.
― Anna Quindlen

Health

The durability of my health was a surprise as I was lot healthier traveling for one year than I usually am during a normal ‘industrial’ year (few colds and flues etc.). Plus I was in some pretty toxic and unhealthy environments where it was not always easy to find the healthy eating option. If it was not for inexpensive Menu del Dia for lunch (set-menu), ubiquitous in South America, I would have returned emaciated and scraggy. I put good health down to exercise, regularly washing my hands, drinking lots of water, sun screen and hat, but perhaps more importantly, my body’s adjustment to survival and the next fresh, physical challenge (I think you call this being alive!).

We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us. – Anonymous

Digital

Analogue guide books such as Lonely Planet are a component of the tired, stodgy and inflexible institutionalised aspect of ‘independent’ travel that should either innovate or die. I have much to say about traveling as a ‘digital humanist’, about how to sensibly apply digital communication tools to enhance twenty-first century travel. But this deserves its own article that I will write at another date.

Consequently, I took approximately two-thousand photos during the year, wrote hundreds of pages in a digital journal, blogged weekly, and read dozens of e-Books coupled with numerous audio-books (see photos on Flickr) A small four-hundred dollar tablet helped to sustain me throughout a very long and lonely year and I am not sure what I would have done without it. Travels with Herodotus became travels with Samsung!

Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs, Susan Sontag

Dec 182015
 
 Posted by on December 18, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , , ,  2 Responses »

After one year of traveling, it was good to arrive at Mount Fitz Roy, the final destination of this thirteen nation adventure. A year is a long time to travel and those that tell you that the years get shorter as you get older, possibly need to get out of the house more often (ie. it is a cliché dressing itself up as wisdom). It was good to have a final destination in mind, Mount Fitz Roy (as arbitrary as this was), as it kept something special for the end (and Mount Fitz Roy didn’t disappoint). Long term travel is all about sustainability and individuals have different strategies for sustaining themselves over long periods (and mine involved a hell of a lot of reading and writing and stopping in nice places for long periods of time, although I did get a lot grumpier as time passed, which is perhaps not so bad). Arguably those that cannot sustain themselves through Dostoyevsky, the Brothers Karamazov or visualise, plan and implement a large project over time, don’t make good long-term travelers thus, sadly, much of the world will remain inaccessible to them.

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Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina

As a humanist, I travel at the speed of narratives, some many hundreds of years old, but many people travel at the speed of a text message or the speed of shallow reductive, hierarchical metrics (‘best little town in the world mate’), thus never leave the gold fish bowl which is the Modern airplane (and again the world has not got smaller people have got smaller and banality is quite innovative in devising new transport and dissemination methods). Hyper Modernity (or excessive industrialisation) is just a period of history like any other and just like an episode of Delhi belly, it will pass and then a hundred flowers will blossom (well, hopefully before all the Patagonian glaciers melt or a hundred flowers will drown). And after you travel independently to fifty or more countries (and some many times), your perspective of the world changes in that cultural uniqueness and cultural inter-connectiveness becomes much clearer. When a young American backpacker says “Hi I’m Curtis from America” I think to myself, “How the fuck do you know?”

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Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina

And thanks for sticking with me over the past twelve months whist I blogged a weekly travelogue. I have never done this before and only a few short years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible. The last couple of months have been the most lonely and difficult but also the most rewarding in terms of “leaving behind and renewal” (in the great Camino de Santiago pilgrim tradition). The highs and lows tend to get much more intense the longer you travel and this is natural because Modern life tends to over-regulate what it is to be human. And the high of seeing Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina, of walking the four hours from El Chalten, was emotional and intense but didn’t really feel like closing a narrative, but opening up a whole new one.

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Glacier National Park, El Chalten, Argentina

I’ll write a couple of more reflective posts after I return to Australia on Christmas day, but I’m not trying to sell the world to you as the world largely isn’t for sale, at least the best bits aren’t (like Mount Fitz Roy). To be a truly independent traveler one must first know what controls and influences their thinking and one doesn’t have to go far to reach the outer limits of an Australian education!

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Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina

For instance, in Patagonia there are hundreds of glaciers yet many of thousands of people only go to the glacier Perito Moreno in Argentina simply because it is easy (but expensive) to get to and dare I say (perhaps un-generously), is famous in emergent “global trash” narratives (it is actually only a small piece of a much larger ice sheet or the tip of the ice berg so to speak). A little bit of effort would take the independent traveler deeper into Glacier National park to see a number of other glaciers or even Grey Glacier in Chile. I simply looked up some of the millions of photos of Perito Moreno on the Internet and didn’t go as my presence would possible help to make the thing melt anyhow (Australians like Americans and Germans are the world’s filthiest, dirty, polluting people unlike the Bolivians and Bengalis whose teeth may need work but whose greater impact is small).

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Glacier National Park, El Chalten, Argentina

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Torres, Glacier National Park, Argentina

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Glacier, Mount Fitz Roy, Argentina

Anyhow, thanks for sticking with me over the past few months. Blogging an old-fashioned travelogue has been technically challenging in some of the bizzaro places that I have been but also rewarding in that it forced me to engage with the location more fully in terms of trying to make sense of it. And I have met some pretty cool people along the way who have had some fresh, interesting, and innovative ways to see the world in a century where travel is rapidly becoming dull and commonplace.

Dec 092015
 
 Posted by on December 9, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »

Chile has a magnificent four thousand kilometer long coast line (and is less than two hundred kilometers wide in places), but similar to the other uber-urbanised countries of Canada and Australia, most of the population is crammed into either one or two vacuum-cleaned dormitory cities with itsy-bitsy people trying to stuff the whole world (and all their hard earnings) into their itsy-bitsy houses. The big, bad and colourful world just won’t fit so perhaps Chileans should relinquish part of their enormous coast back to Bolivia if they lack the political courage to put it to creative use. This is one of the worlds most geographically unique and special countries but just like the geography of Chile, us Moderns are so very, very narrow.

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Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

The metropolis of Santiago is only half way down the Chilean coast line so I folded up my flaneurial legs and flew Economy on a one-trick pony the remaining two thousand kilometers to Punta Arenas, a town almost at the very bottom of South America (I have now traveled sixteen thousand kilometers from the Caribbean Coast at the very top of the continent). From Punta Arenas I bused it to the barren, wind-swept town of Puerto Natales where I rented some zip-challenged camping gear, packed some yucky Modernist food, and set off on a four day trek in nearby Torres del Paine, one of the great jaw-dropping National Parks of this forever-giving continent.

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Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

I did the famous “W” Trek in four days. It is called the W Trek simply because the route is in the shape of a W. It is about eighty kilometers long, is an easy to medium physical challenge and is well serviced by hostels and hotels, food facilities and hot showers. I did the route from West to East walking to Torres del Paine on the first day and Grey Glacier on the last day. It is possible to leave your heavy bags at the camp site during the morning of each day and walk to the three highlights of the trek, Torres del Paine, Frances Valley, and Grey Glacier and then return to your camp in the evening. On the last day at the end of the trek, there is an (expensive) one hour ferry ride across a choppy fjord to connect to a ratty old bus that takes another two dusty hours to get back to Puerto Natales. The trek takes three to five days and there is also a longer circuit trek that takes about nine days.

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Frances Valley, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia


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Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

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Grey Glacier, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia

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Walking trail, Frances Velley, Chile, Patagonia

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Camping last day, Paine Grande, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia


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The W Trek, Torres del Paine, Chile, Patagonia (not my image)

Dec 032015
 
 Posted by on December 3, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  No Responses »

After many months in the Andes exploring Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Colombia, Santiago seemed a bit too-much like home. A nice place to live but you wouldn’t want to travel there! It is a combination of American and socialist utilitarian modernism (same-same) that is almost impossible to distinguish from any other prosperous new-world city (at least on the meta, built-environment scale). Progress came at a great cultural cost to Santiago and its greatest crime against humanity is that it lacks imagination (although a night out on Pio Nono in Barrio Bella vista lubricates the imagination).

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Santiago; view from Santuario Inmaculada Concepcion

But dig deep within the shopping malls, concrete and glass, the perfectly manicured parks full of consumers taking a five minute break between purchases, one might find a lonely Llama standing in line at Starbucks or riding the escalator to the menswear section, or searching for a parking spot for his Korean SUV, or drinking an iridescent energy drink. The Llama dreams of the mountains and valleys of Chile, of the ridiculously long coast, the hidden beaches and the fjords, of the time she danced in the Plaza del Ames and climbed the mighty valleys of the Andes.

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Gran Torre Santiago, one more story closer to civilisation..

The Llama, a flaneur, relentlessly walks the barren streets of Santiago, looking for a South America buried beneath the Guns, Germs, and Steel of progress, beneath the piles and piles of rubble the Llama searches for the remnants of a Chile long discarded.

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Chile has come a long way in a short amount of time

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is am immense joy to set up a house in The Heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and get to remain hidden from the world, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is the prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito. The lover of life makes the whole world his family…

From a Llama in Santiago 
(or from C Baudelaire, “The Painter of Modern Life”, 1863)

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The Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Nov 282015
 
 Posted by on November 28, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  2 Responses »

A few years ago I recall a well-known architect from the suburb of Fitzroy in Melbourne, Australia being interviewed on a radio station in Venice, Italy from the Australian pavilion at the Venice Bienale (Fitzroy is where I started this journey and soon it will end at Fitz Roy Mountain in Argentina). In certain circles, this particular architect isn’t held in high esteem and is often referred to as the ‘Butcher of Fitzroy’ because of his ugly, incongruous, Modernist apartment buildings (perhaps Melbourne should slap World Heritage status on its inner-city as many forward-thinking Bolivian, Peruvian, Chilean and Ecuadorian cities have done).

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Valparaiso street art

I was curious to hear what someone with the esteemious title of the Butcher of Fitzroy would have to say about Melbourne and Australia from Venice in Italy, one of the birth places of Modern western civilisation. The Butcher was struggling with the questions from the interviewer and didn’t seem to understand the geographical context of the interview, namely Venice, a city perhaps a little too remote and strange to him to be worthy of referencing (and in need of a good renovation!). The Butcher somehow came to the subject of graffiti as Melbourne had an active graffiti scene about a decade ago which got hijacked by the City’s promoters and thus became part of narrow global-trash-narratives. Thus the Butcher repeated the hackneyed statement that “Melbourne is the graffiti capital of the world!”.

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Valparaíso, Chile

This cringe-worthy statement grated out of my little radio in my room in Melbourne from Venice, perhaps the most elegant city in Europe (and ‘graffiti’ is an Italian word describing a practice invented in Italy, or at least ancient Rome). And graffiti isn’t a State so how can it have a capital? And it seems incongruous for graffiti, an autonomous and rebellious art-form usually in opposition to the State to be conflated with political cities that are central to its institutional control. What a Bogan I thought to myself (a Bogan is an unsophisticated Australian prevent in all classes of society, not unique to Australia but common in many countries where economic development and cultural development are often at odds with one another such as Qatar, the Bogan capital of the world). Even if graffiti had a capital, how could it possibly be Melbourne, a comfortable and complacent city; a capital of Banality perhaps but certainly not graffiti.

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Valparaiso, Chile

In Valparaíso I reflected upon the Butcher of Fitzroy whilst wandering the steep streets with walls and houses covered with spectacular, confronting and uplifting street-art. The Butcher had obviously never been here and even if he had, he possibly wouldn’t have noticed it (and Valparaíso is protected by a UNESCO World Heritage overlay, so what some call progress isn’t so destructive).

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Valparaiso, Chile

I stayed in Valparaíso for two-weeks , walking, eating, drinking, reading and thinking. As a port-city it reminded me of Fassbinder’s Querelle, a noir vibe with dodgy bars with lonely seamen. It is surrounded by forty-two hills, each hill forming a neighbourhood with dozens of funiculars carting women with there shopping and backpackers with their peculiar perspectives to the top. The funiculars are old and rickety and each quite different to one another, with at least one going under the ground.

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Valparaiso, Chile

I am now in Santiago, a large, modern developed city that looks like any other large, modern developed city. In fact half the Chilean population lives here, but more on that next…

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Funicular, Valparaíso

Nov 152015
 
 Posted by on November 15, 2015 travel, travelogue Tagged with: , , ,  1 Response »

The trip from Uyuni in Bolivia to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile was one of the more adventurous segments of the whole journey as the road was rough and unpaved, through remote Andean towns, past smoking volcanoes and over desolate, barren and lonely landscapes.

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Volcano!

This would be the last ride on the moto as after five months, five countries and twelve thousand grueling Andean kilometers, riding over, around, and through one of the world’s great mountain ranges, it was time to move on to something different. Every day on a moto is a very special day, it is the love of life, not the love of fear.

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The road from Uyuni, Bolivia to Avaroa on the border. After 12000 Kms this was the last ride in the moto!

San Pedro de Atacama was dull compared to Bolivia, modern, packaged, and processed full of sartorially challenged hedonists on vacation from some backwater of Modernity rather than dignified Andean ladies with short, waddling legs and in cool, timeless hats. The Bolivian desert is far more beautiful than the Chilean Atacama and Antofagasta regions, but if you haven’t been to Bolivia, you will never know the difference (and the desert doesn’t care).

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Luna Valley, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

From San Pedro de Atacama I went to Antofagasta, Caldera, and La Serena. Antofagasta is a down-beat mining town on the coast, Caldera is a dystopian-vacation-fantasy of shack-ridden emptiness. La Serena is somewhere in between, lubricated by Pisco Sour, a nice beach and vibrant public spaces (it is actually a large, sophisticated city).

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Bottles of Pisco Sour, La Serena (Valle del Elqui)

And when it rains in the Atacama desert, “a hundred flowers blossom” bringing Maoists from all over the world to see the phenomenon. A good spot to see them is around La Serena, Caldera, Copiapo, or Vallenar in the southern Atacama.

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Flowers in the Atacama Desert, Chile

I am now in Valparaíso, a very special coastal city in the middle of Chile and quite close to Santiago (I will blog about Valparaíso next). Mount Fitz Roy in Argentina, my final destination, is now only two thousand Andean kilometers away!

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Mano del Desierto, 75 kms south of Antofagasta represents loneliness, vulnerability and helplessness