Monday, March 30

Day 214-Taos

I walk today through the same door I exited 214 days ago. It is a good day to be here, and a good day to be. Of those 214 days, 196 were out of the country. That is 28 weeks, or about seven months, fully 3 times longer than i have ever sat on foreign soil. During those 28 weeks I spent more than one day in 26 countries, and transited through 5 others. My total miles traveled was a satisfying 61600, 35200 of which was in the air.

To achieve this end I boarded 28 distinct flights, 43 trains, and 95 buses, including several local buses, the traveler's testpiece. Additionally I climbed into 42 private cars and more than 60 taxis. I sweated out 17 boat rides, and 11 times I chose to scooter about. I "expertly" managed 8 different subway systems, and simply hoofed it for more than 500 miles.

On the average, I traveled 290 miles a day, which by most standards is an awful lot, and so, was quite weary when I laid my head on over 130 different beds in various villages, towns, and cities, more than 20 of would be considered capitals or major world cities. To traverse these miles and visit these places required the outlay of $16292 door to door, which, when added to initial cost of flights and preparation brings my total cost to almost 20000 dollars.

What justifies the expense in my mind is the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites I have compiled on this trip. These sites have been designated by the United Nations as possessing outstanding cultural or natural resources and are protected under international law. I recommend googling UNESCO World Heritage to see which of these sites you have visited. You have probably seen several among your travels.

Additionally I set foot, for short or great length, in 14 National Parks, visited 13 museums, some of which are absolutely world class. I maundered through 8 different zoos or botanical gardens, and visited scores of temples, castles and ruins. I enjoyed nature at its best among many hikes along the coast or through stark alpine meadows. I was dazzled by caves, waterfalls, canyons and lakes. I made quick work of the worlds only 3 dimensional maze, freaked out in war-worn underground tunnels and walked over a few remarkable bridges.

As I sign off today and say goodbye to you all for now, I wish that you take the time to examine the recent months of your life. I trust you will find that it was filled with similar beauty, mystery, drama, and drudgery. All opportunities to find deeper meaning in your own personal journey.

Friday, March 27

Day 211-Salt Lake City

My final flight descended through the clouds, giving me a view of the fresh snow cover over the Wasatch Mountains. Weary from little sleep and the stress of multiple long connections, I surrendered to the sensations of safety and completion. Though I am not yet in Taos, I am home, and this trip is over. Already my mind in moving on to future thrills and desires, characteristically fickle and eager for what comes next. The time to recollect grows short, the images in my mind grow ghostly, my photos seem foriegn. So before this is all a dim rememberance, let my regale you with a few observations.

We must all agree, the world is a beautiful place, and I am thankful to the powers that be for the chance to observe it in so many of its varied guises. From angry seascapes to placid fields of desert dunes, from horrific caverns filled with strange faces to the mighty, noble granite peaks of the world highest places, I have enjoyed quiet moments of solitude, pondering the vastness of the planet, and the insignificance of myself. I have come to love the trees, so proud and patient, and possessing I believe, of an essential knowledge. I have gazed into remote corners, amazed at the completeness of the world contained within a single alpine flower. I have always loved the natural world, and have not yet tired of walking against the wind, climbing to rocky places, my heart loud in my ears.

The world of man, however, leaves me perplexed and anxious. It is peopled by countless throngs- young, brown, eager and loud. Hungry. By and large I found them to be simple and honest people, carrying on in the way of those that came before. Leisurely smoking, getting fat on tasty treats, pumping out progeny, these things come naturally. And I found them to be happy, laughing easily, letting time pass comfortably surrounded by loved ones. For this I am jealous, these things I could not find for myself among the lonely miles. My innate intelligence, my fiercely developed self-reliance, my proud and protected independance are like barren shadows against the radiant joy that falls, effortless from their simple faces. It is their world. A world of sheep, a happy mindless herd, barely aware of this lone wolf.

We together, the silly and the sad, have collectively brought the planet to its knees. Everywhere, the world's single worst invention, the plastic shopping bag, clogs the waterways and dangles from every fenceling, choking beast and birds that cannot avoid the far reaching carpet of plastic negligence we have laid. Our cattle trample ever green inch, piss in every clear stream, blast more gas into the air than all our cars combined, and we continue to put living breathing trees to the ax in order to enjoy more and more of that devils flesh. We walk the city streets, blind to our brother as we chat and text and speak alto voce into these infernal devices called cell phones. Meant to better connect us, the result is the opposite. Why speak to a stranger when your friend is a push button away.

I have walked among cathedral, temples, palaces and museums. I have seen much of the great art of the world, mostly inspired by devotion to the divine. I have come to believe that art is the one godlike expression of the human condition, even more than love, which any mammal will feel. And in finding that the largest, most elaborate and difficult works of art have stood completed for centuries now, if not millenium, I am left wondering what has been the noble and divine contribution of mankind over the recent stretch of history. Technology? the mother of those conveniences such as plastic and communication, cannot, in my mind, justify our continued presence, our domination.

Just as my peregrinations left me with more places undiscovered than revealed, I am left with more questions than answers. I have caught the eyes of 10000 strangers, and looked upon a million faces, but understand little more about the human condition. I have felt the emanation of my own personal aura, glowing brightly, affording me protection from the workings of entropy and decay playing out all around me, but I know but a smattering more about my own true nature. I am left with no choice but to continue my quest for the worlds beautiful places, still hoping to find a lasting knowledge of the universe that wheels within me.

Monday, March 23

Day 207-Santiago

The primary intent of my little sojourn to Mendoza this week was to take a look at Aconcagua the highest mountain outside of Asia. It reaches an altitude of 22800 ft and is tucked rather remotely into the Andes mountains, along the border of Chile and Argentina. Naively I thought I might be able to arrange a day hike somewhere along the base of it, but as has been the case for so many of my would-be outdoor adventures, the investment of time and money was prohibitive. Already the summer season is closed and services are less frequent, options fewer. I might have spent an entire day touring by cramped minivan the surrounding high mountain sites, but I had just seen them on my way in, and would see them again upon my return to Chile. I was satisfied then, to sneak a quick photo of the summit from the bathroom window of the swaying, speeding bus.

I must hope that it is a result of the proximity of my return home rather than the distance I have travelled from it, but this week has been marked by an extreme susceptablity to frustration. Nearly ever day I am flying off the handle for reasons relatively minor, malfunctioning internet, crying kids on the bus, excessive noise from the air conditioner in an otherwise sweltering hotel room. It is not a pleasant sight, to see myself grumbling and scowling as I march down the street to some imagined place of relief. Indeed I do recover rather quickly, and within minutes can be sitting parkside, enjoying a beer (a key element) and the parade of daily life. It is this mercurial nature, I see, that leads me understand why I prefer to travel solo.

Next week I hope to make two posting, one in which I would like to rather self righteously expound upon my opinion of the world at large. It should be at once both amusing and annoying. In the second, I wish to present a smattering of statistics that I have amassed over the last seven months, a compilation of the monthly reports such as this one:

Countries: 2 Days spent: 28
Distance traveled: 5800mi $/day: 75
Unesco sites: 5 Other sites: 13
Most Southern point: Rio Gallegos, 51.5 deg south

As a post script, I must add that I am finding Santiago to be, in my opinion, another of the world´s great cities. Clean, modern, comfortable climate, and friendly folks. Now if only I could find an Indian restaurant to gain some relief from the endless stream of hamburgers, hotdogs and ice cream!

Friday, March 20

Day 204-Mendoza

Having arrived safe and sound in Santiago, which it my gateway to North America, I made all the arrangements necessary to ensure a timely departure. This left me with nearly a week to make a couple of interesting sidetrips. My first destination lay one hundred kilometers to the west, along the Pacific coast, the cultural capital of Chile, Valparaiso. This World Heritage listed city was once one of the most important ports on the continent, but having suffered numerous earthquakes, and setback by the opening of the Panama Canal a hundred years ago, it now serves mainly as a naval port, and a quaint tourist destination.

It features a sprawling amalgamation of houses that crawl up the sides of the steep hills that shelter the bay. I was initially quite excited about hiking through these barrios to the many viewpoints amidst the hovels, but after recieving warnings from nearly everyone I met, and given their striking resemblance to favelas of Rio de Janiero, I opted for a short ride up one of the hundred year old escalators, made a quick review of the many outdoor murals on display, and contented myself to spent the afternoon below on the more traveled city streets. The evening passed without incident but for the late night knock on my door by my middle-aged but kind-of-cute hostess, making sure that all was well and did I "need" anything. Facing an early bus departure, I opted for not.

The next day found me dazzled by one of the great bus rides of this entire trip, crossing the High Andes along Route 7. As we left the dry hills surrounding Santiago, making our way up a green valley irrigated by the angry and muddy Rio Blanco, we encountered yet more higher and dryer hills, dressed in tall cactus and thorny palo verde. The river changed suddenly to a milky glacier-fed blue, the slopes became rocky and forbidding, extending thousands of feet into the clear autumn sky. The river diminished to a trickle and we faced the crux of the drive, a series of 30 consecutive hairpin turns, thickly populated by huge buses, freight trucks, and the occasional overheated passenger car. Achieving the pass, we were greeted by an exceptionally long wait at the enclosed fume-filled border station, the stress of which, together with the altitude, and lack of food (generally not allowed at border crossings), left me with a draining headache.

So it was, that when I arrived in Mendoza, I had little energy to fulfill my daily chores, and allowed a travel agent at the bus station to find a room for me. I suppose I will never learn, I was gifted with the most heinously loud room overlooking the traffic choked streets of what otherwise proved to be an enjoyable city. But not until I made tracks first thing this morning and found a more suitable, more tranquil room of my own choosing. And so all is arranged- a mountain tour in the morning, one more long bus ride into Santiago, a couple of days strolling that fine city, and a final taxi ride to the airport. Soon I will be home, and can finally find some peace and quiet!

Monday, March 16

Day 200-Chillán

For the record I must state-I am not sick, I am not tired, I am not scared, I am not bored. But I am broke, so when I received word that I might have a fat project to chew on if I make it back by April 1st, there was really no debate to be had. Truth is I could have only lasted another couple of weeks, and either way, 4 weeks or 6 is no way to experience South America. Having tasted what is here, already I am forming plans for a 4 to 6 month visit in the hopefully not too distant future. I will need to rebuild the travel coffers and work on my comprehension of Spanish, which is a daily source of embarassment.

Touring north along the Panamerican Hiway is not exactly exciting, but it is interesting and easy. The climate changes from maritime down on the island of Chiloé, where the roads are lined with Scots Broom, Fushia and this cute little flowering laurel, and the general verdancy attest to a tendancy toward the misty. As we travel north, 7 or 8 hours a day on the bus (I will admit to feeling abit injured in the kidneys) the fields of recently harvested grain become larger, the windbreaks of pine and lombardy popular stand in straight rows, the air becomes dry and dusty, until finally we are amoung acacia scrub dunes and lengthy plantations of eucalyptus. I begin to get a sense of the great desert that lies to the north of me, tantalizing but unreachable.

The cities I slumber in are unremarkable, a plaza every few blocks, the gente out for evening paseo, ice cream and cake devoured endlessly by these pudgy folks...and myself. The sycamores that line the avenues are turning and losing there leaves in the evening breezes, and I feel a strange melancoly. While I should be delighting in the promise of a new spring, rather I am mourning the passing of a summer I never saw, a strange upheaval of my annual rythym. There will be little to comment on for the next couple of weeks, though I do have a couple of side trips planned to some notable locations. I have certainly been unmotivated to report at times, and I am sure you have grown weary of this rag. But I am determined to finish, post until the final day, and I hope you will stay with me a bit longer. There is more truth to tell.

Friday, March 13

Day 197-Castro

If I were to describe the countryside, the green rolling hills dotted with happy Holsteins, the breaks of huge chestnut and beech trees, the wooden clapboard construction of gabled houses, stately mansard-roofed barns and ornate, multi-towered churches, if I were to tell of how I dined on Schweinefleisch mit Reis, Leibfraumilch and Küchen, you might be led to believe that I had flown off to Bavaria, or West Pennsylvania. But here, unlike the northern climes, the leaves are turning and beginning to drop under the growing autumn wind, and the shingled houses are painted every random color, be it pastel lavender or garish tangerine. Here, is the World Heritage listed "Island of Wooden Churches"-Chiloé. Prevalent are examples of what ingenious self reliant people can do with wood, stone and corrugated tin, from hydraulic grain mills to tricycles to lavish places of worship.

Though passing immigration nearly triggered a random panic attack, and I was called upon, for the first time, to explain my extensive medical kit to customs, coming into Chile was accompanied by a profound comfort and bliss. The prices dropped by half, and my passion and energy for travel more than doubled. As I stroll the alleys and plazas, people actually look me in the eyes and maybe smile a bit as they pass, and for this I find that I feel very much at home. Oddly, it is as if the clock has been reset, as if my journey has just begun. Perhaps because I am deeply aware of the end that is now in sight.

But for now I will enjoy the greener, much wetter, Pacific coast of the continent. And though I am much further north than a week ago, once again the end of the road lies just a few hundred miles to the south. From there one can only travel the inter-island Patagonian fiords by boat. I, however, will be content to call this my farthest southern point in Chile, and will enjoy a day or two in this tranquil fishing village, wandering the colorful streets peopled by squat folks with round faces, almost Inuit in appearance, before slowly heading north to gaze upon a few more mountains before I arrive at my point of final disembarcation.

Wednesday, March 11

Day 195-Bariloche

If you have traveled across southern Wyoming on I-80, you have some idea of the landscape I traversed some days ago. But to complete the picture, place yourself in a bus without air conditioning and only two windows that open. It smells of apples, feet, and liverwurst and the soundtrack for todays journey will be provided by a rabid pack of young Israelis, ranting at the top of their guttural voices, commandeering every unoccupied square foot of space. Slowly we grind along this road that, for 80% percent of its 400 miles, is a loose rock gravel. We pull in late at night to an overcrowded hostel in the middle of nowhere, and in the morning get up and drive across Nevada.

The second day, though much longer, was over primarily paved roads, I had a double seat to myself, and the gang leader was down with a cold, so the day past quite well. The scenery grew increasingly interesting, until, as the sun set, we were twisting and turning up a cool mountain road, approaching our final destination of Bariloche. This tourist town sits lakeside surrounded by high peaks, much like Lake Tahoe, and hosts a wintertime ski resort, as well as limitless chocolate shops. It is pleasant enough, though still on the expensive side, and provides a day's rest with which to get some business done and gear up for my excursion west. Though I might have a day or two back in this country before I fly away, I am sad to admit that my time here has been far too short, I would like another 12 weeks to see more of the ever-changing landscape and get to know better my host.

The Argentinian people, as I have encountered them, are extremely courteous, patient and quite eager to chat, despite my limited supply of phrases. They are generous with the less fortunate, handing out coins to the street beggars or bread to those who ask for something to eat. During my walks, I have encountered large packs, as many as a dozen, of very large, very clean dogs, which under most circumstances would send me up a tree. Here, they are content to just snuffle up against me, walk with me a while, hoping for a crust or caress, then amble on there way. They are definitely the most well mannered canines I have ever come across and I think their demeanor speaks volumes of how their masters comport themselves. As I cross the Andes, and venture into the rainy west coast of the continent, I expect I will be greeted with equal warmth by the people of Chile.

Saturday, March 7

Day 191-El Chalten

In the ancient Chinese divination system, there is used a trigram, "ken", symbolized by the mountain, its attribute is "keeping still". Though I am not in China, I am having to practice, amoungst these spectacular and rugged granite peaks, the art of keeping still. I sat for hours the day before, in existential deliberation, as I silently watched the worlds largest advancing glacier,
El Perito Moreno, waiting for the rifle crack that signaled the birth of yet another iceberg, as this moving sheet of ice thunderously falls into Lago Arentino. I was not disappointed, at the end of the day, I witnessed a detached ice spire, the full 200 foot height by maybe 40 feet thick, slowly teeter, then crash into the lake, causing a swell to crawl across the wind swept surface for a kilometer.

Today was much the same, but for a different subject. Taking the long walk to a hidden lake under the dramatic and infamous Cerro Torre (poster child for Patagonian climbing), the hours passed as clouds danced around the peaks, seemingly generated by the peaks themselves. Slowly they lifted only to regather, shrouding the mystical ice capped summit. My watching and waiting paid off however, for a brief 3 seconds the enveloping cloud thinned and ascended, to reveal a bizarre misshapen mass of granite and ice. All my adult life I believed I would one day see this mountain, once thought I might even climb it. Now at 50, shoulders wrecked and knees fading fast, I am little more than a has-been wanna-be, but I am unspeakably grateful to have been able to make the 10 mile return trip to see it.

My time in Patagonia is far from over, however. I must wait yet another day until a bus rolls through here to take me northward, and when it does, I will be required to sit for 12 hours a day for 2 days to reach a populated destination. The land is bleak, the windy season begun, the tourist throngs are beginning to fade, autumn is coming. But in my solitude I am able to hear what this land is saying, what it requires of me to make a safe passage, and so I will continue to keep still, waiting for windows of clarity and enthusiasm to open through the long days of grey and drudgery.

Wednesday, March 4

Day 188-El Calafate

I awoke today to find a steady rain beating on the metal roof of my centro "penthouse", feeling a bit troubled and altogether unmotivated. I had spent the night watching the story of Rocky Marciano, the only undefeated heavyweight boxer, whose plane when down back in '69. Before me lay a long day of air and ground travel, more than 2000 kilometers, and walking a kilometer in the rain will all my gear was not a pleasant way to start. Twenty minutes into the 3 hour flight, the chop began, stronger than I was used to, and all around me the folks are quiet with eyes closed, their internal dialogue no doubt much like my own, "not today, not this time". Times like this solo travel is especially challenging, with no one to chat and disperse the tension. An hour later all was well as the skies smoothed and the buzz of being on adventure was rekindled.

Here in South America I am meeting many travelers who are content to fly solo. Young dudes from Germany, Holland and Japan, solitary birds like myself, who have been out for seven, nine and even nineteen months. The award for most awesome world travelers, in my mind, now belongs to the Japanese. They go out for long, long trips, armed with just a little English, much less Spanish. We chat for a short while, sharing tales of border crossing anxieties, dramatic sights visited or missed, and our plans for the road ahead, be it short or long. At times I can almost believe that I am one of this elite group.

My road today has led me nearly to where there are no roads, to the end of the world. Only 12 hours by bus lies Ushuaia, the southern most city in the world. Sadly, I will not have time to visit that point on this trip, for there are many more dramatic things to see. I am in the area known as Patagonia, a stark and windswept land of dry grass, stunted bushes, huge glacier fed lakes and rocky peaks scratching the clear deep blue skies. It is nearly the end of summer, and at 52 degrees south, already the changing of the leaves has begun, the mornings cold, made colder by the incessant wind. For several days I will be in this region, suffering slightly, moving carefully. From this point, every step leads me north, closer to "home"

Sunday, March 1

Day 185-San Ignacio Mini

And the winner is--Pedro!--who correctly guessed Buenos Aires, which, as the capital of Argentina, sits at longitude 58.22 W, 34.35 S, and is served by Ezeiza International Airport, code EZE. I thought the code would be a dead give away but rather, it confused some who otherwise might have guessed closer. I thank those of you who participated, and will admit it was just a ruse to discover who might be reading this rag.

As it turned out, my time in Bs. As. was anything but breezy. The flight from Auckland, which takes one from evening to afternoon in 11 short hours, left me fairly jet lagged. On top of that, the immediate immersion into Spanish and the hustle of a capital city left my brain overheated, and unable to quiet itself enough to allow a restful sleep. Feeling unsafe in this zombie-like state, I made a 17 hour overnight beeline to the Misiones province up north, hoping to find some tranquility in a more bulcolic setting. Having acquired a refill to my sleep tonic (melatonin), I was poised to catch some serious Z´s, only to find my shared apartment invaded at 10pm by some of those blasted young people. A quick evacuation and a willingness to throw down some cash found me sleeping profoundly within the hour.

Feeling newly alive and arrived, I proceeded to the my intended destination, that being the cascades of the river Iguazu. I might recommend that you go to Youtube and search for some video, or read about it somewhere. You will find it occupies the top spot in many lists, and I can hardly attempt to describe the place. Imagine a massive river creeping out of the jungles of western Brazil, spreading over a vast floodplain several kilometers wide, then plummeting a few hundred feet over the basaltic edge, recollecting in turbulent pools, and proceeding eastward to the ocean. The sound is deafening, and all about are giggling tourist, mainly from Argentina and Brazil, having the time of their lives amidst the spray of the broken streams and the sea of negative ions floating up from the torment below. The park, naturally Unesco listed, is well constructed with pathways leading along the rivers edge both above and below the numerous cascades, and every overlook allows a new view of the ecstatic plant life nestled amoung the black rock crevasses, all inundated by the troubled green waters. Like so many of the World Heritage Sites, it has to be seen, and more to the point, heard and felt, to be believed, and I tell you, 24 hours later I am still feeling euphoric as I write this.

After such a grand sucess, I have become convinced that I can travel Argentina quite capably, though distances are large and bus rides will be quite long at times. And so, to add to my list of Unesco sites, I have come to the village of San Ignacio, where reside ruins of Jesuit missions, long ago abandoned, but once home to thousands of "saved" Guarani Indians. As I descended the bus into the brightly hot summer streets, I was a bit surprised to find them empty, and even more my surprise when reception at the hotel informed me that no market or restaurant would be open today. My growling stomach will be a gentle reminder to be more mindful of Sunday traveling in Latin America!