reflections

Sometimes It’s Good To Have A Plan

And I’m back. Not only am I publishing a new post, I’m also back in Bolivia. In the meantime I had a short trip north, to Peru.

From Potosi I have headed towards Uyuni, like I have announced in my previous post. The route that I chose has lead me, after 4 day, to the main road La Paz – Uyuni. Into a small town, Challapata. Here you turn left and you head south. First Uyuni, then Argentina and a few kilometres (let’s say 5 – 6 thousand) later you are on Tierra del Fuego, at the end of the World.
It’s just that I had a small errand up north. Despite almost 4 months that I have spent in Peru last year, I still haven’t visited Machu Picchu. And I cannot finish my stay in South America without visiting it’s probably most famous tourist attraction. But since I was (and again am) about 1.000 km away from it and since there is more or less only one main route leading there and back and because … Well, because I felt like it, I have decided to leave Lou here with Luis, the owner of a cheap accommodation in Challapata and to take a bus to Machu Picchu. I wouldn’t exactly call this an easier option (changing on small local bus for another, a bit bigger and then with the biggest one to Cusco – just the last part was almost 14 hours on a bus), but it certainly is a faster option. This way I will be left with some more time for Argentinian south and will still manage to reach Tierra del Fuego before the southern winter.

I have started with a rough plan, a minivan to Oruro, then a bus to La Paz and another bus to Cusco, ancient Inca capital which also serves a first base camp for at least 95% visitors to Machu Picchu. From there on, I’ll figure it out.
After the bus marathon, I was in Cusco at 6 a.m. There I found a cheap hostel and after a morning coffee and a short brake, the work has begun. Already in advance I knew that a visit to Machu Picchu should not be taken lightly. There are two main, interconnected reasons for this. Given the fact that this is one of the biggest if not the major tourist attraction of South America, everything connected to it is very touristy. And this means highly overpriced. Even before I came here I have searched the web a little. And the numbers I saw almost made me forget about the whole thing.
First there is the entrance fee which is almost 40 EUR. Then one has to get there. The train (which is the official means of transportation since there are no roads) from Cusco is probably by kilometre the most expensive train on the planet. For roughly 110km to Aguas Calientes (Machu Picchu Pueblo), second base camp, the cheapest ticket costs almost 50 EUR. This makes it almost 50 cents per kilometre. And just as much for return! And then there is accommodation in Aguas Calientes since if you want to escape the main tourist rush, it pays of to be among the first one’s there,… The numbers made my head spin, so I left the details of this part of the expedition for Cusco.
But once in Cusco, I had to face the fact that now I’m here and that I cannot postpone any more organizing the visit. I need a plan!
So I went out, making a tour of the tourist agencies which in the city centre are more abundant than trash bins. After visiting about ten of them, I had a rough picture and I surely had no more motivation to visit another one. In every one there is a seller with a cheap smile that then presents you with the most expensive option. Before you manage to stop him/her in order to ask about cheaper alternatives, you are almost without any desire to keep on. And this scenario was repeated almost 10 times. The options are more or less the same at all of them, the only difference is the price and sometimes not even that. However you still have to pick one.
Then I went in line for the entrance ticket to Machu Picchu (it has to be bought in advance since they do not sell them at the entrance). At least this task is much easier. There is the official ticket office and you have to buy it there. And the price is fix, no haggling or anything like that.
Entry ticket in hand I made my way back to one agency. The one that was closest and cheapest. It is possible to reach Machu Picchu even without the train or, again official, 4-day trekking (which is obviously even more expensive than train). There is a back door which is a marathon of local buses, minivans, maybe even riding a llama. This way you can come within about 10km of Aguas Calientes (second base camp) by road. From there to the town itself is about 2 hours walking along the train tracks. The bus marathon and the llamas can be avoided by going to a tour agency and buying a seat on a direct minivan. And that is what I have done.
First part of expedition planning behind me, the second to be done in Aguas Calientes.

On the day of departure I was at the agreed upon location (in front of the agency) at the agreed upon time (7 a.m.). But I was the only one keeping up the agreement. The agency was closed and there was nobody in sight until 8 a.m. when a guy showed up. After we established that he was looking for me he took me in a taxi almost to the other side of the city where a van was waiting only for me to show up. I have climbed inside, took and empty seat and braced myself for a 6 – 7 hours ride. Our driver made it in under 6. Probably because he was convinced that he is the reincarnation of Colin McRea, judging by the way how he drove.
After two hours walking I found myself in Aguas Calientes, the most touristy town in Peru. Second phase of conquering Machu Picchu can begin. Searching for accommodation! After about an hour I have in light of my plan and budget the most optimal location. A hostel that starts to serve breakfast at 4 a.m. This is very important for the execution of the third phase which is the climb itself. If I want to avoid the hordes of tourists, then I have to aim at being among the first ones at the entrance which opens at 6 a.m. Satisfied with the execution of the second phase I treat myself a beer before heading to bed (it also makes it easier to fall asleep).

The next day phase three begins. In accordance with the plan this means getting up at 3:45 a.m., breakfast at 4, a morning visit to the toilet and at 4:40 starting from the hostel. Just before 5a.m. I join a line at the bridge. We are waiting for it to open. On the other side and almost 500 metres higher is Machu Picchu. There is about 8km of a zig-zag road leading up or not even 2km long walking trail which goes more direct and is almost all staircase. You can also take a bus, but that is almost 10 EUR one way.
At 5 a.m. the bridge opens, I cross it a 5:10. The gate at the top opens at 6 a.m. so I have to hurry. The walking trail is supposed to take about 1h, I make it just under 40 minutes. Sweating and cursing all the way, but I do not stop. I know if I stop, it will take a while to start again.
I’m not the first one at the top, but I am among the first ones. When the gates finally opens, I pick up the pace a bit and at the first possible option I take a turn away from the herd. Left and up towards a viewing point. A few more stairs, a bit of left-right and I get a view of Machu Picchu without tourists. A photo and then I look for a quiet spot (yes, this early such spots can be found). There I sit down and admire the remains of the Incas’ hidden city basking in the morning sun below. Plan successfully executed!

Up here I’m in almost complete silence. There are just two employees down there making noise with a couple of weed-whackers!
You cannot plan everything in Life. There always have to be room for surprises. Like for a beautiful sunny day, which is not so common on Machu Picchu.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

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Moments When You Start To Question Your Own Intelligence

It has been almost 10 days since I’m here in the tri-border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. A bit of sightseeing such as a visit to the Iguazu falls, some errands, such as buying a new cell phone since the old one didn’t seem to agree with the contract on which it fell from more than a metre high. Those of you that are following my blog for a while might remember that in the US I had already tried to befriend my electronic devices with concrete. .That time it was a laptop, now a cell phone. Both time unsuccessful and with a fairly predictable outcome. The gadget stops working after such an encounter. I just might have learned something for the future. But then again, I might not have!
Well, most of the time that I had spent here at the tri-border was dedicated to lighter activities or better said inactivates. A hammock, listening to music, allowing my brains to switch-off, all in all relaxing. Sometimes you have to find time to do this as well. That is why this text will be on the lighter side.

Not only travelling but Life is also full of various moments. Moments are what gives colour to this spinning wheel that we call Life. They can be happy, can be sad, full of action or more laid back, maybe even boring. And there are those that, for a lack of a better description, make me question my own intelligence.
For easier understanding, here are some examples of the moments I’m talking about

For the third consecutive day Andres and I have been climbing towards 4.850 metres high pass called Abra Chonta in Peru. The road was winding, the air was thin, traffic on an otherwise nice, paved road was light. The summit or the pass itself was about 500 metres further up the road but we had no idea since it was hidden behind a curve. We had stopped so to get acquainted with as many of the oxygen molecules passing by as we possible could have. The bikes were leaning on the safety railing, the two of us sitting next to them. Not a living sole in sight, all around us just rocks, sun gently warming us. After about 10-15 minutes a man comes in his new pick-up truck. He slows down, lowers his window, looks at us and asks:
“What are you doing?”
We look at each other, then we look at the bikes next to us which are kind of self-explanatory. After of a moment of surprise Andres said: “We are travelling with our bikes!”
“Oh, OK!” replies the man and, visibly content that we have satisfied his curiosity, he drives away.
We just look at each other!
I wonder how he would react if we would had told him that we were waiting for the pizza guy. We have ordered it hours ago and still hasn’t been delivered.

Another thing that can happen is that you are looking for a place to spend the night, to pitch a tent. Entering one small town Andres and I have passed several smaller plots that were all individually surrounded by make-shift walls. Some of the plots in use, others no. Since these make-shift walls, made out of dry cane, enable us to remain hidden from nosy looks, we go in search of finding an unoccupied plot. Since we were both raised by responsible parents, we both like first to ask for permission to use, Andres goes across the street. There is a car mechanic shop and he goes there to ask if they whom to ask for permission. It was a short conversation:
“Hi!”
“Hi!”
“We are looking for a place to pitch our tents overnight. Would you happen to know to whom the plot over there belongs to?”
“Sure I know. To the owner!”
Who would have thought – a plot that belongs to the owner!
Here is where the conversation has stopped. You just do not know where to go from here.

Just so to avoid any potential for confusion. These kind of situations are not something that happens only in foreign lands. Nope, not at all!
I remember, years ago, back home in Ljubljana, me and a friend of mine went for a pleskavica (grilled patty of minced meat, similar to what you could find in a burger, but completely different). We went to a restaurant, sat behind a table and looked at the menu. It was listed that they have either a small or a large pleskavica. Since the actual size was not mentioned, we decided to ask the waiter.
“What is the difference between a small and a large pleskavica?”
The man looks at us and calmly explains: “Large one is large, small one is small!”
I really cannot remember what we had then ordered.

There you go, I hope you had a lough or two and might have remembered a similar moment that you have personally experienced.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

A Quarter Of A Hundred

It has been more than two years since I have set off from Halifax. Due south! The route has never been something fixed, more a vague idea. Across the USA, Mexico, Central America and more or less on the west side of South America to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the World. There the road ends. I was calculating on doing 25.000km, a bit more, a bit less.

About 10 days ago my speedometer showed 25.000km. I was in Argentina which was consistent with my original plan from back home. What was different from that plan was the fact that I was almost at the opposite side of Argentina, about 700km from the border with Brazil and Paraguay. And not only that I was roughly 2.500km as the crow flies away from Ushuaia, I was even moving in the opposite direction. As it often happens in Life that the plans normally have very little to do with the reality.

I’m still moving away from Ushuaia and will continue to do so for a while. Since I have turned towards the coast in central Peru, I’m still missing a visit to Machu Picchu. So I’m going there now with a small detour via the Iguazu waterfalls as I’m in the neighbourhood (well in the same country). And then there is Paraguay which I want to visit. Also Bolivia is missing from my list so it seems I still have some “work” to do up north. And then there is all of south Argentina with Patagonia and Chile with its Carretera Austral. Still a lot to do!

Then at the same time there is also so much already behind me. Deserts and coasts, mountains and plains, jungle and empty steppes,… Not only that there is already 25.000km behind, there is also more than 420 different locations where I have slept. Sometimes with a roof over my head and a nice, comfortable bed, another times I was in a tent under a clear sky. I was hosted by firefighters, police, Red Cross, churches even schools and a WC have all been a place to spend the night. And I cannot even mention how many times my paths have been crossed by good, friendly people that have almost always somehow intuitively knew what I really need in a given moment. Sometimes they knew it even better than me, whether it was a bed, a hot shower, a safe place to pitch a tent, great food, directions for further on, a conversation or just a simple Smile.
So much of it that I really cannot describe it all. That is why to all of You, that have carried me all this distance, a profound – Thank you!

Simon

Small Victories

Let’s first address the elephant in the room. It’s been months since my last post. What can I say, I was on holidays. Not only that I did not cycle, obviously I did not write as well.
For start I had almost 3 weeks of pre-holidays stay and pampering thanks to Andres and his mother Marta in Santa Rosa. Then there was a flight back home and pampering back home curtesy of family and firends that have dedicated some moments of their lifes to share it with me.
Two months flew by in a blink of an eye, a new farewell, return to the road into the unknown, towards Dreams. To ease the transition from one world into another, there were again Andres, Marta and the people around them in Santa Rosa. In their hospitality they have achieved that I had no desire to go back to my bicycle. Doing so would mean that I have to leave behind the comfort of a cosy bed, hot shower, fixed roof over my head, electricity and similar luxury. It meant that I have to go outside where the winter is fast approaching.
My assimilation back to Argentina there in Santa Rosa has stretched well over two weeks. Slowly but surely the notion or better said awareness of the fact that if I don’t move I won’t get anywhere was gaining ground. The decision was clear. Back on a bike!

The day has started with a sun that was just calling me to get out. Until the moment I actually got out and noticed the ridiculously obvious lack of heat. Lou was all loaded up, with Andres we had one more maté (like so many others in the days before) and we mounted each his own bicycle. The only difference was that mine was all loaded up, his not. He is only going to acompany me to the outskirts of the city.
First kilometres back with Lou required some getting used to. In the three months without a bicycle I somehow forgot about the clumsiness that is so synonimus with a touring bicycle. But I got over it quickly. It’s like riding a bicycle!
A farewell to a friend on the outskirts of Santa Rosa and I’m left alone. Well, alone with Lou, but alone nonetheless. Again! In front of me lays the unknown, again. And in this late autumn morning a cover of fog envelops it. Nothing that would encourage me to go on, except for this awareness that I have, that if I do not move I will never get to Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia.
Hesitantly I have mounted Lou and ventured into the fog, dampness and autumn melancholy. Every now and then the fog lifted up a bit, but the low-lying cloud cover managed to prevent the sun from warming up my bones and provoking a smile on my face. However these moments without fog, revealed to me flooded fields all around. The result of the heavy rains the region has seen this autumn.
Naked trees, dried up corn stems, fog, flooded fields and a decent headwind, really nothing that would motivate me to keep on turning the pedals.

I cycled until about 16h, made about 60 km. Enough for the first day.
I have made it to some buildings by the roadside and behind them I organized myself a place for my tent. Slowly back to the old routine, pitching the tent, setting up the stove, making coffee, enjoying a hot cup of coffee, then dinner and preparations towards sleeping. Last look at the skies, Southern Cross can be seen. The fog and clouds are gone.
Twice I had to go out of the tent. First some cat found my trash bag so I had to put it away, then I had to move my box with food. Fog has returned.
Waking up in the middle of the night. The sleeping bag is all damp, all the clothes are damp as well, water drops are lining the roof of the tent. What fun it is to camp in the fog!

In the morning when I look out the tent, there is again this fog and humidity from yesterday. Hooray, let’s get back on a bicycle! And I even get to pack the damp sleeping bag and the tent. Isn’t this just pure joy?!
So I do what needs to be done. At 10h I’m back on the road making my progress through the fog. Towards the first town that is 50km further down the road. In the meantime the hours pass. And together with the passing of the hours the weather changes. About 15km before the town the sun comes out to greet me and just before the town itself, two locals stop me and together we drink maté, this so typical Argentinian tradition of sharing moments. And I’m also invited to asado, Argentinian barbeque.
Life is beautiful!

A bit further down the road, in front of a closed gas station I’m drying my tent, sleeping bag and the rest whilst thinking about the imporatnace of small victories in Life. For achieving bigger goals. If I want to make it to Tierra del Fuego, I have to move even if sometimes I don’t feel like it. That’s how it is! However, I’m permited to celebrate this small victory, that despite facing not the ideal circoumstances, I have done what I needed to do.
And yes, I’m permitted to be joyful about the fact that I wasn’t soaked by rain, that the wind was not too strong, that I have found a suitable place to camp, that I haven’t had any problems with Lou, that…
Every day a number of good, positive things happen to us. It’s just the question of looking at it from the right perspective!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Desert Solitude

About two months ago I descended from the Peruvian Andes down to the coast and started my »romance« with the desert. After almost 3.000 km I have reached La Serena, Chile a few days ago. Here is where Atacama, the World dries desert, ends. On average there is only 15mm of rainfall per year and there are some weather stations that have never received any rain. In some areas they were even unable to find any signs of life, not even bacteria.
On the outskirts thou, first signs of life do start to appear. So in the days approaching La Serena I have started to see more vegetation around me. Small shrubs and cactuses were gradually winning the battle with sand and rocks. My eyes are starting to get used to greenery.

Regardless how much I love deserts, I do have to admit that the past two months were tough. Desert is an extreme environment. Kilometres and kilometres of nothing, emptiness. The sun is already high in the sky at 8h and it doesn’t get weaker until about 19h. The wind picks up around noon and doesn’t rest until sunset or it keeps on howling into the night all the way until morning. And all the time without any possibility of running away from the elements. No shade, no shelter from the wind. All that you have is a bicycle and turning the pedals hoping you make it to a shade that can be 60-70 or even more kilometres away. A lonely house of a roadside inn which around here is called posada. A location where you can stock up on water, refresh yourself with a cold drink and treat your body with some rest in a shade. Providing of course the posada is open. But if you go into this adventure with some of my trademark brightness, then you leave the comfortable and cosy city environment of Antofagasta on January 1st and you make sure that you will go through the most empty stretch exactly when everything is closed for two days. I did stock up on water before leaving Antofagasta but the next day I made it to a posada that was closed. Normally in Chile only January 1st is a holiday, but this year the president of Chile probably knew that I will be wandering around so she made January 2nd also a holiday. How lucky am I?! This meant I could only use the shade of the posada. Surely welcome but it doesn’t quench my thirst. Fortunately there was a camp for workers building a new power line about 30km further ahead. There I was able fill up my water bag. One of the workers caught up with me on the road about an hour later and he gave me an extra bottle of water. Also Chileans proved to be a hospitable and friendly nation. The way they have been on many occasions in this month that I have spent in Chile. Sometimes I was given a cold drink somewhere beside the road when a car has stopped and waited for me to drag myself to it and they were able to give me a cold drink. Once it happened that a car was unable to stop so they just slowed down to throw a bottle of water into the desert. I have stopped, picked it up and drank it.

At the same time, this is an area of the clearest night skies. After the wind calms down, when the Sun is saying goodbye and with its last rays escorts the da into night, small lights start to light up on the sky. Usually this is the time when I have already finished my first dinner and with a cup of coffee in my hand, speechless, I watch the Universe and this magic transformation of light into dark. All the effort I have invested during the day to reach this magic place is gone, like it has never existed.
The show actually never stops, but at some point you find yourself surrounded by silence and the starry carpet. Its clearness and immensity have always enchanted me. And so I have, in moments of infinity, where Time and Space do not exists, often just sat there until my neck started to ache. At the same time I was there, anywhere in the World and nowhere all at the same time.

Most of my time I have spent in kilometres and kilometres of emptiness, solitude. The only sign of life were spars trucks and buses overtaking me. In their absence I’ve listened to the sound of silence, only a hushed buzzing of the tires being bitten by the tarmac. Nobody in sight, just me and Lou.
In all this solitude I never felt lonely. I just was and I was alone. Alone with my thoughts and feelings. Hours and hours “walking” through the remotest parts of your own consciousness (or thinking about more practical stuff like how to repair a big hole in your front pannier). There is no society that would force you to put on a mask that is more socially acceptable. The kind that slowly, bit by bit robs you of your own identity, of your own Being. No need for that and the immensity and roughness of the surroundings in a way also do not allow you to waist your energy on these kind of things. You just are the way you are and you have to accept yourself like that. Sometimes I like myself more, sometimes less, but all of this is Me.

Andres and I went our separate ways just before entering Antofagasta. I wanted to go into the city, nothing urgent, just profiting for a while the benefits of civilization like running water, supermarket and the option to connect with the World. This meant about 25km of a detour and also one not so nice climb on exiting the city. He wanted to avoid all this. After months and thousands of kilometres he had behind him, he felt that home is practically within reach (true, still about 2.000 km away, but at the same time so close). So close to home he did not want to make an unnecessary stop and additional kilometres and climbs. He stayed on the by-pass road and continued south towards his family and friends waiting for him in Argentina. I on the other hand turned off and descended into Antofagasta and only virtually connected myself with my family. But the goodbye was “Hasta la proxima vez!” (Until we meet again).

Not only the separation but also all the kilometres of emptiness, solitude, brought to the surface the sentiment of homesickness in me. I miss my family, friends, familiar surroundings, I have never denied that. The down side of travelling is that I’m not home with familiar, dear people. That I cannot have a cup of coffee on a balcony with my brother, that I cannot go to my mother for a lunch, that I cannot go for a beer (well, two since it’s never just one) with a friend.
Since a few months ago I have decided to prolong my wandering in South America for about a year, my reunion with my dear ones has been postponed for the same period of time. And this aspect of my otherwise brilliant plan of discovering what lies behind a corner is something I have never really liked. So in the kilometres of desert solitude I have decided that I’ll return home, temporarily, just for a visit. With the help of internet I managed to find an affordable plane ticket and with some help from my family I have also bought it and am now ready to return to Slovenia end of March to enjoy the springtime over there.
With this I’m officially announcing that from the end of March until mid-May I’m open for invitations for a cup of coffee, a beer or straight to a picnic. Just let me know where and when.

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Camping According To Simon

Here I am in Chile, somewhere. It has been a few days since Andres and I have left Arica where we had a pleasure to be hosted by a friend of Andres, Fernando and even more so by his mother Alejandrina. For a few days we were back in civilization where water, hot water comes by turning a tap and there is no need to set up a tent every evening just to put it back down in the morning. And also when you crave for a cup of coffee, there is no need to first set up your camping stove. You simply go to the kitchen, turn a knob on the stove and the water is boiling. A welcome change after more than two weeks in the desert.
And here we are again in the desert. About a kilometre away from the main road, the noise of sporadic traffic almost does not make it to here. Here there is peace and quiet, solitude. Just the wind is our companion. Constant!

I have decided that this time around I will not write about current events, well at least for the most part. This time I will focus my thoughts on one constant of my wandering and that is camping. It has been almost 200 times I have set up and put down my current home and one could say that in the past year and a half my most current address was “Tent under stars 3”.
What new, up until now unwritten, can I write about camping. Well probably nothing, but I can put into these lines some of my thoughts on the subject and in doing so try to avoid reinventing the wheel.

For start the most obvious – To camp or to use some alternative?

There are plenty of alternatives, more so free ones. There are those that require internet access to use them. These are different so called hospitality portals like couchsurfing which is meant for all kinds of travellers. Or one that I prefer, warmshowers which is meant just for cycle touring. With the help of these portals the doors to homes of local people open up. There you receive hospitality, almost always a bed, occasionally a meal or two, surely almost a conversation and the possibility to meet different, interesting people.
Since internet access is not always available and the host on these portals are not in every single town or village you pass, there are other, more traditional options. They require you to come there, knock on the door and ask in person. These can be fire stations, Red Cross, schools, municipalities, stadiums, churches,… Options are abundant, all you need is some imagination and most of all you should not be afraid to knock on the door and ask. The results can be amazing, from a simple room or a garage where you make your bed on the floor, to a private room with air con, WiFi, shower and use of kitchen as was the case for me one night with Red Cross in Nicoya, Costa Rica. Up until now there has been so many of these kind of experience that I could write a small book about them.
Then there are not free alternatives such as all sorts of cheap hotels, hostels and similar establishments. As a rule of thumb I try to avoid them, my bank account being them main obstacle. Besides they can be so soulless, so empty and the four walls of a stuffy, cheap room can be stifling. But sometimes the body and mind deserve, even demand a hot shower, a bed and peace insde the four walls of a hotel room. This was the case in northern Peru when after several rainy days and three consecutive days of climbing up to the mountain pass four weary cyclists arrived in Celendin, a small town. Exhausted we searched for a cheap hotel where we treated ourselves to an invigorating shower, went outside to grab a bite and then dragged ourselves to our proper, warm bed. Yet there was something missing. What it was I have learned the next evening sitting in front of my tent. I had all my “kitchen” set up around me and was cooking dinner on my little stove. The ability to comfortably sit down in front of your tent, everything you need within reach and sipping your coffee under a starry sky, this freedom only comes with camping.

All in all I would have to say that most of the times I’m for camping. But since this can be more of a challenge in a town or when it’s cold or when it rains or when you simply need a shower and the ability to wash your clothes or maybe you just want company, in these cases alternatives are more than welcome.

mehappywithmykitchensetup
Me Happy With My Kitchen Set-up (Photo by: Andres Peters)

Wild camping or seeking permission?

OK, so I’ll camp. Next thing is how will I camp. There are two general options, one is wild camping and the other is to go and find a house where I can ask for permission to camp there. On the driveway, behind the house, on the yard, under some roof,… Again, many options.
Wild camping has it’s benefits such as there is nobody to bother you. With houses there are sometimes nosy kinds that in awe observe how you set up your tent, prepare your stove and cook yourself a dinner. Sometimes quite fun and without trouble you quench their curiosity but other times you just want your peace and quiet.
But when you are in the mood, it’s worth asking at a house. It can make camping easier in so many ways.
With house normally comes access to water so there is no need to carry extra weight (one litre of water equals one kilo).
Then there is greater sense of security if someone gave you permission to camp beforehand as opposed to hiding somewhere in the wild. I do sleep peacefully in both cases, it’s just that if I’m wild camping I tend to make sure my things are nicely packed inside my tent.
What makes camping next to a house more attractive are the occasional bonuses. These could be access to a shower, the ability to wash your clothes, sometimes WiFi, sometime invitation to a dinner/breakfast or even sleeping inside.
Occasionally you get to sleep in a less conventional option. The other day Andres and I were seeking shelter from the desert wind so we headed towards a property that seemed to have some abandoned houses on it. It turned out Roberto was living there. Obviously we were granted permission and in the end we ended up sleeping in an old, redesigned bus. We also had a shower and unlimited access to water in the middle of Atacama, the driest place on Earth.

Deciding on what option to take again comes down to your current inspiration. Or you might be “limited” by the offer since in more remote areas such as deserts or high mountains there aren’t always houses where you could ask for hospitality.

thebus
Atacama Bus

So we make it to the next item – Choosing a location

Now there is a topic I have read several posts about. From how it’s not really recommended to start searching for a hidden place in the middle of the day to how you have to pay attention to the inclination so that a potential nightly rain does not turn your tent into an aquarium. I would say you have to set up priorities and be capable to adapt to the environment.
It is highly unlikely it’s going to rain in the desert, however dry river beds are still ill-advised. You just never know. What you should absolutely take into account in the desert is the wind. It can create sand dunes inside your tent.
In rainy areas you will surely pay more attention to finding a roof above your head. It just the way it is!
I will always try to find a location where I will feel safe. This means I will try to avoid sleeping next to a road where anyone can see you.
There is something I haven’t, up until now, seen anywhere written down and that is access to toilet. Obviously it’s not going to be your normal toilet seat, but surely a place where in the morning you can peacefully squat and watch the nature while your intestines do their job. For me personally this is way up there on my priority list. But then again, everyone has his/her priority list set up according to their own taste.

Vista From My Toilet
Toilet Vista In The Mountains

toiletvistainthecoastaldesert
Toilet Vista In The Coastal Desert

Equipment

And now the equipment. A topic I could write several posts on and still not cover all the options. So I will not even try. What I will do is, I will write about what I use and why I use it.

Let’s start with the tent, surely a piece of equipment most linked to camping (thou not always needed since there are alternatives such as hammocks). Mine is Robens Raptor, colour green. I would never have thought, but the colour does matter. Fluorescent orange, incredibly useful when you are trying to find your way back to your tent in a blizzard is absolutely rubbish when you want to remain hidden between the trees.
Then there is size. My is a two (and some more) person tent. True, it’s big and for that a bit heavier than a ultralight one-person. But then again it doesn’t get cramped when I’m putting all my stuff inside and away from unwanted attention it might receive left outside. Only Lou doesn’t fit inside.
Robens Raptor is also freestanding. It means I can set it up even on concrete without using pegs or some other option just to keep it up.
Then there are two entrances that are longitudinal. Incredibly practical when you are putting your stuff inside and you do not have to crawl all over your sleeping bag just to reach something you forgot in the pocket next to where you lay your head.
And there are many, many more small things that transform it into a true villa on the road. Absolutely highly recommend.
I sleep in Robens Caucasus 600 goose down filled sleeping bag. With it’s temperature range from max. 13°C to the extreme of -27°C I was happy to have it from Canadian spring up to 4.500 meters high in the Peruvian Andes (and even in the surprisingly cold Atacama nights). Soft, warm and once packed small and doesn’t take up much space. And it’s light.
What also doesn’t take up much space and provides ample comfort is my Robens AirImpact 3,8 inflatable mattress. It makes sleeping much softer and provides insulation from sometimes very cold floor.
These are basics. Then there are wishes and desires. A big desire of mine is to have a hot meal and coffee. To make it a reality I use MSR Whisperlite camping stove. It works on normal petrol as well. Something that you can get anywhere unlike cartridges for gas stoves. Good luck finding them in the Peruvian Andes or Guatemalan jungle.

evening
Texas Sunset

sheltering
Sheltering in Massachusetts

Basically this is it. I did my best to keep it short. No way have I covered all, but then again I’m not writing a guidebook on camping. If the is a specific question you might have, do put it in the comments.

May 2017 be a year you go and follow or keep on following your Dreams!

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

The Plans Are Changing

Sitting in a small, stuffy hotel room (fuck it, it’s cheap) in Nasca. Still in Peru. After almost three months it seems like it’s never going to end. A few days ago I saw a sign that indicated that I still have more than 1.000 km to the border. I do have to admit it’s starts to drag a little.
But on the other hand I’m glad that the mountains are behind me. Regardless of their beauty and mightiness they are though. Especially when, for I don’t know what day in a row, you wake up in a tent by the roadside and you know that it’s just going to be another day of grinding uphill and still it’s not going to end today. It’s simply wears you down.
It’s also because of this that I felt some kind of relief upon reaching the coastal lowlands. It will keep on going to be tough as it was shown to me in the first days of it since this is desert land. Here the sun and the wind can form a ruthless partnership that slowly but surely drain your energy away. But then again this combination does have it’s magic, especially in the evening when the day is saying it’s goodbye, the wind is calming down and the sun takes on a painter’s role of pastel colours on rocky or sandy plains which seems to get lost somewhere in infinity.
Though this plains can lose some of its magic in the morning when you are walking and walking in search of some privacy from the looks from the road and “restaurant” behind which you camped. I like to do my morning no. 2 in peace and a half-hour walk towards horizon when you can clearly sense movement in your intestines doesn’t feel that magic.

But let me try to go back to the theme I wanted to write about – The plans are changing.
Sometime in the last days of Ecuador my conscience started to receive the first signals that the Road in front of me is still long, very long. Mountains of Peru, plateau of Bolivia, desert of northern Chile, plains of central Argentina and to finish it off the Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. About 10.000 kilometres more. And timing isn’t really on my side. From about November up to March there is a rainy season in Peru and Bolivia. And as I was to later find out in the mountains of central Peru through first-hand experience, this in practice means afternoon storms. They seemed to be an everyday occurrence. Right around 14h everything is cloudy and an occasional thunder can be heard with a lightning brightening up the sky. Above 4.000 metres there is no rain but rather hail, from time to time even snow. Not that pleasant if not outright dangerous. Also because of this Andres and I normally stopped for the day around that time. With ample time to find maybe another roof over our head but surely some shelter from the wind that can be surprisingly cold and does keep on reminding you of any potential hole you might have in your windstopper.
This early calling it a day obviously slows you down. Since I’m no Lance Armstrong this additionally shortens the distance I get to cover daily. Consequently this prolongs my stay in Peru.
This much I did learn in my life that I cannot change the topography of the countryside nor can I do anything about the climate. This left me with no other option but to start looking at other options that would enable me to visit the places that I want to visit and in doing so try to avoid as much of inconveniences in form of rain and cold as I can. The more I have fiddled around with different options available to me, the more I started to realize that my physics teachers were right – it’s physically impossible to be at more than one place at the same time. It simply cannot be done! After being stuck for a while in this seemingly unsolvable puzzle a revolutionary thought passed my brain. What if I change my route and start to calculate to visit Tierra del Fuego next summer in the Southern hemisphere (i.e. December 17 – March 18)?!
Be as it may, in Life you can make plans for the future and worry about what is going to happen and then you meet reality and it forces you to change your plans a bit. And it’s not that bad at all, is it?! After all, it was Forrest Gump who said (well actually it was his mother but let’s not go into too many details): “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you gonna get!”

With a Smile on my face, until next time!
Simon

Just watched it the other day – memories!

 

snowing
Snowing!

 

goodbye_mountains_in_peru
Goodbye mountains in Peru!