Friday, December 12, 2008

An Update from the Cape of Good Hope…

So over the past 2 weeks or so I’ve been really quiet and the main reason for that is that the only internet access I’ve had most of the time has been on the cell/mobile phone I’m borrowing at the moment. But today I’ve stopped at a café to catch up some emails so I’m taking some time to update my (loyal) readers.

So how does it feel to be back in Cape Town now that I’ve had about 10 days to settle in? It still feels a bit strange to be here and the reverse culture shock has been really telling at times. Things that seemed so familiar or that I didn’t even think about previously are now in my face, because in the context of my experiences over the past 3 years they seem so foreign. In addition to that there is this feeling of being detached or disconnected from everyone and everything here. People have jobs, social connections that have changed and other things here in Cape Town that I’m not quite a part of. Even with friends I have known for years there seems to be something missing and I guess that something is the past 3 years or so. Still it’s good to see everyone again and to take stock of where I’m at. As yet I have not made any decisions regarding what comes next but I’m keeping my options open. I’ve been vacillating quite a bit on that issue but I don’t feel too rushed to make a decision at this point. I’ve looked at ticket prices for Taiwan though so that is still an option I guess…

So what do I have planned for the next few weeks? I am attending a good friends wedding and a 50th wedding anniversary celebration the following week (quite a contrast I know). I’m going to be spending Christmas with my god-parents’ family who live in different parts of the world and have not been together in 10 years (they tend to regard me as one of the family). In between I’ll be catching up with more old friends, meeting a few I’ve only known online up to this point and seeing a few of Cape Town’s more famous sights. I’m taking it easy for now and just enjoying the summer weather and the laid back feeling that comes with being in what is arguably the greatest city in the world (I know I’m biased).

Anyway, that’s all from me for now.

So, thanks for reading…

Back in the “Mother City”…

Written on Wednesday, 03 December 2008


As I write this I have been back in South Africa for around 40 hours, not long at all, and I’m still coming to terms with being back. In some ways I feel like Marty McFly in the film Back to the Future 2 where he travels from the future back to his year of 1985 only to find that things have changed drastically because someone messed with time without his or the “Doc’s” knowledge. There are things about Cape Town that obviously haven’t changed but at the same time there are things (and I won’t go into the details at this point) that subconsciously have me wondering if I’m in the right place or at least wondering how on earth things reached this point in the time since I left.

I remember saying on numerous occasions that I know that Cape Town will probably seem more different than it is because of the changes I have experienced over the course of this long(ish) chapter I am concluding – around 2 years 9 months actually. I had lunch with some friends just a few hours ago and it almost felt strange saying the things I was saying while sitting in Cape Town when I can remember thinking about life etc significantly differently the last time I was in Cape Town. So far I have not been bombarded with too many questions and welcomes etc, at least in part because I have stayed in touch with people over the years so people have been informed about my wanderings. On the other hand I am going to be seeing a few more people over the next few days so there’ll be more catching up.

So what are my plans from here on out? I really don’t know, but the changes (a bit of a euphemism) I have become aware of in the past 2 days have caused me to reconsider staying here for a while. That said though I probably don’t have the necessary finances for the next chapter yet in any case so sticking around for a while could help out in that department too. As with any major decisions I know that I want to take my lead from Yahweh (aka “God”) with one of the current challenges being the need to be able to know when to wait and when to act – something I have gotten wrong on numerous occasions. At this point though I feel that it could be a good time to take stock of where I’m at and what I’ve experienced, with Cape Town most likely being the best yardstick to measure that changes and growth etc that have taken place. In any case, watch this space for more…

PS: Thanks for reading…

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still wandering... and wondering...

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last updated my blog so I thought I should let my faithful readers (however few or many there may be) know what’s going on with this nomadic maverick…

I’m still in Buenos Aires at the moment with my 30-Nov date of departure quickly approaching. I’m sort of wrapping things up this week with regards to my 2 jobs and next week I’ll be spending a few days at the Iguazu Falls (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iguazu_Falls). Work has been (mostly) good over the past few weeks and where necessary I have just reminded myself of the few days I have left. I know that I would have taken a more proactive approach to some things if I knew I was going to be sticking around, but I know it’s soon time to move on…

One of the negative sides of living in a hostel is being constantly surrounded by lots of people, while one of the benefits of living is being constantly surrounded by lots of people (from all over the world). It’s become the norm here at the hostel to sit around the table with a dozen people and for there to be people from at least 4 countries, on 2 or 3 continents, speaking at least 3 or 4 languages between them. I guess it’s really easy to take this kind of thing for granted but I think it’s one of the best aspects of spending the last (nearly) 3 years in England and South America. While as an English speaker it’s almost second nature for many or most people you come into contact with to have some level of English I have found myself in a situation at times where I (South African) find myself speaking to a traveler (perhaps from Germany) in Spanish. I love it!!!

Anyway, I didn’t have anything planned for this blog other than to say (or write) the first thing that came to mind about the past few weeks. So there you have it – the continuing (mis)adventures of this nomadic maverick, this wandering wonderer…

Thanks for reading and, if you’re in Cape Town, I look forward to catching up with you soon…

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Origin of the Species…

It’s Sunday morning and I get up to work the breakfast shift like I’m supposed to do on the weekends. And this morning I found evidence of mankind’s possible Neanderthal origins (I actually believe in creation, but that’s a discussion for another time).

There’s a group of travellers here from another part of Argentina and they got up earlier than usual to have breakfast. By the time I got down to the restaurant there were a number of table in a freaking mess. There were pieces of bread and crumbs all over the place; coffee and juice had been spilled and there was generally just a mess. I sort of wondered if anyone had even eaten anything with all the bread and ham etc lying on the tables, not to mention that with the mess I found I half expected there to be some kind of hand-paintings decorating the walls of their cave (or in this case the hostel). Anyway, that’s one of the joys of this kind of work I guess… Life goes on and I’m counting the days until I get out of here…

I guess like the penguins in the film ‘Madagascar’ I’m just going to smile and wave – or something like that…

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Destination Cape Town…

Less than an hour ago I was chatting to a friend in Cape Town while looking at tickets for my proposed trip to back to the ‘Mother City’, as it is known. I was kind of nervous about the prospect of buying a ticket for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the mere cost of the ticket. That said though I believe this is the right time to head back, even if just for a short while. So in any case, I bought the ticket so I will be arriving in Cape Town on 1 December.

As I wrote that sentence there was a flurry of thoughts running through my mind. As I said in my previous post I have been thinking about a number of things regarding this trip, but I guess now that I have made the decision to go I can stop thinking about it and just wait for it to happen. Decisions are funny that way, I think. We fret about them before hand but then once they are made we shift into a different frame of mind where it’s the ‘when’ and ‘how ‘as opposed to the ‘if’ questions that come to mind. Then again, there’s also the fact that once the decision has been there is nothing else to do about it other than prepare for it to happen. I think I’m rambling but there it is – I have a ticket and I’m going.

Now that I have made that decision I can fully focus on making the most of my last few weeks in South America. It’s been a crazy adventure and I don’t regret it. Wait a minute; that almost sounds like it’s all over already – it’s not. Watch this space for more on Buenos Aires over the next few weeks…

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Moving Forward to ‘Begin’…

So although I don’t yet have a ticket and the exact dates of my trip to South Africa are not confirmed I have been thinking about this trip quite a bit lately. I have a strange feeling in that I don’t feel as though I’m going back to South Africa, after all much has changed and my travels have changed me so it will be of a (re)discovery process, yet at the same time I know there are things that were left unfinished in South Africa that may need to be dealt with this time around.

One of the thoughts going through my mind at the moment is whether this trip is really just going to be the short stopover I believe it’s going to be or perhaps something else altogether – recent revelations about things happening in my family has been a catalyst for this line of though. Another train of thought involves my mother who passed away in 2004. You see, while I dealt with so much of that grieving process in South Africa before I left there is also the fact that since her passing I have spent most of my time outside of South Africa, away from the places or other things that would remind me of her. Will this be much of an issue? I don’t think so, but who knows… Coming back to the (re)discovery though, this is going to be the most interesting. I know things have changed in Cape Town and the rest of South Africa – World Cup stadiums are going up, my old college has been relocated, friends have had babies I have never seen, to name just a few. Apart from these things there is the fact that I have changed over the course of the past couple of years. Undoubtedly, the experiences I have had, the challenges I have faced and the things I have seen have all left their mark on me, but without a benchmark of some kind to measure the change I have no idea to what degree this has happened. Cape Town will be that benchmark.

But, I’m not dwelling on all these issues at the moment. I’m am also excited about seeing friends, visiting familiar places, meeting new friends and catching up on things that have happened in my absence. I’m sure that I’ll be telling my story a few times too. So I guess if life were a Monopoly board game you might say I’m passing ‘begin’ again, because I don’t see this as going back. And who knows, the next chapter may just involve passing by some familiar places or landing on some new ones along the way.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marked for Life…

Have you ever thought of doing something for years and constantly find real or imagined reasons for not doing it? Well, I’ve had one idea in my mind for the past 5 years of so and had numerous reasons for not following through with the plan – a tattoo. Back in 2003 (actually it may have been before that) I came up with an idea for a tattoo I’d like to have one day, but since I’m not much of an artist I needed someone to translate my idea into reality. I shopped around for prices from time to time but was more committed to the idea of the idea than to acting on the idea. My main reasons over the years were a lack of money and not having a design I was happy with. That’s not the case anymore.

While working in London last year I met a jewellery designer (and for tattoo artist) who agreed to work on a design for me based on the idea I discussed with him – a worn and cracked wooden cross with a crown of thorns hanging around it. This was the same concept I came up with years back. On my last day at that company, back in August 2007, he gave me a drawing and when I saw it I knew that was it. But, alas I was due to leave in about a week London and did not have the time to find a tattoo artist, not to mention the fact that having a design I liked was a bit too real. So I carried this design with me in my bag for the past 14 months here in South America, talking about it at times when tattoos came up in conversation. But acting on it was too real. That too has changed.

I had my tattoo done yesterday, 16 October 2008, here in Buenos Aires. And, like other major decisions I have made at times I simply got to a point where I had thought about it so much that there was nothing left but do it. So I went to a studio I had visited a week ago and simply had it done. It was more painful than I thought it would be – then again why wouldn’t a needle been stuck in my arm who knows however many times a second hurt? I’m really happy with the result, although I’m now in the careful maintenance phase that is going to last about 2 weeks at least – so that’s only slightly uncomfortable. From what I have implied so far in this entry I have also seen this experience as a metaphor for inaction in other areas of my life. Yes, I know there are going to be times when things might go wrong but not everything can be controlled even God himself leaves things that matter to him in our occasionally out-of-control, somewhat angst-ridden and not-always-trustworthy hands. Am I advocating going tattoo-crazy? Not at all… I’m simply telling the story I’m living…

Saturday, October 11, 2008

When to Stand, When to Walk Away…

This is a thought going through my mind at the moment. When is it worthwhile and/or the best choice to stand up and challenge something (perhaps even get ready for a fight) and when it’s simply not worth the effort and just learn to live with things as they are? For me, this is the kind of question that has plagued me regularly over most of the past decade or so and recently it has come to the fore once again – but for now I’m not going to go into the details or the context.

So is there a simple answer to this conundrum? More often than not I’d say no there isn’t. There’s a saying I heard somewhere along the line that suggests that sometimes the only thing you can change in a situation is you, even it’s just your attitude to the situation. I guess that could be the kind of situation I find myself in, but sometimes I struggle to just leave things alone. If I see something I don’t agree with I want to know, understand, question and where necessary uncover. But perhaps that’s not the best approach here…

Then again, perhaps I’m just looking for a reason not to make the effort… That’s definitely another way of looking at it… Anyway, I’ll leave it at that for now… I’d like to hear your thoughts…

Friday, October 10, 2008

Adventures & questions…

I just finished reading ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho and by admitting that I have evoked some strong reactions – some positive and others negative. But, I’m not going to be writing about the book, but merely using it as a launch pad. The book is about a shepherd named Santiago who goes on a long journey from Spain to the pyramids in Egypt to find a treasure he dreamed about while sleeping in an old, abandoned and roofless church. After going on a long and arduous journey to the pyramids he eventually finds the treasure buried under a tree in that same church where he first had the dream…

So what’s my point? I’ve been asked numerous times when I’m going to return to Cape Town and my usual response is that I don’t know if or when that will happen. Some friends have correctly pointed out that when I first left South Africa back in 2006 escape or running away was definitely a major factor, although I had long held desire to see the world. Because I’ve been away from those who knew me in Cape Town for such a long time they have not seen the changes that have taken place – one of them being a change from running away to decisive exploration, adventure, learning and growth. This is understandable.

Coming back to the (former) shepherd named Santiago, I realise that like him I may already have found a place to call home or where my dreams will be fulfilled. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop the journey any time soon. Even if, like Santiago, I find myself back at a place where I have been at some point in the past I know that, like him, I will not be the same person when/if that happens. That said I’m focusing on adventures and questions at the moment, rather than destinations and answers. The latter destinations and answers will come but as I have learned questions (and I’d say adventures too) are more likely to encourage and catalyse growth, learning and development.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Where do I go from here?

I’ve been in South America for about 13 months now and I’ve had a real rollercoaster ride of a time – so I guess by most standards it’s been a normal year. That said though some of my circumstances combined with the locations (not to mention he 3rd language thing) have made it an interesting and eventful year. Additionally I have felt for a while now that the time was coming when I would be leaving this beautiful, exotic and passionate continent. That said I have had a number of ideas running through my mind and some of them have been posted on this page – the most frequently mentioned one being new Zealand.

Something changed in the past few weeks and it has had an interesting impact on the way I’m seeing the road forward from here. I’ve come to realise how much I have been looking over my shoulder over the course of this adventure I’ve been on and how that has meant that there were time that perhaps I didn’t realise how great my opportunities I was experiencing really were, as well as that there is so much more that is possible. I came to realise that at least in part my interest in New Zealand was because there I could find or make a comfortable living for myself, but also that it would be (seemingly) safer and more secure. When I realised this I also realised that I want more of the adventure and that with all I have been through and seen I don’t want this journey to end with some mono-cultural and suburban existence right now. I don’t mean to knock that kind of existence, after all that’s where I guess I could find myself at some point, but I guess I’m realising that my passion to know and see the world is not going to be satisfied by the Discovery Channel and/or a DVD Box-set from National Geographic.

So what does this mean? And where does my (essential &central) faith issues fit into all this? Well I’ve come to realise how afraid I was at times of messing things up, going down the “wrong road”, of disappointing my heavenly Father. And all it took was remembering that he promised to have my back and that this journey was also about my choice along the way. So I’m planning on going to Taiwan to teach English. I don’t have a job guaranteed just yet, but I’m putting the plan into action. I’m hoping to start 2009 in Taiwan, although at this point I still need to confirm what I’m going to do with the time between now and then (watch this space for more info)…

That’s all from me for now… I’m going to log off now. I’m going to a drum show tonight and hope to find some tango lessons later this week… Life goes on and I’m going to get going with it I guess…

PS: OK, so the tango lessons are going to be a bit too ridiculously expensive but life goes on...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Where are you from?

Where are you from, originally? South Africa.
And you parents? South Africa.
What about your grandparents? South Africa.

This is an all-too-familiar conversation for me these days, although sometimes it happens in Spanish. Something I realised a long time ago is that something about my appearance causes confusion when people are trying to figure out where I’m from. Added to that is the fact that many people don’t realise that we have had centuries of cultural diversity in South Africa. Consequently, there are many people especially ‘coloured’ people (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coloured) in South Africa who don’t have a detailed understanding of their racial heritage.

I’ve also come to realise more and more how we tend to make guesses and/or assumptions based on what we know or have been exposed to. When I lived in England some people thought I had some Indian heritage. Here in South America though the usual guesses about my roots (after assuming that I’m from where they meet me) are usually that I’m from Colombia, Peru or Brazil – in no particular order. I’ve even been told that sometimes I sound as though I’m speaking Spanish with a bit of a Peruvian or Colombian accent – the Peruvian accent makes sense since that’s where I learned the language and where I quite a bit of time.

This conversation often results in a number of questions about how I ended up in South America, what I’m doing here, where I learned to speak Spanish and where I think I’m going next – this is one conversation where I’m really adept at getting things across in Spanish. While the confusion about my appearance is understandable I think many people mostly know about the indigenous people in South Africa and the (on average) wealthier descendants of European settlers, who are the South Africans they are most likely to meet travelling throughout the world. These conversations have been a bit of a catalyst recently as at times I have been thinking about issues relating to culture, race and identity – something that recently has been a burgeoning issue among coloured South Africans. I don’t have any answers or conclusions just yet, but the international, multi-cultural and diverse interaction I have had on this journey (in a few different languages) has definitely been an eye-opening experience and one I hope to continue beyond the shores of South America.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nomadic artisans and artists…

Over the course of the past year I have managed to visit parts of 4 different countries in South America – more than most, less than many. There have been many highlights, numerous differences between the countries, but also a few similarities – the most obvious one being the language. But there is a group of people, far from homogenous, who in some way seem to show up in numerous location around the continent. I’m talking about the (occasionally nomadic) artisans who can be seen in markets in different cities and countries around the continent.

In every town and city I have visited over the past year I have visited markets selling everything from miniature replicas of Inca monuments to clothing items and scores of costume jewellery items. While this in and of itself is not all that fascinating, after all one can find craft markets around the world, what I persona found interesting is the number of people who make a living this way and travel around the continent depending on where all the tourists are or where they may find new opportunities. Some of them, like some of the guys I met in Cusco, are also musicians, artists and acrobats with carrying degrees of skill. Many of them move within their own their own country, such as people from around Peru converging on Cusco where the masses of tourists are. But, there are also some of them who move from country to country; as a result I have met Brazilians artisans plying their trade in Buenos Aires and Argentineans in Copacabana (Bolivia).

Some of these artisans are even further from home. During my time in Cusco I came across a few European travellers (at least that’s what they were initially) who got into making and selling crafts because they decided not to return to their home countries – I guess there’s something about this continent that results in many not wanting to return to the lives they left behind. More often than not the nomadic artisans are in the 20s, maybe early 30s, and they live and travel light. It would be easy for many to assume that for some they don’t have any other options so they are making the most of what they have, but this is not always the case. Some of them have families living in the towns they are from and some have more mainstream employable skills, but they choose this life at least for a time and they get to see more of the world. It’s a different life to what many of us may imagine for ourselves, but one that seems to work for them…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another year comes and goes…

My birthday has come and (as I write this) just about gone. I’ve just celebrated my 29th birthday and once again my celebrations have taken place away from my home country South Africa. This is the third time that I’ve spent a birthday on this journey and each on has been different so far, with various things – the setting, the people I have around me at the time, whatever I’m going through etc – affecting if and how I celebrate.

I had a different kind of birthday weekend here in Buenos Aires (BsAs), but I’ve enjoyed it. As usual I worked at the restaurant on Friday night, although it was a really quiet evening for some reason. On Saturday I watched a film and had some lunch on my own (just enjoying some space on my own). I worked on Saturday night too – it was Taco’s Night at the hostel – and it was a good evening hanging out with a few of the people staying here at the hostel. That evening I was invited to a house-party with some friends I met here in BsAs – in fact it was a party for someone else also celebrating their birthday on the 21st. I only ended up getting back to my friends’ apartment about 06:30 the next morning, but I had a good time meeting a few locals.

My birthday coincides with a major holiday here (‘Spring Day’ and ‘Students Day’) so the masses were out enjoying the somewhat pleasant weather – I only caught the end of it when I went out for dinner with a few friends. In the end of was a good weekend and I guess a bit better than I thought it would. I sort of can’t believe that this is my last birthday of my 20s and like with other major evenings it had me thinking about where I’ve been and where I’m heading. But, these are things that I will wrestle with when the time calls for… So watch this space…

Friday, September 19, 2008

Hostel (occasionally ‘hostile’) living…

As I’ve said previously, I’m living in a hostel at the moment in Buenos Aires and it is without a doubt a different kind of lifestyle. I’ve kind of spoken a bit about what it’s like but there are a few other things I thought I’d add…


Firstly, the people I meet here are really interesting – although at times some are bizarre to the point of concern. I have met people from all over the world while living here (and on my journey so far) – Swedish, German, Swiss, Italian, Brazilian, Uruguayan, US Americans, South Korean to mention a few. The majority of them are taking time off after graduating from university to see a bit of the world while some others are just taking a short (or occasionally slightly longer) holiday. I’ve also met a few people who have left jobs; sold apartments/cars/businesses and just left there lives (for a while) to see the world – with a few of them in search of a new place to settle (like 2 British guys I met recently). Occasionally there are some strange people I’d prefer to avoid and fortunately not too often (only twice on my trip so far) someone who freaks out the people around him with strange and almost abusive behaviour. But, what can you do?


The other thing that really stands out for me is my living in a place where most people are passing through. Most people stay for a week or less while I’ve already been here for about 8 weeks now – so it feels strange being an semi-permanent ‘fixture’ in such a rapidly and constantly changing place. On the positive side this means I meet loads of people, but on the downside there is the fact that if I meet someone interesting they’ll be gone in a few days. But this is how things are for now and when taking all the good and the not-so-good into account it’s still an interesting and (mostly) positive place to be at the moment.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lost in a Painting...

Two yachts at dusk… sailing down a wide slow-moving river… no need to be anywhere anytime soon… just going where the winds and the river takes them…

After the cold, wet and windy weather over the past week or so the sun made an appearance today. So, I decided to head out to a part of town I didn’t know that well and make the most of the good weather that according to the weather men is not going to last. So I got onto the Subte (the underground train) and headed out to Palermo an area of Buenos Aires known for its boutique shops, bars, nightclubs, coffee shops and parks.

I walked from the Subte station toward one park where I was told there would be a market and sat in the sun for a while reading one of the books I’m busy with at the moment. I then walked to another plaza where I found another market and browsed for a while before stopping off at a nearby botanical garden for a while. On the way I passed someone selling paintings and there was one that caught my attention – two sail boats sailing into the distance. The colours – deep oranges, browns and reds – caught my attention but I then found myself what it would be like to be on one of those yachts. I thought about the idea of being away from the noise of the city; living according to a rhythm of the elements like the sun, the wind and the river’s flow; the escape. It was good to stand there for a while and just imagined the possible scene… But then I snapped out of my trance and carried on with my day… I guess it would be good, but for now it’s just a daydream. Not a bad dream though...

So that was my Saturday afternoon. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mate, alfajores and dulce de leche…

One of the interesting aspects of encountering a new place, person and/or culture is the food they enjoy – and that you may have to endure. Over the course of the past year that I have spent here in South America there have been a number of things I have come across that I have not tried for various reasons (i.e. raw fish/seafood marinated in lime juice in Peru called ‘ceviche’) and others that I have tried (i.e. Peruvian still stuffed potatoes or ‘papa rellena’). Here in Argentina it has not bee as extreme though, but I though I’d mention a few things I have encountered.

Firstly, let me say that I chose to suffer the turmoil of eating tonnes of red meat and trying out the local red wine from time to time. Seriously though, the steaks and wine are a treat wherever you go in Buenos Aires and being from South Africa I didn’t need to be asked twice to try it out. But, then there is mate, pronounced ‘maa-teh’. This bitter herb drink (see Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mate_(beverage) for more info) is enjoyed by many people in Argentina as well as southern Chile. It’s customary to share this with people around you so in a sense it’s not just a beverage but a social interaction too. This social aspect is something that I really like, but I have not been able to stomach the (in my opinion) horribly bitter drink. I guess I’ll stick to coffee for now…

But it’s not all meat, wine and mate in Argentina. In fact, ‘porteños’ (a name meaning ‘people of the port’ used to refer to residents of Buenos Aires) have a real sweet tooth too. Firstly, there is the ever-popular ‘dulce de leche’ (literally meaning “milk sweet/candy”) – see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dulce_de_leche. It’s something like caramel and is eaten on bread and other pastries (often for breakfast or with coffee), not to mention that it’s one of the most common fillings for the ‘alfajor’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfajor). The alfajor is a treat consisting of two biscuits with something sweet in the middle and is found in a number of countries across the continent in slightly different forms in each country. In fact they are so popular that even some biscuit companies (such as the larger-triple-decker-chocolate-covered-Oreo-alfjor) have their own take on them. These are some of the gastronomical highlights I’ve experienced in Argentina over the past few months and from time to time something else comes along, so I guess there could be something more to write about at some point.

¡Hasta luego!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Week in my Life…

So I guess the dust has settled for now and this Buenos Aires chapter appears to have some routine, or at least a rhythm at the moment. So what do my weeks look like at the moment?

I’m teaching a few hours of English lessons each week to some locals and some of the classes start as early as 8am – that’s really early for me considering my routine over the past year or so – but some of the classes are later in the day. This is the first time that I’m taught English and I think it’s taking me a while to get into it. I’m teaching business English to people in the workplace which I would guess is something considerably different. This will bring in a bit of cash and keep me going for now.
Some of time, about 20 hours a week, is taken up by waiting on tables and working behind the bar at a restaurant in a hostel. I don’t get paid but instead get free accommodation in one of the dorm rooms and get to eat in the restaurant on some days – and then there are the occasional tips. Friday nights are kind of crazy at times with the barbecue and the live band, not to mention the ‘happy hour’ drinks specials. I’ve always avoided anything to do with the service industries so I’ve been surprised at the fact that I’ve enjoyed this work more than the teaching so far. I guess that could be a good sign considering the fact that I still entertain the idea of some day running and owning a coffee shop of my own.

So that’s the gist of my life in Buenos Aires at the moment without any real ideas of where things are heading. Lately I’ve missed a wedding and also realised how many other things I have missed while being on this journey at times. There are also times where I think about staying in one place for a while and building something more stable – this is especially true when I think of the fact that I’ll be 29 later this month and I don’t seem to have any idea as to where my life is heading. That said though I know that at least to some degree I’m not living in such a way that I’m preparing to die comfortably, as well as that this adventure has been and still is a life-changing experience.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

South America – one year later…

There’s a well-known aphorism that suggests that ‘you don't know where you're going until you know where you've been’ and I have a tendency to use date markers to look back at where I was at a specific time of year 1 or more years back. A year ago, give or take a few hours, I walked out of the apartment in West Ham, London where I was staying with some friends with everything I was bringing with me to South America (2 bags). I remember sitting on the Tube not able to comprehend exactly what I was about to do, but that I was doing it anyway. It was a bit of a surreal feeling knowing that in less than 36 hours I was going to be on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in a country where I don’t speak the language and where I have no (or very little) idea regarding what I was going to do. Since then I’ve seen about 15 towns/cities in 4 countries and managed to learn another language in the process – see the entry called ‘The journey so far (a summary)…’ for more details. I’ve met many people who have seen more places, but my journey has been mostly unplanned.

More significant than the geographical journey I’ve been on – but perhaps not quite as obvious – is the metaphorical ‘journey’ I’ve been on and everything I have learned along the way. I have mentioned some of this in previous entries, but there is simply way too much to put it in this blog. I guess I’m just thinking about the fact that on 20 August 2007 I wouldn’t have predicted most of what has happened over the past year and chances are there’s quite a bit I wouldn’t have chosen in advance if I had the option. But that’s life, isn’t it? No I’m not going to get overly-philosophical, I’m just reflecting on the nation that this realisation is not limited to unplanned wonderings on a foreign continent but they are instead a part of life. I guess I have just had the opportunity to learn these lessons in a different (and perhaps more extreme) setting.

Anyway, that’s all from me for now… The journey (geographical and metaphorical) continues…

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Life on the Rio de la Plata...

So I’m settling into some kind of routine (albeit only for the next while) here in Buenos Aires at the moment – Argentina’s capital situated on the Rio Plata or Silver River. Quite honestly, the routine I’m talking about is nothing like anything I expected to be living at this point, but it is turning out to be a good experience so far.

So what am I doing? I’m living and working in a hostel in the San Telmo area of Buenos Aires. The agreement that I have is that I work in the hostel’s restaurant for a certain number of hours per week and in exchange I get to live here for free. San Telmo is a popular part of the city due to its historical charm, although there are a few buildings that almost border on old and ugly. But, the combination of the cafes, hostels, weekend market and the cultural importance to the city means that it remains popular with the young and the old, the locals and the tourists. In addition to this arrangement I am also teaching English – something I have not done before. I am teaching in 2 companies at the moment where some of the people in middle management are trying to develop their English due to their international dealings. Both of these jobs are brand new experiences and I’m starting to enjoy what they both have to offer.

Other than that I’m not doing much these days. I spend time blogging and chatting to friends online, as well as trying not to spend any money (something I don’t have much of these days). As I believe I mentioned in an earlier entry I’m still thinking of going to New Zealand although it seems it’s going to take some time to arrange a few things. In any case, that is my routine for now and although as recently as 2 weeks ago I was ready to throw in the towel I’m going to stick it out to see how things develop.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Simply BUSTED!

I just witnessed an interesting sequence of events unfold in front of my eyes as I sat here at the hostel minding my own business and it’s not something you see everyday. Since coming to Buenos Aires I have met at least 6 travellers (that I know of) who have had their pockets picked, bags stolen or something similar. Cameras, passports, cash, wallets and other things have been lost so what I just witnessed was a bit of a change.

I’m sitting in the bar-restaurant on the ground floor of the hostel where I am staying at the moment and I just witnessed a foiled-robbery attempt and subsequent arrest. While sitting here there was a bit of a commotion and I saw one of the staff point at two people before running out the front door only to return with a police officer who was patrolling this street. A young couple were then questioned and searched (their persons as well as the bags they were carrying). I figured that someone thought they didn’t belong here and that they looked suspicious, but for some reason I thought it may have been a misunderstanding or something. In the end the story was revealed that they somehow walked into the hostel, went into a room where someone was relaxing (this person assumed that the couple were also staying in the dorm room) and walked out with 2 backpacks of clothes and other belongings.

To be honest I wasn’t paying that much attention at times (I know that I get lost in my own world at times), but soon after that a few more officers turned up handcuffed them and shuffled them into a couple of cars outside. I guess it was a bit of a surreal experience to se all this unfolding just a few meters away from me and even now I have some mixed feelings. Don’t misunderstand, I think crime sucks and I have had things stolen from me. But, while I’m not excusing crime there’s a part of me that looks at the world around me and I can’t ignore the poverty-causing (and other) factors that encourage crime. But that’s a topic for another time…

Floating on a Breeze...

“I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”


This line from the film “Forrest Gump” combined with the image of the feather floating on a breeze at the end of the film was on my mind earlier today. I was reflecting on my current situation, as I have been doing quite a bit lately, and I came to realise how seemingly random life can be at times.


Sometimes this thought rises to the surface when I take a closer look at where I am at the moment, but in actual fact this kind of realisation has happened to me time and time again since leaving South Africa. When sitting in a coffee shop near Piccadilly Circus or just walking down the road here in Buenos Aires I would sometimes realise how far removed I am from just about everything that has been familiar to me. This can be an exciting sensation but it can also be daunting, especially when the “breeze” seems to be blowing a bit stronger than it usually does.


On a few occasions in this blog I have made mention of some the reasons for my leaving South Africa and how this journey has been directed by my relationship with Yahweh (that’s one of God’s names in the bible). So I would have to say that in a way I agree with Forrest in that life sometimes feels really random like I’m floating on the wind, yet my faith tells me that the wind is more Yahweh’s breath and he is the one blowing me along. There are days where this seems an obvious and simple idea and there are times when it’s a bit more difficult to hold onto the idea that he is the source of the breeze. I would say that this is one of those times at the moment, where seeing beyond the apparent randomness of the breeze is easier said than done. But, that’s life. Isn’t it?

Friday, August 1, 2008

The journey so far (summary)...

A few people I have spoken to at times were unsure as to where I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done and related issues. So I thought I’d give you a quick summary of the places I’ve been since leaving home, as well as some highlights…

England (March 2006 to August 2007):
I spent most of my time in London where I lived and worked. I visited the south coast including the Isle of Wight and spent some time with a South African friend in Liverpool. I visited a few other smaller places, but not as many as I could have.

Peru (August 2007 to April 2008):
I spent most of my time in Cusco where I learned Spanish and worked in a travellers club. I also managed to see the capital Lima, Arequipa, Puno on Lake Titicaca and the highlights of the Sacred Valley of the Incas.

Bolivia (November 2007):
While I was based in Cusco I took a short trip (partially work-related) to Bolivia. I didn’t have too much time, but I managed to see Copacabana (not the one in the Barry Manilow song), the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca, and (one of the capitals) La Paz.

Chile (April to June 20008):
I travelled to Santiago and stopped off in Arica, on the north coast, en route. I spent all my time in the capital, although I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the country (including the coast) but that’s how things turned out.

Argentina (June 2008 to present):
So far I have spent most of my time in the federal capital, Buenos Aires. I spent a few days in Rosario and if possible I may see a bit more of the country before I depart (whenever that may be).

Anyway, so that’s a summarised version of the trip so far. At the moment I’ve been away from South Africa for around 2 years 5 months and it seems there’s a chance I may not be back (even for a visit) any time soon. But who knows where I may end up next… Watch this space for more…

Just want to escape…

So I’ve been rethinking this whole “homesick” thing that I mentioned in my last entry and it could be that what I interpreted as feeling homesick could be something altogether. I’m sure I’m not the only one, but sometimes when thing don’t go as I had hoped or planned sometimes all I want to do is “get away”. Whether that means getting out of town for a bit or just getting away from the day-to-day routine, sometimes an escape (even if just temporary) is what we want. This isn’t always possible, but I think sometimes it’s what we crave.

So what does this have to do with the feeling of being “homesick” that I mentioned? Well, things have not turned out as I had hoped or planned here in Buenos Aires (actually in South America at times) so on and off for a while now I have felt the desire to get off this continent. Due to various factors (especially financial ones) I don’t have (m)any options in terms of where I can go from here, so the idea of returning to South Africa seemed quite appealing at times. Realistically though it’s the idea of South Africa and the idea of getting away from “here” where things haven’t turned out as I had hoped that is appealing. But I know that if I go “there” (wherever it may be), once I arrive there it becomes my “here”. I hope you followed that.

So in the end there is at least a part of me that is glad I gave Buenos Aires another shot and that my circumstances turned around a bit. I’m not doing what I thought I’d be doing or what (I thought) I wanted but I’m still standing. Virtually all the students didn’t turn up for the first English lesson I as supposed to teach (a scheduling mix-up) and my first night working at this hostel was a quite one so I’ve had a chance to ease my way into both jobs. Anyway, that’s all from me for now… I’m going to hit the sack soon…

Monday, July 28, 2008

A Bit of a Confession...

Something I didn't mention in the earlier entry is that I have been feeling a bit homesick lately. I guess this feeling has come and gone at times, but with the craziness of the past few weeks it kind of intensified somewhat. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised after all I've been away from South Africa for nearly two-and-a-half years (I left on 9 March 2006).

Realistically though I know that I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I found myself in Cape Town. I think I'd enjoy the familiar surroundings - the sights, the sounds, the smells and other things - for about a weekend and then I'd probably start thinking of where else I could be. As I said on in my entry on 3 June this year Cape Town will always be my home in the sense that it's my point of origin, I just don't know my destination (
geographically speaking) at this point in time...

The Dust Seems to be Settling…

So the craziness of my life continued in the weeks following my last entry. I occasionally wrestled with the idea of going back to South Africa, while trying to figure out how and/or if I could get to New Zealand (NZ). In short, it seems that some paperwork I will need for any move to NZ is going to take longer than expected leaving me unsure about where to spend the intervening time – no, I have not given up on the idea of going to NZ yet. So what am I going to be doing? I’m won’t be returning to South Africa nor will I be heading to NZ to ‘veg’ even more – I’m kind of tired of not being productive. Instead I’m going to be staying in Buenos Aires for the next few months, possibly until the end of the year.

After realising the amount of time I was going to need to get some paperwork from Home Affairs in SA, not to mention the likelihood of finding interesting and lucrative employment in a short space of time in SA I decided I’d give this city one last shot. So I’ve landed a job at the restaurant/bar in a hostel where my remuneration will be in the form of free or nearly-free accommodation. In addition to that I’m going to be teaching English to business managers/execs. I’ve never taught English before, but the co-ordinator at the company that teaches English was eager to get a native-speaker on board (it is funny how I never thought of my language as a commodity).

I don’t see either of these jobs as new careers but doing this is the means to an end for now – the end being living, surviving. In the back of my mind (not that far back though) I still have the idea to visit South Africa at some point – perhaps in December when there seems to be a number of significant events happening with my nearest and dearest – but those plans will have to be put on hold for now as I see how things develop.

Oh, for those who have not seen any of my pictures of Buenos Aires I’ve included links to two of my online photo albums:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=56491&l=eaa58&id=513421322

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=54016&l=54a26&id=513421322

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Crazy times…

The past week has been one of the crazies bumpy rollercoaster ride weeks in my recent memory, if not in my life. Also, my faith and determination have also been pushed beyond what I thought my limits were.

I’m still in Buenos Aires at the moment, it’s been a month already, and last week I came really close to throwing in the towel on this whole quest/journey/adventure (whatever you want to call it) as well as on a few other things too. I don’t have enough time to get into all the details of last week’s events (you’ll have to wait for my book) but basically I felt at the end of my rope in a number of ways, especially financially, and so the only thing keeping me here at the moment is knowing that Yahweh (AKA: the God of the bible) keeps His word. He has used different means and/or people at times to keep His word and to come through so at the moment I’m anticipating (albeit hesitantly at times) what He has up His sleeve at the moment.

But what is this all about? What’s going on? For a number of months now New Zealand has been on my mind and I believe that Yahweh has that on his agenda for me – I believe it’ll be the next stop or at least in the near future. At this point I have no idea how I’m going to get there but I do have somewhere to stay once I get there and I’m getting some necessary paperwork sorted out in the mean time. I can’t say anything more than that at the moment since I don’t know what the conclusion or lesson from this chapter is going to be. all I can do for now is take it as it comes one day at a time.

PS: Watch this space for more developments etc…

Saturday, June 28, 2008

“Che”, riverside walks and beautiful women…

So earlier this week I spent 2 nights in a town called Rosario – it’s about 4 hours by bus form Buenos Aires. It’s smaller than Buenos Aires with a total population of over 1 million people. It’s a modern city that’s sort of busy in places, yet at the same time it has a relaxed feeling (something I think may be helped along by the slow yet steady flow of the nearby Paraná River). Although it’s a modern city some of the architecture around town suggests that someone regarded preserving the architectural heritage as important. While I’m not exactly sure why there was something about the town that made me think of Stellenbosch – a university town situated about 50km from Cape Town.

There are a few things that caught my attention about Rosario. The people appear to have a good sense of style and love good clothes and apparel. Fitness and good living also seems to be a priority for a number of residents in Rosario. There are fitness clubs on many streets around town and many people seem to run, walk and cycle along the river. The walkway, apartment blocks and gardens along the river remind me of a suburb on the Atlantic seaboard in Cape Town.

One of Rosario’s main claims to fame is that Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara was born there 80 years ago this month. As a result there were celebrations this past month in recognition of what would have been his 80th birthday, had he not been executed in Bolivia in 1967. His image can be seen all over town and there were a number of exhibitions etc relating to the celebrations this month.

Last but not least, I was told that Argentinean women are distractingly beautiful and if you ask me many of them live in Rosario. I was only their for 2 nights, but I’m glad I went. At the moment, I’m back in Buenos Aires and I’m going to see how things develop. I guess I’ll let you know if something else is happening…

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Music, kisses and strange sounding words…

Coming to a place like Buenos Aires I knew I was bound to encounter more than a few things that were unfamiliar to me, or perhaps familiar things with a strange twist. As I’ve already said in a previous entry the sound of the tango is something you get used to hearing when walking around this town. The music is played in cafés where dancers show how the dance is performed, as well as in music stores on busy streets with shops of every kind. But I’ve also encountered another kind of music while I’ve been over here – a music that is not specifically South American in it’s origin but it’s enjoyed by locals and tourists alike. I went to a show last week where a band of drummers and percussionists called “La Bomba de Tiempo” took to the stage in a musical performance that was quite unique and perhaps something like I may have expected in some part of Africa.

Something else that stands out is some of the customs I have encountered, especially when it comes to greeting. Now I’m used to shaking someone’s hand when meeting them, but in South America I have gotten used to kissing women on the cheek and vice versa even when I meet them for the first time. Well, here in Buenos Aires it’s the norm to do so with men too. At first this surprised me, but it was something that I was not apart of but when I met with some friends of a friend over the weekend it seemed that was the normal way of greeting. It was a bit weird at first, but I guess it’s one of those things where you just need to step out of a comfort zone and do as the locals do.

One more thing that has been difficult at times, although t doesn’t impact my comfort zone in any way, is the way Spanish is spoken here in Buenos Aires. Imagine this for a second. Imagine that you visited an English-speaking country where for some reason every time the letter “y” is used as a consonant – such as in the words “yesterday” or ”yellow” – they pronounce it as a “sh” sound. Then, those words would become “shesterday” and ”shellow”. Well that’s what I’ve had to deal with here in Buenos Aires – I think it would be hard enough with my first language so with Spanish being my third (that I only learnt less than a year ago) it’s really challenging at times. And let’s not forget that they speak much faster here than in Peru where I learnt to speak Spanish. All in all, in spite of all these differences I’m experiencing I seeing each day how true it is that “people are people” wherever you go… More on that another time…

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The (so-called) Paris of Latin America…

Before arriving in Argentina I was aware that Buenos Aires has for a while been referred to as the “Paris of Latin America“ and I think that this description is at least one of the reasons that I wanted to get to know this city.

Buenos Aires has an interesting combination of old neighbourhoods, high rise office buildings, numerous parks scattered throughout the city and some of the best architecture I’ve seen in South America so far. There are also countless monuments and parks commemorating events of the past; cafés and eateries of different kinds; as well as markets on the weekends that occasionally include musicians busking and people who perform the tango in the street. The city has a rich cultural heritage and one of the places that this is evident is in the cemetery I mentioned in my last entry. Among the influential members of this society laid to rest a number of them had Dutch, German and Italian surnames as well as a few from Eastern Europe.

So those are some of my thoughts on this riverside town. I’m hoping to see another side of it at some point – I plan on going into one of the suburbs and getting out of the city centre. So maybe then I’ll have another perspective, a different one to share.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The tango, “Evita” and hopefully some good steak …

Yes, I’m in Argentina at the moment. I arrived in Buenos Aires on Saturday after a long bus ride from Santiago de Chile – a journey that was made even longer by local strikes disrupting some of the major roadways to Buenos Aires. What am I doing here? I don’t know. How long am I going to be here? I don’t know. You see the simple fact is that this is where I needed to come because that’s what God was telling me to do. Things have changed drastically in some ways over recent weeks to the point that more and more this journey is becoming something about which I don’t have much of a clue. Does that freak me out? At times, definitely! But this is my life as I have chosen to live it. Yes, it’s a choice because this is not something I have to do – it’s an opportunity placed before me to take or to leave.

So what have I been doing in Buenos Aires so far? Mostly I’ve been lying low in the midst of taking things as they come I’ve seen a few of the sights around town including a Japanese garden and a cemetery where great generals, former presidents and Argentina’s beloved “Evita” are buried. The visit to the cemetery was really interesting with some of the tombs being larger and definitely more extravagant than the homes of many South Africans (and poverty stricken people from other parts of the world). The Japanese garden was simply a distraction, but I really enjoyed it – I’ve also had a fascination with Asian design, landscaping and art so that was a worthwhile little trip. Something else that was really interesting was that the garden was presenting to the city of Buenos Aires and opened the very day I was born – that was just an interesting coincidence.

Later this evening I hope to head out with some people I met here at the hostel to grab a good steak, Argentinean style, and perhaps a few turns on the dance-floor (strictly tango I think). Further than that I don’t have much of a clue… But, watch this space for more developments…

¡Hasta luego!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

More thoughts on "home"...

“All of life is a coming home… All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home… Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination.”

The idea of home has been on my mind quite a bit lately, at least in part due to the amount of interaction I’ve had with other South Africans. I was staying with Stephen (from Cape Town) and his family and then met some other South Africans here at “La Casa Roja”, the hostel where I’m staying at the moment.

In a conversation with one of the guys I met here I repeated a thought that had been on my mind over the weekend that’s related to the quote at the beginning of this entry (the quote is from the film “Patch Adams”). I was chatting to a guy named Shane, from Durban, when I said that while South Africa will always be home in the sense that it’s my point of origin I’ve come to realise that I don’t think of it as a goal or destination anymore. While that could change at some point in the future I realise that being a bit of a “global nomad” over the past 2 years has caused me to see the world and my place in it quite differently compared to how I saw things just 2 short years ago. As I said in the entry called “Wandering around South America” I don’t know where I’m going to end up next, but I do know that I would not want to return to South Africa just because that’s where I’m from, I would want to return if there was a conscious forward-looking decision and/or purpose to going back.

Unlike some who leave because they’re fed-up with things as they are in South Africa; and that is at least to some degree a motivation for me to go back. But that is not my destination or goal at this point; my destinations at this point in my life appear to be mostly temporary…

Wandering around South America...

So since I have not written anything here in a while I thought it was time for an update and what better time to do it than when I’m stuck in a city I thought I was going to be leaving earlier this morning. At the moment I’m sitting at “La Casa Roja” (The Red House), a hostel in Santiago. As you may know I’ve been here in Chile since mid-April when I left Peru after 8 months of living, travelling and working there. I came here to visit some friends and stayed with them for a number of weeks. In the process of my stay I found myself under the mistaken impression that this was perhaps where God wanted me to stay for a while. You see, as I said in an earlier entry in this blog, the main reason I left South Africa for England back in March 2006 was that He was telling me that there were things He was going to do in my life and that I needed to get away from South Africa, at least for a short while. Little did I know that this adventure He had planned was going to include working, travelling and living in South America. And now it seems there could be a few other destinations coming up in the not-too-distant future.

As I said I was mistaken in thinking that this was my next medium-term stop, but instead I have now come to refocus on getting to Buenos Aires at least for a short while. I don’t know what’s going to be happening over there, but looking back at the past 2 years I have to trust that He has a plan. The other destinations I referred to earlier are unclear at the moment but for a while now I have been thinking about the possibility of going to New Zealand for a while to live and work there. This is something that is on my mind and is on my wish-list (or should that be prayer-list), but at this point there is not a definite plan taking shape yet quite.

In spite of my confusion and uncertainty about life and stuff at the moment I’m still (mostly) enjoying my time in South America, although sometimes I feel like I could really do with a secure home with some sense of so-called normality and/or stability. But, I’ve seen countries I’d only read about, I’m learning a new language and I’m getting a perspective of this little planet of ours that I constantly expanding and being reshaped. I also have to remember (and I’ve said this before) that I do not want to spend my whole life preparing to die comfortably…

Monday, May 5, 2008

Cusco as a theme-park...

One of the things on my mind recently is the different between Cusco and Santiago, with a number of conclusions. One conclusion I reached was that living in Cusco is like living inside a theme-park. Firstly, there’s the feeling that the town and surrounding region is playground for visitors form all over the world (whether they’re just sight-seeing or doing some trekking), not to mention that so much in the town is determined or affected by the number of tourists in town. Whether it’s a restaurant or a tour company decisions are made based on the time of year and the corresponding expected influx of visitors.

Being in Santiago at the moment it feels as though this place has a rhythm of its own, as if this is a place that really is centred on the lives of the people who live here and that visitors are just that, visitors. Don’t get me wrong I don’t have any regrets about living in Cusco and I think it’s a great place to visit. Being there though (and I may have mentioned this already) was a really eye-opening experience.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Thoughts about Santiago...

So what do I think about Santiago so far? One of the dominant thoughts on my mind coming en route was that it was a big smoggy city – this is something that I read a few weeks back. We I’ve spent lots of time just chilling in the apartment, but I’ve also managed to get out and walk around. Unfortunately, I have to say that my “pre” impression has held up so far (there’s lots of smog here in Santiago), but it has also lived up to another description I heard was that it’s a city with aspirations of being more – and I think this city definitely has lots going for it.

Something that really caught me by surprise is the “metro” underground train network here in Santiago. It has quite a few different lines covering different parts of town and it’s really clean, not to mention that it’s easy to use. So far I have not used the buses yet, but that’s mostly because I don’t know the routes whereas there’s no doubt about the route of the trains. It’s also been strange being in a real city again. What I mean is that although I was in La Paz, Bolivia and Lima, Peru last year I spent most of my time since August in Cusco, which is a town of around a half million people (although that figure is disputed by some). So things that I was previously used to – like big supermarkets, shopping malls and McDonalds – now feel like a bit of a novelty.

A few days ago (I think it was Tuesday) I went into “downtown” Santiago and just walked around for a while in order to get acquainted with at least one part of town. I spent some time sitting on the Plaza de Armas (the main square) watching people getting on with their day. Some people were sitting there having some lunch, a few people were playing lunch at a informal chess club set up there, other were just passing through en route to some other place and there were a number of artists plying their trade (some great work on show there). There is also a book-fair on at the moment on one side of the plaza with all kinds of book on sale – they have computer magazines, comic books, bibles, encyclopaedias and a bunch of other things on show. Something else I noticed that day is that the residents of Santiago love to shop – I came across quite a few shopping malls and factory outlets on that first day of walking around.

Anyway, so that’s my first-ish (I know that’s not really a word) of Santiago. Stephen (the friend whose family I’m staying with) seems to think I may be here for a while and both he and his wife have told me to make myself at home with them. So who know where I’m going to be in a few weeks time – watch this space for more!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Road to Santiago... (part 2)

After a good night’s sleep and a decent breakfast at the hostel I left Arica with TurBus at about 09:31 on Saturday morning. On the one hand I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of 28 hours on a bus, yet at the same time I was also looking forward to it as some kind of endurance challenge. There were a number of stops along the way where some people got on and others got off. We stopped in Iquique and Antofagasta among other places, with most of the journey taking place on roads with the ocean in sight on the one side and rolling sand-dunes and/or bare hills on the other side. One of the great things about this bus was that if you didn’t want to watch the film (or whatever else was being shown) you didn’t have to listen because there were earphones provided – this is not the norm on buses I had travelled on in Peru and Bolivia prior to this. Also the seats were quite comfortable and the food/snacks weren’t bad.

Once again I was grateful that I managed to get some sleep, although it usually happened in short shifts during the night and early on Sunday morning. After about 28 hours Santiago came into view and we pulled into the Alameda bus terminal around 45 minutes later at 14:15. The weather was hot – real hot, not just the temporary hot that would show up for a short spell n Cusco – and Paola arrived with her eldest daughter and her mom to fetch me at the terminal. So I survived this mammoth trip in one piece and although I wouldn’t necessarily want to do it again it was definitely a memorable experience that has left me dozing off at odd times during my first few days in Santiago. I’m sure there will be some more to be said on Santiago and other things I see and do, but I’ll leave that for another time…

The Road to Santiago... (part 1)

So how exactly did I get from Cusco in Peru to Santiago, Chile? I hopped on a bus on Thursday night in Cusco after saying goodbye to everyone that day and the night before. I knew that this was going to be the longest bus journey I’d ever bee on, but in a strange way I was looking forward to the adventure of it. So, as I was saying, I got on the bus on Thursday night and ended up in Arequipa early Friday morning. The journey was mostly uneventful; although I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to fall asleep for a few hours (I usually don’t sleep on buses and planes etc). There was a 90 minute stopover in Arequipa where I needed to change buses and then it was time to head for Tacna. This next part of the journey I saw the most desolate landscape I had ever seen firsthand in my life; as far as I could see there were only rocky hills, lots of sand and barely a shrub or bush. This soon was demoted to the second most desolate place I had ever seen because what I saw after I got into Chile made it feel as though I was on another lifeless planet.

I think I spent about 5 minutes in Tacna before hopping in a taxi with an irish couple I met as I got off the bus. From there it was a not-so-short ride to the border with Chile which took longer than expected to cross. I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the journey after having a not-so-great time at the Peru-Bolivia border back in November. Not too long after crossing the border I found myself in Arica where I was going to spend the night at a hostel suggested by a friend. My time in Arica was sort of uneventful – I met some interesting travellers (including someone I had met in Cusco a few months ago), went to the supermarket, bought my bus ticket to Santiago and relaxed for most of the evening.

Leaving Cusco...

So I’ve now left Cusco and but the days leading up to my departure didn’t go quite as expected. In my last few days there I came to realise how much I as actually going to miss the place that had been “home” for nearly 8 months as well as the people I got to know while I was there. Then there was also the 47 hours of buses, transfers and a border crossing (over 3 days in total) I was thinking about and was not looking forward to. All this combined with my thoughts on where I’ll be going from Chile left me feeling like I was having a bit of an out-of-body experience – my body was in Cusco but my mind was in about 4 other places at once.

I guess at some point there could be some more reflection on my time in Cusco, but for now I just know that the time I right to move on. I don’t have any regrets about staying in Peru as long as I did and in fact I’ll always have good memories of the place, the people, its history and everything else that goes on there. One other thing I can say is that I’ve come to realise that Cusco is a place where what is usually abnormal can be regarded as normal. For one thing most people do not fly half way around the world and decide to stay in a place where they don’t speak the language. Yet in Cusco, it’s not unusual at all to find numerous people from different parts of the world making Cusco home at least for a while.

That same factor can have its downsides though, because combined with the booming tourism industry the local culture can get somewhat lost in the mix of people coming to Cusco. That said though, I still think it’s a great place to visit and not a bad place to take time out for a while.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

New Chapters Ahead...

So the space I've been in a bit of a contemplative space lately and I think it has quite a bit to do with the fact that I’m moving on from Cusco this coming week. It’s been an interesting and challenging aspect of my life over the past two years has been starting over – whether in a new job or in a completely new environment. This is something I am going to face once again this coming week and if things work out as I hope they will (more news on that in a future blog entry) I will be doing it once again in the not too distant future.

For one thing I know that although some see my life over the past 2 years as possibly unstable and not going anywhere I’ve learnt quite a bit about myself on a number of levels. It’s challenging my faith and what I think I’m capable of by living this way, but the more I think about it the more I realise that this is one adventure I would not want to miss…

Although I'm definitely ready to leave Peru and specifically Cusco I don't regret spending the time that I've spent here. I've learnt quite a bit at work, not to mention picking up another language. Also, Cusco definitely corrected or at least expanded my perception of South America. While I always knew that this was a diverse continent I mostly thought of the jungle and the coastal areas. Living here in the Andes has given me more of an appreciation for South America's cultural diversity and it's challenging history. Anyway, that's all from my side for now...

¡Hasta luego!

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Rat (or Rut) Race...

For me one of the most eye-opening books I have read in the past 10 years is Mind the Gap, by Graeme Codrington. He is a South African who has done considerable research into ‘generational theory’. The reason I this was such an eye-opening book is that while Codrington emphasises the fact that they he is not attempting to make generalisations, he does notice some interesting trends within groups of people of similar ages. So what has this got to do with anything? It’s just been interesting to see trends within groups of people of the same age even in different parts of the world – perhaps especially as they have spread across the world. Since I left South Africa in 2006 I have been fortunate to meet a range of people from different parts of the world doing different things and for different reasons, yet at the same time I’ve noticed trends.

I guess the group that I’ve found really interesting – and I’ve met numerous people in this kind of situation in South America – are those who are questioning life, purpose, meaning etc or perhaps they just need a (temporary) change. I have met people who like what they do and know what they want to do with their lives, yet they’ve chosen to take time out to explore the world before they’re perhaps too old to do everything they want to do. I met 2 ladies from somewhere in Western Europe a few months back who had sold almost everything (like their cars and apartments), left their jobs, put the rest of their stuff in storage and decided to see the world. Here in Cusco I have also met numerous people who for whatever reason have become disillusioned with life where they’re from (quite a few from Western Europe) and have decided they want a different pace of life and a different lifestyle, even if the financial benefits could be better back home – some of them are not big fans of the ‘rat race’. Then there are still others who have not necessarily decided to settle here, but for now they’re just hanging around and taking life as it comes while trying to figure out what they want to do in the long-term (that’s if they come up with a medium to long-term plan anytime soon).

So what’s the point of all this? Well, for me it’s been interesting considering some of the supposed prerequisites for proof of maturity (I hope that sentence makes sense). The way I see it is that these supposed prerequisites not only involve joining the so-called ‘rat race’ but for some it means ending up in a rut too. Okay, I understand that history of South Africa (and especially for some communities) has meant significant isolation resulting in perhaps limited ways of seeing things. I guess what amuses me at times is that 10 years ago I was on what some would regard as the ‘right track’ – I had a full-time job, I was studying and paying for it myself – perhaps all I needed was to find a wife, the house with the picket fences, the cars and perhaps some kids a few years later. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to ridicule that way of life or those who want that (in fact I see lots of good in it and perhaps can see myself in the future), but it’s not the only road to walk. Now I may not be on that ‘right track’ anymore but in so many ways I feel as though I’m taking responsibility for my own life and making my own decisions as opposed to succumbing to the dictates of the ‘rat (or rut) race’.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Heading into the Sacred Valley (part 2)

After spending Friday morning in Pisaq I moved onto Ollantaytambo that same afternoon. Ollantaytambo is also in the Sacred Valley less than 2 hours by road from Pisaq. Compared to places like Pisaq and Aguas Calientes (the closest town to the famous Machu Picchu) this town has lots more character. One of the things that stood out (something I became aware of just before my visit there) is that some of the cobbled streets have been there and continuously inhabited since the 13th century. One of the photos I took while there was of a recently stalled door using an opening in a centuries-old wall leading into a courtyard still inhabited today. I guess in some ways I saw it as evidence of the old (and perhaps sacred to some) coming face to face with present day practicalities.

But it was the fortress over-looking this charming town that was the main reason for my visit. At this fortress Manco Inca successfully resisted the advancing the invading Spanish, although unfortunately the victory was short-lived. Although there is no way that I can downplay the historical significance of the place, the site was captivating all on its own. While Machu Picchu is definitely a highlight of my time here in Peru, Ollantaytambo has somehow also left an indelible mark on my memory. In the same way that I imagined little children running around the citadel I found myself trying to imagine that fort during the time of Manco Inca. As I struggled to the summit of the hill, not only due to my lack of fitness but also because of the 2800m altitude, I imagined the warriors literally running for their lives up that same hill.

Apart from successfully appeasing my need to get out of Cusco for a couple of days I also found this trip being yet another catalyst for some of the other thoughts that have been going through my mind lately. These are not thoughts specifically about my own adventure, but rather about the world around us. Themes relating to these thoughts will be showing up at http://nomadiclessons.blogspot.com soon…

For pictures of the fortress and town at Ollantaytambo, as well as views from the summit go to:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=42911&l=e2f06&id=513421322

Heading into the Sacred Valley (part 1)

For a while I had been feeling that I needed to get out of Cusco for a bit – not to mention that there are a number of pre-Columbian sites that I want to see before I leave Peru next month. So, on Friday morning I got on a bus to Pisaq, a small town in the Urubamba River valley (this valley is also known as the Sacred Valley of the Incas).

I honestly didn’t think too much of the town, but my main aim of going there was seeing the ruins above the town. The ruins are all that is left of an Incan citadel that was full of life a few centuries ago, and it has a number of small collections of dwellings as well the obligatory ceremonial centre. The ruins are also known for the agricultural terraces running down the southern and eastern slopes. One thing I remember about being there was imagining that citadel teeming with life a few centuries ago. I had an image of people working on the terraces and little kids running around, just being kids. Okay, so there is quite a bit we don’t know about civilisations like the Incas and those who came before them, but I guess I let my imagination run away from me a bit while I was up there. At one point I thought maybe my mind was playing tricks on me, because as I sat amidst some of the ruins I imagined hearing some sort of wind instrument being played (something like a wooden flute or anyone of the wind instruments still played here in the Andes to this day). Fortunately I realised that there actually was someone playing an instrument.

On that morning the best part was just getting away from everything here in Cusco. While Cusco is not a large city (under 500,000 by many estimates) even here I’ve found it’s easy to get stuck in the daily routine and lose perspective. While I was there among the ruins I was able to put the office where I work, the noise in the streets, as well as the weekly events etc out of my mind. After my 9-March blog entry I guess you can imagine some of the things going through my mind, but that was just what the doctor ordered. I still don’t have everything figured out, but at times I’m starting to enjoy being in that kind of space…

For pictures of the citadel above the town of Pisaq go to:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=42911&l=e2f06&id=513421322

Sunday, March 9, 2008

9th March - Two years on...

Here I am on 9 March 2008 sitting at my regular spot in Cusco, The Real McCoy and thinking about the fact that 2 years ago today I climbed onto Air Namibia flight SW743 and left the sunny shores of South Africa. I have not been back to visit since then although around this time last year a trip back "home" (if that's what it is) was on the cards.

Most of my time since then was spent in the UK, with the last 7 months or so spent here in Peru. It's been quite a rollercoaster ride in a number of ways - different towns, countries, jobs, friends, lanuguages etc along the way. Sometimes I do wonder what on earth I'm doing here (this happened occasionally in London too), yet at the same time I wouldn't change it even if I could - well maybe a few minor details.

More and more I have come to realise the benefits of this kind of lifestyle, even if just for a short while. At college and through other avenues I came to learn quite a bit about the world around me. On the other hand being challenged by living in different places and learning about new cultures (and languages in the case of South America) has been the kind of education that cannot be gained in any classroom. A few months back I came across the term "global nomad" and while I have not seen as many countries as some people I know I have come to regard myself as someone without a home at the moment and travelling with the aim of gaining wisdom and knowledge - with wealth a bit lower down on the priority list.

Something else that has happened over the past 2 years has been my growing awareness of things happening on the global stage. While I had a minor interest in social, political and economic matters before leaving South Africa the chance I have had to live and work in diverse settings - London's South Kensington with it's Aston Martin driving millionaires versus Cusco where the locals struggle to scrape together a living - has been quite an eye-opener. I don't know what I'm going to do with what I am learning and what I have seen, but I'm hoping that I will get the opportunity to develop my thinking academically and/or put some of this knowledge/passion into practice somewhere.

So that's me at the moment... Two years after leaving "The Mother City" and not knowing exactly what's up ahead in 2008 and beyond... But for now I am going to continue to live by the phrase I coined a few months back: "Don't spend your entire life preparing to die comfortably."