Just So Much “WOW!”

Sometimes you don’t realise how profound your decisions are until its well too late to turn back. My decision to travel for a year was not one of well considered rational examination but a momentary flash.

“What the hell! I’m going to travel for a year!”

I had considered asking my employer for an extra weeks leave so I could travel to Europe for five weeks, but the thought of running around trying to see everything in a short period of time didn’t seem right.

Wandering around the world for the better part of a year has been an extraordinary experience. There have been times of loneliness, frustration and worry, but these have been profoundly outweighed by the adventure, discovery, excitement, joy, friendship and fantastic moments of,

‘WOW!”

Just so much, “WOW!” That it has changed my life profoundly.

There has been plenty of time for contemplation. Time on trains, planes and buses. Time in airports, stations, bus terminals, sunset watching, ocean gazing, mountain staring and walking. In fact a lot of walking.

Walking has become my main mode of transport. To get to hostels. To see cities. To get meals and just getting around in general. At the beginning of the trip I walked the Camino De Santiago Compostela, an eight hundred kilometre pilgrimage from St Jean Pied De Port to Santiago De Compostela in the West of Spain. It was a fabulous experience of discovery, adventure, struggle, pain, joy, fun, comradeship and healing.

When you walk for six to eight hours everyday there is plenty time to think. To think about life. To think about where you’ve been. To punish yourself for all the stupid things you’ve done, be thankful for all the wonderful things you’ve experienced and to heal the raw wounds from when you’ve been hurt.

For me, there was plenty of struggle on the Camino. Struggle with my blistered feet. Struggle with my body and struggle with my mind, but the friendship and support of the amazing people I met and the beauty of the Spanish countryside enabled me to conquer all of these. Completing the Camino is something that I will always hold dear as it has given me strength and allowed much healing and renewal in my life.

In the times of contemplation  there have been many flashes of inspiration and intuition.

Recently, as  going home looms closer and closer and thoughts turn to a new life in Melbourne, I had the thought of,

“Throwing all the cards of life in the air.”

I have met many people in my journey who have been challenged by the fact that I have quit my job to travel for a year. They are confronted by the fear of leaving the safety net of a forty an hour week job, suspending the support network of family and friendships and stepping into the unknown of the big wide world. There have certainly been moments of fear, worry, difficult challenges and confronting the unknown, but the sheer amazingness of the world and the people who inhabit it has been incredible compensation for these brief moments.

And so it seems that when I return home that it won’t be to return to the life of old but to take the cards of life and toss them into the air and see where they land. 

It seems the excitement of life is to continue.

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Jamu Lodge , Amazon Rain Forest

Warning if you have a phobia for spiders and snakes, take care viewing the photos.

For the last four days I’ve being staying at the Jamu Lodge (pronounced hamu with the Spanish “j”), which is on a tributary of the Amazon in the Cuyabeno Wild Life Reserve in Ecuador. It’s thirty kilometres deep in the Amazon Rain Forest and reached from the town Lago Agrio and all travel is by boat. The density of the forest is striking and the beauty breathtaking. We undertook a number of excursions. The first night we travelled to a lagoon to see the Pink River Dolphin and have a swim off the boat which was beautiful. We also saw monkeys on a number of our trips, and we all agreed we could watch their antics all day.

The next day we sloshed through the mud (gum boots provided) on a flora walk and then a night walk before dinner to look at bugs, spiders and snakes. It was my first time seeing time seeing fireflies which was fascinating.

The following morning we went down stream to a local village where a young woman made tortillas from a root vegetable which were surprisingly tasty. Then it was a visit to the local Sharman where we had a small taste of iowaska , not enough for any effect, which is the drink they use to induce psychotic visions. He then treated a guy from another group by brushing his back with stinging nettles. I don’t think it was a pleasant experience.

At dusk we went Caiman hunting, which are Alligator like animals who hunt in the dark. After dinner a Tarantula made an appearance in the lodge and Ronald our guide, picked it up and some of us had a “hold”. Then next morning we went bird watching and after breakfast our friend was still sitting on a beam from which she dropped and Ronald again picked her up. Most of the guests took turns in allowing the spider to walk up their arms. Being told to stay “calm” was not an easy instruction to follow.

Ronald’s knowledge and expertise was amazing and he could spot a porcupine, snake or other creature many meters away whilst flying along in the boat, which was mind blowing.

We then returned upstream to our bus after a fabulous adventure.

Cusco, Peru

To visit Mach Pichuu I stayed in Cusco, a town at 3800 meters where you certainly feel the effects of altitude, especially the extra effort to walk up some of its very steep streets. It is very tourist driven and kind of wild. You can eat guinea pig and alpaca for dinner here (didn’t try) and coca tea is a commonly drunk beverage to relieve altitude sickness.

From here I travelled to the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo where there are amazing terraced ruins which required plenty of climbing but the views are amazing and well worth the effort.

Machu Pichuu

On Friday I had one of those life experiences you will always remember when I went to Mach Picchu. It was a long day, leaving at 5-45 and getting back at 21-00, but absolutely worth the effort.

I travelled from Cusco by bus, then train, then bus to reach Machu Picchu which is tucked high in the mountains. You can’t see it until you arrive. It is an Inca village built on a plateau high above a river, making it impregnable from attack. The view is breathtaking and it makes you wonder how they chose this as a place to live.

I hired a guide for the day and he gave me great insight into the ruins and it’s history. This means there are more photos of me than normal as he insisted on frequently taking photos.

It was a very memorable day.

Lima, Peru

Lima Perú is a chaotic city with abominable traffic and poor public transport. I did a great job of getting lost and ended up seeing a good whack of the city. There is a bizarre street which is full of little shops selling medical equipment. In particular there was one strip full of dental chairs and equipment. There must a lot of dentists in Peru for them to make money.

I managed to run out of phone credit and thus decided to catch a taxi back to the hostel. Of course there are two types of taxi drivers, good ones and crooked ones. Got a crooked one. May the crooked ones dies in hell! It wasn’t a lot of money but the dishonesty gives me the s#*ts.

The next day I decided an easy one was order and so decided to see the sights in the area around the hostel. The nearby Inca ruins were closed and I had a coughing fit due to asthma on the way to the local Indian Market. It wasn’t to be my day and so I decided to call it quits after a quick browse of the market.

It was bed for the afternoon as asthma is not what you want when you’re going to a high altitude city (Cusco) the next day. This means I don’t have too many photos of Lima!

Thankfully things have settled down with the asthma.

Mendoza to Santiago

I travelled from Mendoza to Santiago Chile on one of the monster buses that ply the roads of South America. They are double decker with a high level of comfort with large reclining chairs and meals and coffee and tea served. This trip was an easy nine hours but you can travel up to forty hours on one of these with twenty four hours being a common trip length. Not for me, I’ve flown the longer distances.

You pass through the Chilean border control which is high in the mountains and a total pain in the arse as they take all the bags off the bus to run them through an x-ray machine and send the narcotics dog through the bus and around the passengers and bags. A process that took nearly two hours. We then travelled down this incredible switch backing pass which was more than a bit nerve wracking on such a large vehicle.

Santiago is an attractive and prosperous city at the foot of the Andes Mountains with lovely gardens and parks to go along with the chaotic traffic. At many intersections you will be entertained by buskers. I saw two girls in national dress who danced on every red light and watched a juggler whilst I enjoyed a drink at a kerb side bar. I also caught a funicular up a large hill for a great view of the city.

Mendoza

Mendoza is in Northern Argentina and is a renowned wine growing region, Malbec being the predominant grape. The wine style is quite different from Australian wines and seemed to be less fruit driven. I did a wine and olive oil tasting tour which was most interesting.

I also did a high Andes tour which was spectacular. The tallest mountain is around seven thousand meters, the tallest outside the Himalayas, dwarfing anything we have in Australia. We drove up a narrow winding dirty round to a lookout of four thousand meters. The views were spectacular.q