News doesn't often unearth something wonderful, and yet this is a small story of a nice kid in Alabama getting some good fortune. There are still good people in the world, everyone can breathe again!
I love catching up with old friends, quickly falling back into the same routines and humour that brought us together in the first-place years earlier whether at school, university or previous jobs. Chatting to one friend as we were walking to dinner, she said something I perceived as a huge compliment - “you seem very . . . zen”. This was new for me, and quite wonderful. As I confessed to a colleague before leaving on my Pan-American for four months, this trip wasn’t just about travel, it was about finding myself again. Part of the process was to try and focus on being present.
Regardless of what was going on throughout the world, in my personal life, with work, with friends and their lives, I focused on me and my journey. If it wasn’t important for my next few days or weeks as part of the trip, it wasn’t worth thinking about. It wasn’t easy, but I made sure that each day I enjoyed that day for what it was instead of focusing on what I might be doing in three years or where I might be in twenty years. I even restricted to thinking about only those people that were travelling with me. Of course, family and my girlfriend are the exception, but if there were problems with either I was determined that it wasn’t going to bother me, and I wasn’t going to stop enjoying where I was and who I was with. I had worked too hard and too long to have anything but a good time. Besides, it was a privilege.
To travel the way I do is nothing but a pleasure. Although demanding and often difficult, it is a joy to be in a position financially and mentally to take on such a trip. Often during my work days back in the office, I would ask people if they are winning. The responses were, as they say in corporate life, “mixed”, which basically means it ranged from “yes things are awesome!” to words that I can’t write without causing offence to gods, goats and everything in between. But it’s only just dawned on me how I look at life: am I concerned with winning? Not really. Winning for me is simply not losing heavily. It’s the first time I’d ever thought about it this way – there will be downs and challenges and times I am upset and angry, but it the reaction to it that is important. And equally when you feel like you’re having a winning day, not to wonder too much what is coming around the corner (as it will inevitably sit you right back down on your arse!) but to enjoy it for what it is. Celebrate the good times, struggle through the bad times, but enjoy every moment for what it is as it will soon change. The tide will turn, whether you want it to or not.
In the last week or so I've stumbled upon the excellent @josie.doodles on Instagram (via my beautiful girlfriend, admittedly) and read a few of her doodles and thought "yeah, yeah that's me!". If it helps me, it may help you too. There are three or four or ten of her doodles that truly resonate with me and Josie seems a pretty awesome person to boot. Here is my current favourite. Remember to be kind to yourself as well as to those around you.
“The tough times haven’t come to stay, they have come to pass!”. Problem is, when you’re five feet deep in the trenches being shelled the shit out of with problems, it’s bloody hard to see who we're even fighting. Sometimes, the biggest fight is with ourselves.
In the last few days I have been frantically pleading with banks across continents to provide me my own money to pay shippers otherwise my trip would be derailed. It’s been an incredible few weeks really, with sickness, international borders, countrywide banking restrictions, imperative global websites shuting down for maintenance etc all resolved after a hectic two weeks and a final mental 24hr marathon of complexity. However, in reality, none of it really mattered. Yes, I’d be delayed, yes, I would incur financial penalties, but in the grand scheme of life it is but a scratch. Note I’m writing this after the fact! But the core is true - what matters today probably won’t matter tomorrow or next week. The real problems in life, as the song goes, are those that blind side you on some idle Tuesday. You can try to account for certain eventualities but it’s the unexpected that'll slay you.
For me, it isn’t the end result that is most important, it’s not the way that you get out of the mess you find yourself in. The most fundamental component is the reaction, is the resolve within you. It doesn’t matter if the solution doesn’t come immediately or the desired outcome seems a fanciful distant dream, but if you have resolve, that’s the fuel. Resolve is what will keep you going when the outlook is bleak, when the night is at its darkest, and that’s the moment when you find out who you are and what you’re made of.
Failure is an Option
What happens when you find yourself lacking? What happens if you’re tested and you don’t have the goods? Well, that’s tougher, and people don’t often think that far because they don’t want to. It’s not easy (or fun!) to think of what happens if you do fail, if the desired end result isn’t what you hoped for. Naturally it shouldn’t be your sole focus as that way lies depression and angst before even starting, but you need to at least consider it. Consider what happens if you fail, what then? What does failure look like? You need to hope for the best but expect the absolute worst. You need to anticipate the shit, the crying, depression, anger, bewilderment, frustration, disgust and disappointment in those around you and, ultimately, in yourself. And that’s just you, let alone the financial aspects or damage to relationships. A friend once asked how do you find resolve if you don’t have any? I think the fact you’re willing to even search for it shows it’s there. It can come from the most unlikely of sources - friends, councillors, celebrities, films, books or even nature itself (I stopped short of saying politicians, but yes, even politicians – thinking of you, Tony Benn). Having the energy to even look or ask for help is something to be excited about and to be proud of.
Hopefully somewhere in there, somewhere deep-down inside you, hiding in the corner, is a tough little bastard doesn’t know when they’re beat. They may have just had to climb out of some rubble, dusted and dishevelled, but there they are, smoking a cigar, ready for the next bout. That’s the bit of resolve you’ve been looking for, and that’s the little piece of you that’ll get you back on-track. You may not know how or the length of time it will take to heal the wounds, but if that resolve is there, that’s what’ll carry you out of the darkness over the days, weeks, months and even years, and into the light.
Am not sure what the opposite of vanity is, but I am terrible at many things . . . along with remembering words, clearly. For example, my taste in music leaves most people at best bewildered and at worst thoroughly angry, and same could be applied to my dress sense – jeans and t-shirt are very comfortable, but apparently are not appropriate groom attire. I am also an abysmal cook and have no confidence in the kitchen. If you want to eat a nutritious meal and consume it at a reasonable hour close to when I said it would be ready, then I suggest we head on out and buy-it. Although this will sound odd, and for any regular readers please hide your shock and awe, I simply don’t get food. I mean, I just I don’t understand it.
Food Glorious Food!
My friends love food. Food, coffee, wine and beer are the talk of several towns. The world goes mad for it. Television, radio, magazines, Instagram, bookface, videos, everyone is obsessed with eating and drinking. It is life, Mr Reed!! Well, yes it is, but it’s not everything of life. I imbibe to thrive, everyone else thrives to imbibe and does so a magnificent amount. Part of me admires others in their detection of complex flavours, smells and textures, ingesting the food with their mind and eyes before it even touches their drooling lips. And yet to me, I see food as an essential thing I need to remember. When writing lists down (which I do constantly) often there will be a line in there that says ‘breakfast’ or ‘eat lunch’. My body won’t let me forget entirely as it’ll give me a headache, but other than that I could happily go without it.
Resting For Your Life
I have spoken at length previously about having compassion for yourself and admit that I am utterly useless at this. I remain my own worst critic and will beat myself up gradually over the first 24 hours of an incident. Get some sleep and some perspective and I’ll be ok, but I am merciless initially. Others can make mistakes and it’s easy to move on. When I make them however and I am ruthless. I am trying to get better, though!
Another fault is my inability to rest. For the last 10 weeks I’ have been charging around South America, thoroughly enjoying myself I might add. However, as with any overland travel, sometimes you hit a few hurdles and it requires some patience and simply waiting. I’m not good at this. Neither is my body, as it decided that if I was resting, then it should probably unleash all the toxins and Ills pent up and held at bay for the last few weeks. Damn you body! But when my body tells me to rest, I know I must abide, and much to my chagrin, imbibe a lot of food and drink.
“Well as long as you’re not going to Mexico . . . that’s just suicide!” Am not sure if that’s exactly what he said, but when the person that got kidnapped for a year in Somalia advises against visiting the country that causes Trump so much angst, the warning is very much heard right in the underpants.
The saying goes that you fear what you don’t know, which is generally true. But you can also fear lots of stuff you do know, like flying and getting shot in the face in Mexico. In my recent jaunts to Peru I reacquainted myself with absolute fear, or at least fear for me. As part of the Nazca Lines, a must is seeing these staggering 2000-year-old geoglyphs from the air. Unfortunately it involves a tiny plane, 45 degree angles and multiple points where I thought I’d cry, throw-up or cry whilst throwing-up. I managed to avoid both, and take some pictures, but remain a little air-sick. Still, it’s only been two days since the flight. Mother humper. It did help immensely that a friend of mine, someone that is learning to fly in a similar Cessna that we were in that day, said that it was one of the roughest flights he’s ever taken, so at least I was scared for a manly reason! As a top tip, the plus’ of a very small plane and being about 5 feet from a loud engine, is that you can scream ‘cu** mother fu**er!” very loudly and no one can hear a word. Excellent for Tourette’s sufferers I’d have thunk.
Murders in Mexico
As for Mexico, the recent story of two cyclists meeting a grizzly end right where I am about to travel hasn’t filled me with confidence. The two chaps, individual travellers from Germany and Poland that clearly have plenty of experience given they’ve respectively been travelling for two and three years, were going through an area called San Cristobel in Mexico’s south. Despite initial reports from the police confirming that they had met a simple cycling accident, it has become apparent in the last few days that one of the cyclists may have been shot in the head and the other decapitated, and his foot taken clean off. This is worrying. It’s also very much a shame as I have heard wonderful things from other travellers that have insisted that Mexico was their favourite country.
Years ago whilst on my first Antipodean Adventure I made my first ever will before entering Iran. This time however I’m travelling on my own, so there’s an added shit-your-pants-scary feel to it. I haven’t made a will yet, but I’ll probably write another. The fear over the next few weeks will probably keep me on my toes though. The warning (which I can’t really do much about as I can’t exactly go around Mexico on my way north) came from a photojournalist, Nigel Brennan, that was hired by my company for an hour to do a talk in Melbourne. It was a confronting recounting of his and his female friend’s ordeal, and took many in the room a good while to digest. Many afterwards felt it was too much to recount to an office audience. You can read more about him here. As for me, there’s nothing more sobering than writing a will.
I am extremely grateful for everything I have and for the people I have around me. Some things I have earned, some provided from nurture and some that life has deemed fit to pass my way. I do believe you make your own luck somewhat, and that if you’re an optimistic, outward looking person that tries to take their chances when they come to them, it can only help on your journey. What cannot be underestimated though is the large amount of fortune in who passes your way and when, sometimes presenting you with your opportunity to shine. Timing is everything.
In my current trip we arrived at the national park in Paraguay a week after immensely heavy rains had finally subsided, enabling us to see the Cayman and indigenous flamingo. Twenty minutes after we arrived to see the flamingo, they all turned tail and left. Although there is a small amount of planning there in the timing of year to come to Paraguay, the rest is pure luck.
Locking myself out of my car recently, I was extremely fortunate to run into a Brazilian couple that not only stopped to help me (the first car I flagged down didn’t!) and just happened to know how to break into a car. Chances? Slim. Again, just immensely lucky. But would others have broken a small window or tried to wrench the door off its hinges? Or maybe choose to walk the distance to find help and therefore miss the passing vehicle?
Angels and Insects
If there is a guardian angel somewhere, they’ve treated me very well so far. One of the many things that my travel affords me is perspective, and none so much when wandering the streets and seeing how people live compare to my own country of residence, Australia. The health of the people, their age, the pollution in the air, the safety, even the food in the supermarket. In most of the places we’ve been, the best-looking fruit and vegetables was actually in a Mennonite Colony in the middle of Paraguay. That’s in travelling over 15,000kms of South America. Australia by comparison has some of the best climactic conditions, food, health and safety imaginable.
Then there’s the gratitude of my own health, which is a mixture of how you treat your own body, mindset and pure genetics. My uncle for example when clearly in considerable discomfort will say something like ‘I’m fine, it’s only pain’. What an attitude to have! Friends of my own age or younger are going through hell every day to simply do things that I sometimes take for granted, and others could never afford the travel I have enjoyed: that’s not just monetary, but in terms of time or family commitments that pull them in different directions. Then there’s the support network of family, friends and a girlfriend to pick me up when I struggle, and equally to bring me down to earth when the ego decides to ramp up. As I sit in a hotel starring out at the cable cars zooming over La Paz, Bolivia, there’s an incredible amount to be grateful for. I think I’ve just about managed to go through that entire piece without sounding like a pretentious twat, yet if I didn’t please let me know.
Image References: http://gbengaadebayo.com/grateful/
I really enjoy solitude. It’s something I’ve always been comfortable with. I do feed off the energy of others on occasion but being happy on my own is something that I think is my ‘go to’. The last week I had on my own as I drove up from Tierra del Fuego to Buenos Aires has been absolutely wonderful.
One thing my girlfriend has noticed, probably quicker than I have, is that I absorb so much if what goes on around me, even when I try to not let it. When that energy is positive is in an incredible force for good, albeit I then probably take on too much thinking I’m invincible. Alternatively, when things aren’t going quite so well, when the energy is negative and problems abound all around me, it weighs upon me. Like a ship ploughing ahead at sea and slowly picking up barnacles and seaweed, I gradually the wind has less and less effect on my sails.
Whilst in the city, I feel the need to sit and try to do some mindfulness exercises, to think, and to calm my racing mind. And yet whilst travelling I haven’t needed to at all. Whats more, which is odd for me, I haven’t even thought about it. Yes, I have a lot going on with driving, researching, taking care of my travelling companions etc but to not even think of it speaks volumes.
There are many foreigners around me chatting away in Puerto Valdes on the Argentinian Coast, but I like sitting here writing, listening to the waves crash, watching the tide rise, watching turkey-vultures glide on the breeze, looking for orcas. Sometimes work or relationship thoughts emerge, trying to drag me back to my usual life, sometimes I even dream about the work stuff which is frustrating. But I am resolute and try to distinguish those as quick as I can, and am fortunate enough to even be able to do that when I dream. What I tell myself is: does it need to be solved now? More often than not, the answer is no. Troubles that can be solved today can probably be solved tomorrow or in a week or in a month. Concentrate on the now, enjoy the present of the present.
Perserverance and Luck. There is a saying that a leading football club owner didnt want a talented skilled manager, they just needed a lucky one. In the 6 weeks leading up to my arrival on the small valdes peninsula, an american tourist had paid a lot of money to travel from his homeland to stay on the peninsula for 6 weeks to photograph orcas beaching themselves to eat seals. He didn't see a single orca. As for me, I rocked up at one spot and within 2 minutes saw a pod of 4 orcas nudging up the coastline, 3 large and a baby. A few weeks ago I filmed a glacier calving at the right spot because I guessed correctly. No skill is involved whatsoever, just luck. But there is a line there - how much persistence and perseverance makes your own luck? If that poor and actually now poorer american had stayed another two days, he'd have seen 7 orcas attack the beach. Staggeringly frustrating.
When Enough is Enough
For me, I never know when enough is enough - to count your winnings or your losses, and then walk away happy. Logically, it has to come down to cost-benefit i.e. does the benefit outweigh the cost that youre giving (money, time, love). Can you do something for less cost and get better, equal or near-enough benefit? As i write this, I sit this as I wait for one high tide at Shark Attack Beach! Chances of them arriving are low...and yet! Theyve been spotted in the area two days in a row. For me, I have to drive 1500km in the next 52hrs, so have it all to do. The difference though would be driving 1500km in 55hrs. When it comes down to it, its marginal. And if I'm lucky again, that 1500km will simply fly by with wonderful memories of orcas catching seals, singing songs and playing the harp. If not, I can reminisce about how lucky I was....or more likely, what a fucking waste of time that last 4 hours was, and aren't I old enough to know better? And when does that saying start to really bring home the bacon?
To add to it, its colder today, the sun being swaddled by cloud, more cloudy to make the lighting harder for photographs, the push for perseverance is harder. Harder and colder. The more you want something, the higher the cost. And the sun has just come out.
I wake up every morning feeling like a gorilla has taken a mallet to my back. Unfortunately, it’s a bed I’ve made for myself, and that’s literal and metaphorical. My camper has beds and desks that I made: the desk is working out fine, the mattresses seem to be made of some kind of material the core of planets are made of.
I’ve mentioned in my other blog that life and the microcosm of travelling are similar in many ways: everyone is on a journey of their own making, paths cross, you navigate through the problems to the best of your ability, and you make of every situation the best you can. Despite being twee, it’s probably true. The guiding principles behind it though are, I think, as simple as fear and hope. It’s striking the balance between the two that matters, and the overriding one will dictate the way you see any situation, how your day will turn out, and how your life will eventually unfold.
I am full of optimism and hope at present. Sometimes I let the fear get the better of me, and I’m full of self-doubt, and I don’t so much as solider on but putter with utmost caution. Yet I’m never one to dress up my doubt: I never sit there and lie about whether I thought I was on the brink of disaster or not. I don’t learn anything from that. Overall, I think it’s about trusting yourself, about backing your instincts. And if you cock up, hopefully someone is around to catch you. As with a Russian couple travelling to Brazil on their Honda 125, struggling in the wind and with a broken chain, it only took a passer by to offer some help and a spanner and they were on their way again. If it wasn’t me, it would have been someone else. Life is good like that.
It’s time I headed out into the tourist wilderness again in Tierra del Fuego, where tonight I shall find another camp spot and hope I get another good night’s rest on my slab. I fear I may have made my bed too hard, I hope my back gets used to it.
Writing and writing...