Archive for the ‘Helen’s ramblings’ Category

Light is all around

18th October 2012 by Helen

Light Pollution over Las Vegas.

I’ll do a full update of our time at Los Perales campsite in San Pedro de Atacama a little later on, but for now we are discussing a film we saw in the town square last night. We came across it quite by chance. Apparently there is a campaign going on to reduce light pollution and this film was being shown as part of that campaign. Helpfully, it was also in English with Spanish subtitles.

It reminded us of looking back towards Las Vegas the night we had left and seeing the light glowing in an orange dome in the distance, some 100 miles away. That scene was such a contrast to the nights we have been enthralled to see the stars in the night sky in places far from the city lights.

When we were children the street lights in our home town used to go out at 11.00 pm. Then in the 1980’s that became 2.00 am. Now they stay on all night, often in the guise of ‘security’. As children we could see the stars in the night sky. Today’s children hardly know that the stars are there.

But it’s not just aesthetics, the price of progress: we also learned of some more worrying things from the film.

It is believed that migrating birds use the stars to navigate and light pollution in the worst affected areas is affecting their ability to migrate. In some cities it is known that birds often crash into the tall buildings, falling injured to the ground. Bird rescue trucks collect and look after as many as they can but have to rely on members of the public noticing the birds fall or see them on the ground.

Young turtles have evolved to hatch at night and head towards the brightest horizon as soon as they hatch. As the sea reflects the moon and starlight this means they can head straight to the safety of the sea. However in some places, where electric light pollution is creeping in, the young turtles are often found heading in the wrong direction, towards the wrong light. Alex, one of the overlanders in the campsite, has volunteered working with turtles in the past and confirmed he has seen this effect.

On a human level, recent research has indicated a link in the progression of some cancers in humans, particularly breast and prostrate cancers. Melatonin in the body apparently suppresses the growth of cancerous tumours but melatonin levels only rise during periods of darkness. Sleeping in a lit room, whether lit internally or by bright street lights, reduces the body’s production of melatonin. Shift workers, who work by electric light at night and sleep during sunlight hours much of the time are particularly at risk.

In many places street lighting is chosen for its appearance rather than its practicality. Light globes appear attractive to the modern eye but 60% of the light goes upward into the sky rather than down to where it’s of more use. The cost of that is twofold: increased light pollution and waste of resources by using more energy than is necessary.

As the industrial revolution developed through the 1800s and 1900s, a sign of the wealth of a town was seen in the number of chimney stacks belching smoke into the atmosphere. Today we no longer aspire to have those chimney stacks, seeing them instead as polluters of the world’s environment. Today how brightly we light our cities is seen as a sign of progress and wealth.

In how many years, the film asked, will light pollution be seen as another type of polluter, one that is affecting the health of humans, plants and wildlife alike?

We ask, should we be worried by this; should we try and have some influence on this problem, not just for the aesthetics but for the health of the planet and the people and wildlife that live on it?

Bloggers Award

27th August 2012 by Helen

Finalist -'s Travel Blog Awards 2012

We were surpised but delighted to get an email the other day informing us we were finalists in MyTravelMoney’s top 10 of travel bloggers award. There’s lots of travel blogs out there on the internet so we’re pretty pleased ours has been noticed, and all feedback is welcome.

Apparently we came fourth (check out all the winners and runners up here), behind two professional writers/organisations and ahead of two professional writers/organisations, so we’re doubly pleased.  Our friends Kev & Karen, otherwise known as Guzzie Overland, who we met way back at the Oasis cafe in Tsetserleg Mongolia in the late summer of 2010, are up there with the finalists too.  Here’s what MyTravelMoney says of our website:

Going Overland is an honest account of mature bloggers Helen and Paul’s nomadic lifestyle as they zip about in a white Land Rover covering as many miles as they possibly can. We love things like Paul’s gory injury photos and their warts and all approach to circumnavigating the world overland. Everything from planning and packing to personal medical and practical driving training is covered here and there’s even an online shop.

Bit dismayed to be called ‘mature’ but guess I just have to accept it’s true really!!

Food for Thought

30th June 2012 by Helen

Long term travellers and ex-pats get used to being asked what they miss most from ‘home’, although it often seems that home is more about being ‘wherever I lay my hat’, to quote the old song, than a specific place.  The clichéd answer to the question is ‘friends and family’, but that is taken as a given and not usually what the questioner means (and not something to be admitted to if you don’t miss them!).  Also, as families diversify around the globe, it may not even be an accurate answer as to what you miss from ‘home’.

As we approach leaving our ‘home’ (Landy) in Chile to return to our ‘home town, friends and families’ in England, the answer as to what we miss is easily identified in what we are looking forward to!


City supermarkets tend to have small expensive sections to meet the ex-pat tastes, so if you ask any ex-pat there could well be a prized jar of something in their cupboard.  Be it Marmite, peanut butter, Worcestershire Sauce, salad cream (not to be confused with tasteless mayonnaise).  Of the products that cannot be bought even in the cities, decent chocolate may come top of the list, because even recognised brand names produce slightly different recipes to meet local tastes around the world, so Dairy Milk in Russia or Mexico tastes nothing like the UK version.  Or you might witness a wistful longing for something as simple as cheese, as demonstrated by Trevor in Huaraz, begging anyone who happens to be visiting from England to smuggle him in a nice bit of cheddar.

For Paul, his food longing is for foods that have been cooked in an oven.  Anything with a pastry crust and a roast dinner in particular.  Our onboard cooker is a two ring petrol run stove that cooks a whole range of meals as long as you use a saucepan or frying pan.  Since leaving the UK we have probably not had anything with a pastry crust.  We’ve managed a handful of roast dinners – once when we stayed in a hostel in Vladivostok where the guest kitchen had an oven, again when we first arrived in North America and stayed with friends who let us use their oven, and lastly when we stayed in Yalo in Ecuador and were able to use the café kitchen to cook.  But none of these places were able to provide us with quite the right ingredients for a proper English gravy.

After oven food, next on Paul’s list will be a proper English breakfast.  With two frying pans on board we’ve been able to imitate this breakfast quite frequently.  The key word though is imitate as it is next to impossible to buy English sausages outside of England.  Pre-cooked and highly processed, sausages elsewhere are just not the same.  Thick cut back bacon is also a very English speciality; where bacon is available it is most commonly streaky, which in England I would use as a ‘cooking’ bacon for adding to other dishes for flavour rather than as a breakfast bacon.  In South America mushrooms have been hard to find.  Baked beans are also rather different, using different beans and different sauce recipes even when apparently available.  And don’t even think about Black Pudding if you consider that an edible accompaniment to breakfast!  So, all in all, not really a true English breakfast.

For me though, top of my list is bread and cheese.  Not any old bread.  We have been able to buy brown sliced breads in supermarkets in larger towns but the most commonly available breads have been (often stale and hard) white rolls.  I want something much more substantial and tasty.  What I want for my bread and cheese meal is a wholemeal bread baked with olives.  I used to be able to get it from the Tesco continental range and will be nipping in as soon as I can to check it’s still available.  And not any old cheese of course.  Three cheeses in fact (oh, what luxury, more than one cheese to choose from).  Roquefort first, creamy and firm with plenty of blue veins, it falls somewhere between the over soft French blue cheeses and the hard blue English Stilton.  Camembert or Pied de Terre, deceptively soft and creamy in texture and appearance it will be quickly forgiven when the rich flavour hits the taste buds.  Finally, a gentle contrast in delicately flavoured, soft and crumbly pure white goats’ cheese.  Each cheese will be taken separately, first with a slice of the olive bread, then with a slice of banana (don’t frown, those who have tried it agree banana and cheese make a surprisingly good combination), followed by another round of cheeses with olive bread.  To cleanse the palette between each cheese there will be available a dish of summer berry fruits, in particular blackcurrants and raspberries.  When almost sated, the final delicacy will be a Gu chocolate pot. Gastronomic heaven!!

Of course I will also enjoy the roast dinner, especially if I can have cauliflower cheese with it.  There it is, cheese again!  Made with the highest grade (strongest flavour) English cheddar this time.

Perhaps when we are in England people will ask us what foods we miss most from our travels?

There are some easy answers to that one too.  Being able to buy avocadoes ready to eat the same day.  Whatever the signs say in the English supermarkets, they have no idea what a ready to eat avocado should be like.  Tomatoes that taste of tomato, because they have been grown naturally and not with hydroponics.  Tasty gourds for adding to soups and stews, or mashed or served as a simple vegetable I will also miss.  I probably should say the wide range of fresh fruits from Central and South America, but sadly my liking for fruit has not been changed – with the exception of English summer berry fruits, bananas and pineapple I still don’t like fruit!  I will miss the fresh food markets, where I can browse through piles of vegetables and watch meat being freshly prepared before me, instead of being presented on sanitised polystyrene trays.  Eating chicken that was still running around free range half an hour before is much better than something that has had half the life processed out of it.


Some of the food delights we will not miss will be hot food served cold and cold food served warm; overcooked meat and pasta in soups that have been kept simmering for hours; meat dishes where you can see the arteries sticking out; chicken feet in our soup; dishes where you know even the bowels of the chicken have been included.  These are the dishes available as Almuerzo especially in Central and South America, where the menu of the day is cooked up between the end of the serving of breakfast and the beginning of lunch, plated up and left to go cold until the customers arrive, when the food is served at whatever temperature of cool it has reached.  They are the poor man’s lunch we have learned to specialise in, while travelling on a tight budget!

Foods we have tried but would not be allowed to try in England include the most deliciously cooked horse meat and guinea pig.  Alpaca meat was also delicious when cooked properly, and available in England at a price.  Beef heart was a tasty delicacy we both enjoyed and will be investigating back in England.  Octopus soup was a surprise we found delicious and is probably something we could replicate back ‘home’.  In Belize we discovered the delight of fried chicken with savoury rice and beans.  Ceviche, made from raw fish and salad was delicious (Helen) / vile (Paul), so maybe I’ll stick with visiting the occasional Japanese restaurant for my raw fish in future.

Breakfast around the world varies.  We don’t think the commonly available café staple of stale white rolls and jam is something to write home about, but I really developed a liking for the mashed potato and fried eggs we discovered in Siberia (where breakfast often has the same content as lunch and dinner and tea).  Another breakfast favourite of mine has been the Mexican and Central American scrambled eggs with refried beans, tomatoes and bell peppers.  Home made Granola served with yoghurt and honey in an Ecuadorean hostel has become a firm favourite too, supplemented with extra toasted seeds and nuts, and peppered with sultanas.

So is that it?  Is food what defines us?  Not where we come from, nor where we are going to, but what we eat?