Archive for the ‘Paul’s ramblings’ Category

Don’t feed the animals

27th April 2012 by Helen

As a small child I could never understand this rule when visiting the zoo – the animals seemed to want the food I had in my hand, and I enjoyed feeding them, so what was this silly rule for?

Fast forward almost 50 years, and here I am travelling through countries where people appear to be poor, and I’m still being asked not to be kind to them by offering sweets to children and other small gifts to adult villagers.  Only this time, someone takes the time to explain, and it’s soon crystal clear why this simple generosity is destroying communities which have recently begun welcoming travellers.

Indigenous populations in central and south America may appear poor in relative terms, but in the main, they live happily and healthily, and produce enough from subsistence farming and trading to cover their families needs.  They are as comfortable with their lifestyle as we are with ours.

Although motivated by kindness, when we give children sweets or small toys, we introduce into their diet a level of sugar that they are unaccustomed to, and raise expectations that parents cannot fulfil once we have moved on.  Very rapidly tooth decay begins to show up where none existed before, and in rural areas, dental treatment is either unavailable or not affordable, so teeth have to be left to decay, or are further damaged in unqualified dentistry.

Giving gifts, however small, to children or adults unwittingly encourages dependency on tourist handouts and begins to undermine the culture and work ethic in these areas.  Before long, visitors are becoming irritated by the begging and persistent asking for handouts that they themselves encouraged with misguided generosity.

If we really do want to help out, we should perhaps take time to show interest and talk to a local about their life and ours.  Share a little of what we enjoy most about travelling in their country, and explain some aspects of life in our own country.  Play a game with the children – noughts and crosses is always well received – and maybe teach a few words of your own language to those who show an interest (and many will).

In short give something of ourself, rather than something of short term value that may upset the rhythm or balance of rural life, and take away only the stunning photographs that  we will likely get as a result of making real contact with the community.

Perhaps the best way to donate if we really feel the need, is to take some pens or notebooks to the local school, or donate a couple of footballs to the youth group.

A taste of my own medicine

25th April 2012 by Helen

It’s been at least a couple of years, but I can still imagine myself back in front of the groups I have welcomed onto my personal development courses over the years, and hear myself saying “once you have crossed the line and understood you are the architect of how you feel, you can’t step back and start blaming other people or your circumstances – because you’ll know you are kidding yourself”.

Well, today I found myself taking that medicine myself.

Being so far from home, I was feeling particularly anxious about the treatment my mum had been given in her dealings with the NHS after a recent fall resulted in a snapped tendon in her shoulder.  Recounting her tale, it sounded for all the world like she had been the victim of poor doctoring, and a system that values speed and efficiency over patient care.  I was fuming that my mum should be treated this way, so I ranted on Facebook (how I hate it when people do that, don’t you?), and threw in a few vitriolic comments about how shabby my country’s values and ethics had become.

A few empathic and intelligent folks sympathised, and one or two joined the assault group, nay-saying our National Health Service, and recounting similarly distressing experiences of their own.   After a long outpouring of my contempt for poor nursing standards, shabby surgery, and general lack of patient care throughout the NHS I expected to feel a lot better, but of course I didn’t.  In fact, I felt even worse.

It took a suitably assertive, confident and eloquent FB friend to remind me that sweeping generalisations and focusing on the negative deny us the vitality and precision needed to actually address shortcomings and wrongdoings in the world around us, and that whingeing – especially on Facebook, changes nor achieves nothing, except perhaps increasing our negative experience.

Thankfully I still have enough emotional maturity to recognise when I’m being a prat, and can hold my hand up and acknowledge it, but nonetheless, it was a waste of two hours of my day, my life, and my power.  Far better perhaps to resolve to put my time and effort into doing something to make my mum’s life a bit easier, and to ensure she gets the best medical care possible.

What Price?

5th April 2012 by Paul

Finally making the grade

The last week has been a bit of a roller-coaster, both practically and emotionally, and as we look forward, we now face some new challenging practicalities and some difficult decisions.

Leaving the desert just a few days ago we really felt re-energised and uplifted. We had been living on the Pacific shore for 45 days, and been welcomed warmly into the local fishing community. During our time in the sunshine, we’d not just achieved a great tan, but also prepared our first photo-book for publication, got ahead with our writing contract for Land Rover Monthly, finished some resource articles for the website (and for our book on Overlanding – more later), and drafted the outline for our book of the trip.  I’d also made some necessary repairs to Landy, and for once, we’d really chilled out – it was in effect a holiday from travel.

Ascending the Cordillera Negro and waking up the next day 13000 feet higher, 22 degrees Centigrade colder, but with a 200 mile horizon of the glorious snow topped Cordillera Blanca, was a stark contrast. It was like a massive but uplifting jolt of sensory stimulus that woke us up big time.

After re-provisioning in Huaraz, and uploading our photo-book over an internet connection at the speed of a dripping tap, we headed 50km south to Hatun Machay, a new rock climbing Mecca high in the wild hills.

After four years away from my sport, it was sobering to realise how quickly we lose our capabilities. I chose my first route carefully, a 5.10b, so that it should have been challenging but doable, but I could not get beyond the first few feet. My physical abilities were stretched due to weakened muscles, sure, but the main issue was fear. I was conscious of my fragility, and could not get past the ‘what if I fall’ script running (no, screaming) in my head.  Reluctantly, and with massive disappointment at myself, we opted for a much easier route, and at a grade 4 it was a breeze.  Although we went on to enjoy a 5.9, twice, the day had flagged up a reality – if I want to continue climbing, I have to work at it faster and harder than my advancing years steal away my ability.

The following morning my muscles were painful, and every physical job around camp had me wincing.  It’s a good feeling – like being reminded of my unfitness, but also the eventual thrill and achievement of the day before.

red ochre paintings

Stiffly, we walked a few hundred metres to an archaeological site amongst the rocks, where 9000 years ago, pre-Inca settlers had made a home in rock caves.  It was one of those amazing experiences – like we were discovering them for the first time.  There were no guards or ticket booths, not even a clearly trodden path led to the cave.  If we hadn’t known it was there, we would have missed it completely. The walls were covered in ochre paintings depicting hunting scenes, and stone carvings showed childbirth, worship, and family scenes, with life size etchings of hands and feet giving a real feel for the size of these ancient peoples.  A simple map carved into the rock showed the mountains, the streams converging, and where the animals to hunt could be found.  We could easily step back in time, and imagine the smoke filled cave filled with the sound of people working hard at staying alive, and raising their families.


Clearing el derrumbes

Returning to Huaraz, we met up with Duncan, the photographer who we’d coincidentally met at the derrumbes (rockfall) we’d helped clear on our way from the coast. 

He had some great shots of Landy saving the day, and kindly let us have them all. While sitting with him at an outdoor cafe, sipping orange juice, one of those amazing things happened – two overlanders we had been exchanging emails with for months in the hope of meeting up, walked up and introduced themselves!  Lois and Lacey have been on the road for three years, and before long we were nodding enthusiastically as it became clear we had experienced similar things and developed a shared outlook on many issues. Lois and Lacey are environmentalists, one an environmental scientist, the other an environmental engineer. They have become disenchanted with how the industry they have been so passionate about has betrayed its values, and compromised ethics and effectiveness for profit. A sad confirmation of what we have seen and experienced in many ways on our travels – personal gain put in front of ethical and sustainable solutions.

As the sun goes down in Mongolia

While talking to Lois and Lacey, who are travelling south like us, we began reflecting on the impact that delays in central and south America, and some changes in weather patterns, will have on our planned route and schedule.

Just now, winter is arriving in the south of both Argentina and Chile, while the wet season in Peru and Bolivia is proving to be longer this year, probably due to global warming. The road to Ushuia will close very soon for the winter, making the inclusion of a visit to the southernmost city in the Americas a more difficult objective, and the salt pans in Bolivia – a major highlight of our trip – are still under almost a foot of water.

Another component in our decision making is the need to raise funds to get our truck and ourselves onto the final continent. This dictates that I find professional, well paid work to earn the shipping costs and airfares to Africa. To travel to the most likely work locations I’ll need to depart from international airports, so our route and rate of travel must take account of this, and be revised to facilitate it.

It feels like our plans have wobbled again, so we need to work out how to achieve our goals despite the difficulties and setbacks.

Tien Shan Mountains, Russian Altai Region

There are some people who don’t understand why we are so committed to our circumnavigation, and who have already asked why we don’t just return home – after all, we have been travelling for almost two years, we have people at home who miss us dreadfully, and we have run out of both money and luck on more than one occasion. And its already been a trip of a lifetime, right?

Surely, the amazing experiences, the places, the people – its enough already?

True, but there is another trip we have been on – the trip of coming home, not to England, but to ourselves.  Helen and I have walked side by side on that journey for two long years, and each of us is committed to the other.

One of the most important things we have learned on that journey, and during life, is that everything has a price. The choices we make have consequences – every time.

To live our dream, we chose to sell pretty much anything and everything we could, save our tiny house. Our business didn’t survive the separation, and my professional reputation and the income went with it. We have been separated from family and friends, and felt the wrench of being unable to provide support when those same loved ones experienced tragedy, loss, and difficulty. We have had to learn to live more simply than we could have imagined possible. We’ve pushed the boundaries of what we will endure, and tested our relationship 24/7 for almost two years. We’ve paid the price of taking this particular pathway – making this particular choice.

But not to live our dreams has a price too, doesn’t it?  Doesn’t everything?

Maybe, like me, you feel the price you are paying if you have unfulfilled dreams; regrets it’s hard to remedy; things left unsaid that can’t now be heard; rifts now too wide or too raw to heal?  The price is sometimes high, but still, we choose to pay, because the other choice demands even more from us.

Our second antipodean point is about here somewhere

But is this really the path to happiness?  Each time we betray our own desires to please another, or take the easy route rather than the right route, we shrink a little, get a little more closed.  Each time, we pay the price.

When people look at my life, they tell me they see periods of significant achievement punctuated by periods of change – moving from one heady escapade to another.  Viewed from inside, my life is a series of daring adventures, none of which come to full fruition – a life of big dreams, never quite fulfilled.  It’s true of my work, my relationships, and my life in general. 

Each one a climb I can’t quite finish, an adventure that proved too ambitious, an ideal compromised in the name of personal profit, great opportunities missed because I didn’t know they were there, an easy route taken over the harder one.

This time, we both believe that price is too high to pay. This time, the adventure will be finished. This time will be the first time.