Buenos Aires, Argentina: 27th December 2013
‘Memories last longer than dreams’ – Extract from Stuffocation – how we’ve had enough of stuff and why you need experience more than ever – Author James Wallman
I’ve now been in Buenos Aires for two weeks at the end of 17,600 miles of riding from Anchorage, Alaska. Judith joined me last week on Wednesday and we moved into a lovely apartment in the San Telmo area of the city. Sadly after a couple of great days there, the electricity supply to the building failed, and with no fixed date for it being fixed, we had to move into a hotel. Frustrating certainly; but part of the experience for two battle hardened road warriors like us, who chose to travel independently rather than relying on a third party with a safety net to catch us when things go wrong. The owners of the apartment tell us it’s a highly political issue that the privatised electricity companies have not invested in the infrastructure to meet increasing demands. The ethos of the companies is profits rather than service. I understand there are still thousands in the UK without power, who will relate to this very well.
As I write this Judith is out riding the buses to buy some tickets for a concert tonight. This is no small job. She’s doing this with only a few words of Spanish, a guide to the 190+ bus routes, the equivalent of the Oyster card used in London, a map of this city of about 12 million people and, frankly, the courage of a Lioness. Here’s a guide to riding the buses in BA if you’re interested – it frightens me just reading it, and that’s why I didn’t dare venture on to them before she arrived:
Now just a month left before we head back to the UK. The only final ‘job’ I have to do is to arrange the shipping of the bike. This entails a lot of paper, a trip to the shippers then onto the airport where the front wheel comes off and it’s strapped onto a pallet before flying back to LHR. It’s only fractionally more expensive to send it by air than sea – and a lot less hassle than having to turn up to Tilbury or Southampton and pick it out as part of a container load.
These are ‘the numbers’ for the trip:
I read 58 books and listened to literally hundreds of hours of music. Looking at my i-pod play count this is the single song I listened to more than any other. Generally once every morning from Montana onwards to remind why I was doing what I was doing; more if it wasn’t such a good start to the day
Most of the 58 books were crime fiction, often Scottish; but the manifesto for the trip (which admittedly I’ve only just read) was ‘Stuffocation: – how we’ve had enough of stuff and why you need experience more than ever’ – Author, James Wallman. If you’ve got an hour to spare here he is speaking at the RSA in London
(Oh, and if you haven’t got an hour, why not he might ask)
So what’s to learn from the last year (I’m including the 4 months of preparation time in the UK before I set off). In no particular order here are my top 7 lessons
1. We don’t need half the stuff we have.
I’ve lived for 8 months out of three metal boxes each about the size of a small suitcase suitable for carrying onto a plane. When I set off they were full almost to bursting. Now they’re a lot lighter as I’ve used, but more importantly, got rid of stuff I didn’t need. All my personal needs fitted into the smallest box. In addition to the protective gear for riding the bike I had three T-shirts, three short sleeved shirts, three pairs of pants and socks, one pair of trousers, swimming trunks, a pair of shoes and flip-flops. I didn’t need all the shirts.
2. It’s good to have a plan, but you’d better have a plan B too.
‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans’ Woody Allen (?) I spent a lot of time at the Royal Geographical Society before I set off poring over maps and trawling guide books. I used about 5% of what I got from that time. The best experiences emerged as I went along. And often they came as a result of things going ‘wrong’ not ‘right’.
3. What happens to you doesn’t matter as much as how you choose to experience it.
I hadn’t planned to spend almost three weeks in Arequipa, but I did to recover from a couple of health issues. The time I ‘lost’ meant I wasn’t going to be able to get all the way to Ushuaia. The choice was to be angry and feel that I’d failed; or to sign up to some intensive Spanish lessons and get better at communicating.
4. Never underestimate how lucky you are to be born into a wealthy and free country.
Travelling through Central and South America, I heard and read stories of oppressed peoples, found systems that were breathtakingly unfair, and saw first-hand how grindingly hard life can be. Yet despite it some of the most extraordinary acts of kindness and generosity I met came from these people. From the man in Mexico who found my bag, realised he couldn’t speak enough English to let anyone know what had happened, so got his Granddaughter to phone Judith in the UK; to the security guard at the petrol station in Guatemala (probably earning $2.00 a day) who helped me pick the bike up when I was ill and dropped it, made sure I was OK and got me some water. I met almost exclusively kindness and a willingness to help from people who had next to nothing. I give due warning; when I’m back, my tolerance level of people complaining about first world problems is going to be a lot lower.
5. What matters in life becomes clearer.
I know a bit better where to focus my attention and spend my time. I’m stimulated by the work I do and will pick it up again when I’m home. I know who cares about me and where and with whom I want to spend my time.
6. It’s probably not going to be as scary as you thought it would be, so have a go.
Probably the lowest point of the whole trip was the first three days in Anchorage. I was jet lagged, couldn’t sleep properly, cold, and daunted at the thought of clearing the bike through customs. I thought I had bitten off way more than I could chew. The prospect of 8 months and 18,000 miles was terrifying when I thought about it in its entirety. Breaking the whole trip down into bite size manageable pieces made a huge difference.
7. Don’t believe the hype.
Before setting off, I heard a lot about the bad things that were probably going to happen to me. I would be murdered in Mexico, kidnapped in Guatemala or beheaded by the drug cartels in Colombia. Inevitably on the road two questions I’ve been asked are ‘Where have you come from, and where are you going?’ ‘I’ve come from X and I’m going to Y’ has often been greeted with ‘You were lucky to get away from where you’ve come from, but they’ll certainly get you where you’re going! Oh, and you can’t be too careful where you are now.’ I’m not naive about this – the streets of Cali and Medellin in Colombia have their dangers; but so do the streets of Peckham and Dalston. It’s not just the fear of the unknown – ‘Have you ever been there?’ ‘Well no, but……’ It’s believing what often vested interests tell us we should be thinking and how dangerous a place the world is.