La Serena, Chile 18th November
It’s been a while since I’ve added anything to this site.
Mostly, because there’s been a lot going on.
I arrived in Arequipa, second city of Peru, intending to stay for 3 or 4 days. I eventually left almost three weeks later. Those of you who’ve seen the latest Vimeo video will know the story, but for the others amongst you……
After leaving Judith in Lima, I made good progress for a week or so before I hit my first real bout of sickness on the trip. I’ve had a couple of episodes of food poisoning before, in the USA and Guatemala. This third one was the real deal though, and needed a couple of days off the bike and some serious re-hydration post the event. I cleverly followed this up by contracting some kind of throat infection, which was probably not helped but the altitude in Arequipa, about 3000M above sea level and with an extraordinarily dry and dusty atmosphere. And, as I said in the video, as these things always come in threes, I managed to do some damage to my shoulder, which needed to be allowed to heal up via not riding the bike for at least 10 days, drugs and exercises.
So, rather than sit around moping, back to (Spanish) school I went.
I’ve been in Spanish speaking countries now since the first week of August, and have used the little Spanish I speak the best way I can. It’s been interesting to see how much more I’ve learnt just by being immersed in countries where next to no one speaks any English at all. However, I’ve also seen how limited my ability to communicate is. If you were looking to get your motorcycle serviced, book into a hotel and order in a restaurant, I’m your go-to man. Beyond that, I was taking a blunt instrument to a beautiful language that deserved better than I was able to offer it.
As luck would have it Arequipa has a first rate (according to themselves and lots of comments on the web) language school. So I signed up for two weeks of one to one lessons; four hours a day, and another 1 to 2 hours of ‘la tarea’ or homework each evening. It was a fascinating and exhausting experience. The last time I conjugated so many verbs was when I was 15 and frantically revising for my O level French. I thought a lot about my bi-lingual Godson, Noah, and how he’s been able to simply soak up languages. The sponge that is my brain seemed to have lost some of its absorbency. Not that it should act as anything to hide behind; I just needed to make more of an effort, and cope with the pain of being a novice at something again.
If you ever find yourself looking for a good language school in South America, I recommend them unreservedly: they’re here
From Arequipa I’ve now made some great progress to about 300 miles North of Santiago to include some serious negotiating at the Peruvian border about the length of time the bike had been in the country (an official at the border between Peru and Ecuador had incorrectly filled in one box allowing the bike to be in Peru until mid-December 2012).
I’ve also now got through the mighty Atacama Desert – almost 1300 miles of well, nothing; with gaps of up to 190 miles between petrol stations. It was beautiful, and frighteningly huge in equal measure.
I’m now starting to plan the final stretch of my trip before arriving in Buenos Aires the third week of December. I’d originally intended to ride to the very Southern tip of the continent before turning round and heading back up to Buenos Aires. The three weeks I spent in Arequipa would mean that to do this I would need to ride, at my best guess up to 200 miles a day virtually every day from now.
This is not my idea of fun.
Instead I’m going to spend some time around Santiago, trying to better understand modern day Chile. It’s a country I’ve always been interested in, not the least because of its extraordinary shape. Never much more than about 150 miles wide, it’s as far from top to bottom as ‘from Edinburgh to Baghdad’ as the tourist board helpfully, but somewhat bizarrely, point out. As I write this it looks like they are about to re-elect a woman as President. She stands on a Socialist ticket and is trying to maintain the 6%pa growth they have had for the last few years. A true economic miracle.
However, this is also a country with one of the starkest inequalities of wealth distribution I’ve come across. There’s also of course the prospect of understanding the role the wine industry plays in this extraordinary success story, so I’m going to visit some vineyards and producers too. I’ll then cross the Andes and into Argentina with a couple of weeks to cover the final 1000 odd miles to Buenos Aires and the prospect of Christmas and New Year in Buenos Aires with Judith.
When I planned this trip I knew how challenging it would be to go from being on the road for 8 months to re-entering the ‘normal’ world, so planned to spend a month decompressing before returning to the UK.
And my next entry here will be once I’m in Argentina and reflecting on what the last 8 months have all been about……
Oh, and for those of you who prefer a video version of events, I’ll be uploading some more images in the next few days.