Struggling to calibrate my dragging body sensations of altitude (compounded by an incredibly early start to my day!), I rallied my thoughts to acknowledge just ‘where’ in the world I was currently travelling. I was on a bus in far northern Chile; only a few kilometres away was Bolivia! This was not a time to feel feeble and to close my eyes to the world outside. As we bounced along dusty, rutted roads I began to take notice of the landscape outside.
I had a few moments of doubt as to what I had let myself in for, as I arose in the dark before 4am on my first full day in San Pedro de Atacama. My little hotel was out on a dusty road at the edge of town and the rickety corrugated iron gate looked like it would not budge. A mild, unwarranted, travel-fear induced panic came upon me as I fumbled in the pitch black with my torch. With a bit of slow breathing and logical thought, I was soon out onto the ‘street’ ridiculously early. Panic over. I was soon joined by other folk as we all wondered why we were doing this. Two minibuses came and went (along with 45 minutes) before one finally arrived with my name on their list. I could have slept for another hour!!
The beginning of my recent, incredible journey through Sth America saw me landing on the edge of the Atacama Desert in far northern Chile on the border of Bolivia. The greatest physical challenge here is altitude. This is the commencement of nearly 3 weeks above 2400m. My first point of call was the vivacious little town of San Pedro de Atacama which sits at a healthy 2408m above sea level, overshadowed by Volcan Licancabur and surrounded by red dirt. What a place to adjust?!
The start of a journey into the unknown, especially as a solo traveller is always a little easier if one can arrive in the new place and feel a sense of connection. Reflecting on the beginnings of my recent trip to Sth America, I got off to one of those starts! Right from the landing in Chile, all set to head north into the highest desert of the world and across into the wilds of the Bolivian south-west, I felt at ease.
Back in 1999, as I started to stretch my restless hummingbird wings and yearn to travel, I took a trip. I was heading to Europe for 6 months – France in particular – to challenge my solitude after a divorce and I wanted a means to commencing the journey with a hand to hold. In discussion over caffe lattes at a local cafe, a new acquaintance and I discovered a mutual desire to explore the Tuscan hills. Frances Mayes’ book , “Bella Tuscany” had whetted our appetites. Before we knew it, we had booked a 3 week tour which would see the two of us walking together in glorious Spring sunshine amongst villages and vineyards across almost 200km. It remains one of my favourite holidays ever; a perfect combination of laughter and new friendship and beauty and movement. Throughout it all, I kept prodigious journals. Here is an excerpt from a particularly memorable day as we rested from the trail in a Castello which dates from the Middle Ages. Set high above surrounding countryside between Montalcino & Pienza, it is still owned and inhabited by the Contessa and her family – descendants of the owners from 1438….
For me, there is a distinct type of landscape that always swells my chest with emotion and inspiration.
This is part of a piece I wrote in 2014 on a visit home to Australia – a time of reassessment & contemplation:
I am back in the mountains that are blue after 10 years away. It is a very different visit to the last. That one was short and filled to the brim with people and food and fanfare and society. It was warm and inclusive like a long-missed hug from a distant love. It was a celebration of all the wonderful connections that I have in my world. This time, I have arrived back to a more contemplative space. Circumstance on arrival has left me with time to myself where I had planned to be busy with people and things. More space, less people; much more time just spent with me for a while. It feels like my solitary travelling days before the move. And it is good for me.
I have had 10 years of a world filled with noise and people: living & working in a pub where people flood through the door 12 hours a day and noise rises through my floorboards even when I am not at work. Now I am in gentle mountains silence. In a simple space with only music & books to keep me company unless I choose otherwise… and long blissful sleeps. I see that I miss it.