Maybe wanderlust is a search for home.

I’ve been reading The Handsomest Man in Cuba, a great memoir by Lynette Chiang, an Australian woman who traveled through Cuba by bicycle. In one passage, she states that “man will travel the world to find what he seeks at home,” which really connected with me as a traveler. Whenever I travel, I always find some element of home in wherever I go- sometimes it’s a group of people, a landscape, or a little detail of daily life that reminds me of home, but more often than not it’s the places that are least like what I’m familiar with that are the most evocative to me.

Unfamiliar places ignite my imagination. They force me to think, “what would my daily life look like here? How could I adapt to this environment?” Trying to imagine how I would make a living in Valparaíso, Chile or if I could build a shack on the coast north of Madang, Papua New Guinea are so far outside of the context of my usual life that these routines of life that seem so daunting and constrictive at home become filled with excitement and possibility.

Maybe that’s the heart of what travel is for me- to see myself in another context, to attempt to understand what life may be for those living under very different circumstances, and in that imagining comes the real transformative experience of travel. Travel and the imagination that it fuels offer a chance for reinvention and escape. I know the adage “wherever you go, there you are” rings true, and I’ve learned first-hand that one’s fears, assumptions, and priorities don’t just fall away when you cross a border, but by forcing ourselves to conceptualize life within a different context, we are reminded that our routines and conventions are not all that is, and there are in fact innumerable perspectives and ways of living one’s life.

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Exploring Unnatural Light

In the last two months I’ve been getting into some interesting photo techniques using long exposures at night which include lighting that I add to selected parts of the scene. The basic concept goes like this: I set up a shot, set up a very long shutter speed (usually 30 seconds to five minutes) and then use flashlights to illuminate certain parts of the scene. Because of the long shutter speeds, I have the ability to light a subject from several different angles which creates lighting effects in which the subject glows with light that seems to come from within. By lighting the entire foreground of a photo, I can create a sense of false daylight or very even lighting with no shadows or highlights.

All of the photos are taken at night, there are no effects applied to the photos except occasional exposure adjustments.

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Los Perros de Valparaíso

Well, since I´ve been here in Valparaíso for more than a month now, maybe you´re wondering what I´ve been up to, aside from eating… that has been no small job. Walking up and down the hills here gives me a furious appetite, and even with mayo-drenched hot dogs and fried empanadas I feel like I´m losing calories.

But anyway, photography has been taking up a lot of my time, despite having a camera that is slightly less than fully functional. Since its unhappy meeting with concrete at the hands of a would-be thief, I´ve gotten it pretty well sorted out with duct tape and some luck. Since then, I´ve been focusing a lot of my energy on taking photos of the dogs here in the city. Valparaiso is teeming with dogs, stray, domestic, and those in between. Pure-breds and mutts mix freely, and on every street corner is a dog or group of dogs enacting some aspect of their life: sleeping, playing, chasing cars, fighting, begging. Here is a sample of what I´ve been getting so far.

From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso
From Los Perros de Valparaiso

There are more photos at my Picasa page: Perros de Valparaíso

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News from the Bottom Half of the world

Well, it´s official- this trip has now completely abandoned any pretense of being a bike tour, as I just sold my bike. Due to the fact that I can´t really ride any great distance, it was more of a hinderance than anything else. I originally wanted to sell the bike in order to buy one of the many 125cc motorcycles that swarm the roads of Chile, but my enthusiasm was tempered by the fact I would need insurance and registration, and the additional fact that I don´t “know how to operate a motorcycle.”

So it happened, the trusty old Surly Long Haul Trucker is gone, traded for a sizeable stack of Chilean Pesos, 450,000 to be exact. Because the US dollar is in the tank right now, things worked out quite well in my favor and I got about $950 out of the bike, which is more than I would likely get for it in the US.

I sold the bike on a Chilean approximation of ebay, and an eager buyer snatched it about a week after posting the bike. He came to my house, quickly examined the bike while mumbling approvingly at the components, “Ah, Ritchey, Sugino de Japon… hmm, Brooks!” After a few minutes of pawing at the bike, he handed me a stack of Chilean cash with a grin, dropped the seat as low as it would go, and dramatically overtightened the seatpost binder bolt while I winced at the bike-geek incorrectness of it all. With another big grin and a final handshake, he wobbled off down the sidewalk, and there I stood, suddenly and undeniably bikeless.

Sure, I felt a little bit nostalgic and sentimental about selling off the bike, but in a more practical way, I got about as much as I could get for the bike anywhere. Not to mention that the thing is about as useful to me as a boat anchor at this point. Plus, it´s kind of cool to pass along my bike to someone here in Chile. It isn´t possible to buy one here, so it´s likely the new owner has one of very very few in South America.

In other news, bike-related of course, yesterday there was an awesome bike event here called Valparaiso Cerro Abajo, which simply means downhill. If you can guess from the name, the event involved downhill-style mountain bikes through the twisting streets, stairways, wall-rides and big jumps that the unique topography of the city provides. I can´t say how many times I´ve though about how cool it would be to do such a thing, and yesterday I saw it played out in the best fashion, as a bunch of pros from South America and abroad went after it in full force.

Pictures? yes.

From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011

Click through to see full sized images and more from the set.

I´ve also been getting after it, in a different sort of way. Chile, as some might know, is located directly adjacent to the ocean. As such there is a wealth of good sea food here, and I´ve been doing my best to sample what I can. Yesterday after the bike event I went with my friend Alejandra to the port district of the city, where I got a Paila Marina, which is a grab-bag of shrimp, abalone, clams, Conger eel, and other sea food in a delicious broth, served with chopped cilantro and a wedge of lemon, all for 7 dollars, including an appetizer of ceviche, cold raw fish tossed with onions, cilantro and lemon juice. Very good, and not stingy on the portions either!

well… that´s about all there is to tell in my short internet-café session, rest assured I´m doing fine with cheap seafood and wine!

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Injury-touring in Chile

Well, that was quite a bike tour… since arriving in Chile we´ve had about ten days off the bike and five days on, definitely not the most disciplined bro-trek that´s ever been conceived (not that it´s a bad thing.)  We got as far as Chillan, where we stayed with our friend Romina and took a nice side trip to her friend Coti´s beach house in the beautiful area near the town of Cobquecura. The rest of my companions continued south, while a painful and swollen achilles tendon sent me back north on a bus.

Fortunately, I am far from upset because I´ve returned to Valparaiso, the amazingly beautiful and interesting city that I mentioned in my last post.

Once again the amazing Zapata family has come through, and I´m staying with Nico at their apartment while Camila and Pia are in Chillan.

UPDATE January 22

And apparently, I´ve pioneered a new angle in adventure travel-¨injury touring.¨ Basically, injury touring consists of arriving in a foreign land, then suffering as many injuries as possible in your time there.  I´ve stepped up my injury tour with a dislocated shoulder and a broken camera courtesy of a scumbag who tried to steal my camera.

The encounter went like this- I was walking in the hills of Valparaiso, camera in hand. I started to walk up a very steep street when an old man waved me over to him. He was trying to walk down the street, but needed my help. So down we went, arm in arm, until suddenly someone snatched my camera strap, which was slung over my shoulder, with the camera under my opposite arm. He took off down the street, and I gave chase. I caught up to him and jumped on his back, managing to get an arm around his neck while screaming curses at him.

He responded by chucking my camera down the street, where it clattered onto the pavement. After a second or two of struggling, he got me off of him, and I landed square on my shoulder, knocking it out of joint. I got up in an adrenaline-fueled daze and ran to pick up my camera and lens (which had come apart in the impact and lay about twenty feet apart) and took off running the 1km or so back to Nico´s house.

Nico called the cops, who whisked us into their van while they drove at ridiculous speeds through the tiny streets, trying to find the culprit. Meanwhile I was gritting my teeth in pain as the van swerved every which way.

Finally they gave up their chase and took me to the hospital, where doctors attempted to wrestle my arm back in place. Unfortunately my muscles were very tense from the pain and it wasn´t happening. So under anesthesia I went while they did the job.

I came to, and was wheeled into a recovery room for a while, then back to the emergency room to wait for a doctor to sign off on my X-rays and send me off. Nico informed me that the doctors decided to waive the fees for all my medical care ¨as a courtesy¨ to me as a tourist (???!?!!?!?!!) Wow, I did not expect that! Apparently they were either moved by my valiant deeds (unlikely) or felt bad for the gringo tonto (stupid gringo) (more likely.) In any case, a mere 9 hours after the incident, Nico and I were walking back to the apartment, my arm in a sling and my head in a cloud.

My camera, although not stolen, is however rather trashed. The battery is lost, the flash is broken, the lens is just a tad cockeyed, and most of the buttons dont´t work… damn. We´ll see what happens, though. The police contacted Nico yesterday, saying they will get a report of the damages and possibly reimburse me for the cost of the camera. I guess Valparaiso does not want to get a bad name among tourists!

I´m not holding my breath for any money, but that would be a great relief.

Despite being a lousy turn of events, I dare say that things could not have gone better given the circumstances. The doctors, police, and especially Nico, were awesomely helpful. It´s safe to say things could have gone much worse.

Hopefully that´s the extent of my injury tour, and I can get back to being a regular old stupid gringo before long.


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Valparaiso and the Road to Santiago

Well it´s been a little while since I´ve posted anything on this, sorry about that but finding internet and fitting a good old blogging session in is a bit of a chore here. Anyway, I finally got some pictures up on Picasa and I´ll try to update whenever possible.

So as I said last time, we ended up in Valparaiso with the Zapatas- Nico, Camila, Pia, and their cousin Romina. They were awesome hosts and great friends for our time there and showed us around the city quite a lot. Valpo is easily the most beautiful city I´ve ever seen, with steep cobblestone streets that point straight up huge hills and old buildings stacked on one another.

From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011

The city is known as the bohemian center of Chile, and it´s easy to feel inspired looking out from an apartment window to see the ocean and  the people on the street. The city also has a wealth of really good street art and it is hard to turn your head without seeing a big, unique piece.

From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011
From Chile and Argentina Bike Tour 2011

We´ve also had an opportunity to eat a lot of the local cuisine, mostly in the form of completos, which are hot dogs piled high with tomatoes, avocado, and a ton of mayonnaise. They´re sold everywhere and generally cost around a dollar fifty so they make a cheap meal, or as Dan says, “a food pyramid on a bun.” We are keeping a running tally of our individual completo intake, right now I am in the lead with six completos eaten, and Derek is not far behind with five. We´ll see how this competition pans out, but I have a good feeling that I might take the championship.

There are many other culinary monstrosities in Chile, not the least of which is el Guaton, a massive, face-sized sandwich with beef, avocado, cheese and other unnamed ingredients. We didn´t indulge, but who knows, we may have one yet.

 We also got a chance to swim in the Pacific, which was a first for me and a couple of others in the group as well.

After five lazy, sunny days, we said goodbye and headed toward Santiago, where I met up with my friends Daniella and Geraldine, Chileans that I worked with while I was at the Alta Peruvian  Lodge. We´ve been staying in a very nice and very cheap hostel here, but today we are packing up and shipping out, hopefully to make some significant mileage as we haven´t done too much so far.

As always, keep checking Picasa for more picture uploads. I have a big backlog of photos to wade through, so hopefully somewhere along the way I´ll catch up some more. Until then, adios.

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In Chile!!

Wow, Chile is beautiful. Unfortunately for you, I can´t put up any pictures at present, so take my word for it until I can. We are in Valparaiso, which as the name implies, is a bit like paradise. It is a beautiful city on the ocean with steep steep hills that are absolutely covered with a random assortment of decaying houses and apartment blocks. The weather is wonderful, 70-80 degrees and sunny. We just went swimming. The sun is out until 9PM.

So far no actual bike riding on the tour, due to a baggage mistake that forced my friend Derek and me to take a bus here from Santiago while the others rode. As it turns out, our bikes never made it onto the plane in NYC, so they finally arrived here yesterday.

In a couple of days we are heading out to Santiago again to visit friends and then we will be heading south.

Well, my time at the internet cafe is drawing to a close. Until next time, adios!

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