Back to reality…there goes gravity!

If the past year of travel was a lesson in purging, our 6 weeks in California was a master class in bingeing! We visited all our favorite restaurants instead of exisiting on cheese sandwiches and fruit; we familiarized ourselves with what it means to be known instead of being anonymous backpackers; we reveled in the 5 star comfort of my parent’s house instead of merely surviving sketchy hostels; we bought NEW clothes that were actually weather and culture appropriate instead of wearing the same shirt with the holes in it or the same trousers that were now 2 sizes too big; and we loved being enveloped by family gatherings instead of catching glimpses of them in photos or on i-chat. 

San Diego was a good time for us to just stay in one place for a while and enjoy being comfortable and surrounded by family and friends. It was also a great place to tell lots of travel stories to people who cared enough to listen intently. But even in the 6 weeks we were there, our lives as adventurers and explorers quickly threatened to become only memories in light of ‘reality’ and I especially realized that I must purposefully choose to live differently with the lessons I have learned.

Yesterday, we arrived at Heathrow to a home-made banner that read: Welcome Home Peter & Becca. After relying on one another to be our ‘home’ for over a year, it seems strange to come back to such familiarity and yet such uncertainty as we move in with Peter’s parents in East Sussex to figure out what happens next. I’m sure every traveller has experienced the awkward feeling of coming back to the place you started from and learning how to jump back onto the conveyer belt of life. Thankfully, we have extremely supportive friends and family to help us with the transition.

Over the next few days, I will be doing some reflecting on our time away and will be posting just a few more entries with some of our favorite photos and summaries. Thank you for being on the journey with us.

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The Greyhound

It had been exactly a year since we started traveling (3rd Nov). To celebrate we caught the Greyhound; the infamous bus company that zig zags across America. When you have travelled across the world you don’t expect to be surprised by much. I’ve seen some strange things traveling but few compare to my experience of catching the Greyhound from Las Vegas to LA. In the land of competition where only the very best can survive the Greyhound is an anomaly; a complete monopoly. We arrived and were instantly greeted by a gentleman smoking a cigarette, as he began to talk to us I was startled by his over friendliness, did I know this man? By the end of the conversation he had made up his mind he was traveling with us to LA. I pulled us away from our long lost friend only to discover a drug deal going on right under our nose. When you arrive in the terminal it’s like you are in an episode of Star Wars, we stood in awe of the different species that stood proud before us. Ex convicts, pro traveling evangelists (so said the sweaty t shirt), gangster look a likes, and an old man dying of some sort of seizure. I stood stunned, surprised and uneasy, I had never seen so many McDonalds bags stapled to people’s hands. This is the land of the free I thought to myself.

I’ve been to America at least 7 times now and have never been exposed to it’s underbelly before and to say it was a revelation is an understatement! I love this side of America, gritty and fascinating. I wrote a blog post in India called a “train full of poverty” and I never thought I would find an American equivalent. As foreign aid swells and people apply creative minds to bring hope to the poorest, spare a cent for the hidden poor. In a throw away line in his book Ghost Train to The Eastern Star, Theroux comments that there is a book waiting to be written about poverty in the US. Becca and I have thought how interesting this would be to travel to the richest nation in the world and discover that poverty is as painful here as it is in Central Africa. Now we know our mode of transport. Once a Greyhound… running serenely through America but now a panting dog, limping from one strange stop to the next.

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Beautiful view

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A pro traveling evangelist

Concordia (Argentina) a constant surprise

Marcos (an Argentine friend from University) and Claire (a Brit who Becca had the privilige of living with) have been working in Concordia together for about 5 years now. They have started a church in the main city and work with Marcos’ parents just outside Concordia with a slum community. We visited them for a week and in the car on the way back from the coach station Marcos tells us that we’ll be preaching and leading worship at his church on Sunday. Marcos is a real believer of throwing guests in at the deep end and then rewarding them with exquisite hospitality. Malbec… a rich red wine from Mendoza and great conversation kept us energised for what was a crazy week. Marcos and Claire’s life is a constant surprise, with a different person knocking at the door everyday and texts for prayer and help arriving thick and fast.

As we drive round a local slum Marcos gets a text : “I’m a drug addict and have been for years, I’ve heard you might be able to help”. We turn another corner in the van and we approach a rubbish dump… for as far as the eye can see there is a collage of crap. As I look closer I realise that amongst the many things making up this terrible tapestry are families rummaging to find something of worth. Pigs feed on plastic bags and rotten food. It’s not that I haven’t seen people looking through the rubbish before, I’ve seen it most major cities I’ve been to and you can’t go anywhere in India without noticing children searching for treasure amongst the rubbish. The shocking thing about poverty in Concordia is its hiddenness.

I had the opportunity to speak at the wedding of a couple from the local slum. To say it was a privilege is an understatement. I tried to do justice to the 30 min warning I was given but it’s difficult when you know how important a wedding day is. They stood reverently and excitedly, dressed in the only pair of smart clothes they own. The simplicity of the wedding was a lesson in frugality and a treat for those that appreciate something gritty and real. Everyone will tell you as a traveller not to go to Concordia but the people have a rare charm about them, friendly, inviting, hospitable and interesting. No doubt our great experience had more to do with our hosts than anything else. As always its the people that make a place such a great surprise, not the tourist traps.

 

 

What a difference a border makes

Last week, we finally got to Buenos Aires…a city that I had been very excited to experience after my love of ´Evita´ and upon hearing that it was the Paris of South America. And it did not disappoint. The Argentinian lifestyle that I had grown to appreciate so much staying with our friends Marcos and Claire was even more vivid in the city; people talk over long lunches, take their coffee seriously, revel in artist markets, give credit to their history, and draw in tourists with open arms. We stayed in a fantastic hostel and spent our days wandering the streets taking in the sights of La Boca, San Telmo, Puerto Madera, and Recoletta. All in all, I think Argentina is one of the world´s best kept secrets as it does not loudly advertise itself, but it has a little of everything and a wealth of hospitality.

This week, we have done a very short stopover in Brazil mainly in Rio de Janeiro. Having just won the bid for the Olympic games, I was especially excited to join in the celebrations….as of course that´s what Rio is known for. However, arriving in the middle of a random week of rain, Rio has failed to live up to my expectations. Peter wisely says that I should withold judgement as being one of our last stops after a year of travel, it would look entirely different to me. Seeing the statue of the Christ has menat fulfilling a life long dream for both Peter and I, but besides this formidable landmark, there has been little else to allure me quite like Chile and Argentina. In the midst of so many Spanish influenced countries, Brazil stands apart and resembles Central America or the Caribbean more than its South American neighbours. On a sunny day, the landscape of hills and beaches are undoubtedly beautiful, but the city itself lacks something of character and seems to be laying in waiting for the next Carnaval to come around.

All that said, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to see Rio with my own eyes, and cannot wait until I can visit both Chile and Argentina more extensively.

For the next 2 months, we will be based in California before heading back to where it all began!! Please keep reading as we continue to reflect and tell stories here.

Feeling the love in Latin America

It´s amazing how powerfully a smile or friendly gesture can trascend language barriers. Very quickly after landing at Santiago airport, it became obvious that our English wasn´t going to get us very far for the first time in our year of travel. Thankfully, South Americans are some of the most open hearted and helpful people that we´ve encountered and have an immense amount of patience for those of us who still haven´t got a grasp of the beautiful Spanish language. It´s been quite amazing to carry on full conversations with people in our own respective languages, picking up maybe one or two details, but thoroughly enjoying the whole experience.

Continue reading ‘Feeling the love in Latin America’

Pics from NZ

Don’t cheat… read the previous post before you look at the pics. Continue reading ‘Pics from NZ’

Reflections on middle earth

In the past we have definitely suffered from what Becca calls “sensory overload”. When you have seen the Taj Mahal at sunrise, glimpsed the Himalayas through the mist of Darjeeling, been to the top of Table Mountain, peaked at the snow capped summit of Killimanjaro, and weathered the rapids of the Nile (just showing off now) it´s hard to believe that anything can wow you, but the reckless creation of an island angered by tectonic plates is a sight that reminds you of the raw beauty of the earth and a God not to be messed with. New Zealand is a mouth watering experience for those with a taste for the aesthetic, an unparalleled  scenic delight.

We spent our 2 weeks there literally just driving around both the north and south islands, averaging out at about 5 hours on the road every day. We rented a campervan (more like just a van with a matress in the back) and covered as much ground as possible and just took it all in. The Lonely Planet will insist you have to spend  spend spend in order to get the most out of NZ, but as we didn’t have the luxury of extra cash to go sky diving or kayaking etc, and all our money went on petrol  anyway, we mostly just looked for free! Luckily, all of the national parks and most museums don’t charge an entry fee and free-camping (parking up anywhere you like for the night) is widely accepted. Although don´t ask slightly angry looking camping site owners to use their showers. They will scold you  for free camping and tell you where to go (yes, personal experience and rather embarassing).  We went grocery shopping twice and Peter did all the cooking on one camping stove. I can’t even make an omelette in a real kitchen let alone on a gas stove in freezing, windy conditions so I was very impressed!  I (Peter) recommend not cooking fried eggs in windy conditions; twice I got egg on the windscreen of our car.

It was just turning from winter into spring while we there, and that meant we got to experience the wildflowers, new born lambs, overflowing waterfalls, cherry blossoms, and heavily snow capped mountains. Even though we had to sleep with about 4 layers on, and we got a lot of rain our second week, we were really happy to be there at that time of year. Below are a couple of our highlights :

Lake Taupo – a volcano crater filled with water, this gorgeous lake is situated at the edges of the famous ‘Mt Doom’ from Lord of the Rings. The 2 mountains here are a taste of the monstrous beauty of the south island. In the vicinty are natural hot springs which were cheap enough for us to take a dip in (Debretts). There’s nothing quite like soaking in natural hot water underneath a starry sky.

Queenstown – although very expensive as the adrenalin capital of NZ (think Vail or Aspen), this is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve ever been to and small enough to experience in a short visit. It’s also set on the edge of a lake and surrounded by mountains.

The west coast drive on the south island – starts in Westport and ends at the Franz Josef glaciers, the road winds it way along the coast with snowy mountains constantly on your horizon and fascinating natural wonders all the way along.

Milford Sound – said to be the number one attraction of NZ, it lived up to its reputation. Set in Fjordland, and explored by boat, Milford Sound is one of those natural phenomenons that makes you speechless. Dramatic mountains plunging into deep, dark waters. The surrounding valley is just as spectacular, especially the drive in that takes you through a tunnel carved into the moutain by pick-axes!

Christchurch – just a very quaint English-like town that provided us with very cool coffee shops, interesting boutiques, and peaceful walks.

Abel Tasman – a protected land reserve set on the northern coast of the south island with great walks along sandy coves.

In between taking in all these glorious sights, we spent our time talking, reflecting, dreaming, praying, and writing songs. As one of the only places on our travels that we didn´t visit projects or people, it was a great place for us to just be.