85. A False Sense of Security

July 16th, 2011

(Written: 12th July 2011)

I've been to Santiago in Chile before and as such I planned to leave here quite quickly.  Not only that but its winter here and at night it gets really cold.  I also had to head north as the shortest timed flights across the Atlantic go via Iceland and I'm currently very much in the southern hemisphere.  So next stop north to Lima in Peru and although I've been to Peru before I haven't been to Lima.  However, I still wasn't sure that I was going to as I couldn't believe the price of the flight tickets, tickets and particularly direct ones in South America are amazingly expensive.  I managed to find a reasonable series of flights hopping through South America and up to central America but I have to stop at a number of towns I've never heard of ever wanted to hear of.  Bizarrely, booking 7 "multi-trip" flights to Panama is a third of the price of booking 4 I wanted.  But there is one positive in addition to the lower cost.  Yes it may take longer to get where I want to go but only one of the flights is over 4 hours but most others are barely one!  That's keeping my average down!

Santiago

So after spending one day walking around Santiago and looking at the "free Patagonia" graffiti everywhere in addition to the usual "homosexuality is a crime against God," graffiti you seem to get everywhere in South America, I hoped on a plane to Buenos Aires, Argentina.  I was a little concerned as I'd learnt in the morning that Buenos Aires airport had been closed for a few days due to volcanic ash.  If I got stuck the knock on affect with my seven flights would be an absolute nightmare as since the problems in Iceland last year with their Volcano, insurance companies no longer pay out and airlines technically only have to offer a refund.  Seems to be because it's declared as an act of God and all that.  Seems quite a nasty guy to me, hates homosexuals but loves airlines and insurance companies.  Sounds like Richard Branson!

Santiago Santiago

We landed in Buenos Aires ok but the connecting flight wasn't on the screen yet and of those that were a number of them had been cancelled.  To take my mind of it I headed into town for a quick look around. It's yet another place I've been to before and to be honest it hasn't changed much, but it was still very hard not to sing, "don't cry for me Argentina" as I passed the famous Evita balcony on the pink Palace.  But back at the airport the flight was on and I gave a sigh of relief as we took off to the old capital of the former Spanish Viceroy of South America.

Buenos Aries

Flying into Lima in Peru I experienced the worst landing I've ever had on a plane.   As we slowed down on the approach suddenly the nose of the plane rose and the back dropped.  We must have hit a huge depression but so much was the stall and drop that a magazine on my knee lifted into the air, I instinctively and rather pointlessly grabbed the back of the seat in front while the stewardesses just behind me at the back of the plane screamed.  This didn't particularly fill me with confidence!  It honestly felt like we were about to plummet to the earth but all within a few seconds the engines roared and the pilots dipped the nose back down.  I just looked at the lady next to me and we just both gave a huge sigh of relief.  Leaving the plane was equally weird.  No one said the usual goodbyes and the stewardesses were in animated discussion with he pilots.  Travelling overland may have taken me a long time but it's far less scary but at least the flight was only 4h20mins, still within my 5 hour rule.

Lima

But you most defiantly know you've arrived in Lima when you exit customs.  You enter a hall full of hundreds of people shouting after you for their custom.  You forget how different and European Chile and Argentina are.  And also you forget how much safer Chile is compared to most other South American countries.  I'd arranged for a guy to pick me up at the airport as Lima is renowned for taxi drivers taking tourists from the airport to dodgy parts of the city and then stealing all of their possessions.  As I was arriving late at night I thought prearranging although a lot more expensive, was a lot safer.  Driving through the bad areas of town the taxi driver didn't stop at any red lights as if people saw me in the back there would be a small chance I'd be mugged, but I eventually arrived in the relatively safe and affluent Coastal suburb of Miraflores.  Although having said that, most houses are surrounded by high Walls and electrified razor wire like a prison although the prisoners are on the outside!

Lima

I had a slight delay getting into my dorm as an Israeli guy in the dorm would not let me in until he had finished praying.  I always find this amazingly rude as it's happened a couple of times before.  It's a dorm, not a synagogue so why should I have to wait 10 minutes for him to finish. I asked him to leave as I too wanted to pray but he just laughed and continued taking his praying tassels off.  But what can I say about Lima, well, I was quite surprised at how nice the old historic centre looks.  I guess this is partly because it was from here Spain initially ruled all of its South American colonies.  But you get lulled into a false sense of security in the centre as everything is clean and tidy with police everywhere.

Lima Lima

With this false sense of security firmly in place I headed to the presidential palace and then over the River Rimac to a small area called not surprisingly called Rimac.  It's a pleasant looking area with yellow painted buildings and a beautiful bright orange church at the end of the main street.  It all looks very inviting and as such I started to walk to towards the church.  As I did so I could see the area behind the church was filled with buildings in various states or decay but the age of the buildings gave the area a unique charm.  Just as I got my camera out an old couple across the street gestured frantically to get my attention.  Their actions were distinct, clear and done almost in a sense of panic.  I looked over my shoulder to see a couple of guys walking towards me.  The lady grabbed my arm which I think was done to make it look like I was with them, but they said quietly through gritted teeth, run, run.  But in Spanish of course.  Being me I didn't run but thanked them and walked back towards the safety of the main square while keeping a careful look over my shoulder.  I thought running would be like running from a bull.  The more you run the more it chases because it knows you are aware of it and are scared.  Not running left doubt in their minds.

Lima Lima

Eventually I made it back to the lines of armed soldiers and police next to the armoured police tank!  I guess seeing these should have highlighted that the area was not particularly safe!  But that's the trouble of travelling without a guidebook, a book would have shown me where I should and shouldn't go but I had no idea.  However, I got away with it this time although I was a little annoyed I didn't get the picture I wanted!

Lima

But that was Lima and I can't say much more than that.  This experience left a bitter taste in complete contrast to last time I was here when I visited Cusco, the list City of the Inca (Macchu Picchu) and Lake Titicaca.  So it was time to continue north to Quito in Ecuador via a strangely named place of course (Guayaquil).

Lima

89. The End of the World, Trip!

July 29th, 2011

(Written: 29th July 2011)

Iceland has always been one of the countries of the world that I've wanted to visit but I don't really know why. I think the main reason could be because of its name, the “land of ice” but other than that it has to be said that I do harbour a little animosity over the country due to the "cod wars" which as we know wasn't actually a war! Having said that I do completely agree with what the Icelanders said they wanted to achieve and completely support their principles. However, the way in which they did it and the hypocrisy of their stance to me leaves the place morally vacant. Yes cod was overfished by British trawlers, but you don't randomly claim 200 nautical miles of sea from your coast without international agreement. And to get your own way you do not, during the height of the cold war, take sides with the Soviet Union and threaten to close the NATO base on the island thus removing the cold war buffer zone. You do not then go on to order a large number of Soviet made war ships. To me this was blackmail of the worst kind, a blackmail which could have lead to disaster on a massive scale and one the British had no choice but to give in to. Although the British agreed not to fish in the 200 nautical mile radius, they still did not recognise it as official territorial waters.

Reykjavik Reykjavik

Then there's the point of taking the moral high ground of not fishing a species that were becoming endangered. I could not agree more with this but here is one problem with Iceland. They still hunt endangered whales and did at the time. So they are either morally challenged or in actual fact they really wanted exclusive fishing rights in the area and were prepared to get it by threatening the start of a really cold war. So thinking about it why the hell did I come here!

Reykjavik Reykjavik

Well that was clear. I did it as I wanted to see if I could get back to the UK from New Zealand on flights taking less than 5 hours and the answer to that is yes. The flight from Boston had taken a relatively short 04h33m37s. But I had four days here so I thought I'd see about hiring a car. Ahhh, they wanted £70 a day for a tiny car, I think not. What's quite amazing is that they double the car hire for June and July as it’s the only time the weather is relatively nice but no one can afford them so hundreds of them sit idle outside the hire buildings.

Golden Circle Golden Circle

So for one guy travelling alone it was far cheaper to do a couple of day trips and although I barely saw a quarter of the island it gave me a good idea of what the place looked like. There is some amazing scenery, with ancient volcanoes, remnants of massive lava flows, boiling hot geysers and thundering waterfalls. You also get the opportunity to stand on the North American tectonic plate and look across at the Eurasian plate pulling away in the opposite direction, a metaphor for North American and European relations if there ever was one. You could technically stand on the European side and throw stones at the American side if you wanted but no one did as there were no French guys in our group to do it. Although I only had a small tasted of the place it has to be said that for those of an outdoor persuasion it is a must visit kind of place but bring a coat as even it midsummer it barely gets above 15 degrees in the daytime. Although it has to be said that I do not know what constitutes daytime as during mid June to Mid July it doesn't actually get dark! As St Petersburg confused me at the start of this trip I was out walking and it was only by looking at my watch did I realise it was 11pm.

Golden Circle Golden Circle

Having talked about its beauty, it has to be said that if you can afford it go to New Zealand as it has Iceland plus a whole lot more, but for somewhere just a 2.5hour flight away from London it’s a pretty place. And the morally vacant people? Well, the world did look badly upon Iceland when they voted not to pay the rest of the world back after the financial collapse of the country. The companies here all but stole overseas peoples’ hard earned savings and gave it to people here who could not afford to pay it back, but looking back what would you have done in a vote if one of the choices was making you kids pay for it with 40 years worth of payments? I think it would have been the same result. Most Icelanders I met were amazingly apologetic about it but also amazingly defensive but all said that they do hope to pay the money back and when a more achievable way is found, they will do it.

Golden Circle Golden Circle

So visiting did change my opinion of Iceland somewhat. I still think the brinkmanship of the past was dangerous but I think the people on the streets here more than make up for those problems. All they have to do in my eyes now is to stop needlessly hunting for whales. But it was time to go. It has to be said my heart wasn't really in it as I was thinking about "real life" which I would arrive back into in just one more day. After 379 days it was going to be a little weird and a little depressing. So much so that I couldn't actually sleep on my last night and it wasn't because it didn't get dark!

Golden Circle Golden Circle

I used to think that coming home after a holiday overseas was a bit like returning to a well used and well loved comfort blanket. But now I've come to realise that it's more a straightjacket with padding. Back to the 9 to 5, back to the yes boss no boss, back to being an irrelevant cog in a massive machine which probably never even noticed that I was gone. I guess that's why I like going to places and particularly those less well travelled. There I'm different, people are interested in me and not just because they want to steal from me! But because I'm a stranger in their midst. For a brief time, for one year, I had a story and even though I say so myself it was quite a good one. The backpackers' I met were interested in the places I’d been and they had never been before and the locals could never understand why I never wanted to fly when to them this was the best and easiest way to travel! So after a year in the limelight, I now have to get used to being just another commuter on the way to a dreary office in central London....

.... Although that being said, I'll still be rollerblading so I may stand out a bit! I mean once you have an audience.....

But in the mean time it was back to Sheffield to end the trip where it started. And amazingly, if I include this final stop as my final night of the trip, this was to be exactly the 200th place I've slept in on my little adventure!

Golden Circle Golden Circle

So after a year, in summary, Overland challenge FAILED! Thanks to a 58 minute flight caused by a very unhelpful Aussie Immigration and an Aussie shipping company. The 5 hour flight challenge on the way back, FAILED, thanks to having to backtrack to New Caledonia and the volcano in Chile stopping all flights from New Zealand. But the flight that broke the challenge was just one minute and two seconds over. The challenge to have an average flight time of less than 2 hours 43 mins...... Achieved! My average flight time was 2 hours 26 minutes. So the trip wasn’t a complete failure then..... but it has to be said, I’m still gutted about not being able to complete the prime objective of my year out. Thanks for your help Australia....

Sheffield


Thanks to all those who chose to follow my blog and I hope you get to visit some of the places I visited soon.....

signing off,
Darren