The end of the world. Even though we’ve driven as far South as we can, we’re nowhere near the end of our journey. After enjoying a week of relaxing and day trips from our wonderful airbnb in Ushuaia, it was time to start going north. We had three thousand kilometers and about ten days before we were going to meet Bryan, Alaina, Julay and Lucas in Buenos Aires for Christmas.
Compared to the last six months of our travels, there wasn’t much to see on the eastern side of Argentina. Everyone we had spoken to or heard from said it was a very boring drive. Lots of flat spaces and empty horizons. We could have driven non-stop for a few days to reach the capital, but as usual we decided to look for a few places to stop and spend a night or two. I don’t like to rush whenever I can avoid it.
I think to avoid rushing is a way of saying no to the agenda, plans and/or priorities of someone else (even if that someone may be generic expectations of a certain place or experience). There’s a common saying, “always say yes to new opportunities” and while I think there is a lot of value in this approach, the way I think of is more similar to, “don’t say no out of fear” (especially Fear Of Missing Out). I don’t want to let fear or uncertainty or apprehension or discomfort stop me from expanding my horizons. On the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable and in fact I think very important to say no when you know something will not bring value to your life.
It’s not always as simple as that, since everyone has things in their life which they feel they are obligated to do because of family or work. In a way, these things fall into the “valuable” part of the equation since you would assume work and/or family is important to you. Besides that, I always try and think if something has importance to me and if doing/being involved/etc in that activity will improve or interest me in some way. Following my gut and trusting my instincts has rarely steered me wrong (though on the contrary, often NOT following my gut has caused issues).
Our first stop on the way north was a colony of penguins in Cabo dos Bahias. Taking a tour to see penguins from Ushuaia is hundreds of dollars and is full of tourists. Very nice and all, but why do that when we can pay zero dollars and be without ANY other people at all? We spent a couple of hours wandering around the penguin colony, with hundreds of the little tuxedoed wigglers within touching distance. And many other thousands in their burrows and playing in the ocean. It was incredible.
After getting our fill, we decided to spend the night in the cute little town between the highway and the colony; Camarones. It was a very cute and small little town, very well maintained and with a beautiful park and many spaces to park with views of the ocean. We bought a few beers, used our little Trangia to make some pasta, and watched the sun set. We also avoided getting blown on our ass, since it’s still Patagonia and always very windy.
I think saying no is also about power. The power to know that I and no one else oversees my life. My time is my own to spend as I choose; no one is forcing me to work. I do so because I want the money. Or connections. Or satisfaction of accomplishing something I believe is important and valuable. Or whatever it is I am working at a job. I strongly believe this feeling of being in control of my life, actions and activities is one of the most important things you can do to feel good. And how can you treat others well if you don’t feel good about yourself?
The next morning, a Saturday, I headed up towards the only café that appeared open (okay, it also appeared to be the only café with wifi) in this tiny town. Yay, open and good wifi! I had a coffee and dulce de leche medialunas (similar to a croissant; google it). As I was enjoying my relaxing morning (Clo remained sleeping in the back of Wilbur, it wasn’t 9 yet), I started chatting with another guy who showed up and was doing something similar.
He was an older Argentinian/Swiss guy who had retired about a year ago and was driving around Argentina for the past ~9 months in a van with a bed and motorbike in the back. Interesting guy. We ended up chatting for a while and then going to buy some beers. He was in the process of purchasing a property on the outskirts of town overlooking the ocean and was waiting for all the paperwork before he started to build his retirement home.
We went out to check at his property and drink some more beers. Then later in the afternoon he passed on a dinner invitation from a couple who were currently parked in the tiny harbor in their catamaran; of course, we accepted! It was a delicious dinner and they were a fascinating couple with whom to chat. They were from South African and had been traveling and living in their boat for nearly seven (7) years and were waiting here for a few months for favorable winds so they could sail to Europe.
I am frequently surprised by the different types of people who exist in the world. While I do strongly believe most people are the same deep down (such as wanting to be able to provide for their loved ones and have time to do pleasurable things), there are limitless variations above that. A real pleasure in the past few years is meeting people whom I would have never otherwise met and getting to know them, even if for a few hours or days. This exposure to different perspectives, opinions and backgrounds only helps me to be a more open person.
We continued driving towards Buenos Aires. We took it slowly and relished the noticeable change in temperatures; we were enthusiastic about being in a warmer climate. I wouldn’t say we were tired of the constant winds and wearing hoodies all the time, but we were sort of tired of the constant wind and wearing hoodies all the time. It took us a few more days to reach Buenos Aires and we were very happy to check into our airbnb in one of the stylish hippy areas.
Along with Santiago, this was unquestionably one of the most modern and European cities in South America. We spent about a week here, enjoying our bathroom and shower, walking around the local neighborhood and markets, going running and generally settling into the rhythm of the city. We also had a great pleasure of meeting up with Lucas, Julay, Bryan and Aliana. Bryan and Alaina, dear reader, you will certainly recognize, and Lucas and Julay are a couple we had met while picking up Wilbur in Cartegena. We had also met them in Lima and now they had finished their trip and were living back home in Buenos Aires.
We spent a slow and relaxing afternoon eating a bunch of meat and then wandering around the nearby neighborhood and one of the biggest parks in the city. It was great catching up with them and finding out how they felt now that their trip was over and they were back to “real life”. It can be a challenging thing, returning to a life of working 9-5 and no longer being in charge of every second in your day. No longer seeing new things and expanding your (physical and metaphorical) horizons on a regular basis.
The ability to say no to things you don’t like can certainly seem like a very big privilege. It is – when you make your own needs and desires a priority, you almost always must give up other things. At the same time, it comes down to what you treat as a priority; is it really having a new, fancier, bigger TV? Is it having newer vehicle to replace your 5-year old vehicle? A vacation every year to the Caribbean? All those things, while they may seem like a priority for you to escape from your everyday life, are really just making you more stuck into this life where you may feel trapped.
Before Clo left for a festival in France, we were very lucky to celebrate Christmas in Buenos Aires with Bryan and Alaina. We each made a few dishes and had a potluck at B&A’s larger airbnb a few minutes walk away from ours. It was a delicious and fun evening, slightly more spacious than our Thanksgiving experience, and with more cheese hitting me in the eye.
Clo left on the day of 2018 and I was all al... no, no I wasn't alone! Buenos Aires is a big city and two of our other friends (Annie and Gabo) from our vow renewal in Nicaragua were also now living here. We had met up with them during our stay here, and they were exceedingly kind and invited me to the New Years Eve party they were hosting at their home. So while Clo was flying across the Atlantic, I was gorging myself on the best asado I have ever eaten in my life. Oh. My. God. Is the only way I can describe it. I was full until dinner the next day.
The next day I was finally alone and I would be for all of January. I had decided I would take a small road trip and move to a place where it was slightly cheaper to stay and with cooler weather. I decided on Mendoza and drove there slowly, sleeping in Wilbur in various random spots across the countryside. It was weird doing it alone but so easy not having to move so many things around whenever I was setting up or taking down the bed.
I really enjoyed Mendoza. I walked around the city every day and was staying in an airbnb where I was able to do a lot of cooking. I ran a lot. I talked a lot to Clo too, and it was sort of funny to have the same schedule as she did even though she was four hours later than me. I took a few day trips to the Andes and did some hiking. After spending a few weeks here and having my little routines, I headed back to Buenos Aires where I eagerly awaited Clo’s return.
We spent a few days in BA in a wonderful airbnb and enjoyed our little routines together. It’s these things which I think I am anticipating the most of when we’re done with the constant living and traveling in Wilbur. I don’t think I’ll ever want to be “settled” in one place for many years, but having a daily routine is certainly something which I enjoy.
This feeling of being stuck in a routine of working long hours every day, taking care of the kids, going to the gym and trying to squeeze in a few hours of personal time on the weekends is something I’ve come to realize is uniquely American. Did you know the average American worker only even uses HALF of their (relatively) small vacation allotment? Crazy. What many Americans consider a privilege is what many people in other parts of the world consider the norm. Choosing what YOU want and is best for YOU is the most important, but it can be difficult not to compare yourself to those norms to which you are most frequently exposed.
Onwards to Paraguay and Asuncion! It was interesting driving through Argentina; it is surprisingly similar to the farmlands of central Washington and the Midwest. Lots of flat places, fields of varying color, intersections of canals and rivers and not much else to break the relative monotony of the drive.
Entering Paraguay was like we were back in Central America, and quite a surprise. We’ve been spoiled in Chile and Argentina for the past few months with the relatively wealth and modernization of the two countries. But while Paraguay may not have the quality of roads we had come to take for granted in South America, the people were warm and welcoming and the prices were extremely agreeable. It seems strange to qualify an entire country with a few pithy sentences like this, but we didn’t spend too much time here.
We went straight to Asuncion for Clo’s project and to hang out with Max and Marta. They were volunteering at a hostel in the city and we really enjoyed hanging out with them for a few days. The rest of the time in the city we stayed at the home of a wonderful artist, who was trying out airbnb for his first time. He was a great guy and the place itself was awesome.
After leaving Asuncion we headed directly east towards Iguazu falls. It was truly amazing. It had been almost two months since we’d been in the Ushuaia area and it was great to see wonders of nature again. After Iguazu we had a slight delay entering Brazil, due to some… ahem, let’s just say some poor reading skills by yours truly. I had missed some critical details about the online visa, so we needed to wait a few days to get my visa issued. Woops. It was a bit annoying also, since we had made plans with Max and Marta to meet up in Rio for carnival!
Not too fast, though. We first needed to get to Sao Paulo and the coast. This took a few days through the magnificent increasingly jungle-like countryside of Brazil. The roads were also quite good, although frustratingly frequent with their camera speed traps after a corner or at the bottom of a hill where the speed also slowed down from 120km to 80km. Everyone else on the road knew about these and would slow down to at least 5-10km under the speed to avoid the hefty fine. This was extremely annoying at first, but we soon realized there was no way for any sort of ticket to find their way to us. So I tapped the brakes to be polite but otherwise continued along at the normal highway speed. Very satisfying.
Finally we arrived in Sao Paulo and drove through as quickly as we could; we would stop by here on the way back south. We did take a few days to meander up the coast, starting at Ubatuba. Wow. When you imagine steep jungle-clad cliffs dropping directly into the ocean, that’s what this part of the coast was like. Gorgeous. Also very hot and humid during the daytime, and moderately warm and humid during the evening. Not the most comfortable in Wilbur but definitely worth it. We also stopped for a couple of days in the very cute city of Paratay and enjoyed watching all of the other tourists.
Finally we arrived in the outskirts of Rio, where we were extremely lucky to be able to leave Wilbur for the week we planned to spend in the city for carnival. One of Clo’s in-laws lives here and we were able to park Wilbur at her house for the whole time, and just take a train for about an hour to get to our airbnb. This was extremely helpful, both because I hate driving in big cities and during carnival it’s a terrible time to try and find a safe and secure parking in the downtown city.
When we arrived at our airbnb after our train ride and a fifteen minute hike up a mountain through the favela bordering our place, we were very pleasantly surprised by two friends we had just met in Asuncion! Max and Marta had sneakily planned it with them behind our back and so we would enjoy a week of carnival together. Awesome! The airbnb itself was not exactly the best, but it was the cheapest (and still not that cheap) by far and one of the only places where all six of us could stay.
What a week. Hungover a few mornings. Went for a couple runs, one of which was interrupted by a group of carnival goers who gave me a beer. Had my phone stolen. A 24-hour bout of food poisoning. Waiting three hours in the clouds around Christ The Redeemer for a five minute break so Max could take some good photos (and they were great photos). Enjoying awesome and cheap and huge hamburgers in the favelas. Lots of nudity. Folks having sex in an ally at two in the afternoon. You know, carnival.
While I was sad to leave Max, Marta, Tali and Martin I was very happy to start traveling again and getting back to a more normal routine (mainly without all the partying). I do enjoy a good party now and then, but doing it for a week straight is a bit much for me. A week with people everywhere all the time is also over the limit of my socialization preferences.
After picking up Wilbur we drove to Sao Paulo and I had a week to spend a few days here almost alone; I was with Clo in the morning and evening but she had a busy schedule of interviews for her project. It was perfect. We also were very lucky to be able to meet up with a very good friend of ours from France: Aurore, who was here with her sister to visit their father. We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to go to another carnival! This was a smaller one though, a local bloko (as they are called in Brazil) we enjoyed for most of an evening.
One of the big parts of choosing what’s best for me is how often I spend with other people. When I talk about my social preferences, they are often surprised that I consider myself to be more of an introvert than extrovert. I don’t really like the concepts behind either of these titles, but I use them to try and explain how I enjoy being a 100% extrovert about 20% of the time. Then I need time by myself to work, relax, think, process, etc, etc. Balancing this is a big part of what keeps me content and relaxed.
We soon left Sao Paulo and continued driving south. We drove a few hours a day but on a regular rhythm, heading towards the end of our South American experience in Uruguay. We enjoyed Ilha do Mel, sleeping while looking over the ocean. Exiting the city the next morning we saw yet another example of global warming rearing its inevitable head as we had to drive through saltwater-covered streets during high tide. This is brand new for the city, just starting about ten years ago.
We did take a few relaxing days in Blumenau, staying in the German cultural center. It was private, empty on the weekend with wonderful bathrooms and lovely, shade covered areas to relax by ourselves. We drove on with a brief stop in Florianopolis, which was a beautiful city but not a place we were interested in exploring.
The last major stop in Brazil was the lovely city of Torres to do some hiking and see the ocean and beaches. That evening we drove up into the mountains and canyons of Aparados de Serra – they were stunning! The next morning we enjoyed an amazing hike of a few hours before the rainstorms started, but it was gorgeous and we finished just in time. It helped the temperature was becoming cooler and cooler with less humidity as we continued south. Weather plays such a big role in how we experience each of our days, since we are either inside the rather small living area of Wilbur or outside enjoying the environment.
Our time inside Wilbur was about to take a very long hiatus. Uruguay was next, and we would be spending a week in Montevideo for Clo’s project and then a whole month in a villa along the ocean. Friends and family were coming to visit us from all over the world and we would have a month to relax and reflect on the past couple of years. At least that’s what we were expecting.