The Trials Of Returning From Travel

I’m not going to lie. At times in the last month I have felt like a wild animal backed into a corner. Trapped. And I just want to fight my way out and run off. The truth is, it is a lot of confronting things you don’t like, that don’t resonate with you anymore, and doing things that you don’t want to do. Yes, I know, life contains all manner of things that you don’t want to do that you have to, including finding a job and somewhere to live. They so rightly term it ‘adulting’. But right now, I just don’t want to deal with any of it. I am throwing the dummy out of the pram big time.

When I first got back I had all these thoughts of how I was going to find a lovely house and make myself a compost and vegetable garden with herbs and lettuce. I was going to throw fabulous dinner parties for my friends and make amazing food from around the world with country-themed meals. I was going to be zen-as-fuck and meditate everyday, do yoga for stretching my back even though I hate it. I was going to jump on Tinder, go speed dating and meet some lovely guy and message people to catch up and make loads of new friends and life would be smashingly wonderful.

Instead, I find myself fighting to get paperwork completed so that I can get money or actually apply for a job. I am definitely nowhere near zen, I live in a state of perpetual annoyance because of how much I have to do, and none of these involve socializing, cooking good food or gardening. I did however start Tindering and two weeks into it I am bored as shit. I don’t have any energy to put forward to make a decent first impression, which let’s face it (especially for anyone who has actually met me), is difficult at the best of times. I am too tired to even want to get up  out of bed in the morning and do anything and massively snowed down with a list of things to do that is longer than my forearm and never seems to get any shorter. The mountains of shit and things pile up around me and I feel smothered by the whole lot of it. It is too much to organise, too much to deal with and I have gone into total shut down mode with it all.

The other thing with getting set up is the general bullshit bureaucracy of it all. It is incredibly difficult for some members of organisations to believe that ‘no, you didn’t have a house and somewhere to live permanently for the last year and a half’ and ‘no, you didn’t have a phone number’, and ‘no, you haven’t lived the conventional life that fits into their very square-shaped mould, and what are you supposed to do if you’re a lovely dodecahedron instead?’

I have spent much of my time fighting with organizations who do not have policies for people that live anything other than the very standard straight line of expected life. How ’bout you ask me to list ever single place I have lived in the last ten years and then question me about why there is a gap? Or why there is a gap in my resume? Or why all of my life dates don’t line up in a nice continuum of the expected? Because I travelled dipshits! I choose this! Why can’t you accept that I chose unemployment and homelessness for a year and a half? Fuck me! Ok, here, just have my childhood address to fill gaps for the sake of it even though I wasn’t in the country! Stupidity!

That and I am fast becoming morning coffee buddies with the JP’s that work in the Civic Centre because I am in there so frequently getting documents signed after I am emailed to be informed I need ‘yet another document’. Why? “Oh no, if you work in another country we don’t consider this as demonstrating that you understand anything about how that same job works in Australia. You can go back to being a ‘provisional/trainee’ type staff again. Oh but we do need like ten different police checks from every country you may have set foot in for all of your life. And more papers. And copies of this and that and this and that. Also stupidity.

And then there is house hunting, trying to pack up all of my things into boxes and figuring out how I am going to move it, job hunting, especially when I can’t get my registration to work, fighting with Centrelink, frequent doctors appointments for health problems and that overwhelming feeling that you have not enough money and not enough time to get all of it done. A part of me just wants to kick back off to South America where I don’t have to give a shit about fifty million bits of paperwork and where everything seems to be just that little bit easier than it feels right now every time I open my eyes in the morning and think to myself ‘Fuck me, I have to deal with all of this shit again”.

Hopefully within a couple of weeks, some of these things will start getting sorted and then I can stop juggling fifteen balls at once. Then maybe I can have a friend over and we can share a meal on my cardboard box table of Uber Eats because I am too poor to equip my house. Until then, sorry to any person who has to deal with me and be in my company whilst receiving yet another email from somewhere telling me that they can’t help me and that I need to supply some other kind of paperwork. I promise that in a couple of months, I might be a bit better settled and less stressed.

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Foods I Miss From Around The World

One of the biggest joys of travel for me is food. Oddly though when people ask me what foods I miss from home, I tell them none really. I don’t really miss any of it. Most of what constitutes “Australian foods” are candies, chocolate biscuits and all round unhealthy shit.

After time spent in Canada and the UK, I can safely say that a Tim Horton’s chilli is probably the only thing I miss from there. But despite my adversity to Western foods, there are specific foods from other parts of the world that blow my mind that I do occasionally get cravings for and that I cannot replicate and cannot get in the authentic manner where I am.

Fish and sweet potato puree from an amazing restaurant called La Sirena d’Juan, Mancora, Peru. My god….. foodgasm!

So one can imagine my excitement when I am walking around downtown Melbourne and in the market I find a stand that sells Burek, an Albanian pastry most commonly filled with ricotta and spinach or minced meat. I am well excited! And gözleme from Turkey! Momo’s from Nepal! Arepa de choclo from Colombia! And I am now well excited. I even managed to find an amazing woman who was so incredibly lovely selling pre-mixed packets of Indian spices to make things like Goan fish. Authentic Goan fish. Not the shitty, watered-down, westernised, jar sauce rubbish that tastes nothing like curry from actual India. I’m talking the ones that will blow your head off and still be considered “mild”. Real. Curry. Mmmmm…..

Menu del dia from the side of the road in Cali, Colombia…. approximate cost, 3 USD.

I miss my standard “menu del día” from Colombia with my fried plantains and chicharrón. I miss real Mexican Tacos made with maíz tortillas and not the shitty Old El Paso box crap with crunchy tortilla shells. Not once did I see those in Mexico. I miss a proper ceviche from Peru with those little toasted corn kernels of white corn on the side…. Any authentic empanada from anywhere South American. Venezuelan arepas. Pad Thai cooked in Thailand. Tom kha kai….

Traditional Peruvian causa with passionfruit juice.

Mussaman curry. Mango sticky rice. Actual Vietnamese Phó from Vietnam. Amok Curry from Cambodia. Egyptian falafel…. Ugh…. All of this is making me hungry as I write. Proper gelati from Italy and those little tortellini things that float around in the beef broth from Bologna. Norwegian brown cheese. All cakes and hot chocolate from the Republic of Cacao in Ecuador…..

The world’s best hot chocolate from the Republica de Cacao, Quito, Ecuador…. oh and the cake! This was dinner every single night for a week. Oops.

As is, half of my backpack coming home was filled with Ecuadorian Cacao paste and packets of Sancocho soup mix from Colombia. Throw in some David’s tea from Canada and an authentic Indian chai…. Ugh….. Take me back!

The most amazing Nicaraguan ice cream sandwich ever!

Anyway, the point is, I managed to find places in Melbourne that sell these things or ingredients to make these things authentically. And upon this discovery, I was the happiest I had been in a long time. Because if I can’t go to the food, at least the food can come to me and remind me of all of the good times I had with such foods. Venezuelan arepas dripping down my chin as I drunkenly smashed one down in the street. The pupusas I ate every day in El Salvador on the beach. The falafels I ordered on my own with my very limited Arabic on the side of the road in Egypt, despite arguments with my guide. The targines we ate every single day in Morocco with couscous and Morrocan BBQ in a dingy market. All the days I sat with locals, the only white person in the place munching down on Indonesian bakso or ayam Goreng.

Indonesian bakso…… mmmm…..

The food opens doors to my memories. It allows me to keep them alive through my taste buds and the connections they have to events. I expected to find some, but never this much here. And now that I have, I’m excited to get in the kitchen and cook. It is my own little time machine at home, when jumping on a plane cannot suffice. And for now, it will have to do.

What I Reckon: Couples in Dormitories

I have met some very cool couples travelling. Couples that are their own people that can interact with others and make friends and better yet, can for the most part, respectfully keep their hands off each other in public. I love these people. These people are great. What I don’t love are young, needy couples who think it’s ok to treat a shared dormitory with ten other people in it like their own private bedroom.

Last week I rolled into Cochabamba at 8pm and was ushered to a dorm room where I was shown to a bed one meter away from a completely STARK FUCKING NAKED couple that were fondling each other and whispering sweet nothings in each other’s ears while I am trying to awkwardly organise my stuff and go to bed. The most confrontational part was when I roll over and open my eyes to bear witness to one hairy male arse crack escaping from under the sheet cause ‘guess what mate?  Single beds and single bed sheets were made for one fucking person so either put some fucking clothes on or go to your own bed!’

Thinking that after a day I had escaped this, I moved on to the next city, but low and behold, two cities later, adjacent bed, same naked fucking couple. Do they get that in their own little world of neediness that they are making every other person around them uncomfortable? They also barely talk to anyone else. They don’t need to. They have each other… How adorable and completely unhealthy.

So they left, and even better, my mate and I walk into the room where we’re staying and two more couples who don’t know how to stop touching each other have moved on in. Great. As it is I write this in the darkness to the lovely musical intonation of people kissing each other. But you know, they put a sheet up so nobody can see and this apparently acts as a magical fucking sound barrier as well. And given the head of my bed and theirs line up, I don’t have a magical sound barrier. By the light of iPad, I can see and hear fucking everything. And you know what? I’m sick of it!

Some people call me a prude. Some call me unromantic because they are young people in love. The fact is, I don’t care if you’re young and can’t keep your hands off each other, just do it somewhere else. Get a private fucking room like all of the respectful couples I mentioned above do so they don’t annoy people or do what my ex and I used to do; kiss each other goodnight and go to our own fucking beds to sleep. I’m not so fucking needy that I need to cling to you in the middle of the night on a top bunk that’s narrow with no railings at the risk of falling out or sleeping like shit just so that I can show ‘I love you’. I already trashed my back and neck sleeping in a single bed with my boyfriend at 18 in a room on our own at uni. Why you’d want to do it in even a shitter dorm beds is beyond me.

But then I’m a loveless old hag with respect for the personal comfort of others and situational awareness. What the fuck would I know?

 

 

Shit I Learned In The Potosí Mines

I was picked up this morning by a very funny local man by the name of Antonio Banderas. He tells me that there is the famous Antonio Banderas of Spain who sings (?? I thought he was an actor) and then there is famous Antonio Banderas of Potosí who dances (him).

We first went to his office where we were equipped with sexy red pants and jackets, helmets and torches, ready for a bit of industrial spelunking. On the way of course, we had to stop and acquire some supplies. Such supplies consist of coca leaves, a 96% bottle of booze, and snacks to give as presents to the miners. Why you ask does a person need a 96% bottle of alcohol in a mine, well, we will get to that later.

Antonio Banderas and his dick dynamite

So a bit of background history. Locals lived here for thousands of years happily. The Spanish rock up with their guns and evil trickery and take over pretty much the entire continent. Upon the discovery of a boat load of silver ore underground, some of which being up to (oddly) 96% pure, they decided to base their entire South American economic operations out of Potosí. Problem though. Who is actually going to work in these unsafe mines in shocking conditions for the profitability of the Spanish? Certainly not the Spanish.

According to Señor Banderas, up to eight million local Quechua died working in these mines from either accidents or lung failure from the silica dust. They were forced to work there as slaves. My fact checker journalist friend finds a mere hundred thousand in comparison on the internet but no doubt these numbers have been fudged a bit along the way by both parties. As it stands today, there are 7,500 people still working across 40 different cooperative mines in the area and there are on average approximately three deaths per month. One of the last they had to haul out in pieces after he exploded himself with dynamite.

A derailed cart for transporting silver through the mines

In an attempt to protect themselves from the evils of the mines, there are several rituals which miners undertake to ask Pachamama and their devil friend they call Tio, for sparing. At first we throw coca leaves and some alcohol on the ground at the mine entrance to ask Pachamama for her blessings and then we enter.

Back in the days of the Spanish, when the Quechua would refuse to enter the mines, the Spanish lied to them and told them that unless they went and pulled as much silver out of the ground as possible that they would seriously piss of the God of the underworld, also known as Satan, and that he would rain fucking hell down like you’ve never seen. All lies of course, but what this started was super interesting.

Scattered throughout the mine are devil statues of varying sizes that they call Tio. Tio means uncle in Spanish, but it is more likely the case that they were trying to call him ‘Dios’ without the capacity to be able to pronounce the letter ‘d’, thus ‘tios’. Each Tio has his hands on his knees in sitting position with an optimistically giant erection sticking out from between his legs. The ritual proceeds that one gives coca leaves and alcohol to each hand, to protect the hands, to each feet, to protect the feet and lots for the penis for “lots and lots of sex sex sex!” Antonio Banderas tells me. Of course he is joking, the significance of the giant schlong is fertility and they make the biggest offering to it in hope that the mine will be rich with ore and give back ample dinero. Antonio then also sparks up a doobie, has a few puffs and inserts this cigarette into Tio’s mouth so he gets the trifector of all vices of miners. Most of the Tios have black noses for this and black lips. This is still something that is performed in devout manner to ask for protection and safety every single day in disregard to occupational health and safety measures. Despite losing both his father and grandfather to lung disease from working in the mines, Antonio still didn’t wear a mask.

One of the many ‘Tios’ scattered throughout the mines

What he did do however was sing the Indiana Jones theme song quite consistently and recommend that we use hands to crawl like ‘Spider-Mans, Spider-Womens and Spider-Pigs’. I can say that I not so graciously attempted to follow this advice as I squeezed my way through some of the small cracks where we observed the miners working in their actual conditions with hammers to break up stone, shovelling rocks into carts and pushing them along the tracks. These days the ore is lucky to contain ten percent and as such, not a lot of money is to be made from such a gruelling process.

They are however a proud people. Proud of their jobs and proud of their history. I can tell you this right now, I don’t think you could pay me enough money in the world to make the daily sacrifices that these men make, with their lives and their long term health, just to sustain their families. But then I was fortunate enough to be born with such a choice. Many of them don’t and come from generations of miners like Antonio Banderas. He did something smart though. He learned to speak English and started doing tours of the mines.

One of the tunnels used for transporting silver in the mines.

“Six years”, he will proudly tell you he has been speaking English. “Fuck is the first English word I learned”, he chuckles as he adds in “fucking tourists, jejeje”. He is one of the most friendly and jovial men you will meet, and very, very funny. But his face takes a hard worn look to it as he discusses his friends that died in the five years he was working in the mines as a miner. A reality that every single man in the mine faces.

It’s all fun and games crawling around a mine as a tourist, in all your gear, with your helmet, but at the end of the day, that’s what we are. Tourists in the unfortunate lives of others. These men work in appalling conditions that will either lead them to rapid accidental death or the eventual death by age forty from the constant inhalation of silica dust. It is hard, dirty, and completely unregulated in what we would consider a western standard. Nobody here survives in the end. They just accept that it’s their card and get about it until they die, with the exception of the odd ones like Antonio and a few others who defy this and find work elsewhere. It certainly gave me an appreciation for the options I have for work in my life. At least I don’t have to die to provide for my family for the short working span of life I would have working here.

 

The Emotions Of Going Home

Going home. It doesn’t really have very strong connotations for most of us. Going home from work. Going home from a holiday. You can pretty much expect things to be exactly the way that you left them. But what if you’ve been gone for four years? What if you don’t even know anymore what you are going home from? Or even better yet, going home to?

Obviously I am going home to my family and a lot of exciting and not so exciting things that involve my family, whom I adore to pieces. But everything else is more scary. Everything else is so unknown, and for someone who has lived unknown for such a long time, you would think that I would be used to it. But this is different. This feels more permanent. This time I don’t have an escape and somewhere else to go to. This time, I am back to stay.

And that is hard when I don’t feel like I know or relate to my country anymore. For the last few times I have been home, I have felt like an alien walking around a land that looks so familiar to me. A foreigner in a land where everyone sounds just like me. A stranger to people who I have known for a long time. The truth is, in moving around and meeting so many other people, I have detached myself from the parts of being Australian that I didn’t want to associate myself with. The parts that get involved in ridiculousness like national outrage over shaved cricket balls and supermarkets banning plastic bags. The parts that need to be in everyone else’s business because there is nothing else to get worked up about in a place where people are so fortunate. The parts that have a reputation globally for being racist and unaccepting. Or better yet, drunk all the time and disrespectful. I left them behind somewhere along the way and I don’t want them back. A part of me went about collecting the best parts of other cultures and trying to incorporate them into who I am. Will this person be accepted? Or shunned by others who will go about isolating me and keeping their distance, which something I experienced last time I returned for several months.

I fear the lack of being able to communicate with others on the same level. After leading such a different life for such a long time, it is hard to come back to what is considered normal. It is harder when people don’t like to acknowledge that you haven’t been living normal. That you’ve been living something unexplainable. How do you make new friends when you’ve forgotten how to talk to normal people about normal everyday things that aren’t “Where are you going? Where are you from?” How do you communicate with old friends when so much of who you are has changed? Half the time I feel like I am sitting as an island witness to conversations I no longer have the capacity to be a part of because I lost pop culture along the way.

I fear not making enough money to survive and yet I also fear having a job where I wind up in the same stress cycle I did last time, ending up in adrenal fatigue and nervous breakdown. How do I manage to navigate a network of obtaining a job that is considered acceptable or do I just blow the whole thing off and go work as a card dealer at the casino or serve ice cream or something? Will I again be judged for choosing something that isn’t considered ‘professional’ in a society where what you do for work is a large part of defining who you are and what your worth is? If I shun the standard view of worth and work, will I still be accepted by others or will new people I meet walk away and decide I am not good enough because of it?

The biggest thing for me is that I fear that I cannot make this work. That at some point in six months from now, I am going to want to pick myself up and go somewhere else because I am unhappy and it is too hard. The truth is, I am at an age where I need to consider whether I want to have children and a family and if I can’t stay in one place long enough to meet someone that I connect with at that level, then I am giving those things away. And if I don’t manage to meet someone because I have waited so long to do so, then I have given it away with my choices up to this point already. And that, well it will be a bridge I cross when I come to it. But I actually need right now to commit to it. I need to commit to opening myself up, putting myself out there, meeting people with the knowledge that I am not saying goodbye to them in six months from now and making myself a life. I tried in England. I failed. After two years, I walked away with very little to show for myself because of several different factors that I don’t want to repeat.

So here we go again. Like always, I feel the fear, and I get on the plane and I tell it to shove off and I go home. I go home. To what I don’t know. But to home, nonetheless.

Shit I Learned About Bolivian Ladies

The Bolivian ladies are a special breed. They don’t take any shit, I can tell you that right now. In comparison to their other South American counterparts, these women have got it going on. Just be prepared for them to kick your arse good and proper if you piss them off though. So here’s the four-one-one.

  • A ‘Chola’ means a lady that uses traditional clothes. However, over time, and through inappropriate use by the Spanish, this word took on a derogatory tone. The women, however, adopted the name ‘Cholita’ which translates to ‘cute, little women dressed in traditional clothes. Have no fear though. These women are indeed not as timid as the ‘ita’ would have you believe. In fact, some of these women are involved in a local Bolivian pastime; Cholita Wrestling. I was fortunate enough to go and watch one of these shows and the women here are brutes, yelling and screaming at the crowd, threatening audience members, one even threw her opponent on the laps of two of my friends. Somewhat hilarious, but very much staged and a funny thing to see.
Cholitas preparing for battle, ie. talking shit.
  • From the word Chola, mixed with the Swiss word, chalet, you find yourself with ‘Cholet’, a very expensive and posh house that you mostly find up in the area of El Alto, in the higher and richer area of the city. These houses are all developed with extravagance to demonstrate wealth and every house has to be designed differently. Some are used for actual houses, some are used to house Cholita wrestling, and others are used as function rooms. They are however, impressive.
A couple of cholets.
  • The women in the markets, with their Chola-heritage, also don’t take shit. If you take a picture of one without asking, expect rotten fruit to be piffed at your head and god-forbid you actually touch the fruit. You will get the mother of all slaps. You see, they choose the fruit that they want to give you, you don’t get to choose the ones you want. The best way of not getting slapped is to repeatedly go back to the same lady for the same product day after day. She will then get to know you and reward you for your loyalty by giving you the best fruit. You can also ask for an ‘yapa’ (I think this is the spelling, I am not sure) and they will give you a little extra. However you should never, ever ask for a discount as this is considered rude and devaluing their product. If you manage to score a regular lady, she becomes your ‘casara’, which comes from the word ‘casar’, which means ‘to marry’. Go see someone else next week and she catches you, you’re as good as divorced and are going to have to find somewhere else to get your juicy goods.
  • Women’s calves are considered attractive here (Bingo! I’m in!) As such it is not uncommon to see the single ladies let a bit of ankle slip out of the bottom of their skirt to show just how strong those lovely legs are. The married ladies, cover those babies up because hubby wouldn’t be impressed with the exhibition of his lovely calves.
  • The hats that the women in Bolivia wear were originally designed in Europe and bought over by the Spanish. The women originally wouldn’t wear them and then the Europeans thought up a fabulous idea and decided to lie to them about the hats special ability to increase fertility. Next thing you know, hats are everywhere. They are worn straight on by married women and tilted to the side for single ladies so that the men know who the eligible ladies are. They don’t secure these hats to their heads either. They maintain the hat’s position through posture and head tilting.

Of course, each lovely Cholita is somewhat different and for the most part, lovely if you don’t piss them off. I, in fact, like these women. They are definitely more spirited than those that sit around placidly waiting for a man to come along and do everything for them and tell them what to do. They got sass. And you have to respect that.

 

Other Shit I Learned In Peru

So we’ve covered politics, and we’ve covered Incas and the Quechua, what else did I manage to learn in Peru? Loads. That’s what I learned. So here is some more random shit I learned whilst travelling Peru.

1. There is a type of dog here that has no hair. At first I thought that dog had mange and all of his friends too. So I asked the owner and he was offended. Oops… Turns out ugly, hairless dogs are a thing here.

2. Beware women in traditional dress holding sheep. Yes they are sheep. They will tell you “baby alpaca” but this is a farce. Those babies are too busy getting shawn for their expensive threads to be sitting on the side of the road with a lady for one sol pictures. Also of note, they’re so cheeky that they will insert themselves into photos or videos you are taking of other things and demand money. Very very sneaky.

3. In the middle of Lake Titicaca, there are families there that descended from the Aymara, and these people created islands made from reeds that were not easily accessed by other tribes in the region. They would put down several blocks of reed roots compacted with sticks driven through the middle and tie these together to form the base, then anchor it down with rocks. After this, they would lay several layers of reeds down to form the land. These reeds are constantly having to be replaced and the whole island needs to be replaced every fifteen odd years.

A group of indigenous ladies that live on the reed islands known as Uros.

4. Peru’s most famous author, Mario Vargas Llosa was a sly dog. Not only did he run off with his cousin against family wishes, he then got sick of her and decided ditch her to marry his aunt instead. Talk about keeping it in the family. After that all went to shit though, he swiftly settled on Enrique Iglesias’ mum and if he’s anything to go by, she’d be a right hottie.  Possibly a good life choice.

5. Señor Sipan was one of the only kings of the time that didn’t have his tomb looted and all his shit taken. As such, his grave was in impeccable condition when found. They had fourteen layers of jewels and offerings buried with his body among them. He was also buried with guards, whose feet they cut off so they couldn’t go wandering in the afterlife and ditch him. This clearly worked given how well it was protected from thievery. And just for good measure, they threw some alpacas, women and kids in there with him too.

6. Even though ritual slaughters of humans were quite popular with the majority of cultures throughout the Americas for thousands of years, the Chachapoyas decided to be trend setters and go against the general killing of people to make rain and food grow. Clearly progressive.

The ancient Chachapoya civilisation at Kuelap

7. Peru is home to about four hundred different species of potatoes. It was the main crop, along with corn, for feeding the masses during the day. They even developed a method of dehydrating potatoes at altitude so that they can keep for twenty odd years.

8. The Incan’s used to grow their crops on terraces that they had established on the hillsides of their communities. It is suggested that they developed this system to develop different microclimates so that they could grow different crops at different levels. They also added different layers of sand, dirt and gravel to act as a water filtration system so that the water would feed downwards and not be wasted.

The Incan terraces at Moray.

9. The Nazca lines are only on average about ten centimetres deep. Given the amount of makeshift small canals from where the water has carved out the land it is a wonder that they managed to find them at all. There is a local lady that walks around and sweeps them every day so that they are maintained and can still be seen.

10. The food in Peru is insanely good. Compared to most other countries in the region, Peru’s food kicks some serious arse and is one of the top countries in the world to visit for gastronomy. I am particularly a fan of the ceviche and the estofados. You come here, cashed up, you will get fat. There is nothing more to say about it, it is just too good.

And there we have it! Three weeks of solid shit learning in Peru. On to the next country!

 

A woman's lifelong aversion to the word 'No'….