Monday, December 19, 2011

Welcome to Hypertravel

What is hyper-travel?  It’s an intense level of travel to be sure, but it’s more than just that.  For one thing, timing plays a crucial role.  Hyper-travel is making plans for Ethiopia while you’re in Argentina, or making plans for Sweden while you’re in South Africa.  Hyper-travel is starting off on a reasonably well-planned trip, and then watching it morph into something entirely different as it progresses.  Hyper-travel is the counting of your trip in countries, not days or weeks or months.  This is a concept that many, if not most, people might see as abnormal, a person or people constantly in movement.  I beg to differ.  To me nothing seems more normal than travel. 
Maybe it would be easier to tell you what hyper-travel is NOT.  It is NOT wandering, and I’m NOT lost.  I seldom have been, geographically at least, but those are two of the words most frequently used to describe long-term independent travel.  The future may hold an infinite number of possibilities and travel destinations, but I won’t get to many of them by wandering there.  It takes some planning.  I know why each successive group of people “out of Africa” marched headlong to the ends of the earth—Australia, China, Europe, and even the happy hunting grounds of America.  They were driven, not in cars and coaches, of course, but by their imaginations!  Indeed the most successful nations of the planet, with the possible exception of the Chinese, were those with significant migrations in their respective histories.  That says a lot.
Fast-forward to the modern era and things are not what they used to be for independent travel.  This is especially apparent within the realm of backpacking, ostensibly the main focus of this book.  Once upon a time, backpacking required an actual backpack.  Some hostels in Australia and New Zealand still require one for admission—full size btw­­—presumably to discourage gawkers and their fellow non-travelers.  Now this is a situation I strongly object to, not because I resent being mistaken for a dirty old man, but for the simple reason that it necessitates extra weight, the first faux pas of travel.  Entire books—and many of them—are written with their own highly opinionated Ten Commandments of travel.  I have only one: travel light. 
When I first started traveling, back in the late Neolithic Age, backpacking was something of a Boy Scout graduate school and implied hiking, camping, and much more—fires, mosquitoes, guitars, stories, and eyeball reflections—everything but the marshmallows.  Sleeping bags were standard issue then, and tents were optional.  I saw people using tents in southern Africa recently for the first time in thirty years.  These days “backpacking” is pretty much a euphemism for “budget travel,” and even that term is relative at best.  When I first started traveling a typical cheapie room in your typical cheapie country might cost two or three dollars.  These days a typical cheapie might be twenty or thirty IF YOU’RE LUCKY.  It all depends on where you want to go.  You won’t find that in the Caribbean—except maybe Cuba and a few others—or most of Europe, either.  
What you will find now that you didn’t find then, except maybe in Europe, are hostels.  Now if that conjures up images of dorms and college kids and curfews, then I assure you that that’s changing, on every count.  The problem now is more one of trying to get back to sleep when the partiers finally roll in at 3 a.m.  Most importantly—for me at least—is that they’re very ‘Net-savvy, something you’d have to pay top dollar for in Europe otherwise.  Not surprisingly, hostels are least prevalent in places where cheap hotels and guest houses are most available, such as SE Asia.  There the only reason to seek one out is for the possibility of communion with fellow travelers, that and Wi-Fi.  That’s me.  Hi.

Here I go again, back on the road, after a break of some…what, six months, nine at the most?  I started the year off with a trip from Thailand—my home at the time—to the US, then on to Europe and Mali, one of the hottest destinations for world music, a pet passion of mine.  It’s home to several of the coolest music festivals in the world, too, despite being one of the world’s poorest countries.  It’s not easy for an independent traveler, though.  So after a few days I went to Senegal to re-think my options, and ended up flying out early when I got an attack of kidney stones.  The year’s been like that.
So I went back to Thailand, and then my wife’s US immigration papers came through out of the blue.  They lost them last time.  It’s not that we want to live there necessarily, but we would like to spend some quality time with multiple options. Thus after canceling an African trip in February, I found myself back in the US in April.  After a brief stint in the freezing temps of my previous home Flagstaff, AZ, we gravitated on to LA, CA, where I knew there existed a sizeable Thai community, and even a small auto-denominated “Thai Town” which might serve as something of a halfway house while my wife gets her bearings.  I figure if Tang’s happy, then maybe she can help make me happy.
So I helped her find a job doing the massage therapy that she’d been trained and certified to do in Thailand.  We found a sub-lease on an apartment in nearby Hollywood, so all should be well and good, right?  Well, I guess it was TOO successful, because now Tang doesn’t want to leave.  I wanted to spend maybe a half year, and then head back to Thailand.  Tang’s not in any hurry.  So I decided to head back to South America to see the remaining countries I’ve yet to see.  My frequent flyer miles will cover the flight to Rio de Janeiro.  Tang found herself a refugee co-share with fellow Thai ex-pats, and I’m outta’ here for a couple months.  When I get back we’ll continue on back to Thailand, or not.

Chapter One

Tierra Del Fuego Or Bust   October 6, 2008--November 26, 2008
This trip is intended to cover the four southernmost countries of South America—Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Chile—and the only Spanish-speaking ones that I have yet to visit.  Major variables are Paraguay and Tierra del Fuego, the southernmost region of Argentina and Chile.  Both destinations have scant information about them so I'm winging it.  Tierra del Fuego is way down south of course, so timing is important.  The trip starts at the beginning of southern spring time, still cool, so I decide to explore the hottest regions first, including Paraguay.  All aboard!