Thursday, April 29, 2010

Backpacking, Eight Months In South America By Bus

Confessions Of A Traveler
Eight Months On The Road, South America By Bus

By David Rice

Chapter One, Africa
I live in Missouri caretaking a 100-year old house in the countryside. I tend a small garden while caring for the 100-acre farm and take a small rent from my house in the city. I have always loved the hills of Springfield in late winter and although I live comfortably in the rural house for most of the year, at times I get restless and feel the need to travel. Since this account is a confession of sorts, to tell you the truth, travel is more obsession with me than need. You Pisceans and Sagittarians will, I hope, empathize with one born under the sign of the compass rose. I have been around the world more than once and would love to do it again, this time staying completely on the ground. My tale is one of the traveler. While I neither boast nor apologize, this is my story and for convenience rather than contrition, I will call it the confessions of a traveler.

The warm winds across the prairie in March usually start the feeling. I will be out planting a vegetable garden and it comes on like a soft caress at the back of my neck, the suns warm breath like a kitten. I know, however, that before June ends, this kitten will become a tiger that will claw up the dust in my dooryard and scorch the grass and garden beyond my toleration. By July, blistering heat will smother the hills and I will long to be somewhere else. My thoughts will be all about air conditioning and unfortunately, my old house has none.
A hot afternoon in April had me sitting on the porch wondering where I was going to go next. I have made many long trips throughout the world and I know that to make an extended trip, I would need to arrange many details. Africa kept coming to mind as I read the guidebooks and I started to make plans for a trip to the southern parts of Africa.

First I arranged to visit a doctor and get the needed shots. Rabies topped the list because of the wild dogs in Africa and it was followed by yellow fever, hepatitis, and tetanus. I called friends and asked them to collect my mail and to look in occasionally on the two houses for me while they harvested my plot of onions, carrots, and corn. I needed a new passport and ordered one right away realizing that there could be a waiting period. After many nights through April on the porch looking over itineraries and Lonely Planet guidebooks, I made up my mind; I would soon be hiking in the southern parts of Africa.
The month of May smothered the land with sticky heat and as May neared its end, I had made all arrangements to leave. On the first day of June, I went to the Greyhound bus terminal and bought a ticket.

Change rules a traveler and a traveler rules change. Freedom is like the air that I breathe and the world seems like my back yard. My mother must have swaddled me in  Rand McNally bunting because a map brings me new life. Change is part of that excitement, new places, new people, new customs, new dress, new food, and new music. And the freedom to change itineraries is at the heart of it all.
I leaned back in my seat on the bus watching as Missouri sped by the window and I thought back to those nights on the porch of the old farmhouse planning my trip to Africa.
     As it turned out, I did not need the rabies shot, Africa had faded from my plans. For the next eight months, I would take a very long bus ride. A drastic change of plans, yes, but this is the confession of a traveler and that is what a traveler does; a traveler is free to change plans at any moment.

Yes, I would leave the hot winds of Springfield behind me and travel for the better part of the next year but I would not be going to Africa, I would head south instead and take an extended trip aboard countless local and long-haul buses on an eight-month tour of South America and I vowed not to stop until the roads ran out. Indeed the road did end at a dock in the southern reaches of Tierra del Fuego but I kept on south by boat and fulfilled the dream of every traveler, planting my hiking boots on new turf. No turf crunched beneath my boots an landing, however; I found only icebergs. Antarctica’s treasured stamp on my passport would elude me, at the southern end of my journey, only the penguins greeted me and they had no customs inspector.

Next Oaxaca, Mexico
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