Children playing in the streets of Jerusalem.
The scorching desert sun is searing my flesh as I stand on the side of the bitumen road. One of my arms is holding a cardboard sign scrawled in black texter, my other is stretched out with my thumb pointing to the sky. The young boys selling fruits next to me yell the Arabic word for Jericho – “Ariha” – at the passing cars, trying to help me to get a ride out of the capital of Palestine. They nag the cars that pull over for fruits and question them if they are heading in my direction. Eventually, we find one; I lug my far too heavy backpack into the van amongst a sea of cardboard boxes and I squeeze into my seat. We exchange a few words in Arabic and a few in English and I’m on the way to the oldest city in the world, twelve thousand five hundred years in the making.
“We want you to be live in two hours, is that okay?”
My friend working for ABC had asked me, once she had discovered I’d intended on going to the Anzac Day commemorations in Gallipoli. This was the day after the Australian Government had publicly announced they had “received information” that terrorists may seek to target the particular site on the date of commemorations.
“Are you afraid?” The news presenter had asked me, while ironically I attempted to hide the fact I was defecating myself on live television. No, honestly I wasn’t. Turkey isn’t the most stable country in the world, but media sensation and Western influence had stigmatised it as an ‘Islamic-ally’ oppressed nation dodging constant terrorist attacks intertwined with a hostile and unsavoury people. Luckily one of my favourite parts about travelling is what English writer Aldous Huxley once said: “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries”.
I don’t consider myself a religious person in the slightest. I think religion separates more people than it brings together and I feel there is no correlation between being a good person and being a religious one. In our day and age, religion is constantly bringing about violence and social disintegration. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t have respect for peoples beliefs, not out of respect for religion but more so out of common decency for their individual rights and freedoms.
I glanced down at my watch; the time read 4:03pm, which indicated there were two hours of sunlight left. Two others and I had somehow managed to meander off the beaten track on a presumably simple hike through the Sierra Nevada National Park. We’d walked eight kilometres in and had decided we were going the wrong way, as our navigation implied we we’re headed into the centre of the park and nowhere near any points of exit. The shorts I had ambitiously chosen in a mental protest against the irregular Spanish weather had served as a stark reminder of the conditions: freezing. And then the snow came.
Before embarking on my trip around the world, I received many well wishes from my friends and family which were all greatly appreciated. But amongst the sincere words was the occasional “You’re so lucky Sam!” and “I wish I could do what you’re doing!” While admittedly this was being said in good faith, it couldn’t be more from the truth. I am not lucky to be travelling the world. Luck has very little to do with the matter entirely.
My glove-encased hands are tightly gripping my rubber handlebars, as they attempt in vain to absorb the shock of the rough rock laden path underneath me. As I stand onto the pedals of the bicycle and shift my weight, I suddenly lose my balance, instinctively grabbing the brake and in turn flying head first over the handlebars. I land hard on my back, instantly feeling my skin tear as I begin to tumble uncontrollably down the rocky dirt road in front of me. Millions of thoughts fly through my mind in a matter of seconds. The first and foremost is to avoid falling off the 400m vertical edge of the most dangerous world in the world, where hundreds have lost their lives. Perhaps this was a bad first time to try downhill mountain biking was a close second.
In the Atacama Desert the food is terrible, showers are confined to luke-warm trickles, the weather is constantly fluctuating between uncomfortable extremes and the tours are ridiculously expensive. So why bother going, you may ask? Push all those fickle things to the wayside and you have the opportunity to enjoy one of the greatest natural wonders of the world, filled with impeccable stargazing, incredible activities and other-worldly geological formations.
The tremendous landscape of Patagonia is infamously unique.
Gargantuan snow-topped mountains, huge valleys, glaciers and insane geological formations pepper the landscape of the southern end of South America. The terrain is beautiful and awe-inspiring – but unforgiving and treacherous at the same time. I found this out the hard way.
I’m currently sitting in a chilly Buenos Aires hostel, waiting for my bank to open in Australia so I can contact them. I need to tell them that my credit card has been fraudulently used and successfully managed to clear out the contents of my account. On top of that, my card happens to attract a 17.5% surcharge on purchases given the economic climate and seemingly Neanderthal-ic relationship my bank has with the rest of the world. I’ve lost my only pair of glasses. I have several flights to book that are constantly increasing in price, as well as the uncertainty of if I will be able to access money tomorrow in Uruguay. This one litre of beer is going down swimmingly.
When I left for South America, people warned me about it. Specifically, Brazil. Even more specifically Rio de Janeiro. I had to inform them unfortunately it was my first stop. "At least you’re not going alone, right?” was the regular response. To which I awkwardly mumbled to them I was. A myriad of things made me sceptical about choosing it: they were plunged into recession, skyrocketing crime and even the Zika virus. I had fleeting moments of concern, fear and nervousness. That’s why I never would have imagined riding a motorcycle through a local favela overlooking the whole of Rio with a group of strangers. But here I am and I have absolutely no regrets.