Why do we travel? Do we travel to see new places, to have been there? To set a checkmark? To take the same picture that have been taken a million times by others and that is already on the internet in as many versions? To take a selfie and to tell the world how cool you are? Or do we travel to relax, whatever that may mean? To leave the daily routine behind and replace it with a different one? Possibly also to be pampered properly, in luxury? We imagine things and we want to colour prefabricated pictures, a bit like those paint books for kids where the shapes are provided and they need to be coloured. Does that make sense?
What is the way to travel? Two weeks picked from some catalogue? Everything prefabricated? That is the way most of us travel. We need to know what happens next. No uncertainty. Our time needs to be used efficiently. We do not want to expose ourselves to the unknown. And the foreign land is dangerous. It is far away, and well, foreign. And we are afraid. We are afraid not to know where to, afraid not to know what’s next. Crazy. Afraid that it does not turn out the way we imagined.
So, why do we travel? Why do you travel?
For our part, we travel because we want to change. Paul Theroux described it well in Dark Star Safari: “You go away for a long time and return a different person – you never come all the way back.”
It is about leaving something of yourself behind and filling this space with something new, whatever that may be. It is about going into the uncertain, trying to grasp and understand it and eventually to learn something from it, for yourself. Maybe it is something private, something you do not want to share.
It is about feelings and emotions and about facing the unknown. And technically that is only possible if you do not know what’s next.
We are in the midst of this process and we are not free of all these things. Quite the contrary. But that is exactly the reason why we are traveling. Currently, for us it is about being patient. Patience for ourselves, for everything and others. How did Jim, our new friend whom we met on our trip to Antarctica, put it: “Pete, you need to practice openheartedness.”
And oh my god, we are so impatient. We are driven in every respect and this is so deeply rooted in us. Firstly, we therefore need to have patience and acknowledge that everything just takes time. That’s this thing that you should give yourself, not only when traveling.
We always would like all of it, ideally right away and in one go. Whatever it is. We cannot rid ourselves of these prefabricated pictures and that we want to feel that – whatever that is – now. It should click, now.
It does not work that way though. And surely not at customs in Valparaiso where we had to go to receive Humphrey. The actual process, that is the actual interaction with people, took approximately 15 minutes, however distributed over a period of eight hours. At customs authorities – I guess no matter where in the world – it is about irritating and not being irritated. It is about patience. And from everything we have heard so far, the customs authorities in Chile are the nicest of all in South America.
So we waited and smiled as best as we could. We were better at being patient than our German customs agent who, as a good German, was impatient: “What’s taking so long here, I bet she is doing that on purpose!” True, but I guess at customs authorities this universal law of gravity probably is more visible than elsewhere. If you are impatient, you get pushed away to an outer orbit and then it just takes longer until your paths cross again.
On top of all of this, there was a short moment of shock: We had packed things that we were not allowed to import into Chile. Things like chia seeds. These need to be disposed of. However, the guy responsible for the disposal of biohazards finished work at 3 pm (and it was 3.30 pm by now) and we would have had to return the next morning. For whatever reason, the good lady took pity on us and turned a blind eye. This person who had let us wait for hours before suddenly showed kindness and gave us the necessary scrap of paper and told us to get moving.
We also need to be patient with ourselves because we are forgetful and now and then quite stupid. We bought such a supercool clothes line, modern funky stuff – small, practical with hooks and nice and long. When I put our towels on just this clothes line after our first night in Humphrey, I thought that probably a lot of people forget a lot of stuff at campsites. As and when the navigator collected the towels before our departure, she collected the towels, nothing more, nothing less. A couple of hundred kilometres further on I inquired about the clothes line… which was still at the campsite.
After our third night camping, I put my wet flipflops on the hood of the car for drying. I was sure I would see them. No way I’d miss them before we leave. I did though.
And obviously we need to be patient with Humphrey. After the first night in Humphrey and not even 500 kilometres, we heard an unusual sound from under the hood. Shortly after the engine warning light came on. “Oh no! Not after five hundred kilometres…” I started sweating but then I thought that I cannot change the situation. Can’t just miraculously make it disappear. Luckily there are WhatsApp, Peter Baus our trustworthy Defender guru back in Germany, iOverlander.com and an electronic error reader that we bought just before leaving. The hose of the turbocharger had a puncture. One of the spare parts we were not carrying. We were able to slowly drive to the next town without the turbocharger – luckily it was only 25 km – found a workshop with super-friendly mechanics who grinned the second they saw us. So we spent a day in the workshop. Obviously this was not planned but it was cool anyhow. Everyone took care of us, everyone took photos of Humphrey, everyone tried to find out where the puncture was. And after an hour we found the puncture. Then it was about being patient and hoping that they would be able to find the spare part. Well, they did not find the original part but a very similar hose which was meant for a cooling system and which therefore probably will not survive the pressure of one bar forever. But it is working for now. We needed another two hours with everyone helping to fit the part which was not really meant to fit and shortly after 7 pm, Humphrey was put back together and ready to go. Now I know where the hose is and how to change it.
So, we again learned something, met super-helpful and kind people and saw a town which we would have otherwise bypassed. And this way we finally also met Santa.
We also need to be patient with our fellow human beings. After being able to carry on, it rained – solidly. The whole day. From all sides. We therefore decided to spend the next night in a cabana (i.e. cabin). There are millions of these down here for rent. Here we met other German tourists, there seem to be as many of them anywhere you go on this planet. They were also traveling in a Landrover Defender and normally Defender drivers are a pledged community and are really nice to each other. He was refreshingly unfriendly and in her sentences every second word was “geil” (best translated as “awesome”). Quite unbearable, particularly considering that they had already been traveling for months. If this is the outcome of our travels, we would stop right here. We met the couple again the next day in the national park and were greeted with “Do they have campsites there?” After a couple of further dutiful pleasantries, we gave each other a bewildered look and carried on. I guess we have now met the most unfriendly existing Defender drivers on our journey. And we spent a night in bunk beds in a cabana.
Patience for our fellow human beings also meant being patient with Udo. Traveling with Humphrey makes us very identifiable. He is a small star and attracts people magically. We get drawn into all different kinds of conversations, also the kind that we do not want to be drawn into and especially not at that particular moment. Like the conversation with Udo. We were just about to serve our freshly barbecued beef filet alongside freshly grilled vegetables when Udo came by and had a short question. The navigator made the point that if he did not mind sitting next to us while we were eating without him having a plate, he could stay. I guess most people would have got the hint to let us enjoy our meal and to come back later. Udo did not. So we ate our dinner and Udo meanwhile kept talking at us, sipping his beer. And we practiced openheartedness…
Being patient with all these Germans, no matter where, no matter how. Probably a constant and possibly one of our biggest challenges. For instance with Heinz who is traveling with his wife in their own car through South America. He was in the southern part of Patagonia – that is where we are headed – and constantly complained about the wind. The wind, the wind, the wind. I tried explaining that the weather’s the weather and that it is quite special to be able to travel to foreign countries in your own car. I was ignored, he continued complaining about the wind. Or being patient with that German family who behaved as if there was nobody else around, discussions at a level of volume that not even the locals can match – and they are already very good, rest assured! Or being patient with the German tourists who we felt ashamed for as they were meaninglessly chattering with other Germans about their trip while our guide Antonella was explaining an archaeological site and everyone else was trying to listen.
We also need patience to get used to life together on 3.5 sqm. 3.5 sqm do not really offer much space to do things jointly or to help each other. As we both really like to help, it does not make life together easier. On the contrary, it makes everything worse. We are in the course of learning that if one of us is doing something inside Humphrey, the other one needs to hold his/her hands and tongue. Which inevitably takes us to the next point.
Being patient with smart-asses. We both clearly belong to this category. As every smart-ass knows, life among smart-asses is not easy. Two of them in a very limited space with a know-it-all mentality is literally daily satire. And you keep wondering why or how we ever ended up in the situation.
I particularly need patience in the supermarket. As we are traveling, we constantly get to new places and visiting the local supermarket therefore is a new experience. Especially for the navigator who is responsible for our food. A constant topic. Every shelf is inspected, prices are compared, everything is read, things already in the cart exchanged for others. Despite being in the same supermarket chain with the same products, there is no way to be sure that there is nothing new or different. It needs to be screened carefully. All the years of training in the supermarket back home to optimise the shopping process – all hollow words…
We are realising that we only need patience for those things that we imagined differently. Which takes us back to the colouring of pictures and the realisation of how tightly we are locked into our optimised daily routine.
As you can see, we are on a journey, in the true sense of the word. Sounds crazy? Good, that’s exactly what it should be. And as we are so impatient, aside from all of this we are driving from A to B, running uphill and downhill – and sometimes just taking a leap into the cold.