Tag Archives: Mexico

Miles and miles and miles and miles and miles. Away from home again.

It’s 6.45pm and the sun is about to set on the small sand island of Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. The sun is blazing a bright shimmer across the water towards the beach, still powerfully hot and bright, reminding us all of its strength even at this time of day. Tourists – Mexicans and Americans mostly – are gathered, iPhones at the ready, to capture the ball of fire as it falls rapidly from the horizon, sending twirls of pinks, purples and reds across the sky. Beer in hand, I’m also watching.

I’ve been thinking about this ‘final’ blog for some time and this seems as good a time as any to write it. With only a 8,000 kms flight back to London (not including a short hop to Dublin), that’s it for my third round the world trip. I caught the travelling bug as a naive and ponytailed 17 year old, took off again in 2002-3 (mostly to watch the World Cup in Japan and Korea) and again this time with my brilliant wife, Miriam and my brave, funny and awesome young girls, Arielle and Eden.

I sometimes sit back and think, did we achieve what we wanted to from this trip? Well, yes, I think we did. We wanted to show the girls that there’s a big wide world out there – check. We wanted them to understand that the world is not scary but exciting and inspiring and that there is life outside London – I think check. We wanted to spend more time together as a family, to learn and teach each other – yes, check. And, we wanted to share in an experience of a lifetime and gave the girls lots of memories – definitely check.

So after 56,000 miles, 33 flights, 50 taxi rides, 2 campervans, 14 boats and 18 coach journeys we head home. On the way through 11 countries and 4 stop-over countries, we’ve stayed in 42 hotels, 3 rainforest lodges, 3 eco lodges, 1 hotel car park, 1 school, 27 campsites, 2 restaurant car parks, 1 town square, my sister and relatives and countless other hostels, farms, and others. We’ve had many bizarre illnesses, strange allergic reactions and a good few fevers and tummy bugs. We’ve lost money (still don’t know what happened to that cash in Chile), missed and booked the wrong flights (twice, cost a lot of money!), run out of petrol and been stuck in the sand twice!

We tried to learn two languages – Spanish for us all (went ok-ish but should be a lot better after nine months in Spanish speaking countries!) and I’ve been trying to teach the kids Hebrew (going better than Spanish!), we’ve learnt a lot of coding, finished the school curriculum, surfed, snorkelled and swam so much! As Eden says #notgoingbacktoourlocalpoolagain!

We have also met the most brilliant people along the way. Long lost relatives, who the kids have really taken to and I’m happy that they’ve now met so many relatives from my side of the family. Other families doing the same as us, traveling different routes, taking their time, but all with the same shared objectives. And, families who have settled away from home, searching for a different, quieter and more open lifestyle.  And like these folk, it’s not always been easy and certain moments have been very stressful and difficult but having to deal with that, I suppose, is part of the experience.

And while the world seems a lot smaller than in 1992 – anyone under 30 heard of reverse charging an international call? – it still amazes me that you can stay in touch with friends, family and news of home on a handheld screen. But, honestly, it has also been very liberating to leave all that behind for a while and just have the time to wonder, to think, to be still either alone or together, to wake up early and see the sunrise or walk in the warm evening air. That is what I’ll miss the most.

Thanks for following our trip.

Until next time.

PS – title is from The Edge of The Deep Green Sea by The Cure

Marvellous Mexico – Part 2

Amazing campervan home

We are in a campervan, it is pretty cool. Me and my sister sleep on the top, my mum and dad sleep on the bottom. Here are some of the campsites we stayed in:

Sima de Los Cotorras – Sima de Los Cotorras is a big deep hole filled with parrots. When we were there we woke up in the morning really early to see the parrots fly from the hole to the trees. Then we had breakfast, then we went on a rocky and scary path all around the hole. On the way we saw ancient hand paintings. We had to put on harnesses and helmets. A harness is a belt with a string on it with a clip on wire so you do not fall off. On the way to Sima de Los Cotorras we stopped at a waterfall. Me and my mum saw some amazing caterpillars on the walk to the waterfall.

Palenque – Palenque is a Mayan city made out of stone with carvings. When we were there we climbed four small pyramids and one really big pyramid. The view of the city was super cool.

Lake Bacalar – Lake Bacalar is a lake – the campsite had swings in the water. Every day we did school and then had lunch and then we went for a swim. Bacalar was refreshing. One day we went on a kayak. The water was very clear. We tied the kayak to a pole and then we went for a swim by the kayaks.

Selva el Jabali – On the way to Tulum, we stayed in Selva el Jabali campsite. We went to the Grande Cenote. It is a cenote with stalagtites and stalactites and turtles. A cenote is a natural swimming hole sometimes in a cave.

Suyton Cenote – Suytun cenote is a cave with water with stalactites on the ceiling. In the daytime light comes in from a hole in the ceiling. We swam in the water which was cold and deep.

Rio Lagartos – Rio Lagartos is a beach which has flamingoes. The next day when we arrived we saw flamingoes. After, we put on Mayan mud, we put it all over our bodies. When we got back to the campsite we saw a beautiful sunset. The water was light blue.

Isla Mujeres – We arrived in Isla Mujeres. Isla Mujeres is an island, which means island of the women. Today we saw fish in the shallow water.

 

Miraculous Mexico – Part 2

Campervan

We have been in our Campervan since the 8th July and these are the campsites we have stayed in:

1. Oaxaca – On the first day of campervanning, we only went to a supermarket to buy supplies and camped in a place 10 minutes outside of Oaxaca.

2. Tehuantepec – On the drive to the next campsite, we stopped at a little swimming hole next to a rock feature that looks like a petrified waterfall.  We camped in a hotel car park.  It felt a bit weird because we had to argue lots before they let us in

3. Sima de Los Cotorras – we stopped at another water feature – an anonymous waterfall with freezing water.  When you went under it felt like stones were being thrown at you.  We camped at a huge sinkhole full of green parrots.  We got up at 06:00 to see them all fly out.  After that, we got into harnesses and walked around the rim of the sinkhole, seeing ten thousand year old cave paintings.  I felt really scared because there was only a teeny bit of rock to walk on!

4. Chiapas de Corzo – That night we parked on the town square.   It felt so odd eating on the street because everyone stared at us! In the morning we went to a huge gorge with spider monkeys and crocodiles.

5. San Cristobal de las Casas – We stayed in a proper campsite for three nights.  It was near a really touristy town that only had endless souvenir shops.  We had falafel for dinner one night.  We also went horse riding to a town called Chamula. In Chamula, we visited a church where people don’t worship Jesus, they worship John the Baptist and they also have odd traditions like sacrificing chickens and lighting lots of candles. Also, they drink soft drinks and burp.  They believe that they are burping out their sins.

6. Palenque – On the drive to the next place, I threw up three times!  Our campsite was near a huge Mayan city called Palenque.  The site had huge temples and intricate carvings still preserved after hundreds of years.  The kings who lived there were called: Pakal – Sunshield, Khan Bah Alarm II – Jaguar Serpent, Precious Peccary and Turtle Macaw Lake.  It felt amazing seeing 700 year old carvings that are still intricately beautiful.  I felt like the Mayans were right next to me.

7.  Lake Bacalar – We camped at a beautiful azure blue lake, swimming, kayaking and doing lots of school.  We also swam at night and swam naked as well.  The water always felt really cool.

8. Tulum – We camped at a small campsite with a swimming pool, very close to some cenotes.  A cenote is a sinkhole filled with water.  A sinkhole is a hole that is created when water drains through the earth and eats away at the earth underneath, until you are eventually left with a large hole.  Another kind of sinkhole forms when the roof of an underground cave falls in and the cave fills with water.  In Mexico, these are called Cenotes. The first cenote was very deep and very cold.  There was a baby crocodile in the water but we didn’t get eaten.  The next morning we swam in a huge cave with stalagmites and stalactites everywhere.  There were also turtles there.  It felt really awesome swimming in a cave.  #nevergoingtoparkroadagain

9. Suytun Cenote – We stayed at another place with cenotes.  The cenotes were underground and get no sunlight so the water is freezing cold.  It felt really creepy underground.

10.  Rio Lagartos – The last place was a beach.  In the morning we took a boat and saw: cormorants, pelicans and… flamingoes. We got really close to them and I took some amazing pictures!  It was really boiling but we cooled off at a local beach.

 

Miraculous Mexico – part 1

Mexico is our very last country on our around the world trip.  We have seen many old things (like the ancient remains of Teotihuacan and the coral reefs of Cabo Pulmo) and new things (such as Mexico City).  This is an account of my time in Mexico so far.

Mexico City

On our first day, we went to Frida Kahlo’s house.  We saw a lot of her art and sculptures as well as her:  painting room, bedroom and kitchen.  After, we took a taxi to an indoor market to eat tostadas, which are crackers but a bit more crispy.  I had mine with prawns, my sister had chicken and my dad had ceviche (raw fish).  My mum, Eden and I bought Frida Kahlo t-shirts!  The next day, we visited the museum of anthropology.  We saw: a statue of the serpent god, the stone of the sun, Mayan dental work and other countless artefacts.  For summer we went to a sushi restaurant for amazing sushi and sashimi.  On Thursday, we went to the ancient remains of Teotihuacan.   First, we took a long ‘Avenue of Death’ to get to the sun pyramid.  It was a very hard climb up the sun pyramid, but at the top, we sacrificed Eden in exchange for rain.  On our way back, we also saw:  the moon pyramid, the butterfly temple and a painting of a puma.  And the next day, I was really ill.

Cabo Pulmo

We stayed with my amazing cousins, Lucas and Lola and their awesome parents, Carmel and Pablo.  Our flight got in at about ten o’clock so we couldn’t go fishing with Lucas and Pablo.  They left at 5am!  After breakfast, we went out to snorkel with…SEA LIONS!!!  They were all on a big rock but some jumped into the turquoise sea to swim with us!  Using the tuna Lucas and Pablo caught, Carmel made amazing tuna sushi, some raw tuna and tuna in bread crumbs.  While we were there, my mum and I went snorkelling and saw:  stripy fish, fish no bigger than my pinky nail, tiny blue fish, butterfly fish, connet fish and scorpion fish.

Copper Canyon

We arrived in Copper Canyon by train and then took a taxi to our hostel.  We couldn’t actually see the canyon there but we did see some cool mountains.  Our next hotel was an odd place in the middle of a village called Barancas.  We took a walk and we saw the gargantuan Copper Canyon.  The next day my mum and I went zip lining across the canyon, going really fast through the huge canyon.  At the end, we were really hot and sweaty.  We took a cable car back to Eden and my dad.

Puebla

Puebla is the place to go if you want to buy Talavera, the beautiful blue patterned tiles.  We went to a Talavera factory to watch how they are sculpted, polished, fired, painted and varnished.  The most common design was a hummingbird surrounded by beautiful patterns.

Oaxaca

In Oaxaca we volunteered at a school for very poor Oaxacan children. We went every morning and did our own school in the afternoon.  We taught the kids English nouns and maths through:  bingo, charades, drawing and snakes and ladders.  Oaxaca is the centre for Alebriges, beautifully painted animal figures.  We saw the figures being carved and painted in a tiny town outside of Oaxaca.  After seeing them being painted, we painted some ourselves.  I did a coyote, Eden did a hummingbird, my mum did an owl and my dad did a fish.  We had grasshoppers for lunch!

That evening, my dad got an allergic reaction, so we had to go to the hospital at 8pm.  Eden and I watched a movie while my dad had injections.  I had a stomach problem in Oaxaca.

We picked up a campervan in Oaxaca but I’ll write about that in my next blog.

 

Marvellous Mexico part 1

Mexico City
We went to Frida Kahlo’s house in Mexico City. The outside of the house is blue. Frida Kahlo’s house had lots of paintings. She did it by herself on a wheelchair and sometimes on her bed with a mirror. In her house she was born there and lived there.

At the museum of modern art, there is one Frida Kahlo painting, there is also an outside bit with statues.  For dinner it was sushi, me and my sister had prawn tempura.
We went to see wrestling. Wrestling is jumping on people and rolling. Their names were Tiger and Puma and Reaper and Robin.

Teotihuacan
We took the bus to Teotihuacan. It is a very big city made of stones and it is 1500 years old. When we got there we climbed a pyramid. They did sacrifices at the top of the pyramid to worship the gods.

Cabo Pulmo, Baja California
We went to our cousins house to see Lola and Lucas. They live in a desert by the beach. We all did science experiments with colours and mints. At the beach we all did fishing. We went on a small boat and went to a rocky part where we could see sea lions, we swam with them too. Sea lions are heavy and they have whiskers and flippers.

Puebla
Puebla is a small city with hundreds of tile shops. We went to a pottery factory where they made pottery like plates and cups and bowls and tiles. We actually got to see them make it by hand.

Oaxaca
We helped in a school for a week. We did snakes and ladders with maths, maths bingo, animal bingo and made paper airplanes. The next day we went on a school trip to the park, in the park we went on a zipline. I liked making new friends.

We helped in the school in the morning, in the afternoon we had lunch, after that we did our own school. Me and my dad learned about airplanes, cars and train engines. Me and my mum learned about the planet’s in the solar system.

Oaxaca is famous for its alebrijes. Alebrijes are carved animals which are painted with Mexican patterns. We got to paint one ourselves in a  workshop where they made alebrijes and I painted a hummingbird.

 

From the ridiculous to the sublime to the ridiculous to the…

We perhaps should have got the hint about how not set up Mexico is for campervanning by the fact there is only one company – Mexicamper – hiring RVs in the whole of the country. We hired from them, to be told that Mexicamper have exactly one RV. We are currently in Mexico’s sole rentable campervan. Having said that, the van’s amazing. It’s bloody huge, with beds, banquettes, bathroom and brown decor. So 1970s. This is home for 3 weeks as we drive from Oaxaca to Cancun for our (whisper it) flight home on August 9th.

We’re now one week in and have stayed in some, let’s say, unusual places. Campsites are few and far between, to the extent that after driving for 6 hours on our second day until 8.30pm and still an hour from the nearest campsite, we gave up and threw ourselves on the mercy of a hotel with a big car park by the motorway. They told us to bugger off. As did the next hotel. By the third, I took my secret weapon – a tired and teary-eyed Arielle. Did they really expect us to keep driving when the children were so desperate for a safe place to sleep? They did. Until I also offered them lots of money for the privilege of sleeping in their very ugly car park for the night.

Since then though, we’ve stayed in some amazing places and have thanked the Recreational Vehicle gods that we are totally self-sufficient for power, water, toilet and air-con. A visit to Hierves de Agua (a rock formation that looks like a waterfall, with natural swimming holes) and a night on the foreshore of a mountain-ringed lake, making friends with local kids down for a swim.

Then after stopping at a waterfall for our first shower in a few days, we spent a night in Sima de las Cotorras, camped just 50m from an incredibly beautiful 160m deep sink hole filled with parrots. We fell asleep to the sound of their screeching and got up at dawn to watch clouds of them fly out for the day. We then strapped on harnesses to walk along the ledge around the inside of the sink hole to see 10,000 year old paintings made by the local tribespeople. The ledge was about a metre wide and 100 metres up. Nope, not at all scared, if you were wondering.

Yesterday we parked up on the main square of a pretty town and slept there, on the basis that it was probably safer than the dark, secluded public car park. We got friendly waves and bemused looks from the townspeople passing by as we ate dinner on the pavement. It’s quite strange waking up naked with an entire town getting on with its business outside the window. Much like an anxiety dream I’ve had before, but at least the curtains were closed.

Tonight we’re in our first actual proper campsite, just outside the beautiful and strangely hipsterHoxton-like San Cristobal de las Casas. With other campers! And hot showers! And a campfire! All is good with the world.

Coffee in Oaxaca

There is something beautiful about waking up early, going for a run and getting a quick coffee before everyone else really wakes up. It is a time when you feel the warm sunshine air and see the shadows slowly lift on the old colonial single-storey buildings as the town starts to wake up. The buses thunder down the empty streets but the noise doesn’t seem to effect the overall sense of tranquility that shrouds this neat, narrow and old city.

Despite the obvious influx of tourism, expats and gringos learning English in one of Mexico’s most likeable cities, there is an air of tradition that lingers. You’ll find a church every few corners and small street food stalls selling tortillas, quesadillas, flutes with mole and other local specialties and good coffee and hot chocolate wafting from the plethora of local cafes and chocolate stores. The smells take you to local markets where old men and women crouch over huge pots of stews, grass hoppers and fruit juices making it difficult to decide what to eat, sometimes overwhelmed by the choice on offer.

That time in the morning is precious. Getting up and seeing the empty streets is one of my favourite times of the day. The warm air is kinder then before the heat of the midday sun and the light rains and mosquitos emerge with the evening grey clouds and the first mezcal of the day has yet to be poured. The rubbish has been collected and the shops are still closed so the crazy hustle and bustle that takes over the shopping streets has yet to start.

Like may of these cities, Puebla included, these is a strong student vibe here. Posters with revolutionary slogans adorn the walls of old buildings, declaring ‘no passivity, no oppression’ and communist symbols are stencilled in black graffiti ink across the town. And meanwhile there is a strong culture of art, as in much of central and South American – huge murals depicting futuristic events or traditional Mexican skulls cover many buildings.

And yet Oaxaca seems miles away from much of the rest of Mexico which is in parts a troubled society. Apart from the horrendous killings that happen on a daily basis in the so-called ‘war on drugs’, there is huge inequality here as in much of the country. That is why we decided to volunteer for a small charity called ‘Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots’ that supports and educates kids who are from deprived backgrounds. Many live with single mothers or parents who work on the streets or as farm labourers, too poor to buy their kids what they need for school and too poor to take their kids to school as they need them to work . In all honesty, what can you do in a week with these kids, apart from help them with some English and maths and have some fun with them? But every little does help and the centre helps over 600 kids a year from 6 upwards and some stay until university age, so they need volunteers. And as we’ve done a few times on this trip we wanted to show our kids that not everyone comes from good middle-class backgrounds and can afford school books and lunch.

We are fast approaching the last month of our odyssey. One thing I’ll miss is being able to amble through these historical, yet young towns like Oaxaca that is filled with students and backpackers mingling gently with locals in the warm evening air which cascades down from the mountains into the zocalo and plaza Santa Domingo, heating the stone paving stones and seats as the sun falls slowly under the horizon.

Last stop (big boo!) RV-ing to the Yucatan.

 

 

Better in Baja, long-lost cousins, life-long friends

It’s a tad nerve-wracking going to stay with a long-lost cousin and family, who you haven’t seen for nearly 20 years, in a desert, over an hour from the nearest big town and with no idea if you’ll get along. Added to that our main memories of each other was spending summers together at our grandmother’s apartment in Haifa, Israel when we were younger and constantly arguing, about nothing of course, but these are the things you remember from your teenage years. So, yes I was nervous.

Well all I can say is that it’s bloody brilliant that I have family from both sides scattered in far-flung places, from an uncle in Ecuador to sister, brother in law, niece and cousins in Australia, Mexico, Canada and more. Carmel, Pablo and the beautiful Lucas and Lola live in tranquility, in the rugged, dusty and mesmerising Cabo Pulmo national park that is on the southern tip of Baja California. The protected reserve is where you can snorkel with sea-lions, dive with sharks, dune buggy across enormous sand dunes and walk for miles across pristine beaches and still find more things to do. Yes, the heat is unrelenting and we are told that the hurricanes come thick and fast in late summer, but if you want to sleep under thousands of stars, watch out for snakes, road runners and jack rabbits then this is the place for you.

But back to family affairs. I’ve always admired, ok been jealous of people I know who have taken interesting and unique turns in their lives. I’m not saying we haven’t but it is fascinating to meet people you know who’ve done it and succeeded. Carmel and family live as far away from normality as is possible down there. Electricity comes from the sun, water is brought in once a month, they don’t have an address so can’t get mail and the local school has nine kids – yes nine kids! But it’s not just the location, it’s the way of life. Daily beach trips, fishing, surfing and snorkelling are just how they live and while I know not every day is ideal and there are hardships, I admire their tenacity and openness to living as they want to.

And luckily we all got on – really well. Eden found a new life-long friend in Lola (obviously separated at birth), Arielle and Lucas are bizarrely the same person and well cousins and spouses just got on, like long-lost friends. And we didn’t argue once! I needn’t have worried.

Next stop Copper Canyon, Puebla and Oaxaca.

Time to read

The travel read. That lovely time when you can filter your mind away from the day to day and dream of new places, bygone times and mystical tales.

I’ll publish this blog at regular intervals once I’ve read a bunch of books. I hope you find it useful and I’d be really pleased to get recommendations on other books that I should read as this trip and others progress.

Japan

From the Fatherland with Love – Ryu Murakami

Ryu Murakami, not to be confused with Haruki Murakami, is the bad boy of Japanese literature. I really didn’t want to read something that was too historic like a Shogun type novel perhaps, but rather something that really got under the skin of the politics and current state of Japan. This is a rollicking tale of a small invasion by North Korea into the south of Japan (no, I haven’t spoiled it) and what happens next. In 600 pages or so, Murakami tells a tale that brings to life the politics, intrigue, underground, conservatism, confusion and complicated nature of Japanese life and its systems. One isn’t sure if Murakami is criticising Japanese life but he certainly does not tow any party line and creates a tale that is jaw dropping at every turn.

Coin Locker Babies – Ryu Murakami

I perhaps made the mistake of reading two book by the same author in quick succession, but I was so enamoured by From the Fatherland and we were travelling to Tokyo that I thought I needed another injection of Murakami drug-fuelled energy. And that’s what I got. Coin Locker Babies is a mesmerising tale of two young boys that are abandoned by their mothers in coin lockers in a train station and describes what happens to them. As fast as a rocket taking off and as venomous as a poisonous snake, Murakami builds characters as good as Chabon’s Cavalier and Clay and paints a picture of Tokyo at its fearsome and roller-coasting best.

Vietnam

The Sorrow of War – Bao Ninh

I actually started Matterhorn before The Sorrow of War, but thought half way that I needed a different view. There are hundreds of books about the US / Chinese / Russian war in Vietnam (sorry, should that be the north / south Vietnam war?) and it’s hard to decide what to read but I found this book engaging, awful and inspiring at the same time. War is a disgusting matter in whatever context (let’s get that out of the way first) but the complex nature of civil war that is depicted in this book is perhaps not one that is well known to Western readers. Written from the perspective of a north Vietnamese soldier, it describes his experiences during the war, the aftermath and its effect on Vietnamese life and love. It fills a gap left by Hollywood depictions of Chinooks and M16s.

Matterhorn – Karl Marlantes

I read this in two halves, between The Sorrow of War. At 800 pages it’s long, an epic and I understand it took Marlantes (a former US Marine) 30 years to write. Should we feel sorry for these guys? That’s up to you but one thing that is certain is that the cruelty of the US politicians and army majors to their officers and soldiers was appalling. Men taken away from their decrepit lives at home to fight a war in a place where most people didn’t know against a people they had no gripe against. The pawns of war were, in the case of this book, the soldiers, and the brutality they inflicted on each other and others is terrifying. This book traces the lengthy travails of a combat division through the jungle trying to take seemingly un-takeable positions. It is very readable, well worth the effort and is sometimes similar to a dreamy Terence Mallick movie.

Cambodia

Dragon Apparent, travels in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam – Norman Lewis

Perhaps one for a long train or plane journey. Norman Lewis was a spy before becoming a celebrated travel writer and journalist. Lewis traveled across these three wonderful countries of IndoChina during the 1950s before all hell broke loose with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and American War in Vietnam. He depicts a part of the world that was then unknown to much of the rest of the world, and captures a moment in time when the French still had a bizarre stranglehold over the area but which is in the throes of being overthrown by local forces. It is a violent yet enlightening time. Lewis’ walks through Angkor Wat shows a hidden temple city crumbling into the jungle that is untouched by the selfie stick or audio guide and his meetings with the Emperor of Cambodia show a life of simplicity and nobility amongst the local people. Most of what’s online about travelling is top ten tips on this and that and I much prefer the more explanatory books that get under the skin of places, cultures and history. Lewis is a good example of this and despite his sometimes pompous English-gentleman’s style, his books are very enlightening.

Light relief break – Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen

‘So you think that maybe you ain’t that young anymore?’. I’m not and needed this for some light relief. He didn’t have it easy to start with, but Bruce is ridiculously honest in this life story and tells you how it is, focusing a lot on his years of depression. Not everyone will enjoy this or his music, but he has matured and mellowed with age and his ability to craft a song about home, the things we dread and the struggles we have speak to me and if they speak to you then this is an excellent beach-read book.

Australia

The Swan Book – Alexis Wright

I’m unsure having read this book by Alexis Wright if I was dreaming or experiencing a nightmare whilst reading it – perhaps both. It’s a futuristic, dystopic tale where Australia has become a barren wasteland due to environmental destruction and an Aboriginal man has become the country’s first indigenous leader. Much like the stories that are the backbone of ‘the Dreaming’ about Aboriginal culture and life, it is written in a dream-like state that flows and glides you through what is an awful and shocking description of a future Australian state and what it does to its indigenous community and environment. There is a lot of excellent writing about the Aboriginal community but I like Wright’s futuristic view that is, I think terrifying and perhaps, if you think about it, not so unbelievable.

Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

An Australian classic.  At times believable and at other times not, this is a great tale of a group of Australian school girls who go missing at the site of a monolithic rock in Australia’s outback. It’s an eerie tale that shows the unknown nature of the outback at its most fearsome and depicts characters and their relationships with countryside life in rural Australia at the turn of the century. It’s a book that has been debated since it was published in 1967 and remains a mysterious story despite the publication of the missing last chapter in 1987.

Chile

Releasing the bats – writing your way out of it – DBC Pierre

Well if you want to know how to write, when to write and why to write then read this. DBC packs a of punch and delivers a soliloquy on what’s it like to write, the angers, trauma, brilliance of it all, bare bones style in a way that he only seems to know. It you want to also learn a bit more of the truth about you, yes you, then read this. It’s part a book about writing but also part a psychoanalytic attempt to open our minds and be honest with ourselves without any Freudian bullshit. I devoured it in one sitting, suggest you do the same.

Ways of Going Home – Alejandro Zambra

I struggled to think of what to read whilst in Chile for four days. The poems of Neruda, the long tales of Allende and Mistral, the plays of Dorfman, all great, but somehow I wanted something that was modern, yet informative about the past and a book that dealt with it through the eyes of someone who is our age. Zambra fits the bill. He’s one of Chile’s most well-known contemporary authors who broke into the scene with Bonsai and the Private Lives of Trees. Ways of Going Home is a tale of a young boy brought up during the Pinochet regime and during an earthquake who returns to his childhood home as a grown up to meet a woman he befriended when young. Without giving too much away, Zambra weaves through the lives of this young man’s family and friends and depicts the struggles they all had under the dictatorship in an honest and simple way. It’s a perfect book, delivered succinctly with not a word misplaced.

Argentina

My Father’s Ghost is Climbing in the Rain – Patricio Pron

Another young South American writer full of style, anger and brilliant story telling ability. Mostly a short story writer and an academic, Pron tells the story of a man who goes home to Buenos Aires from Berlin to see his ill father. What transpires is an intricate and often slightly confusing tale of the disappeared in Argentina during the junta of the 70s and 80s. I wonder if the style is confusing on purpose as it deals with the problems, dishonesty, violence and injustice that existed in Argentina during that time. You come out of it feeling that a weight has been taken off Argentina’s shoulders as it looks and continues to look for the disappeared. What is amazing about all these books is how they take you under the skin of the history of the country and how long it takes countries to untangle themselves from webs that generations before spun for them.

The Blizzard – Excellent quarterly football magazine

The Third Reich – Roberto Bolano

I’ve never read any Bolano but was convinced to give him a go, despite the fact that it was very hard to decide what of his extensive liturgy to read. I went for the Third Reich, because it was a novel that was published posthumously and was undiscovered until he died. It tells the tale of a fantasy game champion that is on holiday in Spain with his girlfriend. As their holiday progresses they meet all manner of bizarre people who occupy their time in various stages of drunkenness, disorderliness and debauchery. Meanwhile the main character continues to play his board game which takes on a life of its own as the lives of those around his unfurl. It ends up being dramatic, strange, yet very compelling and doesn’t cease to retain your interest. It’s also interesting because of how South America looked after Nazis after WWII and one thinks that this is Bolano’s attempt to understand why, who was involved and how they became part of everyday society – fascinating.

Jorge Luis Borges – Ficciones

OK I must admit to finding Borges difficult and slightly impregnable. Ficciones is meant to be a classic and one of the key books of his collection and one that set the scene for his many future books and the influence he had on South American literature which has been written about extensively. There is a great deal to this collection of short tales and whimsical dreams that are to be admired, but I found some of it difficult to navigate. Like Joyce on crack some of the tales make you feel uncomfortable and some make you float around like you are dreaming in some kind of labyrinth. Perhaps I need to read more Borges to truly understand his influence…

Stefan Zweig – Chess

I adore Zweig. His book ‘Beware the Pity’ is one the best I have ever read. It is a brilliant tale that is psychologically difficult and complex and makes you feel uncomfortable but always wanting to know more and more. The pace and tone of his books are always quick, and they make you feel as if you are actually there involving yourself in the book, its characters and scenes. Chess is a short book that’s about a chess champion who is travelling on a boat to Rio and gets involved in a chess match with an amateur on board who has had some psychological issues in the past with the game. Like many of Zweig’s characters they are wonderfully depicted and you actually feel that you are watching the games yourself as they progress. A great break from the sometimes heavy South American literature.

Forgotten Continent: The Battle for Latin America’s Soul – Michael Reid

Question is what is Latin America’s soul? This book reads like an Economist essay, which I suppose makes sense as the author is himself a journalist for the Economist and someone who has specialised in Latin America for most of his career. His main argument, if I understood correctly, is that the states that make up the Spanish and Portuguese-speaking countries of Central and South America have suffered from a combination of popular politics, dictatorships and corruption that have made them unable to build on their advantages as nations, economically and culturally and their status internationally. It demonstrates, perhaps most pertinently that the people of Latin America have been at times duped by popular politicians who have led battles for the hearts and minds of the majority, but for the benefit of the minority. This is so apparent as one travels through this amazing continent which we will have only brushed lightly. The gaps between rich and poor are incredibly obvious and countries like Argentina for example are prime examples of where politics has destroyed the ability of a nation to stay prosperous. As a microcosm of perhaps what is happening politically and economically across the world, this is a fascinating insight into why and how regimes and built and then destroyed.

Brazil

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