2014 p2

TUNISIA (1)

I went by shared taxi into Tunisia. When we reached *I was the first to be dropped off. I was still carrying my stuff in the three small bags which the lady had given me in Lithuania. By some mistake when I got out I found I only had two of them. So I lost my sleeping bag and mat, which wasn’t an inconvenience then, but I missed them later in the journey.
There were many date plantations around this little town, which made pleasant walking. One evening in the street I encountered a man called *. It was something of a tourist place with some carpet and tourist shops, so one could expect some touting.  This man was friendly enough, he wanted to take me to see his mother. I said, ‘then she will have to bring me something to eat and drink. And I don’t want to eat anything now, so I will offend her.’  I was still suffering from the remnants of flu and was not at all in the mood for being sociable. So we just walked about.  I met him again the next day. Finally he came with me to the bus station the day I left. He was talking to me as I was waiting in the taxi saying ‘I love you’. I tell him I don’t believe him. Then he unclasped the chain from around his neck and gave it to me. It seemed it meant something even if I, and perhaps also he, didn’t know what that something was. (We are still friends, six years on; he is sometimes there on Facebook, posing about his native place, doing nothing in particular, sometimes in company with his father.)

My whole time in Tunisia I remained in a state of hazy awareness, unable to hear my own voice as I (supposed or wondered if I) shouted in rudimentary French, barely hearing what people said to me, mostly just guessing, probably making replies that didn’t match the questions. But nobody seemed to notice. 
At the coast I took a ferry out to an island, getting some fresh air and finding some pleasant scenery and a few tourists, and by the time I got to Tunis I had almost recovered my hearing.
From Tunis a ferry crosses to Sicily. It  goes overnight, and was supposed to leave at 11. But we had to wait many hours in the port before we were allowed on the boat, sat in a big crowded hall. There I spotted a fellow traveller, wearing a natty black hat, carrying his belongings in a cloth wrapped around a stick. It turned out he was Swiss, a craftsman, doing his two years out of country apprenticeship caller the onthewalz. I had met some before in New Zealand. Then I got talking to a Sicilian man; he was thinking I was travelling with the Swiss. Soon we are all talking, and as the Sicilian spoke good German the two men were able to communicate fully. It turns out they both had an interest in stone carving. The older man then invited us to come and stay at his house in Sicily. So then we are going with him.
He was a businessman, his passport was absolutely full of Tunisia stamps, so he knew the journey well.

SICILY

We arrived next day in *, and went with the man in a train to another town. On the way he is saying how the most important things in life are food and sleep. I say, ‘not for me it is walking.’ He tells me that making food is like love. He says when we get to his house he wants us each to cook some speciality of our country. I couldn’t think of anything off hand, and I can’t have looked very excited at the prospect. So I think this changed the situation in his mind.   So when we got there, we didn’t go in to his house, instead he took us further on to a big abandoned chalet by the fields, that it seemed he intended doing up. It had many rooms and was absolutely jam packed with furniture and assorted stuff. He left us there, telling us he would come back later. Christopher was quite overwhelmed by it all. He was only 22, and feeling it was quite an adventure.
He was very hungry as he had not eaten for 24 hours. And when the man returned he drove us to a takeaway where Chris bought a big pizza and two cans of beer.
It was very cold in the house. I was sorely missing my sleeping bag. There was  one mattress, one duvet and one rug. While Chris kept warm  under the duvet eating his pizza and drinking his beer,  I sat on a chair wrapped in the blanket, whilst we exchanged travellers tales. There was no electricity, so nothing else to do to entertain ourselves. Chris admitted he was quite gullible, relating some scrapes he got into in Tunisia.
Later I slept on the floor on top of the blanket, trying to retain some warmth from the partial cover of a  giant teddy bear.
The next morning I was ready to head off. Chris was intending staying for a while to do some stone carving for the Sicilian.
It was a very nice spot actually, surrounded by olive groves, and I had a very nice walk down through the villages til I got to a main road. It turned out hard work hitchhiking in Sicily, but I persisted for the first day, finding some nice country too in parts with many historic ruins. The next day I took buses and trains, enjoying some pleasing scenery along the way, as I thought of my friend in France, to finally  arrive  in the southeastern corner at the port from where you can take a ferry to Malta.

MALTA (1)

I was lucky on Malta to find a cheap place to stay. It was a big seven floor hotel full of British tourists. It cost only 13 Euros a night which included a comprehensive buffet breakfast which could have lasted you all day. In the past maybe I wouldn’t have liked to stay in proximity with so many Brits, but meeting British when travelling had become a novelty now It was good to see people on holiday enjoying the sun.
There’s a very good bus system in Malta, so it was possible to take a bus out to one place and walk round or by the coasts to return another way. I found some beautiful spots along the coasts. In one I sat watching the waves pounding onto the rocks, thinking about my friend in France who I had already arranged I was going back to see.
By the end of a week I had explored all the best trails in the northern half of the island.

ITALY (3)

I had intending taking the ferry from Sicily to Genoa on the Friday. As it arrived in Genoa at 10 at night I had, at some expense, booked a place to stay on Booking.com. However partly due to delays and partly due to taking a wrong train, I ended up missing the Friday boat. I tried to change the booking but they were full on the Saturday, so I had to cancel it. This was when booking.com was less sophisticated, and if you cancelled it was rather at the discretion of the hotel to charge you. And often they didn’t.
When I arrive in Genoa on the Saturday  I walk around trying several hotels, they are all full and the cheapest was 90 Euros. One of them had given me a map of the city, so I thought I would go to the botanic gardens and sleep there. However I found it was surrounded by walls, so you couldn’t get in. Eventually I end up lying on my piece of plastic behind some trees by a house which belonged to the university. Nobody saw me, but my presence was noticed by some wild pigs, which I heard snorting and tramping about nearby in the night.  Later, rather miffed that the hotel had actually charged me for my cancellation, I related my story, informing them that maybe they didn’t know that wild pigs inhabited their city. They replied that I was most welcome to stay at their hotel on a future occasion.
Next day not feeling very awake I get going early. But it was a very slow job hitchhiking along the coast towards France.  I had arranged to meet my friend in Menton at 5pm.

FRANCE (*6)

It was past 9pm when I reached Menton. Very helpfully the man who gave me the final lift took me right up the hill to Castellar (considerably out of his way). Then I was able to walk to François’ cottage, arriving some time after ten. He was there along with a couple of his friends. They had be having a barbeque. I was very happy to find them there.
I stayed for a couple more days, finding some interesting walking in the hills behind. Then I set off on the next leg of my journey towards my next unvisited country which was San Marino.
But I didn’t get there. On the way through Italy I had a wait of a couple of hours for a train connection; as I am walking about I spot an Internet place. I go in and find an email from my sister telling me that my mother had passed away.
So I go back to the station and buy another ticket north into Germany. Three days later I am back in my mobile home in Oxford.

I remained in England for three weeks. Fortunately my sister preferred to do all the work of executorship herself, so I was again free to continue my travels.

BELGIUM

It was still April when I arrived in Ghent, with fairly cool, wet and stormy weather prevailing. Nonetheless I found some pleasant walks in the forests of the Ardennes, and sheltered places to camp, one night narrowly escaping a fallen bough of a tree which came down perilously close to my tent.
I found Belgium a friendly place,  with quite a character and identity of its own, which could warrant further exploration.

LUXEMBOURG (1)

I was rather unfortunate in that for most of the eight days I spent in Luxembourg it was very cold and wet, not at all pleasant weather to be living a life outside. Yet I still camped and stayed dry, finding a degree of shelter inside a beech forest. The first night I had actually been tempted to pay for a hotel, but there was nowhere open in that town.
In Luxembourg they have a very nice system of trains.

2014 p1 Mediterranean

For my first journey of 2014, setting off in February, I had done quite a lot of planning in advance. I had arranged Couchsurfing hosts all the way down through Germany and France.

LIECHTENSTEIN (1)

My first new country was Liechtenstein. I had arranged some Couchsurfing for a few days with a Ukrainian student, studying at a university there. I slept on the floor of her room. I also talked to some other students there, all from different countries.
Liechtenstein is strange in that it occupies one side of a mountain range. It’s only from neighbouring Switzerland that you actually see Liechtenstein. From the country itself you look out to Switzerland.
I found some good walking there by dint of exploring. The first afternoon I found some intriguing marked trails leading up through the forest. The next day I continued up. It was late winter, the snow had gone from the lower slopes and signs of life were appearing in the forest, notably pink gentians*. It was wonderful to see. It had been a long time since I’d climbed any mountains (there are only minor escarpments in Oxfordshire). I felt so good, like I was twenty years younger. (This was, as it turned out, only the beginning…  ). The third day I climbed up to the edge of the snow. My intention was to hitchhike back down the road. I was only wearing Crocs, and to get to the road I had to wade through about 50 metres of snow. It was a painful process, fortunately I avoided frostbite on my feet.
Coming down I had two lifts from real Liechtensteiners, so then I get a bit of a taste of local life. In a way it felt a little bit like an island here, seeming that across the river which marks the boundary there was not land but sea.

FRANCE (5)


I had arranged some Couchsurfing in Menton, on the southern coast of France, primarily as a base to visit Monaco, because I had no luck finding any in Monaco itself.    I had arranged to meet my host at the bus stand in Menton. He turns out to be a young man tremendously tall. We took a bus up the hill to a village  called Castellar from where we walked to a remote cottage. The first night he was pretending that he lived there. But the second night I found out that the house belonged to a family friend, and he was allowed to use it. It was a very nice spot, quite close to the Italian border.

MONACO (1)

When I was Couchsurfing in Menton I spent a day in Monaco. It was quite interesting to walk around and just see what was going on. There was a very nice walk along the coast too, and also some gardens. I was happy to find some nature there even in this highly built up place.



FRANCE

My final night in France  was in Marseille, with  a  hospitable, well to do family, in their big house. The room was very smart and everyone was very polite. It was very interesting seeing how the father and the son got along together. The man who was always smart seemed a bit stern at first, but he had a very apt sense of humour which struck me as very French.


ALGERIA (1)

From Marseilles I took a ferry across the Mediterranean to Oman in Algeria. Most of the passengers on the boat were Algerians, some of them had masses of luggage, I ended helping one lady getting onto the boat. It was a full day and night’s journey. Everyone was very friendly, one lady even offered me a bunk in her cabin for the night.

I had arranged four Couchsurfing stays in Algeria. The first was in Oman where we landed. The young lady was waiting for me outside the port. She lived alone in the family house, as her mother had since died. Her father lived somewhere else. She was engaged to be married. It was a fully arranged marriage by her father. Anyway she said she was very happy with the man her father had chosen. She wasn’t allowed to meet him indoors, only outside in public places. She had a small shop selling clothes, in which she employed another girl, and sometimes I met her there.

The next day I wander around, finding a way up a hill. Here I meet with three friends who had come there for the day from another town. Then I am walking around with them. A and her father had arranged to visit *’s sister in Algiers. So we set off very early one morning in the car along the motorway. At a certain junction we rendezvoused with my second Couchsurfing host, *, who was quite a different character to the quiet and respectable elderly man who was A’s father. * was an experienced Couchsurfing host, the one who had sent me my letter of invitation for my visa. He told me he usually asked guests to bring him a bottle of whisky, as he quite liked drinking. He had travelled a bit in Norway too. I got on better with his wife and sister who lived next door and worked in the city. One day I went with her in her car, and looked around for the day.

From Algiers I travelled by train to L, where I met my third Couchsurfing host. The stay had been arranged by a man called *, but when I got there it turned out I was to stay with his friend (I should say girlfriend), who lived with her parents. They were a very friendly family. One afternoon the father drove us up to the mountain in his small car. We drove up to where there was snow, and they took some photographs. There were quite a lot of others up there too, doing the same thing, and it was quite slippery coming down on the snowy road – but we made it. On the Friday Nesrine’s father went out, as was his custom, in the morning to a coffee house to meet with his friends, whilst Nesrine and her mother (I think her sister was there too) did a ritual cleaning of the house. Then for lunch they had a special traditional dish which they had with yoghurt drink.

The next place, Constantine, I stayed in a hotel, though even there I met up with the local Couchsurfing representative, Ramy, and walked around with his friend. There is a spectacular viewpoint at Constantine, and a few places beyond where I met a man who was pretending to be a policeman.

My final Couchsurfing was at Tougghourt. I wasn’t really in the full Sahara there, but it was getting more like desert. I decided to go there by train; though there were practically no other passengers, it seemed most people preferred the bus.

This was a similar situation to that in *, in that it was a man with whom I had arranged the visit, whilst I stayed with a young lady, B,who lived with her parents. In fact I never met Redha, as he worked in the oil fields in the desert for three weeks at a time, and he was currently away. (But for several years afterwards I used to chat with him on Facebook, until he got married after which he became less active in social media).

My hostess was a young lady called *, she was a teacher at the local school, a very smart and intelligent lady. When dressed for outdoors with her scarf and coat she looked almost middle aged, but without it, inside the house she appeared younger, still she seemed a very mature 22. I could see her parents were very proud of her.  * wanted me to go to the school with her in the morning. So I went and helped with some of the classes, which turned out somewhat less organized when I was there. Everyone was very interested to see a foreigner in their town. In the afternoon *’s father drove us around a bit. He owner a date plantation which he had inherited from his father. But the dates were no longer harvested, and it just got used by people for picnics. He was considering whether to build on it. I told him, no he shouldn’t, it was nice to have some trees around the town.
After I left Redha asked me to write a piece about Tougghourt, which I did, and he translated it into Arabic. It was a novelty for Tougghourt to receive foreign visitors.
From Tougghourt I travelled to a place near the Tunisian border where I ended up staying quite a few days on a hotel as I caught a bug. Maybe it had something to do with the stress of being a constant source of attention when Couchsurfing. In Tougghourt there had also been a severe dust storm and I may have got sand in my ears. As a consequence my ears became blocked so I couldn’t hear my own voice when I was speaking, so I didn’t know if I was shouting or whispering.
As a consequence of staying the extra days I needed to change more money, which you did in the market. When I had changed money in Algiers, my host’s son had taken me to a certain part of the city, and you changed it through the window of the car. He was very careful to find a particular man, as he said some of them gave out fake money.
I’d forgotten about it. But after I’d changed some money in the market I look at it in the hotel, and I see that the notes were not at all as finely printed as others I had. However it wasn’t too obvious, and as I’d got them to pay my hotel bill that’s what I did. The receptionist knew me well enough by then, he didn’t even count it, just took it and put it in the drawer.

2013 cycling in Europe.

THE NETHERLANDS (1)

In June, when it got to summer again I set off from Oxford to Harwich, then caught the ferry to the Hook of Holland. From there I cycled up the coast joining throngs of local cyclists on their high rise Dutch bikes, of which I made several drawings.

An amazing feature here was the birds, which I tried to draw, particularly when I reached Texel Island. It was easy cycling, flat of course with many country cycleways to follow. I recall only some battle with headwinds on route across the *causeway.

GERMANY without maps (2)

After ten days I found my way into Germany. It wasn’t at all obvious how to get in; the day before I had been asking people in the borderside village ‘which way to go into Germany?’ Nobody had been able to tell me. Whilst searching for myself I found a campsite, and here found a German man who had come from there, who gave me directions as to the route, which seemed to be taking me around three sides of a square. So the next morning I turned the opposite way he had said and found a cycle path leading over a small bridge signposted to a place beginning with B. It was quite misty, and I felt as if I was entering clandestinely. It was also Sunday, which meant little chance of buying a map. So I decided I would attempt to cycle across Germany without one, trusting that, as in the latter part of Holland, I would find local maps occasionally posted along the trails or in the centre of villages. I knew I had to head generally east, before turning north towards Denmark. I managed well enough, enjoying the element of surprise when I unexpectedly came to a river and needed to cross by a ferry. There were certainly plenty of rivers in this part, and many cows to stop and draw. At one ferry crossing I made the acquaintance of an elderly German lady cyclist who was riding right around Germany, who I met up with again several times; the final time she gave me a portion of her map which brought me almost into Denmark.

Drawings -cows, bridges

DENMARK (1)

I think I didn’t cycle the most interesting way through Denmark, passing mostly through open farmland without many trees. I remember a great many skylarks, and small stalls selling eggs and potatoes outside houses.

All this trip I had been wild camping. I would head for small patches of forest marked on my map. I found out later that overnighting in a hammock was legal in state forests in Denmark, though not camping in tents.

Drawing – eggs and potatoes

After six days I arrived at the top of Denmark, at Hirtshalls where I bought a ticket for the ferry to Iceland via the Faroe Islands. It took about three days in all; it was a very comfortable boat, with the bonus of food provided. It was during this trip, making friends with other passengers that I learnt much about the pride and culture of the Danish people.

The Faroe Islands

The Faroe Island also belong to Denmark. It was possible to stop there three days, then catch the next boat, which many others of the passengers were doing. So I had the opportunity to cycle about this somewhat drizzly place, passing through several tunnels.

Here is a bit of writing that came out of it

ICELAND (1)

We arrived in Seyjisfjiord. I had met a French cyclist on the boat and we passed the first day together. But he was far more ambitious than me and was soon off into the rough stuff. I met many people who had fallen in love with Iceland and kept returning, including an elderly Swiss man, who knew practically every corner. It was certainly atmospheric cycling around the coast with the ever changing light -Drawing

But my cycling was thwarted by very strong winds, which made it quite impossible. So I took a bus back to the junction and spent the second half hitch hiking, this time clockwise. This was not without adventure, one evening I was stranded on an empty road in a hailstorm, and I was rescued by a farmer who had spotted me from his house. He brought me in and told me to go into the basement, where it was beautifully warm, and I didn’t see anybody again until the next morning.

The next day, after making some drawings of the man’s dog as a gift, I got a ride with a Spanish couple, both intrepid travellers, in their car, who I met again later on in my journey.

Denmark (2)

After I had returned to Hirtshalls on the ferry I had a few days cycling around the north coast of Denmark, where I started to appreciate a particular balmy light which you sometimes get there in the late afternoon.

SWEDEN (1) I arrived in Sweden by ferry from Denmark and proceeded somewhat rapidly down the west coast. When I came inland I found much forest any many lakes, with no problem here to find nice places to camp, washing my clothes in the rivers and drying them on the bike.

I don’t know why I didn’t linger there longer, only that sometimes when one is tired, it gets hard to know how to slow down. So after six days I was already at H. And I gave my postcards to the lady selling tickets at the ferry terminal, who was happy to post them for me.

Crossing the Baltic

I wrote a little piece as we were crossing the Baltic to Lithuania.

LITHUANIA (1)

I decided not to cycle in Lithuania. I borrowed a backpack from the youth hostel in Klaipeda and set off to hitch hike. What I hadn’t anticipated was that my muscles were accustomed to cycling, not walking. And by the time I had walked to the edge of the city I already had a sore back. Nobody stopped and eventually a bus came, so I took that, then a couple of others to arrive at a village on the last bus of the day, still not at my destination. It was then that I realized my back was so sore I couldn’t pick up my pack.

I hailed a couple of boys coming past, one with a bicycle and asked them to help me. One of them took my pack and the other wheeled the bicycle. I asked them if they knew a place where I could camp. They didn’t really know, but we walked around a bit, then one of them phoned his mother and it was arranged I could camp in their garden. Nobody spoke any English apart from the boy, but everyone was very kind and hospitable to me and I had a beautiful spot to camp under one of their apple trees. I stayed there two days, by which time my back was nearly recovered and it was arranged that the mother and son would take the heavy backpack to the hostel in Klaipeda when they were going there for shopping, and the mother gave me three light weight bags to carry my things in instead.

The final afternoon, in something of a storm, the husband drove me to the bus station to get a bus to O, site of a famous monastery. As I got off the bus it really felt I’d made a pilgrimage to get there. I walk round and just manage to draw the monastery from across the road before a colossal downpour hit. Spotting some awnings I head there, sheltering at a table with some men drinking nearby. When the rain subsided they called me over – it was more joke than conversation, as none of us spoke a word of the others language until I tried a few words of Russian I had picked up somewhere which made them laugh.

I left with the last old man, then walked around the monastery, feeling like a true pilgrim, narrowly escaping being locked in when the priest was closing the doors after a service.

Another memorable part of Lithuania was my day trip on the train from Vilnius to *forest, on the way back recording observations and drawing some mushroom pickers.

BELARUS (1)

This trip was made entirely by train, in fact I made a circuit of the whole country, with some encounters along the way. I was particularly interested to visit Bieschady, the area of forest adjacent to where I had once been in Poland. Though the day I was there was notably wet; I wandered past some very sad looking European bison, kept in enclosures, feeling very sorry for them being stuck in there. I stayed in a village where everyone rode about on bicycles and stood about talking, and wrote a piece about finding my way in the city of *.

LATVIA

After two weeks I returned to Vilnius where I had left my bicycle. From there I set off cycling to cross into Latvia. It was now October and getting cooler, somewhat misty and wet and rather unappealing, deserted countryside. When I reached a place called Madonna* I had decided to abandon cycling. I stayed there a few days in a smart and very comfortable guesthouse, walking and hitchhiking around, and doing some writing on a computer in the local library. It was autumn and the leaves of the many deciduous trees were in full colour, it was quite a spectacle.

Then I took a bus to Riga where I ended up in a dormitory in a cramped seventh floor hostel. My plan was to leave my bicycle in Riga, but there was no room in the hostel. Then ad I am wandering about near the old town I see a museum. I go inside and ask if it is free. The young man there tells me it isn’t, but politely gives me a tour of part of it. As we proceed I explain to him that I am looking for a place to store my bicycle for a few months. He tells me he has a flat and there is no problem. So I go back to the museum in the evening when he has finished his work and we walk on together some way to his flat. It actually belongs to his parents. They are living in a Germany, where he was brought up. But his mother was Latvian, so they kept a property there. Just now he decided to come and live there to explore his roots, and he was enjoying the experience. So I left the bike in the flat, telling him I’d be back before Christmas.

ESTONIA

I did quite a lot of hitchhiking in Estonia, but all I learnt of Estonian were the numbers up to eight. I first headed out to some islands off the northwest, finding some forests and beaches to walk about. Then there was the smart old city of Tallinn, a real gem for old city lovers, of whom I met many. It was on the coast here I met *, a yoga teacher, who was just about to take a swim in the freezing cold water there.

I had a few days in * beside the Russian border waiting for my passport to arrive back, after I had posted it to an agency in London to get my visa for Russia. There I met Wolf, a Berlin journalist, something of a traveller by nature, taking a walk along the beach with him one evening.

RUSSIA

Almost all my travelling in Russia was by train. It was getting cold now, though I still found portrait artists out in the streets in St Petersburg, whom I tried to draw in action. I also found them in other towns. In Russia I had to speak Russian, so I soon gained a vocabulary sufficient for hotels. Though even them sometimes it took a bit of persuasion before they would let me stay.

I visited several towns, generally spending my time walking along the rivers, I had long been interested to visit Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy’s former estate, which I walked in for free, finding some pleasant walking in the woodland. Then I headed north as I was interested to see the White Sea. You couldn’t see it from Arkhangelsk, but I managed to see it on the way to Murmansk, stopping for 12 hours in a place called * where I hitch hiked and walked to the shore. I was happy to get there. Then everything was frozen.

It 15th November when I reached Murmansk. They had had snow already for three weeks. It was fairly dark by then, with daylight from about 11.30 til 2. But as people were telling me in a couple of weeks there would be no sun at all

NORWAY (2)

I took a shared car to the Norwegian border, where they were rather surprised to see a British passport. As soon as you crossed the border there was a whole different feeling, everything was beautiful in the snow. It was too cold for hitchhiking. But I found I could travel down the coast in the Hurtingruten ferry. It was very smart and not too expensive if you didn’t take a cabin. That was the problem with Norway just then, the Krona was so high in value everything was very expensive. I would try and travel overnight on trains just to save the cost of accommodation.

I had to sleep in dormitories, which wasn’t so bad as I made some friends that way. I even climbed a mountain in the snow, which most people were going up on Nordic skis, signing my name in a book on the top.

SWEDEN (2)

I had two lots of Couchsurfing in Sweden, one by a lake out in the country in a cottage where I met a German lady. Then with a university lecturer in *, who was interested in music, and I went with him to see a choir. It beautiful and snowy, I had some nice walks in the snow. I was proud of the observations I recorded on the train across central Sweden on the way to *.

Finally I had a night in Stockholm, then I took the ferry back across to Riga, where I found my friend *still in his flat, having carefully stored my bicycle for four months. The next night I took a ferry from the port a little down the coast to Bremerhaven on Germany. From there I made my way by train back through the Netherlands and by sea again to England. At that time I still had my mobile home in Oxford.

2012 – Cycle to Africa

France – cycling. July-August

It was already well into my fiftieth year when I set out in July to from Oxford to cycle to Africa. As I hadn’t made any long journeys by bicycle for twenty years, the first few days coming down through the south of England I was rather tired. But after a rest day in Salisbury I got my second wind and nothing stopped me.

After five years staying in one place it was just so amazing being somewhere new. I had no camera, just relying on pencil and paper. I was constantly stopping to make quick ‘handlebar’ sketches – constantly enthralled by some novelty I saw.

At first I camped in official campsites, which wasn’t too satisfactorily as they were often noisy with discos at night, and also quite expensive. Only later after crossing the Gironde I met a German man (a huge guy on a very large bike) who told me he just camped at farms. When I got to the flat forested area of the Southeast, it was very easy just to veer off the cycle path and camp hidden under the trees. It was so relaxing, particularly after a hard days ride, I was soon hooked on wild camping. And kept on with it all the way down through Spain.

My finale to France was a very pleasant ride up into the Pyrenees, staying at a hostel there.

– A poem I wrote one evening in a camp, inspired by my newly rediscovered freedom of travelling.

SPAIN

Then I cycled through Spain from north to south in about five weeks. It was August, quite hot and very very dry. You did not find water in any rivers, only in the villages. One of the few words of Spanish I learnt was agua – every day I needed about four litres of water.

Spain was interesting, I never knew from one day to the next if I was going to be crossing flat plains or climbing over sierras. A great convenience was also figs, which grew wild particularly in the south, which came to constitute a major part of my food intake, relieving the necessity to find shops.

A poem I wrote while crossing through Spain.

Fuenta-one of the special things about Spain are the many springs and public water taps

MOROCCO

From the southern coast of Spain at Algericas I crossed to Tangier. I spent six weeks in Morocco, leaving my bicycle at the hotel in Tangier where I had made good friends with one of the staff. I continued on as far as I could by train, then was obliged to take buses, visiting Essouaria, Rabat, Marrakesh of course, and heading to the village below Toubkal, the highest peak, but I did not in the end climb it.

Morocco was I suppose rather a contemplative journey, just taking things as they came, drawing and penning the odd poem, with a good number of travelling encounters, talking to people I just happened to meet, or who came to me when I was drawing.

A selection of excepts from my collection.

THE MEDITERRANEAN

Then after six weeks I returned on the ferry, back to Spain, though this time it was a longer journey by sea, which brought me to Barcelona.

As of such sea journeys, there is not much to do on a boat. Here I include some observations recorded during the 36 hour crossing.

Spain and France again

Finally we arrived in Barcelona. And from there I took the slow trains back across France, to cross again to England by mid November. I remember coming back on the train from Portsmouth to Oxford early in the morning, waiting for it to get light, and it never did. It took my eyes several weeks to readjust to the gloom of the English winter.

Canada – rambling by the Credit River

February 29th, 2020

It seems the season now for appreciating snow – Facebook friends are enjoying a little skiing, renewing that sense of wonder when there is winter sunshine. Me too, though I did not tell them yet.

I need not have worried about the transition to the cold – as until three weeks ago I was bearing the heat of South America. Now here I am clad in many layers feeling the energy and vigour of a biting breeze. And yes it is wonderful to be out in the snow, here experiencing Canada for the first time.

I have been staying in a cabin near to a place called Belfontaine, (not really all that far from the city in fact, but nature still predominates,) a very luxurious one – no need to light a fire, as everything inside is electric. Thus I am reminded that this is a rich country, highly mechanised, with the people working hard, where the people live comfortably, despite severity of the winter climate.

I have only two weeks to see this enormous country, and was somewhat tentative in my planning. Yet I am already curious to see more than just this little corner of Ontario, feeling a little discontented that I had not planned to explore further – even just to get some sense of the extent of this country (which in its awesomeness reminds me of Russia). All the same I find satisfaction in the beauty of the snow and the subtleties of sunshine casting shadows upon it in the forest; appreciating (even if somewhat hidden now in winter bareness) the many species of trees in the forest – finding papery remains of leaves of blue beeches, sugar maples, sassafras, hornbeams and oaks; some parts the woods are all deciduous whilst others are darkened by red cedars, balsa, pines and eastern hemlocks.

The interest on my rambles has been concerned primarily with the immediacy of the trees, as opposed to views of the wider landscape, which I have longed for, but have had to be content thus far with suggestions. Then I ask myself, is the whole of eastern Canada the same as this? – my Airbnb host, when I asked her this, replied at first that it was, but later recalled that further north there were lakes, and yes, the scenery got better.

She is very interested in what she calls the First Nations – the native American Indians – explaining how the tribes that once inhabited this area are now extinct. Their memory remains in the name of the river, the Credit River recalling transactions between the early settlers and the local Indians. Whilst wandering about the trails, sometimes traversing minor escarpments beside the river valley – for the country is sometimes broken into undulations (though not so much distinct hills), I am primarily aware of the forest and the river, running black in its narrow valley, recalling a significant event in my childhood, watching episodes from ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ with my sister and our father (constantly asking my father to explain what was happening). Throughout the subsequent fifty years I have often thought about Hawk-eye with his ability to see, and Uncas skilled at following trails – proud to think that with experience I have acquired some of the skills of this childhood inspirer (though being small I have some disadvantage compared to taller friends). Anyway here I am, in the place where my trail blazing began, though there’s no need to use any pathfinding skill here as all the trails are thoroughly marked, with blue or white blazes on the trees.

After six days of exploring I had walked every trail attainable from the cabin, most more than once and I was beginning to appreciate the subtleties of the land here, the changing nature of the forest, the tantalising viewpoints, the varying states of the snow, the difference between 1 degree and -7, the subtleties of sunlight, coming and going, casting golden tinged patterns on the snow beneath the bare forest, whilst the sun itself, a silvery patch in the sky glimmered brighter intermittently, as could be noted by the eye, but remained too subtle for the camera.

Bolivia

Tarija 8.1.20

By the Rio Guadalquivir

Today I try to make resolutions, becoming aware that a new year is ahead, awaiting for intentions. Yet, I cannot resolve to follow my dream because I have just been doing that.

For the past three weeks, beginning on Christmas Day I have been cycling across one of the hottest places on this continent, through the Gran Chaco of Paraguay and thence into Bolivia, to climb up the Eastern Cordilleras, some 2600metres (this is height gained, as maybe four times as much was actually climbed).

How wonderful it has been to have seen these places. After pondering so often over the map beforehand, surveying the territory at the approaches to the Andes, calculating if I would ever have the strength to make it.

And now here I am having travelled all this way.

Physically it was tough, my body was not, as it ought to be, enjoying the thrill of exertion – it was already somewhat weary of cycling when I began this leg (or these two legs) of my South American journey. And just now I am more tired than really is to be enjoyed, so I cannot think of dreams just now, only of what has been achieved.

It seems I have learnt many things from this period of exertion, principally perhaps that it is important at all times to retain ones sense of tranquillity, no matter how exhausted, how pressing the demands for retrieving some kind of comfort (as for example when trying to take a much needed rest by the road under a shady tree, there gaining some minor relief from the searing heat, thence to be rapidly surrounded by buzzing swarms of pestilent flies, which try to crawl on my face and enter into my ears, along with ants of many sizes travelling over my clothes, persistent clegs, sly mosquitoes, and niggling sandflies – so many kinds of insects upsetting my attempts to rest – I must work hard to retain my tranquility and not let these visitors get me stressed. Til inevitability I must resort to sitting with my mosquito net over my sombrero, but this isn’t the same as resting under a tree.

Happily now I have reached Tarija where it is somewhat less hot. The night before I arrived here I camped by a river at 2300m. How wonderful it was to sit without the constant company of insects, enjoying the breeze. And in the morning, for a while, I found goose pimples on my arms – yes it was even a little cool. I had been in the heat so long, where there was nothing but degrees of hotness, my skin always wet with perspiration, apart from a couple of hours in the early hours of the morning, I craved the sensation of coolness.

Once I got over the pass, (which it had taken me a whole day of toiling to climb up to – without the joy of exertion alas, for it was more than the body was really quite happy with.)

Yet other pleasures remained, the pleasure of being in that place doing that which I had thought of beforehand to do, the pleasure of being outside in the open under the immensity of the sky, the pleasure of moving through the landscape ever intrigued by what was round the next bend or over the next hillock (this pleasure had greatly increased after I left Villamontes and began my climb up into the forested mountains of the Eastern Cordilleras, it was lovely in this respect to find myself in the hills again, passing through rocky gorges, climbing up besides rivers, heading up valleys towards passes – the scenery was wonderful, apart from the road itself which had (not so long ago it seemed) been cut through the mountains, cut is the word, for a huge amount of rock had been removed, gouging out ways through high embankments, making alas rather a mess of the natural contours of the landscape, so it was hard, despite the natural beauty of the mountain scenery, to take a beautiful photograph, or find a view without the scars. Whilst the mountain itself was yet still winning, with fallen rocks liberally strewn across the roads below the newly cut cliffs. Indeed stones were falling even as I went, I could hear them pattering down onto the road behind me.

The interest of moving through the landscape had still been there when I had been pedalling the straight and flat roads in the Gran Chaco, sometimes a hundred kilometers without a bend. I would peer out in front at this band of solitary road which narrowed in my line of sight ahead, trying to estimate how far I could see – ten kilometers, twenty… Sometimes there were clues, such as the appearance of a mast beside a settlement which I knew was still so many kilometers away.

Birds too, they were always a joy to see – looking up through the green branches of the trees to the bright blue sky above – there was beauty.  With the cicadas calling out ‘lucy, lucy, lucy’ in an upper-crust English accent, like they’re trying to compete on how to say it properly.

When you are cycling through the heat with days behind and days more of it ahead, no villages, just open country and entranceways to remote ranches miles up gravel side-roads, it seems there is nothing else in life but the work of the journey – nothing to be done but to keep on pedalling through the kilometers, drinking water, taking breaks, finding the beauty in small things as you go. One becomes so absorbed in the experience, which in these ever toughening circumstances becomes a case of discipline and thought, because there is no room for mistake. It is necessary to make sure the body doesn’t become exhausted, to keep going from day to day. So I must try to get things right

There can be no slacking on the small jobs either, of keeping gear in order, even when one is very tired, of washing clothes and keeping smart. To catch oneself slacking, must sure be a sign of approaching mishap.

I didn’t mention the pleasure of discovery. For all these places I was coming to for the first time – and thus I was intrigued, on finding whatever happened to be there, and coming to understand with my own eyes how this little portion of the earth’s surface is arranged.

I climbed up over the forested ridges of the Eastern Cordilleras, until, approaching the pass before Tarija I observed how the hills were becoming barer. Now I saw open summits clad with bushes and grass. There was an accessibility now about the peaks, (that was not there when clothed in forest) such that I began a little to yearn, and wonder how it would be to step amongst the vegetation and see the view from one of the summits .

Paraguay ii 19-22 Dec

19.12.18 Aregua, Day 3 11.36am

My African Friend.

Yesterday evening I paid the old lady, whose name is Lucia, for a whole week for the room – seeing the idea of staying in one place for nine days as a kind of discipline that must be carried out in actuality, at the same time not at all sure how I was going to keep myself sane for another whole week of idleness, within the bounds of four walls and one town.

I meander out, following much the same route as yesterday, first to the plage by the lake, then along a track through some forest, stopping along the way here and there at shady spots to sit and read some of a novel on my phone – it is hot enough to appreciate the deeper shade of the denser trees.

Yesterday I had been reading a short story about a journey through Palestine on horseback, set 170 years ago

Even as I read, in my idleness I think of my friend in Tanzania, now in his Masai village, who I had not heard of since July. And there occurred in my mind a beautiful thought, which I could not grasp the context of, only it seemed to be associated with something satisfying about to happen.

Four days ago I decided to send a message to his half-brother who lives in Arusha, to ask of his situation.

There are some people who do not seem at heart to quite enjoy being alive – when I first met him he used to smoke marijuana, and when he was travelling with me he began to smoke more, as he had more money; everywhere we went, on arrival the first thing he would do was seek out some rastas, or local people to bring him a supply. He would call it his ‘medicine’.

‘You don’t need medicine if you aren’t ill’ I would say.

It was as if he was saying that life itself wasn’t bearable, and needed to be escaped from. Yet he also had the capacity to enjoy himself unconditionally at other times.

By the time we got to Comoros it was really an addiction. It is very terrible to be with someone whose moods aren’t reflecting current circumstances but governed by an artificial substance.

I would say to him that if he gave up then he would be happier. And when we arrived in Mauritius all of a sudden he did (partly because he couldn’t get supplies there). He told his rasta friends that he now classified himself as a quitter. And they respected him just as well.

And it was true, after he gave up he was happier, and really he did start to enjoy life then. By then we had been travelling more than a year, and a firm love and respect had grown up between us.

It is very pleasant sitting beneath this tree, strung with weeping lianas along the length of its boughs, upon a makeshift seat which someone has built here.

There is music playing nearby, which, like birdsong, suggests that all is well here just now.

Day 5 21.12.19 Aregua 11.40 am

It rained all night, a gigantic storm which cooled the air. Now this morning everything is renewed. I made a long walk yesterday, out to a further hill, finding a forest trail to the summit, looking back on the descent to the two smaller hills near the town with their rocky caps – now having climbed all the hills in the vicinity and am beginning to feel that my explorations here are completed.

Today I am trying to think what I can do to help my friend. I see now that it’s not about money but self respect. That he always had a lot of, yet it is something that constantly needs maintaining.

Day 6 Aregua 22.12.19

Today I departed, the old lady giving me my money back for the days I had not stayed. I am in the park again, where beneath my feet are a scattering of pods, of brown and green, about to leave the town for the novelty of unknown places, inspired by the prospect of beautiful places ahead, and the beauty of form a journey competently executed, where every moment has its purpose, in the renewed hope that something of it might be shared with part of the rest of humanity.

Pods upon the ground

Paraguay i 4 – 16th Dec 19

The Tranquillity of the Traveller

Encarnacion, Paraguay 4th December, 2019, 10.37 am

I am very happy just now – maybe it has something to do with having drunk two cups of coffee this morning, as provided with the ‘desayunos’ at the hotel, where I am staying (with a little bit more of luxury than I require,) down near the beach of the wide Parana River, which I crossed yesterday with my bicycle in the front compartment of a train, which runs alongside the road over the long bridge, transferring pedestrians from the Argentina side, across the border into Paraguay.

Just now I am sitting on a section of sculptured wall in a part of a public park, in the centre of the city of Encarnacion – its name suggesting that something sublime and dramatic might happen here, as at a destination of a pilgrimage.

In this park has been created a Japanese garden, a pleasing nook – clean and airy as well as cosy, full of gentle curves to catch the eye – hey just look at that bird, what a picture it made, perched there ‘solo’ along the length of an outstretching horizontal branch – its photograph caught with my eye.

This it seems is what travelling is all about (amongst other things), but just now I am appreciating this aspect, of a deep and calm contentedness in finding myself in some place – in the mere simplicity of just enjoying the time. There seems purpose now in just looking, and in recalling every transaction made this morning and since my arrival here yesterday – as with the reception man in the hotel earlier, who gave me a thumbs up when I paid him for an ‘otro dies’.

It is supposed it will rain today, but it has not come yet. I feel gratified by the politeness in the way people have been treating me, whilst highly aware of my failings on so many scores.. A sparrow appears on the brown gravel at my feet; and now a family of native people appear on the bridge – a woman with three children, she is small and round with deep black hair – she had greeted me kindly with a smile as they passed. They are looking at the fish in the pool, the three small children gazing quietly, according each to his or her character. This is a very nice pine tree under the edge of which I sit – do I detect rain? Maybe not yet.

I have so much to say – everything seems important (just now) – my mind overstimulated with the caffeine (the short lady glanced up at the sky too). I am happy to be outside with all these compounding thoughts, where they can disperse readily into the air around, flowing breezily away.

The woman’s smile turned into a brief laugh, hu hu, as the four of them were walking away.

Thor Heyerdahl must have been right – the native people must have come from Polynesia.

I desire to express some of the beauty of being here, the beauty of simplicity, thinking how when you are enjoying fully being in the place where you are, you are also able to appreciate other people’s pleasures.

Villaranca, eve. In the park. 14.12.19

The illegitimate traveller in the barren plains of silence from friends

Here in another park in a different city to this morning – this it seems is maybe what South America is about – public parks where people are selling things.

A great draft of loneliness washes over me, here in the barren plains of silence from friends.

I decide the answer to loneliness is discipline. For sure all these days of rest are making me idle. When there is abundance and temptation all around.

And I do not want to enjoy being solitary, because at heart I suppose I feel it is wrong to be alone.

I almost want to cry.

In the park – Independencia – The heart of the beauty of it all.

15.12.19

Birds are singing all about me in the trees (though not so loudly as they were earlier). It was beautiful waking up in the forest, camping near the hills.

But where is my purpose? – for there has to be some path into the future. If I were able to write a novel that really explained it, which really got to the heart of the beauty of it all, then it seems I would be living my life – is this what I desire? (Sometimes it is hard to know what one desires – for ones needs are constantly changing. When I am hungry then I think only of finding food. Now, whilst I am tired I am ever appreciating rest, but I know it will not last, and I will soon be bored and ready to move again.) Before I set out on this journey I had wanted strength; and this I have acquired – finding (miraculously) I could keep going cycling up steep hills, day following day, new muscles appearing – yes indeed there is more life (in me) now. But finally I become weary, no longer enjoying the thrill of exertion, cleansed by rivulets of cooling perspiration, (my mind ever drawn onward to the prospect of new places ahead of me as I peer at the map). Just now I’m happy peacefully to sit, enjoying the tranquility of shady repose.

It is very beautiful sitting under this tree, which casts a generous deep toned shade, one of several making an avenue diagonally across the park.

16.12.19 Hotel Ozli 3pm

A massive storm

It rained today, as it also did yesterday, so there was pleasant relief from the sunlight and the heat. It began with a massive storm which loomed ahead til it became so imminently threatening I sought shelter, a big stone bus shelter, where, as I drew up also did a van carrying furniture, and the people set about covering their cargo with a tarpaulin. It came soon enough, along with violent wind which lashed through the hut where there were now also two motorcycles, whilst cars began stopping by the road, orange lights flashing – you could see nothing, everything was fully white. At the height of it one of the wardrobes in the back of the truck was clean blown over on its side; in a bit the man came out to try to restore his cargo – in the teeth of it, I decide I cannot leave him unaided. Then one of the motorcycle men goes over to help him (more usefully), thence a certain camaraderie grew up as we waited there, sharing the untoward circumstance, and the driver asks me where I am going. That was yesterday. I have now arrived beside the lago Ypacarai, but I did not see it yet.

16.12.19 5pm Aregua

Outside the cathedral, on the lawn at the viewpoint. Seeing the lake from here and realising how all is beautiful. A man, as I walked to the seat where I am sitting – now with a pattern of sunlight filtering upon me through the trees. Why he followed me I don’t know; I supposed it was from a natural sense of companionship, or the need for it. Anyway he got some, as not so long after another man came up, greeting him. Now they are talking, and the first man is laughing a kind of snigger (and I am thinking of my friend, and his being with his friends. It did not rain too much in the end, though clouds still hang about the sky as reminders of the storm.

Thinking how beautiful it is to travel about South America, to arrive in cities finding square parks. Thinking too how that man looked a bit like my friend in Tanzania, smooth of skin and much the same brown. There is a service happening inside the church and doors are open with the sounds of the recitations emanating readily to the outside.

The man has just walked away, with shuffling feet, and I am left solitary sensing an intention of moving off too. (Ah, but he is back again, and now he is off again in the opposite direction.

A back route through Brazil

26.11.19 Alegrete

I was very happy to arrive here in this little town. I cannot say it is so beautiful, bounded by the curves of the Rio Ibirapuita, the upper tributaries of which I have been crossing on my way here across country from Livramento where I crossed the border from Uruguay. I walked down to it today, not seeking to be out of the city, but there I was in a little bit of countryside with a horse grazing by some trees. The water was high up its banks, for it had been raining all morning – heavy storms bringing down much water, (and even drips from the ceiling of the hotel room where I am staying). I am very pleased to find that this stormy day coincides with my day of rest.

I am comfortable in this town, partly I am feeling because I do not pay much more than $10 for a room in a hotel. There is freedom in this, because, if I liked I could stay several more days, if I liked, if the forecast were not for sunshine tomorrow.

Not far from the river I chanced upon a bicycle shop, having an idea – just an idea, though no serious intention – that I really would like a leather saddle on my bicycle. This was a small shop; outside chained up was an old style Brazilian bicycle, as I had noticed here, with a circle incorporated into the frame, a quite unusual design. It was interesting to see, and as I am looking a dark man comes out of the shop, wondering I suppose why this lady should be interested in bicycles. No, I did not want to buy one – I managed to explain that I had my own bicycle here in a hotel, and that I had cycled on it from Montevideo in Uruguay.

He shows me inside his shop, proudly pointing out a mountain style bicycle he had there. All were different, and I gathered he was something of a designer of bicycles – then I was pleased to think that such skills lay in small workshops in this country (even if hopefully I will never need their services. ) I really wanted to ask him which African country were his origins, for sure his ancestors must have come from there originally. But probably so far back in generations, it might not have been pertinent to ask. Then I went outside and took a photo of the old Brazilian bicycle, and another with the man beside it.

Then I walked on further and found a church which I went inside, looking all around, then sat outside in the park and wrote a letter sitting on a bench under the damp greenness of trees. For the rain has not finished yet.

Uruguay

10.11.19 by the river at San José

Here I am at the junction of the rivers (Rio Santa Lucia and the Rio Pilatos), looking out to a sandbank, seated on the bole of a giant eucalyptus tree which stands overlooking the Pilatos side. There are also similar, smaller such trees on the promontory above the junction in which I see several large dark masses of nests. There are so many birds – Uruguay, maybe it is a place for birds, for wild nature lurks here, not magnificently as in mountainous scenery, but yet remains in neglected corners, such as around ruins of former homesteads, left with broken thatched rooves – I camped beside one last night, (lucky to find a wild neglected place amongst the otherwise fully-owned landscape) where I was surrounded by beautifully perfumed, freshly green trees. It is very evidently spring here now – all is a lush emerald green and the birds are busy and highly active. What a chorus there was this morning in the vicinity of my tent – some time before six as the light was increasing, a grand symphony of a thousand different tunes, with near at hand a bell-like song which sometimes fluted ‘take care’, as people like to say. So I call this the Take-Care bird.

There is one like a lark with a bright red head I sometimes see by the road, others like fieldfare with striking orange-brown tails, and some small bright emerald yellow parrots, and many others I’ve seen more than once

One can appreciate wildness in the flowers of the verges, which are lush and variant dotted amongst the brilliant green grass.

One may appreciate touches of wildness in the rivers, all of which have water flowing in them; this one I sit beside I walked alongside earlier, finding many small paths I supposed made by people going down to fish on the bank. There are many people by the river today, near the bridge – it is Sunday. As I passed I saw a great many barbecues, and people swimming in the river off the small sandy beaches.

Further along I found an old man living alone in a raised hut beside the bridge of the old railway, with two very gruff looking dogs which seemed from their expressions to only know of a hard life.

You could see where the river had gouged out channels in the banks when it had flooded, and it seems that not so long before the river had been quite a lot higher than it is now.

But I cannot romance of distant places sitting here where I am, as I see from my map that this is solely a local river, arising from the undulating farmland (which I have passed through cycling the last two days), one of its tributaries forming the boundary of this region, running into the sea back near where I set out from, to the west of Montevideo.

So I haven’t come far yet

/

Wider views and special hills

20.11.19 In a wood beyond a small stream, by the Ruta 28, just past a small stream.

It is hot – the saddle is hot, the handlebars are hot, the road is hot, my water is like tea, hence I am appreciating some partial shade from some eucalyptus trees at the edge of a wood, feeling that a minor siesta is appropriate just now. It has become more rural since I turned off the Ruta 5, yesterday morning – a wide road shared mostly with empty two trailer logging trucks (going back I suppose to collect more logs). There was much forest here, which I could appreciate to an extent through a window of noise and forward urging as I was carried along in the rallying of vehicles passing by at speed.

But here on ruta 28 I have been able to return to just moseying, along through a pleasant more rural landscape – I am now accustomed to seeing cows, clustered around neat waterholes, which I find taking an interest in me as I approach, all looking in most photogenic manner; only by the time I have stopped and turned on my phone (which is rather slow to boot) the cows have lost interest and their heads are directed to the ground, or they have slunk off in different directions – a photograph of cows looking the other way has little appeal. It’s the same with birds – I am quite sure I must have seen all the ornithological highlights of Uruguay on my journey, some wonderful sights have have passed right in front of me. But too fleeting to photograph.

This small stream I just crossed I see from my map runs into the Cunapiri, a wood flanged meandering river which I camped beside yesterday, under the shade of some immense eucalyptus, with towering, smooth, creamy boles – no one seeing me there apart from some horses, which I heard scrunching past this morning over the thick bed of pinkish crescents of leaves. (I had chickened out at the last minute of camping in the official campsite – for fear of all-night music at the tables. ) Even though I had had a pleasant chat with the caretaker earlier who had showed me where to go, explaining that two Australian cyclists, a man and a woman, had also camped there some time ago, whilst he himself was awed at the idea of cycling through these countries, rightly it seemed.

Anyway I did not yet explain about yesterday, when the landscape changed completely in atmosphere with the appearance of several distinct flat topped hills, the upper parts encircled with bands of rock so it was not clear how easy they would be to scale. I was rather sad I had not attempted it, even though I had good views from the road, to now a wider landscape around. Just to have been standing on the summit, having made my way through the rough vegetation – the hills even had some patches of native vegetation clambering about the slopes. I stopped, took out pencil and paper and made some sketches, as I worked I felt as if I was back in the real world again, (after being for the past 11 days I’m not quite sure where), a world in which reward might come without exertion, a world in which what I was doing had some purpose .Yet there would have been nothing special about these minor cerros (hills), had they been set in Spain or some other country where mountains abounded. But here these small geological protuberances stood upright as sentinels, their presence totally changing the nature of the landscape, from, (as I had been in up to now,) a place of low lying nature, where rivers and ponds were the principal features. Now we had not undulations but real hills, with rocky crests, overlooking wider areas of foot slopes and valleys, not on any great scale, but in contrast to what had been. Maybe that was why I suddenly felt at home again.

Today moseying along on the rural Ruta 28, it is feeling more intimate, at the same time there are wider views sometimes to lend a sense of vastness beyond, dotted with miniature clusters of cattle (as I image one might find in Argentina) which much as I might desire to, I aware it could not be captured on the scale of a photograph. Yet at the same time, it is still Uruguay, still the same place I set off into twelve days ago, with its springtime greenery, greensward and flowers, birds, clusters of cattle and isolated farms. Only now with a familiarity which it did not have when I set off, having lived a little piece of my life here.