A West Coast Winter Evening— Living Off Grid on Hornby Island

We arrived home on a dark and stormy night in mid-December. Melody, our eccentric elderly pug, jumped off my lap as I opened the passenger door of the white 80s pickup truck. My partner, Kevin, and I sorted through the mess of things in the cab and grabbed what we’d need for the night— my backpack, Kevin’s purse, and a plastic bag with old pasta sauce jars containing homemade cream of broccoli soup, gifted to us by a friend the day before. I pulled a headlamp out of my pocket and braced myself for the journey ahead.

Our driveway is not what most people think of when they picture a driveway. From September through to June every year, it is better described as a body of water than a surface suitable for driving on. We only attempt to ford it by truck when bringing home firewood every few weeks. To avoid situations involving tire chains and come-alongs on the way to work the next morning, we generally park just off the road and walk the 2 or 3 minutes back to the trailer. There’s a narrow path between the gargantuan puddles and the tree line that will keep your feet pretty dry if you’ve got your wits about you. It’s terribly inconvenient, but to be honest, I find that it always makes coming home feel like an adventure. I kind of love it.

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How I Got Home

The night after I found out that I’d lost the entirety of my adult life’s worth of writing to a poorly placed beer spill, I ended up on the side of a street in Victoria, sharing a 2 litre bottle of cider with a runaway teenager, a dreadlocked twenty-something year old dude in a onesie, and an honest to goodness magician. How any of them might have described me in 10 words or less will always be a mystery. Someone had found half a pepperoni pizza sitting on top of a dumpster, which we were using to try and befriend a nearby seagull, and a quiet boy played guitar in the corner. I had no plans for my future and what felt like no proof of my past.

I had been thinking that that the next day I’d probably be running away to Sooke with the not-even-that-cute-or-nice boy I’d met earlier in the evening. Or maybe I’d be hanging out with an old friend who was passing through town and going to a concert for a band I hardly knew the name of with him. Or maybe I’d just stay in bed all day and mourn the contents of that damn hard drive. I had my big backpack packed and ready to go, full of anything I could possibly need for an indefinite time on the road, just in case. I could have done anything, if only I could have picked something.

The next morning, when I woke up hungover in my mom’s guest bed, I still wasn’t sure what to do, so like any normal human, I grabbed my phone and started scrolling through Facebook. I read a post by a “friend” who I hadn’t even met before that said there was work helping to sand a wooden floor in a house on Galiano Island. I had never done any sort of work like that before, but the pay was good, the island was an old favourite of mine, and the only requirement for the job was the ability to be there the following day. That was the last time I felt aimless.

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I love working with my hands

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My Super Stupid South American Odyssey

So it’s been a while… My bad. I bet/hope at least one of you wonders what I’ve been up to in the 9 months since I last wrote anything for this blog.

Well, after leaving Puerto Natales on the final leg of Otra Vida’s journey south, I promptly lost a large chunk of my right hand ring finger in an accident involving a 72-foot mega yacht, wine, and a creepy captain named Chase. A week later, I poured a beer into the keyboard of my laptop. These two incidents should explain at least the first half of my radio silence.

With my right hand mangled and my favourite worldly possession ruined, I was in pretty bad shape, more than a little frustrated with life. Martin stepped up in a big way, not only taking over almost all of the chores on board, but also listening patiently as I all-out screamed at the coffee pot most mornings for being so difficult to operate with my left hand. Read More »

Sin Camino

Her voice came through the satellite phone sounding strange. Like it held emotions so big that they couldn’t possibly fit through the small holes in the speaker.

“It’s so good to hear your voice,” we told each other. Then awkward silence. What do you say to someone who you’ve spent hours and hours searching for, while not expecting to find anything more than a body?

“I love you.”

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This picture has nothing to do with anything, but I’m including it because it’s beautiful and i have to lighten the mood somehow.

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Night Sailing

The last thing I blogged about was Christmas. What’s left of the aspiring professional in me wants to catch up, but I’m not going to do that. That’s because I really don’t want to write about New Year’s Eve, which is a story I told to someone and heard “Wow, that’s almost Bukowski-level” in response. I also don’t want to write about the endless, anxiety-ridden weeks of waiting for the boat, Otra Vida, to arrive in and leave again from Puerto Montt, even if they did feature a few really good hikes. And I definitely don’t want to write about the tense hours spent passing a “talking stick” around a circle in the boat’s cabin, after which I became the only remaining sojourning crew member of Otra Vida.

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Anxiously exploring an abandoned house in Puerto Varas while waiting for Otra Vida

What I do want to write about is the passage across Golfo de Corcovado. Read More »

The Worst Bus in the World

When I tried to google information about the bus to Rurrenabaque, the first page of results consisted exclusively of DO NOT TAKE THIS BUS, THIS IS THE WORST BUS IN THE WORLD and ACTUAL BUS? OR CHARIOT TO HELL?

To the average person, I suspect this would suggest that maybe they shouldn’t take this bus. But to me, it sounded a lot like “Take this bus… I dare you!”

I embarrassed myself all the way through the collectivo ride from the hostel to the bus station with my incompetence and confusion, narrowly escaped being sold a taxi ride for double the price of the bus, had someone ask me if I was Argentinian (not sure why, but I’m taking that as a good sign), bought my ticket, strategically did not ask for the estimated time of arrival, and got on board. The bus was only half an hour late to leave and the only empty seat was next to me. It was an excellent start, and I felt great, except for a sore throat and a runny nose.

I hadn’t had a solid bowel movement in weeks, so I was in a state of mind where I really couldn’t take the little uncomfortable things my body did that seriously, so I wasn’t thinking too much of those symptoms. However, 10 minutes into the ride, they exploded into a full-on feverish delirium. Still, it wasn’t too bad. I had plenty of water and it was easier to sleep than I think it would have been otherwise. As we drove north into the humid air, my sore throat felt a lot better than it had in the incredibly dry mountain air of La Paz.

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How to Arrive in Bolivia with Style

The border at Desaguadero, between Peru and Bolivia, was the definition of insanity. At 7am, I was woken up by the driver of my overnight bus shouting “Caminar! Caminar a la aduana!”

I grabbed my passport and immigration documents, shoved my feet into my boots, and stumbled out into the middle of a marketplace. It wasn’t one of those clean(ish) tourist markets. It was a genuine chaotic cesspool of strange food, cheap plastic crap, and tiny cholitas with giant loads on their backs pushing you out of their ways. People were shouting at me to buy all sorts of things that I’m not sure why I should ever want, and my sense of smell boarded a tilt-a-whirl, suddenly taking up way more of my consciousness than I’m used to. This classic South American phenomenon is a sensory overload even if you’ve had time to chill and have a cup of coffee before actively deciding to put yourself in the situation.

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Shamelessly stolen from google images

There were a few people on my bus who didn’t seem to be weirded out by this, so I tried to follow them, but almost straight away, they disappeared into the sea of people. Plan B was to just walk, because it wasn’t like I was just going to miss customs. I walked and walked, right over a bridge with a man hocking jeggings in between Peruvian and Bolivian flags. I wandered into Bolivia with my passport in my hand, dodging the people driving bicycle carts who whistled and yelled “Move Gringo!” at me. Eventually the road turned from rough pavement with piles of empanadas everywhere to dirt with piles of more dirt everywhere. At that point, I figured that I had definitely missed customs, so I went back. Read More »

Colonial Hostel: Doin’ the Cusco

At Colonial Hostel, travel finally became what I expected it to be: exploring incredible places, eating delicious food, dancing all night, and meeting awesome people (you guys know who you were, thanks your for making the hostel feel like home). The place itself was fantastic: toilet seats, toilet paper, clean rooms, comfy couches in the many common areas, a communal kitchen, a kitten named Waiki, and a 12 year old named Franco to show you goofy Spanish youtube videos if you ever looked like you weren’t doing anything.

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After a wonderful week of just going with the flow, I figured it was time to actually do some of the things that I’d been dreaming of for months. The first thing I did was book myself a tour to Rainbow Mountain. Yes, a tour. I was cringing hard as I listened to the agent explain the itinerary and handed over the money. I was really not excited to get herded around the mountain in a group of 20 bumbling tourists, but there wasn’t any other way to get there unless I wanted to spend ridiculous amounts of money on a taxi from the last town to the trailhead. Read More »