Part of the joy of backpacking is the sense of accomplishment that comes from performing the activities of daily living – eating, sleeping, staying clean – in simple ways, with a limited set of tools. There’s just – to me – elemental joy in being able to take care of yourself, and live comfortably, in an environment different from your everyday one.
This may sound silly to some, but traveling in South America was analogous in ways to backpacking: the joy of “accomplishing” traveling and everyday living in a foreign, at times exotic, environment. The daily challenges of figuring out: where are we going?, can our GPS find it?, will we be driving 10 or 50 mph?, where are we going to stay tonight?, where can we get food and /or eat?, do we have enough water and propane? Can we get gas?
When we went to bed at the end of each day, it was with a sense of accomplishment: we had successfully managed the usual issues, plus any unforeseen things that had popped up during the day. And as we went to bed, the Casa was more often than not parked in a beautiful location.
Traveling in the US is different: it’s easy. Perhaps too easy. I am glad we are doing it: we have seen gorgeous parts of the US that neither of us knew existed, we have learned much about the civil war, we can tell the difference between wheated and rye bourbons, but the sense of accomplishment – is adventure a better word? – is not really there.
A few comparisons; first camping. We were driving through the Colca Canyon in Peru, truly spectacular, when it came time to find “camping”. Somewhere in a blog we had read that, in the village of Cabanaconde, there was a hotel that had parking and would allow overland vehicles to stay. After poking around the village, and speaking to a few folks, it turned out we were misinformed. However, someone mentioned that the church caretaker sometime let vehicles stay in the an enclosed area next to the church. So we knocked on the door to a small house, and yes, we could park overnight for a couple of dollars. No amenities, except for an outside sink with running cold water, but decently level, and a nice secure spot for the Casa.
If you have Google Earth (if you don’t have it, get it…) copy and paste these coordinates into the search box
and take a look at where we camped. And zoom in and out to see the size of the village and the gorgeous surroundings. Yes, we went to bed with a sense of accomplishment.
In the US, on the other hand, camping is so easy, we now take it for granted. Just about every camp ground, including the state parks, and certainly every RV park/resort, nowadays has full hook-ups: water, electricity, sewer, cable TV (!), and wifi. Since the Casa arrived on Sep 20th, we have been without an electric hookup maybe two nights. In 12 months in S America, we were hooked up once.
Another example is roads: in Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, and parts of both Argentina and Chile, the roads can be atrocious – gorgeous yes, but almost hard to describe how bad they can be.
If you used Google Earth to look at Cabanaconde and you zoomed out, you can easily see the road we were driving: it is south of town and goes fairly straight east – west.
This particular road, while twisty, was rather good. Some others, not so much.
This video shows a road we drove in Bolivia. Pay attention at the scene 1:00 into the video, and be certain to check the road starting at 2:05 in the video and the next 30 seconds – it provides a good feel for some of the worse Bolivian roads.
This second professional video is on the famous “death road” of Bolivia which leads into La Paz. Since the video was made the road has been replaced by a safer one, and now the death road is mainly used by tourists who bike down it. However, the video provides a great feel for some of the truly scary Bolivian roads, and the life of a truck driver.
In the US, Karen and I have joined the sub-culture of shunpikers – those who avoid interstates and turnpikes. And since we picked up the Casa in September, we have purposefully chosen to drive along the small(er) back roads. But so far, not only have we not been on any bad roads, we have not even been on any dirt roads. The official highway map of Texas – we are currently in Austin – does not even show a single dirt road. So whereas we could look back on driving 90 miles in a day in Bolivia as an accomplishment, here in the US, while we enjoy the driving and the scenery, never once have we viewed a drive as an accomplishment.
As much as we are enjoying our US travels, we do ask ourselves from time to time: is is too easy?