Living Life Adventurously

The trouble with making your dreams come true is what to do with the rest of your life. I wonder if I would have done things differently if I had known this at 15, but I suspect not. In any event, I remember my worst fear was always the thought of waking up aged 35 (the oldest I could image at that point!), and being full of regret for the things I wished I had done.

Unlike my peers, I never had doubts about what I wanted to do. I knew from very early on that I was going to go down the Amazon alone and everything I did was within that context. My MA in Latin American History and Archaeology was preparation for my expedition; so was language school in Barcelona, and attending the annual Expedition Planning Events at the Royal Geographical Society. Two marriage proposals were turned down during and after university in London, not least because I could hardly expect someone to wait for me while I followed my real passion.

Most publishers refused to bet any money on me, convinced I would not live to tell my tale, but I did, and Random House published An Amazon and a Donkey in 1991. It was a wonderful culmination to my life’s dream. But already, on reaching the Brazilian city of Belém at the mouth of the Amazon River, I had been confronted with the powerful realization that making your dream come true is a hollow victory if you have no one to share it with. Soon the future yawned ahead like a black hole and I felt bereft of purpose and very lonely.

Of course I discovered that a passion for adventure is not something that is quenched with one journey. Sooner or later, inspiration for another project comes along and I have tried hard to make each one happen. Some got turned into books (The Amber Trail and Chickenbus Journey). My greatest joy, however, came from finding someone to join me, who managed to survive 20 years in my company before fading away into another life. I am left with two young sons and a huge well of gratitude.

And still I am not ready to admit that I am finished with passion or adventure! My sons laugh incredulously at me when I tell them I intend to buy a motorcycle for my very own South American road trip. They see a small woman with silver hair who has to stand on tip toe to kiss their cheeks. But I know that all I need is someone to teach me how to ride a Yamaha 250 and I’m off. The protective gear has been in my cupboard ever since we emigrated to Chile in 2006. Little do they realize the only reason I had sons was to help raise the sails in the South Pacific, but I’m beginning to see I may need a grown man for that one!

Natascha Scott-Stokes is the author of three travel books and one biography (Wild & Fearless: The Life of Margaret Fountaine), as well as various guide books. She has also been a professional translator since 1987, and owns the Chilean retreat Quinta Escondida.

A mural is born

The Quinta Escondida is delighted to host the new Chile Club House  for the South American Explorers from 2014 onwards. A mural inspired by the SAE logo has been painted across the entrance to the Yoga Centre to celebrate: a beautiful landmark that is also a perfect symbol for the transformational work that takes place there.

By local artist Paulina Altamirano.

Annual Hummingbird Feast

Towards the end of May, we are well into autumn and the cloudless nights are cold enough to light the wood-burning stove. With luck, much-needed rain washes the dusty leaves of summer and I know the Persimmon fruit are ripe when they start looking like pin-cushions, pierced by argumentative little hummingbirds, who squeak and dart among the orange globes all day long.

Chilean hummingbird

Take a bite too early, and the Persimmon will leave a horrid furry bitterness in your mouth. Eat it too late, and a sickly sweet squelch awaits. No surprise then, that I’ve never liked it. But this year, it seems perfect, and I wonder if the garden and I have reached an important stage in our relationship. According to Chinese philosophy, the Persimmon exemplifies the transition from the bitterness of youth to the sweetness of maturity! When we overcome prejudice and attain compassion…. a nice idea that seems totally possible under a blue sunny sky.

Chile’s Palestinian Heritage

According to Mario Nazal, Director of the Palestine Foundation in Santiago, every small village in Chile is sure to have three things: ‘A priest, a policeman and a Palestinian.’ This may not be completely true, but it does reflect the extraordinary fact that Chile is home to the largest Palestinian community outside the Middle East. Around 350,000 people of Palestinian descent are at home in this far away land and they are not outsiders eking out a miserable living, but  by and large successful and fully integrated members of Chilean society. Indeed many have become extremely wealthy and the Chilean textile industry was founded by a handful of Palestinian families whose names are as well known here as any multinational brand: Yarur, Kassis and Nazal are hardly names you would expect to find in a South American country, and yet they are not unusual. Perhaps the best-known name in the West is that of film-maker Miguel Littin, who famously spent time filming illegally during Pinochet’s era in 1985, and whose friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote a book about it (Clandestine in Chile: The Adventures of Miguel Littin, Henry Holt & Co, USA, 1987).

If you walk down the street in Patronato, Santiago’s traditional Palestinian quarter, you can still see Arab kebabs sizzling on giant skewers and a few shops selling predominantly textiles and clothing, but also accessories for belly dancing and traditional smoking materials. (Sadly, most of the area has been taken over by Korean shopkeepers selling cheap Asian imports). Rising above all is the Orthodox Cathedral of San Jorge, an indication that the first Palestinians who came to Chile were Orthodox Christians not Muslims. In fact, almost all Chilean Palestinian families can trace their roots to just a few Christian villages around Jerusalem. They came from Beit Jala, Taibeh and neighbouring settlements, many of which are no longer home to Palestinians, Christian or otherwise.

The earliest exodus of Palestinians to Latin America occurred in the mid-19th century, when Palestine was ruled by the Muslim Ottoman Empire and its Christian population lived in fear of massacre and conscription into wars that were not their own. In the 1850’s, they were escaping  from being sent to the famously dreadful Crimean War; in 1914, it was the First World War; but the worst disaster, known to all Palestinians as the Nakba, occurred after the foundation of Israel in 1948, when 700,000 people lost their homes and property. Many Christian Arabs followed their ancestors to the Americas. The majority went to Chile, a land not dissimilar to their own, where a central valley backed by mountains looks west, out to sea, and a Mediterranean climate makes for a similar agriculture. Wine and olives grow wonderfully in Chile, and one of the oldest wineries in the country is Viña la Rosa, founded by the Palestinian Francisco Ignacio Ossa after he became hugely wealthy from mining in the Atacama Desert.

The journey to Chile was often long and dangerous. First the Mediterranean, and then the Atlantic Ocean had to be crossed to Buenos Aires, followed by an eternal train journey over the Argentinean plains before coming face to face with the Andes Mountains, second only to the Himalayas. From there they were forced to walk and ride, hiring mule drivers to guide them across treacherous passes thousands of metres high, and down frightening ravines to the thin strip of their new Promised Land, the other side of the mountains. Chile’s Pacific Coast runs thousands of kilometres down the tip of the South American continent, but the country itself is never more than 200km/124mi wide.

Thus the Palestinian immigrants came, welcomed by a government that was keen on their agricultural and business acumen to help develop their country, and set about creating a new life. Similar to their North American counterparts, they came seeking the freedom for self-determination. They sought a New World and they came with open minds, ready to integrate and be part of the emerging Chilean nation. They did not feel diminished by adopting their new country’s Spanish language or Roman Catholic religion, and their Arab heritage was carried on within a newly emerging culture that included inter-marriage with Hispanic Chileans. They had much in common. Both come from  traditionally deeply religious patriarchal societies.

A new life and economic opportunities undreamed of in their native land awaited those who came, and they chose to integrate without any more regret than others leaving their native roots behind. Institutions such as the Colegio Arabe in the capital and a major research department at the country’s top university are proof that Chilean Palestinians are a respected part of society now, even if they were called turcos at first, because of the Turkish nationality they arrived with. There is even a famous football team: the Palestinos, whose fan club – bizarrely, considering they are all working-class Chileans with no connection to the Middle East struggle – is proud to call itself the Intifada. The team plays in the country’s first division, though there are no Palestinians playing for it these days.

Palestinian immigration to Chile therefore originated in an era prior to the struggle with Zionism and those that made their life here were happy to assimilate and become middle-class Chileans, focusing their political and economic aspirations on their new country rather than on the one they had left behind. Even those who arrived as refugees from the 1948 Partition of Palestine did not bring nationalist politics with them, though their emotional heritage is clearly a case apart.

I met a Palestinian shop-keeper in Quillota who still has the key to his house in Haifa and dreams of going home, if only to die.  There is no justice in this world, he said simply, when I came to buy his wool, and there are other, more recent exiles who would agree with him.

A little known fact is the present-day Israeli state’s continued endeavour to expel as many Palestinians as possible, and some of the most recent Arab arrivals in Santiago are people who have had their identity papers confiscated while they were travelling abroad, denying them the right to return home. I know a woman in Santiago who was visiting her son in England when her papers needed renewing, but the Israeli authorities declined to do so. She has lost her home and everything in it, unable even to ship her belongings to Chile. She too dreams of returning to her home and family, but there is no realistic prospect of that ever becoming possible.

Refugees who have arrived since the Intifada began in the 1980’s and those displaced by the violent impact of 9/11 in 2001, are also a case apart, their pain made worse by the realization that many of their ‘brothers and sisters’ here in Chile are not particularly interested in their tale of suffering. Most Palestinian Chileans are proud of what they are and what they have achieved. They don’t wish to get involved in the highly politicised nationalist politics of the Middle East. It clashes with their self-image as successful members of the community and some new arrivals have found they have been snubbed by those who would rather they didn’t bring their troubles to Chile.

This is one country country where Palestinians are not immediately associated with suffering, but with the exuberance of their great culture. Santiago even has its very own Alhambra Palace, built by an Arab mining magnate in 1860, complete with elaborate mosaics and beautiful fountains, and many towns have a Club Arabe, including Limache, which host cultural events open to the whole community.

Adventurous travel with kids

A version of this article was published in the winter 2000/2001 edition of  Travel Africa Magazine, but the information remains relevant and applies just as much to travel in South America today. The only change is that quite a few guide books for travelling parents have now been published.

Overland with Children

My son’s first birthday came at the end of a thirty-day journey with just the two of us. It had involved almost every kind of transport possible, from planes (jumbo and six-seater) to 4x4s to sailing boats and long-distance buses.

“We’ll take it easy”, I thought. Instead the day began at 4am, when Sascha was sick all over our bed. Later, I accidentally got insect repellent in his eye, which was excruciating for him, but not as bad as falling off the bed, which resulted in a deep cut next to his eye. The bed frame that caught his face had mud on it, so the bloody wound was also immediately contaminated.

“Your baby will be fine, but I think you should have these”, said the doctor, pressing a small packet of tranquilizers into my hand. I had been crying with guilt and worry for most of the morning, the accumulated pressure of a month of running the gauntlet of slippery surfaces, broken glass and sharp table corners finally overwhelming me.

Yet the added worry and unpredictability of travel with children should certainly not put you off considering an adventurous journey. Kids can greatly enrich your trip, and the key to success is really the same as for journeys without them: to be as well prepared and informed about your destination as possible, and to expect the unexpected with good grace.

Of course this is harder the longer the trip, but at least there are a few basics always worth considering, irrespective of the age, sex and number of children travelling with you.

HEALTH

1. Vaccinations

I recommend you contact one of the specialist travel clinics,  which can provide a personalized vaccination schedule you can take to your local medical practice. Ideally, contact any of the above several months prior to departure to ensure the best schedule for any vaccinations you need.

2. Medical Kit

On the road, your medical kit should also include:

  •  Infant paracetamol (or similar)
  • Tweezers for removing ticks
  • De-worming medication (you can’t stop kids putting dirty hands in their mouths)
  • Antihistamine (for allergic reactions)
  • Re-hydration sachets in case of diarrhea
  • Nappy rash cream and teething medication (depending on the age of your child)
  • Lice shampoo
  • An anti-fungal powder for treating anything from athlete’s foot to crotch rot (common in children in nappies).

Clearly your medical kit will be tailored to your specific needs: if you are spending a short time in a resort hotel, you are unlikely to need all of the above. In any event sun cream, sun hats and mosquito repellent are essential, and you might consider taking flea powder. I had fleas in my sleeping bag once, which was very unpleasant indeed.

3. Drinking

Never allow your children to drink local water or unpasteurized milk, no matter how many assurances you get. It is just not worth it. Pasteurized milk and infant formula milk can be bought in all major cities, but you need to bring water purification tablets with you. The best are the ones that purify one litre each, to use with standard size plastic bottles. Small children can dehydrate very quickly, so I always have a drink to hand.

4. Eating

Breast-fed babies are the ideal kind of children to take with you, as they only need you. Failing that, you must accept that your children might refuse to eat any of the local food, so bring a supply of their favourite cereal or other nourishing food, so they don’t starve. Toddlers and pre-school children can survive very well on a box of porridge, and sweet and savoury foods can easily be added.

INSURANCE

Travel with children makes insurance essential – not least to avoid the guilt should something go wrong.

EQUIPMENT

Depending on the weight of your baby, it’s best to choose a backpack carrier with good back support or a pushchair. Personally, I try to avoid carrying anything on my back in tropical heat, and the choice of pushchair depends on where I am going. In a modern city a lightweight folding stroller is ideal. Anywhere else a multi-terrain three-wheeler is essential, as are the rain cover and sunshade.  A harness is also worth its weight in gold not only for keeping stumbling toddlers upright, but also for keeping hold of them on boats or open jeeps.

On a short journey, bring nappies and wipes with you, though all large cities will sell them. On longer journeys, stock up in the towns. A roll of cotton wool, to be used with clean water, will last much longer than wipes and weighs less. Washable nappies are fine, as long as the rainy season does not prevent drying – as it once did for me.

In all cases consider the sleeping arrangements relevant to your destination: light cotton is best for tropical nights. Garments must cover the whole body if there are no mosquito nets, in which case you will need to leave the ceiling fan on all night or use mosquito repellent as well. On long-distance overland journeys you should bring your own mosquito nets.

ENTERTAINMENT AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES

Songs, stories and (lightweight) books, painting and drawing gear, paper, wipe-slate scribble pads, bucket and spade, one special comfort toy or favourite thing – none of these need take up much room and all can be shared with others, which can make for some great cultural exchanges. My personal favourite was always a pack of balloons: they weigh nothing and provide hours of fun in many different ways; they can even be useful for holding water!

Children remember things much better if “doing” as well as seeing was involved. For example, swapping songs with local kids or drawing the animals on safari. Making a conscious effort to give time to your children each day is also very important, even though the older the children the less likely it is that your interests are going to match. The loneliest boy I ever met was stuck with his parents on a seven-month overland journey, when all he wanted was friends to play football with.

PARENTAL SANITY

My personal approach is twofold: accept you are only going to do a fraction of what you would have done on your own, and try to access a good bottle of wine to have on your own or with your partner as soon as the kids are asleep.

 

 

Guest House

Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Rumi

Home away from home in Chile