How 'Postcards from South America' came to life!
I was 38 years of age, happily married, but scared that life was passing me by. Since childhood, I'd dreamt about travelling far and wide but with middle age fast approaching, I'd never been away from England for more than 3 weeks.
Then - out of the blue - came an announcement that changed the lives of thousands of people in the community. General Motors had decided to close their car factory (Vauxhall) in my hometown of Luton, 30 miles north of London.
I'd come to a crossroads in my life and could continue with GM, at a sister plant next door. Or I could take the plunge and agree on a redundancy pay-out - enough to finance a budget conscious trip to South America with my wife (Fran).
What followed was an epic journey, filled with mishaps and escapades, from the Amazon to the Andes. The people and places left a mark and I felt compelled to get the stories into print - but not before enrolling on a creative writing course, followed by a travel writing course - to ensure I could best capture each dramatic and fun-filled moment.
Bogged in Bolivia
While in Bolivia we ventured south, away from the jungles, towards a high-altitude plateau known as Desierto de Siloli. There were few towns or villages and no roads, which meant hiring a 4 wheel drive and a guide called Eddie, who promised us adventure and the chance to go in search of the remains of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Partway through the trip our vehicle got stuck and with no phone signal, all we could do was sit and wait....
"The next car to arrive delivered an interesting twist. It contained an Israeli and a Palestinian, who’d somehow been booked into the same vehicle. They were continually being separated from conflict by a mild-mannered, spectacled Glaswegian, who likened his trip to the United Nations’ awkward venture into the Balkans.
Eddie was preparing a rope and winch when a group of British lads raced towards the stricken car, calling for help as they stood ankle-deep in the mud. Fran ran to their aid, while I grabbed a camera to capture the moment. Eddie jumped into the driver’s seat, kicked the engine to life and found the reverse gear. The spinning wheels plastered most helpers, but they didn’t seem to care. Instead, they yelled and pushed, while one of the guides shovelled mud from behind the wheels."
A once in a lifetime opportunity - as conservation volunteers in the Amazon
"Fran would visit each lunchtime, flushed from her duties at the plantation and laden with fruit. Finding shade was easy and we’d slip away to feast on freshly picked mangos. Troops of monkeys played noisily overhead and inquisitive army ants stood close by, pincers at the ready, in search of rich pickings.
Occasionally, volunteers would head for evening drinks at a remote wooden building known as The Lab. It was the German girls who first showed us the way. Using lanterns, they led us along a narrow path towards a clearing in the forest. I could hear the music from afar, pulsating from the darkness as we moved steadily along a boggy trail.
We came to a clearing and held our lanterns high. The timber-clad bar loomed close, and in the fleeting light I caught sight of numerous people standing by a hatch. I heard laughter, the clinking of bottles and the consistent thud from a nearby generator, competing with the sound of pop music from an overhead speaker.
This was the place where graduates, volunteers, villagers, gold prospectors and jungle guides came to relax, drink and dance. Very few patrons displayed any fashion sense, but no one seemed to care. Some danced in flip-flops, others paraded in gumboots and most wore shorts, along with singlets. The sounds of salsa, rock and Kylie Minogue resonated across the jungle, as cold beers were enjoyed, along with the local rocket fuel known as Cristal Limón."