Monday, 3 December 2012

Arriving Home

January 9, 2012 is when we arrived back home, this time for good. It has taken me this long (11 months) to gather my thoughts and begin to draft a post about returning home. In the meantime I have also had a baby (so I do have a pretty good excuse for my long absence from the blogging world).

The arrival of our first child and returning home are two major life events which both happened at the same time and so the one will forever be associated with the other. As I said in my last blog post it is always the most unexpected events that provide the most pleasure!

The impact upon our identity on our arrival home is quite interesting. When you are abroad you are foreign and our accent differentiated us immediately. Now that we are "back home" we are nothing special but the everyday things still leave us feeling a little "foreign". For example; the size of things, everything is a little smaller - cars, homes, shower gel etc and the lack of decent Mexican food (yes there is Wahaca - but when you have had an amazing $2 taco nothing really compares.) The amount of people in central London can get overwhelming at times and there is also the amount of walking involved in daily life. Of course we had lived in London for more time than we lived in Dallas - but it is funny how quickly you forget things.

Another major aspect was time, in Dallas all of our time was our own, back home we have family which was actually one of the major reasons we came home. But having family commitments on a weekend is something which we are again getting used to. Seeing my son with our siblings, his cousins, his grandparents is such a joy and to know he will be physically surrounded by his extended family (and a new baby cousin on the way!) just fills me with a warm glow.

I don't think I can ignore the impact of Baby D's arrival in this blog post and upon our arrival home. I personally don't think any amount of planning can ever truly prepare you for the whirlwind of emotions when your first child arrives into this world, there is of course the physical pain of labour (it is true what they say; the memory of the pain recedes as the sleepless nights and constant worry overwhelm you) and then there are the emotions - the emotional roller-coaster just does not describe it. The highs and lows are intense and it is hard to ever see normality ever being resumed. Our ante/pre-natal teacher gave us the best description when she said, "life will never be normal again; in the sense that it will never be what it was; but it will be a new normal that is newly wonderful in so many ways."

Then there is the home sickness; I now miss my friends back in the USA with the same level of intensity that we missed our friends and family in the UK and so it is that we are now permanently in a state of always missing someone somewhere. A modern world dilemma and the risk that comes with living a global life? And yes I do also miss Dallas - the sunshine is a given, the Tex Mex, Mexican food, fro yo and our Volvo station wagon...... all of these things and much more.

So here we are back home with a new normal, our baby and no Tex Mex, but now we have good friends across the pond whom we look forward to hearing from and seeing. Getting back into the swing of things is a little different as my new job does not have regular hours, is very demanding and the hardest work I have ever done but his smiles and giggles win me over everytime.  Arriving "home" has not been what I imagined it would be and I am still waiting for the dust to settle. But as my husband has always said my home is with you and now our son.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Going Home

In February 2007 we left the village of Saltaire, Yorkshire for Texas, the plan was to be in Dallas, Texas for around 3 years for my partner in crime to complete his post doctoral research position. 4 years and 8 months later we have finally made the decision to leave, when we do leave we will have lived in Texas for 4 years and 10 months!
Saltaire, Yorkshire 
Dallas, Texas
What a ride it has been! Not that it’s over – there are still 8 weeks left! A lot to do in 8 weeks…….an apartment to clean out and pack up for home, good friends to say au revoir to and Tex Mex to indulge in. In the time that we have lived in Dallas – much has changed for us and those around us; I now drive a Volvo station wagon and I ride a bike, we have good friends from Dallas who themselves have made big moves to different parts of the US, at home in England; we have two new nieces, a younger brother who is now an eye Dr., a sister who is married and a sister who is engaged and lots of friends on both sides of the pond with new babies, jobs, careers, hobbies, stories and partners!

The adventures we have had have included trips to various parts of the USA – New York, Washington DC, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Austin and the adventures in Dallas have been just as exciting. (Our annual trips home to England have also been fun, returning home as a "visitor" is a very different experience!) We have met so many interesting and different people, some of whom have become good friends and we hope to see them in London soon! We love being able to say to people who can be negative about the lack of culture in Dallas, that they are wrong – it may take a little longer but when you do find it – Dallas has a little and (sometimes a lot) of everything you could want and it is made all the more special because you have had to try that little bit harder to find it. During our time in Dallas; Dallas has changed so much, the Dallas Bike Plan, the food trucks, the deck park, Main Street Gardens – it has been a real joy to see such positive changes in the city in the short time we have called Dallas home.

Now that we feel like Dallas could be home for us, we are leaving – ahh the irony of life! That was always the plan – the family ties for myself and the love of my life were always too strong for us to be far from them for too long. As we embark upon new adventures, I do so with the knowledge that I can do it, whatever “it” will be – or at least I can try! If our adventures in Dallas has taught me one thing; it is to just jump in with a smile and mostly it will be okay, it may even be great and sometimes it will be crappy; that is when you pick yourself up; make a mental note (or write a blog, update your status or tweet) and try something new or just less crappy.  The other thing Dallas has taught me is that I do like Tequila, again.

Our adventures have failed to bring us big financial fortunes yet that was never the plan, we are experience rich and wealthy with the love of new and hopefully life long friends. Our memory banks are bursting with wonderful memories; here are a select few; queso is not cheese soup, a supreme vegetable pizza comes with meat, tipping is a MUST, you don’t have to indicate when changing lanes, you cannot kill a cockroach with a tennis ball, portion control when dining out in Texas is an important skill to develop, you don’t have to tell the truth when someone asks how you are, you have to say “you are welcome” when someone says “thank you”, closets and cars and pretty much everything else is massive in Texas, ice storms and snow storms are two very different things, tornado warnings are scary, when someone from the South says “bless her/his heart” it is almost always not a compliment, every major, minor and everything else in between US sporting/event pauses for commercial breaks and begins with the Stars and Stripes, table service in a bar is the best thing ever as is Tex Mex, Shiner blonde light and margaritas!

Cheerio Dallas, its been fun!
To all of our Dallas friends, thank you for the good times and the great times, we will miss you and the Big D – but don’t be a stranger! And remember we still have 8 fun filled weeks ahead! To all of our UK friends; see you soon – we will need lots of hugs as we will be missing the Texan sunshine!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

I like to ride my bicycle

Last year my darling partner in crime decided he wanted to build us both a bicycle; this was a little out of the blue. We live in Dallas, not the centre of bicycling, Copenhagen and Portland it most certainly is not. In fact Dallas was named as one of the most bike unfriendly places in the US, in 2008, by Bicycling Magazine. There are BIG trucks, there are BIG highways and there are BIG, long hot summers. There are not that many canal paths, shady bike lanes or quiet streets to pedal to your pleasure along. BUT Dallas has a vision (or a few folks in Dallas do). Dallas is a “can do” city and after living here a few years our cynical British hearts have been infected with the attitude, and we fear the positivity and can do-ness may be getting worse!

Our bike story began at the Dallas City Store, our tiny apartment/flat has become a home and a bike shop and several weeks later two of the greatest bikes in the world were born. Okay so they may not be the greatest, and they are definitely works in progress but for a first attempt they are really rather great. Full disclosure: The bikes were not actually built by aforementioned in house bicycle maker; the old police bicycles were stripped, re-sprayed and customized. See below for brief photo journal of the entire performance:

Despite the obsessive tendencies of our resident bicycle maker and the chaos that is constantly our tiny, very tiny, apartment/flat. (In our dreams our next place will definitely have a craft room, shed, garage and a garden. In our practicalities the next place must at the very least have a second room/space for hobbies both his and hers!) It is great to be able to modify as needs arise, yes I would like a pink crate on the back of my bike, yes I would like up right handle bars, oh yes please pretty saddle! The other nice thing about in house bicycle maker is if something does go wrong I do not have very far to go to get an allen key and a repair. He is now in the process of customizing friends bicycles and is looking into training as a bike mechanic and only one of those statements is a half truth.

We have come full wheel and earlier this year we attended the North American Handmade Bicycle Show in Austin, where the in house bicycle maker was in his heaven and chatted with all sorts of other slightly obsessive types about cranks, shifters and frames. 
The very friendly Brooks Bicycle Company representative was happy to hear that we ride bicycles in Dallas. The Brooks Bicycle Company is an English company established in 1866, it is small, their products are pricey but they are all lovingly hand crafted and so beautiful that they are like works of arts on your bicycle.

The bikes are pretty, but the other BIG reason why I love to ride my bicycle is the community. We have met some wonderful people and we have had the best times cycling around Dallas. We have seen a fun, friendly side of Dallas we would never have been a part of were it not for our bicycles.

Our first introduction to the world of the cycling in Dallas were our very dear neighbors, they have since abandoned us in their move to the North East, as we have had a fun visit to Boston see previous post, we have sort of forgiven them for the abandonment. A few friends started Bike Friendly Knox Henderson; a group started, “to use bicycling as a means to building a happier, healthier, and more livable community.” The group was based on the excellent Bike Friendly Oak Cliff started by (amongst others) Mr. Jason Roberts; whom it could be argued is the one of the founding fathers of promoting a cycling culture in Dallas, (amongst many, many, many, other things). Out of these small local neighborhood groups, more and more groups and communities have formed re-formed and combined forces so that on any given week in Dallas (and surrounding suburbs, Richardson, Denton and Arlington in particular have very active bicycling clubs and groups) you can find at least one ride to suit your riding needs. There are fast rides, slow rides, rides to events, riding around just for fun, historical rides, tweed rides etc. etc. Dallas Cycle Chic, promoting bicycling throughout Dallas, based on the original Copenhagen Cycle Chic, was a big success in it’s inaugural year, 2011.

Cycling is becoming increasingly popular as more people in Dallas and beyond realize that cycling does not just have to be about spandex nor is it an exclusive sports activity (although we do love ALL of our fellow bicyclists to quote Dallas Cycle Chic; “With or without spandex”). At a time of rising gas/petrol prices people are looking to alternatives to the private car and the bicycle is a great mode of transportation. (Yes; the bicycle ride can get a little sweaty but that’s why short sleeves, sunscreen, showers and deodorant are important!) Your health improves without having to make any extra time for the gym or working out. It is built into your day; so your bike ride is your commute and it is your ride to the concert or the shops/store.  Cycling is very social. Cycling is also great for the environment, fewer cars obviously means fewer emissions. But more bicycles also means fewer speedy cars whizzing through your neighborhood, which equals a safer friendly place to live, work and play in.  Dallas has officially jumped on the bike wagon with the soon to be adopted (fingers crossed) Dallas Bike Plan 2011. All of this is great news for not just the bicycling community of Dallas but Dallas as a whole.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Dallas International Film Festival 2011

That time of year again when I review the films we saw during the wonderful Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF). We had a jam packed festival and crammed in 6 films. This year DIFF decided to involve even more Dallas movie theaters, Angelika Plano and the iconic and newly renovated Texas Theater. This did involve us moving outside our comfort zones; despite this I think that it was a nice idea. DIFF also had a groupon. I think that the groupon and the inclusion of the other theaters meant that even more folks who otherwise may not have joined in; got involved with the ever growing festival.

Page one: A year inside the New York Times:

A documentary following the NY Times for one year. The death of print journalism? From what we saw in this film, they may very well be facing a death sentence but the NY Times is fighting strong. The news room was full of the wonderful characters that you would expect the NY Times news room to have, in particular the Media correspondent, Mr. David Carr; who on reviewing the new iPad, which the young blogger turned reporter had just rushed out to buy; commented; “This is brilliant, you know what it reminds me of? A newspaper!” However romantic and nostalgic the love of newspapers can sometimes seem, this documentary reminded me how important investigative journalists like the ones at NY Times can be. Yes they are human and yes they make mistakes. But we do need original source material and they still get that. Original source material and investigative journalism is a must for an open democratic independent and free thinking society, and that is why we need the NY Times to survive. So what did I do over the weekend? I brought the New York Times and read it and I loved every minute of it.

Among Us
A Swedish film, which was both beautiful and poignant; the actors were engaging and I left the theater surprised by the emotion this film created. A family’s perfect life is thrown upside down, when their son is involved in an accident, a stranger enters their lives and shows them the way. A potentially cheesy tearjerker. The film avoided the sentimental cheese trap by being filmed in poetic French and Swedish and it's gorgeous cinematography. DIFF’s Artistic Director; James Franco advised us to allow the film to wash over us, so we did and it did.

By Day By Night
A Mexican film set in a dystopian future. The premise was intriguing and it started well and some of the shots were gorgeous.

Documentary Shorts:
A Swedish short, almost an animation, cleverly told and engaging, although my empathy for the protagonist was in short supply, I just felt she was a little too naïve, although I did sympathise with her situation.
Grandpa’s Wet Dream
A Japenese grandfather who leads a secret life, he is a porn film actor. When asked if his wife is aware of what he does, he says, “Well no, it has never really come up.” As he stashes away his box of movies, in the back of very cluttered looking closet…..
Just About Famous
A peek inside the world of look-a-likes, from Robert De Nero, to Brittany Spears, Bill Clinton and George W Bush, and of course the King himself, Elvis Presley. One of the movie makers was at the screening and his genuine respect for the actors was appealing.
Closed for storm: Six Flags New Orleans
A hauntingly beautiful short of Six Flags over New Orleans, which closed down for Hurricane Katrina, and never re-opened, the soundtrack was lovely too. More of a photo montage and less of a narrative short.
The High Level Bridge
The requisite Canadian entry; the story of Edmonton’s High Level Bridge; in memory of those who have jumped; funny, sad and revealing.

The Pipe:
If there was ever a “David and Goliath” story this is it, a small community in Ireland facing the might of the behemoth oil company Shell. The frustrations and humiliations this small community faces at the mercy of Shell and their own government is shared with us in this very moving film, shot with candor and honesty. The conclusion is ironic and frustrating, despite their best efforts, Shell went ahead and started to lay the pipe line that was going to dissect their land, carrying the natural gas from ocean to plant. The Irish government finally found that the plan was unstable and unsafe and the work has stopped, and Shell are,”considering their options.” The touching concluding scenes are heart achingly sad and focus on the farmer and the fisherman, both of whom held out against the mighty Shell. They were even imprisoned indefinitely for various public order offences, they have now been released. The farmer reflects sadly on how his small Irish community will never be the same, how neighbor has been pitted against neighbor and as he walks away the fisherman offers the film maker a cup of tea.

Mumbai Diaries:
One of the characters an artist, pays homage to the city, Mumbai, in one of the opening scenes and you get a sense that the film itself is just that, “Mumbai, my muse, my love, my whore, thank you.” Four different characters stories intertwine revealing their loves and failings, their connection to the city, each other and the film makers love of the city. The film does not shield us from the darker side of Mumbai or the characters and the film is better for it. The soundtrack, the black and white stills, the film shots and the paintings also make this film a multi media project which added to the different qualities of the movie but also its interconnectedness and sense of beauty.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Food trucks in Austin

A visit to Austin is never complete without a visit to the “Hey Cupcake” food truck. The yummiest cupcakes from the cutest trailer on South Congress Ave.; the mecca of all that is trendy and hip in Austin. On a recent trip we discovered that the Hey Cupcake trailer now has a few new friends and having just returned from a food truck filled weekend in Austin I can confirm that the food truck explosion in Austin is a great thing!
We sampled the following:
G’raj Mahal: Okay technically this is not just a food truck. It is a food truck with lots of sheltered seating, you have to be seated and you are served by one of the wonderful wait staff. We went at 8 pm on a Saturday night and we had a 45 minute wait, but we waited at the nicest bar across the street, Clive Bar. The bar was quiet, softly lit and we noticed many people at the bar had ordered in food from across the street, yup the G’raj Mahal! The G’raj Mahal does not have a liquor license and so you can bring your own wine and beer or do what our fellow drinkers at the bar did! We waited to be seated, and I am really glad we did. The ambience at the G’raj Mahal was perfect, all candlelight’s and soft lights, the live music  was perfect Austin laid back folksy and the food was so good and we were so full we really enjoyed the walk back to hotel.
G'raj Mahal
The following late morning /early afternoon we made our way to South Congress Ave. and decided to try out some of the different food trucks, we grabbed coffee/chai at a friendly coffee truck and we split a Mighty Cone. I had thought this was a slushie place, but it is not! Special recipe breaded, (including sesame seeds, almonds, arbol chili flakes, sea salt, sugar and corn flakes) chicken, shrimp or avocados or a combination thereof in a tortilla in a cone with a mango and and jalapeno slaw and ancho sauce mmmmmm! We then walked down to Crepe Mille and sampled a savory omelet crepe which was green (different for a crepe) but delicious. Fed and watered we ended our food truck adventure wandering around the random market stalls and window shopping and just basking in the artsy funkiness that is South Congress Ave.

Crepe Mille

The Mighty Cone
Why did we love the food trucks so much, sure the novelty was fun! But the food really was very good, which is probably the most important factor, it is not just a bunch of hot dog and donought/donut stands; there were plenty of choices and healthy and vegetarian options too. But for urban dwellers it is a joy to see vacant unused sad parcels of land suddenly fill up with colourful trucks and trailers serving delicious food to crowds of people on foot. This is another major factor, the foot traffic, brings the community outside, you no longer drive from home to restaurant and back again you walk around, you mingle you may stop by one of the stores and buy something and everyone is a winner. Finally all of those food truck owners and employees are able to develop a business with few overheads and from what we witnessed soaring profits.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Baking with vegetables

Photo credit: and
The title of this blog needs no explanation. But to give some context; we have been committed to Urban Acres for some time now. They are our local organic farm store, which provides a co-op style produce (fruits and vegetables) system. We are members of the co-op and every fortnight (2 weeks) we pick up a box of produce, most of which is local; all of which is organic and in season. The joy of this system is that it has introduced me to cooking with many vegetables that I would never have cooked with including turnips (great turnip, sweet potato and potato recipe here), butternut squash (the BEST recipe ever involving butternut squash, chick peas and a zesty lemon and tahini dressing; here). Mustard greens, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, fennel the list is endless……..
The other joyful aspect of the veggie box is that as we share it with our friend, LizinBigD, we are constantly exchanging recipes and on the lookout for new and wonderful things to do with our veggies. (No need to be dirty *eyes rolling and exasperated sigh*) She has recently been gifted with a juicer and so is happy juicing away the dozens of carrots and beets we have been in receipt of recently.
We are sadly lacking in a juicer but I have discovered a new and probably not so healthy ways in which to consume the carrots and beets we have been overwhelmed with recently. This brings me to the slightly frustrating aspect of the produce box, as it is seasonal we are literally overwhelmed with carrots or beets or kale and then we get none of the above and are overloaded with apples etc.
This frustration of mine clearly indicates the times in which we live. In moments of weakness i.e when I see two dozen carrots in my box for the third week in a row, I do get frustrated with the seasonal aspect of our veggies! But this is how people lived for thousands of years and it is literally only in the last 50 or so years where we have been able to fly the kiwi fruit across the planet for my eating pleasure and we have been able to hot house strawberries throughout the winter months. As we all know an organic seasonal fruit or vegetable can tickle our taste buds in a way a hot house tomato fails to do and carbon miles on our greens is not helping our planet stay healthy. So being seasonal, local and organic means that we will get two dozen carrots for the third week in a row and in my stronger moments i.e after a big slice of carrot cake, I am grateful for this. Not only do I feel healthy (erm obviously not after having obliterated the carrot cake), I feel I am doing my bit for local farmers, local businesses, the organic farming community and the earth.

Ahem; apologies for the distractions and finally moving on to the baking aspect of this blog post and how to consume carrots and beets in an unhealthy way. Although at least you know how much sugar goes into your deserts and a little of the sweet stuff is always always a good thing?  Carrots are easy; a yummy moist carrot cake with a wicked cream cheese frosting, recipe link here. I recently tried to bake carrot cake “cup cakes” with a certain degree of success.

The odd combination of beets and chocolate intrigued me. However these yummy not too sweet earthy cakes or to be more specific muffins went down a treat with many. The golden yellow beets that I used were gorgeous baked and I set some aside for salads with goat cheese, another match made in heaven. I failed to take pictures; if we are blessed with beets again I will recreate and post pictures.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Public transport across the continents

This might not strike you as the most interesting of topics and you might think shall I continue to read on after this sentence. To web log about transport may on first glimpse read like a big fat complaint. But I assure you this blog is going to be an equal analysis of both complaint and compliment.

I address you, whomever has started reading this and put it to you that this vital part of most people’s lives, this thing that happens to us and what we put upon ourselves and use and re-use frequently, affects everyone. We all use it at some point every day and even if you claim to be an avid pedestrian I am sure that transport has affected you in one way or another every other day. Surely everyone has an opinion on transport? I know people who know people who work in the transport industry so to you, forgive me for attempting to talk about a subject I know relatively nothing about except my own experiences.

I have lived in Sydney for the last eight weeks and getting to know how the transport system works here has often left me feeling like I need to punch someone, or cry. Complaint. Having also lived in London for six years with a break in the middle to the midlands, I feel its time to make some comment.

Sydney’s transport system is defunct; it seems to me to be a decade old. It is slow, expensive and old. It costs almost $4 for single from the CBD (Central Business District aka city centre) to Bondi. It took us weeks to find out what ‘zone’ we are in because no one really uses the zones except the ticketing system but no body can tell you what zone you are in at any time? There are no maps with zone indications or parameters, no one says you need a zone 1-3 ticket nor does anyone make it clear about price guidelines or information on which bus ticket to purchase. It is guesswork and interpretation of which news agency has told you what because you cant buy a bus ticket on the bus for a prepay bus to Bondi, no, you have to find a news agency that sells bus tickets. Not all do mind you most run out of bus tickets or just do not offer the service of selling them.

Elizabeth Street in the CBD is where we have to go to get a bus to Bondi, except for about 300m there is no indication where which bus will stop where? Sometimes they stop at the top of Hyde Park, and sometimes they stop at the bottom if there is a queue of different buses. On many occasion after work I have run to get it from one end of the bus stands to the other and missed it. I was there, at the bus stop. The 300m long bus stop. I have asked bus drivers huffing and puffing having made it on on occasion and one once said that he didn’t know where to stop so he tries to stop in the middle ‘hahaha’ as I approached the door sweating and gasping for air. Not impressed. It does not seem to matter if you arrive early or late, you stand there and it is sheer luck if you get to the bus before they swerve off lifting their arms at you in mock ‘sorry’. The monorail just goes round in circles and is hugely expensive. It looks great though, a futuristic gliding car swerving around corners above your head through the city. Cars can come in and out of the centre of town easily and this creates huge congestion for pedestrians and buses. Not to mention you can’t take a breath for all the pollution in the CBD. The train is better but not direct, so it would mean spending at least $25 a day each. I simply cannot congratulate the transport system here at all. We have hired cars and the e-toll system for getting across Harbour Bridge or under it is ludicrous. All the signage says is go online there are no cash takers as you go through or under, but here’s the catch; you never know when you are being charged. So you go online, to check, and it only points you to where you buy seasonal tickets for habitual crossings, but as a hire car it was for that day or two, so you ring and are on hold and they tell you to go online and pay it but please friends, look at the website, can you find where it tells you to pay for that day? They don’t tell you how many times you went over, it took so long for me to understand; they take your bank account details and then at the end of the day they take away how many times you crossed. But if you don’t give your bank details; you get penalised!

Now I know many of you complain about TFL, on a daily basis, I find myself laughing (now that I am away) at Twitter and Facebook at all the funny comments, to quote but a few

been stuck on a bus for 25 mins, no heating, condensation turning to ice, WTF is wrong with you TFL!!!!!!

stand still traffic....great…

Now TFL in comparison to the Sydney transport system is amazing. Congestion charging, however much expensive and begrudgingly we pay it, does work, does it not? Trains run until a decent time, bus only cost £1 wherever you are going, be it from north to south or east to west. Buses are plentiful and regular all day and most of the night, albeit full at all times.

Not to say England has it right; remember that time there was a heat wave and the train lines started melting or some such ridiculous thing, and remember the salt for roads ran out when it snowed that year? Not to mention the complete gridlock and statistics of accidents when there is bad weather. Lets face it Great Britain has bad weather, and always has had and quite regularly in a year, how come we still get it so wrong when it comes to the odd abstract day for weather?

We travelled through South America on public transport on the road for a few months at the start of our world trip. We took no internal flights and managed to cover Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. We were in complete awe at how unbelievably sound the transport system was. We do not speak Spanish but managed it fine. Clear instructions, clear signage, clear ticketing. We went across the countries; through desert and hostile landscape, through mountains and valleys in severe climates and altitudes. This continent knows transport. Brazil and Argentina had to be my all time favourite. Driving for days does not faze these people. Locals and travellers all use it. All the countries had official coach drivers, but the Brazilian’s were like police officers in uniform, stern like the military. Always two of them to take turns in driving the hours and hours it would take to get to the next destination. Counting you on and off the coach every time we stopped, and not just counting heads, but checking names and places, once a couple swapped places with a friend opposite and it created quite a stir with the drivers. I loved it.

No issue of safety, these people had me at ‘passport?’ Our backpacks went into the bottom of the coach or bus and they give you a ticket and once the trip was complete we would collect our baggage, knowing it was there. Unlike in Italy where a boyfriend who will remain nameless picked up someone else’s bag from beneath the coach which led to tears and days of phonecalls and organising. We would board these semi-cama buses in South America and smell the freshness of a newly cleaned bus, not like a cinema clean where they simply pick up the popcorn buckets not the bits of popcorn everywhere, these buses had no crisps or stains crushed into the seats, no waft of odour other cleaning solution.

Bolivia is a poorer country and buses were older yes, but still in tact. Even when there was the odd lamb, goat or smelly woman on board, they still went across fine. We travelled right the way through this massive land and these modes of transports did the job surely and sufficiently, it may have been rocky going across the Chako (desert) but we still made it. The semi-cama reclined and was comfortable enough to sleep in for a day or two. Plenty of space, cushioning on both sides of the seat to move around in, cushioned foot and leg rests that extend the length of the leg in most circumstances. We would stop at the roadside in towns and villages and women with baskets on their hips or heads would come onto the bus, walk up and down selling fresh hot empanadas, once we even had a full on roast dinner, meat she cut there on the bus with hot roast potatoes served in a bag! You didn’t even have to leave your seat. We looked back and everyone on board were licking their fingers with meat and potatoes. Delicious!

For only a few pounds more, we travelled on a first class superior cama bus through Argentina as a treat. We could lie down flat, we had a hot 3 course meal, with snacks, we had champagne, wine and beer. We read and watched our own television, in a language choice of our own. We curled up with a blanket. Simply wonderful. The gentle rocking motion of the coach would send me off into a sound sleep, it was luxury.

South American transport I salute you. You do not get fazed by extreme weather, you are (mostly) reliable, clean and safe. You go such lengths and seem to never tire. You are nearest perfection I have experienced. Thank you!