South America

Copacabana beach, Rio de Janero Brazil

grey Copacabana beach, Rio de Janero Brazil

Copacabana beach, amazing. People here love soccer so much that they play a version of volleyball which follows soccer’s no hands rule. It is quite something to see. Half naked rollerbladers zoomed past as I wandered along. A few times I nearly fell off the footpath as I watched those soccer/volleyball people do their thing. Shame I was too scared to get out my camera, that dreadlocked character looks dangerous. Bikini girl doesn’t! I enjoyed watching sunburnt tourists stumble back to their hotels full of beer with their bazooka cameras waggling in front of robbers. Just behind Ipanema beach is a large favela. A favela is a slum area, most are run by drug cartels. I heard a few distant shots ring off in the distance as the police continue their battle against these powerful drug lords. A battle starting in February with 2600 highly trained police mobilized, 30 people dead so far.


Time to leave the beach. Still security conscious to the point of paranoia. I stood at the bus station clutching grey Copacabana beach, Rio de Janero Brazilmy wallet as the primary school flooded the street with hundreds of little robbers in training. I was starting to panic. I was a grown up in a sea of blue uniforms and nimble hands ready to grab my wallet. Just because they were all wearing neat uniforms and only come up to my belly button does not mean they don’t pose a security threat. Right?


I soon gave up on catching a bus. I had a hot date and needed to get back to my hotel quickly. Not wanting to miss my date I flagged down a taxi and jumped in looking at the driver. Have you seen the Green Mile? Well the black actor who played the guy on death row has given up acting and is now a taxi driver in Rio. This guy was massive. He looked like he had been genetically engineered to crush small cars. My man had his seat as far back as it went and still had to stoop down to see out of the window. He should buy a car with a sunroof and just look through it giraffe style. With memories of Huaraz fresh my hand was on the door handle the grey Copacabana beach, Rio de Janero Brazilwhole way ready to jump. I needn’t have worried as he got me back to my hotel in one piece in time for a shower before my date.


Bugger the internet keeps dropping out. This is going to make my date hard. Yup, my hot date was an online skype chat with Jette. I kept on dropping out throughout and was nearly going to throw me computer out the window. We managed to chat a bit which put a spring in my step before the internet dropped out altogether. My computer nearly went out the window at that stage. I needed cheering up. Pizza.

Christ the redeemer statue – Rio de janeiro Brazil

grey Christ the redeemer statue   Rio de janeiro Brazil
grey Christ the redeemer statue   Rio de janeiro Brazil

Christ the redeemer statue in Rio de janeiro Brazil stands almost 40 metres tall (39.6) and is made out of concrete and soapstone covered with thousands of tiles and stands. I was more interested in the hundreds of people jostling for place to take the obligatory photo arms outstretched. What is it with me? At the Louvre I was more interested in finding paintings which looked like friends, at Macchi Picchu I spent half an hour watching a rabbit. Here I am giggling at bazooka wielding Chinese doing what they do best. Maybe I suffer ADHD – Attention deficit holiday disorder. Well the statue was amazing, inspired and all that. The views were truly incredible from the top of the hill. Did I mention how funny the people were having their photos taken?


On the bus ride up I got chatting to Jane. We decided to share photo duty and help each other with photos, arm outstretched at the top. On the way down Jane mentioned that she is a designer for books and has worked for random house publishing. I have got her card safely in my wallet. Jane mentioned a monthly market which she was heading to, it was near my hotel so I decided to tag along. At the market we bumped our way through the crowds looking at stalls full of both tacky rubbish and amazing artworks. I clutched my bag the whole way.

grey Christ the redeemer statue   Rio de janeiro Brazil grey Christ the redeemer statue   Rio de janeiro Brazil For dinner tonight I had subway. Not traditional or exciting but close and safe. I scuttled down the hill like a rabbit and was back at my hotel in no time. Belly full, relaxed behind the razor wire fence and writing on my computer. I can hear a mad sunday session next door but am content with my quiet beer next to the pool.


Winding down, getting mentally prepared for home. Already starting to plan my next adventure….

Paintball Paragliding

grey Paintball Paragliding





grey Paintball Paragliding


































































Paintball Paragliding full article

It started as a bit of a joke, a throw away comment made on a beach somewhere in Chile.

When I scrawled, “Paintball Match, Monday, who is interested?” on the communal chalkboard I had no idea the can of worms those six words would open.

I had three takers, Robert, Fabio and Sam, all Swiss. A few days later Fabio and my Swiss/Aussie combo declared war on the wholly Swiss team. I do not know what we were fighting for exactly but we were determined to rain hellfire on the opposing force. We spent an exhilarating afternoon chasing each other around blow up obstacles in the sand. Everyone was made to wear heavy protective clothing in the oppressive heat of Iquique. The sharp sting of being hit and subsequent bruising more than enough incentive to keep moving in the heat.

Fabio showed that he was most definitely a team player before the last volley. He had run out of pellets. I had three. Fabio offered to run straight towards ‘team stupid-head’ as we had dubbed them wielding his empty gun, acting as decoy. The plan was for me to sneak around unseen and hit Rob and Sam from behind. The plan failed. A stray paintball somehow found its way under my mask and burst on my front tooth. My speech was impeded for three days, the bright orange paint tastes truly foul. This small setback failed to ruin the fun..

Dripping with sweat and all feeder tubes empty we handed in our guns and clothes. I cannot remember who mooted the idea of an aerial match later that day on the beach. It was intended as a throwaway comment. A joke. Even before that remark had floated away on the wind our brains were in overdrive. We walked towards the bus looking up at the paragliders in the sky, pondering, calculating. Why not? Everyone agreed that flying would be much easier than running around in the heat so we launched ourselves into the task of organizing a match.

I am in safe hands. Rob is a professional tandem pilot based in Switzerland, both Sam and Fabio work for the film industry between instructing and working as tandem pilots. Me? Well, my flying experience includes one tandem flight in Bolivia and five small hops off the little dune at Palo Buque. We unanimously agree that I would be relieved of flying duties. I teamed up with Rob. Fabio and Sam formed the other team.

Early the next morning I caught a bus back to the paintball centre to secure our arms. Explaining our plan to the owner in my broken Spanish proves a challenge. I resort to using the medium of mime. Arms out, running around the car park and making shooting noises I finally got the message across. He agrees to bring equipment to our accommodation on Sunday afternoon, on the proviso that we show him some good footage. Renting all the equipment cost us a grand total of forty US dollars.

Guns organized, we now need two wings and four harnesses. I was not privy to the exact conversation but the boys manage to secure two old tandem wings and four harnesses from the school. The purple harness was for sale so we had to be careful not to stain it. I think the boys just told the equipment manager that we needed two wings for a tandem flight. Not entirely a lie, they just neglected to mention one tiny detail.

Sunday arrives along with the guns. We smuggle all the paintball gear into a van along with our wings. I am getting increasingly nervous about this exploit. A lot could go wrong. A lot could go right. We arrive at Palo Buque to find no wind. Fabio who only weighs around seventy kilograms is unable to soar the ridge alone under a tandem wing. I am somewhat relieved to be let off the hook, at least for today. Sam and Fabio grab a gun each and run off down the dunes. As they start to shoot each other, whooping like school boys I wander off to practice ground handling.

I return to find three sombre faces waiting for me. “Check this out Ben”, Sam lifts his old wing to reveal three neat round holes near the left hand trailing edge. The boys wanted to know what would happen should one of us accidentally hit a wing. They raised the old glider and fired off a few rounds. Straight through. The Ripstop nylon is no match for these air propelled bruisers. We sit in the sand we discuss rules of engagement. Number one would be a clear do not hit the wing. Do not take a shot if the wing is anywhere in your line of fire. Agreed. We also agree on the lowest altitude at which to start and stop shooting. Apart from these two rules it was free for all. We decide to go to the more reliable Alto Hospicio launch site the following morning.

That night we drown our disappointment with a few beers and go early to bed. I dream about plummeting to earth, screaming and covered in orange paint. First light sees me sitting alone at the dining table eating what could be my last ever bowl of cornflakes. I savor every corny spoonful. On the bus to Alto Hospicio my stomach is trying to reject breakfast. The theme from Star Wars is incessantly repeating in my head. To distract myself I make seemingly casual conversation with the others about flying. In truth I am covertly trying to find out just how experienced they all are. I am comforted with Sam’s comment that he cannot recall hearing of anyone ever dying during a tandem paragliding paintball match. In fact no one knows of anyone who has done this before. Could this be a world first?

Ready to break brave new ground we arrive at the launch site and wait for the flock of jittery tourists to fly away with their guides. I sneak off five times in this half hour for a nervous wee. A Youtube video of me loosing bladder control four hundred meters above a sand dune could go viral, but I wish to maintain some dignity. Soon all that is left at the launch zone are four masked bandits, a pile of guns, wings and a slightly darker patch of sand nearby.

Pre flight check: Harness done up, wing ok, conditions good. Face mask and body armor on. Gun securely tied on and all cameras working. Sam and I have Go-pros on our helmets, I have a camera stuck to my gun barrel, Sam has a handheld camcorder. We are determined to properly record this event. The safety mask severely limits my vision. I am about to ask Rob if he could see to fly just as he raises the wing and tells me to start walking towards the edge.

As My feet leave the ground I think to myself; “You are committed now Ben, no turning back”, I also realize that no one has thought to research the legality of our little plan. Rob and I fly over the highway. My white knuckles in stark contrast with the black gun barrel. Shortly after launching my personality splits, I find myself swinging between intense nerves, feeling tough holding a gun and giggling like a naughty child. As we ride a nice little thermal up the others launch and give chase. Robs calm voice in my ear reassuring as he demonstrates the Big Ears move. We are now level with Sam and Fabio and ready to play.

I yell out a muffled “Game on boys, fire at will!” in a terrible British accent as I raise my gun.

Click, click, click, the gun’s noise is muffled by the expanse surrounding us. Aiming is difficult in this three dimensional environment. Rob and Sam are working hard to keep the two teams in firing range.

No return fire. Fabio’s gun has jammed. I can see him bashing the feeder frantically as I carefully take aim and fire. No mercy. It was with no small pleasure that I see Fabio’s legs flail as I pepper his thigh with rounds. He is still battling the blocked feeder tube. They cut away to the left, we give chase.

Looking down I can see motorbike riders playing on the dunes and wonder if any riders got hit by a falling paintball. Over a big abandoned building we make contact again. When we launched over the highway I was a bundle of nerves. Now I am so enjoying shooting my friends that all nerves are left behind in that first thermal. I lean right out of my seat, supported only by my leg straps, determined to make those skinny legs kick again.

We are circling each other, jostling for position high above the dunes. Through my increasingly foggy mask I see Sam steering his wing while aiming his video camera at us. I start shooting at the camera thinking this will make great footage. It did. I also nearly killed Sam’s camera. Everyone has masks on, no one is taking any risks with the wings. In the third and final round I cover the harness which is for sale with pellets. We can worry about that later.  I have been laughing so hard that my eyes are streaming. My mask keeps fogging up, I hope Rob can see to land.

Too soon we are below our agreed firing height and the sky falls quiet. Only the wind whooshing through the lines and the occasional burst of manic laughter break the silence. On the way to land we fly past some men painting from a platform halfway up a multi storey building. In my adrenaline charged state it takes all my willpower to resist a few pot shots. The same challenge awaits me as we fly over the flight park, the highway, the footpath and the beach.

Back on solid ground my hands are still shaking with adrenaline. My cheek and stomach muscles are sore from laughing. Dead legs from standing in the leg straps the whole way. High fives all round and excited babble about how much fun that was.

Thankfully the stray bullets which hit the purple harness did not burst. No people or equipment were harmed. We arrive at the beach to find no police or angry motorbike riders waiting for us. Fabio and Sam have walked away disappointingly bruise free. I should have followed the Austrian’s advice and put my paintballs in the freezer to make them harder.

As we slung all the equipment on our backs and started up the hill I got to wondering where we could rent some motorbikes for a re-match on the dunes….










Great walks

This is a scan of the very first story I ever got published. I won a pair of Scarpa bushwalking boots for my efforts!

grey Great walks

Stuck in Llamac, Peru

grey Stuck in Llamac, Peru


While we were out of Huaraz continual protests have escalated, people have been killed, the central business district is in tatters and all roads have been blocked for days. Realising that we will have to wait in Llamac Joaquin arranges free beds for us in another friend’s house. The man owns five donkeys and is considered wealthy. His mud brick compound which encompasses the donkeys’ pen is home to his family of six, a mother in law, a few stray cousins, an old man (who constantly demands I take his toothy portrait), five donkeys and twelve nervous guinea pigs. The guinea pigs are caged right outside the kitchen where they have a front row seat to their friend’s slaughter.

I sit down to thank my donkeys for their hard work and realise that I have unwittingly stumbled onto another cultural home stay. This time I help to kill the food and spend much time teaching English to dirty kneed school kids. Made to feel like a long lost friend by the gaggle of people living here I thoroughly enjoy my stay.

I find a local guide in my host’s ten year old son David, a bright lad keen to practise his English. grey Stuck in Llamac, Peru

“You like a town tour Ben”

“Si, how much?”

He ponders for a while then looking at our uneaten food cache,

“Oh, five chocolate bars”



David shows me around his town, shares knowledge of his secret trout fishing spot, helps me dry and clean my tent and proudly introduces me to his friends, all for the hefty price of three chocolate bars. I take some joke photos of David playing with the guinea pigs saying, “Don’t play with your food David.”

grey Stuck in Llamac, PeruIt is lovely to spend the day exploring town through ten year old eyes. Later that evening I give David my waterproof, shockproof camera to play with. He gleefully runs off in the night to show his friends. I settle in the kitchen with the men and slowly drink beer by the fading fire and talk (with enormous help from my dictionary) about local life and bandits.

Bandits still active are stragglers from the once strong Shining Path Maoist organisation. In the 80‘s they had many strongholds in the Andean highlands and held a firm belief that by imposing a proper dictatorship they could induce cultural change and arrive at pure communism. The shining path gained local peasant support by providing popular justice, ie a farmer stealing a neighbour’s sheep would be swiftly and brutally dealt with. Nowadays the group is greatly diminished and are a few raggedy bands hiding in the highlands terrorising tourists and locals alike.

David returns and shows me the photos he has snapped. From his less intimidating stance he has managed to unveil a side of this town I would never have see. I am shown photos of friends playing in the dirty streets, adolescents acting tough, curious adults who have unwittingly taken self portraits and girls pretending to be shy. I feel like a voyeur reviewing security footage.

Two days later and still stuck in Llamac. I have explored the town to exhaustion, burnt my little friend David’s brain out with English lessons and made an iodine throat gargle for a woman with severe tonsillitis. I have also spent three hours sitting by the river in the sun, my mind stilled by the glinting water. I would highly recommend this to anyone, find a quiet stream somewhere and do it.

grey Stuck in Llamac, PeruThere is nothing more to do. Despite Joaquin’s safety concerns I decide that we need to push on regardless. There are still no busses running to Huaraz as the civil tensions have escalated with more citizens dead. I ask around and find a potato truck driver going to the halfway point of Chiquian. We secure a ride for a very reasonable price and run to get our bags. What follows is a four hour, nail biting bounce along impossibly slippery mountain roads in the front seat. With bald tyres and a driver who puts his entire faith in God, not mechanics or driving skill, we somehow navigate these precarious roads towards Chiquian. We have to reverse twice to let other trucks by. Reversing is terrifying, the second time, just as the back wheels start scrabbling for purchase over a gravel bank I jump out convinced that we are going over.

Michael the driver is more interested in my camera than the road. Twice he leans over to look at it whilst driving. Twice I search my panicked brain for the words meaning,

“Watch the bloody road! Geez, he is going to kill us!”

“Tranquilo Ben”

“No es Tranquilo amigo!”

I am enjoying one of the rare flat sections on our trip when Michael stomps on the brakes bringing the truck to a skewed standstill in the middle of the road, he starts pointing excitedly at a bush while reaching for my camera,

“Zorro, Zorro, Ben, este!”



The fox that Michael spots is a small twitchy creature, I am just able to remove the lens cap and take a few long distance photos before the shy creature melts back into the shrub. Just as we get to our side of the road a car comes dashing around the corner. This forces Michael to swerve violently before laughing and miming the crash we could just have been involved in.

Thanking God, Christ, Buddha, Cesar, The Holy Frog, Sacred Llamas, the sun and the moon all of whom I am sure had a helping hand in my safe passage I jump out of the truck at Chiquian and kiss the ground with biblical fervour.

Sitting on my pack I wait for Joaquin to find accommodation, passage to Huaraz is still not an option. Joaquin returns grinning as always with good news,

grey Stuck in Llamac, Peru“I have a room for us”

“How much”

“Dos cincuenta”

“Dos cincuenta! Bueno!”

He has found accommodation for us both at a rate of $2.50 Australian dollars a night. We move to the hotel which seems consciously aware of what the low rates imply. I open the door to be mocked by a mould spotted print of Siula Grande hanging aslant on the wall. Joaquin and I dump our bags on the worn carpet and stretch out on lice ridden mattresses to wait under a bare globe.

We have a slight money issue.

I have left my credit cards and passport safely with Chris in Huaraz. Joaquin and I have one hundred soles (around $35 US) for food and accommodation, this needs to last until we can leave safely…whenever that will be.

The following day there are protests in the town square, watching this passionate protest I realise that Joaquin and I will simply have to wait. Despite the demonstrations being peaceful tension is palpable in the air. It feels as though things could easily turn nasty here as well. Joaquin reports that he saw a plane this morning bringing in more police from the capital, television news crews report breathlessly from the carnage in Huaraz.

There are security guards everywhere as police move out towards Huaraz. We hear reports of more dead two police officers and that authorities have started flinging tear gas canisters around the place. We could be in for a long wait.

Never have I faced the issue of finding money for accommodation and food. Camping is not an option, robbers would descend on our tent like flies to the proverbial. Thinking the problem would be resolved quickly I gave away most of the leftover food when leaving Llamac. We have a few chocolate and muesli bars and that is all.

Chiquian is a not as much a sleeping but comatose farming town on the edge of the Andes, many elderly here speak Quechua, younger people speak Spanish and nobody speaks English. Spending the afternoon in the tiny town square I dodge llamas and sheep to wander past mud brick homes while wielding my English/Spanish dictionary searching for news from Huaraz. My situation is looking very grim.

Enter Betty. She calls herself Betty Feo or Ugly Betty after the American television series,



“Are you stuck here?”

“Yup, really stuck.

“Oh well, nice town to stay”

“For sure but I’m starting to get really worried about money, no money for food or accommodation! How long will this last do you think?”

“No lo se’ Could be a long time”


“Hey, I have a new restaurant, come for dinner tonight”

“But I have no money for food”

“That is fine, I would be honoured to have a Westerner test my new menu”


“Yes, It would be my pleasure”

“Wow, thanks heaps”

I do not want to impose but being desperate I gratefully accept the offer. I leave Betty, find Joaquin and tell him I have a dinner invite then give him some money for his meal. That night I knock on the door of Betty’s newly set up restaurant to be greeted by an imposing man with a grumbling bear-like voice,

“You must be Ben-ten”

“Si, Is this Betty Feo’s restaurant?”

Laughing he waves me inside. Betty bounces out of the kitchen wearing a dirty apron, she hands me a glass of red wine saying that dinner will be ready in a few minutes.

Betty and her friend produce a feast of delicious local food which is easily enough to sustain me throughout the next day. We spend the night drinking red wine and passing around my English/Spanish dictionary, laughing, we take turns telling stories and jokes in unfamiliar tongues. My new friends and I go on to share two dinners as I wait for the riots to abate. They make it possible for Joaquin and I to stretch our budget through the riots without asking for a penny.

Ugly Betty deserves a name change. She is one of the most sharing people I have met in my travels. I will always be thankful for the generosity and kindness of these strangers who welcomed me into their home without asking for a thing in return.

Saving our money for accommodation Joaquin and I only eat dinner, he buys food from a cheap food hall and I knock on Betty’s door both nights clutching my hat with a Dickenson stoop. It is day three in Chiquan and we are down to sixty soles and three chocolate bars. I am sure this experience will make me more sympathetic to beggars in the future.

Despite our grim money situation I decide to spoil myself and find an internet cafe, they charge five soles for half an hour on a dusty old computer with a rattly fan and dubious connection speeds. I am sure my ever vigilant mum will be following news of this situation and may need reassurance of my continual survival. A new email catches my attention. Jette has sent me a message assuring me that she will definitely meet me in La Paz for Christmas. After leaving Ecuador Jette started a new job in Denmark drawing up contracts for Vestas, a big wind turbine manufacturer. She still plans to make the most of her short festive holiday by, “Popping over to visit” I am relieved to hear she has not yet gotten cold feet. I will have to get out of this pickle and definitely be at La Paz Airport at 4:40pm on the 23rd of December.

More reports of escalating violence in Huaraz. I desperately hope my passport and credit card are safe. I have a funny mental image pop into my worried brain of spending Christmas on one side of the Peru/Bolivia border fence with Jette on the other passing food to me through the wire.

It will not come to that.


On top of accommodation and food the other problem about being poor is boredom. Chiquian is a tiny, quiet rural village, it is possible to see all the sights in three minutes with a two minute intermission. Chiquian is even more quiet at the moment as nine of the ten shops are closed in sympathy with protestors.  I have read everything I can find in English. I know the washing instructions for all my clothes by heart; Merino top = cool water and no spin, polyester shirt = warm wash, my boots are Pola-tech lined and Gore-tek waterproof. On the plus side being the only non-Hispanic person in the town has vastly improved my Spanish.

On the afternoon of our third day I have run out of patience with being stuck and broke and want to get to Huaraz even if the riots are continuing, at least this will provide some entertainment. I question Joaquin at depth about any possibility of sneaking past the road blocks, even mooting the possibility of skirting the danger on foot. Joaquin is also highly motivated to return to Huaraz as he is concerned about the safety of family. He leaves to ask around town again but cannot make any promises.

Nighttime arrives and I go to bed early with nothing else to do. At 4am in the morning I hear Joaquin get up and assume he is just going to the toilet. Just as sleep is taking me away he crashes back into the room and flicks on the light. Stands in the doorway, a boxer short clad apparition framed by the light he is clearly agitated. I immediately think that a rioter has chased him but once my bleary eyes adjust I can see that Joaquin is just excited,

“boos a bus! BOOS bus, BUS BOOS, vamoos!!”


“Yes, sneak bus, vamoos!”

Joaquin has snuck out to the town square to secure passage on a night bus he earlier heard rumours of, not wanting to raise my hopes he did not tell me. Protestors have given the government a two day reprieve to reconsider their stand on the mines. Someone has decided to cash in on peoples’ desperation by sneaking a bus full of passengers back to Huaraz, no tickets are sold you just have to barter a price at the door and force your way on.

There is something about extreme boredom that makes one slobbish and nonchalant. We are forced to excitedly retrieve trekking gear slewn all around the room. Hurriedly packing our bags we leave. In the predawn light we push our remaining Soles into the drivers palm and just shove ourselves and our packs onboard before he can ask for more money. Sadly, I never got to thank Betty for her immense generosity.


Four hours later I am back in Huaraz. Everywhere people are sweeping glass off the streets and hammering up boards over broken shop facades. The central business district looks like Bagdad after Dub-ya’s army paid a visit. I cannot figure out why the citizens of Huaraz smashed up their own town in protest of a remote mine, mob mentality perhaps. This is akin to an angry toddler bashing his head on the floor until he gets lollies, you would think that using words like a ‘big boy’ would be more effective. Sadly I am told that words do not make officials so much as look up from their wallet filling and that citizens must take extreme measures such as these to open a dialogue with the government.

My wallet is full and I am drinking excellent coffee at the cafe Andino.

I use the free wi-fi to broadcast news of my survival then chat with Chris. Chris is very apologetic about my trek being cut short but I am philosophical, after all I have trekked in the Andes and who many people do you know that has begged food and accommodation in remote Andean towns?

I have a bus ticket for Lima tomorrow in my back pocket and am preparing to make my way towards La Paz to meet a very enthusiastic explorer for Christmas. Jette has sent me  another excited email to ensure that I will be at the La Paz Airport at 4:40pm on the 23rd. She mentions in passing that her father is totally freaking out. Leaving my hostel in Huaraz on my way to the bus station I pass a beggar in the street.

You can guess the rest.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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