It's safe to say Brian Vernor has traveled his fair share of the world - often documenting his experiences through photos in such a way that the viewer is compelled by the flowing landscape or moving city without the need for words. When he speaks of his trips, it's casual - not flippant or glib. It's with an ease that one would suspect even the worst moments are worth more than their weight in gold. We were able to catch up with Brian after a trip he made to Chile in the summer of last year and hear his take on traveling and what lures him to keep moving.
Chile has an allure. The land is stretched out in a way that just seems infinite. I was there once before, but not cycling. For this trip I really wanted the chance to see it from the saddle, and also camp out. I think when you sleep outside and move at a lumbering pace (like when you are cycling), you see a place's natural rhythm. Changes in temperature, light, all the natural ways a place changes throughout the day - you experience it in an intimate way. I like knowing a place through that kind of constant outside exposure. Chile feels a lot like my home in California, but amplified; the mountains are more abrupt (and sometimes exploding), the rivers are more raging, and the night sky a bit less polluted by city lights.
We planned out our route, roughly, but I'm always stopping and doing photos and really we just never made it as far as we planned each day. I'd rather stop and do my thing, whether it is simple documentation or making something more creative. Traveling and taking photos along the way is really bad for making time and distance goals. My priorities are more on the photo side of the spectrum. Some people are good at charging hard and covering a lot of ground. That can be fun, too, but I usually look at my trips as a chance to be creative above all else.
I thought my limited Spanish would go further. The cliché that, "Chileans speak Chilean, not Spanish," is real.
Our trip mostly consisted of dirt roads, and a little bit of trail. I like riding any surface, but the more rural the better, and Chile is mostly rural. Around every corner was a new view of a river, a mountain or volcano, or a lake. It was so idyllic. I can get really into riding in cities, but on this trip we never experienced that. Los Lagos, the Lakes Region, is a quiet, beautiful area in the South, and I loved it. Chile is so large, that if I make it back I want to explore some further South coastal regions.
Despite what I said above about appreciating rural areas, I love cities just as much. So if I werent in Chile Id be happy navigating a city. New York City is one of my favorite places to ride a bike. So are Milan, Cairo, and Bangkok.
Having a camera and using it always pushes you into strange experiences. Also, simply deciding to take a photo, or not, is a conscious act which requires you to think about your place in the world. That's so important - reflecting on why you're there and what your relationship is to the people and place. Im not a neutral presence so I have to continually reflect on it, and consider my impact. I rarely use a connected/GPS device for navigation. It's understandable in truly remote areas, but in a place where you'll be interacting with locals, a physical map is a much better tool. Because everyone loves maps, people want to look at them with you and share knowledge. Maps are very practical, but also social.
I never ride my bike with music/headphones, but if while in Chile I rode with music I'd want something on that came from Chile. Huaso (like a cowboy) tunes would be a good soundtrack. These were playing on a lot of radios, at markets and other public spaces. Huaso songs are about the land, and working the land, and love too (of course).
My friends and I prepared food most days, so we were constantly shopping in small markets along the way. Chile is such a fertile country, so fresh produce was everywhere. I loved the tomatoes and avocados. Most markets had locally-preserved meats, which were mostly really nice.
Travel advice is usually too broad. Every traveler and trip is different, but when people ask me for advice I say to bring less. Anything you forgot you can acquire abroad and it will cost a lot less, usually. The less you need before you feel comfortable going, the better. I think over packing, hyper-planning of gear, that need we have to think we have all the right stuff, is usually just anxiety. Anyone who travels a lot learns that you need very little, and when you need something then finding it abroad is a lot more interesting than getting it at a suburban mall at home.