From New York to Touchdown in South America
The journey to South America began in New York on Puerto Rican National Day, a torrid and humid introduction to the Americas.
The super modern skytrain briefly awed me, throngs of flag waving Hispanics on 5th Avenue affirmed and proclaimed the dynamism of the city, while the decrepit subway system horrified me. But the journey continued. South America beckoned.
Buenos Aires, when first seen from the clouds, looked more like what I had expected to see in old New York.
Skyscrapers huddled in large groups in the midst of a vast concrete conurbation. Closer to Ezeiza Airport the dirt roads and corrugated iron roofs of greater Buenos Aires shocked me. Once on the ground the city seduced me with its charms. Like Madrid, it is a city of distinctive ‘barrios’. Microcentro, the heart of politics and business, is a phoenix that lives by day, dies at night and is reborn the next morning (warning: it is lifeless at the weekend). San Telmo, with its tango twist, casts a spell. The silence of Recoleta Cemetery, final home of Eva Peron, stands in contrast to the busy metropolis outside its gates. One week into the trip, South America had already ensnared me in its web.
The Mighty Falls
This has to be the ultimate ‘WOW’ moment on a trip to South America.
The sheer enormity of Iguazú Falls can only truly be appreciated from the Brazilian side where vast walls of water unfold as far as the eye can see. Argentinian friends, particularly Porteños, please note that, when looking from Brazil, you will better appreciate the beauty of Argentina. It was also here that I heard the story of a small girl who met El Che on a visit to a local casino and who cried all day when she learned of his death in Bolivia. It’s a small world after all, as the song says.
After a long day of travel via the concrete forest of Sao Paolo, I finally touched down in Bolivia.
Sleepy Sucre, with its colonial buildings and dinosaur tracks, provided a gentle but fascinating introduction to Bolivia. Speaking Spanish continued to open doors. Women told me of their decisions to abandon sometimes violent husbands and to live as single mothers in contravention of the conservative social mores of Bolivian society. We talked, laughed, shared our tragedies and dared to hope for happily ever afters. These people and their resilience will live on in my memory long after the end of this trip. They are what made South America a truly special experience in the end.
Breathtaking La Paz
A cold dark nightbus carried me across the altiplano to La Paz, where I expected to be robbed, attacked or worse.
Instead, a kindly policeman gave me directions to my ‘hostal’ and came up to me the next day in the central plaza to ask if I had found it alright. I’m laughing at all those people who told me I’d be robbed, murdered or both in South America. Staying in a colonial building in Calle Jaen, I shopped until I dropped by day in the colourful indigenous markets and slept soundly by night. La Paz, I love you, even if your steep streets and high altitude left me breathless.
The High Lake and the Steamy Jungle
Strikes in Potosi shut down any possibility of a visit there and Uyuni disappeared from the agenda.
Welcome to South America, I guess. Instead I discovered Lake Titicaca with the adventurous Clyde family. From there, in need of a little heat, I went to the Amazon where I was treated to delicious fish dishes in the jungle. I will neither forget the darkness of the night in my cabin nor the dazzling star studded sky. Having had my card cloned in Argentina, I grumpily returned to a grey Buenos Aires. However, the energy of San Telmo market, exploring the back streets of Palermo and a funny conversation with a philosophical taxi driver lifted my spirits. Six weeks after touching down here I leave tonight. I came for the place, but I will return for the people.
Tomorrow: New York City (Click for blog post)