not another 16 hour bus journey!
14.03.2012 - 13.03.2013
So, after a year travelling through mainly the western part of Latin America I can´t say I regret one minute of it. I have met so many great people, and made some friends for life. I won´t miss the day-long bus trips though, that´s for sure. Or anything about buses in South America really.
I thought I would write a list of the best and worst things I have done and seen in South America. Having spent a year here, I have enjoyed my time immensely and have seen and done far more than I expected when I set out.
There is a great vibrancy to many parts of life, as I have seen it, in much of South America. Everyday life in Europe is often conducted indoors, away from others. People here live on the streets. The cities are hives of organised chaos; people bargain, shout, buy, cry, sing, sell, and dance on the streets. Everyday life is conducted in open view through the noise, smells, sights and sounds. A sense pervades that life is less planned and ordered than it is at home.
Time keeping moves on a different system too. ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes’ can often mean anything but that. To a fault, almost all South Americans (if I may use such a broad brush) I have met are friendly, outgoing, and welcoming. I wonder would my many lost questionings have received an equally friendly response in my native Ireland. Yes, possibly.
However, not all was peaches and rosy, there is a darker side to some of the places I have been. Life is tough for many people, but in many places it is improving. It is foolish to think as a tourist you get to see the ‘real’ aspects of life’s struggles for many. Much of South America is still developing and sometimes the region can display the harder side of life, both for locals and tourists. The region´s addiction to some pretty insane music is also something I won´t miss, especially on those infamous buses.
I like to travel pretty slowly and have still only managed to scrape the tip of the iceberg as such. There is just so much to do and see there, it is amazing. The diversity of landscapes and activities is incredible. The place is a historical goldmine. I never even made it to Uruguay, Paraguay, southern Chile and Argentina, Venzuela, the Guianas and all of Brazil! Even the countries I was in I have only seen a little. Hmmm, perhaps I will have to make sure of a return trip some day in the future....
Anyway, some highly subjective lists from my experiences
Most Amazing Places and Activities
1) Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.
2) Machu Picchu. Wow.
3) The bus trip from Piura to Huancabamba, Peru. Should come with a vertigo health warning.
4) Huacachina and its sand mountains. A little playground.
5) Mine tour, Potosi, Bolivia. Medieval working conditions.
6) Death road, Bolivia. Survived!
7) San Pedro ceremonies and life in Rhiannon Community. Vegan Christmas with the gang was a great one from home.
8) Recoleta graveyard, Buenos Aires, Argentina. Saw Evita's grave!
9) Mario Karting to the Pailon del Diablo, near Banos, Ecuador. The hot baths too.
10) Pablo Escobar tour, Medellin. Meeting Pablo´s brother Roberto Ecscobar and not believing a word he said really.
11) Cartagena beach, Colombia.
12) Route 66, La Paz. Ahem, quite an eye opener.
13) Lake Titicaca, Isla del Sol, Copacabana.
Isla Del Sol ninas, Bolivia
14) Walking around Mindo´s waterfalls (northern Ecuador).
15) Guitar lessons, Arequipa, Peru.
16) Building an earthbag house at Rhiannon
17) Salt Lakes (more ponds) near San Pedro de Atacama, Chile.
18) My friends coming over from Ireland and Russia. You know who you are.
19) Teaching English for 3 months in a local Malchingui primary school.
20) Failing to summit Cotopaxi (5800m)
22) The moon through telescopes in Chile. I actually took this by putting my camera to the telescope lens.
There are some amazing cities in South America. The colonial architecture in many of them is beautiful and I love the idea of having large central plazas around which a city centre is based. It is something we do not have in Ireland (having not been conquered by the relevant powers in history). Moving out from the centre there are usually a whole mixture of suburbs, sprawling out with rapid growth evident. In particular those semi-completed houses with metal rebar poking out everywhere. To me the cities almost always seemed bigger than I expected, maybe it is because many of them are pretty low-rise and with low density population. There is quite a contrast between the countries, with Ecuador and Colombia in my opinion seeming more 'Americanised' than those further south.
In general I don´t like cities and South America has some dangerous and unpleasant ones. La Paz can be dangerous, some are gigantic, dusty sprawls (sorry Lima), and others, well they just have little appeal to me such as Antofagasta in Chile. That impression then stays, for better or worse. Potosi in Bolivia was one of the most depressing places I have been in a long time. We drove through a quarry on a public bus to get out of it. Many of the people there working in the mines have such tough lives, all I can do is respect them. There is much more to those places than what I saw of that I am sure, but you generally get impressions of a place that inform your decision to move on. Can't see everything, everywhere.
Some cities I loved
1) Cusco, Peru. Amazing, amazing, amazing. Steps up to the hype and then some. I had a great time there, even if you do have to ignore the 'mesaje, mesaje?' calls and general industrial scale tourist harrassment.
2) Medellin, Colombia. The nightlife was great, a bit too great really. The women are pretty gorgeous alright, tis true.
3) Cochabamba, Bolivia. A real surprise. Spent a great few weeks here and met some really great people. Even played as support act in a gig in "Na Fianna" Irish pub on a Spanish Music night. More the people than the place.
4) La Paz, Bolivia. Big, smelly, dangerous, difficult to breathe. I loved it and hung out with a great group.
5) Santiago, Chile. Sometimes accused of having no soul, I really enjoyed it. Although I am not sure if it was just the great Sammy hostel or the first two live earthquakes of my life.
6) Quito, Ecuador. Popped into and out of this city all the time I lived at Rhiannon. It was a slow burner but I really grew to love it. A home from home.
Music, music, music. It is everywhere, and not always the great cumba, salsa, or native Andean music South America is famed for. Some of the tribal ceremony music I heard, especially in Rhiannon with the myriad of people there was great. Who knew songs about mother earth, fire, stars and coexistence could be so good. Well, me anyway.
However, the following ear busters will most likely be heard at the weekend or on a bus, nice and loud, multiple times per night/trip.
1) I Don't Know How To Describe This Girl Without Being Disrespectful
2) It's Time For Africa - stop it already!
3) Rhianna - We Found Love.
4) Cora, cora, cora, corazoooooaaann. Dont know what it’s called. Most songs in South America seem to be about someone’s heart.
5) War Horse. Which is a film. Having seen it five times on buses I am entitled to review it. It is only worthy of such a short one. Very poor, and always too loud.
6) Hermosa, hermosa, I see you senti mataaaaa.....yep.
My top six hostels (in no particular order)
Travelling solo, everyone knows hostels are the way to go. Some were more like hotels. The standard was often very high.
1) Wild Rover or Loki, La Paz, Bolivia. These places were so much fun and basically no different. Bad for your health if you stay too long. Great food too. Wild Rover in Cusco is equally great, with live music on Sunday nights. Me and my friend Alan played music there for three weeks and had a great time with the gang there. You often meet people travelling who simply stay in one of these for months, not working or anything. Which is a bit sad.
2) Loki Hostel, Mancora, Peru. A hostel in the sun, with a bar and swimming pool. At hostel prices. Enough said.
3) Plantas y Blancos, Banos, Ecuador. Cosy, great kitchen facilities, pavilion area with nice log fire burning. Helpful staff.
4) Secret Garden, Quito, Ecuador. Lovely spot, with great rooftop terrace.
5) Sammy Hostel, Santiago, Chile. The atmosphere in this hostel was amazing, a home from home. The people there were some of the best I met in South America.
6) La Casa De Felipe, Taganga, Colombia. Amazing spot, well worth the slightly extra cash.
I wanted to do a food thing for South America, but my IPOD on which I had most of the pictures was stolen. Food in South America is generally inexpensive, with the correlation of sometimes having little to no flavour. Grease is not a flavour, if it was the food could be described as flavoursome, but not tasty. Ah that’s a bit harsh actually. But I will take it back rather than delete it. Life for vegetarians in South America is probably not as difficult as people sometimes make it out to be, having travelled a good bit with my friend Laura who is a vegetarian, it wasn´t too difficult for her, I think. I chose the vegetarian option many times because it looked better than the sometimes dubious pieces of meat being served about me. Although many times, especially in cheaper almuerzo spots the vegetarian option simply consists of the meat being removed from the plate or soup. Voila, comida vegetariana! In the case of a soup, this doesn´t really make it vegetarian. Some food experiences I do not want to repeat for some time. Having said all that, I have had some great food there too, many of the cheap almuerzos are great value, you cannot complain when you get a soup and main for $1.50.
1) Steaks in Argentina. I had one the size of a pizza. Medium rare to perfection.
2) Pique Machu. I think I have spelled that correctly. Chips, beef strips, stir fried veggies, spicy gravy, and sausage. Good for weight gain. Done right it is delicious and a cut above what it sounds like there, written down.
3) Seafood on the coast of Ecuador. Uniformly amazing.
4) Fish from freshwater Lake Titicaca in Copacabana, Bolivia. Delicious, and such a nice break from the starch-laden altiplano and Andes food.
5) Colombian arepas. Mmmm.
1) Fried banana or plantain. Just......not much to say. Normal bananas are better. Food high up in the Andes in Huancabamba - fried rice and fried banana, is not a dinner frankly. It should definitely not be served for all three meals. Although I am not sure what you are meant to do when it seems to be all you have. I also seemed to often (twice, I suspect a third time also) get a stomach parasite which coincided with eating friend plantain banana. I don`t think there is an actual link between the two but that kind of seals the deal for me.
2) The Chilean completo. A hot dog with everything on it. Not good for the heart. I overindulged.
3) Bolivian food in general. Fried everything.
4) Malchingui almuerzos. Unfortunately, most people won't get to eat these delicacies.
5) A whole host of street food that should be approached with caution.
Good Luck Bad Luck
All in all I cannot complain. I have had a relatively stress and incident free year, with only minor upsets. I know people who were physically assaulted, had laptops stolen from bags on buses, a friend who kicked a Peruvian police officer where it hurts after he tried to rape her, to mention a few incidents. Still, I never felt in any more danger (almost anywhere) than I would have walking around Dublin on a Saturday night. So, common sense and much can be avoided. Travelling with someone else does make a big difference too. Well, here’s some bad luck I did run into.....
1) Dengue. I likely caught Dengue somewhere in Colombia, from a mosquito. By the end of it, the doctors in Bogota couldn’t say for sure what I had. It was a ‘tropical fever’, many of which they cannot diagnose. It was thirteen days of headaches, vomiting, fevers, muscle aches, dizziness, hardly being able to eat a single thing. I had all flu symptoms I can think of, and then some. I lost about a stone in weight too. I wasn’t looking too wonderful by the end of it.
2) Diahorrea in Lima, Peru. Ran along the length of a motorway, across it, and back along the other side. I made it to a toilet just in time. Its’s something that could have ended much differently, and possibly have made a much better story.
3) Diahorrea during San Pedro ceremony in Huancabamba, Peru. This was a very difficult night. Making the toilet got progressively more difficult as the night went on. The night was preceded by fried plantain banana.
4) IPOD and 3 jumpers stolen (all seperate occasions). My IPOD was stolen from beside my head while I slept. Likely another backpacker. Never got to the bottom of that. Never leave jumpers or other stuff down in night clubs or pubs. I suppose that one applies most places in the world really. I gained lots of free clothes along the way, something I hadn’t counted on. They were given to me.
5) Woman with fish on bus in Bolivia. It goes without saying a big bag of fish should not be allowed on a bus. She was on it for five hours, between La Paz and Cochabamba, sitting next to me. Not cool. Everyone was pissed off with her. There isn’t much that is not allowed on a Bolivian bus. A bag of slowly defrosting fish is one. Still, I kinda felt sorry for her. I mean she must have HAD to bring it on for some reason.
Hasta luego America del sur!