Monthly Archives: December 2012

And so it ends; where it began!

It’s hard to believe, sat on a terrace overlooking Rio de Janeiro, that just under 6 months have elapsed since I was last here.

In many ways nothing has changed, in many ways everything has.

In June I found the weather hot and my hair and beard long and unmanageable. Now I scoff at my former self. Old Alistair had no comprehension what hot was, nor what long, irritable not to mention ridiculous looking facial hair was.

The city however is much the same, less friendly, less glamorous and less fun that you’d expect. But somehow I have changed, I see the pale skinned gringos just hitting the beach for the first time, the novice cooks who don’t understand that the ignition switch on hostel cookers NEVER works. And the tourists loosely holding their camera while engrossed in a map late at night. I look at then all with a degree of scorn, of knowing better but also thinking “you’ll learn”.

6 months ago I’d sit by the beach drinking a beer wondering what it will be like, whether it was the right thing to do, if I’m cut out for it, and what will be the highlights.

Now I sip the same beer on the same beach and say to myself; “how can I ever have questioned whether this was the right thing to do? Why did I ever contemplate turning back?”. And the highlight, frankly there are too many to choose just one!

The experiences that I have had whilst traveling will last a lifetime, the memories of the good times I can look back on with a smile, and the bad times look back on having made it to the other side.

I will go back home with a new future to look forward to and a new appreciation of all the little things we take for granted; our safety, free healthcare, good public transport, tap water you can drink. Toilets you can flush paper down!

But I’ll also miss South America, the stunning scenery, the vastness, the diversity, the history and the culture.

It’s been an amazing trip and it’s sad to leave but good to go home.

Plus I still don’t like Rio!

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The Amazon Rainforest was the absolute highlight of Brazil. I can honestly say I never thought I’d see it.

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Peru had so many amazing sights, but for sheer ‘take your breath away’, it had to be Machu Pichhu.

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Bolivia was a surprise for me, there was huge diversity of scenery and the people were lovely. Salar de Uyuni was a photographer’s dream.

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Chile had far too much to even lost. Torres del Paine National Park was beautiful and spectacular

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For me, the whole trip was going to be about Patagonia. I had always wanted to go there and it is one if the few places that was even better than expectations.

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Although it was only for a few days break across the Rio Plate from Buenos Aires, Colonia and Montevideo were great cities and the Uruguayans were exceptionally friendly and fun.

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The Home Straight

Buenos Aires must be a really cool city! The implication from that is that I didn’t find it that way… quite the contrary.

Having spent just over a week in the city, with a three day jaunt over the Rio Plate to Uruguay in the middle, we had a really good time. The neighbourhoods are all really distinctive, whether bohemian San Telmo, with it’s tango-ing, artisan street market and cool urban stencil graffiti, or Palermo with it’s trendy, “yummy mummy” shops and parks.

Like Rio, it has it’s fair share of architectural mistakes, but somehow these are either too few and far between to matter, or made edgy in a way that you don’t mind looking at them from a bar with a beer or a glass of Malbec in your hand.

The people are glamorous in an understated way the Brazilians could only dream off, yet all the while friendly and approachable.

What’s more, we didn’t have anyone try and mug us, pick-pocket or kill us, which in my book makes it preferable to Rio regardless of anything else.

So why then, do I say it must be a really cool city rather than it is a really cool city? Because I liked it in spite of having to leave Patagonia for it. I found the people friendly despite the crowds, despite the pushing and rushing, and despite the simple fact that they weren’t Patagonians and the weren’t in Patagonia.

Buenos Aires is cool and a great place to visit and spend time in. But nothing is Patagonia. Sorry BA!

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Tango is an integral part of Buenos Aires’ culture, although most of those now partaking are either doing so for tourism or are part of an older generation.

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The bright coloured houses of La Boca show the more cultural and less intimidating side of the neighbourhood famed for it’s football team and their ‘hardcore’ supporters.

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Modern architecture, warehouse conversions and swanky restaurants typify the regenerated docks area of Puerto Madero.

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Leaving Patagonia

The change could hardly be more pronounced, or faster.

Had we taken the bus, we would have been treated to several days of gradual change in the Patagonian (and latterly simply Argentine) landscape. Had we gone west, along Ruta 40, we would have been treated to the Andean foothills and the Patagonia of Chatwin and Theroux – Esquel, El Bolson and Bariloche. Had we gone east, along Ruta 3, we would have had the barren, raw Patagonia that greeted the Welsh settlers – Trelew and Puerto Madryn.

The change would have been gradual – as would the slide into madness only two solid days of bus travel can offer.

However to board a flight in the sleepy town of El Calafate – where doors are left unlocked and neighbours’ dogs are welcomed like long lost family. Where a wallet can reside in one’s back-pocket without fear – and 3 hours later arrive into Buenos Aires, one of the largest cities in the Americas, is quite a juxtaposition. Doors are locked if not shut in your face, dogs are stray and more often rabid than neighbourly and money – if the city leaves you with any – is quickly shoved into the waterproof money belt you have secreted down your trousers.

It’s not to disparage Buenos Aires as such – I haven’t seen enough of it to do that yet – it’s to critique all cities. To come from the rural, the slow pace and fresh air, to any city takes it’s toll on any number of people, and God knows I’m one of them. It’s good, useful to know who you are and where you belong – some people crave it, can’t live without it. I’m just not one of them.

There is a legend in Patagonia – if you eat a Calafate berry (after which the town was named), you’re destined to return to Patagonia. At this time of year they’re not yet ripe and bitter to the taste. Nonetheless I picked and ate two of them to be doubly sure.

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