Just Give Me Moments

Santiago Travel Blog

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Singer, intellectual and all-round Sheffieldian legend, Jarvis Cocker, once wrote about love: "It's not all chocolate boxes and roses, it's dirtier than that..." He could just as easily have been talking about travelling. Whilst traipsing through South America, I've had my chocolate boxes (Iguazu Falls, Torres del Paine) and roses, (Salar de Uyuni, Machu Picchu) but for each of these, there has been a corresponding period of time spent either doing nothing, or having something bad happen - dirty time, if you will. 

I think, on balance, I've had a worse time of it than most people who venture down here in terms of robberies etc. But despite this, I'll look back on my time in South America with great fondness, and chalk the bad times up to experience. To do otherwise seems a bit pointless and ungrateful.        

Tonight I'll be flying, via New Zealand, to Fiji and from there, on to Asia. This is something I'm happy about, ready for. I feel that I've done justice to the South American countries I've passed through; I've tried to absorb a bit of culture and learn from and about the locals along the way, but I'm not naive or arrogant enough to suggest that I understand how they live.

This particularly applies to the indigenous people of the Andean countries whose lives are utterly unlike my own. I only dipped the end of a toe into those cultural waters, but it was enough to see that, although we may be very different, the principal values remain the same: family, friendship, pride and humour hold even more relevance than they do back in the UK. It`s plain to see here that when people have less in material wealth, the bonds between them are stronger.

Anyway, enough hippy-style banter - I'll revert to type and give you the lowdown on my favourite moments of the last five months. Some are good, others bad, but they are all memorable for one reason or other:

Ecuador

The first fabulous week of the trip when Andy and I sped around the north west of the country, leaping on and off buses, dugout canoes, trucks etc. to get to and from Playa de Oro, a remote community set in the rainforest. I have never felt I was winging it as much as that week in my entire life. We struggled with our Spanish, even with a phrase book, but it just made it feel more like a genuine adventure. I loved it. 

Andy stomping out of our Rioshambles hotel room at 2am in only his pants to tell some school age girls making a racket in the corridor outside to be quiet. His Spanish skills weren't too sharp at this point so all he could say was: "por favor!" In hindsight, not the most appropriate thing to say to young teenage girls when you´re wearing only your skivvies, but it did the trick. Perhaps it was the shock that shut them up for the rest of the night.

Realising that my daypack had been stolen in Cuenca. I was basically trapped in a weird state of shock for the rest of the day. I was utterly furious with the thieves and myself - I remember booting a concrete pillar a few times out of sheer frustration. Very unlike me. Losing something that valuable genuinely hurt and I still miss my iPod. But such is life.                               

Peru

A visit to earthquake-hit Pisco was a memorable experience. People were still living in tents 3 months after the quake and much of the place lay in ruins. The children of the town held a rally whilst we were there - asking the government for more help. The worst thing of all was speaking to the landlady of our hotel and gradually deciphering, with our limited Spanish, the full meaning of her words. She told us that no-one had been insured and people were simply re-building with the same materials that had been flattened so comprehensively the first time round. Unfortunately it seems that a cycle of struggle and destruction may be unavoidable without more help: the people here deserve better.  

Being utterly, horribly ill whilst staying in the desert oasis town, Huacachina. Andy lounged around the swimming pool of our plush hostel taking in all the bikini-clad babes and sipping cocktails. Meanwhile I was sat on the bog for two days producing liquid. Not a happy experience.  

Machu Picchu - everyone says it and of course it's touristy, but the mix of natural and man-made scenery is superb. I think the fact that I was knackered, constipated and ready for a rest after 3 days of walking at altitude made that first clear view all the more worthwhile.   

Bolivia

Taking a 19 hour-long bus journey along a treacherous dirt road, with our rickety vehicle often less than a yard away from massive drop offs. A guy had died two days before our journey when his car had gone off the edge after being hit by a landslide. I was obscenely pleased to make it back to La Paz.

Some funny-shaped rocks in the desert near the Chilean border. They seemed to me the very essence of endurance, jutting up out of the sand and, over centuries, sculpted into uncanny shapes by the wind. Kind of reminded me of that poem Ozymandius by Shelley. We saw a lot of beautiful things over three days in the area (including Salar de Uyuni), but it's those rocks that stay with me.         

Argentina

Bariloche has to go down as my favourite town/city in Argentina. It's touristy but I just liked the ambience of the place. I had a random but cool birthday night out with a couple of lads from Buenos Aires. When you`re traveling alone, on the dates when it matters (birthdays, Xmas) you have to be lucky to find yourself in the company of the right people. And I was.  

Standing by a glacier lake in Fitzroy National Park looking up at the sharp peaks rising ahead. A hawk swooped by directly above me and then held itself, hovering stationary, despite a blustery wind, for thirty seconds or so. He/she was obviously hunting, but it felt a little like a personal aerobatics show just for me - 'cause I'm that important.    

Chile

Walking in Valle del Frances (Torres del Paine) on my own after Max had hurt his leg. I scrambled to the top of an awkward slope and was rewarded with a panoramic view around the valley. There are places in Torres del Paine that remain both beautiful and wild, just reward for anyone who makes the awkward and expensive journey to get there.

Realising that I had been robbed for the third time in Pucon and not quite believing it. My reaction was totally different to the first couple of times: after a bit of inevitable industrial language, I just shook my head and shrugged. Maybe I have learned something after all. But don't count on it.  

 

Ok kids - that's yer lot for the first continent of the trip, although I have a feeling I may well be back down here at some point in the future. There's so much more to see and do, and I haven't even touched Brazil, Columbia and Venezuela. So to South America, instead of "Adios" I'll simply say: "Hasta luego!" or "See you later." However, Autumn is upon us and I'm not feeling up for a dose of frost right now. So, it's time to head back North, find the Equator again and toast year-round summer - Salud!                   

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Santiago
photo by: Bluetraveler