The best and worst of South America

Trip Start Sep 1999
Trip End May 2004

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Flag of Brazil  ,
Sunday, May 18, 2003

Leaving a Continent is ten times as hard as leaving your home. Its like the end of an era. The long and sleepless plane ride home in cattle class is an excellent time to reflect on the good, the bad and the sometimes ugly.

So here is MY South America in a nutshell.

I will miss the empanadas; the gorgeous ice cream; banana shakes; my 100% natural steaks; flat tasteless bread (although maybe I wont miss this that much); eggs, eggs and more eggs (Atkins dieting gone mad); cheap rum; cheap food; being happy to pay any money sometimes, in dollars cash, just for a swig of Coca Cola; the dreadful weak beer that's converts into pure froth at altitude....

...the drastic weather changes from plus to minus 25 in one day and from sun to snow in one minute; the endless stunning scenery - huge mountains and horrendous altitude sickness when you realise just how miserable life can be; the hidden lakes and crushing avalanches, the raging rivers and thick mosquito-laden jungles (although also, I won't be missing these that much as I still have enough bite scars to remember it all too vividly still..)...

.....the smiling brown faces and weather-leathered old people in the mountain villages; the kids - carried on backs in multi-coloured blankets, or selling on the streets, the kids with perfect Cockney English; the women weaving palms into beautiful sculptures on Palm Sunday and the colours of the fruit markets...

...the amazing low rise cities, stunning colonial architecture and the sunny Plazas in every town centre...

..holding random conversations with old characters on park benches; speaking Spanish and being understood and not understood in the same breath; being stared at like a recently landed alien; the Spanish that confusingly is nothing like Spanish when it's spoken in Chile and Argentina and the Spanish that is actually unintelligible Portuguese when you arrive in Brazil...

...wandering down winding streets, peering into bizarre shops and riding in battered up cars; being squashed into buses on the floor with bags, boxes and animals of all shapes and sizes; the disorganization and frustration at every turn and no hint at even the tiniest understanding of the term "customer service"...

And what have I learned?

Firstly, courtesy of Don and Cam, the Canadian boys :
1) that you should NEVER travel without Ducktape, made for every emergency - now I'm enlightened, I'm not sure how I survived so far without it;
2) that I don't have nearly enough gadgets
3) that the high from hallucinogenic cactus juice is not worth the pain of having to drink it through your nose (Liquid Hell Fire), as road-tested by the boys so I never need to
4)English as spoken by me (a true English/Irish person) is a whole new language and vocabulary for "English-speaking" USA/Canadians
5) that apparently I eat like an English person (?!)
6) that unless you want to be robbed (as well as generally ridiculed) at every stop, you should never travel with a Canadian flag on your daypack. It's like a red rag to a bull for every thief, scam artist and corrupt policeman within a mile radius (!)..

And the rest of the trip taught me that overnight buses age you beyond belief; that basketball is huge in Bolivia but I can beat any average bloke at football; that walking at altitude is unfeasibly draining but getting to the summit of a mountain (eventually) is the biggest drug-free high in life..

....that being on your own on a mountain or in wild countryside on your own is raw energy; that being with others is OK and an invigorating experience; but most importantly, that learning a new skill every week (guitar, fire sticks,..) keeps you moving forward...

.. and that you should push yourself past the point of no return and then some more...

I need less convincing with every trip that there are wonderful connected people everywhere, that no meeting is a coincidence and that the world is truly small for those that choose to embrace it

I know that to keep sight of true friendships you need to lose your ego and never let an argument or someone come between you...

..and finally I learned that I miss being around horses and animals every day, that I miss using my brain and I'm eternally excited about the next trip to come........

To all the Bolivian gang (and those that came before) - Canada boys, the Princess, the USA gals, the Frenchies, the Kiwi Chef - thanks. Its been THE BEST, which is saying something after all this time on the road. I think you can safely say its had its ups and downs - geographically, emotionally and belly wise. But everythings been a "think back and smile" time. YOU ALL REALLY ROCKED MY WORLD. So see ya somewhere in the world .....soon..... for some more rocking.
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