Back in April I left New Zealand with a heavy heart. I uprooted myself from a life I didn’t want to leave because my visa had expired and headed back towards Europe via South America. I didn’t really know what to expect to be honest, it was a choice between South America or South East Asia and the former seemed to be the least explored from a backpacker point of view so with my decision made, off I went with a few key attractions in mind, a map and a Lonely Planet. Eight months later I stand awed.
It never failed to amaze me, turn after turn. The people were friendly, the backpackers I met along the way were some of the most awesome people I have ever spent time with, the food was cheap and delicious, the hostels affordable and comfortable. I’ve watched couples tango in Buenos Aires, stood and gazed in wonder like a slack jawed imbecile at Iguazu Falls, learned my somewhat pathetic fitness limits whilst climbing Roraima and proceeded to ignore those limits to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. From coffee plantations to ancient ruins, I saw and did as much as I could, taking it all in and still wanting more.
As I made my way from town to town, country to country the scenery would change dramatically; one minute you’d be on the bus staring out of the window at gridlocked traffic, listening to car horns blaring, then you’d be winding through the mountains, crossing rivers, your ears popping as the vehicle made its way up a couple of thousand metres to the Andes. You could close your eyes, the last thing you see being sand dunes and desert and by the time you opened them again after a Valium induced sleep you’d be cruising through trees and vegetation on poorly maintained roads, sweating in the tropical heat.
Travelling in South America is more than just looking at shiny things and snapping photos, it’s an education. It allows you to fill your mind with new teachings and to find out how the ancient cultures lived and worked. You can visit the ruins of their cities, view fragments of their pottery through dusty museum glass, learn about their religions, rituals and beliefs and see how they buried their dead. Other things to add to the Every Day’s A School Day list include that fact that shingles doesn’t just go away if you ignore it. Go figure. I was also very relieved to learn that ringworm is a fungus as opposed to an actual worm and I would like to thank Wikipedia for averting that minor freak out. It’s also worth noting that there are many, many fine medications available over the counter without a prescription, including sleeping pills that would floor an elephant on speed and powerful anti-depressants that’d make even the most pissed off emo put down the sharp things and smile.
The activities on this stunning continent are varied and endless. You can trek through jungles, spy monkeys swinging from tree to tree and watch as a caiman disappears into the murky waters. You can look on in horror as a tour guide tries to coax a tarantula out of its hole before settling down in front of a fire, eating a fish you caught yourself earlier that day. Or if you prefer, you can sprawl out on a beach, hit the waves for a surf in Peru or dive the Caribbean ocean from Colombia. If shopping is your thing, you can spend hours exploring markets containing Amazonian fruits you wouldn’t have the first idea how to eat in Brazil, black corn in Peru, dried llama foetuses in Bolivia and countless random souvenirs.
For the adrenaline junkies there’s white water rafting, paragliding, bridge jumping and cycling the Death Road, or showing your digestive system who’s boss with the World’s Most Dangerous Vindaloo. Oh yeah. That totally deserves a mention. I don’t think my stomach will ever forgive me for that and I’m pretty sure I melted a small portion of colon. But there really is something for everyone. Whatever you’re into, whatever you love, I can guarantee that South America will deliver.
From beaches to highlands, jungles to cities, the frozen south to the tropical north, this place has everything. It’s been an incredible eight months and it’s whet my appetite, I’m greedy for South America, I want more. I long to stand at the bottom of the world and gaze out over freezing waters towards Antarctica. I want to walk amongst the Moai on Chile’s Easter Island and marvel at the array of wildlife on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. I want to sail from Iquitos in Peru to Belém in Brazil along the full length of the mighty Amazon river just to see if I can handle the journey, and glide through the wetlands of the Pantanal just to see if I can complete it without being completely exsanguinated by mosquitoes.
I want to explore the Guianas, see more of Bolivia and travel from Colombia to Mexico. I’ve fallen in love with this continent, its people, the diversity, it has captured my imagination and is refusing to let it go. There’s more to discover here, more places to explore, foods to eat, cultures to sample, vistas to marvel at than one person could ever do in a lifetime. But shit, if you were to try it, what an awesome lifetime it’d be.