Well. Well well welly well. I am writing this on the train home from Manchester Airport to Newcastle, meaning I am almost home after nine months abroad. Mixed emotions are the order of the day- while it’s nice to see familiar things like Pounds and Pence, cars driving on the left hand side of the road, and of course Greggs, it’s pretty depressing to think it’s all over. What is going to get me out of bed in the morning? Grey skies? Daytime TV? Housework? It’s not a very encouraging prospect.
I’ve just read what I’ve written so far and it’s looking a bit suicide note-esque, so let’s change the subject. We spent the final few days of our trip exploring the north eastern Brazilian state of Bahia. This is an area of the country closer to West Africa than Lima, my starting point in South America, which puts into perspective quite how far we’d travelled!
From Rio de Janeiro we travelled to Salvador, Brazil’s third biggest city further up the Atlantic coast, by plane. Normally we wouldn’t consider air travel, but not only was the plane more than ten times quicker than the bus driving the same route, it was significantly cheaper too. Figure that one out.
One thing worth mentioning about the flight was how lax the security was. We accidentally left our very sharp, foldable knife in our hand luggage, and we got it onboard without a problem. I did consider trying to hijack the plane with it, but in the end I couldn’t really be arsed. TAM Linhas Aereas be warned: next time you let people on board with such a weapon, you might not be so lucky…
Salvador was an unusual city. Unlike Rio and Sao Paulo, where poverty is confined to the favelas and out of sight for tourists, Salvador feels like one big ghetto, a neglected and dilapidated city desperately in need of some attention from the government. The city centre, full of colonial era buildings, had clearly been lavished with money and fully restored to its former glory, but it seemed unfair to me that a few old buildings were seen as a bigger priority than the welfare of the locals.
From Salvador we took a bus inland to the pretty little town of Lencois on the edge of the Chapada Diamantina National Park. Despite being around 1000m above sea level, it was as hot a place as any I’ve come across in South America. Even with the peak of the southern hemisphere summer still several months away, the temperatures exceeded 30°C every day, and it was going through its worst drought in half a century- it hadn’t rained there for months.
Everything in the Chapada Diamantina basically revolved around rocks, water or a mix of the two. There were caves, huge tunnels formed from underground rivers, waterfalls, cliffs, mountains, stalagmites and stalactites. But impressive though such sights were, what was really special about the park was that almost everywhere we went we could go for a swim- in lakes, rivers, waterfalls and caves. The water was crystal clear and full of small fish, though the greedy bastards apparently had a taste for human skin…
And that was pretty much that for Brazil, and thus my time in South America. It’s been an incredible experience- occasionally disastrous, often amazing, and always eventful. I feel very fortunate to have been able to see as much of the continent as I did, and grateful not to have been born in some of the poorer countries I came across, where living standards are poor and opportunities in life often none existent. It might not make me Gandhi, but by volunteering I’d like to think I did my bit, however small, to help some of the continent’s most vulnerable people, and I’d encourage anyone who has enough time and money to do the same.
As for travelling, there are certainly a few places in particular I could recommend, most of which should be fairly obvious to those who’ve read my previous posts. Peru and Bolivia are fantastic, more so if you can tolerate the manic pace of life there, and they are probably the two “must see” countries on the continent, especially if you’re on a budget. In those two countries alone you can find mountains, jungles, deserts and lakes, spectacular wildlife, incredible history and some pretty colonial cities.
One last tip: choose the right time to go. Long time readers will probably be sick of me moaning about big crowds of tourists, but if you avoid high season it won’t be such a big problem. I’d guess that (Northern Hemisphere) spring and autumn are the best times to visit. In the summer, the continent is invaded my foreigners (mainly Europeans, for some reason), and the heat can be unbearable during the winter.
And finally I’d like to end this blog on an irreverent note with a collection of amusing and bemusing things I noticed over the last few months, accompanied where possible by photos:
- In Brazil, when the letter R comes at the beginning of a sentence it’s actually pronounced as a H. So, you’ve been mispronouncing legendary Brazilian footballers like Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho all these years!
- Every Chilean kid seems to own an Angry Birds hoodie:
- In Bolivia, old people often sit on benches facing backwards, for reasons beyond me.
- A fairly common sight in Buenos Aires are people walking huge packs of dogs through the city:
- The majority of foreign tourists in South America seem to be French, German, British and for some reason, Belgians. I don’t recall ever meeting a Belgian until this year, but by now I’ve had quite enough of asking “are you from the Dutch or the French part?”
- Everyone knows that they ought to give up their seat on a bus to disabled, elderly or pregnant people, but in Brazil fat people too are prioritised. Hardly a good incentive to lose weight!:
- Woe betide anyone who was planning to take their semen into Chile:
- McDonalds do deliveries in Brazil, but clearly they’re too stingy to provide their courier’s with a vehicle!:
- People in Chile, especially in Santiago, take public displays of affection to a new level.
- The sun in the centre of the flag of Argentina is really rather sinister…
- Even in the arse end of Bolivia, people are spreading the word of Newcastle United!
- A Brazilian woman without a visible tattoo is a rarity. And the notion that all Brazilian ladies are beautiful is sadly a myth.
- Without question the highlight of the trip: two turtles mating in a zoo in Paraguay:
And what better way to end the blog than that? Goodbye, and, erm, thanks for reading.