I am almost halfway through my time in South America. The few of you reading this are probably used to the format now. So… enjoy.
Hola a todos,
For the first time in my travels, I’m sat at a table tapping away with a cup of true English (breakfast/builders) tea alongside me. I have arrived in Buenos Aires, Argentina – my home for the next two months – and it’s like having flown back to Europe without the ten-hour trawl across the Atlantic.
That’s not to say that it’s a completely European city. It’s just got very strong hints of the Italian and Spanish immigrants that make up a not too insignificant minority of the population. Walking down the street, I’ve noticed the large 19th and 20th century buildings that are so familiar in London, and it certainly feels very different from the sprawling mountainside-based cities of La Paz, Bogotá, Medellin, Cusco and everywhere I have visited.
But before I get too bogged down in how much I already like Buenos Aires and the people I have met, I’m yet to mention my experience in the Amazon Rainforest.
I wrote the last blog in a hammock in 30 degree heat. I was on my way to sleep. I’d just arrived back in the town of Rurrenabaque after a three-day, two-night tour of the Pampas, the tropical lowlands of Bolivia with rivers, wetlands, trees, animals and birds.
While the tour was fantastic, I had an irresistible urge to see more and, in particular, the Jungle (La Selva, en español). I booked a two-day, one-night tour. And two nights later, I was still in the jungle.
My start to jungle life was a little rushed after my alarm failed and I woke up five minutes after the pick-up time. It was fine because we are all living on South American time which operates on the rule of ‘-ish’.
We took a three-hour boat ride, only interrupted by a brief stop to crack sugarcane and take the juice out of it, in a dug-out engine-powered canoe.
Over the day, we hiked 7km from the eco-lodge of the tour company to a small camping site for the night (wearing ponchos and boots). Living by candlelight and iPhone torch only, we were in bed by 8:30pm with nothing to do but sleep in the deep black of the jungle, to the soundtrack of endless chirping and calling.
The next day, we built rafts with the overwhelming help of the Bolivian guides. We paddled them down river, occasionally lurched forward by a fast-running stream but generally going at a very tranquil pace until we reached the eco-lodge once more.
We ate there and I decided to stay another night. ‘El capitán’ of the lodge attempted to radio the tour office to explain, but was greeted only be half an hour or fuzzed crackling.
That afternoon, we hiked once more, through a larger section of the jungle with older and grander trees. We saw a total of one animal, but it felt truly like the Amazon rainforest for the first time and in the evening we did something similar post-dinner, trying to flash up the reflecting eyes of a jaguar or some other animal. We failed.
On Friday, I woke up at 6AM to find the ground had been thunderously attacked by rain during the night. We headed down to the river and took a boat back to Rurrenabaque with the sun rising and penetrating what had been a deep mist early in the journey.
I returned to the tour office to meet the guide who had taken me round the Pampas and was greeted by a laughing smile from the owners after I had continually extended my time there. Then they took me to the airport where I waited in a waiting room the size of my bedroom before taking a small plane back to La Paz.
Once in La Paz, I jumped in a colectivo (a small minibus taxi that leaves whenever it’s full) and got off near (ish) my hostel. There, I was put in a fully British room comprised of a Londoner, a dirty Leeds fan, two Belfast girls and a Toronto-born, Twickenham-living Brit.
We chatted until I realised I had a 4AM wake-up for a flight to Buenos Aires the next day and slept.
To get to Buenos Aires, I flew to Santa Cruz (still in Bolivia) and then onwards to Buenos Aires. When I arrived, I was picked up by a very friendly porteño (name for the people of Buenos Aires) who was extremely interested in England’s societal issues in contrast to South America’s. I told him what I could.
Since arriving, I’ve visited a couple of sites, including the city’s amazing cemetery where rich families pay extraordinary amounts for grave-buildings rather than gravestones. It’s a city in itself that you can get lost in.
I’m staying in an accommodation made up of a few Argentinian university students, many other volunteers from the US, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands and a small selection of random travellers. It’s perfect.
Buenos Aires is immediately more familiar than any other city I’ve visited so far. The tall buildings that fill the sides of streets could easily be found in London, the large screens that surround the Obelisco (massive pointy thing in the centre of the city) are like Piccadilly Circus or Times Square. The statues, the banks, the culture of not saying hello to anyone in the street, it feels much more like home. And yet still you find yourself walking underneath a palm tree, listening to salsa and seeing the Latin culture that makes it different in a good way.
I already feel like I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a week or two, but it’s only been three days and I am writing this immediately before going to coach football for the first time here, working with a charity called United Through Sport.