Highlights as moments…


Posted by admin | Posted in Nature, South America, Travel | Posted on 30-03-2007

What stand out as some of my favourite moments, on a very personal level:

The moments…”where” – “what”

In Argentina:

  • “La Bombonera, Boca Juniors’ stadium, Buenos Aires” – “…a period of confusion, the Boca keeper had come off his line, the River striker saw his chance and curled off a floaty shot towards the goal. As it was heading to cross the line from my angle I decided it was definitely going in, and, being well impressed with the shot I flung my fist into the air. In a tense situation surrounded by manic supporters who all appeared ready to kill for their club, the following period of time – which must have been about half a second – seemed to pass by over a couple of hours as thoughts, worries and emotions all cannoned through my mind instantaneously. I was sure that I was the only one celebrating this inevitable goal and unsure whether I was about to be majorly embarrassed, slightly strange looking or soon to be pummelled. Anyone in a rational calm state of mind would not have had this moment of, pretty much, panic and everyone would have appeared to react in a routine synchronised way. As the milli-seconds ticked by I was joined by many thousands of fellow River fans and the stand completely erupted with more force than I have ever known of any fans or for any group of humans doing anything…”
  • “Iguazu Falls, Argentinan Side” – “arriving at the top of the edge of The Devil’s Throat – the concentrated part of the huge falls – after a long day exploring the falls and park. The utterly immense natural power hit me hard, not literally luckily, as I watched individual drops and flows take their course down the fall and disappear among the mass of misty spray.”

In Chile:

  • “Portillo Ski Resort” – “Snowboarding down untouched areas of big sweet soft snow and even throwing in some little girlie jumps off rock mounds; the view of the surrounding mountains and lake at the bottom helped.”

In Paraguay:

  • “River Paraguay” – “the 3 day passenger & cargo boat trip up the river on the Brazil border including the week spent stranded in Bahia Negra; a great adventure period with great people (fellow travellers – Irish, English, French and Spanish, locals and military officers) – just a great crack.”

Hitch-hiking (actually in Brazil here) with the others from Paraguay

In Bolivia:

  • “National Park Noel Kempff Mercado” – “floating on my back swimming slowly backwards across the lagoon created by the magnificent waterfall ‘El Encanto’ – my only view in front of me and my ears underwater so completely silent and in my own solitude”
  • “National Park Noel Kempff Mercado” – “drifting along in a dug-out canoe before sunset in a totally serene but wild river and having our first big caiman suddenly leap out of nowhere from the reeds next to us. That was after spending time fascinating a troop of monkeys and having no effect whatsoever on a pair of capybara taking an afternoon snack on a bank.”

In Peru:

  • “A cliff trail near Chachapoyas, Northern Peru” – “being led by some local small children (without asking any help at all, just because they were so joyful and assume with little better to do) to the site of several ancient sarcophagi – like ritually painted coffins – stood scattered across a seemingly inaccessible cliff face. For me the sarcophagi were one of the most amazing historic artefacts I have seen”
  • “Gocta Waterfall, near Chachapoyas, Northern Peru” – “after a good hike, edging closer to the world’s 3rd tallest waterfall via a few roughly-made tree branch ladders and some slippery and thick mud trails. The others including the guide were happy with how close we had made it but, of course, I needed to edge those 15 metres closer and standing in the shocking force of the spray coming off the falls was one of a few truly life-refreshing experiences”
  • “Machu Picchu, Peru” – “Early in the morning whilst the site was still really quite empty we were exploring a set of terracing off in one corner. I, of course, had to go down the terracing as far as I possibly could just to see how far they went on. Doing that though I found a classic perch to sit, on the edge of the Inca wall, with a magnificent drop into the beautiful gaping valley in front to my left and a bit of an unusual view of Mach Picchu ahead that included terracing and other features leading all the way down a slope that – if you didn’t come round to this corner of the site – you wouldn’t even see. Sitting there with the breeze from the gorge, swallows hunting ahead and a tranquil scene of one of the most magical historic sites I’ve been to, was one hell of a moment.”

In Ecuador:

  • “In the jungle of river Shiripuno” – “Marching through the forest on a round of ‘the traps’ and our local colleague-come-guide doesn’t just stop in his tracks but bolts backwards a couple of metres. We then stood and watched an incredible Boa Constrictor – unbelievably thick and about 5m long with such beautiful patterns over its scales with red towards the tail. That was enough to make it into my most memorable moments but to add to the scene a few Monk Saki monkeys (lovely shaggy monkeys that I did not see again; at least not with certainty) came down to low branches completely in view wondering why we were stood in silence below them. Sweet as.”
  • “Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador” – “It’s tough to pick just one out from our time on this island. Free-diving with a turtle? Watching sharks swim by? Watching rays swim by within a metre if you? Sharing a beach with no one but 50 marine Iguanas? Nope. What sticks out more is when there was some major activity in the sea on the long beach at low tide with birds and sealions feasting. We were strolling along and, getting closer, we saw that birds would suddenly dive underwater having been floating on the surface. They looked like penguins but surely not. Besides, we never see penguins in groups of more than 15 resting and 3 hunting. This was a group of maybe 40 odd! Must be some other common sea bird. As we arrived to where they were fishing I could see for sure they were penguins and not far out at sea. Excited like the child I so often proved I am over the 12 months away, I used a sharp rocky outcrop that led out into the sea to get closer and was able to stand in the sea and watch loads of penguins pass right by me 1 or 2 at a time as they changed hunting sites. It was so cool.”

In Venezuela:

  • “Roraima, La Gran Sabana, Venezuela” – “Sitting by (not quite on as it was one hell of a scary drop) the edge of one of Roraima’s faces doing much contemplation and enjoying a stunning view of the savanna below and beyond.”

As well as all this there were so many other highlights that stick out in my mind but to try and list too many is pointless. Many of you will undoubtedly hear about plenty of the others over many years to come and often over many a pint I’d imagine.

HIGHLIGHTS – the places


Posted by admin | Posted in Nature, South America, Travel | Posted on 30-03-2007

My top top personal highlights – the elite of the cream of the crop – things that stand out in my mind:

The places…

In Argentina:

  • 1. The region of Santa Cruz, Patagonia – Lake Posadas, Cave of Hands, town of Perito Moreno and La Casa Amarilla, Patagonian countryside, tranquility, wildlife.

Wrapping up warm in the south

  • 2.Puente del Inca (Inca bridge) – natural bridge of beautiful colours from minerals in the mountains; surrounded by deep snow when I stayed there in a mountaineers hut.

In Chile:

  • 3. The Carretera Austral region – lush temperate rainforest, mountains, fjords/lakes, rivers, autumnal colours, cute villages.

View from window over a fjord in the Carreterra Austral region

In Bolivia:

  • 4. National Park Noel Kempff Mercado – remote and rarely visited huge park of jungle/rainforest, pampas and floodlands full of amazing wildlife and natural beauty.

In Peru:

  • 5. Region around Chachapoyas, North Peru – rivers, canyons, remote pre-inca ruins and the world’s 3rd tallest waterfall.
  • 6. Huayna Picchu; the tall peak looming over Machu Picchu – a good, fairly quick hike up the mountain which itself has cool Inca ruins, awesome views of the surrounding mountains and valleys and a bird’s eye view of the Machu Picchu ancient city.

In Ecuador:

  • 7. The river Shiripuno and its surrounding rainforest – wild, absolutely full of life, beautiful, peaceful and challenging.
  • 8. Isla Isabela, Galapagos Islands – from the relatively tiny corner of the island that we saw it is in a fantastically unspoiled state and literally alive with wildlife with idyllic beaches.

In Colombia:

  • 9. National Park Tayrona – a tropical paradise but also very wild with untamed seas and forests and scenery that makes you want to just stay put.

In Venezuela:

  • 10. Roraima – the Tepuy (table-top mountain) with unique vegetation and even animals, awesome views and one of the strongest and strangest mystical atmospheres I’ve experienced.

Atlantic Rain Forest – Tijuca National Park


Posted by admin | Posted in Brazil, Nature, Rio de Janeiro, South America, Travel | Posted on 28-03-2007

Just came across this quote about the big national park I was impressed with in Rio de Janeiro…

“The Atlantic Rain Forest The Tijuca National Park is the largest urban natural reservation area in the world, covering an area of 3.200hec. and sheltering an enormous variety of birds and butterflies as well as “prego” and “sagui” monkeys. It is also home to hundreds of species of wildlife and plants, nowadays only found in the Atlantic Rainforest, many of them threatened by extinction.”

I can believe it’s the biggest urban reserve.

We saw both those species of monkeys there! The sagui is actually a marmoset (apparently the same as a tamarin but not certain) and it was the only time in the year that we saw ‘monkeys’ of that kind.

Some Stats


Posted by admin | Posted in South America | Posted on 14-03-2007

Days I spent in each country:

  • Florida, USA: 12 + 5 = 17
  • Argentina: 41 + 18 + 1 = 60
  • Chile: = 44
  • Paraguay: = 20
  • Brazil: 4 + 16 + 3 + 1 = 24
  • Bolivia: 33 + 1 = 34

  • Peru: = 29

  • Ecuador: = 80

  • Colombia: = 25

  • Venezuela: = 32

TOTAL = 365

1 year, 10 countries

El fin del viaje maravilloso


Posted by admin | Posted in Language, South America, Spanish, Travel | Posted on 13-03-2007

So, I’m back home now but I’ll throw in one more travel entry as I don’t expect life’s going to be quite so interesting for a while now…

I went on a great 6 day trek up Roraima, a large table-top mountain renowned for its many endemic plants – including loads of carnivorous plants – and animals such as a hummingbird and frog.

Here are the clouds rolling over the edge from up top:

The 2 days we spent on top were fantastic, getting to know the unusual landscape, the quartz crystal ‘rivers’, freezing cold but stunning natural pools, the little animals including a scorpion and a rare big oilbird, almost blind, that relies on echo-location like a bat and lives in Venezuelan caves.

This is the group I was with and Roraima is the mountain on the right dominating the horizon.

Next up was Rio de Janeiro after a 3 flights in 1 job from near the Venezuelan border, across the amazon jungle, change in Sao Paulo and we’re there. Two manic weeks that flew by during the carnival: masses in the streets, beer everywhere, samba drums, plenty of energy and a great atmosphere.

Clare’s polishing off tangy home-made caipirinha in the flat before heading out…

Twas cool to have one place to stay put for 2 weeks. The flat was in a proper residencial block where the locals chuck rubbish bags out of the window into a mass rubbish bin courtyard below…nice. By normal terms it was a scummy kind of place, well more the block than the flat itself, but it was really quality compared to the standards of the majority of people that I’d been seeing since leaving Argentina and heading through Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

So, along with a nocturnal lifestyle that had gone from:

Roraima Trek


BED: 4AM – 8AM

we also managed to check out some of the absolutely shockingly well preserved national parks right in or around the city. In them we even saw monkeys, hummingbirds, loads of butterflies, iguanas, a squirrel and other lizards. Really surprised me being on the edge of such a city.

I also had to swallow my pride on the last night. Clare and I had spyed a cool looking little seafood restaurant and planned to pop in to celebrate 7 whole years together; however, that day Clare found out this little restaurant appeared in the ‘ever so Lonely Planet’ which quoted it as being “the best seafood restaurant in Rio de Janeiro”. My pride was swallowed along with a couple of cans of beer and we still went there and, I hate to say it, but the book may have been right. It was at least the best meal out we had had in the past year.

So, lots of indulgence in Rio meant lots of cash spent which, in turn, meant the question “Can we still afford to do our final little excursion and ride 23 hours across Brazil (and another 23 hours back) to Iguazu Falls???”. The true answer is really “no, we can’t afford it” but we went anyway…

…and it was worth the effort.

There’s the beauty of the sets of falls; the amazing force of them; lush forest around and even treats of seeing some cool animals I hadn’t expected to see such as more monkeys, coatis, agoutis, toucans, (wild) guinea pigs, a river turtle and even a caiman (see left below)!

As for Brazil, I only spent a short time in 3 of its many many corners (Pantanal, Iguazu and Boa Vista up near Venezuela) plus enough time in Rio. There’s obviously loads to see in South America’s biggest country (and the 5th biggest in the world) – its own trip perhaps?

“Vamos a ver.”

South America – The Music


Posted by admin | Posted in Music, South America, Travel | Posted on 11-03-2007

If I were to try and summarise the music I might say it’s confused, confusing, vibrant, tacky, passionate and as varied throughout the continent as the landscapes.

Music is absolutely everywhere and mostly very loud and often closer to noise than anything else. That’s probably partly because a lot sounds tacky to me but also, since it is everywhere, because bus’s might have growling engines and wind rushing through the windows to combat the immense heat of the day; a street has cars, barking dogs and other sound systems to contend with; a shop or internet cafe is full of chattering, shouting kids, crashes and screams from x-box games, squeaky doors and people singing along; so assuming the sound quality is actually good there’s not much chance of it sounding that great amongst everything else.

Sounds like a rant that, but it’s all just real observations. Better than saying “Music is everywhere in South America” would be “South America is noisy”.

At least the music varies an incredible amount with so many different genres being massively popular.

The mothers of all genres would probably be Salsa and Reggaeton. Salsa you probably know – full of energy, spicy, bongo type percussion, often brass instruments, often a superb lead singer and typically a group of 3 or 4 backing male singers. I still can’t dance it. I’ve never had a lesson, but, sometimes you don’t get much choice but to get up and strut.

Reggaeton is a beast in itself. It has a chunky beat with a ska/reggae kind of rhythm and usually gangster style kind of rapping and not much else – but it’s catchy, fun and massive. Some artists are doing well in the States too; the big guns include Daddy Yankee, Don Omar, Tito El Bambino and Calle 13 – a clever rapper along the lines of a Spanish speaking Eminem but probably a lot more racist and controversial but great lyrics all the same.

The bigger stars seem to be from Puerto Rico.

As for the other big genres there’s Merengue and Cumbia which are widely popular. I thought I was starting to understand these two until I was recently confused and gave up on telling Cumbia apart from Salsa and Merengue, they seem to merge to me.

On top of all these there are loads of styles of ‘music’ that you find regionally: Tango is great, mostly heard in Argentina and is usually one of the higher quality styles, typically using no synthesised instruments. Colombia has Vallenato (instruments in pic below) music using an Accordion, a scraping instrument called a Guacharaca and a drum along with a singer, and has appeal stretching into neighbours Ecuador and and Venezuela. Colombia also has a not so well known seldom listened to music termed Momposina – one of my favourite of the whole continent – with African roots and a female singer with a tribal chant style.

Venezuela has one of the more comedy genres called Joropo or Musica Llanera coming from the lowlands (Los Llanos) is a guy half rapping as he sings about how he is a humble Llanos cowboy and likes to ride horses accompanied by a harp, maracas and a small type of guitar. On first listen it sounds terrible. On 2nd, 3rd and 4th listen it still sounds awful. BUT, eventually, after enough bus/pickup rides you can start to almost appreciate it if you listen, at least, to the lyrics.

One running idea nearly every music type is to fit as many words into each line of song as possible causing the singer to rush them out as quickly as possible. This happens a lot in the soppy cheesey ballads, very popular everywhere, and just sounds awkward to me, surely leaving the guy out of breath on every line.

About these “soppy cheesey ballads”. They really are soppy – incredibly lovey dovey, something the macho guys don’t seem to be in their everyday lives. One classic is a very popular Argentinian singer, Axel, who has one particular tune called “I love you” that goes on and on like this:

“I love you in the morning
and in the afternoon
I love you in the body
and in your spirit
I love that which you love
I love you”

…and on and on and on…

As I’m writing this they’ve turned the soppy rock balad tunes up. Great. I’ve already sat through the spanish version of “Unbreak my heart” twice.

I bought loads of CDs, including some of the very cheesiest stuff as souvenirs, so remind me to sample you some when you come round…

>>> Note that I wrote all of the above about 5 weeks ago whilst I was still in Venezuela.

I’m now back home in Blighty (arrived yesterday) and didn’t want to post this until I had given Brasil a chance to influence me.

So, in all I spent about 3 weeks in Brasil – a tiny period of time for such a huge country but I did pick up on some of the music.

The most obvious is Samba. Being there for Carnaval I obviously heard tons of it. I love it. It’s one of the most energetic styles of music I’ve heard, all positive with some of the sweetest percussion imaginable (pic left shows one of many types of samba drum). A day before leaving Brasil I saw a parade in a small town. The parade was mostly made up of youngsters and kids but still the drumming section was awesome.

Other than that I didn’t get exposed to a lot else apart from a very easy-going style with accordions. Don’t know what they call it but it’s fun and I have a CD from one band. As well as that I noticed that they love to cover big classic English songs (like Beatles) and translate and create Portuguese lyrics – strange and cool to hear.

So that’s my South American music experience in a rambling nutshell about as coherent as the music itself.

How to dress for a night at….


Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 07-03-2007

…the YMCA???

No, the Rio Carnival, aparently…

Samba de Janeiro

Number of Bird Species…


Posted by admin | Posted in Birds, Nature | Posted on 07-03-2007

No wonder I got into all the amazing variety of birds down there…

Number of Different Bird Species in the Continents:

3,200 South America
2,900 Asia
2,300 Africa
2,000 North America (from Panama north + Caribbean)
1,700 Australia + surrounding islands
1,000 Europe
65 Antarctica