#26: After Latin America, What’s Next?
Recap & More on Plans
17 May 2002
So, it’s the end of Month Five. Time for a bit of recap…
I began my odyssey in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Sped across southern Brazil so as to collect an elusive Bolivian visa in Santiago, spent 6 days in Paraguay, then cut across northern Argentina to reach Santiago de Chile, followed by Easter Island, northern Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Galapagos Islands, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, and now I’m in Mexico.
I spent over a full month in Peru and Mexico, and as short as two days in Honduras and Belize. (I have been to Argentina, southern Chile, Uruguay, Panama, western Honduras and Guatemala in the past 2 years on separate trips, and so have avoided them this time).
During the last five months, I have travelled 18,000 km overland and flown 18,000 km on intra-Latin American flights (including Easter Island and the Galapagos Islands). I have crossed borders 18 times. Been to two cities with more than 20 million people, 5 cities with more than 5 million, and 12 cities with more than 1 million. Also visited 25 UNESCO World Heritage sites, and travelled between sea level and 5000 meters above that. Been to the Atacama, the driest desert in the world, and walked on the glaciers on the high Andes.
I spent my nights in 56 different places, plus 11 overnight bus journeys and 8 nights on a boat in the Galapagos Islands. I have watched countless movies on buses, including Planet of the Apes (six times) and Gladiator (thrice). I only enjoyed some of them, because of those in English, the volume was often too low, and of those in Spanish, my Spanish is only limited to some 40 words. Yes, only 40 words of Spanish – enough to buy tickets and carry out 5-minute conversations with taxi drivers. On this journey, I have only met one other Singaporean traveller, who greeted me in Spanish and answered my questions with sï¿½, no and claro. I have also met lots of nice people, and have gone to more discos in the past 5 months than my past 4 years in London combined. Strange, but every local you meet assumes you want to explore the nightlife too. But why not?
I have also eaten ant eggs, grasshoppers, tortoises, crocodiles, guinea pigs, boars and what knows what hadn’t been disclosed to me. I had hair cuts in Rio de Janeiro, Cusco, San Jose and Guadalajara. In Brazil and Peru, they thought I was a local Japanese; in Paraguay, Korean. In Central America, they thought I was Taiwanese due to the many Taiwanese around, and elsewhere in Latin America, a Mainland Chinese. The Bolivians obviously thought that being Singaporean, I must be from Outer Space since they demanded a visa from me and then rejected my application.
As one of the few Asian travellers around, I was a tourist attraction at times. On an Amazon river boat, locals fought to take pictures with me. Elsewhere in Peru, however, they called me Fujimori, after their disgraced former president. In the rest of Latin America, they called me Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee, although I hardly know martial arts. Many times people asked if I wanted to have a match or two with them. I had to decline them politely and pretend that it had something to do with Asian modesty. And yes, at the Trotsky Museum, Mexico City, I actually pretended to be a Chinese Communist in order to gain entrance after hours, and well, I failed miserably.
There were two pickpocket attempts on me: in Puno, Peru and Quito, Ecuador. Nothing was lost, but my clothes were dirtied by the sauce and ice cream they smeared on my clothes to divert my attention. Only one official tried to get a bribe from me on this trip: a Peruvian border guy on the Amazon, and to everybody’s embarrassment, I gave him US$2.
Latin America is a fascinating part of the world, with enormous diversity. I have obviously been rushing around a fair bit, although some of you out there might think that any vacation longer than 2 weeks is a luxury. There are a number of places that I would like to visit in the future either because I hadn’t done them properly or because I have enjoyed them a lot:
- Brazil: The North and Northeast, which I haven’t done at all
- Northern Peru
- Parts of Ecuador I haven’t been to
- Colombia’s many cities and natural and archaeological sights, many of which are too dangerous to go now
- El Salvador: a fascinating country with a big heart
- Mexico: The North and more of the Central areas that I missed. Such a large country with so much to see.
- Countries that I haven’t been to: Bolivia (if they decide that Singaporeans are no longer aliens from Outer Space), Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana.
On 19th May, I will fly to Miami, Florida, and then to the Bahamas the following day. I’m not a sun-and-beach person, so the Bahamas are just a tick-off-the-box visit. Back to Miami on 22nd May, and then off to London on 27th May. I am now planning for the next stage of the trip, which in rough terms, involves:
- A short trip to the Faroes and Liechtenstein, the only countries in Western Europe I haven’t been to.
- A one-month journey through Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia. On completion, I would have covered all the political entities (i.e., countries and dependencies) in Europe apart from Russia.
- An epic overland journey from London to Singapore via Russia (with side trips to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan), Mongolia, China, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia.
OK, that’s all. You will hear from me again from Miami or after I return to London.