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3 months in Latin America

by Robert John Simpson

First…….the history lesson

Right after school, I spent a year on the road – my backpack and guitar and the world… 21 years old and I knew it all. I first hitched a ride out to California and back to New York. That was easy. I then went through Europe and across Asia to India. This was the big thing I did as a young man. When I got back home from my trip I worked as a laborer, helping build the Capital District Psychiatric Center.. (A building which would play some role in my life at a later date). I had my money saved up to travel to South America, had the maps up on the wall and I was just about set to take off before winter hit upstate New York.

Something happened which delayed my trip for awhile… I got a call for a State job interview, this is just what I wanted/my parents wanted for me… I stayed in the same place for 30 years, I raised my three sons, dealt with my wife’s ever serious illnesses etc…. So in October 2009 I was ready to get back on the road again. This time I was 60 years old, and not 21, but after all my experiences, a much stronger and I think a better man.

The first place I wanted to see was the town of Ierapetra, Crete. I spent several months there before going across, Turkey, Iran, Afganistan and Pakistan to India. The City of Ierapetra is the southern most city in Europe. I remember singing, drinking, trying to score there… There were about 30 young people staying there from Europe, Canada and the USA. We sang Beatle songs and danced to Greek music. I made friends with Antonio, a blind Greek who played the mandolin. I can still remember hugging him for the last time and promising to come back to Crete.

After 40 years, I got to see a much larger version of Ierapetra. They built massive concrete structures and I could not even find the street where “our” tavern was where we sang, drank and danced. I got out of there in 2 miserable days. When I was waiting for my bus out of town I went to a tavern for a quick coffee. I told the people there, in my primitive Greek, that I had been in their town 40 years ago and played my guitar with Antonio. Their faces lit up and told me they remember him. One guy went out and came back with a large picture of Antonio with his mandolin. I was too late to see my old friend, but I felt I made good on my promise to return….

I had one month on the Greek Islands – October… the weather was perfect, the students were back in school and plenty of fish, wine and salads for me. Next I went up to a very cold Serbia, on a train to Belgrade to visit my friend Marco and his family, then to Romania to visit my friends in Timisoura and Iasc. I then hitched a ride down to Bucherest and flew to Istanbul. That city has really grown over the years. I enjoyed going back to the places I had been to before. This time I bought a 7 day bus tour of inner Turkey. I got to visit Capadoicia, Pulmukuli, Kudusa and Gillipoli. I had a great time and being part of a tour was much better than just wondering around by myself.

So the point is, I had 2 great months on the road in Europe and Turkey and I really liked it. Back to the original point of all of this.

My trip to Latin America was postponed by 40 years. In December, 2009 I bought a round trip ticket down to Rio. I just picked a date to leave in the middle of February. A 3 month trip should be long enough to see what was going on down there. My plan was to go up the coast of Brazil and get to the mouth of the Amazon. I think the idea of a boat ride across Brazil might have been the major objective of this trip.

so back to the story.

……flying into Rio

International flying is starting to get to be a normal thing for me. I flew down to Rio and found myself on a bus to the Ipanema beach. Constantly looking for that statue of Jesus with his arms spread out… I did find my hostel and was amazed that it was right next to the place where the Girl from Ipanema was written. It seems like all the tourists who go to Rio have seen the movie “City of God”. This file is about all the violence and poverty associated with the favelas, the slums on the hills where the poor people live. So I tried to not look like a tourist..but it was difficult, i had my winter white skin look. I was surprised to see a sign at the hostel that mentioned the last Carnival parade to be held the next day. I really thought that I was getting to Rio too late to see any of the festivities. So on Saturday nite I got on the subway and found the sombredromo, the stadium where the parade is held. Parade is really not the right word for what this is. It starts at 9pm and goes onto the next morning at 7am. I was lucky enough to sit next to a family who had a daughter who spoke great English. After awhile I was drinking beer and starting to move my body to the music… The parade groups all had a fantastic drum corps who made the place rock…. after all these months i am still dancing to that beat (just move our shoulders, the body will follow). I hung out until about 6 am and I was just to sleepy to make it through the whole deal. I got a subway back to the hostel and slept for a few hours.

I was lucky enough to pick the right time when the Rio finals were being held. With 100,000 other football fans, I got to see the Rio final the next day. That was the second live soccer game I have been to and it was so amazing. I had to stand on my chair throughout the whole game just to see the field. I was always thinking…”what did I do to deserve the luck of getting to Carnival and the football finals”… but there I was in Rio.

Of course I had to go see Christ up on the hill and look down at Rio…. I visited the famous tile steps in St. Theresa Favela and got a real good sunburn on the Ipanema Beach, listening to live Bossa Nova music.

After a week of Rio I took the bus to the Rotaviara (pronounced Ho dough V aria). I took a 3 hour bus trip up to Buzios on the coast. I had reservations at the Buzios Beach Hostel for 3 nites. It turned into 2 weeks and I really did not want to leave. This hostel is run by Stephen from Ireland/Australia and his assistant, Adrian from Ireland. What a great team. There were people from Chile, Argentina, the UK and Austria there, and me the only USA person. The place was right down the street from the Geriba Beach… Now I never go in the ocean, but this place was so nice, and the water was so warm I went in every day.


Buzios, Brazil, the 3 UK girls, the guys and girl from Chile and Adrian and Stephen who ran the hostel

so then i went to Ouro Preto, a college town on hills. Very pleasant place to stop for a few days. This picture was taken from my hostel where i was the only visitor. I forgot just how beautiful this part of Brazil is… look at that church..the mountains. I was in such a hurry I did not always get to appreciate where I was.

Ouro Preto, a college town on hills. Very pleasant place to stop for a few days. This picture was taken from my hostel where i was the only visitor. I forgot just how beautiful this part of Brazil is… look at that church..the mountains. I was in such a hurry I did not always get to appreciate where I was.

then off to Brasilia, the capitol of Brazil. I wanted to see the buildings designed by Oscar Neimeyer, who designed building in Albany, NY. The capitol was not built for tourists but I got to see the government buildings. Then I flew to Belem the place where the Amazon flows into the Atlantic Ocean. I got to buy a ticket for a boatride to Manaus. This was a slow boat where everybody sleeps in a hammock on the top deck. From Manaus we got another boat to the border of Columbia, Peru and Brazil, Then a jet boat to Iquitos, Peru.

There was a group of us..An American girl from Romania, An Irish girl, and a guy from Paris. from Iquitos we took a jet to Pucallpa. After 2 weeks of boat, jet and bus travel we were still in the Amazon. We split up and I went with the Romanian by bus to Huanuco. We finally got to Huaraz. Of all the worst, terrible and dangerous bus rides I took in 60 countries, the bus trips over the Peru mountains was THE WORST. Have you ever seen the videos were the buses fall off the roads and fall down into the valleys? Well we were close but I am still here.

So down to Lima then a 26 hour bus ride to Cusco. A very nice place and a beautiful town square, filled with people who come down from the hills to sell their stuff. We took a bus and a train to Agua Caliente at the foot of Machu Pichu, spent the night and then a day up there. Once in a life time opportunity to see such a beautiful place. Then to Puno, a boat trip to Lake Titicaca, down to Arequipa which is in the middle of several semo-active volcanos.

A side trip to the Colca Canyon to see the Condors….here is a video….

Then a jet trip from Arequipa to Santiago.. nice to see the west coast of Chile from the air. I visited my Chile friends, went over the Andes to Mendoza, enjoyed the Malbec wine, got to see Iguazu Waterfalls, the biggest and the best in the World. Back to Rio and flew home. This trip took 4 months and I got a great taste of South America.

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