Landing in a new continent may be exhilarating but also confusing. Where to start? Where to go? South America is large and underdeveloped; meaning that exploring it takes time, patience and pain. Culturally it can be divided in two main parts: Spanish and Portuguese speaking areas. The Spanish speaking part is also a dichotomy divided between the Andes Mountains and the lowlands by the Atlantic Ocean. Most of us can dedicate only a limited amount of time to an exploratory trip; one month is about right for such an adventure. How to organize it so that a significant part of the attractions is visited without transforming the trip into an endless stay at boring terminuses? This journal presents a feasible proposal.
As I did in the past for Southeast Asia, this proposal draws a circle, though it has two detours to special locations. It explores the Spanish speaking central southern South America, crossing it from east to west. Despite its simplicity, the plan offers a surprising richness of sights and cultures.
Being circular, this trip can begin in a variety of locations, yet I chose Buenos Aires since it is the main city in the area. Moreover, I was forced to attach this journal to a country (in the past it was possible to attach journals to continents) and Argentina is the main country explored in this proposal, making Buenos Aires the natural starting point.
Weather is an important consideration while traveling. The fact solar seasons in South America are inverted with respect to where most of humanity lives is of importance to the traveler, but not overwhelmingly so. As explained in Seasons, weather depends also on other factors, as altitude and closeness to the equator line, Crossing the continent means meeting a variety of climates so that during most of the year the traveler would meet a varied mix. Except for two extremes points in the trip – the Chaco and the Andes – most travelers would experience no difficulties in adapting to the weather.
Ezeiza – Buenos Aires international airport – would be the first stop of travelers along this trip. Unluckily, that means delays due to its very old infrastructure. Last time I was there it took me a couple of hours to pass through the immigration, despite the stamping itself being fast and efficient. Long lines and few booths create an almost impenetrable bottleneck; the best approach would be to schedule for a flight arriving off-hours, when there are fewer arrivals.
Once in Argentinean land, travelers arriving during the summer (December to February!!!) would probably be happy to take a rest from the flight by the beach. This is the time to do the first detour (can it be a detour before the formal trip even began?), to Uruguay, which is almost one endless beach. The same taxis reaching downtown from Ezeiza, can drop you by the nearby Buquebus dock, from where fast boats cross the river to Colonia and Montevideo, both in Uruguay.
Colonia del Sacramento is closer to Argentina, just next to the encounter of the Uruguay River with the Plate River; it is a colonial city with a mixed heritage: it was founded by the Portuguese but it was conquered later by the Spaniards; its hybrid styled streets tell the whole story. Montevideo, the capital, reached its peak about a century ago, and that can be appreciated in its leading architecture style; the main buildings from that period are wonderfully kept and walking around the town center is a feast to the eyes. Beyond that the city offers fourteen kilometers of good beaches alongside the Plate River; here the river is so wide that the Argentinean shore cannot be seen. Punta del Este is the place were the Plate River meets the Atlantic Ocean: you can walk between hot, sweet water beaches and cold, salty water ones; this resort is by far more expensive than Montevideo.
Eventually, the beach party would end and the eager traveler would be back in Buenos Aires. I dedicated four journals to this city (Frozen Tango, Buenos Aires without Steaks, More Buenos Aires and Buenos Aires B’s) thus I won’t make an extensive description of this interesting city here.
Buenos Aires is where tango street dancers compete with loud music for the travelers’ attention; short skirts and high heels represent the hopes for a better tip and nearby barbeque joints add an additional local touch. Its main highlights are:
Lavalle and Florida Walking Streets: these two perpendicular streets host much of the cultural activity in downtown: the main cinemas, restaurants and souvenirs' shops are concentrated in this small area.
Avenida Corrientes: Along the local Broadway, you will find the main theatres. Shakespeare, musicals and post-modernist plays are available all along the year.
Colon Theatre: placed along the widest city avenue, this is an impressive structure offering guided tours to its grand interior daily between 11am and 3pm.
Caminito: An old port quarter, this street has been transformed into a colorful museum in the heart of the Boca quarter.
San Telmo Flea Market: the main tourist quarter has its own flea market, in Sunday's morning free tango shows can be appreciated among the stalls.
Danish Church: in San Telmo's heart there is a beautiful Lutheran Church constructed in 1931 with North-European blueprints.
La Recoleta: the most exclusive cemetery in town resembles a ghosts' city with sometime macabre memorials.
Buenos Aires Downtown: the commercial centre resembles Shanghai's Bund; a truly European quarter in a foreign continent.
Boca Juniors and River Plate Stadiums: Soccer fans are here in their own celestial dilemma; which stadium should they visit first?
Probably millions of words have been written about the weird attraction of humans to phallic symbols. We would never know the reason of that for sure, but a consolation is offered in the pervert dimensions of that symbol in certain places, like the Obelisco in Buenos Aires, which at 63m is high enough to allow parachuting from its top.
What are all these when a whole new continent awaits the traveler? It’s time to venture northwards and inland, to the steamy tropics.