Travel Thursday Revisited: Very South America 2006

A roundup of some of the places I stepped on during this longer-than-expected trip. That was back in the days of film/not digital for me, so you can imagine how much extra equipment I had to lug around, especially in the Peruvian Andes. . .

Have you ever been amazed by the roar of a waterfall, just one? Imagine being surrounded by a horseshoe of them! This is Iguazu, in southern Brazil, famously shot in a few movies, including a Bond and an Oscar winner. Even with the hotel window closed, you can still hear the thunder.
And then you hear the loud squawk of a bird on your balcony. How loud does he have to screech to be heard over the waterfalls? Very distracting.
And it was a toucan, and who can see a toucan without wanting some Froot Loops? Not me. Unfortunately, the hotel was out of them. Well, at least they were smart enough to know what a Froot Loop was and usually have them around, but I know by the time I get back to Buenos Aires I’ll have gotten over the urge.
Damn, I can’t believe how humid it is here. I’m usta cold waterfalls. . .

Buenos Aires
Flying into Buenos Aires you’re stunned at how big the city is; it makes you think you’re in El Ay, it’s so spread out. The big difference is the two hugely wide streets, probably just as wide as the Champs-Elysees, or Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City. Anyone care to guess the name of the more important street? Avenue July Ninth! Why is this important? My birthday, of course. Claiming you didn’t know is no longer a valid excuse. And no clothes, even UCLA t-shirts! I already have a UCLA umbrella too.
After the tango show the dancers got people from the audience to try to teach them some moves. So of course one of the women, the prettiest I’m sure, came to my table and tried to persuade me to join in, and wouldn’t believe me when I told her I already knew how to dance tango, but I’m on the injured reserve list for life. Finally I stood up and did some arm movements while standing still to prove I knew the stuff. She smiled, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and waved bye-bye as she went looking for another target. And it wasn’t till I got back to the hotel that the desk clerk laughingly told me I had a huge lip mark on my cheek. . .
I hate that. . .
Oh, and a shoemaker/dancer tried to buy my boots because he loved them so much and wanted to make some just like it. That’s one thing I never expected to happen to me. . .
I actually spent only one day touring Buenos Aires, since it doesn’t have all that much going for it as far as tourist attractions, tango bars notwithstanding. It’s a place to BE more than to see. Well, there’s the obelisk, but once you’ve seen one Washington Monument you’ve seen them all. The second day I spent shooting models, some of which were tango dancers, though I couldn’t picture them with all that heavy makeup and attitude.
Before I left on this trip I was asked if I was going to Patagonia, which seems to have some sort of quasi-religious sentiment attached to the name. Nope, the company I’m shooting for doesn’t go there, and been there/done that. Although it would have been cool to revisit a certain tiny town. . .
Peaked your interest? Well, here’s the story:
Way back when I was in the Marine Corps, we parachuted at night after a 12-hour flight, not being told where the hell we were. In fact, the point was to figure out where in the world we were in as quick a time as possible, without being spotted by the locals. I was the intel guy, so it was my job to find out. I quickly figured out we were in the Southern Hemisphere, whereupon the team leader says, “That’s a big help!” all sarcastic-like. My reply was, “Hey, I just eliminated half the world!” Actually more, since that half of the world is more water than land, but why quibble. From there I found a small town and creeped up to the school–luckily it was the weekend–and saw a map through the window and figured out where we were and called it in. Record time, too.
From there we were picked up and sent to jungle training in the Amazon, of which the less said the better. Can’t use a rifle or knife on creepy-crawlies. . . well, some of them were big enough to use a knife on, but too fast. And I didn’t care if I flunked the course, there’s no way I was eating ’em!

Because of the time difference, I was having dinner in Santiago as I watched UCLA win their first basketball game of the tourney. Who woulda thunk there’d be a sports bar in Chile? Of course all the big screens were showing soccer, but I managed to grab a little table in the corner and persuaded a waitress to change one of the TVs to the game; I do seem to have awesome charm when it comes to non-romantic matters. Luckily I didn’t look at all out of place, considering everyone was screaming at the soccer games, except for the timing, so I was screaming alone, until a couple of Americans came in. Not UCLA fans, but I’m sure they were hoping I would buy them a beer if they cheered.(almost rhymed).
Didn’t have to go to Antarctica to freeze my giblets off, even if it’s summer here in the Lake District. (according to spell check, that’s how you spell giblets; I thought it would be a J. Actually, didn’t know I had giblets, but live and learn.) It’s really frustrating being out at ten at night with a full sun while wearing half a dozen layers. . . and having to take off the gloves to take photos. . . on a camera that hates cold. . . especially when you were in 70 degree sun the day before.
Schnitzel and Strudel in Frutillar, for that brief taste of old Germany, on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days. For a longer taste, or better yet a taste of Austria, I stayed at the Hotel Salzburg. And fresh juicy grapes the size of cockroaches on steroids: mmmmm. . .
Just for the heck of it, on my way back from the Lake District to Santiago, I spent the night in a town called Los Angeles; pretty much had to, right? The next morning some Germans–real ones, from the old country–and Czechs tried to cajole me into going white-water rafting with them. Me, who’s deadly afraid of water, possibly even more than heights! I figured I’d go along with the free ride and then chicken out at the last moment so I could take photos, but as it turned out their rental truck wouldn’t start and I didn’t have to go through any theatrics to stay dry.

Easter Island
Except for the statues, the less said about this place the better. Even the statues got old to this archaeology enthusiast after a day. Checkmark it on the “been there/done that” list. . . hope that didn’t come across as bitter, just disappointed.

Got back to my favorite South American city {Santiago} with two days to walkabout before catching a couple of tiny flights up to Lake Titicaca. Go ahead, laugh at the name, you know you wanna.
Not much I can tell ya about it. It’s a huge lake, and it’s really cold because it’s way up in the mountains. A couple of real islands, a few fake ones, and some very touristy cultural awareness. Oh well, it was a nice rest.
What rest? Did you hear my scream at 12:30 in the morning local time, 9:30 Pacific? The only TV in the hotel with cable was the one in the lobby, and the desk clerk was looking at me like I was crazy as UCLA played like shit and still beat Gonzaga at the end. That was exhausting! And yes, I know UCLA didn’t deserve it, but that’s why you play the full 40. . .

Someone at the home office in Seattle was smart enough to have a small plane ready for me in Puno, which is the town on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, to take me to Arequipa, but I convinced him to make a detour. First we circled the lake a few times–well, not really, we didn’t go into Bolivian airspace, but you know what I mean–so I could get some shots, then we headed for the coast so I could shoot the Nasca lines, then finally when we were almost there we flew over Colca Canyon. If the Peruvian Air Force asks you about unscheduled flight plans, we were having lunch together that day, right? (hummed to Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s Empty Alibi.)
In the town of Arequipa I stayed in a hotel called La Casa de Mi Abuela, which translates to “my grandmother’s house.” It was a cool place to crash, with bungalows and gardens and such, but I just had to mention it for the name. There was also a restaurant called Zig Zag–yes, in English, or whatever language that comes from–that served stone-grilled ostrich burgers. Make up your own joke.
In the Colca Canyon, I had another chance to go white watering, but this time found it much easier to say no, and that was before they told me they were rated VI (I hope the higher the number, the more difficult, otherwise I passed up the equivalent of a ride on a bathtub). I climbed a volcano instead. (Ha, sounds so easy when you write it. . .) From up there, better than from the plane, it was easy to see why this canyon is twice as deep as the Grand one in Arizona.
If you’ve ever seen a condor, California style, you know how huge those puppies are. The ones down here are even huger, if that’s a real word (according to spell check it is). Wingspans 10 feet long–that’s longer than some basketball players. So big they can’t just flap and start flying, but need a running start off a cliff; imagine doing that for the first time. They circle around below you and then, suddenly it seems, they’re above you. Ever been in one of those aquarium tunnels, where you see sharks swimming above you? That’s how it felt, only more so, because you weren’t protected by glass and one of the young birds might mistake you for lunch. Got some cool pictures, at least.
Was that UCLA-Memphis game not the ugliest ever? And that’s saying a lot, considering the past two. At least I won’t have to worry about finding cable TV for a few days. . .
Even though I’d been to Machu Picchu before, this time I not only spent a whole day going through the ruins, but also other sites in the valley, as well as having the time to actually speak with locals and make fast enough friends for them to take me to places the tourists never see.
These four days were, and it is rare for me to use this word, spiritual, even magical. It was truly amazing how many tourists I came across who were tearful, some because they finally got here, but mostly because it’s just so fucking beautiful. . .
One of the highlights–at least for this non-morning person–was getting up at five to join the workers at Machu Picchu on the trek up the mountain so I could shoot the dawn. And just for fun, I played Shannon Hurley’s Sunrise as I shot, followed by Lovers Electric’s Morning Sun. It really helps when an old UCLA buddy is now the regional director for archaeology and can do whatever the hell he wants despite any posted rules, and bring his friend along. {Hopefully you already read that story, called “Puttin’ the Machu in Picchu!” It features a German/Swedish blonde model, so. . . yeah.}
Turns out I inadvertently got one of the local guides in trouble. When I sign up for one of these trips, I’m given a list of things they want me to shoot. Usually it’s a short list, and I can improvise and add to it, as long as I get a usable shot of what they want. So it turns out one of the sites they wanted me to shoot is no longer open to the public, only their local guide “neglected” to tell them this; afraid of getting paid less, I guess. But if he was dumb enough to think no one would notice once they arrived, well, who am I to deprive him of reaping from his stupidity . . .

So. . .
According to my handy dandy pedometer, the best gift evah–although you have to consider I usually gets clothes as gifts, but still–I walked over 100 miles on this trip. No Fffffin’ way! When my feet and shins heard this news, they decided they should feel sore, even if they didn’t before. (did that rhyme?)


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