It’s a Wrap! 

“Travel is often a Petri dish for both our character defects and our finer qualities.”

My grand adventure is coming to a fast close.  It has been everything I had hoped for and more.  At the moment, I’m in Santiago, Chile.  I’m delighted to meet a (second) cousin who married a Chilean and now lives in Santiago.  I’ve been fortunate enough to stay with them and hear great stories from her side of the LaFountaine family. 


I took Santiago by storm! I think I went to every museum of interest, took several tours, talked to tons of people about politics, the economy, food, culture, environment and natural disasters (Chile is in the “Ring of Fire”).  I took a bus to Vaparaiso and hung out for three days and from there a day trip to Viña Del Mar.  All in all, these last 10 days allowed me to be a “normal” tourist and to reflect on the countries I have traveled through on this trip and how they have “grown-up” over the years.

    
My first trip to Latin America was in 1988.  At that time I travelled overland for nine months.  If you remember back to 1988, that was before email, texting, FB, blogs, and in Latin America, almost before the telephone.  I wrote and received hand written letters sent to “post restant” the main post office of the major cities that I would pass through.  

Back in the day, almost every county in Latin America was under a dictatorship or just coming out of some heinous dirty war.  Ecuador was in a severe economic crisis; In Peru, the Shining Path were in their heyday; in Chile, Pinochet was still in power; in Argentina, the dirty war had been over for five years but the bad guys were still running lose; Uruguay had followed suit; and in Bolivia, the power imbalance between the majority indigenous peoples and the ruling white oligarchy was in full force. 

Today, things are dramatically different.  Democracy is alive and well in the Southern Hemisphere.  Both Argentina and Chile have had, or continue to have, women presidents.  In Chile, Michelle Bachelet is in her second term (2006-2010/2014-Present).  In Argentina, Cristina Kirchner presided from 2007-2015.  In Uruguay, people still put Jose (Pepe) Mújica on a pedastol.  He legalized marijuana, lived in his own house during the presidency, drove his VW Beetle, and donated 90% of his salary to charity.  Evo Morales has been in power in Bolivia since 2006.  He is the first democratically elected indigenous president in the world.  He has given voice to the majority indigenous population, decreased poverty and increased universal education. 

During my first trip to Latin America back in 1988, as a result of all the political turmoil, traveling was hectic.  In Ecuador, the military police barged into my room in the middle of the night looking for rebels.  I was robbed three different times between Ecuador and Bolivia.  There were multiply blackouts and curfews in Peru, and I got caught in a stand-off between the President of Argentina and the military outside the Casa Rosada (equivalent to White House) in Buenos Aires, Argentina.  But, without a doubt, the event that marked that trip more than anything was the fact that I contacted Typhoid fever in Potosi, Bolivia.  Thankfully, over about ten days of agonizing travel, I made it to Buenos Aires where I was eventually hospitalized for close to a month.  Now, on this trip, I revisited the hospital where I was treated.  It is the largest hospital for infectious diseases in Latin America – Hospital Muñiz.  The section I was housed in is now in ruin (it was in ruin when I was there as well; trust me on that one!).  I went to the administrative office  to ask to see the archives to make sure this wasn’t some cruel past life memory.  Low and behold they found my name, date, and room number – unbelievable!


As I mentioned in a previous post, it will take me time to process this whole adventure, but one thing that I’ve learned along the way that seems pertinent now more than ever is the issue of the environment.

 No one here in Argentina, Chile or Bolivia has a doubt that we’re in the midst of an environmental crisis due to our own making.  Everywhere I’ve been, folks from all walks of life can concretely tell you how climate change has effected them and their communities.  There is less snow or snow in the wrong months; it never rains or it rains all the time; winters are colder and summers are hotter; there are more bugs and less plants, and the list goes on.  The feedback is consistent wherever I go.  Not one person denies climate change – not even políticans!  What they can’t agree on is what to do about it…and so they do almost nothing.  But, to their credit, they have all signed onto the Paris agreement! 

I’m heading back to the US, but will continue my blog at least for a couple months.  My goal is to post some of the edited interviews I did along the way and keep you in the loop for new travel plans.  Thanks for following me on this amazing journey; it has given me strength and motivation knowing I had your support.  Hopefully, you were able to “travel” along with me and get a real sense of the magnitud of our beautiful planet and the generous folks who inhabit her space. 
 

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17 thoughts on “It’s a Wrap! 

  1. Don’t know where to begin for saying “Thank You” in being able to follow your travels. Wishing you the best and wherever you land. Looking forward to your thoughts as you process this trip within the context of living back in the States.

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    1. Ron, thanks for following me and engaging in “conversation” during this journey. Even the blog was a new experience for me, so your comments were a source of support. Thank you! And soon, I will hear about your epic upcoming ride across the country. Un abrazo, amigo.

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  2. Thanks for the update, can’t believe you are at the end. Good to read a bit about their thoughts on the environment and climate change. I would love to hear more on how they see the State’s piece in all of this and us pulling out of Paris accords and what are they looking into for their own carbon reductions. Is solar and wind energy being pushed down there? Are they getting electric cars are they moving away from personal car ownership and pushing mass transit?

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    1. Linda, as always, thanks for asking all the good questions! If it makes you feel any better, I have the entire southern cone asking, “What would Linda do?” I swear I should start a column with this title. They are making advances in fits and starts. Good intentions often go south quickly. For example, on the eastern coast of Argentina, in the Pampas where there is tons of wind, they put about 20 wind turbines which coast the “state” tons of money. We drove up to see them and they were idle. It turns out that they paid for them and installed them, but they didn’t have a budget to maintain them and they couldn’t agree on anything, so after about 3 months they just pulled the plug and there they sit like some old relics of the past!! And, that is the current reality of alternative energy in Latin America.

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  3. Wow Denise, you are such an amazing, Brace, intelligent, caring, strong and beautiful woman and your life is inspiring to me and I’m sure many more!

    I’m looking forward to hearing more about your trip! I think someone should write a book about you and all of your many, many adventures…autobiography? I would be the first in line to buy a copy!

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  4. Amazing adventure! Thank you for sharing your experiences with the armchair tourists back home! It is incredible to me that the US is being led by people who are in complete denial about climate change, but heartening to hear that those in the Southern Hemisphere are at least on board that something needs to be done. Hopefully the power of the people will work its magic and world leaders will begin to take serious steps to save us all! Can’t wait to see you back in the Emerald City! Safe journey home xx

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    1. The truth is that Latin America, or at least the southern cone, is making an effort towards sustainability and many people do understand the dire straights we are in, but politicians lack the education and motivation to get everyone on board. Grassroots movements have strung up but are limited in scope. It’s discouraging that the US, who touts itself as a world leader, and to whom many nations take their lead, have dropped the ball on this one.

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  5. Yey you did it !!! Bravooo!!! I’m looking forward to heard what this journey has taught you about yourself. un abrazo enorme mi Amiga!!

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  6. Denise,

    No one ever talks about ‘the after” of an adventure.

    Hope you have resurfaced after the high of competing your journey and channeled that energy into the the mundane life of “the after.”

    Fellow Latin Americanists and solo long-distance cyclists,

    Richard

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    1. Richard, thank you for nudging me with this comment. I’ve been wanting to write a follow-up post to the big ride since I’ve been back but have for some reason been sort of “paralyzed.” You’ve motivated me to actually do this. Stay tuned! Would love to hear/read/know more about your adventures also!

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