“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.