Monday, March 27, 2006

South America Again

Casual readers of this blog might wonder why it's called "South America Bidsta". Ok, so actually it's a bit of a dumb name and I should probably change it at some stage.

"Bidsta" is me; one of those blokey monikers your friends give you. Originally I called the blog "Bidsta Blog": back in 2003 I was still among the first few million early adopters of blogging, so it still seemed like a less than completely lame idea to put "blog" in the title.

Then, when I was in South America (where I spent a year from April 2004 - April 2005), I decided to add Google's Adsense code to my site, in the hope that I'd get a few visitors who'd click on the ads and make me a few cents from my blogging (yes, I should have known better...). It then ocurred to me that if I added "South America" to the title of the blog, Google's robots would figure that my posts were mostly about SOUTH AMERICA and post appropriate ads - probably about travel to said continent.

People who visited my site would then be so intrigued by my fascinating tales of life in Peru and elsewhere, they'd probably want to think about going there. Aha! - they'd look to the top of the page to find a travel agency offering adventure tours. Click! And I make nineteen cents US.

A nice, naiive theory, spoiled by the fact that Google seems to have made a big experiment out of how it applies ads to people's pages (my posts on South America now have ads for travel there - many months after anyone might have read them). In addition, about 1 percent of people visiting a website tend to click on the ads, no matter how relevant they might be. And finally, at that stage I hadn't figured out how to publicise the blog to anyone but my friends and family (most of whom had forgotten who I was by late 2004), and had got a bit sporadic with my posts amidst my commitments to romance and adventure amidst the towering Andes etc etc.

With the results that my insightful updates on Peruvian politics and dashing tales of trekking im the wilderness were read by a total of about three people. Which kind of cut down the percentages at ad-click time.

Now, I've been back for about a year and have posted (ranted, perhaps) on all kinds of things, with a recent trend towards complaining about getting woken up in the morning. Though my AdSense clicks are a lost cause, my average traffic has gradually climbed, thanks to my links into Technorati, a handful of regular readers, and oh, all of about three people who have been so kind as to exchange links with me. I should be refining my position as a boutique pundit on New Zealand affairs.

But, at this pivotal moment, it turns out that I'm actually going to South America again. Yes, on the 18th of April I fly out from Auckland, bound for Lima.

This will be quite a different trip from last time. Then, I spent a year with the general goal of meeting people, making friends, learning something about the culture and history , and ticking off as many tourist highlights as possible.

It worked out pretty well. Like many before me, I was enchanted by the beauty and joie de vivre of the city of Arequipa in southern Peru, which I ended up making by base and my home for about six months.

I walked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and did the Death Road and Salar de Uyuni in Boliva. I climbed 6,000-metre mountains and trekked though the remote back country of the Andes. I went rafting and horse riding in Argentina, visited the coffee-growing centre of Colombia, and explored the ruins of the Lambayeque, Moche, Chimu, Wari and Nazca cultures on Peru's desert coast. I compared the nightime carrete, juerga and rumba in Santiago, Lima, Cali, Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro. I met the taciturn natives of Lake Titicaca and the staggeringly beautiful girls of Cordoba.

At all times I stuck strictly to the moutains, deserts, canyons, coasts and cities. Although if you look at a map of South America you will see an enormous green swathe which takes up almost a third of the continent's land mass, I did not once set foot in the Amazon. In my total of eighteen months spent in Latin America I've never yet been into the jungle. I admit, I'm a little squeamish about it.

But this time I'm biting the bullet. After a week to ten days catching up with friends in Arequipa, I intend to head back to Lima and then make the arduous and mildly dangerous trip across the Andes and into the lowlands, all the way to the frontier town of Pucallpa, which is the end of the road.

From there, it's by boat, four days down river to Iquitos, a city of 500,000 people - the world's largest with no road connection. This, I understand, is a trip you probably want to do once; most people who can afford it take the plane. Hot, dirty, crowded, terrible food, surrounded by beggars and thieves, I'll almost certainly suffer, and will probably regret ever deciding to do it.

Jungle tours can be arranged from Iquitos (and I understand it has quite a nightlife), but you're still not fully in the virgin Amazon. So I plan to take another boat even further downriver, to Leticia. This is small town, actually in Colombia, but right at the point where the borders of Colombia, Peru and Brazil meet. If you were really motivated to do so, this is probably a spot you could disappear and erase your identity.

Leticia is a backwater with almost mythical status; a kind of lost Macondo in the steaming jungle. I've read a bit about the area, and am eager to see it for real.

From Leticia there really is no way back unless you want to spend a week plugging upriver. So, assuming I've got that far and haven't been struck down by malaria, I'll grab a spot on a local plane into Bogota. What Garcia Marquez derided as a grey and serious city should be very welcome after my sojourn in the insect-ridden Amazon. From there I fly out to Santiago (ci-vi-li-zacion! as the bus driver called out when we crossed the Bolivian frontier into Chile on my last trip) for three days, then finally back to Enzed.

There's a lot I want to achieve on this trip. Just for a start, to properly record some of the many colorful, larger-than-life stories my friends and acquantainces from Arequipa tell so eloquently. And to finally get hold of a decent selection of CDs of the huaynos, chicha and tecno-cumbia that, for me, makes Peru Mexico's rival in richness of musical culture and its superior in originality.

In addition, I want to push my comfort boundaries a bit and dig a bit deeper into learning about people's lives. Last time I thought I figured out quite a lot about what makes Peru tick, but I didn't really scratch too far beneath the surface. This time I will be attempting to tear myself away from another round of pisco sours and flirting with the cute girls dancing merengue, and do some of the possibly difficult, tiresome and unpleasant work of understanding the place better

It's the Peruvian elections on the 9th of April, and what will almost certainly be a second round of the presidential vote in May when I'm there. This will be a fairly pivotal moment, not only for Peru, but for helping define the overall direction of South America and its political future for the next five to ten years.

I'll try and post on that while I'm there, as well as providing regular updates on my trip into the jungle (and apologies if I'm making it sound like Heart of Darkness). In the meantime, in the next few weeks expect a couple of (possibly rather serious) posts on South America, and in particular that strange bundle of contradictions and absurdities which is Peru and its political life.

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Anonymous said...

Bon Voyage Simon.

While your trip will give you the opportunity to get in touch with the "real" side of these places, I hope you do not have so many trials and tribulations that you could fill a novel.

And do come back so we can all learn (and maybe debate) some more of your insights.



Susan said...

Please try to strike a balance between the arduous and the truly perilous and life threatening so that you really do come back to continue writing your blog and sharing your thoughts and insights.