…I thought, as the one-way turnstyle clicked shut behind me as I finished crossing a dry river into a land full of Spanish, siestas, 3 course lunches, salsa music and Tequila.
As I crossed the border into Ciudad Juarez I was immediately surrounded by poor kids pulling my shorts trying to sell things, and shady characters dwelling in the shadows near rows and rows of Pharmacies.
I couldn’t believe how fast everything turned to Spanish. But I did in fact find my way along the cracked streets to the bus station, and by that night I was drinking Tequila with my Mexican friend on his father’s hacienda listening to, of course, Mariachis.
It was my first day in Latin America. Mexico to be exact.
The first day of an 8 month trip from the border of the US all the way down to Argentina, by land. And I was already hooked. I loved it, maybe because it met my basic requirements, it was something different and more interesting than the bland, largely Italian-American suburb of Cleveland, Ohio where I grew up. (Not hard to meet that requirement!)
One big benefit of moving to Ecuador a lot of folks don’t realize is they’re moving to the center of a brand new, very different continent. Heck, there are still places in South America that no anglo-saxon has yet to discover!
Here are 7 cool things I bet you didn’t know you could do in South America, which also make great side trips once you’re living in Ecuador. Boy it was tough to choose but here’s 7 of my favs…
7. Venture the infamous Darien Gap by land, on small boats, starting from where the PanAmerican Highway ends near Turbo, Colombia and working your way north… visiting one of the most pristine, breathtaking, secluded beaches in the Americas: Capurgana- Sapsurro, on the Colombia-Panama border. Truly the road less traveled.
6. By day, climb the enormous rock of El Peñol, or paraglide in San Felix, or raft the Rio Coca, and by night enjoy stuffed Arepas on the street while you sit and chat with friendly, curious locals stricken at the odd sight of a foreigner until one of them, probably named Lina, invites you to dance Salsa with her in Medellin Colombia.
5. Coax your way onto a Tuna or Oyster fishing boat in Northern Peru in one of the small towns like Mancora, Chiclayo or Trujillo. Striking up a simple conversation with a local fishermen will often lead to an invitation. Or you could surf the long, lazy, world-class lefts this area is known for.
4. Marvel from atop a small prop-plane at the Nazca Lines, in Southern Peru, which are unexplainable designs in the earth surface made thousands of years ago only noticable from the air. A good stop for most on their way to the majestic Machu Picchu.
3. Meander the crazy streets of La Paz, Bolivia, a city which doubles as one-gigantic-street-market. The whole place is just loaded with stall after stall of local entrepreneurs selling their wares. By day, you could hire a guided bike tour of the world’s most dangerous road, an all-day-long-decent along cliff-hanging roads from frozen tundra until hot jungle. A real white knuckler. Or for folks who prefer nature, try taking a jeep tour of the nearby world-famous salt flats, Salar de Uyuni. Either way, prepare to be amazed at the uniqueness of Bolivia.
2. Practice your Portuguese, see pink river dolphins, pirañas and enjoy virgin rainforest on a several day trip aboard a river boat taking you down the Amazon river from Manaus to the colorful northern coast of Brazil.
1. Enjoy the extreme fury and hold-your-breathe excitement of a Boca-River soccer match by day and by night wine and dine in front of a Tango show as you devour a juicy T-bone and savor some “vino tinto” in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Or if big cities aren’t for you, you could always go hike glaciers or snow ski in Patagonia, near Mendoza on the other side of the slender country.
This is just the beginning of this beautiful continent, so stop saving or waiting and make the leap today!
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