Following the lead of one of my favorite newly-discovered blogs, check Juanson World,(his was more a post of observations) I marvel at how fortunate I have been to have had countless number of wonderful experiences in South America over the past five years. Here my Top 5 South American experiences (so far):
Playing semi-pro basketball in Cochabamba, Bolivia for a club team that my father played for when he was my age. This club was founded in 1937 a bit after the end of the Chaco War. The game of basketball in Bolivia is fundamentally different than what I am used to in the United States (no over-the-back, little emphasis on defense). My height at 6-foot-2 already made me one of the tallest players in the league, but the playground mentality of “me-first” frustrated me at times. One benefit was that I could curse at the refs in English and they would be oblivious to my disagreement with their lack of calls, something one couldn’t get away with in the U.S. My friendships with my teammates really made this experience worthwhile, as we would frequently grab some food after practice or I would be invited to their families’ baptisms, weddings and quinces in diverse neighborhoods in the outskirts of Cochabamba.
Discovering Buenos Aires for the first time, when barely five months had gone by after my grandfather passed away. He had always considered Buenos Aires to be his home away from home, spending five years there before the Chaco War, and following his service, he would head there on an almost annual basis, taking full advantage of his lifetime railroad pass. His best friend from Bolivia, who was also in Buenos Aires, decided to make that his permanent home. The grandchildren of this best friend would end up being some of my very good friends and would show me around. Walking through the neighborhoods, sitting in parks and loving the diverse bustle of this grand city were experiences that really made me feel closer to my late grandfather because of our common love for this city.
Taking an overland route from Bolivia to the state of Goias in Brazil where I got to know members of my extended family. There I was treated like a part of their immediate family, as I had only met my aunt prior, who had extended an open invitation for me to visit. My aunt kept me well fed with different kinds of peixe (my one and only true love) and two kinds of feijão at every meal. My cousin took me to eat coxinhas, sit at a car wash making me try every single kind of Brasilian beer in the store (I think Skol was my favorite) and to the local futebol stadium where the samba drummers would beat for 90 minutes straight. However, I bonded most with my four-year old niece, who didn’t know Spanish and I was still struggling with pronunciation of Portuguese, however we managed to communicate.
With only a backpack and a month, I wandered all over Peru on my first-ever extended solo trip. On this journey, I discovered the hidden disadvantages of traveling by one’s self. Prior to the trip, I had a rough idea of the different places I wanted to see, which included Nazca and Arequipa, as well as a second trip to Machu Picchu. Yet, I loved being able to spend one more day at a place, or head to another location where I received a tip from another solo traveler. My mind still can’t grasp of the uniqueness and wonder of the Nazca Lines as we received a bird’s eye view from a small four seat plane which circled the desert for a 20 minute flight.
Spending three days with an Afro-Bolivian family as part of my final project for my Cultural Anthropology course. Miscommunication almost derailed the entire visit, but we decided to go exploring anyway, where our hosts, who thought we were not coming anymore, graciously took us in. We accompanied them during their celebration of Todos Santos (All Saints/Souls Day) in their small 8-family village in the Yungas region. This tropical highlands valley region is known for its winding and narrow dangerous road, as well as the upsurge in coca production. Few think that there are many Bolivians of African descent, however, most of this population estimated at 20,000 live in the Yungas. The family we stayed with were very friendly and willing to share their customs with us. The head of the family was a notorious soccer fanatic, as evidenced at the names he gave his children: Edson, Leonardo and Bebeto (three of the most famous Brasilian football players and Edson is the real name of the greatest ever: Pele).