I recently wrote a profile on a non-profit organization in Buenos Aires which offers a tango dance therapy class for people with Parkinson’s. Check out some of the great work this organization and the instructor are doing in Buenos Aires!
Leaning back to get a wide view shot on her cell phone, Verónica Alegre filmed the afternoon milonga. She smiled—watching several minutes of steps back and forth around the room while her students moved in closer to one another, sometimes cheek to cheek, emulating the famous tango embrace. Her students were swaying to the rhythm, lifting up a foot at the end of a beat, and stepping in coordination underneath the mix of soft blue and red light from the chandelier hanging from the ceiling.
It was a Tuesday afternoon at Fundación Tango Argentino during Alegre’s dance therapy class for people with Parkinson’s disease. They were learning how to dance tango at the unassuming studio between the Palermo and Chacarita neighborhoods in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Around a dozen older men and women attended the class each week. Some arrived alone while other arrived with their spouse, one of their…
After the long road back to Santiago, a day of rest, and another flight to Iquitos, Peru, I arrived in the jungle. Or, a city of almost 400,000 in the middle of the jungle. When I stepped off the plane, it was as if I immediately walked underwater because it was actually. That. Humid.
Most foreigners come here to try Ayahuasca, the powerful and apparently healing drug that’s legal in Peru. Or people come to experience the jungle. To see the animals, the Amazon, and go as deep into it as they can.
And me? I wasn’t really sure why the hell I was here. I chose Iquitos simply because it was only accessible by plane or boat. The road didn’t reach the next biggest city, and it’s surrounded by the Amazon, Nanay, and Itaya rivers. I flew into the city and hopped in a mototaxi (first experience!) to stay in a home on the edge of town with a young family and their six year old daughter.
This photo represents Iquitos for me in a lot of ways. Iquitos is a city that is alive in nearly every way you can imagine that word. Every sense is stimulated. The heat. My sweat. The exhaust from all of the motos. Coming an arms length away on a busy road from another person, one of the public buses, or even, although more rare, a car. The markets, with freshly cooked fish, fruits which only exist in the jungle, and my first experience with bugs for food: grilled larvae.
Digression: Not gross. If we all switched from beef to bugs, we’d have a chance at saving the world.
And despite being a slightly disorganized and messy city, people were always doing something. Construction workers were making progress on every corner, while women waited on the sides of the road during their breaks to sell them refrescos made from fruits of the jungle like camu camu or maracuya. People are running to the open air markets, waiting in lines to outside banks or post offices, jumping onto motos–helmetless and weaving in between traffic.
I’ve never been to a place quite like Iquitos.
I found these knick knacks and fabrics while strolling through Iquitos in a string of shops. Despite the fact I didn’t have the space or the budget to buy anything, I can’t resist wandering through and seeing what unique (and not-unique-but-still-pretty) things I can find. The butterflies and the fabrics were fantastic. Fabrics like these are common across all the places I’ve been in South America, but this particular style and pattern seemed specific to this part of Peru.
I took a boat ride to see the rivers surrounding Iquitos, including the Amazon. I saw several pink freshwater dolphins, but I couldn’t get a photo. Instead, I captured this photo of the guide’s hand pointing at the dolphins in the distance. If I had to guess what happened, I would guess he broke his finger in moto accident.
In the background, you can see two different colors of water where the Amazon and Nanay rivers meet. Below is another photo which shows it more clearly.
The Nanay River on the right side is black in color, while the Amazon River is a light muddy brown. The stark difference is because of the different sediments in the water, as well as the different densities of the water. The confluence is so clear, it surprised me.
I captured this little buddy on camera on Isla de los Monos (Monkey Island),where injured or sick monkeys are rehabilitated and free to integrate back into the jungle. They usually stay near the coast, where there are humans because they know they are guaranteed food. Since they are used to humans, they crawl right up onto your legs and over your shoulders.
There are two Monkey Islands in Iquitos. One which is apparently focused on profit where the monkeys are kept in cages, and this one, which is a rehabilitation site. Considering I did absolutely no research, I got lucky that I ended up at the better one. For me, it still felt a little touristy, but at least these babies seemed healthy and well fed and were not in cages–like in the horror stories I read online.
Piranhas in action as fish food pellets are thrown in a pond full of them.
My only way to leave Iquitos was either plane or boat, and I was set on taking the three night boat journey from Iquitos to Yurimaguas, the port city from where I took a car to Tarapoto and then a bus to my next destination.
Since I was on this boat for three nights, I had long days of reading, writing, napping, and waiting for the next meal. Below these few photos is a journal entry from my first day.
The first evening on the boat on the Marañón River.
Another sunset on the boat. The wooden planks lying on the decks are the ones I wrote about above.
I am on a giant ferry, what’s called la lancha in Spanish.
Beatrice, Zoe, and Gloria (people from the family I stayed with) accompanied me to the port, which was muddy and dull and grey but full of life, overwhelming life, happening in front of me. I didn’t know what the hell was going on. There were people rushing everywhere. Families rushing to get on the boat, men practically sprinting with several kilograms of god knows what on their back to load into the boat, mototaxis and motos streaming in to drop off said people, families, passengers, a handful of gringos, and la gente de Loreto–the people of Loreto, the province I was in.
If you thought Chinatown buses between east coast cities were dynamic, you. Have. No. Idea.
We got onto the boat by walking up a piece of plywood leaning against the back of the boat, which probably wasn’t wider than one foot. Parallels was another set of plywood, where men were running up the unstable piece of wood with… again, only god knows what thrown over their shoulders.
We entered the passenger area and I immediately smiled. Who knows why, though, I think I’m crazy. Here I am about to sleep on this overcrowded boat with hundreds of strangers right next to me on a hammock.
Anyways, the passenger area. Imagine Staten Island Ferry with the inside and outside connected. No way to close yourself off from the breeze of the water. All the benches and places to sit on the inside are gone, except one long bench lining the circumference of the boat. Now, hanging from the ceilings are a couple of hundred hammocks of all colors and heights. Lining the bars which the hammocks hang from are hundreds of orange life vests. On the floor, you can immediately tell at the types of people traveling. There are all of them by the way. From the lone duffle bag or giant traveler backpacks, there’s a traveler maybe. Piles of dozens of bags, duffles, mochilas, those giant plaid looking bags that I saw in West Africa, underneath hammocks. A family seems to literally be moving out of Iquitos–which sounds liked a nightmare, possibly worse than New York City apartment hopping.
I pick an empty looking spot to hang up my hammock. There are three makeshift rows more or less and two of them are full. Across the way, Beatrice points out other gringos traveling. God, they stick out. Do I stick out like that? Maybe I’ll talk to them at some point over the next three days.
I thought my empty spot was a good idea, but actually the empty side just became a walkway for the next hour before the boat left. Throwing my hammock over their heads, people gushed back and forth selling food, toilet paper, Tupperware, water, soda, and anything else people might need for the journey.
I was particularly overwhelmed, but Beatrice and Gloria kept pushing me to buy toilet paper, buy water, buy Tupperware, and so on. I needed to sit and observe for a moment. Set up my hammock, situate my things. Everyone else was doing the same, but they knew what to do and had seen this before.
What would I have done without Martin’s family telling me I need Tupperware to eat the food they provide on board? Or water is expensive and they don’t have much on the boat, as that’s not included with the meals? Or that I needed toilet paper for the bathrooms? I should’ve guessed the latter.
Despite the most terrifying bathrooms and showers I have ever been in, screaming children, one little boy running around with a toy gun screaming POW POW POW POW, strange old men staring at me which I don’t know how to feel about, checking my stuff to see if someone has taken something every five minutes, being nervous to take a nap, and washing my hands with what I believe is brown river water pulled up from below the boat…The sunset was, obviously breathtaking.
Of course this story ends with a sunset. Pinks and purples reflected off the muddy, clay colored river, as ripples from the boat make the river come to life. It looked like a 3D pastel painting in “actual size” form. Plantains stacked in the corner reminded me how far I was from home. A young, pregnant woman with a purple tank top and zebra leggings staring into the sunset reminded me I’m in 2016. My expensive, large Canon camera–stark in contrast to the rest of my surroundings, reminded me that I’m just an observer here.
“First day back in S. America. 24+ hours of traveling. Lost baggage. No rest. No clothes.”
This was the first few lines of my new journal when I arrived back in South America for my solo 6 week journey. Traveling alone was something I needed to do–and wanted to do. But thankfully, I got to spend a wild ten or so days with Emilio and his dad tromping through Chile.
We drove north past Viña del Mar and Valparaíso where Argentinians, Chileans, and gringos alike flock to for the New Year. This was December 30. The beginning of my travels during my break in between two semesters abroad in Buenos Aires. We visited a small island supposedly home to a community of penguins (hence its name Penguins’ Island). Didn’t manage to see any penguins, but while walking over these rocks, out of nowhere a sea lion sprang up out of the cracks from its nap to flop down by the water.
Clearly loving the camera in this moment.
Looking over the bridge into the water where we learned how to river kayak for the first time.
Futaleufú is known for some of the best rapids in the world, which means it’s a great place for rafting and kayaking. We took a lesson on a duckie–which is like the river kayak but your legs aren’t covered. It’s great for beginners like me who are trying to learn how to kayak because with the duckies, you don’t have to learn how to flip upside down underwater for your first go. And, in general, it’s easier to balance and navigate.
After quitting the swim team, I’m drawn to learning all the other water sports I can and beginning to learn river kayaking is just that. The beginning.
The major rapids are on Futaleufú River. We kayaked an offshoot of that with the more tame rapids. We cut through the mountains on the clearest, bluest water in the world.
Despite the clearness, it isn’t as spotless as it used to be 30 years ago. A species of algae called didymo has taken over, covering several parts of the riverbed with a brown, slimy mess. It’s other common name is rock snot–but that’s according to Wikipedia so take with that what you will.
It spread to Argentina and Chile from Australia and New Zealand from fly fishing equipment. Moral of the story: wash and disinfect your outdoor gear to avoid spreading invasive species!
Ventisquero Colgante — the hanging glacier.
You can see where it gets its name, as it literally hangs between two mountains. Beneath, a massive waterfall leads to a lagoon. The hike to get to this viewpoint was only a couple of hours, but it’s possible to get a boat tour from a different viewpoint as well.
Near the trailhead, there was an small museum showing some historical photos of the glacier. I was shocked to find that the photos from the 1940s showed a glacier which rose about the mountains and covered the front crawling all the way through a majority of the lagoon.
We all know glaciers are melting. But seeing this one in real life, being amazed by it, then looking at the photos of a glacier several kilometers larger was like watching climate change happen before you in an instant.
From Puerto Tranquilo, Chile, we took a small boat to these beautiful marble caves on Lago General Carrera. The colors went on and on like this, and you could see straight to the bottom of the lake since the water was so clear.
We were surrounded by these caves, some which dug deeper into the mountains around the lake than others. The dirt road to get to the small town of Puerto Tranquilo was, for me, the bumpiest and toughest part of the dirt road journey.
Views like this make it worth it, though I recommend four wheel drive if you’re going to drive here on your own.
One more shot from the marble caves.
Something I’ve been thinking about recently is the concept of “once in a lifetime opportunities.”
If something is so great as to be once in a lifetime, then why would we ever do it once? Why would we accept that lifetime chance or opportunity as a one time thing, a one time round trip ticket, one shot at something greater.
We claim that this one time was the time of our lives. Why would we not claw our way, push and pull to make “once” plural. Greater than one. Do it again. And again. And again.
In the Chacabuco Valley in southern Chile, hundreds of guanacos graze in the Patagonia Park.
The park is working on becoming an official national park by rebuilding,or perhaps “rewilding,” the valley. Before it was established as a park, sheep and cattle took over the grasslands pushing the guanacos up higher and higher. The conservation group Conservacion Patagonica sold off livestock, took down fences, and restored grasslands and forests to recreate what the valley once was.
This photo shows just a few of the hundreds of guanacos we saw in this growing and changing park. Other animals you can see in the park include pumas, Andean condor, black-necked swan, Chilean flamingo, and more.
A lone guanaco at sunset.
We were driving along this dirt road in between Chile and Argentina for hours. It was where Patagonia Park (where the guanacos roamed) ended and a strange, barren land began.
All that was around were thousands of sheep and occasional herds of cows until we came across a flock of at least 40 condors. It was shocking. I didn’t know they ever fed in groups like that.
The flock was feeding on a small horse, who had clearly been dead for a while. I wondered how it died. When we stopped the car and got out to watch, groups of them flew away.
Luckily, I captured a photo of one in flight just over the distant mountains.
Below is the Mars like land near this border crossing. Or at least this is how I would picture Mars. This dirt road was so dead, empty, and barren, it made me wonder what would happen if our car broke down in the middle of this strange place.
There were scattered streams, like the one in this photo, which sometimes provided an instant oasis for plant growth–an out of place explosion of green.
We crossed the border of Argentina once again (we were crossing back and forth more than I’ve made clear in this set of photos).
This was near the end of the Patagonia roadtrip, but not quite. Our roadtrip from this far down south back to Santiago was a wild ride. More on that in another post.