"Why then, and this is not only my particular case - does this barren land possess my mind? I find it hard to explain... But it might partly be because it enhances the horizons of imagination."
Bienvenidos a Chile
Towering in the Imagination
Tierra del Fuego
We knew practically nothing about Uruguay before getting to Buenos Aires and starting to plan our itinerary in detail. Punta del Este sounded like a suitably hedonistic place to spend a week on the beach early in the trip, to decompress and disguise the gringo pallor we brought with us from London.
This charming, friendly, neat little country had the most beautiful beaches, prairie reminiscent of wilder stretches of Patagonia, cobblestone streets like you might encounter in Lisbon, and one of the top five meals of the trip.
Off Grid in Uruguay
909km in Uruguay
3. ESCUELA VIESULAS
We saw many startling and memorable things on our trip. There are colours, images and tastes that will stay with us. But one of the dearest recollections for me will be home schooling, away from home. Lessons required a degree of preparation and inventiveness. Rigorousness and regularity perhaps waned as the weeks went by, but goodness we had rich materials to draw on.
My favourite of all were the installations at Tierra Patagonia, which were the perfect counterpoint to the finds in the surrounding landscape, and anticipated the museum and aquarium visits we made later on the trip. The best lessons were the ones where we were all deepening our knowledge together: the voyages of Darwin's Beagle, the straits of Magellan, the bus routes around Buenos Aires, glacial landscapes, the ritual and political significance of gold. Teaching has got to be the noblest profession. Respect.
Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
Darwin in Patagonia
Happy Valentines Days
Salta: Soldiers, Saints & Sacrifice
School at Dume Point
School of Arts & Sciences
4. ROCK & ROLL
Before we embarked on travels, I was fixated on the idea that over three months of downtime, I would want to spend a week each on three of my favourite sporting pursuits - snowboarding, rock climbing, and surfing. I have a lot of work to do on my technique with all three. Three weeks proved an ambitious target with three ladies in the retinue. Not to mention the constant tug of fine food, fine wine and idle sun worship. But I was thrilled to dive into the deepest Alpine powder I've experienced to date, to climb Chilean rock and to surf both Atlantic and Pacific waves. And what a thrill to have friends and family for company along the way.
Easy Like Sunday Morning
Jose Ignacio Surf
Lima, Surf City
5. ON HORSEBACK
A completely different perspective to travelling overland by foot, bike, car, train. What a marvellous creature the horse is. I'm still to read that account of mankind's intertwined history with this remarkable animal.
Estancia at the End of the Road
6. ANDES CROSSING
Patagonia was empty. Ravishingly empty, windswept and changeable. Crossing the Andes from San Pedro de Atacama in Chile over into Salta Argentina was also ravishingly empty. Although whereas Patagonia the landscape seemed to move and shift around you with the elements, all crashing glaciers and supernatural winds, the Andes looked eternally still. And the register of colours was altogether something else. Patagonia has the biggest mass of ice outside the poles. We encountered thunderstorms, but the stretch of Andes we traversed borders the driest deserts on the planet.
Crossing the Andes, Again
7. INCA GOLD
It was a revelation to learn about the civilization of the Incas, to visit their university in the sky, Macchu Picchu, and to marvel at the golden treasures that for them had such symbolic and ritual power.
Time is On My Side
Museo Larco: Golden Years
Stairway to Heaven
8. RIO, CITY of MANY DIMENSIONS
Rio is such a city of superlatives that there's little to say that hasn't been said. It was hallucinatory to hop into a helicopter with Iris to circle Christ at eye-level and see the little paradise on Earth at his feet from way on high. A heady experience which will remain vividly remembered.
Mens Sana in Corpore Sano
Riot in Rio
9. COMIDA: FOOD & WINE
The food stands out like a landmark, a very real feature of the landscape of experiences from our trip. I can barely remember a bad meal. In all of South America. That goes for street food as much as the culinary beacons in Lima and elsewhere. Most memorable South American meals? For me it has to be Garzon, Uruguay; Estancia Nibepo Aike, Argentina; Cebicheria El Boliche, Cartagena, Colombia; La Gloria, Lima, Peru; Finca Valentina, Salta, Argentina. Oh, and the seaweed fritters on the beach in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay.
Dining, Driving & Decompressing in Lima
Perfect Day in the Pampas
This will seem like cheating. But you realize what a blessed place this bankrupt state is, and in travelling there as the coda to our South American trip I was able to appreciate for the first time the geological continuity all along the Pacific coast, the way the Andes and the Rockies are all part of the same spine that links these two continents, so different, so alike, to form the Americas.
Landscapes far South of the Equator reminded me of previous trips around the American West - Arizona, Utah, Nevada. Is California the realized promise of the Mediterranean richness of these coastal stretches?
Goin' to California
LA on Two Wheels
Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair
Often on our trip I confronted the LatAm conundrum: how could the Southern continent in this pair of blessed lands have gone so often so astray in the modern world? To coincide with our return to London, Argentina announces the expropriation of Repsol in YPF. We're back in the pages of Joseph Conrad's Nostromo. Our return also coincides with the publication of a book that puts it down to the Spanish-American War, which led a group of intellectuals and charismatic politicians to anti-Americanism. The resulting deep antipathy to free markets led to a century of relative economic decline. Perhaps. But we saw enough on our trip to be wholeheartedly optimistic about the dynamism, warmth and natural wealth of places like Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Colombia.
In two months, it was barely possible to do justice to any single one of them, much less the seven South American countries that we visited.
So consider this journey a reconnaissance trip. We now know where we would like to return, to learn more and to linger.