Years pass by…

After almost a year and a half living in Latin America I thought I would take the time to reflect on this chapter of my life. Although this blog was never meant to be a personal or sentimental account of my time overseas, I can’t help but feel a little nostalgia after so much time abroad. My life has changed in so many ways and as part of that personal journey I have to thank the people of every amazing country I visited since the beginning of 2011. I wanted to make this some kind of summary about what each country has provoked in me and how they have given me something unique that no other place could offer. India: I thank India for opening my eyes to a world far from ordered and to realize beauty in the chaos of humanity. The assault on the senses that I experienced in January 2011 also gave me an appreciation for Indian culture that continues to this day. In a country where adverse poverty is at its most pervasive, I was able to see how people were trying to make a difference in both small and grand ways. I see India as a real test for our future, every problem we choose to ignore in this country will only come back to haunt us in years to come. These include inequality (both economic and social), the need to preserve diverse cultures and the grand question of what is Sustainable Development. India taught me that avoiding such issues can influence how we all live within society, and not just those that are directly affected, not just those that live on the periphery without a voice. We must all question how our actions influence the reality of others. India is a land of colour and chaos. Image Argentina: Mi querida Argentina, a menudo te extraño, pienso en vos con mucha alegría y me dabas la fundación de ser el hispanohablante que ya ahora soy. Argentina was an explosive experience to say the very least. I was offered the first chance to live an extended period outside of an English Speaking country and to learn not only Argentine culture but also that of my fellow foreign friends from all over the Americas and Europe. It was almost a year of pure exploration, going backwards and forwards from Argentina to other countries in the region, opening my mind to what is Latin America and how the diversity of this part of the world feeds my explosively xenophilic appetite. This land of Steak and Malbec, with its Italian and Spanish fusion was the perfect spot on the map to begin the process of going tropo and turning Aussie-Latino. However, it was the friendships that I made during my time living in Buenos Aires, the country’s capital, that offers the brightest spark in my memories. Sharing dinners and drinks from the delight of an Argentine Empanada or Bife de Lomo to the late night antics of a Boliche (nightclub), we had some good times in the Paris of the South. From the big smoke of the Parisian styled city to the Mountains and Ice of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, and out to las sierras of Cordoba, I got to know some amazing faces and places. Argentina is a land of natural spaces and heavy food. Image Brazil: Te amo! Pra sempre. I always say that if I weren’t born in Australia then I would have been Brazilian. There is something about the great diversity of this country that spreads across the Amazon region to one of the most amazing coastlines in the world into cities with as many diverse problems as there are diverse cultures. Every region is like another echo of the history that was written and the new push towards an unknown but promising future in a country as big as a continent. Brazil has a rhythm that other countries just can’t replicate. It’s not just in the music but it flows through the language and gives rise in people’s mannerisms or perception of how to achieve the good life. In the south the rhythm is less obvious, but it again highlights Brazil’s unique racial mix unmatched by any country I’ve ever seen. I say this with the exclusion of Anglo-Saxon nations where the explosion of immigration has created an unrivalled display of multiculturalism. However, the difference is that the perception of one Brazilian culture has been given admiration to all, despite your colour or the origin of your ancestors. For this reason Brazil is unique. Brazil is a land of great rhythm in both water and sunshine. Chile: Chile is a place where an alternative culture has manifested itself to create a country with a differing direction from that of its neighbours. I remember wandering around Valparaiso and being enthralled by how politically apt and counter-cultural the atmosphere of the city was. Chile is a thin country bordered to the north by the world’s driest desert, to the east by the great Andes mountain range and to the west by the expansive Pacific Ocean. These geographic conditions have resulted in a nation that has always looked outward from Latin America and rarely to its neighbours or regional players for inspiration. In saying this, it is also a country that has looked within itself, learning from the past and with a clear forward trajectory. Chile was actually the first country outside of Australia and New Zealand that I had ever travelled to. That was back in 2005 and for that reason Chile will always hold a special place in my memories. I still vividly remember the drive from the airport to downtown Santiago and how captivated I was at my first look of a world different from my own. It is a feeling that only lasts for a while when you are young and haven’t discovered what other cultures or countries are like. It is that sense of eyes wide open and in awe that I still feel in some moments but that is less intense than the first moment I stepped off the plane in 2005. Chile is a land where the alternative has turned mainstream. Image Uruguay: You would be hard pressed to discover another country in the region that is more tranquil, with friendlier locals or with a more humble national spirit. Like all Latin Americans, Uruguayans are immensely proud of their little corner of the world, situated tightly between its mega-neighbours Brazil and Argentina. It is a place where I hitchhiked without waiting longer than a car or two for someone to say jump in. I was always invited to sit and have a chat, discussing politics or just generally how the world works, or the obvious question, why the hell was there an Australian in Uruguay? Uruguay is a small place but I was never disappointed on each of the three trips I made there during 2011. In summer the beaches come alive, filled with people that are searching for a kind of vibe that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. I could say that on most Uruguayan beaches, except Punta del Este, one experiences an organic ambience. Organic is a word used to the point of overkill these days but I truly can’t find another way to describe the relaxed feel of beach cabins without electricity, rustic lighthouses dotted on rocky headlands and the calm demeanour of the people who call this place home. Uruguay is a land where you can take the time to listen. Image Colombia: ¿Cómo les voy a explicar mi amorcito Colombia? Es que yo pasé nada más que 3 semanas por allá y en realidad sólo descubrí el superficie. A pesar de eso, tuve la oportunidad de explorar un país que sufre la mala fama cuando el hecho es que tal fama debería dirigida a los que construían el discurso. A mí Colombia es un lugar hermoso con un pueblo tan agradable que los demás podrían aprender mucho de la hospitalidad de los colombianos para mejorar el mundo entero. Colombia was always a place in my dreams. I don’t know why but I had always maintained a desire to travel there, particularly when I first heard of the history, architecture and culture that flourished in the northern city of Cartagena de las Indias nestled on the Caribbean Sea. I must also say that every Colombian I have had the pleasure of knowing while living in Mexico and Argentina have lived up to their reputation as being warm and caring. Most Colombians would take their shirt off just to make sure you had an extra layer to keep warm. However, it is not only this hospitality that amazed me, the country’s natural beauty is impressive. The mountains and the beaches, sprinkled with beautiful colonial towns and possibly the world’s largest variety of deep fried food 😛 mmmmm…arepa de huevo 😀 Colombia is a land of unbounding hospitality and affection. Australia:   What you say? Australia? What the hell are you doing mentioning the country you come from? After returning to Australia for only 5 days at the beginning of this year I had the opportunity to truly see Sydney with new eyes. Australia is amazing because it’s dynamic, in saying this I refer to Modern Australia and how it relates to our history as a comparatively new country influenced heavily by its British Heritage. What I see in Modern day Australia is a country that has transformed into something quite spectacular. Sydney for instance is like a burst of Asian culture, not to mention the plethora of other cultures on display. It is a society that has changed so rapidly over the last 150 years that if you blinked a vast majority of that change would be missed. While all this has been happening no one really noticed. This is our little secret and one that I have benefited from while travelling, if there is one country that most people in the world know nothing about it would be Australia. We are literally that last thought on people’s minds, a stealth status that I believe has benefited the country. We have our problems, just as any country in the world. Our great change has left racism and the idea of how one considers themselves Australian to the forefront of contemporary debates. We certainly haven’t been able to fully tackle the crisis brought about by the destruction of Aboriginal Cultures starting with the arrival of our first European Ancestors. Yet I feel that we are well equipped to continue the fight for these issues and part of the reason that we are aware of them is that we do talk about it. Unlike many countries we do not entirely ignore that there are such problems, and for that I think being from Australia gave me a good starting point to really question my own place in the world. I am just another man, Australia is just another country and we both know that being the most powerful or influential is not our mission, success is better measured through the quality of what our results produce. Australia is a land that went from backwater to something special with the knowledge that being number one is not everything. The United States of America: To put it bluntly the USA felt like Australia on steroids. However I still felt like I was in a very foreign place. Certainly the streetscape of this land resembles Australia but there is a particular dynamic in how the city manoeuvres itself. I do wonder where we would be if the United States didn’t exist, the people of this nation have created some amazing advances while also producing for themselves some great criticism from the outside world. I think that despite its greatness, like Australia, The United States suffers a bit from English-itis. The idea that the only world that is important to listen to is that of the English-Speakers’, despite the presence of diverse communities within its borders and an undeniable influence over its neighbours and the rest of the world. The difficulty that this country has is that it cannot ignore its own power and how that effects all of us. Without the help of the United States some magical milestones in human history would not have been accomplished when they were. I thought about this when I was in the United Nations Headquarters in New York, looking up at the International Declaration for Human Rights. The USA is a controversial topic because there is no other country that has done so much good and so much bad at the same time. So I guess its time to go back on the aesthetic value of this great nation. The idea that we are all created equal and that we all have the right to a voice and an opinion, offers a little hope that if more Americans look outside their bubble then maybe we can all fulfil our own version of the American Dream. The United States is a land of grandeur and in a moment of self-questioning. Image Mexico: Hola México!!! Que lindo eres. Mexicanos tienen una onda parecida a los Colombianos, en el sentido que son muy respetuosos y muy agradables. Si necesitas ayuda un Mexicano siempre está para apoyarte. Mexico surprised me. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this great country, the layout of the cities, the landscape, and even the people’s attitude did not surprise me. I think it was the intoxicating way that I fell in love with Mexico that was unexpected. All the Mexican clichés are there in our heads, the Sobrero, Los Mariachis, Speedy Gonzalez, the typical Mexican portrayed as a cowboy or housekeeper in American Movies. However as any one who knows me would expect of my opinion, Mexico is so much more than that. There is a real vibrance in how some people approach life despite feeling like they are at the whim of both the United States and their corrupt officials that sit in positions of authority. Mexico made me feel alive in some way, wandering through the markets and Taco stands or being suffocated in the Mexico City Metro. Not every experience was desirable nor were they all horrible by any means. I guess I can see why some Mexicans are frustrated with how certain things in the country are run but what I love is that they also see the value of their diverse and wonderful culture. There are few countries that have so many wonderful places to visit and explore. Yes, Mexico is struggling with certain problems but I have a deep faith that there are enough conscious people, at least those who I met, who want to preserve the great and change the detrimental. Mexico is a land of the ancient and diverse. Image Cuba:   ¿Qué loco es la vida cubana? Cuba, no hay otro pais como tú. Cuba was amazing. It lived up to all of my expectations in the sense of seeing what it was like to be in a country that refuses to give up its revolutionary stance. I have been to one other communist country during my travels, Vietnam. However, Cuba has a different feel to it, one that explodes out of its historical and cultural legacy. The crumbling buildings of La Habana, the taste of a Mojito in the soaring Caribbean heat or the smell of a pure Cuban Cigar all add to the vibe. I learnt that Socialism has its place in our world, something I’ve always felt is true. In comparison to some of the other countries I have travelled to I feel that Socialism in Cuba has ensured that the deprivation of some people has been avoided, people are well educated and have health services for one. However, for those we met there was often a longing for escape. Escape from their social and political situation and not necessarily from their Island paradise. Cuba is a land of time set in stone but on the cusp of change. Image I started writing this entry with a simple idea that exploded in my face the moment I put fingers to keyboard. Summarising each country I have lived or travelled to over the last year and a half is an impossible task. They are all such complex societies, everywhere I’ve been there is good and bad to say about it. Thankfully I can honestly say that I have had mountains of luck by having mostly great experiences that I will remember for a lifetime. A place is not just a physical space but a product of those that inhabit it and the entire history that brought the space to its present formation. People are the real influence over such a location. We come and we go, we live and we die and in every moment we contribute something amazing to the space we inhabit. Thanks to the world for existing 😀

Published by Paul - Brain Injured and Traveller in one.

The World is an amazing place filled with adventure, awe and excitement. As a child I dreamt that I would see every country, every crevice of the globe. And now? Now I continue to fulfil that dream...I would like to share that journey with you in some small part...

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