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South America

I seem to have started a theme about experiences in other countries – and as I am freshly back from a holiday in South America, I thought I would continue the theme.  Robyn and I teamed up with a group of mainly Toowoomba-ites, and marshalled by our common travel agent (Wendy), headed off to South America just after Easter.  We had not been there before and it was all a bit of a mystery to me.

We started in Argentina – Buenos Aeries.  I found a country that seemed very much like a version of Australia – just with the Spanish background rather than the British influence in Australia.  In both countries the original inhabitants were forced out to the more inhospitable areas – and you are left with quite a transplanted culture in the cities and agricultural parts.   Flying over the agricultural land was just like flying over NSW and SW Queensland.  Even our visit to a local tourist ranch reminded me of the early Australian era as well (well, except for the more colourful clothes and dances!).  A highlight was the large cemetery where Eva Peron was buried!  More like a city than our traditional Oz plots.

Next was Iguazu Falls.  Anyone who has watched the movie “The Mission” has seen the magnificence of these falls!  And you needed to go to both the Argentinean and the Brazilian side to truly appreciate all of the aspects.  The highlight for me was coming face to face with a troop of monkeys – always good to say hello to the rellies!

Then onto Brazil – or at least Rio.  What an incredible city!  It even made Sydney with its great harbor look a little small.  Standing at the feet of Jesus (the big stature on the hill) you could see the whole city and its bay and islands in their magnificence.  Much was built on the backs of slaves – who brought and sustained a rich culture with them despite this context.  The Samba night was a bit of a highlight!

The focus of the visit was Peru – Machu Pichu was in Robyn’s ‘bucket list’!  Spending time up around 13,000 feet in the Andes made the Great Dividing Range down the East Coast of Australia (on which Toowoomba sits!) seem like a sand dune.  Peru was just like the pictures in books I have seen over the years – fantastic mountain scenery; heaps of Inca ruins; lamas and rural people tilling the land in very tradition ways.  There is a lot poverty and lack of access to education and health.  We were fortunate to meet up with a great small foundation established by an Australian woman with a Peruvian partner – www.peruschallenge.com and look at some of their work with impoverished communities.  Well worth checking out and supporting!

Machu Pichu certainly was worth the visit!  Friends of ours walked for 4 days along the Inca trails to get there – but we took the train!  Just as well, as you needed all your energy walking up and down slopes as you explored the ruins.

We then found ourselves at Lake Titicaca – the highest navigatable lake in the world (I think) – with the highlight being the villages on the reed islands – pretty impressive technology and adaptation!

So now back in Australia and wondering what I took away from the trip (apart from the trinkets bought to help the tourist economy!).  One thing was the close comparison between Australia and Argentina and Brazil – and accident of history and a similar trajectory.  Close neighbours in this sense (and serious competitor in agricultural products!) – we could certainly learn from each other (including how better to work together with the original inhabitants of our lands).   The experiences in Peru highlighted the skill of the ancients in what they did, what they made and how they organised society – and the shame of having lost so much of the details.  It also highlighted that many communities still lack basic services – health and education – and we all could do more to contribute from our wealth.