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Published: March 10th 2013
Richard Frost - Manchester
I'd forgotten how cold it gets in Manchester. Or maybe I just preferred not to remember.
After 6 months living it up in South America, we've arrived back in the UK wholly unprepared for the ice-cold chill that greets us. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to go straight from Rio de Janeiro to Manchester. More than that, to go straight from Brazilian summertime to British wintertime - a 30-degree temperature difference.
But even though I'm shivering like no-one's business, at least I can comfort myself with the memory of being roasting hot on Copacabana beach. And even though I don't have a job anymore, and I'm crashing on friends' floors till we find somewhere to live, at least I can comfort myself with the memory of what we achieved.
Like I said at the start of this trip, I've always wanted to visit South America. And somehow it more than lived up to expectations, despite being in many respects completely different to what I was expecting. If that makes any sense.
For starters, South America's much more diverse than I ever gave it credit for. It's got deserts as well as jungles, glaciers
as well as beaches, megacities as well as wildernesses. There's so much more to this continent than just the rainforests and remoteness you hear about in the west.
Another thing that surprised me about this region is just how well it's doing. Politically speaking, Latin Americans have a clear idea of what they want - socialism or something similar - and they're electing governments that they believe can get them there, like ex-coca farmer Evo Morales in Bolivia and ex-Marxist guerilla Dilma Rousseff in Brazil. Obviously there are problems. Corruption is rife and social services are practically non-existent, but at least they seem to be enjoying some measure of stability.
The economic crisis doesn't seem to be hitting as hard here as it is in Europe, for example, and this financial stability goes hand in hand with a new-found political stability. Modern governments are measured in years rather than weeks, they look after one another and they're strong enough to resist interference from the rest of the world - a far cry from previous centuries when indigenous populations were at the mercy of European and American interests.
Something else that caught me unawares was the sheer size
of South America. You don't really appreciate it till you're here, but the distances involved are enormous. We spent 6 months exploring this continent, as opposed to 5 months during our previous trip to south-east Asia, but we worked out that almost all of that extra month was spent on buses. Just travelling. So big, in fact, that 20-hour bus journeys suddenly become the norm rather than an aberration.
Ah yes, south-east Asia. Which leads me to the inevitable question of which is better - Asia or South America. A tough call with no easy answers, but what the hell I'm going to give one anyway. Asia has it's plus points, it's more of a culture shock, it's got a more interesting history and it's much, much cheaper. But for me, South America has the edge. It's got football, it's got wine, it's got a language you actually have a chance of learning. Above all, it's got the most spectacular scenery I've ever seen.
Manu National Park in Peru was, for me, the highlight of the whole trip. It's a wonderful place boasting wildlife-filled rainforest that goes on forever. But South America also has Patagonia, Machu Picchu, Iguacu
Falls and the Uyuni Salt Flat. All incredible landscapes, and that's before we even get on to the remarkable cityscapes of Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro.
Don't get me wrong, south-east Asia was great, but South America was out of this world.
Will there be another trip? Who knows. I love travelling but 6 months is a huge commitment, and it gets harder to start from scratch again every time. I'd like to think there's another adventure in me one day, but probably not for a good while yet and maybe not for as long - weeks instead of months say. Only time will tell I guess.
Having said that, I'd strongly encourage anyone who's even thinking of going backpacking to stop thinking and just do it. Don't worry about what happens afterwards - these things always sort themselves out. And you'll never regret the time you spent travelling the world, meeting new people, exploring crazy landscapes and basically living for the moment.
Ok, that's quite enough of the self-help nonsense, time for me to go. I hope you've enjoyed the blog and, if it's inspired you to go somewhere new, so much the better.
Thanks for reading, Richard
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