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Posts Tagged ‘mega-cities’

(April 2009)

I’m back in Buenos Aires for a few days before heading back to Canada. The city has a population of around 3 million and a metropolitan population of approximately 13 million. This time I’m staying in the microcentre and aside from doing a bit of shopping I want to take in some green spaces. The best place in the city to find green space is Palermo.

The Buenos Aires Zoo is an 18 hectare, 45 acre, park and holds 2,500+ animals. When you enter you see a number of free-ranging birds and animals on the grounds. Two common rodents, but the first time I had encountered either, are the mara or Patagonian hare and the semi-aquatic nutria, or coypu. My camera stopped working eight days before my return but you can see images of these animals here.

I saw a couple of condors again. I realize a zoo is a place of research and education but after seeing these large birds in Colca Canyon and the High Andes this struck me as too confined a space for them. Watching the baboons also seemed a little odd. They seemed quite intelligent, although could be rather aggressive. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a zoo.

The Buenos Aires Botanical Garden is located near the zoo. It was designed by landscape architect Charles Thays and is a lovely oasis in which to retreat from the concrete. It’s also home to many abandoned cats.

Buenos Aires has a great public transit system and I took a commuter train from Retiro station to Tigre. Tigre is a town on the Paraná Delta, about 30 km from BA, and is a popular tourist and weekend spot. I took a catamaran tour along the brown delta waters. There are hundreds of islands, some have cottages or resorts, there is even a hostel, but most are not populated. Due to flooding the cottages are on stilts. The town itself is also nice to stroll through.

I’ve come to the end of my excursion in Mexico and South America. I don’t quite feel ready to leave but having spent the final five weeks trying to get around with a hamstring injury has tired me. Travelling is physically demanding and it feels like I could use a vacation!

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IMG_3796limalovers

(Late January 2009)

I arrived in Lima late in the evening and the taxi ride from the airport to Miraflores, an upscale suburb, was expensive. I had reserved a dorm at the Flying Dog Hostel near Parque Kennedy. The park was alive with people – parents and kids in the playground, people walking and sitting about, restaurant patios full – all in all it had a welcoming vibe. The weather was amazing, too! I had gone from mostly springlike temperatures to hot and humid and I embraced this heat. After finding the hostel, there are three Flying Dog locations in Miraflores and the taxi driver let me off at the wrong one, and checking in, I ventured back out into the square for a refreshment and some people watching. I also noticed a lot of cats – the first I had seen in my travels.

The next day I wanted to explore the centre and asked for bus directions. I was told a bus is too dangerous and advised to take a cab. The woman at the hostel also told me what the fare should be. I flagged down a taxi and the price the driver quoted was higher than what she had specified so I flagged another only to get a higher quote and tried again with the same result. I decided to pass on it and checked out the tourbus. I ended up taking two tours – one of Miraflores, which was great for getting my bearings, and one of Central Lima, which included a tour of the San Francisco Catacombs. It’s estimated that 25,000 people are buried there under the cathedral. Walking through the catacombs and viewing so many bones is a reminder that life is short and fragile.

Lima is a large city and has a metropolitan population of about 8.5 million. I’m glad I took the tourbus as it would have been difficult to get around on foot. The trade-off is that I didn’t get the same sense of place I experienced in other towns and cities. The city has some beautiful architecture, both historic and modern, the streets are bustling, and there are many contrasts between wealth and poverty.

I spent the evening in the park. There was a dance and some of the participants were very good dancers. My eyes kept going back to this one couple who were a joy to watch – they epitomized grace, skill, and passion!

I stayed in Lima for a couple more days. I didn’t get back to the city centre and missed out on the country’s best museums as the allure of Miraflores with its shops, parks and the Pacific won out. From small souvenir pieces to the large Lovers sculpture in the park overlooking the ocean Peruvian culture is very sexually explicit. I did something very uncharacteristic and went into the mall – well, it is built into the cliff! I sat on a restaurant terrace with a beer and light lunch watching the surfers and paragliders.IMG_3819limactrtrainIMG_3866limapacific Summertime in Lima is satisfying!

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(December 2008)

I awake early on the morning of December 4th. The subway isn’t operating yet and it’s dark and cold as I get into the cab. It’s a quiet, peaceful drive to Kipling station where I catch the express bus to the airport. I am running a little behind schedule and when I see that there isn’t anyone in line at the check-in counter I’m not sure whether to be worried or not. It’s alright, I still have time, but, I drop my documents all over the floor. Relief, I have time for a coffee in the lounge. It’s the start of a whirlwind day.

Huge, vibrant, pulsating and slightly overwhelming! My month in Mexico begins here right in the heart of D.F. one of the world’s most populous metropolitans with an estimated 22 million inhabitants. From the moment I slipped into the authorized cab I was in awe. It was early afternoon, the sun was beating through the smog, and I was amazed by the shear volume of traffic, impressed with the somewhat organic nature of its flow, and stunned by the vendors incredulously selling snacks, refreshments and miscellaneous wares right there, in the lanes, in that mass of cars, trucks and buses.

I checked into a beautiful hostel in Centro Historico and climbed the four flights of stairs to my second floor dormitory. After chatting with a dorm-mate I ventured out for a stroll. Guidebooks and Alvaro, a very helpful resident who I had previously corresponded with on CouchSurfing, provided plenty of suggestions of what to see. I do enjoy visiting cultural and historical attractions but I also like the sense of place I get by walking around and people-watching. The Zocalo is the world’s second largest public square and the ideal place to start.

It is the holiday season and Mexico City’s Zocalo is a focal point for the season. Despite the warm weather there is a large skating rink and many short-sleeved residents are enjoying the challenge of being on ice-skates. Others are experiencing the thrill of the snow-tubing slides and checking out the igloos. As I walk around taking in the people, amusements, architecture, and space, I stumble upon Templo Mayor and purchase a ticket to get a closer look at the excavation.

Gone is the noise and frenzy of the main square. My mind is contemplative as I wander through the site. The temple of Tenochtitlan was once home to a powerful Aztec culture. It’s impressive. Actually, I’m fascinated by the layers of culture and history – sculpted symbolism and architectural remnants of an ancient state, a beautiful Spanish colonial historic district, and a blend of contemporary cultures with striking contrasts between the haves and have-nots – all here in this spectacular, polluted, earthquake-prone, sinking city centre.

I went back to the square later that evening. I had read warnings that this city is dangerous, i.e., 60 kidnappings a day, but I felt safe. The Zocalo and nearby streets were overflowing with people – families, friends, lovers, performers, artisans, tourists, and police. A magnificent Christmas tree, lighting displays, and the vitality of the crowd were all so enticing. I was glad I had decided to stay in this part of the city. However, after a refreshing pineapple and orange juice earlier in the afternoon I now felt I was doing a disservice to myself and the culture with my 7-11 dinner of a hot-dog and coffee.

Day two found me on the Touribus. It’s an excellent service – 21 stops and you can get on and off all day! I did not get off though – not my intended plan – the city is so large, and I decided it would serve as an orientation and overview. Back on foot, I explored more of the historical district. Architecture, sculpture, mesmerizing murals, the Almeda, Spanish conversation with a couple schoolgirls, a tortilla and cerveza at an outdoor cafe made all the more pleasant by a talented classical musician, and another evening strolling about the Zocalo happening upon various groups performing ritualistic dances.

The third day I went to the Aztec pyramids at Teotihuacan.  The site is awesome, the sun is hotter, and it’s full of tourists! I stood on top of the Temple of the Moon and tried to imagine life in the former society. While anthropology sheds much light, the reality is that time presents an impenetrable barrier. I didn’t make it to the top of the Temple of the Sun – I was worried about how I would get down. I wondered if the Aztecs, too, experienced vertigo.

Later that night, while I was sitting in the hostel entrance, a young man entered and very politely explained that he was a craftsperson from the north but hadn’t sold enough today to pay for his room. He was now trying to earn the money by selling lollipops for a peso a piece. One peso is worth so very, very little.

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