I'm teaching another travel writing class for Catapult, starting Feb 29

South America on my mind

Last night, while going through old letters, photos and random items from my past, I came across these photographs taken on my first trip to South America, back in 2001.

It was a three-week jaunt around Peru with a friend. Two days before our flight from Lima back to New York, en route from Aguas Calientes to Cusco, our train broke down. So we decamped and waited for hours, and hours, and hours. The photo above captured the scene. Almost idyllic, if it weren’t for the fact we were stuck. But there was romance in those moments of waiting. It’s the unexpected, sometimes unwanted lingering that makes travel such a beautiful challenge.

Holding these panoramic shots in my hands last night, I was suddenly taken back to the first moment I stepped on South American soil. It was a foggy summer night in Lima. I loved it all from day one – the expedition into the depths of the Amazon’s Manú biosphere reserve; the misty walks around bohemian Barranco district of Lima; the trek along the Inca trail and Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate at sunrise; the Cessna flight across the Nazca Lines, mysteriously etched into the desert of southern Peru; the boat ride around Ballestas Islands near Paracas…

It had been my dream to visit South America for years before I finally made it in 2001. As a huge fan of magical realism in Latin American fiction, I’ve always fantasized about exploring the continent from its southern tip to the very north. In the last ten years, I’m happy to say I’ve been back more times than I can count, visited nearly all the countries and spent three entire months living in Buenos Aires (at the height of my tango passion).

It’s only fitting I should find these photos in one of my dust-coated boxes last night, as I just agreed to a project that will take me to Chile for six weeks in early 2012. So, South America’s on my mind, my first travel obsession, my first love…. Thanks to these pictures, I now know why its pull is still as strong.

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