City Mouse, Country Mouse

Remember that stack of guidebooks I brought home a few weeks ago?

South America Guidebooks

Yeah, that one.

Well, just in case anyone is keeping score, I’ve now made my way through 3.5 of them—Nicaragua, Venezuela, Peru, and half of Ecuador. Jeff, on the other hand, is sporting a big fat zero in his total read column. He claims that he has been very busy, which, I’ll admit, he has. But it’s not as though I’ve been slacking. Between the day job and the hiking guidebook writing gig, free time is hard to come by around here. I do have the advantage of Metro rides, however, which are excellent for reading. And there’s the fact that I like to read, and I like to plan, and he’s not so hot on either.

Anyhow, as I’ve been reading, I’ve been jotting down notes—things like where I want to go, how easy/hard it is to get there, how many days to spend in said location and in transport, how pricey it is, the best time of year to go, etc. The end goal is to shape it all into a loose itinerary, so we can do things like buy plane tickets, arrange for friends and family to meet us at specific points, and be certain that we’re not missing anywhere that we feel very strongly about.

Looking back at my notes on the places I want to visit, a very strong trend has emerged. Almost every place I’ve listed is a hot spot for outdoor activity. They are places where you can go on long treks, scale volcanoes, kayak through islets, mountain bike through jungles, raft raging rivers, camp with wild animals, etc. Sounds cool, right? Obviously, I think so. I mean, I think hiking 30 miles every weekend for 6 months is a good time. The problem is that it isn’t tenable. First, it gets pricey. You have to rent equipment, hire guides, get to out-of-the-way locales, pay admission fees, etc. But second, and perhaps most importantly, it’s exhausting. Though we’re pretty fit (and will be even more so once this hiking book is complete), we’re not crazy ultrasport people. We don’t have mad endurance. Our bodies just aren’t going to tolerate being pushed to extremes day after day. (Not to mention the kind of mood I’d probably end up in because I can just imagine how freaking hungry I’d be!)

So what we need to find is balance. Awesome outdoor adventures mixed with relaxing days in small towns or even busy days in big cities (but where we’d get a chance to shower and sleep in a bed). Yet, every time I flip a guidebook to a section about a city, I find myself uninterested. Church, museum, plaza, yada yada yada. Maybe it’s just the way they’re described. Maybe these guidebooks simply fail to capture the spirit I’m looking for. I mean, I’m not anti-city. I love New York. I love Berlin. I’ve had a great time in Stockholm, Rome, Paris, London, Dublin… But so far, I haven’t stumbled across a city description that gets my soul soaring the way the descriptions of the wild places do.

Maybe when I get to the Argentina book and Buenos Aires? I’ll let you know.

But for now, you let me know. Do you move to the beat of the city or the rhythm of nature? What is the best city you’ve ever visited, and what is it that makes a city fabulous for you? Come on, give me some reasons to start adding some cities to my list.