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.

6 Replies to “City Mouse, Country Mouse”

  1. I have traveled to Quito, Lima, Cusco, Santiago (de Chile), Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro,
    Sao Paolo, Cordoba, Montevideo and Santa Cruz (Bolivia), and to tell you the truth, I find
    that cities in Latin America are not something to get terribly excited about. Of the South
    American cities I’ve visited, I liked BA and Rio the best, but I also dance
    tango, love wine (particularly Malbec) and steak and had the space in my suitcase to
    go shopping! If you’re not planning to shop and aren’t terrribly interested in churches or
    museums, maybe you would like Rio for its beaches and cable car rides/walks near
    Sugarloaf. If you’re interested in dance, music and/or capoeira, besides BA and Rio, I’ve
    heard Salvador de Bahia is fun. If you’re interested in wine, the vineyards outside Santiago
    are great, as are those in Mendoza.

    Aside from the obvious reasons for visiting the cities- visas, stocking up on supplies,
    dining in a proper restaurant, internet usage, nightlife- don’t forget that inevitably you will
    have culture shock. No matter what you’re like at home, I’d be willing to bet that at some
    point, you will find yourself wanting to watch English language TV, drinking a cold beer/
    Coke and eating a burger and fries. 🙂

    Do you plan on studying Spanish or Portguese while traveling? If so, that might be another
    reason to stay in a city for a few weeks.

  2. In the end though, guidebooks aren’t worth it. I’ve done the RTW and I can tell you, u’ll rarely use them. In fact, most of the good info comes from other travelers anyways!

  3. Magnifique…you’re right, I’ll definitely enjoy some city time now and then for all the reasons you mentioned. Sometimes they can seem so much less “culture shock-y” than other places or at least they can provide you with some of the comforts from home that you crave every now and then. Thanks for the insight into S. American cities.

    Matt, we pretty much agree with you about guidebooks. We don’t really plan to travel with any or use them on the road (I checked these out from the library). We’re just browsing them now to get some ideas on places that might interest us and what kind of opportunities there are so we can have a basic idea of how we want to break down our time. We’re definitely not mapping out anything like be here on this day and use this bus and eat here and stay in this hotel… It’s more of a way of stimulating thinking…kind of like an intro level class for travel.

  4. I love the outdoors, but I tend to be more of a city girl. I love the mixture of different kinds of people that cities usually offer as well as the culture and food. I appreciate a comfortable bed in a nice hotel and dinner at a fancy restaurant… I also love the kind of cheap local food you can usually get on the street (all in all I just love food). I’m not huge on the nightlife scene, but I like visiting historical landmarks and doing walking or bike tours of various cities. Plus when you’re starting to get homesick, you’re more likely to find those things that remind you of home when you’re in the city (remember when we ate at TGI Friday’s twice in one weekend while in Prague? I never eat there in the US, but it just seemed like such a treat to have that taste of something American). The city can be tiring though, so I guess it’s just a question of finding the right balance 🙂

  5. I’d forgotten about that, Laura! It’s totally not somewhere I would go here in the US, but it sure was good then. I think I had ribs or something totally American. We also went to the movies in Prague and watched Moulin Rouge. It was so damn cold I think we were doing anything we could to get in somewhere warm and stay there!

    I also ate at TGI Fridays in Athens. Our first week there a bunch of Greek kids took us there because it was the place to see and be seen!

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