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Time to Head South

Buzz Poole
09/18/2012 - 06:41
James Barringer, via The New York Times

I'm not sure if there is anything not to like about this past Sunday's New York Times Travel section, which is devoted entirely to Latin America. A mouth-watering food tour through Mexico City? Check. A bumpy drive across Guatemala to a pristine river in Semuc Champey ("sacred water" in Mayan) where the water is so clear that, according to writer Joyce Maynard, "if a book were lying on the bottom you could make out every word"? Of course. Looking for a surfer's paradise in Chile? Try Pichilemu. And these are just three of the articles dedicated to making you want to hop the first flight to anywhere south of North America.

Of course, no Sunday section of any newspaper can encapsulate an entire continent, especially one as culturally and geographically diverse as South America, but all of the articles this time out piqued my curiosity. I've been to Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, as well as Costa Rica and Venezuela, so I have a surface sense of these countries, or at least aspects of them. Reading these perspectives on these respective countries kicked my nostalgia into high gear. I wanted to eat and stroll and just watch the days pass by, sipping coffee and munching on alfajores.

The column space dedicated to two countries I've never visited, however, really caught my attention. I've long wanted to meander along Chile's coastline and Ondine Cohane's piece about Pichilemu only increased my interest. Here's her description: "The seemingly long Pacific stretch could be Northern California; the eco-seeming boxy wood-and-glass structures, Scandinavia; the verdant fields full of livestock almost looked like the countryside of Nicaragua. And yet no single place could really capture the extraordinary mix we were experiencing." Yes, please! I also very much enjoyed the brief interview with Daniel Alarcón (who also happens to have a short story about dentistry, family, and Lima in the current issue of Harper's Magazine), in which he discusses some of his favorite haunts in his birthplace of Lima, Peru. I've long thought that Buenos Aires is home to one of the world's great book cultures, far surpassing any American city, but after reading about what Alarcón does when he goes home I now want to see Amazonas, the largest informal book market in South America; plus, the venue La Noche hosts "Lucha Libro, a riff on Mexican wrestling, lucha libre. Two writers are given prompts and write stories live, which are then projected overhead on screens."

When you head to Latin America, where do you go and what are some of your favorite activities?   

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