Technical writer Kaustubh Shejwalkar, 41, was on his way to Antarctica in December, but a short halt in South America morphed into an experience by itself
South America was just the take-off point for the journey to Antarctica. Unusually, you chose to spend almost as much time on that continent as you did in Antarctica. Why?
Water world:Shejwalkar at the Iguazu waterfalls, which are taller than the Niagara falls. Photograph: Kaustubh Shejwalkar
Well, I like adventure, jungles, beaches, wildlife, new cultures and exotic food. South America qualifies on all these fronts. If snow, ice and pristine whiteness were the prime attractions of Antarctica’s unadulterated beauty, in South America it was the rainforests and unimaginable shades of green. I read To the Ends of the Earth by Sir Ranulph Fiennes to acquaint myself with Antarctica and Leonard Clark’s The Rivers Ran East for an insight on South America. But of course, these great travellers made their journeys at least 30 years ago. For more updated information, I relied on the Internet.
How much time did you actually spend in South America?
I spent four days in Buenos Aires, two in Ushuaia (from where the Antarctica cruise started) and three days in Iguazu, Brazil. Since South America is so far away from India, spending more time on the continent was also a good way to maximize the value of my ticket.
I believe you were travelling with an organized group. Why was this?
I’d heard and read about traveller-turned-tour operator Anil Damle’s travels in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. Then, when we met about three years ago, I realized we had many common interests and that he plans tours for Damle Safaris in much the same way I would. So, I was hooked.
Tell us about Buenos Aires.
We went on a guided tour for a day, which included a boatride on the Rio de la Plata. On the other days, we went around on our own. That’s the way I like to travel, really—with a map, using public transport, visiting roadside cafés and restaurants for local food and drinks. The metro was the most convenient way to travel, but at the station, we realized all the signboards were in Spanish. The most common sign said “Salida”, so we figured that was the name of the station. But, we couldn’t find it on the metro map. Further enquiries revealed that “Salida” means “exit” in Spanish!
One day, we visited the botanical gardens and the zoo: Though I’m an animal enthusiast, this was the first time I was seeing the okapi, the tapir, anteaters and llamas. What I liked about the zoo, especially, is that there are very few cages. Apart from the monkeys and the birds, all animals roam free on their little islands.
Another memorable experience was dinner at a very high-end restaurant that put up an exhibition tango dance.
And what was Ushuaia like? I believe it’s just a one-street town?
Very true. But the capital of Tierra del Fuego is also beautiful, with the sea on one side and snow-capped mountains on the other. Although it was summer in the southern hemisphere, it was cold—around 10-12 degrees Celsius—and windy. But its location has its advantages: There’s sunlight even at 1am!
While I was aware Ushuaia is the world’s southernmost city—there are smaller settlements further down, though—what I didn’t know is that it used to be a penal colony. There’s a 200-year-old jail there, somewhat like the Cellular Jail in the Andamans, but without its atmosphere—or maybe, I didn’t feel it because it was last used in the 1930s. Now, it’s quite a decent museum.
Why did you want to visit the Iguazu waterfalls? And what was so special about it that you wanted to see it from both the Brazilian and the Argentine sides?
I had read about this sight, which is a series of about 275 waterfalls over a length of 2.5-3km. Although we could hear the roar as we approached the waterfalls through the surrounding jungle, nothing prepared us for the first glimpse. About two-thirds of the falls are on the Argentine side, and you can get their best view from the opposite, that is, the Brazilian side. We took a boat and helicopter ride from the Brazilian side, and a rainforest train ride over 7km on the Argentine side. The biggest waterfall of them all, called the “Devil’s Throat”, is on the Argentine side and is truly magnificent.
I’m already thinking about going back to the Amazon… I’d love to traverse its entire length in a dugout.
Fly a European or West Asian carrier with multiple stopovers to Buenos Aires. British Airways has round-trip economy fares upwards of Rs97,000 (ex-Mumbai, Delhi) and Rs1.04 lakh (ex-Bangalore).
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at firstname.lastname@example.org