There are some countries which seem to be the melting pot of different cultures and people. The Continents of North andSouth Americaare the prime example. In theUnited States, the pot seems to be simmering and the contents evenly cooked and almost uniform. Most cities have a uniformity and sameness that seem bland after a while. Of course there are a few cities like San Francisco,New York and New Orleansthat still have their own unique character but these are the exception rather than the rule. Travel to Central andSouth Americais an experience in contrasts. One actually comes to expect the unexpected here.
Brazil with its thick, dense foliage and people of every hue and colour is as vividly beautiful as its cities are dangerous. From the dark coloured descendents of African slaves to the fair skinned Portuguese descendents, the people are exotic looking. Brazilian cuisine is different but pleasantly so; cheese is used liberally in soup, chocolate is sometimes used in sauces used to flavour meat and even the beer comes in the sweetened variety if one wishes to try it. Life is a celebration all year round and not only at carnival time.
If it’s Samba in Brazil, then it’s Tango in Argentina. One can notice couples of all ages dancing the tango in restaurants and cafes, even in parks and street squares. The people seem to be mostly of European descent in this country, although recent immigrants are fromJapan,Korea,Vietnam, China and theMiddle East. The long voyage up the River Plate to the ports of San Lorenzo and San Martin saw us passing through thePampas. We saw many horses and Gauchos or local cow-boys. The sweet scent of wild grass followed us until civilization was reached. Beautiful golf courses and polo grounds were everywhere. The cuisine was delectable but I was disappointed that the famous Argentinean steak that I ordered took very long to reach my table, maybe becauseArgentinaexports most of its meat to countries all over the world!
The port of Valparaiso in Chile was as chilly as it was scenic. We reached there in June when it was the peak of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. People of all colours and races lived here but there seemed to be many Orientals too. Shops were a study in contrasts; there were huge Department Stores and open market places, delicatessens as well as vendors selling fish by the roadside. Tucking into crabmeat and squid warmed the cockles of my heart and I soon forgot the nippy weather!
The port of Bolivar in Ecuador was once again a wonderfully different experience. The people were of all races and their features ranged from classically blonde to broadly oriental. The shopping seemed to be straight out of oriental bazaars and goods from CDs to delicate porcelain could be bought at very low rates. Giant pots with crab claws simmered gently at roadside kiosks. Big platters of prawns and lobsters were served at fine Restaurants and resorts but the prices seemed unrealistically low!
The transit through the Panama Canal and the visit to Panama City was always rushed and hectic. People spoke English as well as Spanish here maybe because of the American influence. On one lucky occasion I got to visit the small port of Almirante which could really be called a one-horse town. It seemed to be a part of the dense rain forest but the tiny restaurant I discovered there served delicious turtle soup, rabbit stew and lobster barbecue. As I savored one of the most delicious meals that I have ever eaten, I suddenly realized that I was not as interested in finding out about the melting pot of different cultures as I was in tasting the hot pots in different places!