Well, what do you know? It's Columbus Day long weekend, this weekend in America! And to celebrate, here in New York, today they had a big parade all along Manhattan's famous central boulevard, 5th Avenue. I'm not sure exactly what Columbus Day's for — and when I asked some locals what the story is behind it, they just said "I dunno, but we get Monday off" — so I guess it's a bit like our Queen's Birthday long weekend; it's just one of those holidays that you have, because as far as long weekends go, any excuse is a good excuse. Every country's gotta have at least one like that, right? Anyway, I just stumbled into the parade while I was wandering through Manhattan today, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.
You can't say you've been to Argentina (or to South America, for that matter), until you've seen some live fútbol here. Tonight, I went off with the Clan crew to fulfil this sacred Latin backpacker's duty: we visited the stadium of the famous Boca Juniors, and watched Boca kick the a$$es off of São Pablo (a Brazilian team). It was a pretty easy victory for Boca, who beat their Portugese-speaking rivals 2-1. And as for the fans, with whom we were packed in at one of the (standing-room only) spectator areas: they were absolutely wild. Even if you're not crazy about fútbol, you still gotta go and see a Boca's game — it's a sight in itself, being chucked into the middle of a crowd for whom fútbol es la vida, y la vida es fútbol.
Having just gotten back here this morning, it seems that Baños is totally packed this weekend! Apparently it's a long weekend holiday all over Ecuador, so hundreds of domestic tourists (most from Quito) have flocked down here to have a party weekend. Luckily, the very basic Patty still had space for us; but I'd say that most places are fully booked until Monday. The streets are full of expensive cars; the sidewalks are chockers with rich young Ecuadorian couples and families; and the beer is overflowing at the bars, even in the middle of the day. Gonna be a big one tonight.
In preparation for the all-important 28 de Julio (Peru's Independence Day — commemorating their sovereignty from the Spanish in 1821), Peru is starting to celebrate! This afternoon, all the streets were closed off in Miraflores (the part of Lima that I'm staying in), where they held a parade of titanic proportions. About four solid hours of parading ensued, from the military, the local schools, various government and charity agencies, various industrial and agricultural unions, and even from several Miss Perus. The sidewalks were absolutely sardine-packed with spectators: there must have been at least ½ a million people, come to watch the festivities. They put on a really good show, and they certainly made it clear that they are a people with tremendous national pride.
After just three days here, I've decided that it's official: Cusco has been pwned by tourists. Pommies, Swedes, Aussies, and (most especially) Israelis, say it loud and proud to the Cusqueñans: all your base are belong to us. Seriously, the centre of Cusco has been utterly taken over. There's just nothing left there except tour agencies, massage parlours, Internet cafés, souvenir shops, and overpriced restaurants. I've seen some badly overtouristed places before, but nothing else even comes close to the centre of Cusco. The locals here have been wiped out.
This is Oaxaca's biggest market area, and exploring everything inside it is quite an experience. The markets are large, varied, and easy to get lost in. The more tame areas sell bags, music, kitchenware, and clothing. Further in, you can find the fruit and vegetables, the live chickens, and the cooked food stands. Venture in as deep as you can, and you'll find the really strange stuff: whole dead chickens, still with heads and feet on; piles of dead fish staring up at you; and of course, the famous fried grasshoppers of Oaxaca.
The original attraction of San Cristóbal was that it was a cozy, quiet mountain town, with plenty of locals and not too many tourists. Unfortunately, this image has drawn a plethora of tourists to San Cristóbal, and it's ultimately been the town's undoing. There are Internet cafés, tour agencies, hotels, and herbal medicine stores on every street corner. And every second person you walk past in the street is a fellow gringo. Not quite the simple, spartan, unsophisticated place I was expecting.
Mexico City has an excellent underground train system — one that reminds me very much of Paris's metro. I first caught the metro late at night (on my first night here, with Jackie), and there were few people on the trains, and plenty of room to move about. This gave me the wrong idea as to what catching the metro would be like during the day!