Last Friday, I ran part 1 of my e-mail interview with British travel journalist Vicky Baker, who now lives in Buenos Aires. The interview took place back in the fall; it's only due to my disorganization that it hasn't appeared here before now! Here's part 2 of our virtual chat.
I was fascinated by your story about the Laotian village in French Guiana. Who knew? What were some of the other unique surprises you've encountered in your travels?
Travelling in the Guianas was one big surprise. So little is known about that part of the world. Hanging out with the Haitian community in French Guiana was also an eye-opener for me. We partied and had fun, but I also got insight into the life of illegal immigrants and the restrictions that brings. Plus, from the stories they told and the pictures they painted of life back home, I felt like I was getting a side trip to Haiti and from this I understood why people who can't travel themselves like to be involved in hosting couchsurfers: it can be a way to experience new cultures even if you can't get to the place yourself. [Editor’s note: Vicky recently posted a piece about her time in French Guiana’s Haitian community.]
What was it that drew you to South America in general, and Argentina in particular?
I grew up knowing nothing about South America. We never touched on it at school or university; newspapers carried (and still carry) relatively little coverage. After my first trip in 2003, I fell in love with it and wanted to get to know it better: the history, the arts, the politics. It's a constant personal discovery. I also love the openness of the people here and the language. As for Argentina specifically, I don't think there is a country in the world as geographically diverse.
When did you first visit Buenos Aires?
I first came on a three-week holiday in 2003 when I was travelling down from Rio de Janeiro. I'd always had an obsession with visiting Rio and BA was tacked on as an after-thought. However, it was BA I fell in love with. It's a city with such an incredibly strong personality. Not that Rio isn't, but I felt immediately at home in Buenos Aires.
What advice would you give someone visiting BA to help them step outside the tourist circuit?
I wrote a blog post on this.
In a number of your articles, such as the Going Local articles about Ecuador and French Guiana, you make a particular point of seeking out music in your destinations. Are you a musician yourself? What are some of the most memorable musical experiences you've had on your travels (in South America or elsewhere)?
I'm a huge music fan, but I'm not a musician in any way. My friends here in Argentina often have spontaneous get-togethers where everyone gets out guitars and has a singalong over a few drinks. It seems everyone can play a song or two--and they can ALL sing. It's all rather frustrating for someone with zero musical talent, but I love to be a part of it anyway. It's something I wish was more prevalent in the UK. If I'd grown up regularly attending such gatherings maybe I *would* be able to strum a few chords.
What would be your top tips for people who want to meet locals while travelling?
Be open minded, make an effort, step out of your comfort zone. However, don't see it as a big deal either. Sign up to a travel-networking site, exchange a few mails and see how you feel.
Do you still keep in touch with any of the people you met while doing your Going Local series--or anyone else you've met on your travels?
Many, many people. Admittedly, Facebook makes it a lot easier. I've met up with two of my Going Local contacts again--one girl from Panama, one from Venezuela. I've spoken to couchsurfing friends in Guyana and Colombia this week. And hopefully my path will cross with many more down the line.