Travel: Old travellers don't die. They just end up in Patagonia

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The Independent Travel
You have caught me in the very act of superficially scratching a surface. The surface, that is, of not merely a city or even a country - but of half a continent. You may not yet believe that I am writing these words in a stuffy hotel room in downtown Buenos Aires but once you have seen the depth of my insights you will.

Surfaces are there to be scratched. I now know for example, on the basis of a class in a dusty Argentine dance hall, that EL TANGO is a dance whose name should only ever be written in capital letters. I also know that no philosophising pseud ever disappeared up their own backside to the extent that this dance has. Here are some instructions on the eight basic steps for a man:

Just walk as you would walk in search of a woman. Walk with the nature, walk as if you were a human being. Walk as if you were laying waste to the cowardice and treachery of your life.

Got that? Walk. Naturally. Towards the woman (not away from her). That's how I became a dancer on Monday. On Tuesday I went to Uruguay.

Another profoundly superficial experience. Let me tell you what I learned about that little country which has won the World Cup twice. For a start it has an old Portuguese city called Colonia just across the River Plate from Buenos Aires. There is also a farm about 10 miles away up the coast where you can buy a soft, squidgy, toffee-like substance called "dulce de leche". It's sunny but it rains in the afternoon.

But this is dangerously detailed. Let me get back to safer territory - for example the generalities that I am going to learn when I get to Chile, the world's only two dimensional country.

The potential for surface-scratching in the thinnest of countries is quite enormous. I will doubtless ask people what they think about the new economic prosperity in their country; they will doubtless reply that things have become far too expensive. I will ask about politics; they will tell me that nothing changes. I will then go down to the coast at Valparaiso and look out across the Pacific Ocean and tell myself that one day I too will cross those waters. Then I will return home.

Waffle? Possibly, though I prefer to think of "broad-brush effects" and "majestic, sweeping panoramas". Anyway I have hardly started. Here's another thing I picked up, just by looking at the map: That the southern part of South America is indeed the place where you would want to be stranded on holiday if nuclear war broke out.

Because this is the continent on the way to nowhere. Both Argentina and Chile enjoy the luxury of tapering away to the most terminal dead-end on the face of the earth; to the land of fire and spray and ice-bergs (and Welsh sheep farmers) where the concept of an international metropolis is Stanley on the Falkland Islands.

Patagonia is the place where the mad English walkers, American train- spotters and Belgian cyclists who dream of traversing the entire planet always end up because there is literally nowhere else for them to go. After years of walking (or train-spotting or cycling) they finally come to the cliff overlooking Cape Horn and realise that an end is an end. It is not a good place to realise that one has taken a wrong turning somewhere in Texas.

Or so I suppose. The fact that I am not going to get to within 2,000 miles of Patagonia means that I cannot confirm the details.