IT SEEMS DISCONCERTINGLY easy to lose cities in South America. The native Indian lore is rich in tales of lost cities of the ancients, and one was very nearly lost — mislaid might be a better word — within the past century.
Manaus, a thousand miles up the alligator - plagued Amazon, was the boomtown capital of Brazil's rubber industry in the late 19th and early 20th century. There, rubber barons built an ornate city deep in the still largely unexplored jungle. Great houses and public buildings were based on the ornate European architecture of the period. The jewel among them was an opera house built of Italian marble.
But other, more accessible, sources of rubber were found; Manaus was eclipsed, abandoned and in this century all but lost. Only now is it slowly coming back to life, partly because the jungle is slowly being settled and Manaus is a handy shipping point; partly because Canadian and U.S. tourists are just beginning to discover the attractions of winter in South America — and, incidentally, Manaus.
Now that the Caribbean and Mexican resorts fill up each winter, the more adventurous sun seekers are moving farther south. And, since large-scale tourism is relatively new to South America, the rewards for the adventurous are rich. The air fare to, say, Buenos Aires may be more costly than a flight to the Caribbean, but once you get there yop can save the difference.
From eastern Canada it’s a 121/2hour flight to Buenos Aires, capital of Argentina, and the return 30-day excursion fare is $637 by Pan Amer-
ican, V a r i g, Aerolineas Argentinas and Braniff. From the west, CP Air flies Vancouver - Mexico - Lima - Santi -ago-Buenos Aires, and its Vancouver-Buenos Aires return fare ranges from $859 (regular) to a special group excursion fare of $732.
But once you are in any LatinAmerican country, the savings begin. Good hotels seldom cost more than $12 a day single ($18 double), and meals in the best restaurants rarely cost more than three dollars, wines included.
And remember, there is nothing primitive about most South American cities. Partly because the dominantly military governments have provided some stability (generally at the expense of democracy and social progress), there is a growing middle class throughout South America. Their demand for consumer goods and the facilities of urban living means that most of South America’s cities are modern, though they retain an unhurried charm.
Most of South America’s big centres date from the 16th century and the arrival of Spanish and Portuguese colonists. In Buenos Aires, for instance, a 220-foot obelisk stands at the end of the spacious Avenida 9 de Julio — erected in 1936 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the birth of the city.
Buenos Aires, with seven million people, is the continent's biggest city. Its hotels are as good as any in Canada, and its restaurants are myriad — and excellent. Generally, the steak houses are best. At La Cabana, the best of them, dinner with wine is
possible at around $1.50 a head.
Buenos Aires is hell for pedestrians. There are few traffic lights, and the constantly swirling traffic can leave the timorous marooned on the sidewalk for hours. But on Calle Florida there are no cars. Here strollers shop at all hours for alligator, antelope, South Polar penguin-skin and other leather articles, as well as jewelry, wooden carvings and other luxury goods.
The city has two racetracks, several soccer stadiums, a proliferation of museums and art galleries, a hectic night life — and La Recoleta, which is probably the world's most ornate cemetery: its tombs and mausoleums are arranged in streets. The city also has beaches, but the most popular seaside area is Mar del Plata, 250 miles to the south, which has five miles of beach and skyscraper hotels on the Atlantic.
The spectacular Iguassu Falls, on the borders of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, are accessible from Buenos Aires, and are the best example of how little developed the tourist industry is in South America. Two-and-ahalf miles wide, the falls are higher than Niagara and wider than Africa’s Victoria Falls. Yet the first tourist hotels have been built only recently, and you must plunge down a hiking trail to see one of the world’s great natural wonders.
From Buenos Aires it is only a 30minute flight to Montevideo, capital of Uruguay and home of almost half that nation’s three million people. Its many fine beaches attract thousands of holidaymakers, as does the resort
continued on page 62
of Punta del Este, 90 miles east of the city. Punta is South America’s Atlantic City, minus the tawdriness of the original.
Though Montevideo dates back to 1726, it has many modern highrise buildings and much of its architecture dates from the turn of the century, notably that of the glittering white legislative palace, and the superbly baroque Solis Theatre. Next to the theatre is Del Aguila, one of the world’s best restaurants where gourmet food is served at what, to Canadians, are bargain prices.
Sao Paulo is the exception to the rule that Latin-American cities are slow-paced. It is a city of skyscrapers and expressways, and, except for the palm trees, you could be in Chicago or Toronto. The commercial centre of Brazil, Sao Paulo has more banks than any other city I know — but it also has some superb beaches.
Rio de Janeiro, on the other hand, is a leisurely Latin city. You need a week to see Rio properly, and still have time to relax on the beaches with crowds of what always seem to be some of the world’s most beautiful people. Copacabana beach is lined with big hotels, but Ipanema, Leblon and Gavea beaches have smaller hotels, private homes and small apartments. But everyone can use the beaches — they’re all public.
Of all South America’s big cities, Rio is probably the best known to tourists. The 75-cent ride up Sugar Loaf Mountain via a cable car that swings 1,000 feet above the forest, and the annual pre - Lenten Mardi Gras — these and other attractions are known to every moviegoer. But Rio remains a relatively cheap place to stay and to eat. The fish restaurants, even down to the most modest sidewalk cafe, are superb, and probably the best bargain in town.
All of South America offers the sun in our winter. Rio, for instance, has an average October-June temperature of around 80 degrees. In their winter, July-October, it is a little cooler, but not as much fun.
And from Rio you can fly to the almost-lost city of Manaus. Or, if you feel adventurous, go up the Amazon by the Lloyd Brasilerio Line’s onceweekly air-conditioned passenger ship that plies between Rio and Manaus, or fly from Rio to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon and pick up a Manaus - bound freighter. Lrom Rio it takes a week, from Belem four days, to go to see the gilded lair of the rubber barons who built an opera house in the jungle. □
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.