Wicked places in South America
Even if you don't have a space fetish, have no idea what exactly is a satellite or have never heard of Battlestar Galactica, don't miss out on this space centre. Because of its proximity to the equator, it takes less energy for a rocket to be launched from here and Kourou is not inside a hurricane or earthquake area. These advantages make Kourou the prime launching site for pretty much all European rockets: Ariane and Vega and also several Russian ones, like Soyuz.
A free tour that takes up all morning leads you by bus to the main sites with guides that give full and understandable explanations (if you speak French, that is). You can see the launching sites of these rockets and get up close to the fire pits and the movable towers where the final preparations before a launch take place. If you plan well ahead or you are lucky, you might even see a launch, which happens nearly every month.
For some reason, once upon a time, some people decided to put a bunch of manatees in a pool in a city park called National Park in Georgetown. Whether the animals are happy in there is a different question. They probably would prefer their freedom in some river delta, which is their natural habitat, instead of having local kids try to aim stones into their nostrils.
It does however give you a chance to watch these docile, slow, and a little shy animals from up close. They love to eat grass and when you pick a handful and slap it on the water surface they will all (and there are plenty of them in this pond) come swimming to you to be fed. You can pet them and scratch their heads while feeding them.
When you fly into Kaieteur Falls, you will glide over the top of the dense rainforest which makes up most of Guyana (about 75% of Guyana is covered by some kind of forest). From up there it's easy to spots the large brown patches in the otherwise green blanket, the open mines. Gold mining is a big thing in Guyana and amounted for about 35% of Guyana's export, which otherwise consists of agriculture products like sugarcane, rice and shrimps. But these mines are often an environmental disaster with displaced soil, cyanide and mercury pollution of water, and endangered animals as a result - not to mention the danger to the miner's health.
Now or Never
Garden of Eden
The above list might seems as a random mix of nouns, titles of B-movies, and well-known cities, but they are all names of villages in Guyana. How did they come up with "Now or Never" and "Glazier Lust"?
This fairly weird town in the middle of nowhere is home to some of Paraguay's religious minorities. It was founded by fleeing Mennonites from Europe in the 1930s who received this dusty land on the great wide Chaco from the Government of Paraguay - though nobody asked the Indians who lived here. But the white folks have made their own little white picket fence heaven with churches and own schools, where the language is Plattdeutsch (a German dialect). Filadelfia is a strange pocket of colonial history that is very much alive... or as lively as it gets in Filadelfia.
Not too far from the Nasca lines, also in the Nazca desert, is the Chauchilla cemetery. The Nascas had the habit of mummifying their deceased before burying them in the desert. Due to the dry desert climate and the mummification of the bodies they are well preserved.
Unfortunately for centuries most of the graves have been opened and robbed off their valuables but there is still plenty to see. It is quite fascinating though slightly morbid so see these mummies of which many of them still are fully clothed and with hair.
Beni's Christmas Palace is a huge shop selling every plastic-Christmas-related thing ever made - and they do it year around. We're not sure how many plastic Christmas trees they sell in May, but it's hard to get out of the shop without buying something tacky for they seriously have everything. In December (and maybe other months too) a very sweaty Indian guy dressed in Santa costume stands outside the shop and ring a bell while extremely loud Christmas music is blasting out. It's such an odd sight.
Suriname doesn’t have many beaches and the few they have are not necessarily pretty. A few kilometers outside Nieuw Nickerie lies Corantijnstrand Beach, which is a serious candidate as the most unattractive beach ever. It’s no more than tiny patch of dark sand with some breakwater boulders and murky choppy water. Anywhere else in the world this would not qualify as a beach.
Take a ride on the wild side with one of the many old beat up American Cadillacs that still roam the streets as shared taxis, so-called "por puesto". Since petrol is dirt cheap in Venezuela (we kid you not, it's cheaper than bottled water), there is no reason to go eco. Every non-essential part in the cars is either broken, bended, repaired or just missing. The original colour is often hardly recognizable from fading and never ending panel beating. Noise and serious bad condition is the standard and it is a wonder that they keep rolling. Take a joy ride in one of these miracle boxes and see neighbourhoods that you wouldn't have cruised otherwise. It is cheap, fun and a great way to mingle with the locals.
Venezuela is known for its repeating victories in Miss contests, but though the average Venezuelan woman might not be a beauty queen, she surely dresses like one. Wobbling breasts and gravity-defying butts are put to show in tight clothes (on some women maybe even too tight). Beauty is something that is taken seriously and they do with what they have. This straight-in-your-face is even taken to the next level, where male travellers can experience frisk offers from local latinas. Female travellers shouldn't get too jealous, for any Venezuelan man can salsa their panties off.