The South American Handbook (page 2)
The South American Handbook
page 1

Collect all 77 editions of the South American Handbook
Two places to find out-of-print books:
A Book for the Pocket
In spite of the handbook’s changes over the decades, its purpose remains much as its first editor, J.A. Hunter, envisioned, “a book for the pocket and the traveling bag . . . to bring to the eye that information that the traveler urgently requires.” Fortunately for the traveler, pockets have gotten bigger over the years.
     In some cases, required information has increased in complexity, though the working principle, “be alert,” is the same. The 1924 edition warned steamship passengers to be on guard with their luggage: “It might not be superfluous to mention the desirability of locking trunks and bags securely. In especial, personal baggage should not be delivered into the hands of shore touts without being carefully locked in advance.”

Choosing the Right Mule
The 2001 edition devotes two pages to “Safety,” cautionary advice on such perils as drugs, rape, and pickpockets. (Those specters undoubtedly existed in 1924, but they were not bruited about so openly.) Other topics have been overtaken by progress. “Choosing a pack animal,” a long-discarded section, was a must-read in 1924: “In all the Latin American Republics, it is necessary to use mules, donkeys. burros, and horses for certain journeys. The traveler should be careful in his arrangements. The horses and mules should be inspected. Choice is not always possible, but experienced travelers find that by insistence they are often able to obtain bestias of more endurance than others from the same owner.”
     The modern SAH has not a word on selecting mules (which are, in any event, now rarer than vicuñas) but tenders many paragraphs on car hire and motoring, motorcycling, and air travel, not to mention trekking, which though possible, was not a customary mode of locomotion for tourists in the 1920s.

By 1973, the Age of Aquarius had caught up with the SAH. “It is regrettable, but nonetheless true,” the editors intoned, “that a prejudice has grown up among the authorities of several Latin American countries against young male travelers with long hair, beards, and hippy-style clothing.” Flower children were encouraged “to moderate their hair and dress styles.”

Varying lodging
In the good old days, it was the lodging that was slovenly, not the lodgers. Accommodations in rural areas fell into a sorry trio of categories: tambos, mesones, and fondas. Tambos, the best of a bad lot, were “small primitive inns.” The traveler was instructed to carry his own hammock, bed linen, mosquito netting, and tinned food. Mesones, or “taverns of an inferior kind,” were to be “avoided at all costs,” and fondas, an inferior version of a meson, “were still more to be shunned.”
     Huaraz, in Peru’s Callejon de Huayllas, had but two hotels — the Italia and the Ancash — worth mentioning in 1924 (what ranking they occupied in the three-tiered bad lot was not said). Today, more than 30 hostelries are recommended, ranging from the spiffy, Swiss-run Hostal Andino, to a slew of nice, noisy, charming, basic alojamientos favored by the trekking set. Huaraz merited only four lines in 1924. Today the attractions of the city and the villages and hiking trails of the surrounding cordilleras crowd 15 pages.
     In fact, the first SAH dispatched Peru in but 21 pages, half of which recited commercial regulations and inventoried natural resources, among them coca. Cocaine was confected at Huánuco, in the Huallaga River Valley. Most of the annual production, some 3,300 pounds, was exported to Japan. The most recent edition favors Peru with 215 pages (where one learns the whimsical fact that Peru is more than twice the size of France). The Huallaga Valley is still verdant with coca bushes, but the United States has supplanted Japan as the paramount cocaine importer.

Seven Decades of Great Travel Writing
Thin or thick, reportorial, whimsical, or edifying, the SAH down through its seven decades has been praised by such literary vagabonds as Graham Greene, Alastair Reid, Paul Theroux [Malawi 1963–65] (South American travel riled him, but he found the SAH an affable companion), and Michael Palin, who joked that he consulted the guide book as often as his hip flask.
Some years ago, ethnologist Karen Olsen Bruhns penned a more utilitarian testimonial: The “contents [are] extremely useful, but the book is just the right size and weight for killing errant cockroaches.”

Daniel Buck, is a contributing editor of South American Explorer and a regular contributor to Américas. “The South American Handbook,” was originally published in the Winter 1998 South American Explorer in a slightly different form.
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