South America – Wrap Report

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So back in the PR world whenever I finished a campaign or project for a client I’d have to put together a report summarising our activities and the outcomes, so I thought it only fitting that I do something similar for my South American adventure. So here it goes:

In three months I travelled through five countries, stayed in 29 different towns/cities, slept in 12 hotels, 17 hostels, one jungle lodge, one mountain lodge, one salt hotel, a desert shack, a beach shack, camped for three nights and took seven overnight buses.

So, what were the highlights I hear you ask? Well, I’ve narrowed it down to my five favourite experiences:

1. Inca Trail/Machu Picchu, Peru – Completing this four day trek and finally arriving at the wondrous place that is Machu Pacchu has to be the absolute highlight of my trip. The trek was really hard but, as I’ve said before, I enjoyed every minute of it and walking into the lost city filled me with such happiness at the thought of fulfilling a life long dream.


2. Horse riding in the Cochamo Valley, Chile – anyone who knows me knows that I love horses and that I love riding, so being able to go trail riding in the Chilean mountains was something I really wanted to do while I was travelling. This 2-day ride was like nothing I’ve ever done before. The trail was incredible; forest, rivers, and mountains and the horses were amazing; sturdy, strong and courageous. I was absolutely blown away by the spectacular scenery and once again loved every minute of the experience.


3. The World’s Most Dangerous Road, Bolivia – My mum actually forbid me from doing this before I left on my trip but I knew that if I didn’t do it I’d really regret it. The 64 km downhill bike ride on what is considered the most dangerous road in the world was absolutely exhilarating. It was so much fun that I had a smile on my face for the whole ride and the scenery was spectacular; waterfalls, forest and of course the huge cliffs that drop away from the side of the road.


4. Bike riding in the vineyards of Mendoza, Argentina – I’m not much of a bike rider so it’s kind of funny to see that two bike rides made it to my top five list, but this one also included one of my favorite things in the world; wine. This was just one of those days where you have so much fun that the next day you wake up and think, ‘wow, that was perfect!’ Combine delicious wine, riding a bike on a glorious day through gorgeous vineyards with the spectacular Andes in the background, and fabulous company and you have one stellar day.


5. Rio de Janeiro, – Rounding out the top 5 is the coolest city I’ve ever been to. I loved everything about Rio; the amazing sights such as Christ the Redeeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain, the stunning beaches, the crazy nightlife and most of all just the fantastic vibe the city has. I’m so glad Rio was the last place I visited because it was the perfect ending to the most amazing trip.

So there you go, five places/experiences that absolutely blew me away. It’s good to see that there is one for each country because I loved all the countries I visited, they were all so different and I was lucky enough to have incredible, unique experiences every place I went.

Of course, one of things that really made this trip what it was is all the amazing people I met along the way. I was lucky to have a group of fantastic people in my tour group in Peru and then once I was by myself I was able to meet some great people to hang out, party and travel with. Thanks to all those people who I met, you made this trip the greatest thing I’ve done in my life!

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Salar de Uyuni (Bolivian Salt Flats)

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I decided that after about a week in La Paz I would begin my journey south towards Chile. I booked into a tour of the salt flats in the south of Bolivia and took an overnight bus from La Paz to Uyuni where the tour was to begin.

The bus trip didn’t get off to a good start when the proper sleeper bus wasn’t available which meant we had three hours in a normal bus before swapping to a cama bus in a town called Oruro at around 1am in the morning. It was bloody freezing!

I was pretty excited about snuggling up and going to sleep however not long after the trip recommenced we ran out of tarred road and we hit the bumpiest dirt road ever! There wasn’t much sleep after that.

We arrived in the dusty town of Uyuni at about 8am the next morning where I had a chance to get some breakfast and stock up on snacks and water for the next three days. And then at 10:30am we were off, first to the train cemetery, which is just outside Uyuni. To me it was just a bunch of rusty trains but I’m sure it had more significance than that, however with a non-English speaking guide who was being translated into French and then into English, I think that quite a few things got lost in translation.

From there we headed to the Salar (salt flats) where we saw how the locals harvest the salt; piling it into mounds to dry and the shoveling it onto the back of their trucks.

The Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world and is located at 3,600 metres above sea level.

We headed to Isla del Pescado (or Incahuasi) which is a rocky hill in the middle of the Salar and is covered in huge cacti.

After lunch we had time to take photos on the Salar, because it is so white and flat and the horizon is so far away you can take some cool photos using perspective.

That night we stayed in a hotel made of salt, we played shithead, listened to a local band and then we were off to bed.

The next day we headed further south across endless deserts with snow capped mountains on either side (they are actually active volcanoes). We stopped at several lagoons to see flamingos including Laguna Colarada which is a bright red colour because of the algae in the water.

We had minor car troubles on the way.

That night we stayed in a very simple hotel where the six of us stayed in the same room. It was expected to get down to -25 degrees that night so I was very worried – I don’t handle the cold very well. In preparation I rugged up and when I went to bed I had on woolen socks, thermal pants, tracksuit pants, two thermal shirts, a jumper, my beanie and my gloves then my sleeping bag, silk liner, two doonas and three blankets. I could barely move but I didn’t get cold!

The next day it was an early start at 5am – it was freezing! – and we headed off Sol de Mañana where we were able to see geysers and then onto Aguas Termales where you were able to swim in the hot springs – unfortunately I hadn’t packed my swimmers so I had to settle with watching the others enjoy the 35 degree water and then freeze when they got out (even though it was a hot spring there was still ice around the outside).

Then we were off to Laguna Verde, which is often a dark green colour, however because it was such a still day the sediment was all at the bottom. It was spectacular nonetheless.

From there it was a mad dash to drop me off at the bus stop where I was to catch the bus to San Pedro de Atacama in the north of Chile – the rest of the group were heading back to Uyuni.

Overall, a great trip. If you go, take warm clothes and a good sleeping bag!

The World’s Most Dangerous Road

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Even though my mother forbid me from doing this, I couldn’t visit Bolivia and not take on the Death Road – I would’ve regretted it forever.

For those of you playing along at home, the ´World’s Most Dangerous Road´ or ´Death Road´ is a narrow track that snakes down the side of a mountain just outside of La Paz. It used to be the main road between the towns in this part of the country and is a gravel path generally only wide enough for one vehicle (just!) with sheer cliffs on one side that can drop up to 600 metres. On average 26 vehicles disappeared over the edge each year. However, they’ve now opened a replacement road which means the WMDR is mainly only used for cyclists and support vehicles.

The 64km ride began on a tarred road to give you a chance to get used to the bikes and then we began the infamous road. There was just one other girl, Ruth, on my tour (Pro Downhill) and we were given full suspension bikes, protective pants, vests, gloves and full-face helmets. Our guide rode at the front and the support vehicle followed behind.

At the start I was pretty nervous but it didn´t take long before I relaxed and was able to enjoy the spectacular views,  soon I had a smile on my face that lasted the whole way down.

Really the road isn’t that dangerous if you go at a steady pace and don’t panic, although I can see how accidents occur as people could start going too fast and lose control or see the steep cliff to the side and break too fast, sending them flying over the edge.

It’s difficult to describe how amazing it was; the vistas, the track itself and the steep mountains were incredible. We passed under waterfalls and the forest-like landscape was just stunning.

We stopped every 10 minutes or so to take photos and take in the views but all too soon we arrived at the bottom of the mountain, 3,600 below where we started, where we had lunch and a swim in the pool – it had been freezing when we started but by this time it was boiling hot!

And then it was back to La Paz via the new road.

What an experience! It was so exhilarating and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the landscapes were.

I definitely recommend it to everyone, just tell your mum about it afterwards like I did!

La Paz – Wild Rover

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I previously mentioned that I stayed at the Wild Rover hostel while in La Paz which was absolutely fantastic! I’d recommend it to anyone but make sure you take with you a spare liver, because you’ll need it!

The guys that work there are all Irish and therefore know how to throw a good party – and party I did, almost every night. It was like being back at uni, with dress up nights (school disco being one of the memorable ones) hour of power (a shot of beer a minute for 60 minutes, although I had vodka instead – what a night!) and killer pool competitions (miss a shot, do a shot!)

Generally after the bar we’d head to one of the nearby clubs as a group (Blue House and Mongos were two of the notable ones) where the rest of the evening was made up of dancing like maniacs until very early in the morning.

I met so many great people and had some very fun times. My health and my ability to learn spanish the day after a big night definitely suffered but it was totally worth it!

La Paz, Bolivia – The End of the Tour

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After leaving Puno we headed around the banks of Lake Titicaca towards Bolivia. The border crossing went quite smoothly which was a relief as I was a bit nervous because it was my first overland border crossing.

We stopped off in Copacabana for lunch (not the famous Copacabana from the song, which is in Brazil) before continuing on to La Paz. All up it was about a 7 hour bus journey.

The city of La Paz is located in a valley and sprawls up the sides of the mountains that surround it. We entered the city via El Alto, a neighboring city which overlooks La Paz. As we came to the edge of El Alto we were able to look down onto the city and I was absolutely awestruck! I’ve never seen anything like it. The buildings cling to the mountainsides and spill down into the lower part of the canyon where the main streets of the city are made up of modern skyscrapers.

After my first glimpse of La Paz I knew I was going to thoroughly enjoy my time in the city.

The only part I didn’t enjoy was saying goodbye to the amazing group of people from the tour. Part of the group were heading home while others were continuing on with another tour which meant it was time for me to start the solo part of my journey. It was quite amazing how well everyone on the tour got on and we were all very sad to say goodbye. The good thing is that many of them will be in London or nearby when I arrive so we have already planned to catch-up and reminisce about the amazing times we shared.

A huge thank you to Rod from G.A.P Adventures who looked after all of us and made the tour the best experience of my life. And of course to the cheeky bastards on the tour: Francisca, Benedicte, Jolien, Marilyn, Nat, Kat, Shruti, Kat, Will, Tim, Joey and Mark; you guys were the best tour group I could have imagined and I already miss you all very much!

Itinerary

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Three months seems like a long time, but in a place like South America where there is so much to see and do, I think that three months will fly by. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to attempt seeing the entire continent but rather visit a few countries and do them justice.

As I said in my last post, I am flying in to Lima, Peru on the 1st of August and I join my Gap Adventures tour the next day. The tour lasts 21 days and ends in La Paz in Bolivia. I am hoping that I will meet some lovely people on the tour who are continuing their travels through South America that I might be able to travel with.

I’d like to stay a few days in La Paz, I’ve been told the people are very friendly and the markets are a must see. From there, I’d like to head south to see the salt flats in the south of Bolivia and then down through Chile to Santiago. I’m very keen to do a trip to Easter Island from Santiago but I want to try and find a good value tour to go on as it seems very expensive. From Santiago, I think I will travel further south (depending on how cold it is) to the Patagonian lakes district and then across the Andes to Bariloche in Argentina.

Once in Argentina, I am planning to head to Mendoza, the wine area of Argentina and the home of delicious Malbec. I’ve never been a huge fan of red wine but after being persuaded by my friend Helina to try some, I have fallen in love and now I can’t wait to spend some time among the vineyards indulging in some of the finest vino Argentina has to offer.

If Mendoza is the wine capital of Argentina then apparently Buenos Aires is the beef capital and anyone that knows me, knows that I love a good steak. So next on the list is the cosmopolitan city of BA. Buenos Aires is also the home of Tango and after doing one Tango class previously I cannot wait to learn more about this very steamy dance.

From Buenos Aires I want to head to the famous Iguazu Falls which sits on the border of Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Iguazu Falls are meant to be some of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and I’ve been told that you have to see them from the Argentinia side as well as the Brazilian side.

From there, I’m thinking that I might spend some time on the southern beaches of Brazil and hopefully soak up some sun, before heading north to Sao Paulo and then lastly to Rio De Janeiro which is where I will fly out from on the 1st November.

Of course, this isn’t set in stone and there will be many other places visited in between. I’m very interested in hearing suggestions from anyone so please let me know if you think there is a place that I must visit.

Well until next time, adios!

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