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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The Amazon Jungle

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The day after we arrived back in Cuzco from Machu Picchu we took a flight to the Amazon Jungle (Puerto Maldonado) in the north of Peru. The flight was only 35 minutes, then there was a an hour long bus ride and a two hour boat ride before we arrived at the jungle lodges where we were staying.

On the boat we saw white caimans, macaws and these huge rodents which I can’t remember the name of. I was calling them ROUSs – Rodents Of Unusual Size for those of you playing at home (a Princess Bride joke – oh yeah!). Apparently they ae the biggest rodents in the world, although I swear I´ve seen bigger ones in Dad´s garage!

In the evening we went for a walk in the junge to try and spot the many insects and other creatures that come out at night. We saw a tarantula that was bigger than my hand!

We then played a game where we were split up and we had to wait 10 minutes in the dark by ourselves until one of the other group members came to get you. It was a bit nerve wracking being in the pitch black but quite exhilarating. You could hear so many different types of animals and you could see fire flys flickering around which were mesmerising.

The next day we went for a hike into the forest where we saw wild boars, howler monkeys and heaps of different species of insects and plants. We also went canoeing around a lake in the forest and did some piranha fishing which was awesome!

Will playing George of the Jungle

Looks remarkably like Will doesn´t he?

After walking back to the lodges we were all pretty hot and bothered so our guide said that if we wanted to go swimming to be down at the pier 4pm and a boat would pick us up and take us to the other side of the river where we could swim. Now we’d been told that there were white caimans in the river but that they were shy and wouldn’t go near humans so we felt pretty safe. We arrived at the pier but the boat didn’t come so Joey and I decided that we’d swim across. It was probably about 70 metres and it wasn’t flowing very quickly. We both made it across ok and then when Will was half way across the boat showed up and nearly ran him over!

We were all pretty excited that we’d been swimming in the Amazon, that was until that evening when we went out caiman spotting (their eyes glow red in the dark) and we spotted a huge black caiman right near the pier where we’d been swimming! We all remembered the guide clearly telling us that there were no black caimans in the river (they are really aggressive and would happily attack humans), and yet here was one metres from where we’d be swimming hours earlier! I think we were a bit shaken up but were still glad that we’d swam in the Amazon!

The black caiman right near where we swam!

The Inca Trail – Day 2

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We had an early start for breakfast and then we began what was meant to be the hardest day of trekking. And it was tough! We walked 12 kms, up 1,200 metres in altitude for 7 hours.

Nat having a rest part of the way up.

The last section before the top of Dead Woman´s Pass

The top peak is called Dead Woman’s Pass and it was bloody tough getting up there but when I reached the top it was absolutely exhilarating. Everyone who had already arrived clapped and cheered as I took the last few steps and although I was exhausted you couldn’t get the smile off my face.

And then it was down the other side! Another 1.5 hours of downhill steps before we reached camp.

The Inca Trail – Day 1

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We said goodbye to the guys doing the Lares trek then left Ollantaytambo and arrived at the starting point of the Inca Trail. We’d had to pack a duffel bag that weighed less than six kilos which the porters would carry and we also had day packs which were mainly full of water, snacks, sunscreen and lots of toilet paper.

We headed through the first check point where we had our passports stamped and we were on our way!

The first day we walked 10 kms in 5 hours. It wasn’t a difficult trek, there were some uphill and some downhill sections.

It was quite amazing how quickly the landscapes changed – from rocky mountains and cactus plants when we started to rainforest areas with ferns and small streams running down into a raging river below.

When we arrived at camp we watched the locals playing a game of futbol (soccer), had a delicious dinner and headed off to bed with several layers of clothing on as it was expected to be very cold during the night.

Cuzco, the Sacred Valley and Ollantaytambo

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After a short flight from Arequipa we arrived in the wonderful city of Cuzco. Straight away I liked this place as it has a real vibrancy that you notice as soon as you step off the plane. The narrow cobblestoned lanes give the city an authentic colonial feel and the red brick roofs of the buildings make for a spectacular sight from above.

The main square (Plaza de Armas) features the spectacular cathedral which took 100 years to build using blocks of stone from the inca fort Saqsaywaman.

Also around the Plaza are many alpaca wool stores, restaurants and bars – we spent two nights dancing up a storm at a bar called Mythology – very good fun. Although, you have to careful when walking through the Plaza at night because there are representatives from every bar trying to get you to go there and they can get quite aggressive.

We checked out the local market where you could buy anything from fake alpaca scarves to frog smoothies! I picked up a very stylish beenie, which you’ll see later in the photos I’m sure, and I also purchased a real alpaca cardigan from one of the shops on the plaza.

One of the boys on the tour was the victim of an attempted pick pocketing however he caught the fellow before he could take anything.

From Cuzco we headed to the Sacred Valley where we visited the Ccaccaccollo community. G.A.P Adventures supports this small community by allowing tour groups to visit and purchase textiles from the women who make them. We were shown how wool from alpacas, sheep and llamas are used to make beautiful blankets, scarves and hats. I decided to buy a blanket, which will likely be used as a table runner, that features representations of the Inca trail. Gap also supports the community by employing men as porters on the Inca trail.

Afterwards we headed to Saqsaywaman (said like sexy woman) and Pisac, two inca ruins that gave us a taste of what was to come on the inca trail and at Machu Picchu.

That afternoon we ended up in Ollantaytambo which is a beautiful inca city featuring tiered terraces that reach all the way up the mountainside and overlooks the cobblestoned town below. It was amazing to hear about how the huge stones were quarried on a mountainside nearby and then transported all the way over to Ollantaytambo. The rocks have been sculptured so perfectly they fit seamlessly together and some have even been carved to fit around corners of the buildings.

In the evening we stocked up on supplies for our treks (some of us were doing the Inca trail while other were doing the Lares trek) and were briefed by our respective tour guides before heading to bed all ready for a huge few days ahead.

Colca Cañon

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I know I’ve used this word quite a lot during the trip but Colca Cañon was just SPECTACULAR!! Looking down onto the valleys, overlooked by the rugged peaks of the Andes, it just took my breath away how beautiful the landscapes were. The valley has been tiered so the locals can cultivate their crops and there are small water resovoirs that catch the water that was snow on top of the mountains.

Several times I was almost overwhelmed with the scale of the mountains and the beauty of the scenes I was taking in. I couldn’t stop looking in all directions, jut trying to drink in the beautiful scenery.

We were at 3,800 metres and the canyon was 3,260 metres deep. At its deepest it is 4,100 deep and the mountains across from us were 5-6,000 metres high.

The largest birds in the world, Condors, live high up in the mountains and we had the opportunity to catch them up close. They often have a wing span of three metres and stand over a metre tall.

It was incredible seeing them soar over the top of us, although up close they were the ugliest birds I have ever seen!

I bought a hand-embroidered card from a lovely man who spends seven hours making each card. He arrives at the canyon at 5am (which would be bloody cold!) and works until 1pm. I paid 20 soles which means he earns about $1 an hour.

We stayed a fantastic hotel which was almost like a ranch, called La Casa Mamayacchi. It had a thatched roof, beautiful open fire, amazing views of the valley and mountains and of course a Llama in the garden.

Nazca Lines

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After only a few hours sleep we headed off to the Nazca cemetery where they have graves of people from the pre-Inca Nazca civilisation. It was very interesting to learn about the different rituals they performed when burying their dead and also how the bodies were preserved for so long.

Afterwards we travelled to the airport where a group of us were to take a flight over the Nazca lines. There was a bit of a wait but eventually we made our way to the tarmac and onto the tiny six-seater plane.

The flight itself was horrendous! It was so hot and every time we got caught in a gust of wind the plane would lurch and my stomach would protest. Drinking the night before was probably not the best idea but even those who didn’t drink still felt horrible.

The lines themselves were not quite what I expected and definitely not what the post cards made them out to be. From the air it was hard to understand the scale of the lines, however it is still amazing to think they were designed so long ago and are really only visible from the air. The best part about the flight was the spectacular view of the surrounding mountains and the city of Nasca.

I’m definitely glad I did the flight, but a word of warning to anyone planning to do it in the future, the plane ride does get a bit hairy and it is very expensive, US$135 in the high season, for 25 minutes in the air.

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