I know, I’m a bit late on this one. It has been nigh on 18 months since I arrived back in the UK from my great South American sojourn, but after writing about it the whole time I was there, and a little when I got back, I never really finished what I started. I never got around to tying up all the loose ends, or commemorating my time there. So yes, it’s a little tardy, but I’m going to do it now, for me if not for anyone else.
How do I summarise my time there, though? I wrote thousands upon thousands of words (perhaps hundreds of thousands) originally, and that was condensed already. Well, I have a solution. After six months of being in South America, at the southernmost point of the continent, I wrote a post with a boat load of statistics on how I’d gotten to that point. I’m going to do it again, but this time for the whole journey.
So bear with me a moment, because I’m going to take you on a little adventure throughout the whole year. It’s going to be full of some of my favourite photos and facts and stacked with stats so random that you never realised you needed them in your life. You still don’t, but we’ll ignore that bit.
Distance & Transport
Time Away – 12 months
Countries Visited – 11 – Guyana, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia & the USA.
Distance Travelled From Home and Back Again – Over 32,000 Miles (~52,000km).
Distance Travelled Within South America – Over 22,000 Miles (~35,000km).
Time Spent on Buses (Not Including Day Trips) – 645 hours.
Overnight Buses – 25.
>24 Hour Buses – Eight.
Boat Trips (Not Including Rafts or Kayaks) – 24.
Time Spent on Boats – Altogether, no idea. After five days on one boat in the Amazon, the rest seem fairly insignificant.
Internal Flights – Three. Two of them were from the Galapagos and back.
Highlights & Lowlights
Highlights of the Trip – This has to be the most difficult question, yet the one that everyone always asks, and I genuinely cannot answer it. With a lot of effort, I’ve managed to narrow it down to only twelve major highlights, which I suppose makes sense for a trip that was twelve months long. That’s not to say that these are the things that everyone would like best, or even that I did. Let’s face it, I’m bound to have forgotten some in the time since I left.
1) Guyana – The least well known and most definitely wildest country I visited. Nowhere else held quite the same sense of adventure, possible danger and inaccessibility that Guyana did. Sure, this might have been influenced by the fact that I was straight off the plane and very green, but that in no way diminishes what is really a forgotten world on a planet where such a thing is a rarity.
2) The Amazon – Yes, there were five days on a stiflingly hot boat, and far too much Portuguese for me to ever understand in a lifetime, but the Amazon is an amazing place full of jungles and waterways, incredible animals and more incredible people. The difficulties just made it all the more worth it.
3) Huayna Potosi – There’s a certain sense of achievement that comes with climbing a mountain, and another again when that mountain is over 6000 metres high. The climb was equal parts breathtaking and exhausting, but it was all worth it at the top. Well, when I got down again, at least.
4) Sucre – How do I explain the admission of a place where I essentially did nothing? I can’t, but for two and a half weeks I made some great friends who also did nothing. Sucre was the basis for that; relaxed and beautiful.
5) Paraty – Early on in Paraty, I hit my head on a rock. I had to go to the hospital, get four stitches and spent the next two weeks with a very swollen face. After all that though, I still loved Paraty – the beautiful colonial town, the sun, the beaches, the sea, the acai, the caipirinhas. What’s not to love?
6) Estancia Panagea – Feeling a bit disillusioned with all the touristy beaches that seemed to be the focus of everyone’s attention, when I got to Uruguay I found myself at Estancia Panagea. After three days or so of sheep and cattle herding, giving shots to the sheep and dipping the cows, mostly on horseback, I felt rejuvenated. Great food and excellent hosts didn’t harm things, either.
7) Patagonia – I’m rather blurring the lines of specificity with such a large region, but Patagonia is amazing and I just couldn’t bring myself to pick between places like Ushuaia, the Torres del Paine and El Chalten. Most of this centres around hiking, and the amazing landscape that is all around.
8) Bariloche – My dad and I arrived in Bariloche right at the end of his month long visit, and right at the end of the summer season. It meant that pretty much everywhere was empty and we had the beautiful vistas that make up the Argentine Lake District all to ourselves. Hiking from Pampa Linda to Lago Frias, for example, we didn’t see a soul the whole journey. Let’s not forget other moments like rafting and cycling the Circuito Chico either, though.
9) Volcan Villarica – Few moments in my life have ever come close to the pure adrenaline I felt in watching Volcan Villarica explode right in front of my eyes, and I doubt many ever will. There’s really not much more to say.
10) San Pedro de Atacama – Having watched many of Brian Cox’s programmes over the years, one place he always seems to mention is the Atacama desert. The driest place in the world, the Atacama is apparently the perfect place for stargazing and is home to ALMA, Earth’s most expensive ground based telescope. After thinking I’d missed my opportunity, I finally got to go stargazing at a facility with a whole bunch of giant telescopes, and pay homage to one of my heroes.
11) Choquequirao – Choquequirao was somewhere I had wanted to go for years. It’s relatively little known even amongst travellers to Peru, overshadowed by it’s more famous cousin Machu Picchu, and fewer still make the trip. That’s because it’s a gruelling four day hike there and back. With quite a bit of planning, my dream came true, and I finally made it, exhausted, to the ruins. It was well worth the effort.
12) The Galapagos Islands – Not sure you have enough money to go to the Galapagos? Neither was I – in fact, I was sure I didn’t. Go anyway. Sometimes for the best experiences you have to throw caution to the wind. Giant turtles, seahorses, blue footed boobies, hammerhead sharks and much more await.
Lowlights of the Trip – Being sick when I arrived in Paraguay is surely one of the worst things that happened to me all trip. For a full 24 hours I was in horrendous pain, exhausted after a 26 hour bus trip, yet too ill to go to bed. Plus I was being eaten by mosquitoes. It was worse than any of the other illnesses or injuries I had. However, lowlight of the trip has to go to the theft of my belongings while I slept on the bus from Santa Marta to San Gil, in Colombia. Not only did I lose a whole bunch of (useless to them) low denomination notes that I’d collected from each country and my camera (with all my photos from the previous three weeks which I had neglected to back up), but it make me question the trust I placed in my fellow travellers.
Food & Drink
Best Drink – Fruit juices. Almost any of them in the Amazon region, but the best selection is from Brazil, where fruit juice is a way of life. I’m still in withdrawal.
Best Alcoholic Drink – Sorry Chileans and Peruvians, the pisco sour does not match up the mighty caipirinha. It’ll be my summer drink of choice from here to eternity.
Best Food – Argentine steak. They say that Argentines are greedy, and that the reason they don’t export much beef is because they eat it all themselves. If that’s the case then I can’t blame them. Their steak is the best, without comparison or parallel, and it makes me sad to think I may never taste such beauty again. The meal my dad and I had in Bariloche, just before he flew back home, was just amazing. Aside from that, the hole in the wall restaurant in La Paz, parrilla in Asuncion, 50 peso pizza in Buenos Aires, sushi in Huanchaco, various seafood dishes in the cheap restaurant street in Puerto Ayora in the Galapagos
Worst Food – This has to be the restaurant in Santa Cruz where my chicken came out raw. I only realised when I bit into it and swallowed, then looked at the bit I hadn’t eaten. It was like the old joke “What’s worse than finding a worm in your apple? Half a worm!” Safe to say, I wasn’t impressed.
Favourite Place to Stay – After all the time I spent in South America, I still have to say Hostel Manaus, for being so nice and letting me in when I arrived, very ill, at six o’clock in the morning. They were also really helpful in organising everything in Portuguese, which I was terrible at. Really, I stayed at so many awesome places I couldn’t name them all, but I’ll try to list a few. The Beehive in Sucre, La Posta in Ushuaia, Chili Kiwi in Pucon and Casa Amelia in Huanchaco. You can’t go wrong with any of those.
Worst Place to Stay – I can’t go past Hotel Esdras in Guayaramerin, just over the Bolivian border from Brazil. For a measly 30 Bolivianos (£3) you get a private room with double bed, and I still can’t say it was good value. A nasty looking bed that I was loathe to touch and some sort of rubbish sprayed up the walls, I would have gone somewhere else had I the option.
Bought & Broken
Phones Broken – Two. The first may have drowned in an unfortunate incident in Bolivia. The second, which I bought in Paraguay, may have suffered a screen breaking fall in Peru. It still kind of works, though!
Other Electronics Broken/Lost – Many pairs of earphones. My first pair that I’d brought from the UK lasted me all the way to a border crossing between Puerto Natales and El Calafate, where I unknowingly dropped them. After that, every pair that I bought would last no more than a couple of months, a sad tale which has continued since I returned home. It’s almost as if they’re not made to be stuffed in pockets. I also had my camera stolen and broke a whole bunch of memory cards, which I’ll elaborate on below.
Electronics Bought – Eight, totalling 176GB. Yes, I bought loads, pretty much wholly to store my many photos and then have backups of those photos. I’d originally been cheap, and thought I’d manage to use memory cards to store them all, buying a bunch in the UK to do the job. Unfortunately, they kept corrupting (and I lost a few photos), so I was forced to buy memory sticks. Bear this in mind if you come across such a dilemma yourself. I also bought that phone in Paraguay, as well as several charging cables and many plug adaptors. Oh, and those earphones.
Clothes Bought – Three pairs of socks in Cusco, after I lost a few. One “I Love Boobies” vest from the Galapagos islands. A woolly hat, gloves and socks from La Paz, the first time through. Remarkably, most things lasted the whole journey. My shorts had holes in the pockets and my t-shirts had holes, well, everywhere, but they lasted. I’ll add that I threw the t-shirts out after I returned. Rest in peace, my friends.
Paintings Bought – Five. Buying paintings is my Achilles heel, something I do almost every country I visit. I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry them while travelling, but eventually succumbed, buying three small easily portable watercolours in Cusco, and two bigger oil paintings in Medellin just before I left. I also bought a couple of small oil paintings that had been done on mirrors from a street artist in Medellin, for my brothers.
Other Souvenirs Bought – My resistance was broken in Cusco, believing I wouldn’t be in South America much longer (I was; it was another three months before I left). I bought a very touristy Incas vs Españolas chess set, which I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing, and a cool rug with llamas and patterns on. Near Trujillo, I bought a ceramic depiction of a Moche deity (their artwork is really awesome). In the Galapagos I bought the “I love Boobies” vest (a joke that never gets old) and I got some coffee for my parents in Colombia’s coffee country. Lastly, I found an amazing little shop in Bogota, just before I left, with loads of really authentic looking replica ancient artifacts. With what were literally my last pennies, I selfishly bought a bowl for myself, as opposed to gifts for my parents. To this day I do not regret a thing. Most impressive of all, I managed to fit this all into my 48 litre rucksack for the journey home.
Longest Hike – Seven days. The stunning Torres del Paine provided the backdrop for this epic.
Most Difficult Hike – Either the climb to the top of Huayna Potosi, which was at its most difficult as I made my way down from the peak, or the trek to Choquequirao and back. Essentially two and a half days down one side of the 1500m valley and up the other, and then back again. It would be much easier with an extra day.
Time Spent in Spanish Lessons – 34 hours. A solid effort I might say. I had a bunch in Sucre about two months in, and a few again in Cusco after nine months. I can hold a conversation still I reckon, just about, but my vocabulary and use of past tense in particular is pretty limited.
Time Spent on Horseback – About 20 hours, so I’m positively an expert horse rider. Unfortunately, I didn’t get around to more after my time in Uruguay, so I might be a little rusty now. Got to get those excuses in early.
Movies Watched at the Cinema – Six. After the thoroughly difficult task of finding somewhere to watch The Martian without dubbing when I was in Bolivia, going to the cinema in each country became a little bit of a ritual. I managed six countries altogether, only missing out in Guyana, Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia.
Books Read – A miserly 15. Let’s be fair, though. Three of those were 1000+ page behemoths. Plus, I’m a really slow reader.
Volcanoes Watched Erupt – One. But isn’t that cool enough for anyone?
Random Other Stats
Debilitating Injuries & Illnesses – Six. There was only one extra illness after the first six months, a horrendous cramping sickness on my return from the Torres del Paine. My Paraguayan sickness still counts as the worst, with my arrival in Manaus, smashed head in Paraty and giant blister in Sucre as honourable mentions.
Longest Without Internet – Eight days. Seriously, almost everywhere is well connected now, and with speeds that put my very poor Devon internet to shame.
Longest Hair Growth – Eight Months. Yes, it took me full on eight months before I plucked up the courage to ask for a hair cut in Spanish. This was mainly due to a Frenchman in Paraguay who declared that whatever he asked for he would end up with a number two all over. I finally got it cut in Bariloche where I happily did not end up with a number two.
Longest Beard Growth – Five Months. After speaking with said Frenchman, I decided to grow the beard out. With a number two all over I’d look about twelve years old. I had to at least look like an adult. Five months later it was still going strong…
Friendliest People – An award I gave away at the six month mark, I no longer feel I can. I only remember nice people from everywhere!
That’s it folks, my belated summary of a year in South America. If you want, feel free to compare my thoughts to my other summary, after six months away. You can find it here. Otherwise, feel free to read through the adventures in detail if you haven’t already (I do recommend this, with absolutely no bias whatsoever) or turn your head to the future. That’s what I’ll be doing. Five days from now I fly out to China, and just like for South America I have very little idea what to expect.