Highlights to Hindsight

Hindsight is a most wonderful thing. It’s been over a month since I returned and reflecting on my experience made me wish I had someone who could’ve given me some sound anecdotal advice. And so in retrospect, here are my words of wisdom for my fellow friends of the world & wandering nomads alike, enjoy!

Essentials (particularly for the Inca Trail):

not in any particular order

  •  A headtorch –  Let’s face it, late night bathroom trips wouldn’t be the same without them. You’d probably be a fumbling mess. Even going to the toilet with one was a bit of a chore, but it sure made it a heck of a lot easier. Could not have done without one.
  • Rain pants – Yes, I know what you’re thinking – they make you look like a dork and can’t really be considered as actual clothes. You don’t need to be a psychic to work that out – I shared the exact same sentiments prior to the trip. But seriously, if you’re going to do the Inca Trail (or the Lares), you may have already heard from fellow travellers that it can rain any day of the year regardless of the season. And when it rains, it pours. Continuously. Trust me, when you’re wading knee-deep in Amazonian waters, you’ll wish you didn’t wear those black skinny leg jeans (idiot move, I know).
  • Waterproof gloves – Seriously, I can sense a waterproof/water-resistant theme coming on here. But when your tent is leaking from torrential downpour and you’re trekking for 10-11 hours a day in the rain, your hands will freeze (especially if your agua-drenched knitted gloves feel like iron mitts). I seriously couldn’t feel the ends of my fingertips that day. Invest in a pair, they are worth it. I made do with Nike Dri-fit socks as a substitute (through a kindly gent in my group who was selflessly helping people out left, right & centre), thank goodness.
  • Microfibre towel on the Inca Trail – This is important. Because if/when it rains on the trail, your limited clothing options you packed will not suffice in keeping you relatively dry. Can also double up as a pillow when rolled-up or folded (wish I had thought of that at the time, again – hindsight!). When you’re sleeping in a leaking tent, it will be especially handy. Ditch the notion that you don’t need one ’cause you’re not taking a shower for 4 days, cause you may end up getting showered in rain and that’s when you’ll be regretting it. Sleeping in soggy clothes is an experience that is not overly desired (and can lend itself to pneumonia). Also, opt for an air mattress (worth the extra couple of kilos). And make sure you pick up a cheap poncho on the way.
  • Walking sticks – I’m beginning to sound like an old lady. My folks had a good laugh at my expense when I unabashedly mentioned I’d rented walking sticks or “poles”, for want of a better term (Note: they’re in their sixties). Being a relatively healthy-ish 22-year-old, I must admit I read about this on a tripadvisor forum prior to the trip with a dose of skepticism and scoffed, then thought about seriously considering it afterwards. As silly as it may initially sound, it actually is pretty logical. A lot of people recommend them for steadying your step downhill, but I found them super-helpful going uphill. It was like walking with another pair of legs, no joke. Who wouldn’t want that!? Another tip: if you’re struggling walking uphill, walk in zig zags. I couldn’t have made it up to Dead Woman’s Pass without these two bits of advice (funnily enough it ended up being my favourite day of the trail and highlight of my trip). If you’re lacking in upper-body strength (or in your quads) or just need a bit of extra support, then rent a pair. Don’t be too proud and take the high road, cause you may not be able to reach the high road, quite literally. It also makes it a lot easier on your knees.
  • Baby wipes! – perhaps taking 80 was too many… but they’re always handy. I got these biodegradable ones from wotnot.com.au. Put them in little packs and carry them in your jacket pockets, dayback, etc.
  • An open mind – to trying new things – come on let’s face it, you wouldn’t have picked South America if you weren’t a bit of a thrill-seeker, am I right!? Pisco sours, cuy (guinea pig), sand boarding… you never know until you try! Also understand that if you’re expecting 5-star luxurious accommodation, then you’ll be sorely disappointed. I actually liked the quirks and simplicity of most of the accommodations, and on the whole it was better than expected.
  • A basic understanding of Spanish – A little more than ¡Hola! and ¿Cómo estás? would be good, as you won’t get very far with that. I found that people in Peru tend to speak a bit more English than Chile & Bolivia, but that’s probably a bit of a generalisation. But one thing they all love is that you try to speak Spanish, as it’s sign of respect to their country. If you’ve gone to the effort of planning your trip, you might as well immerse yourself and learn the language. Try and learn phrases you can use. If it helps, carry a little phrase book. Also, note that there are some nuanced differences in pronunciation and word connotations between Spanish in Spain and Latin America.

And most importantly…

  • A good sense of humour – even when you’re spewing on the streets of La Paz next to llama foetuses, it may not be so hilarious at the time but you can laugh about it later. I have a love of still sharing toilet stories to friends and family to this day as they look on with disgust while I guffaw away.

Things I should’ve omitted:

  • A dress – perhaps it’s a cultural thing, as locals in all three countries (Chile, Peru, & Bolivia) didn’t seem to wear dresses or flip-flops and tend to stick to more conservative dress. Fashion is not of the essence here. You can get away with wearing jeans to fancy restaurants.
  • Pocketknife & binoculars – Personally for me, I found I didn’t need these items. Although I went to the Amazon jungle and did the Inca trail, there wasn’t a time where I had to go all ‘Bear Grylls’ and pull out my pocketknife for any particular use. Though I could see how this could come in handy for some travellers. As for the binoculars, if it’s a lightweight one, then sure. But if you’re trying to pack light, then I don’t suggest packing one that although looks small, weighs a fair bit. I used it once. If you’re David Attenborough-esque in your travels, then take it. As in, if the ratio of number of times used outweighs its weight, then you’d probably be best to take it.
  • Sneakers – a good pair of hiking boots and flip-flops will do. It just adds more unnecessary weight for you to carry. Vans are actually the same weight or possibly even slightly heavier than my Columbia hiking boots. Hardly wore them.

That’s all I can think of now. Thank me later. If you have any queries about my trip (there is no such thing as a silly question), don’t hesitate to contact me/comment below.

What are some of your travelling tips? Have I left out any essentials? 

I’m back!

After 35 days, 12 flights, 9 different airports, 4 time zones and currencies, from sub-zero temperatures in the Salar de Uyuni to the humidity of the Amazon - after travelling by various modes and methods of transport including boat, train, plane, bus and 4WD... WE MADE IT!

It's great to be home - flushable toilet paper, brushing my teeth with tap water, not having to wear thongs (flip-flops for you Americans) in the shower, driving on the left side of the road and best of all... having a good old cuppa' English Breakfast tea (oh how I've missed you Twinings).  It really is the little things in life.

This trip really was beyond my wildest dreams, with countless amazing experiences and adventures, which was enhanced by the company of some pretty awesome people. It really has reaffirmed my love for exploring this wonderful world. Full of highs (literally) and lots of laughs, I loved every single second. What started as a quest to conquer/survive the Inca Trail and see Machu Picchu in all its glory soon led to the realisation that it really is the people that make the place. As Christopher McCandless once wrote:
 "Happiness only real when shared".

Life will never be the same.
Highlights include:

Salar de Uyuni
This really needs to be at the top of everyone's Bucket List. For real. Cannot stress how much I love this place. And to think I only visited a tiny fraction of it. Already dreaming about visiting it during the wet season. Indescribably and amazingly beautiful - full of incredibly diverse and ever-changing landscapes. There is so much more than playing around with crazy photos on the white, flat terrain of the salt crystals (though I strongly encourage you do this). Make sure you choose the right company (Quechua Connections). Mind blown.
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Inca Trail - Machu Picchu This was at the top of my Bucket List - and for good reason. Learning about the (somewhat macabre and grisly) history of the Incan Empire along the journey and visiting ancient sites during the 4-day Inca Trail, culminating in a visit to Machu Picchu really was a memorable experience. We went with G Adventures and had really great guides and a group who really cared for one another and kept each other going. Massive kudos to the porters and cooks; it really was a team effort and what they do should be recognised - mammoth effort. 

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Dune buggying in the Huacachina desert

So much fun! If you get the chance to stop by the town of Ica, make sure you hop on a dune buggy. Like a rollercoaster on sand, with all the bumps and thrills minus the actual jolts. Sandboarding down the huuuge dunes was insanely smooth and crazy/awesome. 

10

Santiago (airport)

After hopping on the red-eye flight from Lima to our stopover in Santiago, we were pretty bleary eyed. Whipped out the uke to kill some 6 hours… thought I’d drive people insane but it actually became a good conversation starter (even had a guy boogieing at one point haha). Almost home – here we come 14-hour flight!

Lima

And here we are again! Staying in the refreshingly idyllic neighbourhood of Barranco (way less touristy than Miraflores), all we wanted was a hot shower and a clean bed. We got all that and more at our accommodation 3B Barranco’s, a chic little B&B which was ideally located opposite a couple of good eateries. After a good night’s sleep, we braced ourselves for a last-minute shopping spree (gifts to take back home). Heading to the back to the Miraflores district, we fuelled up at that sangucheria on the corner of Kennedy Park which was always packed, La Lucha. Been meaning to try it for a while but never got round to it – wish we had visited there sooner –  the Chicharron was friggin’ fantastic. Filled with juicy, succulent, melt-in-the-mouth pieces of pork belly on top of layers of sweet potato with a special salsa criolla… BOOM! Sandwiches will never taste the same again. After devouring this and the delectable Huayro-french fries (and freshly squeezed juices might I add), we headed to the Inca market. Bought various goodies – t-shirts, jewellery, toys, magnets, key rings, you name it, they sell it. After eating & shopping, we took a stroll back in Barranco, along the cliffside. Then it was dinner and packing! Couldn’t believe the trip was over already (not including a 6 hour stopover in Santiago airport)… time flies when you’re having fun. I’d had the adventures of a lifetime. I’ll be back South America!

La Paz

After enduring a horror plane trip, I was left feeling pretty queasy. I don’t particularly like flying in small planes (hence my hesitation and subsequent decision to not fly over the Nazca lines) and only realised that the airline we had chosen, Amaszonas, fly small planes in the morning flights. Small as in 18-seater small. What was scheduled to be a 45 minute flight felt like double the duration. Turns out I was right, it was a 90-minute flight due to turbulence. Even more disconcerting was the fact that you could see inside the cockpit, hear a beeping noise throughout the whole flight, the lights flickered for a second at one point apparently (my eyes were shut the entire time) etc. Basically, it didn’t look like the plane was in tip-top condition and alarm bells were ringing in my head. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I imagined, but it was pretty bad. Think I’ll seriously consider taking the 12-hour bus to Uyuni next time. By the time we had landed in La Paz and gotten to the hotel, I was crook. Almost thought I had another spew in me. Turns out it wasn’t quite deja vu (thank goodness), but I ended up sleeping the whole day. Wasted half a day in a city I hadn’t yet explored (again due to illness – damn body, get your act together!). Turns out the 14-hour sleep probably did me good, as I was feeling better the next day and set off on the free walking tour (hopefully more of a success than last time). We had the same guides, and set upon the same route, however, this time the market that had me spewing was nowhere near as busy and we had a quick stroll past instead of lingering around for longer had it been a market day. La Paz is a bizarre place, we had some strange/funny encounters with drunk locals, an elderly lady, and a crazy/energetic dog. It’s history seems to reflect the erratic and eccentric nature of the city. Having said that, I think that’s what I like about it. It’s certainly different and distinct but strikingly and endearing charming (who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by snow capped mountains?). Life is simple here and the people seem genuinely content with what they have. Strolled through the Witches market and ended up buying a ukulele – if I had more hands I would’ve bought a guitar and become a travelling orchestra but alas, such is not the case.  

Uyuni – Day 3

We got off to an early start as we embarked on the last day of the tour of the Salar. We stopped by the geysers at Sol de Mañana and walked around in the -6 degree temperature (wearing only a t-shirt and jacket). Pretty incredible to see both the man-made and natural geysers, a real rarity as they are generally a phenomenon most commonly located near volcanic areas. Then it was off to the Polques hot spring – think everyone let out a universal ‘ahhhhhhhh’ as we entered the extremely inviting waters (particularly after freezing in sub-zero temperatures). Totally worth waking up early for as we had the whole spring to ourselves. You beauty. After dragging ourselves out of the springs for breakfast, we continued on our journey, visiting the Dali desert (named in honour of the artist due to the colours and shapes of the landscape), Laguna Verde & the white lagoon. After departing from the San Pedro border, we voyaged on the 7-hour journey back to Uyuni. Definitely not as arduous or tedious as it sounds… time flew by – having control of the music to accompany the amazing landscapes topped it off. I actually really enjoyed the journey back – our guide Jose took the time to show us a little-known, hidden piece of land, for which I’m forever grateful. There needs to be more like-minded people like him in the world. Cheers buddy. The Salar really stands out amongst a sea of many highlights in South America.  

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Uyuni – Day 2

41 Another jam packed day full of incredibly diverse and beautiful sights. Today we visited San Juan, Ollague Volcano, Altiplanic lagoons with flamengos, Siloli desert, Stone tree, Red lagoon (Laguna Colorada) and entrance into the national park. Words can’t even begin to describe it. IMG_4866 IMG_4878 IMG_4900 IMG_4903 IMG_4910 IMG_4920 IMG_4928 IMG_4938