So this is it, I've been back home in South of France for about 2 months now. I've started writing this post a while ago but I've been quite busy and to be honest I've kept postponing it... I've had time to tell stories again and again, show pictures, catch up with friends on everything I had missed, go on a few weekends away, spend time with my family and meet my new beautiful nephew (who is now also my godson!). I've had the usual questions: "How was it?" "What was your favourite country?" "Do you miss it?" "Did you enjoy backpacking?" "How was it to travel on your own?".
So much happened between the first day of the trip and the last one (6 and a half months in 8 South American countries, that's 3 days short of 200 days and 42,476km!!) that I thought I would write down my thoughts on this trip, to answer some of these questions and reflect on what I've done.
I think by the end of my trip I was ready to come back home, not because I wasn't enjoying it but because I had done everything I had planned to do, from Brazil all the way to Colombia, and even more. I was looking forward to seeing friends and family and not being a nomad anymore. Because being a traveller is not always easy: it means having to pack and unpack a backpack that gets heavier everyday (you do hate it by the end of the trip), often finding that your bottle of shampoo has leaked all over your clothes freshly washed by the local laundry place (if they haven't mysteriously disappeared in said laundry place), having to lock all your valuables all the time in a locker or in your daypack with a padlock to avoid thefts (I got lucky on that one, probably because I was so careful!), having to sleep with earplugs and an eye mask every night to try to ignore your drunk roommates coming back from a party to your 12-bed dorm, eating sweaty ham & cheese sandwiches to try and save some money, always being either going somewhere or planning where to go next, how to get there, where to stay, what to do there and who to do it with.
But of course all of this is nothing compared to the complete feeling of freedom and happiness you get when setting your eyes on something new every morning. It is incredibly refreshing to see new places, learn new things, meet new people and try new food everyday. To me travelling is an amazing experience that cannot be replaced with anything else. I also felt incredibly grateful and privileged to be able to do such a trip: I do realise that not everyone can do it, yet a lot more people could do it if they just took the plunge. Taking the decision to go is the hardest step, then everything else will come naturally. I'm proud of having achieved this project on my own, with my own savings, which made me appreciate it even more - unlike all those 20-year olds I met using their parents' money to party before figuring out what to do with their life (!)
Since so many people asked me questions about all those countries I visited, I thought I would just give you my thoughts and impressions on each of them with a selection of my favourite pics to remind you of what I did - who knows, it might even inspire you to pick the destination for your next holiday!
This was one of my favourite countries. Maybe because it was the first one and I marvelled at everything I saw as I discovered the life of a backpacker and all that entailed. But I also just absolutely loved the atmosphere: the music, the dancing, the party vibe, but also the fascinating history and rich culture which permeate everything and every little village, the exciting food and the melodious Portuguese language. Those who know me know that I am a sucker for beaches, especially if there are coconut trees, white sand and crystal clear water, and I found the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen in Brazil. And then I arrived in Rio and just fell in love with this beautiful city that made me think I might have been a carioca in another life... Even though I spent 1 month and a half there, I barely scratched the surface of this big and beautiful country ; there is so much more to see so I will definitely be back!
Despite the expensive cost of living (relatively to the other countries), I was a little disappointed by Buenos Aires which didn't feel as exotic as I had hoped, but I did have a lot of fun there! What I did love in Argentina was the variety of landscapes, from modern & fun Buenos Aires and the delicious wine tastings of Mendoza, to the icy surroundings in El Calafate and the Andean vibes of Northern Argentina. And of course the memorable pairings of good steaks with delicious bottles of Malbec hmmm... I am really pleased that my friends insisted on going to Patagonia as I wasn't planning to go initially but it was so impressive and definitely very different from anything else I had done. I still feel like I need to spend more time in Argentina to get to discover more of this big country.
I was only there for 1 day... Does that even count? It was fun to be able to do a day trip from Buenos Aires to go to another country and Colonia del Sacramento was really pretty but I didn't get to explore much of this small yet beautiful country. I heard that Mondevideo is nice and that there are some pretty beaches out there. Also did you know that Uruguay is ranked first in Latin America in democracy, peace, lack of corruption, and is first in South America when it comes to press freedom and prosperity? This makes me curious to see how that translates into Uruguayans' daily life.
I only explored the Northern part of the country above Santiago which is a bit of a shame as I missed out on all the beautiful peaks of Chilean Patagonia, but hey, you can't do everything! This country has great wine and delicious pisco sours, what else could you wish for? I loved the chilled vibe of Santiago and loved even more the Atacama desert with its beautifully strange moon-like scenery and lagunas. The geographical situation of this narrow piece of land is very unique: you can find the Patagonian mountains in the South and the Atacama desert in the North, the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Andes to the East, so if you like nature and majestic landscapes, Chile is perfect as you can explore the country whichever way you want!
Bolivia is the least developed South American country that I visited but it was my biggest surprise. I didn't know much about Bolivia to be honest, so apart from the famous salt flats, I had no idea what to expect. Our 4-day trip to the Salar de Uyuni was incredible with beautifully varied landscapes that were all more impressive than the next. But I also discovered one of the prettiest South American town I have seen (Sucre), and got my first taste of the jungle in an incredible setting. Also everything was so cheap! That allowed me to do more things than I thought I would. And of course I can't forget about all the beautiful traditional woven prints and local hand-crafted souvenirs which meant I had to buy another bag (not so sad about that ha!)
This was another one of my favourite countries! I found the Peruvian culture with its Inca heritage immensely rich and fascinating, throughout all the cities and sites I visited, and Machu Picchu was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. But more than that, the actual Inca trail to get there and the prep for this trek was a big thing for me: as you might know I'm not a very sporty girl, but I really wanted to do this and did some treks (Colca Canyon, Rainbow mountain) to prepare for it and actually pushed my limits much further that I thought I ever could! It was a great feeling and an emotional moment. I was also pleasantly surprised to discover how delicious and creative Peruvian cuisine was - the best I had throughout my entire trip...
I wish I had spent more time in Ecuador that I actually did, even though it is the smallest country I visited. Quito and Cuenca were beautiful historic towns and we had a fun time in the jungle learning more about indigenous communities but of course the biggest highlight of my visit to Ecuador was the Galapagos! I probably won't get to do something like that again anytime soon. It was truly a dream, from idyllic beaches to great wildlife and this perfect sense of peace and tranquility on the boat...
But I know there is more to Ecuador than just the dreamy Galapagos, like all the beaches on the coast, the scenic mountains more inland or the national parks - maybe next time!
Another (and the last) country I got a crush on... I can't deny it, I am a beach girl and I do love beautiful beaches with palm trees and turquoise water... But of course Colombia is much more than that. Similar to Brazil in some ways, historically and culturally, it has been through a lot and you can see that painful heritage everywhere. Yet Colombians are some of the friendliest people I have met, because they are so happy to have overcome it and proud to see tourists visiting their country. And of course the insane salsa dancing in Cali will remain one of my favourite memories of this trip! This is a country full of surprises with very varied landscapes, from the Caribbean beaches and the incredible Guajira desertic scenery in the North, to the big cities and the zona Cafetera in the South - and even though I stayed there for more than 1 month, I feel like there is so much more to see!
Whether I was in a bus, on a beach, in a big city, in the jungle or in a hammock, I've had a lot of time to think. So I've been thinking about what I learnt during this trip:
- One of the first things I realised was that I could do things on my own without anyone else's help - what a relief! I'm not saying I didn't panic sometimes, walking in the streets in an unknown place with my massive backpack trying to figure out where to go. But then I figured it out and I was ok. It was a nice empowering feeling and made me feel great about myself, every step was a little victory.
- Another thing is that even though I am very sociable and love hanging out with people, I can also be solitary sometimes. I'd rather be on my own than to hang out with people I don't like. I actually enjoy being alone to have time to think. And if I've been hanging out with a group, sometimes I just need my personal space for a bit, like reading a book in a hammock - don't take it personally!
- I also realised that work is never as important as you think it is. Or at least that's how I think I want to live my life. The whole point of working is to make a living so you can do things that make you happy! I'm not saying that having a job that makes you happy is not important, on the contrary if it makes you miserable you should definitely change it. But I think although it's easy to forget it sometimes, it's important to remember that life starts at the end of the working day, so take the time to do things you enjoy and spend time with the people you love. Life is too short to spend it stuck in an office late at night.
- Finally I realised how essential travelling was to me. Not as like, I want to travel everyday for the rest of my life, but I do know I need regular trips to discover new places and even a real change of scenery once in a while - maybe one day I will finally decide to properly settle down somewhere? But for now I don't want to be stuck in a routine where I don't even see how beautiful the world is around me. So yes sometimes that will mean taking risks and making things harder for myself to move somewhere new, find a new job, make new friends but I guess I do like a good challenge, it makes it all the more rewarding when you succeed in the end. So watch this space while I choose the destination for my next life adventure...
Thinking about this trip, it's all starting to feel a little blurry now, which is why I'm so pleased I did this blog to remember every little thing I saw, every feeling I had, every person I met and every meal I ate! And yes I do get jealous and nostalgic when I see other travellers's pics, but if I could do it all over again, I would do it all the same.
Thanks for all of you who silently - or not so silently, thanks mum and dad for the comments on EVERY post, I loved it so much! - read my lengthy posts and looked at my millions of pictures. You will be relieved to know this is my last post so you won't have to be jealous of my beachy pictures anymore (well at least for now!)...
Thanks to all the wonderful people who travelled by my side, the one and only Ryan Wong obviously (!), and everyone else I met along the way, but also all the amazing friends who flew all the way to South America to visit: Barbara & Julie (le trio de choc), Meera, Nikita & Nira (the Machu Picchu gang) and my Sam of course.
If you're considering doing a similar trip but are still hesitating, don't overthink it and just do it, it will change your life I promise! And if you're thinking about South America, let me know and I'd be happy to help you plan your trip...
Until next time, hasta la vista!! Xx