South America, Part One

7 Months, 8 Countries, End of 2014, End of Part 1, South America

How time goes by so far. It’s been touching on 7 months since I left Melbourne, Australia, all the way back west across Asia, Europe, Africa and the Atlantic to reach Rio De Janiero, Brazil. That journey was 38 hours, airtime only. It feels like 2 months ago, not an additional 5. Since then, I’ve came along way. Along way. I’ve matured in myself. In my experience. In my travel. In what I’m capable of. And what I’m comfortable with. It took some time though. My naivety led to thinking South America would be another SE Asia. An incredible socially induced backpacking continent. Free and easy. But my thoughts should have been wiser. I soon realized South America was a continent very proud of itself. And not in the same boat as welcoming Asia. South America is a huge continent, with more frailties and expenses, more challenges and depth to it. Taking this continent on really takes a year at least. But here I am, on the way from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to London, England. I made a promise to family last year I’d see them at this time, and giving my plans to keep on the road exploring and living in new countries, I’m honestly not sure when I’ll be back for the next festive time of year.
I’ve done alot of things here in South America. I mean, in terms of seeing some of the worlds epic sights, I’ve made sure thats happened. Just to give you an idea of what I’ve seen and let’s say, achieved over the past 7 months, i’ll name a few.

I flew to Brazil a week or two prior to the FIFA World Cup. The biggest sport on the planet, and to most, the best destination to host it. Exotic Brazil with its Beaches, Babes, Cocktails and Soccer. The Sun shining, the party atmosphere, it was going to be wild. And it was full on. 90% Males, some backpackers, some holiday makers took to the streets of Brazil. For the majority of the World Cup, I was in Rio. I stayed in Lapa, Santa Teresa, hung out at Copacabana and the amazing Ipanema. It was partying pretty much everyday. Well until, my body couldn’t handle it. Yet 36 hours of sleep and some meds later, I was back with a beer in my hand. Lapa was amazing for the life, the street parties were insane and like New Years Ever everyday as if they were in a main city. Ipanema was the more upmarket place, a cool relaxed vibe with a nice beach and clean surroundings. Copacabana was the main tourist pull. The beach n the middle of the city, the FIFA World Cup Stands and Big Screen TV’s were held here. I have to admit, I didn’t feel the backpacking vibes at this time, and thats what I was desperate for. So my time in Brazil, I wish I appreciated it more. It was huge and quite expensive which also added to the practicability of things. A backpacker on a budget wearing budget clothes eating basic food yet spending money on alcohol as if it was a stag do. At least I got to visit 5 games all in Rio which was a dream for me.

Brazil after that took off a little bit with Salvador, Itacare and Morro De Sao Paolo but nothing else really felt as I would have imagined. I was keen to go anti clockwise around South America and chase the sun, as it was entering winter time for the majority of countries.

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I entered Guyana. An off the beaten track country, less South American and more African Caribbean vibe. Yet, I loved this kind of travel. No expectation at all. Like in Asia, I tried to mix it up and venture into the more obscure or different countries than the whole gringo trail. This time I was early. Not yet into my backpacking stride, maybe Guyana did come too early. I felt more like a journalist or a missionary than a backpacker. But I loved the place and people. It was nice to really do something different that you know alot of people wouldnt put their hands up first to do. Unfortunately some of the company wasn’t great but it was a lesson learnt. I enjoyed my independence and the experience. Kaieteur falls, somewhere I had only heard of when I got there, was a real treat. The largest Single Drop Waterfall this globe has to date. Flying over that on a 12 seater charted flight over the dense Sierra Nevada was a true Nathan Drake Indian Jones moment.

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Then briefly after taking a trip to Trinidad & Tobago for flight purposes i entered Venezuela. Warned off by many backpackers, i wanted to see and taste Venezuela. What it offered and how it came across. Angel Falls was a highlight of course, however so soon after Kaieteur in Guyana, it had a different feel to it. Huge and mammoth like, reaching this spot after 2 days in the jungle, well that was special.
Los Roques, the paradisaical islands based an hour north of Caracas City, and more headed towards the Caribbean, was something I haven’t bettered yet for what it is. 300whit esans islands un-inhabited and only visited by day tours. Mainly only to locals, there is no party here, it really is away from everything and experiencing perfection. I looked up at the sky when I was there and thought how I ever was going to better this for what it was.

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After 28 hours crossing a very sketchy Colombia and Venezuelan border, warned off by many, I reached Colombia and back on the gringo trail. I met a friend whom I had met in Asia a couple years back. That was a nice relief to meet a famly face, and a good man. Cartagena I had always wanted to visit since reading about Sir Francis Drakes visits here. The way the town was cultural, south American and European spread made it a nice place to explore. Santa Marta was next. A hot spot for backpackers to base themselves out of to travel and do day trips in and from. I met up again with a buddy I was in Brazil with. Here I managed to complete my Open Water Scuba Diving Course and visit such places like Tayrona Park, Taganga, Minca and The Lost City hike. The latter being quite difficult and 5 days in the Sierra Nevada, crossing deep waters and hiking steep inclines until my calf’s burnt.

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My plan for Ecuador was brief and really non existent. I had planned 7-10 days. I stayed for a month and is my favorite country on the continent. Beginning in Quito and having a top, very backpacker night out with the great addition of a reunion with a friend from Quito whom I visited the Taj Mahal with a couple years ago, it began with a bang. Visiting Lake Quilatoa, the official middle of the equator point and Mount Pinchincha were all great times. And these were only based out of Quito. Hopping to Banos I paraglided for the first time as well as visiting the ever picturesque moment at Casa Del Arnol, the swing that appears to race out over death defying drops. Montanita was amazing and I felt backpacker like again when partying and meeting a bunch of cool adventurous people. This lead me to visit the Galapagos something I hadn’t budgeted or expected to do. But how I wasn’t let down. My favourite travel experience to date. I scuba dived and snorkelled wth some amazing sealife and destinations. From Galapagos sharks to hammerheads to playing with Sea Lions and seeing naturally water flying Rays drift past my very existence.

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After such a memorial time in the Galapagos, Peru was my next destination. Mancora, known for its huge parties at Loki hostel welcome my aquiantance. I planned to stay for 3-4 days and it ended up being 9. It was pure party but I met probably some of the best people on the continent. Heading to Lima which surprised me greatly with its infusion of local culture and cosmopolitan attitude, i enjoyed the food and city life there. Quick stop offs at the Nasca Lines, a world archaeological wonder, aswell as sand boarding in Huacachina, I soon made it to Cusco then the incredible Machu Pichu. Not expecting much because of the amount of tourism it gets, it brought tears to my eyes and was truly heavenly place that even this experienced traveller was in awe of.

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Bolivia was a 2 week thing, but I accomplished alot. Visiting the Amazon was a childhood dream and seeing all the natural wildlife there more than pleased me. Also mountain biking the Worlds Dangerous road and visiting the unique Salt Flats were day trips that were great experiences and looked even better in the pictures on my Iphone and Nikon.

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Argentina, well a place I ate and chilled out alot. Got my body back on top. Enjoyed the worlds best steaks and wine and met up with two people in particular I care alot about. I spent Christmas here and that was nice to see it again from another cultures perception.

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I haven’t finished yet however, I have a return flight in January to Argentina, where I’m aiming to visit Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile aswell within 4-6 weeks. Yet these 7 months have been amazing and I feel truly stamped as a fairly experienced backpacker now. It has made me grow and I truly appreciate it my time here. It has gone so quick, but when does time ever go slow when your having fun?

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