An ongoing travel diary of notes. The ‘day-to-day’ bits from the Americas!
We’re in Anchorage and have said goodbye to the RV. It’s been emotional. Much of that emotion was relief. We’ve a couple of days here, recuperating and exploring Alaska’s biggest city before we fly to Japan. At that point, we’ll end this diary and transfer over to the Asia diary.
Happy May Day! This month, we finally leave North America. But not just yet…
We’re currently in The Yukon, about to embark on the final stretch of the Alaska Highway to Anchorage. Irritatingly, the Alaska Highway only actually started in Dawson Creek – the drive from Seattle to Jasper before that didn’t count! At least not officially.
As we get more remote, the wildlife has really ramped up. The count as of now is around 60 bison, 40 bighorn sheep, 25 deer, 15 black bears, 3 caribou, 1 stoat, 1.. armadillo type creature we couldn’t identify, and 2 mysterious either elk/moose. At times, we’ve been the only people on the road so have had the chance to slow down and even stop to watch these animals. The best was a family of black bears, who were just grazing on the side of the road. They seemed totally unfazed by humans thankfully, though we remained quiet and tried not to disturb them anyway! Black bears look cuddly, but can be very dangerous to humans – we were reminded of that yesterday by a ranger at the Liard Hot Springs, where black bears killed 2 travellers.
The hot springs themselves were an absolute treat. Apparently re-discovered and made usable by the American Army during WWII, these hidden geothermal pools got as hot as 52 degrees Celsius – like a properly hot bath. They’re totally enclosed by trees and the park have done a great job of retaining the natural surroundings.
We also made it to the Watson lake ‘Signpost Forest’ – a collection of over 70000 signposts from around the world that is apparently increasing at a rate of 2000 a year. Apparently it was started by a homesick GI. Lauren and I hadn’t come as prepared as some, but managed to leave our own Alaska Highway sticker with Hertford and Limerick on! BW
So yesterday was eventful.
It started out well with us leaving a beautiful campsite right by a creek. We headed for the Icefields Parkway, a road through Banff and Jasper with some beautiful places to stop. We headed for the highest point along the Parkway and parked up. The first warning sign should’ve been how deep the snow was. The second warning sign should have been when I slipped and slid down a little path on my bum and then Ben slipped too – cue lots of laughter at how we didn’t pack for a snowstorm! We got back to the car, Ben patted his pockets and THE CAR KEYS WERE GONE. Possibly the worst thing that could happen as the keys for the camper part were on the same ring. I think we spent about 20 minutes traipsing up and down the short path looking for them to no avail. Thankfully, (in a way!) a Canadian guy was locked out of his car, waiting for a locksmith to arrive so we knew we’d be able to get back in somehow and jumpstart it but weren’t sure what would happen after (or how expensive it would be!)
Everyone we’ve met in Canada so far has been so lovely and that was even more apparent when the Canadian guy and a Japanese man (who didn’t speak English) whose car he’d been sheltering in, came out to help us dig for keys. And I mean literally dig. Down on hands and knees, sifting through metres of snow, sticking our heads into holes where trees were growing from. I think it took about an hour to sift through the 10 metres or so of snow but our new Canadian friend found them!! There was so much cheering and hugging I was worried we’d cause an avalanche! The guys wouldn’t accept our many offers of beer to thank them but we did offload a big bar of Cadbury’s while they waited for the locksmith. Thankfully, we saw them all at a rest stop 20 minutes down the road so they got it all sorted. Morale of the story? Always check Ben zips his pockets and make sure to pay forward the kindness of strangers.
Today was spent driving and we got caught in a series of snowstorms so couldn’t really get out anywhere. We’re staying in Dawson Creek tonight – Mile 0 of the Alaskan Highway. Ben also tells me I can have a lie-in tomorrow! Woo! LC
Currently sat on a bench by a fast running creek, whitecaps in the background, surrounded by pine trees, with a firepit full of wood I just collected crackling away. And yes I still have enough signal to type this! Probably not enough to upload a photo though…
Thank god for the wide open spaces, because the RV itself is VERY CLOSE QUARTERS. Lauren and I basically have to take turns inside to not constantly bump into each other, which has made our first few days in Canada interesting. It’s mostly been absolutely beautiful, but I’m glad today is out of the way as it was our longest planned day of driving. Tomorrow we’re heading to the Icefields Parkway and Jasper National Park to see what all the fuss is about. BW
We’re currently sat on a train from Portland to Seattle, rain lashing the windows and greenery outside. It’s almost like being home! Our brief stay in Portland was enough to confirm our suspicions that it’s the sort of city we’d love to move to if we got the chance. Great culture, walkable, and a quick hike up Mount Tabor confirmed it’s also extremely green.
We didn’t have to do anything particularly special or planned to enjoy Portland. We just walked around, taking it in. The street food and drink scene was right up our street, pun intended. We spent a very happy afternoon yesterday walking between various ‘urban wineries’, craft breweries and even a street-food market based on the site of an old asylum.
Hoping for similar if not more of the same in Seattle! BW
Well this is it, our time in Indiana is at an end (for 2019 anyway, right John?) We really have had such a great time not only being able to use it as a base to travel the US from, but to just be in a home with family doing regular things. In no particular order, here are some of the best bits of being in Plymouth:
- Convincing Eliza to like more wine
- We’ve gotten into running, (sometimes with local deer!)
- Finding new friends in Scott and Susan
- Teaching Henry “paw”
- Binging Game of Thrones with Sarah
- Being able to navigate Walmart blindfolded thanks to countless visits
- Family dinners followed by Birds custard
It’s been great, and we’ll miss it as we head back on the road. LC
Today we did possibly the best thing we’ve in all our time in the USA, we went to a political rally. Not just any political rally, but the one where local boy Pete Buttigieg announced he’s running for President in 2020. It was definitely historical!
We (Lauren, Ben, his mum Sarah and sister Eliza) were up early to get to South Bend from Indy. After queuing in the rain for over an hour, we got to the front to realise we had just missed out on being inside a huge warehouse. Yup, that’s right, he packed out a warehouse and had an overspill area in the car park! By that point, we were all drenched. Like, our coats and shoes were soaked through so we decided to make sure we watched the live stream from somewhere dry and ended up at Pete’s local Irish pub nearby with South Bend locals (and us) cheering on his every word. Truly a special moment! LC
Just back from a beautiful stay in Shenandoah National Park (thanks to Ben’s aunt Caroline and uncle David for letting us stay in their beautiful log cabin for a few nights!) We hiked a bit around the park, sat in the sun and did some reading.
Weirdly, it was some much needed time out after a hectic week of job applications and interviews. After that, we headed to Washington DC. I’ve been to the US 6/7 times now and it was my first time visiting the capital! Luckily we were there for peak cherry blossom season. The cherry blossom trees were donated by Japan and are dotted along the Mall. They’re a surprisingly huge tourist attraction- DC was packed! We visited all the standard tourist sites, checked out the Smithsonian museum and hung out with Ben’s family. A nice city to visit and tick off the list but we think 2-3 days there is plenty! LC
We went back to Music City! Just love it too much to stay away. This time we actually went specifically to see Mumford & Sons play, which was a lot of fun though quite different to the British/Irish gig experience. Also got to watch England thrash the Czech Republic in an English pub, so that worked out.
Nothing much major going on otherwise. Had a fun time in Indianapolis with Scott & Susan again, and we’re more or less relaxing until we visit D.C. next week!
Since we last updated we’ve mostly been relaxing in Indiana. We did, however, make a short detour to Chicago this weekend to celebrate Lauren’s birthday and (more importantly obviously) St Patrick’s Day. I’m not sure about Lauren herself as an Irishwoman, but the atmosphere wasn’t very Irish, more just a party. It was actually pretty similar to Mardi Gras in a lot of ways – parades, bars absolutely rammed full (with DJs, not with trad sadly) and a lot of sirens. It was a cracking experience though, especially seeing the Chicago river dyed green for the occasion. Chicago is a really cool city in itself, one I think we’d consider moving to if we could brace the biting cold ! BW
We’ve seen more friends! We picked up Jack and Nikkita from Nashville airport having driven down from Indiana. We stayed with Ben’s step-sister Susan and her husband Scott the night before in Indianapolis, which was an education in how to have an excellent evening in (their cooking, knowledge of good wine and extremely good dog helped…).
Nashville was one of our favourite cities from a previous visit and we were anxious it lived up to expectations. Visiting the country music institution that is the Grand Ol Opry, eating true hot chicken and going on a bar crawl/quiz ending in Karaoke ensured that it was a success.
We’re now in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, having a bit of a rest day after being out for the parades yesterday. It’s a weird atmosphere, like Notting Hill Carnival on a grander scale, with the whole city pretty much shut down and music, beer and entertainment everywhere. EXHAUSTING.
San Francisco was the dream. What a beautiful city….although it’s all reflected in the cost of everything $$$. We had a particularly great day cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito (check the blog for a longer post on that) and enjoyed soaking up the general vibe of the city. It’s on our shortlist of cities we’d like to move to in the USA, for sure!
We then went and saw family in Salt Lake City, visiting the wonderful Jean and Jim who treated us amazingly. Lauren took some ski lessons whilst I roamed the slopes, and we had a fun last day skiing together for pretty much the first time. Travelling has in large part been about doing and learning new things, so that’s a big tick!
Nashville and New Orleans update tomorrow!
Been a little while since our last update! In that time we’ve got ourselves back slightly into a home routine in Indiana, before having a ridiculous few days in Las Vegas. We met up with some ridiculously cute triplets, saw one of my oldest friends and somehow ended up at a Backstreet Boys after-party. Lauren is a bit in heaven.
We’re in San Francisco now, sleeping away our first day as we recuperate from the weekend. Grand plans to see the famous sights tomorrow! BW
Road trip to Charlotte airport complete, and we’re a few hours away from seeing our first familiar faces since October! Braced for the severe change in weather when we step out of a plane in the mid-west…
We had a great last night in Charleston. First a cool rooftop bar on top of a brewery, before making some new friends at a wine and jazz evening. We finished it off with some real Southern home-cookin’ at a Butcher & Bee restaurant, which I think we’ll try and find again when we get to Nashville! BW
On our way into Charleston we visited the Magnolia Plantation. Having looked at other plantation tours and how reviews said only a fraction cover slavery, we were a bit hesitant to visit a plantation due to their history, and the worry that it might be whitewashed in their presentation. Magnolia however did the opposite – as well as walking around the incredible property, we were guided to the old slave houses which had been restored and/or preserved, in order to provide a ‘Slavery to Freedom’ tour. Our tour guide was really honest about all the facets of slavery and the civil rights movement over the last two centuries, but it was nice to hear that the Drayton family who have owned the plantation for the last 12 generations were behind the revival and historical education, and also that they had a strong relationship with descendants of former slaves who still worked on the property! Those guys – the Leach family – are apparently now local celebrities with jobs for life.
Savannah is amazing. Had a fun time last night doing a pub quiz with the help of some tourists from Virginia, before taking the ‘trolley tour’ today – got to see a lot more than we do on the standard walking tour. It’s only a small city, but full of character, bars, people and amazing parks and architecture. Particularly like the Forrest Gump memorabilia such as the bench from the start and end of the film – filmed in a Savannah park.
Currently in Savannah, Georgia after spending a night in Jacksonville and Miami, Florida. Miami was cool, beautiful Art Deco buildings all painted in sunset colours and some very cool bars and restaurants! We only passed through Jacksonville but had our first taste of America suburbia after hostel life – my god the houses are huge.
We had an absolute fiasco getting to Miami from Medellin. Never ever use LastMinute or fly with Viva Air. They cancelled our flight, didn’t tell us and then neither customer service team would believe us that the flight didn’t exist! It wasn’t until we got proof from Miami airport that a Viva Air plane never landed that they believed us. On a brighter note, American Airlines were super helpful and gave us exit row seats. Cross your fingers and toes for us that we get all our money back. LC
Gearing up for our last day in South America tomorrow! Unfortunately, after all the fun of moving hotels two nights ago, I also got food poisoning and slept most of yesterday. We thought we’d found a nice restaurant and it was a silver lining to our chaotic evening but no… Lesson learned, never order meat in an empty Mexican restaurant no matter how cool the decor is… Still felt pretty terrible today so we cancelled our walking tour (hopefully doing that tomorrow morning instead) and took a ride on Medellin’s cable car system instead. Similar to La Paz, it’s been credited with regenerating areas and helping to reduce crime in many poor neighbourhoods – particularly in Pablo Escabar’s old stomping ground Santo Domingo. It’s also seen as the catalyst for similar transport initiatives across Latin America. Great article here – and if you’re really interested in these things like I am, here’s a more academic one from an old professor of mine 😂 . LC
Only right to mention with the recent news from Venezuela the scale of the crisis that is visible here. There are tent cities in Colombia of refugees who have fled their homes, and all throughout the continent we have met Venezuelans who got out some time ago.
Been to a few places since the last update! In Quito we visited the ‘official’ middle of the world, before visiting a Salsa bar in Cali, apparently the home of the dance. Neither are cities we’d return to, but it was fun to visit them briefly.
We’re now in Medellin, currently waiting in our second hotel lobby of the night due to a colossal cock up with booking.com. The first didn’t have a room for us (despite having our booking), whilst the second is trying to charge us much more than our confirmed price. Waiting to resolve that one. The joys of travelling! BW
Been busy in Baños. Today we went canyoning: it was Lauren’s first and very probably last time! I don’t think she’s entirely keen on getting sucked into plunge pools or abseiling down waterfalls, but we did it!
Yesterday, we went to the ‘swing at the end of the world’. Lauren thought she heard that it was an easy two hour hike. In retrospect, what I think she actually heard was “it’s a soul crushing three or so hours where you will be using your hands to scramble over rocks, get covered in mud and consider turning around many times”. Whichever it was, it was tough going and very very wet. But, getting to the swing(s) at the top was an achievement. The first, famous Casa Del Arbol swing was a little bit of a let down. But around the corner was a second, less well known swing that offered better views, better thrills and yes, better photos. All for $1. Winning.
Tomorrow we head to Quito, for a brief stint in the Ecuadorean capital before we’re on to Colombia! BW
Lots to write about the Galápagos so we’ll do a proper blog post on it in the next few days. Needless to say, it was incredible!
We arrived to Baños last night after a LONG day of travel, a town in central Ecuador in the shadow of an active volcano. Lots of outdoor activities to do here and hot springs to visit. We’re getting close to the end of our time in South America – only 10 days left! LC
Been a few days since our last update because unsurprisingly, functional WiFi isn’t in abundance on the Galapagos. Sea lions on the other hand, are. Everywhere. On the beaches, in the sea, on the roads… they’re fantastic and also very friendly. Easily our favourite of the native creatures, without even factoring in how much they remind us of Ben’s chocolate Labrador Bailey: chubby, lazy, happy, cute.
The Galapagos are great, though expensive, hot and we’re both hideously burned. The burn was acquired from some ill-advised snoozing on the deck of a boat (we’ve spent a lot of time on boats), alongside some snorkelling without a wetsuit. The snorkelling has been a real experience though – there’s been a lot of it, leading to close encounters with sea lions, sea turtles, stingrays, sea horses and even a cave full of surprisingly chilled out sharks.
We’ve also visited a rescue facility for giant tortoises, whose numbers were depleted through hunting. They’re trying to repopulate the species, but as with everything tortoise it’s slow going…
Our final full day is tomorrow, which we’ll spend snorkelling (again!) and kayaking, before visiting the famous Charles Darwin Research Centre. Darwin is everywhere here. He’s the street name, tour operator name, boat name, restaurant name, cocktail name, species of bird name, etc etc. BW
New country alert! After 3 1/2 extremely varied weeks in Peru, we’re now in Ecuador. Guayaquil, specifically. We hang out here a couple of nights before catching our flight to the Galapagos which we cannot wait for.
We would have loved to have spent another night in Mancora though. The place is an absolute hidden gem of sand and surf, a tiny beach resort filled with amazing seafood and cheap beers – I had my first poke bowl and can confirm it is a trend worth following.
We also caught some waves! Lauren has had some bad previous experience with surfing, but I think the scene in Mancora relaxed her enough to agree to get a lesson. We both got private lessons of roughly 1.5 hours for about £12, which seems amazing value given we can now actually stand up on a wave and pretend we can do surfing! BW
So first off, I can’t help but read “Rubber Barons” that Ben wrote below as “Rubber Bandits” who are the comedy duo from Limerick who wear plastic bags on their heads to hide their identity. Anyone unfamiliar with the hilarious hot takes and generally great wisdom from the Rubber Bandits should listen to Blindboy’s podcast https://play.acast.com/s/blindboy He’s very passionate about helping young people, particularly young men, understand mindfulnesss, that it’s okay to not be okay and the importance of self care – particularly through exercise. His podcasts are excellent, give him a listen! When I have a job again I definitely plan on donating to his Patreon.
In other news, it’s fallen to me to write an update on the OTHER side of Iquitos, Ayahuasca. We’ll do more of a blog post on it too I think as it’s quite an interesting topic. PARENTS AND PROSPECTIVE FUTURE EMPLOYERS: Ben and I are happy to say that we found plenty to do in Iquitos without needing to resort to psychedelic tree roots, thank you very much.
The big trend in Iquitos and the one that attracts the most tourists is Ayahuasca. It’s an ancient indigenous drug that goes by many names across the Amazon and is traditionally used by shamans, although medicinal use by Amazonian locals is pretty common too. It’s been popularised in the past few years mainly due to the Silicon Valley elite who are looking for a quick path to “enlightenment”, as Ayahuasca reportedly brings out your deepest darkest memories and …”works” to provide you with some sort of salvation/calmness/understanding/purpose/next billion dollar idea.
Ceremonies tend to take place in the jungle in the Amazon over the course of a couple of days and can cost upwards of $800. Surprising that you pay that and are STILL asked to bring your own bucket to puke into. Both Ben and I were interested in eavesdropping on conversations about Ayahuasca to understand a bit more about it and overheard a lot of people say they come to Peru 4/5 times a years to do it and have their own personal shaman here. A personal shaman people! People also have to stick to a very strict diet of no salt, no sugar, no caffeine, no meat… basically all you can eat is fruit and some vegetables in the days leading up to the ceremony.
Despite mild curiosity, we felt no interest in partaking as we think we turned out okay. Cheers for that Mum and Dad. It didn’t hurt that literally everyone who talked about it was your worst idea of an insufferable mild-aged hippie.
This article explains the process and helpfully captures what we thought of the whole thing!
Iquitos has been interesting to say the least. Will need to reflect on it properly at some point, when I’m less dying from humidity.
However. History alert!
We spent a good portion of today visiting the Iquitos Boat Museum. Not actually a museum about boats (thankfully).
The museum – set on an old Steamboat named the Ayapua – essentially documented the rise and fall of the Rubber Barons in the Amazon, an amazing history of colonialism, local tribes and explorers. They housed an absolute treasure trove of relics, artefacts and books including an original English copy documenting the first journey up the Amazon, a copy of explorers notes from old-Hertfordian and Richard Hale legend Alfred Russell Wallace, and what was allegedly the first map of Peru.
The rubber trade made Iquitos incredibly wealthy, so much so that the families of the rubber barons sent their laundry to be washed in England.
Of course it wasn’t painless. The indigenous tribes were routinely exploited for cheap labour. Some Barons were known for their fair dealings with the locals, but others less so including one Julio Cesar Arano. Arano was so bad that when the British government were alerted, they ordered a full inquiry into the dealings of his company. A man called Robert Casement worked the case (ha), finding atrocities committed in his Blue Books. Arano threatened Casement, but his company was ultimately dissolved. Funnily enough Casement then got involved in Irish nationalist politics, before diaries – The Black Books – uncovering his own ‘sexual tourism’ regarding young boys in the Amazon surfaced. He was hanged in 1916, just after the Easter Rising.
The rubber boom collapsed just 30 years after it started, when a Mr Henry Wickham, sent by Kew Gardens, smuggled 70000 rubber seeds back to the UK. Those seeds were used to start a booming trade in Asia and the Amazon was undercut so badly the industry died in a heartbeat, along with Iquitos’ prosperity.
The Boat Museum of Iquitos really needs a new name.
Arrived to Lima Airport to be informed by the check-in person that the flight we booked for 2pm does not exist and there’s a new flight at 7pm. Needless to say we aren’t too thrilled at having to wait in the airport for an extra 5 hours. After managing to complain with the help of Google Translate, (Sean Costello you’d be proud! I learned from all your airport antics over the years!) we were escorted to a fast food restaurant and given chicken and chips… At least it’s a lunch we don’t have to pay for!
In brighter news, Ben found strawberry jam in his pocket this morning. No, I’m not sure how that happened either but it’s giving me a good laugh… 😂 LC
It’s our last full day in Lima today and we’ve celebrated it by… doing more of what we’ve mostly been doing here, which is relaxing. It’s been nice to have a break in between the Inca Trail and the upcoming time in the Jungle and the Galapagos. Very glad Lauren picked Barranco, as the area has a lot more character than other parts of Lima, with loads of restaurants around a nice central square, and a lot of decent bars. We visited a few of these on an organised ‘bar tour’, including the below Ayahuasca.
Tomorrow we fly to Iquitos – an Amazonian city of 500,000 people (madness). BW
Landed in Lima! We’re staying in an apartment in Barranco that we got for £30 a night – such a bargain as it’s now gone up to £90! It’s great having our own space to cook and chill out, there’s even a gym! I brought Ben to one of my favourite restaurants in Lima yesterday – Canta Rana – where we gorged on ceviche. We’ll definitely be going back! Off out on a free walking tour today. I’m really looking forward to it as I didn’t get much chance to explore the historical areas when I was here on my research trip in 2015. LC.
Merry Christmas everyone!! We finished the Inca Trail yesterday and are back in Cusco doing our best to feel festive. We’re wearing Feliz Navidad hats, made our own budget mimosas and went to an Irish pub for lunch with some new friends from our trek.
We’ll do a proper blog post on the Inca trail very soon but to summarise, it was equal parts absolutely breathtaking and absolutely exhausting!!
We started at 4am on the 21st December and that was the the first of many early morning wake up calls. The trail was stunning and we both think that the build up to Machu Picchu was better than the actual site itself (it’s the journey that makes the destination right?). The Inca trail is the historical route that was taken by royalty back in the 15th century and traverses 3 different peaks – one of which is over 4000m high – and covers 45km. We went through 8 different sub-climates ranging from desert to alpine to jungle. We were really lucky to have a great group and spent most of the trek laughing and chatting (and then panting for breath when at altitude!). Our guides were great and our team of porters did a seemingly superhuman task by carrying 30kg packs up and over the mountain passes while lightly jogging with smiles on their faces. They arrived to the camps hours before us, set up our tents and made us the most delicious dinners. These guys are able to make cakes on top of a mountain!
We’ve now got a relaxing evening in eating macaroons, drinking (very cheap) champagne and watching Christmas films before travelling to Lima tomorrow, where we spend a week and the New Year! LC
We finished our time in Puno with a trip to the Uros Islands, a unique group of man made islands in Lake Titicaca. The Uros people live a couple of kilometres from the shore. There’s also 3/4 other indigenous groups you can visit too. It was interesting to see how they built the islands by cutting the roots of lake reeds, binding them together until they floated and then layering cut reeds on top which they replenished every few weeks. The islanders don’t pay taxes and rely on fishing and tourism for income. It was a bit too touristy at points though with the guide being a bit patronising and the Uros people singing to us as we left. Interesting to visit though!
After an overnight bus we arrived in Arequipa which is a breath of fresh air. It’s known as Peru’s most beautiful city and it’s lived up to our expectations with beautiful plazas and cobbled streets, great cafés and an excellent food market. Arequipa is surrounded by active volcanos but sadly we don’t have a couple of days to devote to trekking up one. Gotta save our energy for the Inca trail this weekend! LC
Bus after bus after bus. Now in Peru! Puno, to be precise, just over the border from Copacabana in Bolivia. Both are on Lake Titicaca – the world’s highest navigable lake. Lauren had her first ever (!?) pedalo experience yesterday. Pretty cool place for it.
Today we’re going to the Uros Islands – where an indigenous people still handmade huts, boats etc from reeds.
Missing ‘Not-Christmas’ at home! Tried very hard not to think about the food whilst we ate our 400th breakfast of dry bread and butter. BW
Sent our clothes to the local laundry and they’ve all come back smelling slightly of petrol with red thread sewn onto each garment, including each individual sock. Today shall be spent airing out all our clothes before heading to Lake Titicaca and into Peru this weekend. LC
La Paz is still chaos. But we managed to escape the road for a much better way to see the city today – the Teleférico system is super cheap (about 30p a ride) and gives an amazing view of the city sprawling into the mountains.
We had some local street food for dinner last night – salchipapa is fried frankfurter and chips, smothered with mayo, ketchup, mustard and chilli. It’s as greasy as it sounds and so good I went back for dinner tonight (actually the price attracted me most, 90p!).
Yesterday was spent catching up on sleep and doing our best to acclimatise to the altitude. The headaches are gone but my god, walking up a small hill here really takes it out of you! Luckily taxis are only £1-2 for when we want to go back up the hill.
Things we learned today about La Paz is that drivers are mental and love beeping. Also, nothing is well signed. It took us nearly an hour to find the restaurant we wanted to go to for lunch. When we eventually did though, it was totally worth it! It’s called Popular Cocina Bolivia and uses seasonal local ingredients. The menu is pretty limited – but better for it – and came in at an (expensive for La Paz) £6 each for three courses and a juice. It’s apparently the third highest rated restaurant in La Paz (or so says Tripadvisor…) LC
Three days in the desert later – with so many things seen and done – followed by an overnight bus and we are finally in La Paz. The salt flats were incredible. More of an update coming on those after a loooooooong sleep. BW
San Pedro de Atacama is surprisingly cool! I kind of expected more of a stopover town as people made their way to the salt flats, but its fun in its own right. Old school wild-west style buildings, sandy streets and a great expanse of desert leading to the mountains (and volcano…) make for scenery, and there are plenty of good restaurants and things to do. Although beer is in low supply.
Went out into the Atacama desert last night to stargaze and how nothing really matters because Betelgeuse could explode any time now killing us all. Always good to end on a positive note. BW
So we’re still sitting in Santiago airport, waiting to check in for our 5am flight, nursing pints we bought two hours ago (#backpackingglamour) when we realise we don’t know how we’re getting to La Paz from Uyuni after the salt flats. Cue a mad rush of googling and finding out it’s not exactly the greatest route… (think landslides delaying buses by days type thing, stolen bags and whatnot). Thankfully there’s still some space available with the ONE reputable bus company but it means we get to Uyuni after a week in the desert and salt flats, craving a shower but instead we’ll be getting on a 10 hour overnight bus… We did say this was glamorous.. There better not be any landslides. LC
Now sat in Santiago airport at 9pm, waiting for our flight to Calama at… 5am. From there we take a bus to San Pedro de Atacama, where we have a couple of nights before beginning the journey across the Salt Flats into Bolivia!
We met a really lovely older Irish couple today, who joined us for a walk up the Cerro San Cristobal when we all figured the furnicular was closed. Sweating hell. They bought us a beer when we got back down to ground level, where we had a chat about our various travels, they (might have) convinced us about the merits of sand boarding on your belly in Huacachina and we’ve now swapped emails with the promise to keep in touch so we can get them back with a Guinness!
Stray dogs are everywhere in Valparaíso and they’re all pretty calm and chilled out. It’s estimated there’s a stray dog for every 10 people in Chile. It’s heartbreaking to see so many sleeping on the street but most people here seem to care for them and there’s little dog houses set up in the parks for them during winter! Ben has developed a bit of a Pied Piper status by saying “Good dog” to every dog he sees. We had a pack of five following us this morning… LC
Been a bit lax on this so brief updates on Mendoza and Santiago below!
We arrived in Mendoza earlier this week and it is GORGEOUS. Lots of tree lined avenues and cheap wine. After the earthquake in 1861 which devastated the city, it was rebuilt with really wide avenues. The irrigation canals that had been created by the indigenous people originally were also used as a water source for the trees, drawing directly on the Rio Mendoza. (I loved all this as it was pretty similar to my research trip to Lima back in 2015 except Lima’s canals were extremely polluted…). We spent our first day exploring the city and the second, we headed for some biking and wining. More on that over on the proper blog post page..
We arrived late into Santiago after the most incredible bus journey through the Andes. We’d forgotten that we’d booked the two front seats on the top level of the bus and had some great views, well, apart from when we went around corners and it felt like we were going to go over at times!
Santiago seems like a very liveable city although our time there was short. We spent our first day on a free walking tour and then went to the Memory and Human Rights museum which details everything that happened during the Pinochet regime in a lot of detail. It was fascinating to read about but also pretty harrowing to hear personal testimonies from people who were close to our age when they were abducted and held as political prisoners.
Onwards to the bohemian city of Valparaíso tomorrow!
Happy hour is a proper thing in South America and we couldn’t be more grateful for cheap beers right now, having come off a 25 bus last night. We’re now in Bariloche, the de facto capital of Patagonia (and our last stop in the region). It’s beautiful, but to be honest it mostly feels good to be back somewhere with proper supply chains – in Natales, Calafate, Chalten etc getting fresh produce was near impossible. A lot of fruit in supermarkets was close to or already rotting. So whilst we appreciated the wilderness, it’s nice to be able to get a solid apple.
Bariloche has these weird guardian Totems everywhere. Not sure why, will update if discovered! BW
Still in Patagonia! El Chalten now, a tiny mountain village with incredibly limited wifi but really good hiking. Apparently its the hiking capital of Patagonia and its easy to see why – all the major routes start directly from the town, making everything much more accessible than, say, Torres del Paine was to Puerto Natales. The weather was really crap yesterday though, so we stayed indoors. Today we got lucky and managed to climb up to the Mirador FitzRoy, the most famous peak in the area and the inspiration for the Patagonia brand logo. The WiFi isn’t good enough to upload photos to compare and contrast sadly! BW
We’re now in El Calafate in Argentinian Patagonia. The town itself is pretty small without much to do, but we spent today at the major attraction: the UNESCO world heritage site of Perito Moreno Glacier…and got to hike on it! And drink whisky on it! With glacier ice!
It’s impossible to capture the scale of the glacier – but it’s waaaaay bigger than we expected. Apparently bigger than the whole city of Buenos Aires. Obviously we only walked on a tiny, tiny area of it but it was still a pretty enchanting experience.
We had to wear crampons – spikes which attach to your shoes – to walk on the ice, and the guide was pretty strict. I guess any error here can be your last one given we walked past sinkholes that seemingly went on forever.
We’ll do a full blog post on visiting it soon! BW
Rest day! Yesterday was full-on, as we woke up at 6am and didn’t get back til past 10pm having hiked just under 30km through Torres del Paine national park in Patagonia, making it to the famous Base de Torres. Full blog post on the trek coming soon.
Weirdly, so far in South America finding good coffee has been like a hunt for the holy grail. At last… BW
We’ve arrived in Punta Arenas, Chile, after a 10 hour bus journey across Tierra del Fuego. There’s not an awful lot going on here, it’s more of a stopping point for backpackers but hats off to the person who spotted a gap in the market and opened a hipster coffee shop! We’re currently drinking the best coffee we’ve had since Starbucks in Rio (apparently South America exports all their good coffee).
The journey here was fine. We were on a coach with a gang of French tourists having a private tour at the same time which was a bit weird. We didn’t stop anywhere bar the border crossing but thankfully had a supply of empanadas with us! We also had to get a ferry to mainland Chile which was quite cool. Ben claims he saw an orca (or a very large dolphin) while on the boat.
Taking it pretty easy today and having tuna and pasta for dinner to bring the average back down! Next stop, Puerto Natales for the Torres del Paine National Park! LC
Had an extreeeeemely cold day out on a boat on the Beagle channel, the strait underneath Ushuaia (pronounced Ooh-swai-ah) where Charles Darwin once visited as an amateur naturalist. The Antarctic winds are numbing, but didn’t ruin seeing a couple of sea-lion colonies grunting at each other in their fat, lazy way. They remind us so much of Bailey.
Yesterday was a proper leg-day, hiking around the Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire 🔥) national park through what seemed like three seasons: it snowed, then pelted it with rain, before we finally had bright sunshine. The walking was pretty easy down to the end of ‘Rota 3’, the opposite end of which is apparently 17848km away in Alaska (see you in 6 months!).
Ushuaia is surprisingly varied, a mix between an old port town and a hipster ski resort. For every shipping container, there’s a cool coffee shop. It’s quite expensive, though I guess they have to either ship or fly everything in as the town is locked between the ocean to the south and mountains to the north. Oh, and we visited the world’s most southern Irish pub!! They didn’t have Guinness…
12 hour bus tomorrow to Punta Arenas 😑, a small town across the border in Chile and the start of our time in Patagonia proper. BW
We’re having a relaxing last night in BA, before an early flight to Ushuaia tomorrow. It’s been extremely busy (sorry for the lack of updates, Dad…), and we’re still not sure we managed to do everything we wanted to in the time we had.
We’re staying in San Telmo, an old district in the South-West of the city made up of old-cobbled streets, crumbling European-style buildings anddddd also a lot of dog shit. It’s really picturesque, full of sprawling cafes and bars and a perfect place for people-watching, which has been a great pass-time for us. We stumbled across a parade here, had a beer for a bit and are none the wiser as to what was going on.
It’s also the home to the San Telmo market every Sunday, which has been one of our favourite things here. The market extends for blocks and blocks, with sections for antiques, leather products, other crafts, food stalls…speaking of which…
Glad to be back to the ‘normal’ style of ordering, i.e. not Brazil’s buffet system! We’ve had the obligatory steak a couple of times and it’s been pretty much as good as promised, and surprisingly cheaper – a bottle of Malbec and a couple of steaks from the supermarket cost a total of £3. Amazing. Oh, except for the one night where the one weird long-term hostel resident offered to BBQ everyone dinner for a small contribution. 5 hours later and an overcooked, expensive steak later, we have maybe loosened our willingness to embrace saying ‘yes’ to everything!
A visit to the La Boca area today showed another side to what is a really diverse city. The original port area is full of colour, almost like what you’d expect of a Disney take on an old Latino town. It’s got a reputation for being a little dangerous compared to the rest of the city, though the main streets of the district are mostly tourist traps selling the standard knock-off football kits, fridge magnets etc. The whole place is very instagrammable though…
We’ve also gone to to a drumming gig, La Bomba de Tiempo (mad for their drums…) which was in a cultural centre in the Palermo district and a cool introduction to how the residents of Buenos Aires start their nights out. We’ve gone for a run through a beautiful ecological reserve on the coast and done the obligatory walking tour, learning a lot about some of Argentina’s pretty grim recent history as well as the current financial situation. We naively didn’t expect obtaining pesos to be quite as problematic as it has been – a blog post coming on that soon! BW/LC
Next update from the bottom of the world!
One night so far in Buenos Aires. I love it. Steak, Malbec, good atmosphere. We’re in quite a nice hostel which helps, although Lauren is spending her evening looking lovingly at the pets we’ve left at home.
Miss you: Amber, Bailey, Cosmo, Cooper, Javier, Cleo and Hunter wherever you are. And Pogo. BW
We arrived safely to Foz du Iguaçú earlier this morning after a 17 hour bus from Sao Paolo. Sao Paolo was far nicer than either of us were expecting! We went to the Pinacoteca museum and saw a cool exhibit on radical women of South America who have fought for women’s rights across the continent. We then headed for lunch at the Mercado Municipal where we got absolutely harassed by fruit sellers and paid WAY too much money for some strawberries.
On our second day, we went on a walking tour of the street art in Sao Paolo and then to the football museum which was brilliant! I was a little dubious but it was such a fun and interactive museum. We both had a go at shooting penalties and there was a crowd of Brazilian kids cheering everyone on when they went to take their shot. We also checked out the view of Sao Paolo from Banespa and still can’t wrap our heads around the size of the city. It goes on forever. One of saddest things about Sao Paolo though is the number of homeless people just wrapped up in blankets and lying in the middle of the street or under makeshift tents created from tarps. The inequality in the city is extremely obvious and has led to the rise of an occupation movement – more here if you’re interested: https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/nov/27/sao-paulo-future-inequality-occupations-homeless-movements-mtst-workers
We’ve been in Rio for a few days now, and the sun has finally popped out! There isn’t a whole lot to do here in the rain to be honest. A walking tour around the historic centre was good, but then we had to make our own fun by taking a ferry to Niteroi, getting up to the top of the Parque Cidade and enjoying what should have been an incredible view.
Rio is an incredibly busy, noisy, colourful city. We’ve had a lot of fun struggling with Portuguese (not nearly as similar to Spanish as we’d hoped) and with the traditional ‘pay per kilo’ system for eating out.
Tonight we’re going to the Maracanã stadium for Flamengo vs. Palmeiras, the top two teams in the Brazilian league! There’s a storm due too so looking forward to a thunderous atmosphere… BW
Arrived to Lisbon yesterday morning! Following a badly needed power nap after a 4am wake-up call, we started exploring. It’s such a beautiful city with great architecture and gorgeous tiles on nearly every building. The backpacks are taking a little getting used to. They’re not too heavy despite having months and months worth of clothes in them. I do however, look a bit like a turtle as mine is green and bulbous. I’ve been getting some sympathetic looks from the stylish Portuguese! LC
Testing testing, is this thing on? It’s October and the countdown begins today! We haven’t started packing yet but I’m suddenly panicking about dirty socks. LETS GO. BW.
We’re going on an adventure!
The plan is to travel for 12 months – starting in October 2018. Having never done anything like this before and beginning pretty much from scratch, we figured we may as well document the whole experience: from start to finish. Maybe it’ll be useful to someone, or maybe we can just keep it for nostalgic purposes when we’re back at our desks…
So. First step? Identify where!
The photo below is a cheap board we bought from Amazon along with some flag pins. We used this to start figuring out and refining out route based on where we most *wanted* to go. We’re pretty much agreed at this point that Africa requires it’s own dedicated trip as is beyond the scope of this trip. As we live in the U.K. currently, European destinations are really easy for us to get to. So they’re out too.
The rest… well. Check back soon!