South America has tons of distinctive traits and before flying out of the continent two specials ones showed up once more. The first being the pleasant chaos that is always around, however this is every time accompanied by a smiling face that makes the caused discomfort much more bearable. The latter is the apparently cheap cost of labour that results in tons of employees where one could have been sufficient. My endeavour to fly out of Cartagena was characterized by both.
A couple of days ago a plane, of the company I was flying with, was struck by lightning upon landing in Bogota. Although the plane broke up in three parts, most of the passengers survived, leaving only one deadly victim due to a heart attack. This disrupted the whole flight schedule in the coming days as well as the flight I was planning to take. On my last evening in Cartagena I got two emails from the airline company, the first one for the direct connection I had booked, the second one de-routing via Barranquilla and leaving one hour earlier. Just to be sure I got very early to the airport and passed on a final night out in town. When I showed up at the airport, I got referred from desk to desk until I finally queued up for my flight check-in which started one hour later than promised. There it turns out that I got two flight tickets for the flight de-routing through Barranquilla, nevertheless I would be taking the direct flight to Fort Lauderdale, only on a different hour than either the ones that was originally sent to me (things were starting to get slightly confusing for me at this moment). During check-in I all of the sudden needed different documents than the ones requested up front, but we managed to make our way around this. Then I had to wait for another hour to get to customs check, since that one isn’t open at the moment.
Customs check turns out to be like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. First an airline employee writes down my name, then I go for a first interview with a policeman. After this I drop off my bags to get them through the scanner, while I go through one of those walk-through scanners myself. Everything normal until here. Never minding the result of the scanner, I get scanned manually by an officer as well. Then I take my bag to another officer who goes through all my stuff as well. A next officer pads me down, before sending me up to the narcotics officer who takes X-ray shots of my body (so far for privacy)! Then I go back down to the migration officer who questions me once more before giving me my stamp. Then another lovely lady takes down my name and sends me to another airport employee who once more goes through my bags before finally approving me safe to fly. I got to the airport at 7.30am and at 1.30pm, I can finally board my plane towards the States.
Don’t let this short history give you a wrong impression however, I’ve absolutely loved my time on this continent. Before I left I heard horror stories about the freezing cold in Patagonia, the unavoidable food poisoning in Bolivia and the fearless para-military groups of Colombia. All the while during my five months of travelling here I only had amazing experiences, met incredibly friendly people, ate (mostly) really good food and saw fantastic sceneries. I will take all of these with me as beautiful memories while my trip continues and hopefully far beyond. I can only recommend everybody to travel here yourself and experience the absolute friendliness and beauty of this continent.
In an attempt to organize some of these memories I’ve drawn up some lists that rank the most memorable ones.
First place here had for a long while been in the hands of Bolivia, which without any doubt is an amazing country that has so much to offer at a bargain price. In the end Colombia took over based on two reasons: having a coastline (sorry for rubbing it in Bolivia) with all related advantages and the always present joy the Colombians show while smiling, talking or dancing. Having the prettiest looking ladies of my trip might have been important as well. As for the other places I’ve been, if Patagonia had been a country it would definitely been on the top of my list, same for Galapagos. Peru was good fun, but limited to Huaraz and Cuzco area.
2. Galapagos Islands
3. Caribbean Coast
Because the country question didn’t cover the whole spectrum, I started looking at specific areas as well. Patagonia is taking first place here because it is just plainly amazing and I would recommend everybody to go there and to discover it by himself. It’s also a region that has changed part of me as well, where I discovered that I loved being outdoors and go trekking, thus it has definitely defined how the rest of my trip would look like. Galapagos Islands have a mythical aura around them and were the place where I felt most like I was a kid again, looking in amazement at the animals around me. The Caribbean Coast in Colombia is a deserving third that has a lot to offer for anyone who is up for it, stunning beaches with abundant marine life are linked to the cloud forest of the Sierra Nevada rising just behind it, with a flourishing nightlife in between.
1. Caribean lobstertails in Santa Marta
2. Patagonian lamb in Cafayate
3. Filet Mignon in Taganga
4. Mangrove Crab in Guayaquil
5. Self-made food whenever eating out became too expensive
When eating, the people you’re sharing the food with are probably just as important as the quality of the food involved. So it’s no surprise that all off these meals were shared with great fellow travellers. The lobstertails with one of the final evenings of travelling with my parents came in giant portions with freshly grilled vegetables. The Patagonian lamb was a delicious dinner after Tom, Tom, Joss and I finished our trek around Mount Fitzroy. The filet mignon was once again shared with my parents (we tended to go to slightly more expensive restaurants when they were picking up the bill) and it was a pleasure to finally have a nice thick piece of meat (so much that I even went back later on with Tom and Roy). The mangrove crabs were shared when I met Sophie and Jay, a superb Australian couple that I kept running in to later. From time to time, the urge to cook our own meal took over and moments like those mostly gave us the most gratification.
1. Fresh stream water in Patagonia
2. Malbec wine in Mendoza
3. Caipirinhas in Buenos Aires
Rarely good food goes without a good drink and definitely not in the wine regions of Chile and Argentina. But drawing up a list of my favourite drinks didn’t turn out to be that easy, apparently my alcohol consumption has been more limited than I had expected up front. This reflects itself in the first place as well, the fresh water out of the small Patagonian creeks and waterfalls. After being used to bottled and tap water for 25 years, it was an absolute revelation to be able to drink straight out of the little water streams. As a balance for all this healthy water, there were the famous wines of Chile and Argentina. The Malbec variety was our absolute favourite here and it was hard to have a meal where we weren’t drinking a bottle of wine when we were in the area. Caipirinhas normally are reserved for Brazil, but on a great samba party during our first weekend in Buenos Aires the combination of these strong cocktails and good company made us dance all night long.
Most challenging activities
1. Kicking off this trip
2. Climbing Huayna Potosi
3. Biking back from Lago Desierto
4. Surviving freezing cold nights in Huayhuash trek
5. Keep going on the Torres del Paine trek doing everything ourselves
Without any doubt, making the decision to start on this trip was the hardest challenge to overcome. I had been playing with the idea for three years before I finally gave in to it and decided to go for it. Everything since passing that hurdle seems to be a piece of cake. Some things however were a bit harder than others. Climbing Huayna Potosi near La Paz definitely is the achievement I am proudest of. Whilst feeling physically ill, I had the guts and character to continue and make the summit. Afterwards the dredging walk back might have been even harder, but in the end it was all worth it. The mountain-bike trip back and forth to Lago Desierto must have been the most painful experience, neglecting the advice of the locals we set of on a 75km trip over the worst dirt road possible. When coming back there wasn’t a single muscle that wasn’t hurting and every single rock along the road had been personally cursed upon. Whilst trekking the Huaraz area in Northern Peru, each night the temperatures dropped to zero degrees Celsius and I was shivering inside the tent trying to keep my extremities warm by putting a hot water bottle near my feet and sleeping with my hat on. All of this made our trek in Torres del Paine even more impressive, where we were carrying all our belongings, pitching our own tent at night and cooking our own food in harsh conditions. But back then we were still full of fearlessness and courage.
1. The first look of Glaciar Grey
2. Sunset in Pacific with sealions and flying fish
3. Hatching baby turtles in Galapagos
4. Night dive in Taganga
5. Sunrise on Huayna Potosi
6. Sleeping in a hammock at Parque Tayrona
7. Swimming with river dolphins and cayman in the Bolivian Pampas
8. Biking through a deserted Atacama desert
9. Sunrise in a thermal bath during Huayhuash trek
10 . Sunrise at Ciudad Perdida (pictures click here)
The whole trip has been full of amazing experiences, but some of them are even a bit more special. I can vividly remember them straight away and I knew I was thinking to be the luckiest guy on the world at those moments. It’s hard to make a ranking of them, but I gave it a go. The feeling I had when stumbling upon Glacier Grey must be at the very top, after 7 days of intense hiking the majestic view of a 30 kilometre long glacier was extremely overwhelming. Sharing a sunset on a surfboard with animals as well as the hatching of sea turtles used to be things I would dream of as a kid, now I have actually experienced them myself. The night dive I did in Taganga as a part of my advanced dive course was great fun, slowly plunging into a dark unknown world with only my flashlight to guide me was just amazing. The sunrise on Huayna Potosi is without any doubt the most rewarding one I have experienced on this trip. After a couple of days on the Caribbean coast I had gotten used to sleeping in hammocks, but none was as overwhelming as the one in the tower up on the small peninsula of Cabo. Sharing a river with dolphins and cayman was pretty damn cool, as well as taking our mountain bikes and find a part of the Atacama desert that wasn’t full of tourist tours. The last two sunrises were equally magical, it’s only the amount of mosquito bites in Ciudad Perdida that bumped it down to the last place. (Pretty hard to make the selection here considering I had to bump Uyuni saltflats, Macchu Pichu and paragliding in Iquique)
1. The Circuit in Torres del Paine in Patagonia
2. Ciudad Perdida in Sierra Nevadq de Santa Marta
3. Huayhuash trail in North Peru
4. Salkantay trail to Macchu Pichu
5. Cerro Lindo in El Bolson
I had never expected to do that much hiking during my trip, but it seems like you’re never to old to discover new things you like. Out of the 155 days I’ve spent travelling, it turns out that some 45 of them were dedicated to (multi) day trek through nature. I believe the following five were my favourites. Doing the circuit in Torres was something we planned up front and one of the reasons we headed to Patagonia. It didn’t disappoint us and set the expectation level very high from the beginning on. The trek to Ciudad Perdida was something completely different, going through the jungle over ancient old paths of Tayrona indians we had to cross rivers and fight off mosquitoes to finally get to the old indian capital. The Huayhuash trail was equally beautiful as the other hikes done, only we did it a bit more luxurious having our own guide and horseman. The Salkantay trail was great fun to share with an amazing group of people and ended up in the mythical city of Macchu Pichu. A short two day hike to Cerro Lindo finishes of this list, it doesn’t happen that often that you can climb a frozen waterfall in the end.
Most Played Music on my Ipod
The music I’ve been listening most to on this trip, other bands that have been passing by a lot: Air, The Beatles, Beach House, The Black Box Revelation, Bon Iver, Dirty Projectors, Eels, Fever Ray, Fleet Foxes, The Hickey Underworld, Jef Neve, The Low Anthem, Monsters of Folk, The National, Soulwax, The Subs, Vampire Weekend, Warren Zevon, The Whitest Boy Alive.
Things I miss the most
1. Friends and family living their lives and big moments
2. My own kitchen
3. A good game of basketball
While I’m travelling around the world, I’ve taken a side track to the life all of you are involved with. This also means missing out on all the special occasions in your life: new girlfriends, family celebrations, couples getting married, buying houses and having kids, new jobs, … These are the moments I wished I could send myself back for a short moment and be part of all the joy in your life. Guess I’ll just have to catch up fast once I get back.
Asides from that it seems like the things I’m missing are rather trivial. Having my own kitchen with my own utensils, spices and ingredients to put together a nice meal as well as playing a bit of basketball at times. But I guess those two would be better with friends around as well.
Shortly going through these lists I can only see that this trip has been a great experience till now. Five months in six South American countries have flown bye and great memories will always be attached to them. Now it’s time for three weeks of cruising through the States before starting the final leg of my trip in Asia.