Quito, Ecuador

Finish at the middle.  This is it: my final stop in South America.

I chose to end here because the place has some significance – I wanted to go from the “end of the world” (Fin del Mundo, Ushuaia) by surface transport to the middle of the world (Mitad del Mundo, Quito).  I’ve both exceeded and fallen short of this goal – exceeded, by going to Antarctica; short, by flying back to Punta Arenas, Chile (thus skipping a 12 hour bus ride between Ushuaia and Punta Arenas).  Oh well, close enough, more than enough!  I’ve travelled over 21000 km this trip (excluding the flights to and from Vancouver), over 7000 km of which was by bus.  Including the flights to/from Vancouver, I’ve travelled 40500 km, more than the circumference of the world.

But yet not enough!  It feels a bit like a cruel joke I played on myself – there’s so much more I want to see now.  Colombia, especially – and it’d be lovely to keep on going with Óscar and Silvia.  And after having my heart set on changing my flight, and then not being able to do so affordably, my original goal feels like I’m losing out on something. Continue reading

Baños, Ecuador

What a weird name.  I’ve made far too many terrible jokes, before even getting here, of “Nosotros vamos a Baños!  Ah mira, baños!  Ya estamos aqui!

“Baños” means baths.  It also means washrooms.  But this town, Baños de Agua Santa, is so named because of the thermals (hot springs) in the area…I think.  Seeing signs saying “Baños” everywhere in town is certainly confusing when you’re actually looking for a washroom. Continue reading

Cuenca, Ecuador

The final country, final days, final stretch. I really don’t want this to be over!

I’ll pick up immediately where I left off. I arrived at my hostel in Cuenca and gave some big hugs. Turns out Óscar and Silvia were already waiting for me and had made dinner! So sweet of them. And they’ve been waiting for me two days, having done virtually no sightseeing, opting to wait till I arrived.

I offhandedly mentioned to Óscar that I normally wake up at 6 now, due to a combination of strange factors. This was not the case today. Still, Óscar, thinking that I would be up by 7:30, went out and bought food, then made breakfast. I woke up at 9:30 shocked and extremely thankful for another meal prepared for me. Awwww! Continue reading

Easter Island Easter Island

This is the third unplanned detour in my trip (after Antarctica and Rurre), and my second out of South America (Easter Island is part of Oceania, though it belongs to Chile) – coming this late, it meant sacrificing a bit of my original plans (northern Peru), but after seeing an extremely cheap flight from Lima, I just had to take the opportunity. Yes, it’s cheaper, almost half the price to fly internationally to Easter Island than to fly from Chile! I even saw Chileans on my flight.

I met up with Tor and Mikkel in the airport, and we shared our experiences from the last two weeks – I had known in Rurre that they would also head to Easter Island, on the same days that I was considering at the time. (I waited to enter Peru before buying my ticket just 10 days before the flight, a risk that paid off as it was far cheaper.) Seems as though we have a very similar itinerary. Continue reading

Lima, Peru

The bus ride from Cusco was 27 hours, mostly comfortable, but uneventful.  We reached the Pacific Ocean again, my first time since my transfer in Antofagasta ages ago!  Seeing the Pacific always brings me a flood of feelings – a few thousand more kilometres up the coast, and it’s home.  Only having two weeks left in the trip…that makes home seem a lot closer.

Silvia and Óscar have been planning to head up through South and Central America to Mexico, and I seriously thought about joining them to Colombia, at least.  I’ve had such a pleasant few days with them (and Marlies and Flo) that I really wanted to just keep going with them!  (Marlies and Flo ended their trip in Lima.)  Knowing that Lima would be my final two days with them, after almost six weeks- half my trip!- of intermittent contact, made me quite depressed.  So I spent the bus doing some Colombia research, resolving to change my flights and work some magic… Continue reading

Sacred Valley, Peru

After a terrible (but cheap) bus from Arequipa to Cusco, I fell sick.  Ack!  The full cama was a lie – we didn’t even have semi.  While Silvia, Óscar, and Flo ran off to plan out our passage to Machu Picchu, I hung out for the afternoon with Marlies (who also stayed behind at the hostel to sleep more).  With a stomach bug, walking wasn’t very fun, nor was eating – I did run into Matt and Tess (Salta, Tupiza) though!  Turns out they had just recovered from some food poisoning of their own…

Everything in Peru so far has been money money money.  We skipped most of the churches and museums in Arequipa because they were asking for so much, but this problem was even more apparent in Cusco.  (Wanna enter a cathedral?  25 soles…$10!)  Covered in tourists of all types, and not just the backpacker – plenty of flag-waving Japanese groups, old Americans dragging heaps of stuff…these people are willing and able to pay for everything, which kinda makes things difficult for the budget-conscious. Continue reading

Arequipa, Peru

Other than a change of currency that I’m still not used to, and turning back the clock one hour (take that, Daylight Saving Time), the border crossing from Bolivia to Peru was uneventful and easy.  Arriving in Puno (a bit of an ugly city, but known for its connection to the Islas Flotantes, an extremely commercialised and touristic but interesting detour that I opted to skip) for a 15 minute connection to my bus to Arequipa, though…hectic.  After getting on the bus, people started openly complaining, which was a new and awkward experience for me – more than a few Peruvians were banging on the windows and stamping on the floor, yelling “HORA!  VAMOS!” – and we were only 15 minutes late!  Not a particularly great first impression of a country.  They repeated their complaining everytime we picked up a hitchhiker.

Arriving in Arequipa late at night without a hostel, I teamed up with the only other backpacker on the bus – Joachim from Austria.  Following our guidebooks, we settled in quickly and went to grab some dinner…Pizza Hut.  Heh. Continue reading

Isla del Sol, Bolivia

Leaving Rurrenabaque well sunburnt, it was time for more sun – Isla del Sol, that is.

Having made the mistake of buying an open flight ticket with TAM for my return from Rurrenabaque to La Paz, then not using it (it was either wait two days and use it, or fly with Amaszonas, which is what I did), I needed to refund my ticket at the agency I bought it. Unfortunately, the opening time meant that I would miss the tourist bus to Copacabana, the access point to Isla del Sol. The more unfortunate thing? The refund was only 70%, so I lost about $18 for nothing but more hassle.

I then took a local bus to Copacabana, which costs less than the tourist bus…but considering that I needed to take a taxi to the bus company (in a dangerous area, no less), I ended up having to pay more. And the bus took an extra hour too, whoo! It was an excellent ride though, hugging the coast of the stunning Lago Titicaca, one of the largest high-altitude lakes in the world. The road was mountainous as is normal for the Andes, which made for plenty of great viewpoints of the lake. Little communities, farms, random crops growing right by the water, boats… Continue reading

Rurrenabaque, Bolivia

After hearing recommendations from other travellers (Andrew in particular, way back in El Chaltén, Argentina), I decided to make a three-day detour to Rurrenabaque, at the edge of the Amazon basin. The options? Bus for 24 hours (more on that later) or fly. Fly it is!

Well, I messed up a bit – my flight was at 3 pm, and I thought to myself to get to the airport at 1:30 pm, since the ticket says to arrive one hour early. What I DIDN’T read on the ticket was which airport – I ended up at the international airport, not the military one! Oops. With only 30 minutes to spare and a giant traffic jam, I grudgingly shelled out the extra 50 Bs to shuttle me there, just in time.

Except the plane wasn’t on time – we didn’t even board the plane until 4 pm. And zero semblance of security either! Well, a dog sniffed our bags (but not our carry-ons). Whoo. Continue reading