Our trip in Latin America has come to an end. 10 months in a different world were flying by extremely fast. It is hard to process that we boarded the plane with destination Cusco almost 1 year ago. Full of excitement, expectations, plans and hopes. Fuelled by ideas and the will to create something new. Chasing a dream of 1 year in a foreign environment to learn a new language, meet people, change our own mindsets, exploring cultures and discovering hidden places on this fascinating continent. Equipped only with the belongings that fit in on big backpack and a smaller daypack we started our journey. What it brought us? Let`s find out!
Starting in Cusco was a bit of a safe bet, as part of me lives in this unmatched gem in the Andes. Just this moment entering “La Bodega 138” and after more than 1 year being hugged cordially by Diego and drinking a Maracumanto with him and Andres was a treat for my soul. Hiking in the untouched surrounding of Cusco and doing the Choquequirao hike were just 2 of the many highlights of this first 2 months.
With a heavy heart and the promise to come back we left the center of the Inka empire heading towards it`s beautiful Andean neighbour Bolivia. Bolivia is rough and authentic. To me it is one of the best countries in South America because of its cost-of-living and the variety of landscapes and biozones you can find. Our way lead us into the jungle and the Pampas were we enjoyed the incredible beauty of nature. Basically it is like a zoo without fences 😊 my favourite “encounters”: an Anteater in the tree, a harpy eagle with a captured Boa and fresh Jaguar tracks from a mom and her cub. Bolivia doesn’t just have rich national parks with living animals, it also has a giantic wall with dinosaur tracks on it and we are talking about complete tracks here, not one or two lousy footprints!
What made our trip in the jungle extremely enjoyable were our new Indian friends Indy and Mandrajit. Thanks guys for making it so special for us!
Crossing the border to northern Argentina was already a semi-good experience as it was freezing cold in this border town were the bus arrived before sunrise. For Argentina the story for me is quickly told – hardest food poisoning EVER! I was 3 full days in bed, physically unable to move because of exhaustion. Slow recovery took me 7 days with the help of Russian army magic powder (just don’t ask! 😊 ). Best thing in Argentina/Buenos Aires definitely were the people we met there with special greetings to Hector, Santi and Diego!
Uruguay, the little brother of Argentina, as some might say was an absolutely pleasantly surprise for us. It is clean, people are very friendly and laid back and the landscape it just breath-takingly beautiful. If Uruguay was not on your list PUT IT THERE 😉 The top moment of this stay was our stay on a typical Uruguayan estancia – we would say a farm. We learned to ride horses there and “helped” to move cattle from one meadow to the other. It was days full of laughter and joy. Four animals were the stars of this visit: A pregnant armadillo, Coco the lonely chicken which could speak and our horses Mora and Oliver.
From the quietness of Uruguay we hit the country of Samba, Rum and happiness – well that`s what we thought. Brazil presented itself twofold for us. Unlike many others we loved Sao Paolo and disliked Rio. The reasons are plenty so please see (https://exploringtherabbithole.wordpress.com/2017/10/30/opinions-de-seconde-main/ ). Also in Manaus we first encountered the feeling of being annoyed to travel, a new and unknown emotion so far. Never the less the Amazon was stunning and seeing the Selecao win in a World cup qualifier together with 60.000 Brazilians was definitely a highlight. The butt of Cristo Redentor was a big annoyance though. Oh and btw after struggling to get a good basic level of Spanish people only speak Portuguese, ONLY Portuguese.
Next on the list: Colombia, the new mecca of the South America travellers. There is no denying that Colombia is beautiful, especially in the coffee region, but in my opinion the country needs to grow into it`s designated role as traveller’s choice. Many times people want to help you, but are just incapable of – they simply don’t know how to. Taking into account its history and the fact that it is only safe to travel there for 10 – 15 years makes it completely understandable. Learning about the unspoken heroes of this amazing country in Bogota through a guided tour from Marcos was a perfect way to understand Colombia better.
Another “unknown” country was Ecuador, and as with Uruguay before we were pleasantly surprised by it. The country is very organised, busses follow the time tables, people speak a slow and understandable Spanish, the atmosphere is friendly and relaxed, the prices are still ok and the things Ecuador has to offer are gorgeous! It was here that we fulfilled our wish to do something good. We were WWOF-ing (World Wide Organic Farming) on a small farm in the middle of the Andean range and this stay gave us more than we could have hoped for! Special thanks to Nick, German and his lovely family and all the town of Cahuasqui. During our short stay there, I learned more about life than in many classes and university courses before. Of course, as a scientist I also followed the steps of Charles Darwin to the Galapagos islands which opened our eyes on the issue of sustainable tourism. Just as a hint: going with a cruise ship to different islands gives the local inhabitants only a small one-digit percentage of the total cost of your journey – Think about it…
After that our path brought us to Panama and Costa Rica which both have their natural beauty but didn’t fascinated us much. Cool thing about Costa Rica is that they don’t have an army – imagine that on a worldwide scale. *dreaming*
The last Latin American stop was Cuba, the mother country of revolution. Friends, believe me, I saw a lot during my travels around the globe, but never something like Cuba! I had a very rough time there to be honest. Finding a well-equipped supermarket is impossible for tourists and the spirit of communism is still paralyzing the country. In this country things work completely different than in all capitalist countries I visited. The image I had of Cuba as chilled out, rum drinking, Buena vista playing and Salsa dancing country was totally wrong. Cuba presents a façade to tourists who fly into Havana and be carried around by agencies. When you travel like we prefer to do – the local way – you see circumstances where I seriously asked my self – How does this possibly work here!
To treat ourselves a bit and to end the trip smoothly, we spent 10 days in California and visited my first NHL game of the San Jose Sharks.
Summarizing all of it in just few sentences is a complex task, so please be gracious with your judgement.
Was it tiring?
HELL yes it was! Just the “being sick” all over the trip, again and again, for few days was tiring and nerve wracking. The cultural clashes like a movie in the 6-hour bus ride with the volume of a heavy metal concert (and I endured Manowar, the loudest band in the world!) or having no personal space were dragging us down. We felt our own tolerance to these things was wearing off after like 6 months in this foreign environment. We reacted fast and more intense to those disturbances than on a 4-week holiday trip.
What was the best about the trip?
As I knew this question will interest a lot of people I was thinking about it many times and here is my answer – I can’t tell you plainly! I learned, saw, experienced, discovered, felt, tasted, endured, suffered, enjoyed so many different things in different circumstances that I just don’t have any good way of comparing it all. One very special moment was the meeting with a tribe elder in Colombia during the lost city track. It was impressive and emotionally moving because of two aspects: First he was talking how we westerners treat “pacha mama” (Mother earth) and he asked us to reconsider our heavy abuse of her – without anger, without being educational. Second and really impressive because so unknown to me was his way of answering questions: He always listened to the complete question without interrupting, then thought about it in silence for 3-5 seconds and then answered. How often have you experienced such a way of responding?
What we brought back from the trip?
Tons of good experiences, new friends, great ideas for our future life, stunning pictures, interesting local legends (yes Oliver, I didn’t forget my oath!), a better understanding of the life in South America, trust in our strength to overcome obstacles, knowing our individual boundaries and a Peruvian/Alabama wedding invitation we are most happy about.
Would you do it again?
No, not in this format. The timeframe was too long for us to enjoy the whole trip beginning to end. Still the lust for travelling is more awake than ever and this lust we want to share with all of you! Watch out for our project to come. 😊