- Vibrant and buzzy Santiago gave me my first buzz with an introduction to Chilean food and its lovely cheerful people. Then came the beautiful Valaparaiso with its amazing hills and stunning street art.
- Stunning and diverse Colombia gave me the best time at the coffee hacienda, gorgeous Salento, resilient Medellin and colourful and vibrant old Cartagena, that gave me some excellent food and a taste of chocolate.
- Ecuador was not only home to the magnificent and vast Amazon Basin but to the charming and adorable Quito with its divine people and chocolate.
- My stint at the shelter for the elderly in Villa Allende gave me the chance to interact with the locals and the volunteer home in Saldan broadened that contact.
- Iguazu Falls gave me a massive ‘wow’ moment and my guides Carlos and Antonio filled me in on the stories surrounding this amazing place.
- My biggest surprise came in Montevideo which, architecturally, was the most amazing place but that steak took my no 1 prize.
- My second stint in Argentina was an improvement on the first stint largely because a couple of great experiences in San Telmo and access to some food that struck a chord.
Best natural experience: The Amazon trip with it’s magic and amazing flora and fauna, followed by Iguazu Falls where the power of the water and the majesty can’t be explained.
Best artistic street experiences: the street performers in Valparaiso, and the Gaucho Festival in Buenos Aires
Best food related experience: the coffee Estancia followed by the chocolate course and the Chilean cooking course.
Favourite city (new or old): hard call and each so different: Santiago (diverse food), Quito (people), Cartagena (Vibrancy), Montevideo (Architecture)
Friendliest city/people: Quito
Best cultural experience: Kichwa village
Best museum / art galley: Guyesamin Museum and Gallery
Most moving experience: Bario tour Medellin
Best meals: the steak and the pork chops at La Chacra del Puerto in Montevideo, Ceviche at La Cevicheria in Cartagena, Lomo Saltado at Sazon Nazca in Valparaiso, Señor Joses BBQd chicken, Ric’s chicken wings at Malagana, Cartagena, Gelato at Heladeria Emporio la Rosa in Lastarria, Santiago.
Favourite hotel; not the five star one but Casa Hotel las Plazas in Quito, simple, homely, spotless and the most welcoming
Most colourful places: Cartagena, La Boca, Valparaiso
Best desert: grilled pineapple, caramel, coconut ice cream at Iguazu Jungle Lodge, Porto Iguazu. Why didn’t I take a photo. The best.
This trip I had few interactions with locals and didn’t get much of a chance to see how people live and interact which was a shame and has left me feeling that I have unfinished business in some places. The food didn’t excite me at all at the and in my final days I was desperate for toast, something resembling a stew or some decent sour dough bread. One more grill or one more Milanesa would have pushed me over the edge. But when I look back at my photos there were actually quite a lot of meals that got my salivary glands going. Apart from those mentioned above were the great and diverse flavours I tried in Santiago on the food trip, the many great meals I had in Cartagena, Senor Joses wonderful home cooked dinners and the great meals I had at the coffee Estancia. I think it was the barrage of poorly cooked steaks and over abundance of poor Italian/Milanesa that clouded my judgement.
South America is not cheap to travel in. It’s certainly cheaper than NZ but compared to most developing places its expensive. Buenos Aires was the most expensive and Montevideo close behind. That applies to almost everything including transport.
Out of the main cities Quito was the cheapest to eat in as there were many hole in the wall places selling local food for much less than restaurant prices. Street food was not in great abundance but most places had decently priced local ‘fast food’.
The people in the classier areas of Buenos Aires were less than receptive, a little like the Parisians, although in San Telmo and La Boca the more bohemian places, at least I got smiles from people. The food in Buenos Aires did not inspire me at all. Although in the end I did get a perfectly cooked steak although it wasn’t the most tender and not really too much to write home about.
Like the food much of the city did not excite me. San Telmo was the place I liked best but the rest of it left me cold, much like Paris did.
The people I met in Villa Allende were divine, and some of the village people in Saldan were lovely too. But there the highlight was the volunteer house, where despite some disruptions, was a great way to spend some time, work with the IVHQ team, eat good food and learn some Spanish.
The tour in Colombia allowed me to learn quite a bit of the Colombian ways and that is something I miss when travelling alone. The food was great, varied and flavour some. The recent history and the turn around of the country are quite remarkable. I enjoyed the diversity here as each place I visited was so different to the others.
The Ecuadorian hospitality shown to me in Quito from all the people in the hotel was amazing. Señorita Lucia gave me some insights in to how the people live and get by. People I met on the streets were all friendly, helpful and welcoming. It did not seem like a big city, mainly because of the people.
Ecuador mainly and to a lesser extent Colombia let me feel that I was in a different country. The people looked different, they dressed different and particularly in Ecuador they ate different.
The Amazon experience was amazing but like any tourist activity was just looking at stuff. I learned heaps about the flora and fauna, the beliefs and past cultural behaviours of the native people and addressed my fear of heights and swing bridges. The kichwa village visit in the rain forest gave hints at how the people live and showed us how they cooked and what they ate.
I think the closest I got to understanding any ways of life was in Chile where the excellent and comprehensive walking tours of both Santiago and Valparaiso were opportunities to learn more about the culture and especially the food of those two parts of the country.
Uruguay and in particular Montevideo, had the most modern infrastructure and my few days there had me glorying in the beauty of the buildings. Old Colonia too was beautiful but a half day there would have been ample.
My birthday bash has come to an end. It didn’t give me the rush that I had expected/ hoped for but I can cross it off my list. There’s still a few places/things I would like to explore; the Atacama Desert, the hot pools of Salto in Uruguay, the Peruvian food scene, the diversity and people of Bolivia and more time in small places, but they can go on the list for the next visit to South America. I don’t feel as though I have missed out on leaving some major attractions off my list and wont do them if I come back again. I am happy that I did both the Amazon trip and the journey to the falls but pleased that I was travelling off season and thus avoiding the tourist madness. Off season travel had major advantages even though it meant that most of the time I was cold. Sadly by taking time out for those two visits it mean less time trying to figure out how the people tick.
Will I go back? Not to the places I have already been but Peru and Bolivia are possibilities on the way to Central America.
Should I have done it differently? No I don’t think so, even though I spent too much time in some places which meant I missed out on others, at least I exhausted the places I went to and don’t feel the need to return.
Was I ready to leave? South America yes, but the trip opened up a curiosity of places further north so I could have easily carried on to something more ‘out there’.
Was I ready to go home? Only to get out of those clothes and stay put for a few nights. I didn’t feel that I had yet had the adventure I was looking for. I hadn't felt the fire and passion to put my heart into my writing. Maybe I’m just getting old.