South America: unforgettable moments

SOUTH AMERICA_Unforgettable Moments

I have loved sharing my weekly blog posts about my backpacking adventure around South America. It was truly an incredible trip with so many amazing experiences.

However, I tried to keep the best until last; here I have collated all the funny, terrifying and absolutely bonkers moments during the 3 weeks.

C H I L E

Sandstorm in San Pedro de Atacama: Having to go against the sandstorm to make it back to our accommodation. It didn’t matter the sunglasses, the neckerchief around my entire face, my hat and all the layers, I was absolutely covered in sand! Make-up wipes came to the rescue to remove the sand from inside ears and nostrils! Yuck! Definitely not cut out for desert life.

 

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C H I L E – B O L I V I A   B O R D E R

One guy came in on a passport that needed to pay a 150$ visa. He did not have 150$ on him and the closest ATM was all the way back in San Pedro. Solution? Haggling. 50$, some Bolivianos and a frozen chicken (donated by a driver)….he got through!

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S U C R E , B O L I V I A

We arrived by bus to ‘Bolivia’s beautiful capital.’ We haggled for a 50p shared taxi-ride to our hotel. We got in, it all looked okay, our companions were two Swiss guys who had quit their jobs that they hated to travel the world – they were teachers (ha…ha…ha…wah). Then, we discovered that the driver’s dashboard was not on the side of the steering wheel…aND it didn’t even work. The driver was just driving blindly not knowing how fast he was going. We survived though! #bargain

In the Plaza de Armas, I loved the little, 8 year old entrepreneur who was trying very hard to get our custom with his shoe-shining business. He told me that my trainers were filthy and I should be ashamed of walking in them. Well we had just left the desert so, he wasn’t wrong. But his leather shoe-shine kit wasn’t going to help me much!

C U S C O , P E R U

We spent our final day  in Cusco buying everything in the amazing markets – which I absolutely adore by the way. Somehow we both ended up buying massive floor rugs and managed to actually get them to fit in our already full-to-the-brim backpacks #skills

L I M A , P E R U

Walking along the coastal path in Miraflores, a group of screaming teenage girls ran after us. They thought J. was Ed Sheeran because of his red hair. They begged for photos, even after me explaining that this was NOT Ed Sheeran. There was a full on fashion shoot going on before I dragged him away. I was so tempted to ask for 5 soles for the photos, like how the ladies with the llamas do when tourists take photos of them in Cusco…

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And the best of all…

Rocking up to the business-class check-in desk  (#freeupgrade) to fly back to London in our scruffy backpacks and equally scruffy outfits, while everyone else was queuing looking at us like ???How are they in business class??? Even we didn’t know, but it was the best flight ever. I slept a solid eight hours!

So that’s it for my second trip to South America. It is an incredible continent to travel around and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can spend weeks, months, years and only scratch the surface. I cannot wait to return hopefully in the not-so-distant future to explore destinations like Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Ecuador. After all, it’s all good Spanish and Portuguese-speaking practice too!

What’s your favourite place/where do you want to go most in South America? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

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How I landed with a FREE Business Upgrade!

Checking in for our flight back home on our mobile app, J. tells me he just saw something he couldn’t believe. It sounded like it was something bad… Hands shaking, he is unable to speak. Snatching the phone from him, my eyes adjust to the screen to read our ticket status: ‘Club World.’

We had been upgraded to Club World (Business Class) for free for our 12-hour flight back to London! Could we believe it? NOPE! Dancing around our hostel room in Lima, we were in shock.

We had paid a little extra for Economy Comfort on the way back, which might have helped us  get to the top of the list to get upgraded. We are also OneWorld/BA Blue Members – free so it’s worth joining. The thought of experiencing business class for our flight back was enough for me to not feel too sad about heading to the airport the next day and leaving Peru behind. A flat bed to sleep in for the flight!

We arrived at the airport to find a huge queue for the BA check in desk, but we were able to waltz through to the Club check-in.  Rucksacks on our backs, jeans and a t-shirt, we definitely didn’t look like business class ticket holders. The disbelief of the other travelers – we looked like the worst backpackers ever (aren’t backpackers meant to like save money, not splurge?!). Something similar happened when we were upgraded last year on our flight from Bangkok – the check-in desk lady refused to let us in the Business Area as she didn’t believe we could be in Business… awkward…

We got through security and made the most of arriving early at Lima airport for the Lounge which had WiFi, snacks and drinks. It was the night of the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale at 8pm local time, and I was sitting with HBO on the TV! Unfortunately our flight had to board 10 minutes before the episode started – go figure.

After dinner on board, it was time to get some sleep in my flat bed-seat. Only 12 hours until we would be back in London. I usually find it so hard to sleep on flights, but this time I slept like a log! I woke up disorientated mid-flight, not sure what the time was. I asked one of the cabin crew how long there was left, and she said that we would be back in an hour and that they were just about to serve breakfast. I had slept the ENTIRE flight?! J. was still sound asleep so I had to wake him up.

Business class sure made the long flight feel like it was nothing, and I stepped off the plane well-rested and not ratty for a change! It was 2:30pm when we landed and we somehow managed to get through security, grab our rucksacks, go to the toilet and still catch our train home at 3:03pm – amazing!

It was a bittersweet ending to the most incredible journey. Three weeks came and went by so quickly. We definitely made the most of every minute but I was exhausted due to being on the go every day. When I made it back to my house, I did nothing but sleep for five days, gathering up my strength to go back to work for the new school year. Business class does not prevent jet lag it seems, haha.

Have you ever had a free flight upgrade? Do you have any tips that have helped you? Let me know in the comments!

Lima for FREE

We had made it to Lima, the last stop on this whirlwind journey through Chile, Bolivia and Peru. With one day left in Peru before our flight home and with dwindling bank accounts, this is what we did all for free!

Go for a stroll

Lima has plenty of parks and places to go for a late afternoon or early evening walk. We loved the Miraflores Boardwalk which hugs the coastline. Start at Lacromar, a new shopping area on the cliff edge, wander around for half an hour before going right along the coast.

Along the way, there are lots of lovely little parks, benches, sports facilities and viewpoints to take in the Pacific Coast. We enjoyed seeing all the cute dogs – many fancy breeds showcased around too!

What we didn’t expect however, was 6 teenage girls run and scream after us because they thought J. was Ed Sheeran because of his red hair (oh dear…). They were desperate to get some selfies with him. He enjoyed his 2 minutes of fame. After all the selfies and Chinese ladies wanting to get pictures of him in South East Asia last year, we thought with only one day left of our trip that we had got away with this not happening on the trip – so wrong.

I especially loved the Parque Kennedy, or as it should be called- The Cat Park! There are about twenty cats who call this park their home, where they are safe and are well fed. It was so cute watching them frolic about in the flowerbeds or hide themselves high up in the tree branches. We saw a man on his lunch break who had brought a can of tuna, so his feline friend could join him for lunch. If you love cats, this is a must!

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Then we had to pack our bags to head the next day to the airport for the 12-hour flight home.

 

Hiking up to Machu Picchu

This was the one thing I was dreading on the trip. The possibility I would have to hike up to Machu Picchu again. I remember just how long it took me and how difficult it was four years ago. And then, no break, having to then climb even more steps for two hours as we had a guided tour of Machu Picchu!

However, this time I would know what to expect, I had James who would drag me up if necessary and I was not concerned about getting up for sunrise – not the end of the world if I didn’t make it.

We left at 3:45am from our hostel, plenty of time for a leisurely 30 minute walk to the park entrance – yep, you have to walk for half an hour before you even start the ascent! It was pitch-black, so my head-torch came in handy, but it wasn’t cold at all! I ended up just wearing a t-shirt and leggings – my jacket stuffed in my bag. It may have just been because I had acclimatised to the colder weather in Bolivia, as everyone else was wrapped up warm!

The gate doesn’t open until 5am, but when we arrived a little after 4am, we were already standing in a long queue! Queuing to hike up?! This isn’t something I remember from my first trip. After waiting around a while, an official checked our tickets and passports – make sure you have these otherwise you will be denied entry! Then we started moving. It wasn’t long until we were all slowly but surely climbing the steps.

After ten minutes, the line started to break up with people going further ahead while other people were taking it slower. I tried to keep a steady pace and for the first half of the ascent I did well.

After the first half was completed, the buses started to leave and get to the top of the mountain. It was around here that my stops were becoming longer and I was starting to struggle. J. wasn’t having it and was having to pep talk me all the way up after that – even though he was the one wearing the backpack and carrying all the water!

Eventually, we got to the top, somehow, and in record time! It took me 90-minutes last time. Our hostel receptionist said that it would take an hour – but this time we did it in 50 minutes which was amazing!

When we got to the top, it was all quite hectic, with bus groups arriving, people queuing to get in for sunrise, so we joined them.

I had wanted to change in the toilets into a new outfit as I was so sweaty and gross and didn’t want to look that way when I got in. Not the case, due to all the craziness, but I found somewhere nearby to change my t-shirt and put some make-up on. J. said it made me look like ‘I hadn’t just climbed a million steps’ which was the look I was ideally going for, so that was good!

We bumped into a few people we had met in Cusco and on the Sacred Valley tour – they had all got the bus but had arrived later than us – this was good, it means that we were very speedy!! They were impressed by our commitment to not spend a ridiculous amount on the bus…

Unfortunately the mist covered the mountains but it did make the views very atmospheric. It wasn’t long for the mist to lift and the sun flooded the Inca city. As we had arrived so early, the site was still very quiet and in some places we didn’t come across other people!

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After taking plenty of photos and making the most of covering the entire place, we were getting hungry. There are no facilities for food/bathrooms once inside Machu Picchu – so it was time to leave.

There is a café and a restaurant by the entrance. We didn’t need a lot, but we had our eye on a massive slice of over-priced chocolate brownie which was the perfect reward for all that hard work!

Before we left we made sure we stamped our passports with the Machu Picchu stamp. We overheard a girl say there was one you could stamp in the Bolivian Salt Flats. J. flared his nostrils at me, as it was something we didn’t realise when we went there – oh well, next time?!

We were originally going to hike up and bus down, but we were feeling good, and the hike down wouldn’t be as difficult as the hike up, right? Plus it’s 12$ we could save. The hike was fine; it took us an hour, this was longer than the way up but we really took our time as we were in no rush, plus we had the sun beating down on us. Not many people hiked down with us.

The main issue we had was when we got to the bottom as we then had to hike the 45 mins back to Aguas Calientes. This was downhill on the way in, but it was now uphill on the way back – by this point we were so exhausted, it was hot, my feet were hurting and it was a struggle. I was tempted to beg the empty coaches going past to pick us up!

Anyway, we made it back, feeling rough, and a tasty, cold jug of lemonade was required, lunch and then sleep on the train.

However, sleep was not an option on the journey back to Cusco as it turned into the most exciting train journey imaginable – our train conductors treated us to a traditional dance show – of course I was the only one who was dragged into the aisle to join in the lively dance – very difficult to dance in walking boots, I learned that day.. and they also had to put on a fashion show, bless them.

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Exhausted, we made it to Poroy station, and all I had to do was haggle for a 25 minute taxi back to Cusco before I could go to sleep! Very thankful I had paid extra to go there instead of Ollantaytambo which would have been another long, bumpy 1h30 mini-van journey.

We enjoyed two final lazy days in Cusco – lots of good food, an Inca massage which was the most painful massage I have ever had – but it stopped all my muscles from aching and meant I could walk up and down stairs normally again! The final day involved lots of bargain hunting in the markets!

Next and final stop….Lima.

Top 4 Tips for your Machu Picchu Adventure! 

I am very lucky to say I have visited Machu Picchu not once, but twice! The first time was on a guided tour, but this time, I organised everything myself.

Guided tours are efficient but they are costly, however if you research in advance, you can book Machu Picchu without forking out for a guided tour.

1. Book your train tickets well in advance

This is going to be the most expensive part. Most people start their adventure to Machu Picchu in Cusco however the main train station is a 90 minute drive away in Ollyantaytambo. It is very easy to get a cheap shared transfer there and back.

It’s important to decide which train company you want to go with and what you are willing to pay. You can splurge all out with some companies, but we went with PeruRail, which still set us back nearly £200pp for a return ticket! Luckily we got an economy comfort ticket which included food/drink and a glass roof to soak in all the scenery. The return train went to Poroy station, which is only a 30 minute taxi-ride to Cusco, which was a relief as Ollyantaytambo is much further.

Note: there are multi-day hiking opportunities to get there as well if that’s up your street.

2. Book your Machu Picchu entry tickets through the official website also well in advance

There is only one official website to buy tickets. There is a limited number of tickets to enter Machu Picchu each day. Choose either to go in the morning or the afternoon. You can buy tickets when you get to Cusco, but it is worth to have this organised so not to disappoint.

3. Stay overnight in Aguas Calientes

It is majorly touristy and more expensive than Cusco, but it is important to get a good night’s rest before you explore one of the Wonders of the World! I returned to the hot springs (where the name Aguas Calientes comes from), however the price had doubled since I went four years ago and I also got a rash when I went in the water…so I had to get out after 15 minutes. Not sure whether I would recommend that one…

4. Are you bus-ing it or hiking it?

I hiked the many many steps up the mountain to Machu Picchu the first time – it was brutal, and I had no intention of doing it again. However, the bus situation has become out of control; instead of a few soles to catch the bus up or down, it is 12€ EACH WAY for a 20 minute journey. These buses are the only transport to get up the mountain. They have obviously found a way of milking the tourists’ money. Anyone with mobility issues, young kids, or who just doesn’t want to hike has this as their only option. Not only this, but if you’re getting the bus to get to there for sunrise, you are going to have to queue from 2am for a 5:30am departure!! We saw people sitting in the queue all the way up the main street in town! I could hardly believe it…

After hearing all this, and debating it for several days, of course we hiked. I did it once, I was sure I could do it again. It was just a shame that the bus situation was the reason why.

See my next post for the hike up to Machu Picchu!

 

 

South America: Sacred Valley, Peru 

This was my second time in Peru and I loved it even more the second time round! I completed the Salkantay Trek four years ago, which meant I had already visited Cusco, the Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu but I was so glad to be back in this amazing country.

I spent a day visiting the various sites around the Sacred Valley, as last time I only really hiked in the area.

The surrounding area of Cusco is at high altitude, however, in comparison to where we had just come from in Bolivia, it was so much lower. So my altitude sickness had gone and I didn’t feel out of breath whenever I had to climb stairs or walk anywhere. This was a massive relief for me but the rest of the tour group did struggle as this was their first stop in South America. I did empathise as I remember having terrible altitude sickness in Cusco on my first trip and had suffering quite badly in Bolivia the week before!

We were picked up at the hotel and made our way to Chinchero, the first stop. Here we visited a centre where we learned about the traditional techniques of dying alpaca fur and weaving it into beautiful clothing and homeware. We then visited the nearby Spanish church which was built over an Inca religious site.

We then visited Moroy to see the Inca terraces. The three that they have excavated so far are only a handful dotted around the region. Some more complete than others. The terraces being a large-scale experiment on farming using different altitudes to grow a range of crops – amazing that this was being done centuries ago.

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The next stop was the minas del sal where we learned all about the salt mining in the area – very different to the salt in Bolivia! It was so warm here and it was lovely to walk around in a t-shirt for the first time during the trip and not in a combination of thermals + t=shirt + jacket + coat!

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We then went to Ollantaytambo to climb up the ruins to the Templo del Sol. A lot of steps, but we made it to the top easily – thanks to acclimatising to the altitude! We would be back the next day to catch our train to Aguas Calientes.

It would have been better to have spent more time at this site, but our guide said it was a long drive to Pisac, and we were pushed for time as we didn’t want to get there for it to be closed! Some people in the group just didn’t care/listen to his instructions and took ages to get back to the bus because they were taking a million and one selfies.

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We got to Pisac and were the last ones allowed in, and we were chased out half an hour later by the security guards! Pisac is massive and unfortunately we were only able to see a small part to the ancient city.

In hindsite, the Sacred Valley has so much to see and do, and if I were to do this tour again, I would split it up into two days; this way there is more time to explore Ollantaytambo and Pisac without the feeling of being rushed. Either way, make sure you don’t miss out so that you can experience the beauty and rich history this region of Peru has to offer!

Returning to Peru: 3 things I’m looking forward to

When I visited Peru back in August 2013, I did say to myself that I would return one day, but I didn’t think that day would come only four years later.

In less than two months, I will throw my backpack on and return to South America, on a journey which will not only cover Peru but also parts of Chile and Bolivia. I absolutely loved Peru, although it doesn’t always bring back fond memories, considering the terrible altitude sickness I suffered from on our treks.


I am looking forward to exploring more of this country, and returning to some familiar places.

Practice my Spanish…

When I first visited Peru, I had only been studying Spanish for one year at university. I managed to hold conversations and barter in markets but it will be great to go back and hopefully speak Spanish with more confidence.

Visit some new places…

I’m looking forward to spending a few days in the capital, Lima, at the end of our three week trip – all I saw was the chaos of the airport, which is making me nervous about stepping out of those airport doors again! We will also be visiting Lake Titicaca which I didn’t see last time either.

 Retrace my steps…

As well as seeing some new sites, I am really looking forward to returning to familar ones. We are spending about 4 days in Cusco. I loved Cusco as it had such a great feel to it and the markets were incredible. It will give us some time to chill and see the sites and maybe do a day trip somewhere.

I am also returning to Aguas Calientes (love the eggy hot springs!) and Machu Picchu. J. really couldn’t go to Peru without seeing Machu Picchu, now could he? It did mean forking out a fortune though for the train tickets but it had to be done.

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Machu Picchu

I wish I didn’t have to do the early morning hike there though from Aguas Calientes. I have done it before, and I don’t need to prove I can do it to anyone, not even myself, as I have already done it. The bus this time is appealing, but J. wants to experience it himself, so he is going to have to deal with me whining and complaining all the way up there!


There is so much more of Peru that we aren’t exploring this time, as we are wanting to see the Atacama desert in Chile before working our way up through Bolivia circling round again to Peru, but that only gives me the excuse to go back…

What do you love about Peru?