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Trip Report Reflections on our South America trip

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Firstly, a big thank you to all who followed along on our travels over the last six month both here and on our blog. Your comments, suggestions and (in the case of mlgb) constant reminders to post updates, were a terrific inspiration to continue. I hope at least some of the information will be of use to others visiting this amazing continent.

A few thoughts and reflections on the last six month:

Transport
BUSES - 200 hours or over 8 days spent on buses. Longest journey 22 hours from Lima to Cusco. Best buses Peru, worst, Bolivia and Ecuador. Most spectacular bus journey was from Copacabana to La Paz, around and across Lake Titicaca

Most fun trip - the train journey to Machachi accompanied by 60 excitable school kids on a massive sugar rush

Most exhilarating trip - our bike ride down a Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador 45 kms long and a descent of 2.5 kms from 5000m to Riobamba

Most embarrassing moment - Trying to mount a horse in Tupiza Bolivia and managing to somersault over its neck

We love walking and my pedometer tells me we averaged 12km per day walking, around 2200kms in total 1375 miles

Hardest hike - the Quilatoa loop in Ecuador - I could barely walk by the end,

Boats - 10+ hours in canoes  in the Madidi NP. 5 hours on a ferry on lake Titicaca, and one sea voyage to Isla Del Plata - 6 hours.

Flights- 24 hours and 3 flights to get here and two flights and 20 hours to return. Four flights in Bolivia including one broken down aircraft in Rurrenabaque and passing one plane that had crashed off the side of the runway a few hours before as we landed in Sucre.

Driving - a spectacular drive around the northwest of Argentina. Worst drivers are in Quito, or Lima or La Paz where they actually seem to aim to kill pedestrians. The most considerate drivers were in Chile, possibly because any driver hitting a pedestrian is automatically jailed until proved innocent...

Scariest driving experience - outside of Sucre on a day tour. Thunderstorms, fog and floods in a fogged up minibus with a lunatic driver along muddy mountain roads sliding withing inches of a sheer drop down a mountain. Not our best day..

FOOD

Food is very inexpensive everywhere and usually of a pretty high standard, although we corundum that price has little correlation with quality.

Fish - Arica, Chile especially swordfish and tuna straight from the dock

Lima for the sheer variety and quality of restaurants especially ceviche and sushi

Ecuador for street and market food and superb soups

Cusco and Ecuador markets for fruit and juices

Argentina is still the best for meat 

Salta, Argentina, not as well known as Mendoza but it has some incredible vineyards

MOST MEMORABLE EXPERIENCES/PLACES

Tupiza to Uyuni salt flats. The most mind blowing scenery of anywhere we have been ( and not just the Salar

Sunrise over Uyuni salt flats. Almost like being on a different planet

Madidi National Park in Bolivia. Unspoilt, peaceful and great people

Biking down Volcan Chimborazo in Ecuador. Still can't believe we were biking at 5000 metres, even if it was mostly downhill

Bus ride from Copacabana to La Paz around Titicaca , surely the amongst the most spectacular in the world

Wandering the markets of El Alto in La Paz. High on the plateau above the already high La Paz. Food and witches, it has it all

SCARIEST MOMENTS

Earthquake in Arequipa. The earth really did move. 7.0 on the Richter scale it was quite a big one and yes, the earth really did move! Thankfully, although there was a fair amount of damage, loss of life was limited.

Earthquake in Lima (not as bad as the first but it was 10 floors up and at three in the morning)Only then did we realise that the only way down was a bridge to the lift in the next block..

Aforementioned day tour from Sucre

WEATHER

I could have planned the timing a little better! We hit the pacific coast at the time of the "Garua" which blankets most of the coast in fog and mist for half the year. Certain places seemed to have unseasonable weather e.g. Rain at the wrong time in Chachapoyas etc. in lots of places we visited the locals were often talking of the changes taking place in the weather in recent years ( global warming??)

Hottest place Arequipa 27c
Coldest place Uyuni -18c
Sunniest place -Uyuni 
Foggiest place - Lima ( we chose the wrong time of year)
Wettest - Ayacucho (again, the wrong time, just as the rains started in earnest)

ACCOMODATION

47 different hostals, clubs, hotels and huts and apartments.  Some really nice, some not so much. All relatively cheap  (price has little correlation with quality!). Finally learnt to not trust reviews of certain websites! Again price has little correlation to quality and personal recommendations proved the most reliable source of information.

SAFETY

Despite many comments in guidebooks etc. about how unsafe South America can be, we felt as comfortable here as anywhere else in the world. Not once did we feel uneasy except perhaps late one night in Quito when the streets had emptied out. Pickpockets can be a problem on buses etc. and we did lose a camera and some cash in Ambato bus station and experienced a pretty inept attempt at pick pocketing in El Alto, La Paz. 

PEOPLE

Everywhere we went the people were exceptionally friendly and helpful. Fiestas and parties seem to happen all the time as do street demonstrations. Every where we went, we found people either celebrating something or practicing there traditional dancing or music.
Bolivian people seemed the most reserved and shy.

The rudest people were invariably other foreigners notable the ...... although certain  wealthy Peruvians ran a close second

Racism seems to be quite prevalent in some places, most notably, Peru mainly directed at both the indigenous and black people. In Ecuador, many people seemed to still resent the Spanish.

One particular act of kindness was in a Sucre market where a 10 boliviano note  I had dropped was returned to me by a Cholita.

People in Lima are very friendly. Even in this massive city, complete strangers will say hello in the street.

BEST DECISIONS

Travelling light. Our bags were carry on only weighing in at less than 12 kgs, they were light to carry and to take on board buses, planes etc. saving a lot of time and worry about bags being stolen from buses, lost in transit etc.

Ignoring guide books. We started off using them but quickly realised how out of date LP was in particular ( I started to doubt that they had even been to some of the places). Rough Guides was more accurate but not well written or laid out. I did win a Fodors SA guide which is the best written but wasn't really comprehensive enough for this trip and is mainly aimed at more "upscale" tourists.

Travelling by bus. Keen to reduce both the cost of travel and our carbon footprint, the bus system is a great way of getting around South America. Although not always safe by western standards and security and theft can be an issue, it worked well for us. Standards of buses vary tremendously from luxury buses equivalent to business class on airlines to the roughest and most crowded bus imaginable.

Where next?

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