Final Thoughts

It went by in a flash.

Honestly, I didn’t think we would last more than 6 weeks, but here we are about to board our final flight home to Vancouver. A year ago, we made the decision to go on this journey and even as the days inched closer to our departure date, it felt crazy and surreal.  Even during the first few days, it felt like we were just on another road trip. All we did was take it one day at a time and make small decisions each day. Where should we sleep tonight? How much do you want to drive today? When should we cross the border? Does Zoe have enough food?

Before we knew it – it was February and we were looking at flights back home. There are so many moments we want to highlight, but here are a few that we keep reminiscing about.

Colombia

Bogota

If it weren’t for the heat in New Mexico, we would have never made the decision to skip Central America. We also didn’t realize that 6 months wasn’t nearly long enough to go through Central AND South America. Looking back, we’re glad to have made the decision.

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Sitting at 9,000 ft, we fell in love with the cold city of Bogota within a few days. The people are warm, the city is friendly (to Zoe especially), budget-friendly and the food is delicious. We would go back in a heartbeat. We did so much walking around the city and every day we found new neighborhoods to see and explore. The Spanish isn’t easy to understand and even though a lot of people don’t speak English, they are so friendly in trying to help you out.

Barichara

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It has the perfect climate of around 25 degrees all day and then the afternoon breeze rolls in around 3pm, for a cool evening. Frequently rated as one of the most beautiful towns to visit in Colombia (or Villa de Leyva), it was worth the detour to stay there for 5 days and spend it with like-minded people who are also traveling long term. We met up with a Swiss Couple and their dog many times and shared the pains of traveling with a dog. Every day we walked to the small town to get fresh groceries and cooked as a group in the communal kitchen and shared stories.  A fantastic place to hunker down.

Ecuador

Quilotoa Loop

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I was dealing with altitude sickness for most of Ecuador, but the Quilotoa loop was one that took our breath away – literally. You drive, drive, drive up through a hill and all of a sudden you come upon the rim of this crater and see the pristine blue lake below. It is definitely one of our favorite hikes and one for the books.

Bolivia

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People say Bolivia is the last true South American country. It is less developed than its neighbors, and still holds the desolate charm most people look for in South America. The landscape, the people, and the scenery are unmatched. Everywhere we look, it felt like we were on another planet and there is nothing like it.

Chile

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Chile was a stark contrast to the less developed Bolivia. Paved roads, highway rest stops, and credit cards accepted everywhere – it felt like we were back in North America. Our favorite part wasn’t any of those modern conveniences, but the beautiful road trip through the Carretera Austral (Route 7). Rated as one of the best road trips in the world, we were skeptical. But dang – It blew us away. Every 2 minutes our jaws were dropping at the beautiful scenery (including the Catedral de Marmol). It was like all the beautiful national parks in North America were aggregated here.

Argentina

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Argentina was our final country and honestly, it has so much to offer and we wish we had more time here. From Mendoza, Bariloche, Perito Moreno Glacier, to Buenos Aires – it is a country filled with so much culture, love for life, and of course delicious food. We loved it here and the friendly people really made all the difference. If nothing else, they have amazing Patagonian Lamb, and Steak – Albert beef tastes like a sad mock comparatively.

Final thoughts

We are incredibly grateful for this trip. Grateful for the people who helped us along the way. Grateful for the ability to take this trip when we did. Going to the countries we’ve been dreaming about and immersing ourselves in the countries has been amazing. We’ve also met some incredible people who have taught us so much about what it means to travel, learn, and really live.

Our Spanish is only a little bit better than when we left, but we definitely want to keep learning and go back to all of the above countries someday. Some of the things we’ve learned:

  • you don’t really need that much on a day to day basis
  • whatever you see on the news is the worst and not an accurate reflection of the country
  • people are really friendly and willing to help
  • not a lot of Asian people do this, therefore we got more attention
  • take it day by day –  things change so quickly in South America you can’t plan very far in advance anyway
  • travel while you can, don’t wait – you make the opportunity happen
  • take time out of the day for you and your loved ones
  • be grateful for everything

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Last but not least, I am so grateful for a partner who said YES. I probably could have done this alone or with Zoe (a lot of women do this kind of trip on their own), but it was infinitely more enjoyable with someone to share this experience with. Plus he makes me laugh every day – that’s hard to find.

Thanks for following along and reading our adventures in South America and until next time – Hasta Luego!

Love,

Steve, Anna & Zoe

Buenos Aires

We’ve finally arrived in Buenos Aires and this is the weirdest part about it – our trip is coming to an end. After 185 days of traveling and driving nonstop on the road, we will be getting on a plane and wrap up this chapter in our lives.

As a form of celebration, our close friends have come to stay with us in Buenos Aires for our last week in South America. It’s been almost 6 months since we have seen anyone familiar and it feels like a mix between a rude awakening of reality and a sigh of relief that this is coming to an end. But first, time for us to explore Buenos Aires!

Buenos Aires has pockets of cultural neighborhoods all around the city and it’s more lively and green than we expected. It’s surrounded by large parks, restaurants, and gelato shops on every corner. The city has a very strong Europe feel and with a large Italian immigrant population, the Italian food is authentic and delicious.

Recoleta Cemetery

The Recoleta Cemetary is one of the most famous cemeteries in the world, housing notable people like Eva Peron, Presidents of Argentina, and Nobel Prize Winners. Many of the mausoleums are decorated with statues and doors which you can see the coffins right outside. They are adorned with some beautiful stained glass work which can only be properly seen from the inside. Considering how much of it looks like it should belong in museums, we are surprised to find that the entrance is free and we can stay as long as we’d like.

Ecoparque Buenos Aires

The Buenos Aires Ecoparque is also a free attraction in the Palermo district.  Due to the crippling conditions of the zoo, they announced its official closure and converted it to an eco-park slowly phasing out the animals that live in the park. The only animals that stay within the park are those that need rehabilitation or treatment of disease and they will eventually be transferred to other facilities.

Exploring Buenos Aires

We take the time to explore the rest of Buenos Aires walking around, looking at graffitis and of course – eating, a lot of eating.

We ate… a lot. So this is dedicated just to the food we’ve consumed, it deserves its own album. Due to the heavy presence of Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires, there are delicious pasta and Italian pastries on every corner. Cafes are used as spaces to hang out and have an espresso mid-day. The idea of quick fast food really doesn’t exist here – unless you go to McDonalds.

After eating a lot and exploring Buenos Aires, the two weeks in the city went by way too quickly. If I can characterize Buenos Aires, it feels like a big city in Europe. The culture in the city celebrates the importance of spending time with family and friends and really taking the time to do that maybe over a three-hour meal accompanied by wine. Most restaurants and businesses close for Siesta (nap) for 2-3 hours anywhere between 12-5pm and people don’t even start dinner until 8pm. But the prices for food, museums, and transportation is much cheaper than any European country.

We are now off to Mexico City to spend 5 days just the three of us before we go home for our final journey. Leaving South America is bittersweet, but we are also glad to be going home and staying put in one place for a little bit.

 

 

Animals of Argentina

Our final stretch towards Buenos Aires. Route 3 along the coast is quite slow and there really isn’t too much to see, but we are definitely dragging our heels since we won’t be doing any more camping after this stretch. We are almost at the end of our 6 month journey…

So we stop by a free national park where there are thousands of Magellanic penguins nesting on the coast – Parc National Monte León. They all come here from Brazil during the month of December to have babies and only stay for three months. We were incredibly lucky to have been driving up right when the babies are all grown up and they are just learning how to be grownup penguins – which also means there is lots of activity.

Anywhere else in the world, you wouldn’t be allowed to go 1 km from the penguins. But this is South America! We hike 2km from the parking lot and start seeing penguins under prickly bushes, literally right next to our path.

Sea Lions Galore

Then, off to the small town of Caleta Olivia where we are promised a colony of sea lions. We were expecting to see them above a cliff, but we drive up to a small pebble beach off the highway. After walking 5 minutes on the beach, we see a herd of them 10 meters away. We probably could have walked right upto them, but they look enormous and dangerous so we keep our distance. Did you know they have a mane like a lion? They also roar really really loudly.

On our drive up the coast, we see the Atlantic Ocean, Guanacos, and rhea birds (they look like small ostriches). It’s like argentina is trying to show us its natural wonders just before we leave.

Guanacos

We can’t believe this trip is coming to an end. Once we get to Buenos Aires we’ll be there for a couple of weeks to decompress, get a haircut, and maybe get a little fat off some food.

This isn’t our last post. We’ll do one more for Buenos Aires and another final post looking back at some of our favourite moments from this entire journey. For now, all we can say is – it really is about the journey not the destination.

Perito Moreno Glacier

In about a weeks time we will start heading North for the first time in this journey – meaning the trip is coming to an end. Our last southern visit is a small city of el Calafate. It’s the closest town to Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the 3 glaciers in the world that is actually growing instead of melting and shrinking away. It’s also part of the 3rd largest ice field in the world after Antártica and Greenland.

Standing at 65meters tall, one of the key attractions of visiting this glacier is that you can witness large pieces of it breaking off. It’s growing, pushing the ice out and with the sun melting away cracks, large pieces fall away and make scary canon like noises. You really can’t witness this anywhere in the world. This is one of the key reasons we came to Calafate and the lamb bbq (Cordero asado cooked slowly over the fire).

And at 500 Argentina per person ($11CAD), you get so much succulent lamb it’s hard to believe the deal.

Instead of going first thing in the morning to the glacier, we drive there around 2pm when the sun is the strongest and more pieces are likely to break off. The only downside is the crowd, but we plan on securing a spot on the viewing platform and bunker down. But we didn’t even have to wait long. As soon as we walk down the viewing platform a huge piece falls off making a cracking sound so loud it’s scary.

So we stay for 2 hours watching and waiting. Each time, it is absolutely worth it.

And while we were waiting, ofcourse we filmed it. The sound of the glacier breaking off really can’t be heard on the video because of all the people, but in person is deafening.

For the above video, skip to 15second mark.

After almost 20,000km on the road, we start heading North toward Buenos Aires. It’s un believe and hard to comprehend we’ve been on the road for that long.

The Carretera Austral

For the past 10 days, we’ve been driving through the Northern Patagonia region in Chile. It’s supposedly the most spectacular and challenging road in Chile since it was isolated from visitors until the first section was finished in 1983. Someone we met in Peru described it as the best road he’s ever driven on and he’s driven Argentina and Chile for the past 4 years.

 

We decide from the very beginning to take our time and really enjoy the road instead of driving through it as fast as possible. It’s the last ‘big’ thing we will do before we start heading south towards home, so it’s a weird feeling for us. We start the journey by crossing over from Bariloche, Argentina to Puerto Montt, Chile. We have been warned by others that there are really limited supplies on the route (since everything is brought on boats or grown in the region) and cash is hard to come by, so we stock up on both in Puerto Montt. From there, we drive to Hornoprien and then take a 7am ferry ride for 6 hours to Caleta Gonzalo. From here, we can drive the full 927km road to Villa O’Higgins then backtrack up to Chile Chico or take a ferry down further or do a modified route to Chile Chico at 632km.

Now the entire route drives through countless national parks and natural reserves. You could easily spend probably months doing hikes and camping in this region with no shortage of views and spectacular glaciers surrounding you. But we are limited for time so we are doing the modified route to Chile Chico to cross into Argentina instead.

I won’t list every little place we stayed at, but this is some of the best camping we’ve done in South America. The land is so vast and every 10 minutes we see something beautiful and want to pull over for pictures and stare. We stay put in places until the rain clears, because we are afraid if we drive further we might miss something. The region is covered in glaciers, mountains, lakes, rivers and beautiful scenery that really does make you go whoa-whoa-WHOA. Everyone should do this drive once in their life.

One of the main views

Steve trying his hbd at guitar

Home made bread

Cherries from our campsite

Honestly, we didn’t even get to do the many hikes or side roads to other beautiful places you can do. And all the beautiful parks you can imagine clustered into one semi-paved road. It’s really something you have to see in person.

 

Chile and Argentina

The big 2

After the vast emptiness of Bolivia, we are now entering Argentina and Chile. The roads are better, there are modern rest stops like in the US, and everything is conveniently close – it’s weirdly familiar.

Because the two countries are so close, we will be going in and out of both countries at least two or three times. The plan is to drive down Chile abit and then cross into Argentina for abit and then cross back into Chile to drive the Route 7 aka Carretera Austral. It’s supposed to be the best drive of Chile and as one man we met described it – “every km is like whoa, ooo, ahhh”.

The desert

But first, we drive through the Atacama desert in Chile and then crossover into Argentina to visit Mendoza – the wine heart of the country. We don’t particularly like the heat, so we drive through the vast emptiness quickly. But even then, we see landscapes that look like the moon and stars that litter the night sky. It’s not so bad.

Finally, we cross into Argentina. One of the final countries we will be visiting on this trip. The first thing we do in Mendoza is to obviously go find a restaurant, and we end up at Cava de Caño out of sheer luck.

Since I don’t drink, the food is for me and the wine is for Steve. The set menu is $835 Argentinian pesos per person – after double checking our math – it is $18 CAD. so we nod a hungry yes and get inside. Normally, you need reservations since it’s a set menu and normally, they don’t allow dogs in the restaurant. But it was 27 degrees outside so they gave us a private room with ac so our dog can sit with us while we enjoy a feast that we didn’t even know was coming. It included:

  • 25 various tapas
  • 3 courses of empanada, stewed beef in wine, freshly made pasta
  • A bottle of Malbec
  • Icecream with Dulce de Leche
  • Dessert drinks or coffee
  • Cigars (which we politely declined)

It was a wonderful start to an amazing Argentinian meal experience and hospitality.

What a perfect start to our final months in South America.

Lagunas de Altiplanto, Bolivia

The Route

In the southwestern corner of Bolivia lies the Reserva Nacional de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa, a park known for its colorful Lagunas and vast landscapes. It’s not an easy drive because:

  1. It is not paved, but washboard like gravel
  2. There are no gas stations for a 400 km stretch or if you do the whole route 800km
  3. Needless to say – no cell service

But it is supposed to be one of the most beautiful drives/parks in Bolivia. Due to the inconveniences above, there are a very limited number of visitors to the park.

Valle de Roca

We start off by visiting a small area called Valle de Rocas where the rocks form strange formations like aliens, animals, and arches. We see towering rocks that look like waves being formed and vast canyons. It took us 3 different routes to try and find it, but it is worth it.

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There is no one here and the first thing we say is, if this was anywhere in North America, it would already be a national park, but here – it’s just another rock formation where you can drive through the canyons with an eerie silence.

The Lagunas

I am not going to lie, the roads were horrible. There are some remnants of a paved road that once was, but are now obstacles for norma to avoid. There are also washboard type roads where you feel like you are going over 100-speed bumps right after another.

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Andean Flamingos

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So many flamingos

But the scenery was beautiful. It felt like we were in a deserted land that has never had humans near it and it’s like that for about 3 days. We occasionally see other SUV (small tour groups) and buildings that are hostels near Lagunas for those tours, but other than that it’s silent and beautiful. This is where a camera we have doesn’t really capture what we see in real life.

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Salvador dali Desert

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Laguna Blanca

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Llamas grazing by a stream

And from here, we are off to Chile and entering into the San Pedro Atacama Desert! Even though Bolivia was really short we are so glad we were able to visit, because it is a beautiful country with some of the best landscapes we’ve seen so far. We will definitely have to return, but for now – off to a new country!

 

Salar de Uyuni

Salar de Uyuni was one of the reasons why we started this trip – it is very high on the list of things we wanted to experience. Due to political unrest, we were worried we might not be able to see it and some things on the trip were less than exciting, so we were worried it might disappoint (spoiler alert – it did not). The night before, we spend sleeping in the wild and are surprised by the most beautiful sky we’ve ever seen. It’s like we are on Mars and the sun decided to show off all the colors.

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Next morning, we get a car wash and start our drive into Uyuni (you get a grease car wash before the salt flats to protect your car). At 10, 582 square meters, you drive into the salt flats and see nothing but white and the sky and it makes for beautiful scenery.

DSC_1371I honestly don’t have much to say except that you really have to see it in person to truly appreciate the magnitude of this landscape. And of course, it allows for some really fun photo opportunities.

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However, it is one of those places that can be really dangerous. There is nothing but salt for miles and miles and not many cars drive near you. Lots of people sleep on the salt flats in the middle of nowhere and get trapped because the salt collapsed into mud when they drive off the main “path”. So, we go in overly prepared as usual and take our time driving only on established roads.

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We visit the main island and then decide to turn around after driving for what felt like years due to the imminent dark rainstorm approaching. We really didn’t want to wake up to sinking Norma. We see giant cacti 3 times my height and an island that is flourishing with cacti everywhere in the middle of the salt lake despite the lack of fresh water.

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So far, Bolivia has been a really pleasant surprise. The people are really nice, the country seems a bit behind some of its neighbours, but feels very authentic. We understand when people say it’s the last true South American country. We won’t be spending too much time here (due to time restrictions), but we are definitely looking forward to what’s ahead.

Copacabana, Bolivia

Copacabana

Due to the political unrest and protest (only 1 month ago), they had shut down their borders and we weren’t sure if we were going to make it to Bolivia. Boy, are we glad to finally get here. Shows you how fast South America can change. After another long day of driving, we finally cross the border and into the small town of Copacabana on Lake Titicaca.

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Copacabana occupies that small village on the left.

Lake Titicaca shares a border with Peru and by volume, it is the largest lake in South America. One of the most interesting things about Lake Titicaca is the people of Uro, who live on floating islands made of reeds (please look it up, it is fascinating). Even though we wanted to go on a tour, when we have a dog most don’t want them on their fragile boats made of reeds and grass.

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Taken from Shutterstock

If you do decide to do the tour, there are many more authentic options on the Peruvian side (from Puno) and they actually live on the islands and come to do tours for about 15 soles ($6 CAD) per person.

THE Ferry Ride

In order to go to La Paz from Copacabana, you have to take a tiny little ferry ride. Not the typical big boat type of ferry, no – a small raft with a small motor attached operated by a man with a large stick. Yes, a stick. That’s how he steers the “boat”. It is scary but our rule is if the locals do it how bad can it be? Plus it ended up being really fun and beautiful at the same time.

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Guards aren’t necessary, they slow down the docking of cars.

Same size boat as ours, but carrying… a tour bus. Yes, a greyhound size tour bus.

Time to explore Bolivia, but so far – off to a good start!

 

 

 

Our final stops in Peru

Cusco

This is the main city where the majority of tourists arrive (in order to do the Macchu Picchu hike). Even though we contemplated doing the Macchu Picchu hike, considering we have a 3rd member who is not welcome (Zoe) and we have seen already a lot of ruins, we decided against it. Plus, it really wasn’t on our list, so we spend a day doing some errands in Cusco and decide to only spend one night here. We do however treat ourselves to a nice dinner at Organika.

Their specialty is vegetables they grow on their own farm in the sacred valley. We know that because you can’t drink tap water, eating a salad on the road when we are not used to the parasites in the water is asking for stomach trouble. When we hear that they have amazing salads and make foods that highlight vegetables, it is a dream. We have the starter salad with grilled papaya and rosemary (delicious) and the trout ceviche. We’ve been trying to eat less meat on the road and if anyone ever goes to Cusco, I would recommend this restaurant as a must.

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Cusco is the most touristic city we’ve ever seen. We have hardly seen many Asian people since we began this trip, but here in the city square, I felt like we were in downtown Vancouver or something. It was overwhelming and alarming at the same time. At one point, I get recognized as a Korean tourist as she told me I shouldn’t buy anything from this one shop because they are overpriced. We get yelled at from vendors with a ‘Konnichiwa’ or ‘Ni Hao’ with brochures waving in your face, it’s exhausting.

But, if you want modern conveniences and nice restaurants with quick information on tours this is a good place to visit. There are endless stores to buy souvenirs and the city itself is really modern and nice – there is even a Starbucks.

Spoiler alert, we are limited for space so we haven’t been buying any souvenirs, so don’t expect anything but long hugs upon our return.

Tinajani Canyon

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One of our last stops in Peru is in an area called Tinajani Canyon. We weren’t expecting too much, but holy moly it is a beautiful place. It is virtually untouched and the rock formations are so unique and breathtaking. We basically have the place to ourselves except for locals who live there of course. If this place was in America it would become a national park in 2 seconds flat, but in South America – It’s an area where locals farm and live.

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We are quite glad to be leaving Peru as it was a hard country for us to visit. We saw so much poverty in the North and coming into the main cities, the streets are littered with rubbish and plastic waste, but as soon as you enter the touristic areas it’s cleaned up and swept under the rug.  It’s all part of the experience, right?

Onwards!