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

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

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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!