My top ten for each month can show just how much you can fit into a month of travelling. These are only the best bits – there was so much more in between.
This was my 10th month of travelling and included Bolivia, Peru, Chile AND New Zealand!
10. Road trip across the South island, New zealand
It is difficult to find words to describe the feeling of arriving in New Zealand after spending 10 months travelling in Central and South America. I’m not ashamed to admit I cried most of the way on the plane from Santiago to Auckland as Latin America really does have my heart (NB. Heartbreak was relieved briefly by watching The Lego Movie on the plane – very difficult to be sad to this movie!). I instantly missed the culture, the language, the food and the craziness that I experienced in Latin America and it took over a week for me to stop thinking about flushing toilet paper, drinking tap water and not strapping everything I own to a body part. Moving from the developing to the developed world over night created a massive culture shock to for me and I walked around for days in a state of shock.
I was extremely lucky to be instantly meeting up with a very good friend and beginning a ROAD TRIP!!
New Zealand is such a beautiful country that it is very easy to be distracted from any heart break that is occurring from the love of another location. After travelling alone for a long period of time, it is amazing to see a close friend from home and catch up about mutually known things. Travelling alone is the best thing and I will forever be an advocate for it, but it also makes moments reuniting with long term friends even more wonderful.
We had a blissful 5 hours catching up, looking at beautiful scenery and eating pies – which are a big thing in New Zealand apparently. It was an incredibly happy start to the next part of my journey.
9. Franz Joseph Glacier, New Zealand
Finances were tight in New Zealand as it’s incredibly expensive for a long term traveller, unless you are working while travelling. Therefore decisions had to be made on what I could afford to do while I was there. Seeing a glacier is something that I have never done before, so Franz Joseph quickly rose to the top end of my list. I spent the day with an Italian guy who had been living in New Zealand 3 years earlier and he explained to me how much it had changed.
Previously, it was possible to walk straight onto the glacier to attempt a hike up it. Anyone could try on almost any day. Now however, it is melting at an alarming rate. The only access to the glacier has to be via helicopter and it is far too dangerous to walk even close to it. I thought about paying for the helicopter as it seemed like a once in a life time experience, but on the days I had to be there it rained so hard that there was no way a helicopter could safely take me there.
The option is now to walk up as far as the safety cordons will allow and look at the glacier from afar. A mix of emotions occurred while staring at it – awe and wonder at the colours and enormity of the ice formation combined with sadness and helplessness at the rate of deterioration. What will be there in the next 3 years if the climate keeps changing at this rate?
What to do in Franz Joseph when you can’t get on a helicopter? I highly recommend the hot pools. We spent so long in there hanging out that I was like a prune by the end.
8. Kindness in Christchurch, New Zealand
The media may have forgotten for now, but Christchurch is still very much recovering from the devastating earthquake of 2011. It’s very emotional to visit the town. Everywhere I walked I could hear the sounds of diggers and cranes working away to rebuild the lost parts of the city.
At lunchtime I saw several locals just sitting, staring with kind of blank faces at the horror of it all. It was also a place that I experienced some incredible human kindness.
My Italian friend and I had travelled across the South Island by train in order to get back to Christchurch. It was a beautiful, but tiring journey and when we got off the train and started to walk into town in order to save money, we got a bit lost trying to work out the roundabouts and roads near the station. While we looked blankly at a map, a car pulled up alongside us and a pair of smiling faces peered out and asked where we were going.
The couple had grown up in Christchurch. In the past, they had always joked about having a ‘safe place’ that they would meet at if ever there was a problem, finding it ridiculous to think that it would ever be necessary and thought that nothing would ever happen to them. On the day of the quake the mobile phone reception went out because so many people were trying to contact loved ones and they had no way of knowing whether the other person had survived. Once it was safe, they both left work and drove to their allocated safe place and were beyond relieved to be reunited safe and sound. Together, they headed back to their home of 10 years and on arrival met the unimaginable horror that their house had been completely destroyed. Along with the mother of the lady, they lived in a one room garage for more than 12 months, with the few belongings they were able to salvage from the wreckage and only a small gas heater for warmth.
These two people had gone through so much together, but they were some of happiest, smiley people I have ever met. They drove us into town so we didn’t have to walk with our heavy backpacks and helped us find our hostel. I just felt so moved by their kindness and inspired by their ability to be so full of joy to be alive and together despite losing their material things, so I had to include this as one of the best things that happened to me in month 10.
7. Witches in the market, La Paz, Bolivia
The problem with travelling with such a small backpack is that I do have quite a problem with my addiction to Latin American markets and the incredible variety of items, which I am convinced I need to own. In Bolivia this problem gets even worse, because everything is as nice as it is in Ecuador and Peru, but so much cheaper. The truth is that I couldn’t walk down the street without buying something so it was at this point of the trip that I decided I would get a box and start sending things home! La Paz’s market is a mass of windy streets with a combination of tourist pleasing items, knitted gems and witch craft. I bought a variety of socks, hats, gloves, colourful pencil cases, leg warmers and coca products, but managed to avoid the llama foetuses.
El mercado de las brujas (witches market) can be a bit daunting to a tourist on first view. Strange looking items fill the market stalls, herbs and spices for potions along with soapstone figures that are used in Aymara ceremonies look ready for magic to happen, but nothing surprises an innocent tourist’s eyes more than the dead insects, frogs and llama foetuses. Apparently the foetuses are bought in order to bury underneath a new building as an offering to Pachamama (she’s a bit like mother earth). The offering is supposed to bring good luck to anything that happens in the building, which sounds like a nice thing, but there is something sinister about the poor dead creatures hanging from the ceilings of the stalls, staring down at you as you pass. I was a little nervous even looking at them for fear of what they may do to me, but I can’t deny feeling a little intrigued as one lady went behind a dark velvet curtain in one shop to have a healing ceremony. What happens behind the curtain? What do I want healed so I can see? This was my thought process. We didn’t stay long as my friends was quite afraid of all the potential black magic around us, but I must say that I loved walking around buying gifts and staring at the novelty items. It’s kind of a ‘must do’ when in La Paz.
6. The view from above, Sucre, Bolivia
Sucre seemed like nowhere else I visited in Bolivia. It felt a bit more developed and people seemed to be walking around with more money in their pockets. There was generally a more modern feel to the town. One thing I particularly loved about Bolivia was that the people have maintained a connection with their heritage and traditions, but still I fell in love with the more modern Sucre and had that regular feeling I experienced in South America that I wanted to stay and given half a chance, I could live in this city.
I hung out there for a few days – longer than I had originally scheduled and spent my time walking around the streets and parks, eating enormous plates of food from the market for very little money, and browsing the numerous chocolate shops.
My favourite thing was the reward that is received if you walk up the hill to the viewpoint. It’s a beautiful city from above and you can watch planes arriving over the mountains with a cold drink from a cafe, before of course (because I can never resist), buying a few more beautiful Bolivian items from the market stalls.
5. Mini-Inca Trail, Pisac, Peru
It was in my 10th month that I returned to Cusco and explored more of the Inca sites. It was so nice to return to the area and do some independent style travel after previously being part of a group. There are so many sites that deserve more attention and I explored them using the boleto turistico. Pisac was one of my favourites and you can read more about my experience here…
4. Hot springs, lakes and my first snow covered volcano, Pucon, Chile
By this point in my trip, I have encountered many volcanoes and have started to feel like there are just a normal part of every day life… but nothing could prepare me for waking up from a night bus to see a beautiful blue lake on my left and as my sleepy eyes began to focus… the snow covered Villarrica in the background.
Pucon is basically a little tourist town in the Lakes District of Chile. Many come to hike the volcano, or ski on it’s snowy top. I arrived on the last day of the ski season, where the locals were discussing what on earth they were going to do now. I wanted to head further south, but the weather decided other things for me and I ended up staying for four days spending most of my time staring up in awe at the beautiful beast. I have to say that my dodgy knee meant that they wouldn’t let me attempt a climb, but I’m not sure I minded as this ‘forced’ me to spend a lot of time in the hot springs of the area instead. My favourite was Geometricas, an incredible 18 pool natural hot spring that was about 30 minutes from town.
It might be touristy but Pucon is a beautiful, relaxing place to visit, with walking, horse riding, shopping and basically any activity you might want to do all in one place.
3. Santiago Central Market, Chile
After 10 months in Latin America, Santiago was a place where I felt there was a more obvious European influence. Well, at the very least it was a city with the same addiction to caffeine as London, so I could finally get a good cup of coffee (with legs… more on that another time!). The central market in this city is something that just cannot be missed.
The roof is award winning and the ground is buzzing with people selling fish, meat and cheese.
There are lots of men, who will do anything to charm you into their fish restaurant and if you go around the edges rather than in the centre, you can get a real bargain for your lunch.
I saw things that started life in the sea there that I have never seen before.
This was one of those many occasions during my travels when I wished I ate fish. I don’t, so I took the lonely planets recommendation and headed to Zunino’s on the corner for an Empanada or two.
I didn’t need two. But I totally ate two. They are delicious and the experience of ordering and getting the empanada is something in itself. The locals were queueing up outside the door and down the street to get their empanada fix and then fighting for a space to eat it.
Heading over the road to the fruit market is another top tip, especially if you like a fresh juice as this is by far the best place to get one in Santiago.
2. Street Art in Valparaiso, Chile
I have been a little obsessed with the art in Latin America, especially the street art.
Valparaiso is a beautiful, coastal town only a short bus ride from Santiago, where you can walk cobbled streets and saturate your eyes with colourful walls, pavements and street lamps. They have been painted by the numerous artists who live or have visited here, and it is an incredibly special experience to get lost on the hill and find more and more treasures on the way back to being found.
I wrote more about Latin American street art and Valparaiso here…
1. Milford Sound, New Zealand
It’s an early start and a long journey from Queenstown to getting the boat in Milford, but it is worth every minute and the views on the way will not disappoint. The South Island in New Zealand is filled with insanely beautiful landscapes and Milford must be one that is at the top of any ‘to see’ list.
There isn’t much to say except ‘wow’, while staring in awe at every thing your eyes can take in at any one moment….