So I recapped half of 2016 yesterday and before the 2nd half turns to dust on my shelf, let’s go July to December 2016, along with a ton of pictures wheee.
In case you missed it, you can catch Part 1 here.
I hit the road once again in JULY, this time to Sucre. Where I buckled down for some computer work (and food) and a few shots at more spanish classes since they were really cheap and you can do them in your pjs right at the hostel. What’s not to love.
Then I headed down south to the famous salt flats of Uyuni. Thanks to freakish weather in the salt flats, the Salar de Uyuni was slightly more than we bargained for with snow and crazy weather but ultimately still one of my highlights of Bolivia, and July. Also, those pictures were unlike any other you see on the internet with a powder coating of snow on everything. But of course that snow did not come without it’s own inconveniences, that closed the Chilean border to Atacama and I had to make a 24h detour to get to Chile.
Detour and inconveniences aside, it was an amazing time in the Atacama desert, staring at rocks, geysers, stars, and beautiful sunsets. It also was freezing cold, as it was the South American winter after all. But that was not going to stop me from hanging out with those sick geysers at 7am in the morning while freezing my fingers off.
San Pedro was more expensive that I thought it’d be and had to hightail it off on the longest bus ride of my trip/year/life to Valparaiso. Cutting it about 60 seconds close, I made it onto the bus all huffy and puffy and turned into a reclining mush for the next 26 hours. Also discovered how expensive the taxis of Valparaiso are and vow never to take a taxi in Chile.
Spent the next few days exploring the city, getting lost in the color, the hills and taking way too many photos of the graffiti. Very reluctantly left Valpo onwards to Santiago where I met up with a dear friend I had met on my first week of travel in Turkey and had a great catch up amidst enjoying being in the comforts of a big city and replacing travel essentials like underwear and leggings from H&M. Saw the most beautiful sunset and view from the Sky Costenera mall, cafe hopped, learnt more about the convoluted history of Chile, Allende and Pinochet all while eating delicious seafood throughout the city.
Crossed the Andes on the most scenic bus ride ever with the most number of switchbacks over from Chile to Mendoza, Argentina. Where I had the most perfect day ever filled with wine, vineyards, bikes, asado and friends. It was a day to remember.
Thereafter it was on the way to Cordoba where I wasn’t really impressed and then to Buenos Aires where I promptly fell in love –with the city.
Running into AUGUST with open arms in Buenos Aires, I spent more time there than I’d anticipated but it was only the first of 3 visits in the city. I would return time and time again because I could, and I couldn’t get enough.
Exploring the city by metro, foot and learning more about the Argentinian culture, way of life and most importantly, food. I was enamoured. Couchsurfing also definitely gave me a different experience other than the typical hostel gringo adventures which I could not be more grateful for. The couchsurfing community in BA is definitely something else!
Took the ferry onwards to Uruguay where I discovered Montevideo. Did not and had no plans to head there originally but ended up staying 5 days in the city and hanging out with Bea, my couchsurfing host. Drinking many a maté, saying hi to curious Uruguayans and disputing which country had the best steak in the world.
A bus up the coast took me then to Punta del Este which was nothing much to shout home about and then across the border into Brazil in what was the easiest border crossing that I’d done. Kinda makes up for the tough time that was Peru-Bolivia then huh.
Explored Porto Alegre in the south of Brazil, ate delicious homemade churrasco, discovered the craze that is PokemonGo even in South America. Made my way up to the pseudo Christmas German town of Gramado and Canela for a day and onwards to Florianopolis, the kitschy beach town that I felt was the safest place in Brazil. Went sandboarding, had sushi, and lazed around cuddling cats when it was raining outside.
Could not get with the Portuguese however hard I tried.
Headed to the world famous Iguazu falls both on the Brazilian and Argentinian side and was completely floored by how ridiculously immense they are in person. It wasn’t enough just visiting the Brazilian side, Argentina definitely gave it a run for it’s money too. Don’t ask me which is my favourite side though. I love them both differently.
Onto Sao Paulo where I spent a good week hanging out with Edu, who I met in Cancun, now turned good friend, and in between eating all the sushi, exploring downtown, the hipster bohemian neighbourhood of Vila Madelena and strolling down Av Paulista on Sunday. I was to fly from Sao Paulo to the north of Brazil, Recife to be exact, where I also spent way too long living the life of a uni student again. From street parties to museums to slacklining at the beach to getting icecream and acai bowls, we did it all, even going to the beautiful city of Olinda and the beaches of Porto Gallinas. It was truly such fun and again I have couchsurfing to thank for all those amazing experiences, and Amanda – saudades!!!
SEPTEMBER crept up on me as I headed down southwards to Salvador de Bahia where I had the fortune of meeting my crazy English homies whom I continue to meet all over South America in the next few months. Salvador wasn’t the safest of places and effectively only spent 2 nights there exploring Pelourinho and the Barra lighthouse and beaches. We headed off to Chapada Diamantina National Park for 2 days of adventure but ended up getting ripped off – I guess part of the journey in South America. Chapada could have been so much better but also so much worse if not for the company I had.
Onto Rio de Janeiro where the Paralympics were on and of course I had to go to an event. Scalped tickets for half off and never felt so inadequate at the track and field events where people with limbs lacking run times faster than me. Still a great experience overall. As was climbing the 2 brothers mountain, seeing giant Jesus atop Corcovado, lying on the world famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana and trying not to get your things nicked from in front of you. There was also the 3 day party on the roof of Copacabana which was absolutely ridiculously awesome, cut to, the less awesome of getting bit by bed bugs horrifically and scooting off to the paradise that is Ilha Grande to recover from too many caipirinhas and them bed bugs. *shudders*
As perfect as Ilha Grande was, it was also a sad day for my camera as it got nicked from my bag, hence the lack of photos from Rio, Ilha Grande and Salvador ): So much so that I couldn’t enjoy Paraty as much as I should have then. It was back to Sao Paolo after that where I binged watched the entire series of Narcos since I was feeling slightly under the weather and mopey about losing said camera.
Put Brazil in the rearview mirror after 6 weeks and headed back into Argentina for yet another dose of Buenos Aires, where I met my favourite English girls, partied it up, ate and drank up all of Buenos Aires. It was such a great week.
Said our goodbyes and I started to freak out about the next month that was to come – in Patagonia.
OCTOBER 2016 was by far the most exhilarating month of travel for me because I spent it solely climbing mountains and hitch hiking in the Chilean and Argentinian Patagonia. There probably are no words to describe the whole experience but I am going to try. It didn’t start off very well though, meeting some less than savory people in Ushuaia, the most Southern tip of the continent but leaving those behind, I went on a long walk up to the Glacier Matial and a little solo trail walk in training for the W hike that was to come. Also a trip to the Tierra del Fuego national park was also in order as well as riding down some trails on a mountain bike. Ushuaia was also the place I hitchhiked solo for the first time covering around 630km and 3 different rides on my first day, also learning quickly that the early bird does indeed catch the hitchhiking train.
A quick rest stop in Punta Arenas where I regretted not going to Isla Magellanes to see them penguins, later, I was enroute Puerto Natales to take on the W trek. Team Cookie was formed in Puerto Natales at Erratic Rock Base Camp, with Coco and Thomas whom which I would later eat copious amounts of cookies with and walk together for 4 days and sleep in the same tents for 3 nights through wind, rain, sun and snow. Torres del Paine’s W trek was definitely one of the highlights of Patagonia, but the best was still yet to come. Exhausted but extremely fufilled, we had one last great dinner before splitting up team cookie and going on our separate ways. I would go on to El Calafate to meet up with my English girls one last time (or so I thought) to check out Perito Moreno glacier and staying in a swiss chalet like hostel was just icing on the cake.
I also continued my hitching journey with one of the easiest (and most beautiful) rides from El Calafate to El Chalten – my favourite place in Patagonia. Looking back, I would have loved to stay another 2 or 3 nights there and checked out a few more trails, But Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre were just majestic. I enjoyed the hike so much I did them both in the same day, although I wished I had more time to do a few others as well. El Chalten is one of those hidden gems in Patagonia that you fall in love with, sucks you in, and stays with you for longer than you even realise.
I had also gained a hitch hiking buddy from El Calafate who would come along with me for the next one week. We started off early from Chalten making it all the way to Perito Moreno (the town) for the night and was completely exhausted. But the journey did not end there as we crossed the border back into Chile onwards Puerto Rio Tranquilo to visit the marble caves and to walk on a glacier. Had the most delicious salmon ever and there after was stranded in Rio Tranquilo for a day of failed hitching. We got a friendly ride with a scot the next day to Coyhaique which made everything better.
There was also the time I broke into a national park in Coyhaique and freaking out seeing a puma sign on the way out and frolicking with the cutest border collies ever who were being less than effective guard dogs for a property. Caught yet another ride hitch out of Coyhaique taking me 3 rides to get to Puyuhuapi where I visited Queulat National Park and the beautiful hanging glacier which was the attraction of the place. Wandered through some enchanted forests as well and hitching it all the way back to Puyuhuapi.
Hitching was getting easier and easier as time went by partly because i was alone again and also because it wasn’t high season. Plus the spanish definitely helped with communicating with the driver. It was such a rush and such a great way to see the Chilean Patagonia along the Carretera Austral. Plus there were so many experiences and places that I wouldn’t have seen if not for my hitchhiking friends, from little fincas and campos to secret waterfalls and miradors, It was definitely going down in the books as the greatest 5 weeks of my life. After Puyuhuapi, I landed myself in the deserted town of Chaiten (not to be confused with Chalten) which was literally a ghost town and even finding something to eat was slightly challenging. Decided to pass on the hitching here as a bus could take me all the way for 10k pesos as opposed to hitching 3 rides and crossing 3 rivers.
The boat ride on board the bus through the fjords were breath taking though as I spent most of my time outside on the deck of the ferry oohing and aahing at the mountains.
And arriving in Puerto Montt was the end of my Patagonian and hitchhiking adventures in a nutshell.
But the universe had other plans and had me meet my Chiloe buddies, Beth and Nico (and joined by Cristobal later) which on impulse led us to a 4 day adventure on the mysterious green island of Chile. From penguins to national parks to curanto, Chiloe was the adventure I didn’t want to end.
All too soon, it was NOVEMBER and it was almost time to get on that flight and out of Patagonia and the South of South America. One last jaunt in Bariloche though, where we bused around Cerro Campanero and the lake district of Argentina. Bariloche was also another place I would have loved to stay longer but that is what happens when you book a close jaw flight and am a cheap backpacker. We did hike Refugio Frey and had another one of those exemplary days with good hiking, great company, a snowball fight and damn good steak and wine. I couldn’t have asked for more on my last full day in Bariloche.
Flew back to Buenos Aires to say bye tearfully to the city one last time and was on the way to Lima, Peru when I decided to change my flight plans to hang in Valpo and Santiago for an extra week before making my way to Colombia. Completely exhausted from my Southern adventures, I needed a week to recuperate and found that in Taganga. Although not the best place in the world to chill, it was cheap, it had cake and coffee, it would do.
8 days later…
DECEMBER had descended upon us and everything went into Christmas and NY overdrive especially with Colombia being crazy over Christmas. We headed to beaches like Palomino, wasn’t particularly enamoured, was surrounded by relationship drama all around me courtesy of my travel buddies and I had to get away from that, it was exhausting, and complicated and overly dramatic. Headed to Playa Blanca in Baru for the day where I had a 24h detox from technology, there after checking it on a flight to San Andres for the last girls getaway for the year with my favourite English chica. 7 days there was honestly so much fun although the it rained on our parade for a full day, thank god for our private room which provided us all the sanctuary we needed combined with comforts that a dorm could never provide. Golf carted around San Andres, got a glorious tan, drank many a coco fresca, hung out in gloriously blue water, went diving even, ate delicious seafood I still dream about it till today, and finally said bye to both the island and G who was due back home in the UK. Sad times for me as I headed back to Cartagena to get the mail that I had be waiting on for a grand total of 16 days. URGH. Such a relief to have it in my hands by then.
16 Dec – Finally it was off to Medellin, the much raved about city in Colombia, the city of eternal spring. Mainly I was excited about the weather and to finally escape the heat and humidity of the north.
But I was also falling so sick, you know those where you can feel it coming and no amount of vitamin C was going to stop it. Yes it was time for my yearly week of sickness. ):
However I think all 4 of us caught a ridiculously aggressive viral infection from San Andres as we were all sick, but suffering in different places, but apart from the terrible bus ride that was Cartagena to Medellin, I arrived in Medellin without throwing up, and in one piece, and in the most beautiful hostel ever and proceeded to pass out and not leave the hostel for the next 4 days. A visit to the doctor later and a round of antibiotics later, I was all better to celebrate Christmas in style, and never more thankful to be healthy again. Had Christmas lunch with a bunch of new friends and got out to explore the city of Medellin and falling in love with it more and more everyday. With some friends in a city and making new ones in the hostel even just watching netflix and drinking tea, Medellin is getting to be my favourite place in Colombia. The 6 days between and Christmas and New Year’s were kinda perfect hanging out with all the Asians which somehow congregated in Medellin and cumulated in a BBQ for New Year’s day celebration with a few beers and some aguadiente (hate the stuff!)
New year’s eve/day is still as overrated as I remember it to be but for now I am just going to give thanks and be grateful for the year that I’ve had, which I wouldn’t trade for the world. Now I just need to figure out where to next in the next month and do I need to bust out those winter clothes again….
If you’ve stuck it out till here, 2 parts and 4000 words later, you are the best and I love you!!
How was your year? Or New year’s day? Or does anyone want to hire me anywhere in the world that is not Singapore? (: