After the longest possible journey back to England… from Quito – Ecuador to Lima – Peru, to Bogota – Columbia, to Madrid – Spain aaaaaand FINALLY to Luton – England… I found myself back in my beautiful (and extremely spacious) house, with a take away curry, absolutely LOVING being home.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy travelling, on the contrary, I absolutely loved travelling and could have easily kept going for a lot longer. However, after nearly three days of “off one plane and on to the next” with a lot of running between connections, delayed flights and panics that i’d miss all of my flights and never get home, it was just so lovely to be in the comfort of my own house. (and the curry did make it even more appealing)
The other aspect of home that was amazing to come back to, was my bedroom. While i’d been away, this had been transformed from the almost junk yard – full to the brim with absolute rubbish – covered in posters, toys and every single possible shade of blue paint – to a stunning (and very grown up), chic, gold, cream and brown paradise. It’s very minimalist, with the puffiest and comfiest bed you’ve ever seen in your life – a god send after months of hostel bunk beds.
Then it was bath time! In hostels, you’re lucky if your dorm has it’s own bathroom, and if this is the case… don’t expect a lot. Normally the shower is nothing more than a dribble and you have to lean up against the wall to get said dribble to land on your head. However, you might get lucky and have a hostel with great showers, if this is the case, it’ll be because the power source for the showers is all in one place, meaning that there is a giant bathroom (or sometimes two) for the whole hostel. Let’s just say it was a much nicer experience bathing in my own house and only having to walk the short distance along the corridor to my OWN room, instead of running through the whole hostel trying to find my 8 man dorm, in a towel after my not-so-power shower.
In terms of summing up South America, it was definitely a once in a life time experience. From the minute we got off our plane from Sydney and arrived in Chile, we knew it would be completely different to anything we had experienced before. Even due to simple things such as the fact that we’d been in Australia, a country so similar to England, for the last two months and were arriving in a country where they don’t speak English! We couldn’t get off the plane and just ask “how do we get here” or “we need a taxi to this place” we had to stop, realise that actually travelling was about to go up by a whole new level of difficulty, and attempt to remember enough spanish to get us where we needed to go. That was the first of our many cultural shocks when we got to South America and obviously there were a lot more to come, including crossing the countries boarders on buses (and then witnessing people trying to smuggle goods across the boarders), having Argentinian men following us down the streets saying that they loved us (creepy), the south american food (absolutely no vegetables, all meat and potatoes), and then just learning about life in the villages while visiting them (including farming, weaving and living in dire conditions). It was an absolutely incredible experience, getting to know a whole new culture and by the end of our trip, when we were volunteering in Peru, we definitely felt like we were now a part of it – something we will be ever thankful for, as every single person who helped us with our south american experience, especially while in Cusco, welcomed us into their lives with open arms. To the children at the Kindergarten, we were “amigas” (friends) and to the staff at the spanish school, and Horti, the lady who looked after us, we were “hijas” (daughters).
The one thing that South America as a whole had to offer, that the other places we visited didn’t, were unbelievably spectacular views, scenery, hills, canyons, lakes, mountains, even roads. Every single place that we visited was beautiful – even if it was a run down old village – everywhere had something unique and special. I can now say that I have stood on the edge of cliffs and mountains overlooking the most beautiful images of countryside, huge rock craters, deserts and vast snow capped peaks. The views we have seen have put everything into perspective, and I one thing that I definitely miss the most, is just walking down the street in whatever South American country I was in, and if I looked up, straight ahead, behind the houses or the sky scrapers, there will be a line of beautiful mountains, looking over me.
Although it’s always hard to pinpoint a favourite moment when the last 8 months have been filled with such different activities, experiences and moments, however I think I actually can narrow it all down. Following the fact that every single place that we visited in South America was absolutely beautiful, my favourite and for me the most stunning country was Peru. Obviously being the home of the vast and spectacular Sacred Valley, then being lucky enough to hike for 5 days across the mountains and ending up at the unbelievably surreal Machu Picchu, it’s hard to make any sort of comparison to this incredible country. The Galapagos also has to have a mention in this section as it was honestly a life changing experience to be that close to the most fascinating animals, witnessing their natural lives as they are just not even the slightest bit bothered by humans and then actually sailing around these incredible islands that just sprung up out of the sea, well, nothing can beat it.
Out of the whole South America trip, I have two favourite cities. The first, obviously, being Cusco. The city that out of my whole 6 months, I stayed in for the longest. Cusco became almost a home away from home, we had a local cafe, a local bar, we had friends there and even a job! Plus it is a buzzy, friendly, atmospheric and very safe city that we always felt happy to be in. My other favourite is San Pedro de Atacama, the small town/city, right next to the Atacama Desert. It was unbelievably bizarre, with the floors and walls and buildings all identical, and basically you have no idea what room or shop or restaurant youre entering until you get inside and find yourself in North Face, or a buzzy fire lit pub with live music. There was always something going on in this crazy town, with friendly people, cool markets and stalls and absolutely DELICIOUS food.
For Australia and Thailand, again I could probably narrow it down to two places. Australia my highlights were the crazy, vast Sydney that lived and exceeded every single rumour, story and expectation, and then the stunning Fraser Island, with absolutely no one on it, a butterfly shaped lake filling the middle of the island, and a 75 mile beach, obviously I was going to be impressed. Then Thailand, following a tiny little man with a machete as he chopped our trekking route through the jungle, cooling off in waterfalls, riding elephants, sleeping in thai villages and bamboo rafting all the way back to civilisation, made the three day Jungle Trek my absolute highlight. The other being the beautiful Koh Tao, my favourite island and the place where I learnt to appreciate the huge ocean and it’s wonders, completed my padi and chilled on huge bean bags in the evening, right on the waters edge while watching fire shows down the beach – absolute bliss.
All in all, it’s been a life changing trip. People always ask if I found myself on my gapyear and I have no idea what this means. As for life lessons, I definitely found my independence, my bravery, my love of languages and discovered unteachable cultural lessons, differences and styles. I am extremely thankful for tiny little home comforts (even as small as the fact that we can put our toilet paper IN THE TOILET and we don’t have to pay an arm and a leg just to get some peanut butter) and I know for sure how incredible my life is, to have had this experience and to be able to share it with all of you.