Sector 4 – The Final Chapter Of Our South America Journey…
Well we’ve made it home! After 189 days, clocking up 35,000 kilometres on the truck, having explored, hiked, danced and eaten our way through 7 of the world’s most picturesque and fascinating countries, we’re back on English soil (for a little time anyway) and for once we were greeted with sunshine instead of showers. Yes, we love to travel, but there’s nothing better than seeing a patchwork of green fields as you fly into London’s Heathrow airport, having that feeling of excitement in the pit of your stomach with the knowledge that home is just around the corner! (Or in our case, a couple of hours down the A1!)
But how did we fare during the last sector of our trip? How did Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, compare with the others we visited? Read our final South America trip summary here.
Home-made pork-pies, chocolate gateaux and rosé wine – Just a few treats we missed from home!
Adios Ecuador… Hola Peru, Bolivia and Argentina!
The final chapter of our epic trip started rather precariously as we entered into the ‘unknown’ with a new border crossing. Due to the earthquake that had struck off the coast of Chile on the 1st of April, we we forced away from our coastal route into Peru. Instead we headed inland to an alternative border crossing from Ecuador that was completely new to our overland company.
Waiting around for a few hours to cross from Ecuador into Peru.
Believe me, travelling overland is not all pisco sours and parties around the campfire! Sometimes we came across so much ‘red tape’ that border crossings were a huge pain in the rear and this was no exception. Finally, after a couple of hours of wrangling with border officials (more to do with the paperwork for the truck than with us) we were granted permission to cross from ‘no man’s land’ into Peru. By this time, darkness had descended. Everyone was a bit fed up and more than a little bit hungry, so we literally parked the truck in a field, pitched our tents, and bushcamped a few miles down the road after the border crossing.
But after a hearty meal and a good night’s sleep, it was a new day and everyone was happy again. Especially as we returned to our original coastal route, the threat of a secondary earthquake having diminished. It was an extra-long truck day to get us back on track, but we made it to the small fishing town of Huanchaco in time to watch a beautiful sunset and to sample one or two pisco sours during ‘Happy Hour’.
The sun sets over the fishing village of Huanchaco.
Sampling Peru’s national cocktail – A round of pisco sours for everyone!
The next day, we visited a nearby tourist attraction, the Chan Chan Ruins, which are the largest adobe ruins in the world. (Without the help of Google, I can’t tell you much more about them though. After five months exploring South America, I found my enthusiasm for ruins was seriously waning!)
Visiting the largest adobe ruins in the world – The Chan Chan Ruins.
Leaving the ruins and the Peruvian coast behind, it was back into the picturesque Andes as we headed to Peru’s hiking and adventure epicentre, Huaraz. Here, we eagerly set off on a challenging day trek to see the stunning ‘Laguna 69‘.
Driving through the beautiful Andes mountain range once more.
Reaping the rewards of a challenging day hike – The stunning turquoise waters of Laguna 69.
It was in Huaraz that we also discovered our new culinary favourite, the Peruvian Chifa (Chinese), and had another encounter with a llama who was more than happy to pose for the camera.
The Peruvian Chifa is definitely a rival with Colombian chicken and chips!
Just one more llama picture to add to the collection!
From the gorgeous, green hills of Huaraz, next we found ourselves camping in the dry, dusty campsite of Reserva Nacional de Lachay. Our timing was not perfect as the Reserve is most famous for its striking green vegetation which flourishes in the ‘wet’ season due to moisture in the air from ocean mist. When we camped however it was considered ‘dry’ season and there was not a green leaf in sight. What we did experience though was a fantastic sunset and the Reserve itself has some great walks with impressive views.
Exploring the Reserva Nacional de Lachay.
We missed seeing the Reserve in all its glory completely covered in green as we visited in ‘dry season’.
The fabulous sunset at the end of our walk around the Reserve.
Our next stop was a boat trip to the Ballestas Islands, which are considered the Peruvian equivalent of the Galapagos Islands. Having not visited the Galapagos, we can’t make any comparisons, but the Ballestas Islands were definitely teeming with wildlife.
Thousands of birds perch on the rocky outcrops of the islands, which in turn means thousands of tons of guano!
There were literally thousands of birds of which we had a brief encounter with some boobies, (but not the blue footed variety), guano birds and Humboldt penguins. We also saw a large colony of sea lions.
A variety of bird species make the islands their home.
A large colony of sea lions shelter on one of the Ballestas Islands.
The northern face of the Paracas Peninsula is also famous for a large scale geoglyph that is noticeable whilst sailing to the islands. Known as El Candelabro, it is a mystery as to the origins of the geoglyph. There is much speculation about it, as with the Nazca Lines, but one idea is that it may have served as a beacon to mariners.
The mysterious geoglyph known as El Candelabro.
Returning from the islands, it was another bushcamp for the group as we set up camp on the beach in the Paracas National Park. Getting more adventurous with camp food, it was the night of all nights as Cook Group attempted and succeeded at making Odyssey’s biggest ever lasagne, created expertly in the famous poike pot.
Finding a good place to camp in the Paracas National Park.
The perfect bushcamp spot for sunset!
‘Cook Group’ show off their home-made lasagne – 2 hours to prepare, 2 minutes to demolish!
From one geoglyph to several hundred others in an area that encompasses nearly 500 square kilometres. Next we headed to the town of Nazca ready to view the mysterious ‘Nazca Lines’. Our budget didn’t stretch to a flight over the mysterious lines and patterns etched in the desert, so instead we had to make do with viewing them from a large platform. The Observation Tower only gets you a few feet off the ground, but it is enough to get the basic outline of two of the famous Nazca Lines, the Hands and the Tree figure.
The Observation Tower & along the Panamerican Highway in the Nazca Desert.
Looking down at the ‘Tree’ figure.
Our next destination in Peru was Arequipa where we camped overnight, then left the majority of the group to go off on our own expedition to hike down into the world’s second deepest canyon, Colca Canyon. It was here that we met our faithful, friendly pooch ‘Stevie Jumpers’, who decided to tag along with us for three days and simply became our best hiking companion.
Hiking with our new friend…
I think we wore Stevie Jumpers out after he hiked with us for 3 days.
After reuniting with the group in Chivay, it was time to reward ourselves for all of our efforts hiking in and out of the canyon. Not content with a hot shower and wi-fi, we decided to try a traditional ‘Peruvian Show’ and sample a nice, big piece of alpaca steak!
Enjoying a traditional Peruvian show in the town of Chivay.
Posing with two of the dancers from the show.
Trying for the first time – A juicy piece of alpaca steak!
With no time to put our feet up, the next day we moved on to the rural village of Raqchi for our first Home-Stay experience. We were quite apprehensive about meeting our host, Mama Martina, but we shouldn’t have worried as we quickly settled into her family home and were made to feel like part of the community.
The Raqchi community wait to greet us.
Joining the village celebration, Mama Martina puts us in traditional Peruvian dress.
After waving goodbye to Mama Martina and her 3 daughters, we were excited to be returning to Cusco, Peru’s gringo capital and shopping haven. It was Easter weekend and the old part of the city was crowded with people watching parades, but we had no time to stop and enjoy the show. We arrived just in time for a 5:00pm briefing with our Lares Trek guide, then headed off to buy last minute supplies. You never know when an extra toilet roll might come in handy! Twelve hours later, we were setting off on our walk through the Lares Valley, one of our best multi-day hikes to date.
Setting off on the Lares Trek – A 3 day alternative to the traditional Inca Trail.
Enjoying the breathtaking scenery of the Lares Valley.
After a fantastic three days immersed in Peru’s stunning countryside and culture, it was time for a little luxury with a scenic train journey from Ollantaytambo to Agua Calientes, the gateway town leading to Machu Picchu and a relaxing night in a hotel. Well I’m not quite sure you can call it a night with a 4:00am wake up call, but this meant we were near the front of the queue to reach Machu Picchu in time for sunrise. Bad weather put a slight dampener on things, particularly our photographs. But not deterred by the rain, we soldiered on up to the top of Huayna Picchu mid-morning where the sun began to break through and we were all smiles having fulfilled a significant goal on our bucket-list!
Travelling in style – We enjoyed a wonderful scenic train journey with Peru Rail.
One of the most recognisable images on earth – The ‘Lost’ City of the Incas – Machu Picchu.
From the ‘lost’ city of the Incas, it was a long and sleepy journey back to Cusco. The following day was a ‘free’ day for everyone so after shopping for a few souvenirs and ‘thank you’ gifts we couldn’t leave without digging in to an extra large portion of ‘pollo y papas fritas’ (fried chicken and chips)! And not forgetting Peru’s very own equivalent ‘Iron Brew’ drink – the famous Inca Cola.
We couldn’t resist indulging in one of our favourite South American dishes!
Trucking on once more, we then travelled to our final stop in Peru, the city of Puno on the shores of Lake Titicaca. Here we took a boat trip to the Los Uros floating islands and found out about life for the small communities living and working on the lake. We found this excursion very touristy, but hey, these people have got to earn a living. One of our favourite things about Puno was a fantastic little pizza restaurant with an authentic wood-fired oven, just off the main strip, named ‘Machu Pizza’, which we thoroughly recommend!
We visit another of Peru’s major tourist destinations – The Los Uros Floating Islands on Lake Titicaca.
From Puno, it was quite a culture shock crossing the border from Peru into Bolivia. Over half the population live in poverty and it was immediately clear to see that the infrastructure is severely lacking in comparison to other South American countries such as Argentina and Brazil. In theory, Bolivia should not be the continent’s poorest country as it has the second largest natural gas reserves in South America. However, to mine for it would involve disturbing the country’s salt flats, an important natural feature which boosts tourism in the region.
And so it was with a little trepidation that we headed to La Paz, Bolivia’s largest city, as we just didn’t know what we would find…
Crossing the border between Peru and Bolivia was quite a culture shock.
Apart from crowded streets and crazy traffic, we shouldn’t have worried. Our hotel was comfortable and met the standards we were used to in other South American countries. But the best thing of all were the warm and friendly staff who provided the whole group with a fantastic ‘welcome meal’ on our first evening.
An extremely overcrowded La Paz, Bolivia’s largest city.
The group then embarked on a guided City Tour the next morning visiting the Valley of the Moon, a surreal landscape on the outskirts of the city, as well as some of the city’s popular spots such as Plaza Murillo.
Unfortunately by this stage I was suffering from a severe bout of traveller’s diarrhoea and had to retire to our hotel room where I spent the next 3 days close to my best friend – the toilet! At least that meant I didn’t have to subject myself to visiting the nearby witches market where they had numerous llama foetuses for sale which are meant to bring ‘good luck’. Hmm, I suspect maybe not for tourists going through customs!
Panorama shot of Plaza Murillo, the main plaza in La Paz.
From La Paz we then moved on to the Bolivian town of Potosi. (Thank goodness for Imodium as a ‘bush wee’ is bad enough without coping with a severe bout of diarrhoea!) Potosi is famous for it’s silver mine. However, we chose not to visit the mine due to a number of reasons, predominantly our ‘personal safety’. Eight million lives have been claimed in its 500 year history so the reality of life for the miners today is something we did not want to witness up close. Plus, the fact that the recommended gifts for miners are sticks of dynamite or bottles of 99% alcohol, which we’re positive is not a very conducive mix!
Thus far, we did not have very high hopes for Bolivia and were eager to get back to Argentina. But, then came another itinerary change. As Uyuni had been barricaded off to the outside world by locals demonstrating against a new tourist bus station planned for the town, we couldn’t drive directly to the salt flats. So instead, we diverted to the small town of Tupiza, where we set off on a hastily arranged 4 day, 4 wheel drive tour of the Altiplano, visiting the salt flats at Uyuni on the final day before heading back to Tupiza. This couldn’t have come at a better time! Feeling like we had accomplished all the best things on the trip, we were almost counting down until it was time to fly home, so this unexpected surprise rekindled our wanderlust. The Altiplano was simply breathtaking and one of the best things we experienced throughout the entire trip. How could we have not even known about it?
Just one of the many stunning views we were privileged to witness in Bolivia’s Altiplano.
Enjoying the thermal baths in the Altiplano.
Photography fun on the Salar de Uyuni.
After all the excitement and fun on the salt flats, it was finally time to head back to Argentina, the land of steak and red wine, and possibly our favourite South American country. We enjoyed a few days in sunny Salta, located in north west Argentina, where we splurged a bit due to us getting an excellent rate changing dollars on the Black Market. (Not technically legal or ethical, but as we were literally down to our final dollars we though ‘what the heck’!)
Blowing the daily budget and enjoying a beer in the chic Argentinian city of Salta.
From Salta, we had another fantastic treat in store with a 3 night stay at an Argentinian Estancia that felt like we had stepped straight into a wild west movie set. As we were making good time on route, (due to the fact we had lovely tarmac roads unlike the dirt tracks and road works we had suffered in Bolivia) the crew decided to make an impromptu stop at a local winery to kill some time before check-in. There were certainly no complaints from us!
Fantastic roads and scenery driving through north west Argentina.
Exploring a local winery on route…
Lovely views, perfect for a spot of wine tasting…
Now stocked up with bottles of wine, it was time to head to our luxury ranch accommodation ‘La Vaca Tranquila’. We can say without a doubt that it was the best accommodation of the whole trip! Each room was spacious and uniquely decorated, with en-suite bathrooms that have that extra touch of luxury to make you feel completely pampered. Just what we needed after 6 months on the road and all that camping! To top it off the ranch was also a working dairy farm, so I was in heaven as I have always wanted to milk a cow. Unfortunately, my life long dream wasn’t realised as the cows are milked by machine and not by hand, but I did get to have a tour around the farm. I guess I can’t have everything!
Milking time at our Argentinian Estancia.
My life long dream is to milk a cow!
As part of our ‘Estancia package’ we also got to have another go at ‘horse riding’. Thankfully, these horses looked in much better condition than those we had ridden on a guided tour in Colombia and this time our guide was a real ‘cowboy’!
Mastering the technique – Horse riding in Argentina.
“Howdy partner!” – Trotting through Argentina’s wild west country.
The Ranch also has its very own stone oven, so we were treated by the owners to a fantastic ‘welcome meal’ of roast lamb. Did I mention how much we love Argentina?!
Mouth-watering, slow roasted lamb cooked to perfection in the stone oven.
But never ones to turn down the opportunity of utilising a stone oven, we decided to say ‘thank you’ to the owners and invite them along the next evening to our very own ‘Odyssey Pizza Party’ courtesy of the skills of head pizza chef, Wayne! (Plus Cook group helpers – Danielle, Ellie and Johnny).
Proud to show off our home-made pizzas!
We were sad to say goodbye to our luxury Ranch but happy that it was finally our LAST BUSHCAMP!
By now however, we should have realised that nothing ever runs smoothly! Setting off on Route 40 we were heading to Villa Union, when suddenly the road we were driving on actually ran out as it was under construction. So, Simon being Simon, had to do an expert 12 point turn, taking great care not to go over the edge of the cliff face and head back the way we came!
Heading to Villa Union when we had to make an unexpected U-turn as the road simply ran out!
This was our last itinerary change as we headed to a municipal campsite, then on to Argentina’s second city, Cordoba. After a quick whistle-stop tour of the main sites of the city, we decided to make the most of our last couple of days by enjoying a vino or two in the bars near our hotel and feasting upon ‘parrilla’, our favourite Argentinian meat feast dish.
Enjoying a glass of red wine – Argentinian style!
Enjoying a Parrilla – ‘Meat Feast’ Argentinian style!
From luxury to reality however as we had to cover a lot of miles to make it back to Buenos Aires, which involved 3 long travel days. It was our final night of camping where the major plus point was that we had to drink the bar dry. (Of course the fridge had to be left clean and empty ready for the next overlanding trip!)
However our final day was not so much fun. Our crew set the last of the overlanders (13 out of 23 travellers remained at this point) on a mammoth truck cleaning mission that they branded as a ‘Truck Cleaning Party‘. We were not very happy to say the least that we had to spend our own time and last day in South America cleaning tents, chairs, kitchen utensils and more, literally making the whole truck sparkle from top to bottom, when all we wanted to do was get back to Buenos Aires. (We firmly believe that the truck should be professionally cleaned ready for its new passengers and this will be going in our ‘Trip Evaluation’!)
Anyway, moving on… When we finally arrived back in BA, the crew redeemed themselves by booking our final group meal at the wonderful parrilla that we had sampled our first intestines and testicles in way back in November 2013! So it was there that we said our goodbyes, reminisced about our highs and lows of the trip and shared our plans for the future.
Having started in Argentina and come full circle, we look back fondly on all of our experiences at the final ‘Group Meal’.
The following day, after a quick shopping trip and lots more ‘goodbyes’ at breakfast, we headed to the airport, ready for home!
Ready for our flights home – Buenos Aires to Sau Paulo to London!
All Summed Up
Our South America adventure was certainly a roller coaster journey, with lots of highlights and many great moments to cherish. Our highest point was being able to witness for ourselves the grandeur of the ‘lost’ city of the Incas, Machu Picchu, in Peru. Our worst experience on the other hand, was when Wayne had his camera stolen in Quito, Ecuador, which remains a sore point.
But despite this, it has been an amazing adventure that has enabled us to fulfil some lifelong dreams along the way. From sailing on the world’s highest navigable inland sea, Lake Titicaca, to hiking down into the world’s second deepest canyon, Colca Canyon in Peru, to straddling the Equator in Ecuador, to dancing the night away at Carnival in Colombia, to driving across the Altiplano in Bolivia and standing on the world’s largest salt flat, we have been awed and inspired by what South America has to offer.
As avid hikers, it’s not just the outstanding natural scenery that has captured our hearts, but the friendliness and hospitality of South American people as well. Our home-stay with the rural community in Raqchi, Peru, will remain one of our memorable moments where we were welcomed with open arms, made guests at a traditional ceremony to Pachamama, (Mother Earth), and stayed with Mama Martina and her three daughters in their lovely home.
Every country has something special and distinct to offer and we have enjoyed finding out about the local customs, traditional dress, music, and one of our favourite aspects, sampling the local food. On a trip as ambitious as this, you have to be open to anything and willing to try new things, otherwise you might as well have stayed at home. We like to reinforce that our overland trip was by no means ‘luxury’. We’ve camped for 65% of the time and had to cope with standards much less than what we’re used to at home, but after some adjusting to life on the road, we’ve enjoyed it nonetheless.
We hope you have also enjoyed following along with our adventures and if you’re reading this from the comfort of your armchair, travelling the world in your slippers! We’re still catching up with our blog and have a few more posts about South America to add before we begin the next chapter of our travels…
So please keep following and WATCH THIS SPACE!