Looking back at my time in South America
I am coming to the end of the first leg of my trip which was to explore various parts of South America. I have visited the places listed below (although there are many more adventures to do here).
Arequipa, Peru – Colca Canyon review coming soon
Hands down Easter Island is the best place I have travelled to in South America. It had everything. Amazing weather, historical sites, natural beauty and beaches. The best part of Easter island was its seclusion and quietness. The sites were not brimming with other tourists which made it so much more special. We rode bikes & mopeds. Walked for hours and swam in the pristine water. There are Moai around every corner, monolithic structures to be viewed and wild horses to admire as you explore.
Cusco was however, a very close second. There are such a vast number of trips and tours for you to see here, including the famous Machu Picchu. The reasons Cusco didn’t make my top spot is due to the distance it takes to travel to all these destinations. The constant bus journeys can take their toll. Also, as it is such a major tourist destination most sites are swarming with other people trying to get the best view or take the best pictures. I did thoroughly enjoy my time there and ate some great Vegan food. We had amazing weather throughout our stay and I am already planning a return journey for those tours I didn’t manage to make.
The first thing you will have to adjust to is the rule that you do not flush your toilet paper down the toilet. This is what that lovely overflowing bin is for. After experiencing some toilets I visited in South America, I think I would have rather taken my chances with ‘Mother Nature’s Toilet’. I went to some where the smell hit you at least 10 minutes before you even saw the toilet itself. There was no toilet seat, it was more than filthy and you needed to bring over your own water to flush it (I’m not sure what my payment was going towards). These are just extreme cases but be warned.
I was surprised by the availability of hot water on Easter Island. The water is scarce, so they ask you not to take long showers understandably, but hot water was a blessing. I’ve found it to be rather hit and miss with the showers in the rest of my South American accommodation. Some days they are hot, others you have to embrace the cold. I’ve heard cold showers are good for you, right? In one of the apartments we had to have the water running for at least 10 minutes if you wanted a chance of lukewarm water. Such a waste.
Speaking of waste. Be prepared to see rubbish on the streets, dog dirt and the smell of pee hitting you out of nowhere. At first, I assumed it was because of all the stray dogs. However, I was walking back to my hotel in Cusco one night, turned the corner and was met by a guy just peeing in the street like it was the most normal thing in the world. Not even trying to hide his bits.
Surprisingly Chile, Cusco and Easter Island did seem to have a recycling programme in place, but La Paz certainly didn’t. At first glance it seems like they keep the streets clean. However, if you take a tour out of the city you can see how it is just dumped at the side of the roads and pathways. You can see all the dogs scavenging here for scraps. I’m not sure what their future plans are, they seem to try and burn most of it. Who knows.
The biggest surprise was Rio. You could see all the rubbish just floating in the water along Flamengo beach. We saw dead fish and sanitary products washed ashore. At first, we were thinking of dipping our toes in before we (thankfully) saw it all. One of the locals told us the water was ‘perfectly ok’ and dove in. We just politely laughed and edged away. Copacabana beach did seem clean and we have been told that you can swim in this water, but I didn’t want to take my chances.
There seems to be an abundance of stray dogs in South America. They do seem friendly and healthy though. I was told by a fellow traveller that there is a law that you are not allowed to harm the dogs, but people are just too poor to take them in and keep them as pets. Therefore, they are just free to roam the streets and they are fed by the locals. This does mean that none of them will be neutered and I imagine the problem will just continue to get worse. They were extremely friendly though. We had one dog follow us for hours on Easter Island as we were walking around. Eventually, after he face planked into a pile of cow crap we knew that we had to make the decision to ditch him. It is not easy to lose a dog, trust me.
It was surprisingly easy to adopt to a vegan lifestyle in South America. La Paz in particular had more vegan places to eat than in my home town in England. The thing that I found so disturbing was the amount of sugar they used in their food. It was everywhere. You have to be wary of salads due to bacteria but can stick to fruits, however you sometimes need hiking/trip food and you are limited in your options. If we went out to eat we really were not sure just how much sugar they were adding. Even the bread was loaded with it. I am dreading my next dentist visit.
I come from England, so my experience of weather is wet and cold. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend so much time in the sun. Be careful though, the sun gets strong. Even on cloudy days the UV rays can be high and you will burn. Bring a high factor sun cream, after sun and lip balm. Cover up if needed. Remember to protect your eyes too with good quality sunglasses and a hat.
For the most part I have never felt in any danger during our time in South America. Everyone seemed really friendly and was always eager to help. We did however stick to the main tourist areas. On one occasion we took a walk around Chile and was met with a man lying on the ground bleeding from his head. The restaurant owner said it was typical of that part of Santiago and did nothing. Another time, we took a walk to a supermarket in Arequipa and it felt like you had walked into a war zone, just by turning a corner. There was rubbish everywhere and all the shops had been boarded up. There was literally fires in the middle of the road. Everyone turned around as soon as we approached. I have never wanted to leave place so quickly in my life. I never headed back in that direction.
I loved visiting all the archaeological sites and seeing how they are all linked, such as Tiwanaku in La Paz, Sacsayhuaman in Cusco and Vinapu on Easter Island. It is definitely worth looking up monolithic structures before you take a visit to South America. There is most certainly a missing piece of history here which is yet to be resolved.
I will have spent four months in South America and it has definitely opened my eyes a little. Maybe I am too used to my western ways. Taking a holiday to South America is well worth it and something I recommend everyone does. There is too much here to see to pass up and I am already looking forward to my return visit. Maybe it just won’t be four months long. However, I am now looking forward to the next leg of my trip and venturing further up into the USA and enjoying some western amenities.
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