Subways and semla in Stockholm….

For those of you who followed my recent adventures in South America, you will know that I booked a surprise trip to Stockholm for my partner, Ken, upon my return in February, to say thank you for supporting my decision to take four months off work while I worked through my mini-midlife crisis. I stepped off the plane in Amsterdam – wearing shorts to the bemusement of the cabin crew – to be greeted by a smiling Ken, who had just read my latest blog and was therefore aware of the surprise trip. If you’re wondering why Stockholm, you can read about it in this post.

It seems we have a knack for surprises in our relationship as, unbeknownst to me, Ken had gone to the UK to pick up the cats the previous week and they were at the door to greet me when I got home. Having been away for so long, it was a special homecoming. However, Ken took it one step further, as I discovered when going to the bedroom to change clothes only to be greeted by my best friend, Leah, who he’d picked up in the UK on the way back to the Netherlands. I was somewhat overwhelmed to be honest, and the endorphin rush was intense, like after a good workout. Or so I’m told. Perhaps I should go to a gym if it really does feel this good afterwards.

img_uhkln6829675111.jpgUnfortunately, our flight to Stockholm was booked for the following morning, so we said tot ziens to Leah and the cats, with promises to take her to her favourite restaurant on our return to the land of orange, evidenced above!

Ken and I haven’t really been on holiday in the 18 months we’ve been together, save for a few day trips in the Netherlands, so the upcoming 24/7 would be a new experience. We treated ourselves to some bubbles in the lounge despite the early hour and soon found ourselves on the Arlanda Express – how bloody much?!?!?!!! – whizzing our way to the city centre. I had booked a cute AirBnB apartment that didn’t disappoint. Despite it’s small square footage, it was designed perfectly and was very gezellig. Not that we spent that much time there. No, we came for the subway stations and unfortunately they require being outside. Well, underground, but you know what I mean.

As we had three days in the city, we took it easy on day one, exploring the narrow streets of Gamla Stan (the old town), and it wasn’t long before I persuaded Ken to partake in a spot of fika at Chokoladkoppen, a cute cafe on the main square. Thankfully they were still serving semla buns (they’re only available at certain times of the year, and you can read more about the tradition here) and it didn’t take me long to demolish one. Given that eating out in Stockholm is so expensive it requires remortgaging one’s dwelling, we took advantage of the fully stocked kitchen and had dinner at the apartment that evening.

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The next day was bright and sunny, but perishingly cold, so we decided to save being underground for the following day when the weather was due to be overcast, and instead took a boat around the archipelago. The guide was very engaging and informative, and Ken was very happy being on a boat, despite spending most of his adulthood on one having first worked in the Merchant Navy before pursuing a career as a marine engineer! It may, however, have been the hearty soup and dubious looking shot glass of liquor that put a smile on his face. By the time we returned to the dock, the temperature had turned even more baltic so we made a pit stop at H&M to buy some gloves for Ken and an extra jumper for me. I then managed to persuade him to allow me to push the boat out – it didn’t take much to twist his arm to be honest – and eat at an amazing looking restaurant we passed by the evening before.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t put it off anymore, it was time to do what we came to Stockholm to do, namely tour the subway to view the art installations. Unlike Ken I’m not a transport geek, nor do I know anything about art beyond imitating Patsy Stone (‘yeah, but is it art?’), however seeing Ken’s growing excitement – wait, that sounds rude – gave me a fuzzy feeling inside, and after all, I brought him here to make him happy. Mission accomplished it seemed.

I don’t often ride the metro in Amsterdam, but I know that if I lived in Stockholm – not that I’m willing to sell a kidney to do so – I’d look forward to getting on the tunnelbana every day. Words I never uttered during the 12 years I rode the Tube in London! Perhaps Ken’s enthusiasm was catching. The T-bana stations are truly incredible, as you can see from the photos below. I’m heading back to Stockholm this weekend for a tournament with Amsterdam Netball Club and I’m already looking forward to introducing them to these magnificent structures.

Centralstation

Solna Centrum

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Universiteit

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Tekniska Högskolan

Tensta

Rissne

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Stadion

Rådhuset

Photos taken before I realised I should’ve noted where we were!

Hiking the ‘Classic Inca Trail’ to Machu Picchu….

So, the day is finally here: Macchu Picchu here we come. For many, this is the thing to do during their time in South America, and while it was amazing, I think I’ve preferred discovering the less well documented, but no less impressive sights such as Lake Quilotoa or Rainbow Mountain. Nonetheless, it was an incredible four days and one that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

500 people are permitted to start the trail each day, but this number includes approximately 300 support staff in the form of porters, cooks and guides. I chose the Classic trek because the equipment is carried by humans who choose to do so, as opposed to pack animals which are used on other treks. The porters are truly incredible; they carry up to 30kg of equipment on their backs, while I struggled with my daypack weighing 7kg. Having finished our breakfast, we would set off on a day’s hiking, only to be overtaken by running porters who would then have lunch ready for us upon our arrival. This was repeated for dinner when we would arrive at the campsite to also find our tents and bed all set up.

DAY ONE: PISCAYCUCHO TO WAYLLABAMBA

Distance: 12km

Starting elevation: 2,700m

End elevation: 3,000m

Start time: 1103

End time: 1627

# of showers: 0

# of poos: 0

We started the Inca Trail at KM82 in Piscaycucho, where we met our team of porters and guides. Having shown our passports and permits, we crossed the Urubamba River, following the shoreline through lush farmland before gradually climbing for the next few hours. The walk today was relatively easy, and we were treated to some stunning views of Mount Veronica (named after a woman who went missing on the mountain and was never found).

DAY TWO: WAYLLABAMBA TO PACAYMAYO

Distance: 11km

Starting elevation: 3,000m

Highest elevation: 4,200m

End elevation: 3,650m

Start time: 0643

End time: 1429

# of showers: 0

# of poos: 0

# of coca leaves chewed: countless

Today was by far the hardest of the four days, with the hike being almost entirely uphill with steep inclines. The scenery made the effort worthwhile, although I had to consciously remind myself of that at times, especially when I felt the formation of several blisters on my feet. The group made good progress first thing and were therefore treated to a two hour lunch, during which I took the opportunity of a nap. However, upon waking I felt decidedly ropey but unable to put my finger on why. We started walking again but I was quickly beset with a splitting headache. Lauren – a.k.a. Wonder Woman on account of the fact she was doing the Inca Trail only three months after surgery to repair het ACL – confided that she was feeling something similar and we decided to try chewing coca leaves which we’d been told would help. The first taste was revolting. Having chewed five leaves, we stored them in our cheeks like hamsters and waited for them to work their magic. We were told to change the leaves every ten minutes and counting the time helped me concentrate on something else besides my throbbing forehead. The leaves are indeed magical as within twenty minutes, both Lauren and I felt much better, even putting on a bit of a spurt. We reached the highest point on the trek, Dead Women’s Pass, and stopped for some celebratory photos. Thankfully, it was downhill to that evening’s campsite where, upon arrival, I promptly slept for several hours before dinner.

DAY THREE: PACAYMAYO TO WINAY WAYNA

Distance: 16km

Starting elevation: 3,650m

End elevation: 2,650m

Start time: 0635

End time: 1437

# of showers: 1 (if you count dipping one’s balls in a bucket of warm soapy water)

# of poos: almost 1 (despite repeated attempts in the bush)

Today was my favourite day of the trek. Up to now I could generally be found at the back of our group of 14, with one of the guides, Willian, who was great at making us take breaks and not go beyond our limits. However, today was mostly downhill which suits me much better. Several of the group struggled more today because of the impact on their knees, but for me this was much preferable than the ascents. At one point, a small group of us, inspired by the amazing running porters, decided to run down the ancient stone steps with them, for about 30 minutes. It was exhilarating and I had a massive smile on my face when we reached our next checkpoint, the ruins at Phuyupatamarca and waited for the others, filling the time by doing some handstands above the valley. The drop in elevation meant that I felt fine and my breathing and heart rate returned to normal almost immediately upon stopping. It felt bizarre given that I’m usually out of breath for a few minutes having run twenty minutes for a tram in Amsterdam!!

DAY FOUR: WINAY WAYNA TO MACCHU PICCHU

Distance: 4km

Starting elevation: 2,650m

End elevation: 2,430m

Start time: 0330 (!!!!)

End time: 0730

# of showers: 1 (upon return to hotel at 1930)

# of poos: lots (also upon return to hotel and its functioning, clean toilet)

The porters woke us up at the ungodly hour of 0300 to start the short walk to the Sun Gate and our first sight of Machu Picchu. When I booked this trip, the brochure said we would arrive at Machu Picchu at sunrise, but this wasn’t entirely true. We walked along the jungle path for fifteen minutes, before joining the queue of hikers who were waiting for the path to be opened at 0530. Ian ‘entertained’ us with the five jokes he has memorised for such an occasion, our polite laughter the only sound piercing the early morning silence. The gates were promptly opened at 0530 and we began the 75 minute walk up to the Sun Gate. By this time, sunrise had come and gone, and after climbing the final super steep steps, we were treated to our first sight of the famous Inca city of Machu Picchu. Except we weren’t. A mist had rolled in at exactly the worst moment, and all you could hear were the disappointing sighs of smelly and tired hikers. Thankfully the sun worked its magic and the mist soon cleared to reveal the ancient stones. It’s a truly remarkable sight and it’s hard not to be impressed by the spectacle.

After the obligatory photos, I was craving some alone time, so I went for a coffee and sandwich before playing with the numerous well-fed pooches who hang around the entrance of the sight hoping for scraps from tourists. Ian and I then caught the bus to the nearby town of Aguas Calientes (literally Hot Waters) and celebrated our achievements with a couple of litres of beer and WiFi. I’m not sure Ian felt much of a sense of achievement given that he said he thought it was a lot easier than he’d imagined (needless to say I thought it would kill me at one point on the second day), or perhaps his achievement was managing to cope with me as a tentmate for three nights without killing me. Either way, the beer went down a treat.

The group met for lunch after which we took the train back to Cusco. Following dinner, copious amounts of alcohol was consumed before a corresponding amount of dancing took place on the bar of a local club.

I decided to call it a night at 0430, 25.5 hours after I’d woken up the day before. The walk home was probably my favourite part of the evening, once Ian and I had discovered Cusco’s slippery stone pavements.

The end of the road in Buenos Aires…..

After nearly four months, the day had arrived: reaching Buenos Aires (hereafter BA) signalled the final stretch on my trip. It’s also the end of the road for many of my fellow passengers who joined us in Santiago, with an intrepid few continuing on to celebrate carnival in Rio. I can’t think of a better place to call it a day than BA, it’s a truly magical city. At times, I’ve struggled with unfamiliarity while I’ve been away, but that disappears in BA which, with its outdoor cafe culture, wide pavements and European aura, it felt like coming home. The architecture definitely has an air of Paris or Madrid about it, and if I spoke Spanish, I’d certainly feel like I could live here.

We were staying in the microcenter, a great base from which to explore. As my first full day was a Sunday, I spent the time wandering the markets in San Telmo, taking in the sights and sounds of the bustling barrio. That night we had a final group dinner and gave out awards, compered by me and another guy from our truck, Grant. Although some were a bit risqué, everyone accepted them in good grace. I was unsurprised to win the ‘Humanitarian Dogging’ award, earned on account of always giving away my truck food entitlement to the local pooches.

The following day I explored the centre of the city, saving myself for what was to come that evening: La Bomba di Tiempo or Timebomb, a drumming troupe who performed in an enclosed, open air space that resembled a junk yard, minus the junk. I knew it would be a good night when the beers arrived in glasses as big as one’s head. It was everything I thought a night out in BA would be: fun, sweaty and full of dancing. I ended up chatting to a Japanese guy who was hammered and easily impressed with my basic Japanese language skills, and a US marine who had led a very interesting life. No porteños unfortunately. The best part of the night however was after the gig had finished and the drummers played on the streets while leading everyone to the after party. There are beer vendors walking with the crowds, which probably explains the horrific hangovers a lot of people suffered from the next day. My flip flops busted four times during the course of the evening, but thankfully a guy from our truck, Luke, was a hero, fixing them for me each time. I got back at 0300 and spent the next hour trying to book a hotel room for my final night in BA. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. The poor night receptionist had to help me with the Spanish keyboard more than should’ve been necessary.

The following day I went on a day trip to Uruguay (blog post here) and returned to BA in the evening for dinner with some of the ladies from the trip who I’m very happy to say have become good friends. It wasn’t a late on account of my 0500 wake up call for my wee trip to Iguazu Falls (blog post here), but it was a lovely sign off.

On my return from Iguazu, I splurged (well, spent €120 on a room rather than €25) and treated myself to a night in a nice hotel. It didn’t disappoint; the room was as big as my apartment in Amsterdam, which made sense when the porter reminded me I was in the Junior Suite. Damn you brain for booking something when a bit tipsy.

20180127_011353212792911.jpgI was in for another surprise too; an ex-boyfriend who now lives in New Zealand was in the city for work and had seen my photos on social media, and we managed to meet up for a nightcap on our last night. Small world huh? It was so nice to catch up after so long.

So, my almost four months in South America have come to an end. I’ve learned so much. It’s hard to articulate how much I’ve gained from this trip, and I’d like to think that I have given something back to this wonderful continent. Well, its dogs at least. Four months isn’t anywhere near long enough to do this place justice, and I’d love to return at some point in the future to explore further. The Andes have been my constant companion throughout my journey and I’ve been amazed at how different they are in each country I’ve visited. They, and the jungle, feel like the beating heart of the continent and must be looked after. I’ve been consistently treated to scenery like none I’ve ever experienced before. Yes, some is reminiscent of New Zealand, but the continuity of amazing landscape after amazing landscape is something else.

Alpacas > guanacos > llamas. That is all.

I’ve loved having so much interaction with dogs during my trip. They are so docile and just want tickles.  I’ve not seen any aggression, and it seems the further south you go, the fewer strays you see.  I can count on one hand the number of cats I’ve seen.

I wish I had dedicated more time to leaning Spanish, although I’m surprised by how far I’ve gotten with my limited vocabulary. Being able to speak French has come in very handy though as three are lots of similarities.

Argentina – best coffee

Peru – best food

Bolivia – best people

Ecuador – best value for money

Chile – best scenery

Brazil – best waterfalls (contentious I know)

Uruguay – best wine

It’s honestly impossible to choose a favourite place. Baños in Ecuador definitely gave me food for thought. As I approach being forty, I wonder what next for me? I love my job, but would like to do something that feels a bit more worthy.  I’ve also toyed with the idea of being my own boss and either setting up a cafe, or an animal shelter. In Baños, there is a business that combines both and it was a joy to spend time there. When I return to Amsterdam, as a first step, I’m going to dedicate time to improving my Dutch so that I am able to volunteer at my local animal shelter, And then perhaps see what happens after that.

What else have I learned? Well, my tolerance for bad manners is now minimal, although unlike before when I would quietly tut in true British fashion, I now call out that behaviour.  Perhaps I’m becoming more Dutch in that regard. I also learned that I can poo literally anywhere anytime, although I’m not sure that’s a skill I’ll be calling on much back home in Europe. This trip showed me that travelling really is good for the soul and mental health, and I feel refreshed, revitalised and looking forward to coming home. It also makes one appreciate what one has at home.

I’m lucky enough to have an amazing partner in Ken, and although I know he’s struggled a bit in my absence, moving to Amsterdam without knowing anyone or the language, he’s never once not supported me, and actively encouraged me to pursue this experience. A month ago he tweeted that he’d like to go to Stockholm in Sweden to see the subway stations – yes, I did re-evaluate our relationship when I saw the tweet – so Ken, to say thanks, pack your bags because we’re going on Monday! Love you long time.

This is my final blog post. It’s been fun to write, although at times I lagged behind due to a combination of lack of good WiFi and actually doing things, so apologies for that! I hope it’ll serve as a reminder of all the great experiences I’ve had on this trip, and if anyone is considering doing something similar, feel free to get in touch for more detailed information. Adios.

Iguazú gotta be kidding me….

My overland trip with Dragoman officially ended the day after we arrived in Buenos Aires, and after nearly a few months on the road with varying groups of fellow passengers, I decided to add on a few days of ‘me’ time before heading back to normalcy in Amsterdam. As lovely as BA is, it felt silly not to make the journey to see Iguazu Falls, one of the modern seven wonders of the world, and a place I’d always wanted to visit since seeing a picture of it in a travel magazine over 10 years ago. I had pre-booked a tour to the falls, although in hindsight I should’ve just done it independently. For the first time on this trip I found myself in an airport. I could have taken a 19 hour overnight bus, but after so long sat on the truck, a 1h40m flight was calling to me. Despite not being able to afford to stay at the Sheraton or Belmond hotels which are located inside the park – unless I was willing to forgo a month’s worth of travelling – I was pleasantly surprised by the tour accommodation. I had an enormous double bed, a rare luxury on my travels thus far, great air conditioning, and two swimming pools (let’s not talk about how they were big enough for circa five people at any one time). They also provided the best breakfast I’ve encountered in South America outside of a cafe/ restaurant, although if I’m honest, the hostels and hotels I’ve stayed in up to this point didn’t offer up much competition in this regard.

A couple of hours after arriving at the hotel I was whisked away to the Brazilian side of the falls, Foz de Iguaçu. Our tour guide had earlier asked for our passports and when we arrived at the border he left the vehicle with us inside. Within a matter of minutes we were back on the road, stamped passports in hand. Having endured previous border crossings which had taken over three hours, this was a pleasant surprise, although I’m very surprised that we didn’t have to be seen in person by an immigration officer.

Having paid the $22 to enter the park, nothing can quite prepare you for the first sighting of the falls. Debate rages over whether the Brazilian or Argentinean side is better, with the Brazilian part offering the viewer the ‘big picture’ overview. I was pretty wowed by the cascading water opposite me and stood there mesmerised for many minutes. The Brazilian side is pretty small in terms in walking trails and ninety minutes later we were done, although I spent a similar amount of time watching a family of cute coatis foraging for food. You can obviously go at a slower pace, something done by the two selfie-lovin’, bikini-wearin’ Brazilian chicas I saw on several occasions, as did the posse of young local men who were enamoured by the view. And no, I’m not taking about the waterfalls.

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After arriving back in the town of Puerta Iguazú, where I was based for the next few days, I decided to treat myself to a nice meal. Unfortunately for this Libran – I don’t believe any of that astrology bullshit, but I do consistently struggle with choice (insert Tatianna choices gif here) – the menu offered so many delicious sounding dishes, and in the end I plumped for three starters and a salad main. There’s no need for you to judge me as the full restaurant of fellow diners did that already having spied the multiple dishes being delivered to a table with a single diner. After the first delicious mouthful of suriba fishcake, I stopped caring what people thought and spent a wonderful hour eating my way through local specialties, including Patagonian lamb carpaccio which was divine, all of which was washed down with my new favourite beer, Patagonian Amber. Sorry Moosehead from Canada.

Unfortunately, I spent most of the night awake with stomach cramps and just couldn’t face a 0630 wake up call and a full day at the Argentinean falls. Thankfully, the pain passed by late evening and after a good night’s sleep, I was feeling well enough to visit the falls on this side of the border, albeit by myself. However, finding the bus station was easy, as was buying the correct ticket, and 25 minutes later I found myself once again being blown away by Mother Nature. Most people spend a full day on this side, as you’re able to also trek along a lower trail which takes you closer to the falling water, but I was only able to stay a few hours before jumping back on a plane to BA. I walked the upper trail which allows you to get a bird’s eye view of the falls, but before arriving at the first one I was treated to the sight of more coatis and a caiman.

As I wasn’t able to see all of the Argentinean side, I feel unqualified to declare which country has the best of the falls. I was enamoured with both and would encourage anyone visiting this part of the world to include this on their itinerary. It’s an utterly stunning spectacle.

Shortly after my flight took off, the pilot made an announcement, but as it was in Spanish only I didn’t pay much attention, until that is the majority of the passengers burst into applause. The people in the vicinity didn’t speak English so I stayed ignorant until the plane suddenly banked to the right and there was a collective ‘OOOOOOHHHHH AMAZING!’. I quickly realised that the pilot’s announcement was to inform us that we’d see the falls from the sky if we looked out of the right window, and then remembered he’d said derecha at some point, the Spanish word for right. Obviously, I was sat on the left side of the plane. I spent the next few minutes cursing my luck, and the check in agent who’d put me in this stupid seat. All that changed however when the pilot came on the intercom with another Spanish-only announcement which was greeted by an even more thunderous clapping. I tried to recall if I heard the Spanish word for left during his speech, but soon realised that I don’t actually know it. Thankfully at that moment, the left wing of the plane tipped and we were treated to an unforgettable view of the falls from the sky. When I saw that the couple of pictures I took didn’t do the view justice, I put my phone down and just enjoyed this incredible privilege for a few minutes. What a wonderful way to end this trip!

U.G.L.Y not when one’s in Uruguay….

….and if you don’t know the above title reference then you may be reading the wrong blog. But stay awhile anyway.

Despite loving Buenos Aires, a visit to a new country was too much for me to resist and so it was that I found myself waking up at 0600 to board a boat to Uruguay. Unfortunately, I had only been in bed for two hours thanks to a rocking night out dancing in BA, so I was rather grateful for the uninteresting crossing, scenery-wise, as it meant I could get another ninety minutes of kip. Four of my trip buddies accompanied me to the beautiful little town of Colonia del Sacramento. As I only had one free day, I opted to give the capital, Montevideo, a miss as the seven hour return journey wouldn’t have left much time for exploring.

The boat was modern and thankfully air conditioned as the temperature was already in the high twenties, even at that early hour. After disembarking, the five of us spent twenty minutes at the ATM discussing how much local currency to withdraw. Unbeknownst to us, you can use both USD and Argentinean pesos in most businesses in the town. Having taken out €50 for the day’s expenses, I was even more annoyed when we discovered that if we paid using a debit card, the tax would be deducted, almost 25%!! I later made one of my best life decisions when I decided to save my cash for a few glasses of nice wine at lunchtime and instead, used my card to buy some much needed shorts as those I’d bought with me were all looking rather worn after four months on the road. I ended up purchasing three new pairs as I couldn’t decide between flamingos, pineapples or floral prints. Welcome to gay culture in 2018.

After a delicious breakfast at a tiny cafe run out of someone’s house – the toilet was rather bizarrely a room in the garden – we spent the rest of the morning strolling around the old town. Its cobbled, tree-lined streets reminded me somewhat of Rye in Sussex in the UK. The temperature was steadily creeping up to 36°C and I started to struggle, not surprising given that I don’t really wear a jacket (or footwear other than flip flops or Toms) until it’s below 10°C back home as I get hot very easily. Thankfully, the old town is pretty small and we’d managed to see most of it by this time. I was glad to see everyone else was feeling the same way, so my suggestion to revisit the fancy beachside hotel-cum-restaurant-cum-bar-cum-garden that we passed earlier, having oohed and aahed through the wrought iron gate, was met with great enthusiasm. The ladies treated themselves to dessert and drinks while I splurged on a free glasses of delectable Sauvignon Blanc. It was lovely to spend my last day with these four women as they’d really enhanced my enjoyment of the trip since they joined in Santiago (except for Sandrine who’s been entertaining slash annoying me since Lima). The hours were filled with lots of giggles and satisfying sighs.

By mid-afternoon I was pleasantly sloshed and although there was serious consideration in staying overnight, I had to get back to BA to pick up my laundry before closing time at the lavanderia. Rock n roll I know. There was also the small matter of getting up at 0430 the next day to catch my flight to Iguazu Falls, from where I’ll write my next blog post. Until then….

Unexpected events in Ushuaia….

Our journey into the Argentinean part of Patagonia didn’t have the most auspicious of starts. While on our way to see the Cueva de las Manos (Cave of Hands) our truck got bogged in loose rocks while driving off-road. We had sandboards to wedge under the wheels but rocks needed to be moved from around each wheel first, a back-breaking and boring task. While most of the men and one woman helped shovel, the designated cook group for that day, which included me, set about preparing a hearty soup for lunch. The only problem was the biting Patagonian wind which blew out the gas flame time and time again. After three hours, the truck was finally moving again and we served something resembling a stew. Thankfully, nobody cared, we were all just happy not to be sleeping on the truck in the middle of nowhere that night! The majority of our trip through Patagonia saw us camping at night, either in the bush or at basic campsites. For me, it was one of the highlights of the trip. I’ve been lucky enough to share a tent with two awesome Aussie guys, and since they departed, I’ve been kept entertained by Sandrine, our resident Frenchie who has lived in the UK for the past twenty years. Not that you’d know it from her thick francophone accent.

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We proceeded along legendary Ruta 40 and crossed the Magellan straits over to the island of Tierra del Fuego (Land of Fire), a territory that is divided between Chile and Argentina. In my humble opinion it is terribly misnomered as it was rainy and grey, but despite this, I was very excited to arrive in the port town of Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world.

City may be stretching it a little given that there only seems to be one main street in the town, however it did include a bowling alley so I was very happy and not just because it gives me an excuse to use this gif.

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Before we could go bowling, or do anything else for that matter, I had to urgently visit the laundromat as I was perilously close to running out of clean pants (read ‘underwear’ if you’re in the US) and, I’m ashamed to say, not for the first time on this trip. Unfortunately the owner of the joint didn’t share my sense of urgency, turning up 40 minutes after the place opened according to the signage in the window, but all’s well that ends well. Except it didn’t end well. Later that night, a few of us went out for some drinks, while others went out for, let’s just say, more than some. One, a 75 year old American who has been on the tour from the beginning of my journey in Quito, couldn’t make it into bed at 0230 without some assistance from one of the other boys in the dorm room. Having fallen back asleep, we were all woken up a couple of hours later by the ear-splitting shrieks from a group of Israeli girls staying in a room on the same floor. For some reason, the American had entered their room, from where we could hear him repeatedly say “you’re all going to die tonight” which was followed a few minutes later by “I’m going to kill someone tonight”. Needless to say, the girls were extremely frightened and the situation was exacerbated by the small fact that he was naked from the waist down! A couple of people tried to get him away from the girls’ room, while we tried to locate his underwear. Understandably, the girls called the police and the American was no longer allowed in the hostel. He did, however, much to my surprise, rejoin our tour a couple of days later.

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When you’re woken at 0430, there’s not much else to do but watch the sunrise over the harbour.

After that drama, a group of us decided to spend the day serenely sailing on the Beagle Channel where the only thing we would face were cute king penguins and sea lions. It was so relaxing being out on the water, and the weather played ball for us too, the warming sunshine and stunning scenery making me once again think about how lucky I am to be on this trip.

Leaving Ushuaia we crossed back into Chile to visit Torres Del Paine (separate blog post here), before spending the next few days working our way up through Argentinean Patagonia, via El Calafate, where we saw the incredible Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the very few in the world which is still advancing. It’s a breathtaking sight and we were lucky enough to witness a massive carving while we were there, the aftermath of which you can see by clicking here. I also got to feed a baby goat for some reason.

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The consecutive 12-hour drive days through this region of Argentina were tough; camping in the wild, cooking on gas stoves with the unrelenting wind, and a temperature which increased from 3° to 34° in a matter of days as we drove north, leaving behind the mountains for a flat pampas-covered landscape.

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I was delighted to stop in Gaiman (stop sniggering at the back!), a Welsh-speaking enclave where we scoffed a delicious cream tea, and nearby Puerto Madryn, a small seaside resort which offered snorkelling with sea lions. I tried snorkelling once before in Croatia and lasted all of three minutes, panicking as I felt like I was being smothered, but I really wanted to conquer this mountain and with the help of some friends who came with me, I ended up having one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I’d love to come back in March when you can see orcas beaching themselves nearby while hunting. I’ve seen it on television and it’s incredible.

As we approach Buenos Aires, I’m looking forward to having a week by myself. I have met many lovely people on this trip over the last four months, some of whom have become good friends. But the combination of long drive days in confined spaces with certain ‘personalities’ and lots of group activities mean I’m craving some alone time, something I won’t get when I get beck to Amsterdam in a few days time.

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Blown away in  Patagonia….

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We re-entered Chile for the last time, where the process would’ve gone much quicker had there not been the cutest little kitty in the arrival hall who was just begging to be tickled.

After a quick stop in Puerto Natales to pick up supplies and our guides, Maria-José and Alejandro, we drove into the Torres del Paine National Park for what would become one of the highlights of my entire trip: the 4-day ‘W-Walk’, a nomenclature which doesn’t require further explanation I assume. The first night’s campsite, on the shore of Lake Pehoe, took my breath away. It was flanked by the snow-capped Los Cuernos mountains, while the resident armadillo, Marcel, who chilled out with us, added a certain gezelligheid (apologies to non-Dutch speakers) to the whole scene.

The following morning, those of us who were doing the W Walk set out early doors in order to catch the catamaran which would take us to the start of the hike, and our next campsite, in the shadow of the Paine Grande peak. On certain sections of the hike we were able to drop some of our bag contents to lighten the load, however, having learned my lesson on my Machu Picchu trek that you really need very little, I packed a very small daypack containing sleeping bag and mat, a couple of changes of clothes and a small toiletries bag. I probably carried 5kg in total, as opposed to some of my fellow trekkers who huffed and puffed with 12kg. The first day’s hike was 22km in length; 11km along Lake Grey to the Grey Glacier and back again, taking around eight hours in total. Over the next couple of days, we continued with linear hikes, sometimes having to double back on ourselves but not really minding given the spectacular scenery afforded to us in the French and Ascensio Valleys.

The third day was particularly hot at 22°C, and it was somewhat comforting to see even our guides struggling in the unusually warm summer weather. Atter lunch we rested by a lagoon and took an illegal dip in the glacial waters.

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Seeing the relief and joy on our faces, one of the guides jumped in with us, telling us it was the first time he’d ever done something like this. The cool waters were exhilarating and it was a much appreciated break from the walking.

On the final day, the hike went to the three peaks which give the park its name, however due to adverse weather, they were obscured and I therefore decided to stay at the campsite and indulge in some of the best coffee I’d had on this trip and catch up with my blog.

I have been completely blown away by the beauty in Chilean Patagonia (hence the rather brief blog post as I believe the pictures speak for themselves) and I can’t wait to explore more of the region on the Argentinean side.

And when I say blown away, I mean it both metaphorically and literally. The wind here is like no other I’ve ever experienced, at one point actually knocking me off my feet. Lord knows how perishing it is in winter, but I’d love to return and find out one day.