Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Closing the book

Hello everybody! I am writing this from our new apartment in Oakland, California. I don't have many photos yet, but I do have one picture of us with our new car, the Honda Fit!

Before we get to engrossed in our new lives in California, I wanted to do a final recap of South America. For one, the trip lasted a long time -- 3.5 months of traveling. It was long enough that I really got used to the lifestyle. Speaking Spanish became second nature. I became used to meeting Europeans, Australians, and Canadians on a regular basis, and rarely met Americans traveling. Dissecting menus became a daily ritual, as did evaluating rooms at hostels, hosterias, posadas, and hotels. Our most important possessions were our passports, ATM cards, cameras, and photo backup CDs.

Do I miss South America? Let me count the ways:
- I miss the excitement of entering a town or city for the first time, and taking everything in as I step off of the bus.
- I miss the family owned bed and breakfast lodging, where the owners would go out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and enjoying ourselves.
- I miss sipping Caipirinhas while listening to a mix of ocean waves and live samba played by street musicians.
- I miss the landscapes of Bolivia.
- I miss Argentine steakhouses.
- I miss the awe-inspiring history of Peru.
- I miss the diversity and friendliness of Ecuador.
- I miss the music and energy of Brazil.
- I miss the wildlife of the Galapagos.

What am I glad to have back? There's a list for that too:
- I'm glad to have friends and family in the same country again.
- I'm glad to have American music back. Especially jazz.
- I'm glad to have English be the primary language again.
- I'm glad to have a phone.
- I'm glad to have the internet be reliable and helpful again.
- I'm glad to be able to turn on sports television and not have soccer be the only option.
- I'm glad to know where I'll be sleeping each night.
- I'm glad to be able to eat home cooked meals.

What were my favorite countries?
  1. Brazil -- The people are incredibly friendly and laid back, the weather is warm, the beaches are beautiful, the music is fantastic, and the food is delicious!
  2. Ecuador -- There is just so much to see and do in Ecuador, and it's incredibly easy to do it all because the country is so small! The people are friendly, the fresh fruits are great, and everything is cheap to boot!
  3. Argentina -- You can view glaciers, beautiful lakes and snow-capped mountains, tour wine country, ride horseback through ranches, and explore one of the largest and most sophisticated cities in the world. Oh yeah, and I love the steak!
  4. Bolivia -- If you don't mind roughing it a bit, you'll be handsomely rewarded by landscapes that are literally out of this world. It's also the cheapest country we visited. Now, if they could only get heat and hot water figured out.
  5. Peru -- Machu Picchu is incredible, as is much of the scenery here. For seafood, you can't do much better than ceviche in Lima. I just had a hard time with the "touristy" feel here, and the constant harassment from people hoping to sell me something.
What are the specific destinations that I would recommend most?
  • Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia. I truly felt like I was on another planet during this 4 day jeep tour. The landscapes were absolutely incredible, and like nothing I have seen before or after. I also loved the feeling of being completely isolated in the absolute middle of nowhere. If you can put up with very basic accommodations and long days sitting in a jeep riding on bumpy unpaved roads, this is one of the most incredible things you can do in South America.
  • Machu Picchu. Maybe skip the 4 day hike beforehand, but do not skip Machu Picchu. The ruins are truly awe-inspiring, and it deserves its status as one of the wonders of the world.
  • Galapagos Islands. If you love wildlife, this is one of the greatest destinations you can visit. Unfortunately, the costs to visit are high and will only get higher.
  • El Calafate, Argentina. The glaciers are phenomenal, it stays light out until 11pm during the summer, the town is cute, and it's Argentina, so you'll eat well.
  • Iguazu Falls. If you love waterfalls (or even if you don't), you'll be amazed by what you see and hear.
  • Ilha Grande, Brazil. The beaches are fantastic, there are no cars, and it's Brazil, so you'll definitely eat well and have incredibly friendly hospitality.
  • Banos, Ecaudor. You can do tons of different adventure activities during the day, then come back and relax in one of the many hot baths in town. The whole town is beautiful, and its Ecuador, so you won't be spending much.
All in all, I'm really glad we took the trip. Before we left, people told us it would be an experience of a lifetime, and it didn't disappoint. I'm also glad we did things on our own, and didn't just go on a long tour. Even though we suffered through some of the logistical planning, we got to become immersed in the countries and had the freedom to do whatever we wanted. It would have been nice to have a travel agent helping us out, but the Lonely Planet goes a long way. Now that we're done, I'll always be able to look back at our photos and this journal, and know that we did it. Thanks to everyone who wrote to us during the trip, offering words of encouragement or feedback on this blog.

In the future, I hope to write one last post about the logistics of traveling, in hopes that fellow tourists who stumble upon this blog will be able to use our experiences to better their own travels. I want to thank everyone again for reading!

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