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Old Girls’ Gringo Guide to South America
Anyone who knows me knows that I would lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on, so when I announced my plans to spend the next three months backpacking around South America, pretty sure my mum tripled my life insurance. With three Gringos, seven countries, eighty-seven days, and having booked nothing but our tickets there and back we knew the trip would an adventure from start to finish, and we were not left disappointed. Here are just a few of the many highlights from our trip:
Medellin, Columbia: A long standing obsession with the show Narcos meant that Colombia was high up on my list of places to visit while in South America. Despite not being quite as had I had imagined (probably for the best), Colombia proved to be far better than I had of ever expected. The vibrant, Spanish inspired buildings that line the streets, and the energetic street vendors around every corner, combined with ever innovative and fast paced lifestyle of modern Colombia, makes the city of Medellin a bustling microcosm of all the best that Colombia has to offer. Plus, I did also manage to squeeze in some Narcos cultural appreciation, with a trip to Pablo Escobar’s private island complete with paint balling in his now abandoned mansion, and meeting his brother Roberto, who once had a bounty of $10million US placed for his arrest.
Casa del Arbol, Ecuador: Aptly named the ‘Tree House’, Casa del Arbol is a must visit for anyone visiting the small town of Baños. Ever ones for literal names, Baños (Spanish for bath), is famous for the hot springs that line the mountainous borders of the town, and Casa del Arbol offers the best view in town. This spectacular tree house on the side of a cliff with an array of adult sized swings which offers incredible, panoramic views of this amazing countryside for only the equivalent of $1.
Galapagos Islands, Ecuador: After spending almost two months staying in $10 a night backpackers, it was a nice change of scene to spend some time on a luxury yacht cruising the amazing Galapagos Islands. David Attenborough has not been exaggerating with his high praise of this incredible place, the islands are an indescribable archipelago with each island being completely different from the one before it. The life under the water is
just as good as above, with the most incredible snorkelling I have ever experienced. Reef sharks, seals, marine iguanas, stingrays and every kind of fish imaginable were all common place on our three times daily snorkelling adventures. We were also lucky enough to go scuba diving with hammer head sharks, and even managed to spot the rare ‘mola mola’ (Sunfish).
Rainbow Mountain, Peru: Waking up at 2 am and trekking for 6 hours in rain and snow at 5,500m above sea level was definitely not something I had planned to do when we left for this trip. It was also something I had definitely not planned to do when I packed one jumper. However, despite believing I was going to die from either frost bite or exhaustion several times over the day, our trip to rainbow mountain was certainly unforgettable. Though it was not quite like the Facebook video I have since been tagged in 50 times, rainbow mountain is an incredibly beautiful and amazing sight. It’s also an amazing testament to the awesome mountain people of the Andes, who complete the trek daily in flimsy sandals (usually with a baby on their back), and are always willing to offer some coco leaves to help with the altitude in exchange for a chat and some Oreos.
Machu Picchu, Peru: Of course, no trip to South America is complete without a visit to the amazing Machu Picchu. We decided to take the adventure route to the ancient ruins which included mountain bike riding, rafting, trekking and travelling over some very rapid rivers in carts suspended 15m above. The whole experience was an amazing adventure which resulted in a 4 am wakeup to scale the 2,000 steps which lead to Machu Picchu. As the clouds dissipated over the ruins, it really was a spectacular sight and it became instantly understandable why this place is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia: Finally, the incredible salt flats of Bolivia are a must see when travelling to Bolivia. The amazing feat of nature is not only spectacular to see but also provides the opportunity for some pretty cool photography. Sitting in a natural hot spring, under the incredible stars of the Atacama desert at 3 am in the morning was the perfect way to end what had been an unforgettable trip.
Despite managing to lose 90% of my clothing and returning a few kilo’s heavier from all the cheese, potatoes and dulce deleche I had consumed, the trip was an amazing experience and somewhere I would recommend that everyone adds to the top of their must visit list.
By Megan O’Connor (Class of 2014)