The travel bug was getting far too much for me to bear...so I hopped on a plane and went on a mini-backpacking trip through Peru and Bolivia. This trip was exactly what my soul needed to feel fulfilled. The stunning landscapes, the people's deep connection to nature, the food, the language...it made my heart completely full. Here are sone of my favourite photos and a brief summary of the adventure itself, but believe me it was incredibly hard to choose from the initial 3000 photos and summarize 5 epic adventure-filled weeks, so here's my best shot! I hope you enjoy. :)
I met my soul sister and photography role model Bree (check her out at breezephotos.ca) in Lima and that same morning we hopped on another plane to Iquitos (no time to waste!). Iquitos is a very interesting city as it is situated right in the middle of the Amazon Jungle and can only be accessed by air or water. The most interesting thing we saw was the Witches Market where we picked ourselves up some Sangre de Grado (Dragon's Blood) to help against the bites we were about to endure on our 4-day Amazon River Tour. The market is full of remedies, potions, herbs and ointments to cure any ailgment, and maggots for a snack if you get hungry! It was pretty neat seeing the men working on the bridge from their river boats, and banana street where we almost bought ourselves an entire tree because it was so cheap!
The 4-day Amazon river tour was easily the highlight of the trip. Organized by Amazonian Trips and led by our fantastic guide Walter who had an innate ability to spot out all types of animals. My favourite part was listening to the bird sounds first thing in the morning, they reminded me a lot of one of my favourite artists Goopsteppa. Check out his EP below and see if you can imagine what type of bird would make that sound! Our fantastic boat driver Kiko was only 11 years old and already a professional at fishing for piranhas and navigating our way through the tributaries of the great Amazon river. During our night tour we saw snakes, tarantulas, frogs and stars in the water (glow worms). I spent my 26th birthday swimming with pink dolphins and held a sloth who got stuck in our maloka before helping set him free! Seriously, the Amazon is a magical place. I truly believe that the cure to all of mankind's illnesses lies in the understanding of these sacred plants.
Our next stop was a flight back through Lima and on to Cusco and the Sacred Valley. Cusco was so different from Iquitos but I instantly fell in love with the narrow cobble-stone streets. You could definitely feel the Spanish influence, as well as the over-inflated tourism industry, but Cusco still has a charm that's hard to beat. You can find just about anything at the San Pedro market. A must see is Sacsayhuaman (pronounced "Sexy Woman") and the sacred Temple of the Moon. You can feel Pacha Mama's energy so strongly here. For a very local eating experience, head out of the core centre to El Moqueguano for guinea pig 'al forno'. We only made it to Pisac in the Sacred Valley but adored this charming town with its beautiful ruins surrounded by the mighty Andes. It's also a great spot to stock up on Alpaca wool sweaters!
After spending a couple of days acclimatizing to the high altitude, I felt that I was ready to tackle the Inca Trail (while Bree tackled the Lares Trek). Although Machu Picchu is over-run by tourists on any given day, the 4-day pilgrimage to this sacred place is worth every moment (and dollar). The few days leading up to Machu Picchu were so special, the closer you get to the sacred site, the more intricate and beautiful the masonry of the temples becomes. Not to mention the stunning mountain landscapes and flowers along the way. I didn't know orchids came in so many different shapes and sizes! The stars at night took my breath away as I learned about the constellations of this other hemisphere. I saw the Southern Cross for the first time and the whole of Orion and his dog! Walking through the Sun Gate brought tears to my eyes and is a moment I will never forget. The Inca's truly were an incredible civilization, so much thought and cosmic alignment went into every structure they built.
As sad as we were to leave Cusco, Arequipa was waiting for us. The name of the second largest city in Peru actually comes from the Quechua phrase for "Yes - stay here" - and it definitely lives up to its name! Arequipa has a great climate and is surrounded by volcanoes (one of which is still active - El Misti). This city had the most Spanish influence from the cities we visited and is known as the white city due to the volcanic rock that was used to build most of the architecture. A really interesting thing to see is the Santa Catalina Monastery (where the Dominican Nuns used to reside) and is literally a city within a city, the blue & pink maze-like pathways can put you in a state of trance. And if you're looking for a party, Arequipa has lots of great pubs and bars too - Brujas was my favourite where I shared a Pisco Sour with the owner who is one cool lady.
Arequipa is also the starting point for most trekking tours into the Colca Canyon. This drastic landscape is both dry and thriving of vegetation at the same time. It was discovered not too long ago by some crazy Polish travellers who decided to kayak down the Colca river and sent their photos off to National Geographic which kicked off its tourism indsutry. Along the way you stop at Mirador de Condor which is a great vantage point to see the mighty Condor birds. Their wings can span up to 3.5 m! I definitely recommend spending at least one night in this beautiful canyon, although be forewarned that there is only one way out of the 1000m hike into the canyon...and that's straight back up! Along the way fill up on tuna (i.e. cactus fruit) - it's so delicious!
At this point I headed to the Bolivian border to start a new journey in a new country while Bree headed to the beautiful desert oasis of Huacachina in Peru. I crossed into Bolivia through Copacabana where I met some awesome travellers from Portugal, Germany and Argentina. We spent one night on the beautiful Isla del Sol together. In the past, travellers could hike the whole island from North to South, but because the North wasn't sharing tourism income with the South, the Southern citizens started a blockade to stop travellers from visiting the North entirely. They guard this blockade with guns so it is apparently a pretty serious feud! The Bolivian kids we met along the countryside paths were the best and were naturals with a camera!
From there I headed to La Paz, a city famous for its nightlife and San Pedro prison. Do a tour with Magic Mike if you want to learn more about what life is like in this famous prison. The gondola's are a fun way to tour the city, visit El Alto, see the giant cemetery and catch a wicked sunset. The cheapest food is bought from the Cholita's - I dare you to try and make them smile though. These women are hardcore and they stick true to their roots by wearing their traditional mountain outfits loud and proud! La Paz is a city that you develop a love/hate relationship for, but nonetheless is an amazing experience.
After a couple of hectic days in La Paz, I was ready to get out of the city and back into nature. I took an overnight bus to Uyuni where I started my journey into the famous Salt Flats (Salar de Uyuni) with Salty Desert Adventures. We started the tour at the train cemetery which was supposed to make Uyuni a bustling hub of transport for the abundant minerals in the area. Unfortunately due to some tensions with neighbouring countries, things didn't go as planned, so now the main driver is tourism into the flats. The highlights of the tour were taking our infamous perspective photos, strolling through the Incahuasi Island (filled with cactuses) and seeing the pink flamingos of the lagoons. We ended up missing out on the National Park because of the snow, which was unfortunate but led to quite the adventure of getting our jeeps stuck and then making a snowman in the desert!
Next stop for me was Sucre. I really liked this city and especially the locals who were so friendly! There are lots of beautiful cathedrals to visit and some pretty interesting museums too. I learned about the revolution in Casa de La Libertad, which formed the Republic of Bolivia (named after Simon Bolivar himself). My most treasured moment was sitting on top of the La Merced cathedral and taking selfies with a group of Bolivian teenagers.
After a quick overnight stay in La Paz to say goodbye to some of the dear friends I made, I headed back to Lima as my trip was coming to an end. After 5 weeks of non-stop travelling and overnight buses, I was ready for a bit of pampering. So I checked myself into a hotel and went on a grand eating tour of the city. Lima is known for its fine cuisine but my favourite meal was with Alfredo who I met at the market and who took me to his neighbourhood of Chorrillos where we had a private meal on the beach of some delicious ceviche!
Thank you to all the amazing people I met on this trip, and to my girl Bree for going on this life-changing journey with me. This was definitely a trip of self-discovery, and one that will hold a special place in my heart forever. And to South America, hasta la vista!