I cannot believe how quickly six months have passed. My South America adventure is coming to an end. Usually, when I go away for a few months, I get a bit tired or bored near the end. Not this time. My departure date has sneaked on me.
I have more travel in me, but I need to leave. Was it six months since I boarded a flight from Madrid to Medellin.
Was I in Columbia? It seems like an age ago since I started my South America adventure. So much has happened since my arrival in Medellin, the city once described as the most dangerous on the planet.
As I was driven to my studio apartment in Medellin, I had used my Spanish to talk to the driver. How is his Spanish asked the studio owner on arrival? Bad replied the driver.
I hate that. Knowing enough Spanish to know when I am being insulted but not enough to protest. My Spanish is still limited, but I am better after six months for sure.
I enjoyed my visit to Medellin. It has come a long way from the days of Pablo Escobar. It is a lot safer. I had, at one time considered living there for a year.
I am happy I did not. It is an interesting city, but it has become hip to live there. North American and European accents can be heard everywhere.
El Poblado, the main tourist zone, is full of brand coffee shops and well-known burger joints. I was lucky that my accommodation was in a local area with a few non-Colombians.
After Medellin, I took my first of many buses to the Capital Bogota. Eleven hours. Four hours before Bogota, I had my first experience of altitude. The last part of the journey I was doubled over with stomach cramps.
I like places like Bogota. It is rough around the edges, and the edges are everywhere. The weather was completely different from Medellin. Mornings can be cold. From around 11 am it begins to warm up, and it is T-shirts and shorts time. From 330pm the temperature dips, and it is time to wrap up again.
One of the highlights of my time in Bogota was a visit to the Theatron. It is one of the largest gay clubs in the world. Over 5,000 packed into thirteen club rooms in five floors. These days the clientele is a mix of straight and gay clubbers.
The negatives of Bogota was traffic and pollution. A 6km taxi to the bus station took over three hours.
After Bogota and a few stops along the way, I arrived in the southern Colombian city of Cali. The home of salsa. Cali was my first experience since I was a young man of staying in a hostel.
My first hostel on my South America adventure was ironically enough the best one. I had other good stays but the hostel in Cali. had everything. Great staff. Great guests. A bar and free salsa lessons.
Cali is not the most attractive city. It has very few pretty buildings. It is more about the people and the music. I enjoyed my week there. It did have an edge I had not felt in other parts of Colombia. I would not walk around late at night in most places in Cali.
The best thing about Colombia.
The people in Colombia were the most friendly and outgoing I met during my South American Adventure.
The worse thing about Colombia.
Poverty. I have seen a lot of poverty during my travels. In Colombia, I saw something I did not see in most other places. People laying on the ground lifeless. They were not dead. It just looked like they had given up. You could pass a person again in five hours, and they would be in the same place. Lifeless.
Ecuador. It was a riot.
Ecuador what can I say about Ecuador. I will never forget it for sure. It was the craziest part of my South America adventure. I walked across the border from Colombia the day a regional strike started. I made my escape across a mountain a month later the day before a national emergency ended.
I had heard stuff about Ecuador in hostels. Be careful there is a lot of petty theft there. I was a little worried about this, so it was not the best of starts as I crossed the border to be told a regional strike had just started.
No buses. No taxis. The strikers had blocked all roads. I had no choice but to walk the 7km to the nearest town with everything I owned. The journey included passing burning tyres. Strikers with sticks. Worse still was passing the local police station in lockdown surrounded by strikers.
I spent my first week trapped in the dreary border town of Tulcan. Strikers made all the shops close. It was depressing. A week later when the regional strike was called off the shops reopened. It still looked depressing.
I was happy to escape. I made my way to the capital Quito. I wasted a week, but everything would be fine now. I was wrong. It was only beginning.
On my second day in Quito, I was walking around the town. I noticed around midday shops pulling the shutters down. I thought that was not a great sign. A few hours later, I encountered my first day of many riots.
A national protest was called after the government stopped petrol price subsidies. Over the next few weeks, I witnessed the most violent riots I had ever seen.
Over the next two weeks, Quito became a battleground. The most violent day was when the indigenous people of Ecuador came to the Capital. They came from all over Ecuador. The rioting went up a notch, and at times it was hand to hand fighting with the police.
One day there was a brief lull. I took advantage and booked a flight to the southern city of Cuenca. It could not be worse then Quito, I thought.
On arrival at my hostel in Cuenca, I was advised to buy food ASAP. It was running out in the town. At least it was quieter. Two days later, I was caught in the middle of a smoke bomb attack.
I had been watching a demonstration from what I thought was a safe distance. Then I heard it. When police launch a smoke bomb, they give a quick warning. I had heard it many times in Quieto.
One canister landed behind me and one in front of me. We all ran, and my eyes burned. I could bearly catch my breath. Thankfully some local girls came to my rescue. They applied water to my eyes, and I was ok a few minutes later.
A few days later, I, along with three other people hired a car that took us up a dirt track through the mountains during the night. After eight hours, we made it to the border with Peru.
The best thing about Ecuador.
The riots. Not because of the violence. It was because I felt I was witnessing history. I will never forget my month in Ecuador.
The worse thing about Ecuador.
The riots. Been stuck in a place is a very frustrating feeling. Roadblocks. Curfews meant what you did most days was not in your own hands.
Next up on my South America adventure was Peru. My trip could have always changed, but one country had to be seen. Peru. I have always loved history, and Peru did not disappoint. After my escape from Ecuador, I entered northern Peru.
The north is the least visited of Peru, but some great ancient civilisations have lived here. Way before the Incas came on the scene. The northern city of Trujillo is home to Chan Chan and Moche pyramid.
The capital Lima surprised me. There are some very wealthy areas right next to very poor areas. The roads joining these areas are heavily policed. Many people coming from these poor areas are searched when they enter the more affluent areas.
On my way south, I got to see great places such as the poor man’s Galapagos islands Paracas and the famous Nazca lines.
My number one place to see on my whole trip was Machu Picchu. I based myself in the old Inca capital of Cusco. Machu Picchu did not disappoint. It was everything I had expected.
The indigenous people in Cusco were also a highlight. The Incas have a code. Don’t lie. Don’t streal and work hard. From what I saw, they still live by this code.
The best thing about Peru.
The food is amazing. I never ate so well and so healthily. The choice and availability of fruit is something I miss every day since I left.
The worse thing about Peru.
Litter and dog shit is everywhere. One day it rained in Cusco, and the dog shit flowed down the streets. Not a pretty sight.
Paraguay was only just a thought when I started my South America adventure. Political turmoil in Bolivia meant it was not possible to visit there. It would have been Ecuador x 10.
I arrived in the capital Asuncion not knowing what to expect. Paraguay is one of the least visited countries in the Americas.
Something happened when I arrived in Asuncion. My energy drained. Other people in the hostel I stayed in said the same happened them. The intense heat I am sure played a part.
It was probably just as well as there was not a whole lot to see in Asuncion. The funny thing is I enjoyed Asuncion. There were very few tourists there. That itself was an attraction for me.
After two weeks, I dragged myself off the hammock. I visited the city of Encarnacion the playground of Paraguay’s rich. Also, I visited Cuidad del Este, the third biggest tax-free zone in the world.
If you are on an extended trip through South America, I would recommend a stop in Paraguay. Even if it is to rest and chill out.
The best thing about Paraguay.
The very fact that few tourists go there makes it an attraction for me.
The worse thing about Paraguay.
Seeing indigenous living on the street in poor conditions. They claim their lands have been stolen by big agriculture companies. It looked to me there is enough land for everyone. It is nothing else but greed.
When I started my South America adventure, I had no plans to visit Argentina. This is despite the fact that Buenos Aires was always a place I had wanted to see. It always had a reputation as one of the most expensive countries in South America.
As I was getting closer to Argentina, I started to pick up information from fellow travellers. Argentina was going through another financial crisis. The peso had collapsed, and despite high inflation, it was now cheaper to visit for tourists.
I made my way across the border from Paraguay and first up was the amazing Iguazu Falls.
Iguazu Falls are located on what is known as the three frontiers. Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina all share a border here. The falls are a must-see and one of the major attractions in South America.
My final destination of the trip was Buenos Aires, and I made my way down Northern Argentina. I have to admit I was a bit worried as I passed through the Pampas region of Central Argentina. The land here is very fertile, but the scenery is unspectacular.
Some of the towns I stayed in were just regular towns with a few exceptions. By Christmas, I had reached Argentinas second city, Cordoba. I would recommend a stop here but maybe just for a few days.
I was a bit worried as I headed for Buenos Aires. The north and central Argentina did not meet my expectations. I had needed not to worry. Buenos Aires is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited.
Unlike other capital cities in the region, Buenos Aires is not just beautiful in the centre. It is a lot more than that. Its beauty spreads out far and wide over the city.
Buenos Aires is a serious city, and it wants to let you know that. Wide avenues. Tall statues and beautiful parks can be seen all over the city.
I enjoyed my five weeks there. At my age, I don’t want to return to most places I visit as there is too much yet to see. I would return to Buenos Aires.
The best thing about Argentina.
The worse thing about Argentina.
Inflation. Prices rise every month but if you are there for a short while you will not notice it.
Safety in South America.
There is a lot of nonsense online about safety in South America. I came across a bloggers website that advised never going out after 7 pm. That as far as I am concerned is stupid and disrespectful to these countries.
Anyone that knows the slightest thing about Latino culture would know nighttime is a time many places come alive. The information online is repetitive and looks lazy, and it seems like its copy and paste.
Don’t wear a watch. Dress like a local. Don’t wear shorts in 30c heat in Columbia because locals don’t are just some of the advice continually given.
Yes, you have to be aware of your situation as everywhere you would visit worldwide. Use your common sense.
The good news is not everyone on a bus is a thief. They are passengers just like you. People in South America own watches. If you dress like a local people might be able to figure out you’re a tourist.
Did anything bad happen to me? Twice in Ecuador, I came close to been mugged but only because I went near the riots.
Also in Ecuador, a guy tried to scam me after he sprinkled water on my shoes. There was plenty of police around so he backed off when I said I would call them over.
In Peru, a street money changer swopped a real twenty dollars I had with a fake one. Considering I, for the most part, was travelling by bus from Columbia to Argentina it was ok. A lot worse could happen in so-called safer countries.
So what did six months in South America cost?
I would consider myself a budget traveller. For the most part, I stayed in hostels in private rooms. On average they cost ten euro a night. Some days my food cost less than four euro a day. You can eat well in local markets in most countries.
Buses are cheap and for the most part modern.
A basic calculation would be as follows. For Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Paraguay, my daily budget was approximately thirty euro a day. Somedays I treated myself and spent more. Other days, I spent less than fifteen Euro.
In Argentina, I spent a bit more. I stayed in Airbnb apartments or rooms. I ate a bit more in restaurants and for sure drank more beer. I will put down forty-five euro a day, but it was probably lower. I did change dollars on the black market in Argentina and got 20% more than the official rate.
I hope you enjoyed my South America adventure. I won’t forget if that’s for sure.
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