Special Features and Deleted Scenes

Here we go fans, strap yourselves in for a quite bitter final blog because this backpacker is not ready to hang up her bag.

Four months, one new continent, five countries, thirty two cities, eight flights, one train, countless bus rides, from sea level to 6000 metres, from less than zero to forty degrees, booming metropolises and campsites and miniscule villages, mountains and lakes and rainforests and deserts. I’ve made it out of this crazy continent only having lost my SIM card and headphones and sense of personal hygiene, which is spectacularly lucky when everybody else I’ve met has been robbed of valuables and several meals through dirty food poisoning. South America has truly been kind to me.

Apart from the adventures and events I’ve related to you here, there have been so many memories of this trip that feature behind the scenes. For example, we developed a ranking system of toilet on a scale from 0 (bush) to 100 (mum and dad’s ocean view loo with heated floors, a good book and Kleenex standard paper). I find myself constantly constantly asking questions that nobody can answer: how do the women of Bolivia balance tiny bowler hats on their flat heads all the time? What do the women of Peru keep under their enormous skirts? Why does nobody have any change ever? ¿Por qué? ¿Por qué? ¿Por qué? and, more importantly when making decisions, ¿por qué no?

Biggest regrets: not having enough money for Galápagos, the Inca trail or the Sambadrome, not having enough time in Brazil or Colombia, skipping Argentina and Chile, not volunteering anywhere, not learning Portuguese, not bringing a filter bottle or good headphones or buying Spotify premium, going home.

Things I hate (add an expletive before each of these for full effect):
– Money
– Shoes
– Responsibilidad
– Pants
– Time
– The bus
– Marco the monstrous

The three best things about travelling are also the three worst.
1. It makes you mentally compare your own home a lot more. In some ways I totally appreciate Australia when I’m away – working Internet, flushing toilets, clean air etc – but at the same time it will never be as exotic or exciting or insane as anywhere over here.
2. Meeting awesome people every day is 50% of the adventure, and there are so many different types of people over here who have inspired me to be more or less like them and taught me a heap. The sucky thing about that is that you have to say goodbye to them and it’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever see most of them again.
3. Travelling to basically anywhere that isn’t Australia makes me realise how ridiculously lucky I have been. I really am the 0.01% on a world scheme. This also sucks because it hurts to look at the disadvantaged masses every day and know that your cushy bed and $1500 laptop are waiting for you across the world… Feeling lucky comes with feeling guilty.

I return with eight whole toenails remaining, a defined watch tan, several hundred mosquito bites including 27 on my face (pretty xx), no dollars and many new resolutions, the biggest of which is to come back. I will miss the disgusting scabby deal-sniffing rat that I have become, rejoicing over dumb hostellers leaving enough shampoo in the shower for me to be clean(ish) and stealing free breakfasts to keep as lunch and accepting that sand will always be in my lady bits and never changing my underpants and ignoring the stench from my washing bag that doubles as my bus pillow and using seawater as facewash and spreading avocado with my fingers when there’s no knife and mixing every liquor with water (tap water if you’re feeling yolo). The messy Ella whose hair falls out and who will eat ants and roll in the dirt and walk around towns barefoot and wear the same uncoordinated outfit every day and not bother with mirrors or looking before crossing the road or making a mess at the dinner table doesn’t really fit in Sydney so I’m going to have to try to leave her on the plane. There will be bits of her that can’t be shaken, and I hope she’ll remember the good stuff she’s learnt (being friendly to tourists, reading more, shouting randoms drinks). A pair of hairy bears from Idaho I met in Quito had driven from Alaska to Ecuador en route to Chile, and they had the secret to happiness pretty close to down. They both had tattoos saying PALS on their bulgy biceps, and in their words I’m going to aim to unboredomify Sydney and “Put A Little Sunshine” in my life. First stop: Bronte beach and sushi.

My adventure has ended with a short (or long, depending on how you look at it) jaunt through the US of A, which was everything I expected it to be and therefore continually hilarious to my jetlagged brain. Who knew grits were a real food item? Slash that customs queue organisers behave like the FBI? Or that Americans will actually tell you, a total stranger, that you’re in the greatest country on earth, where “freedom reigns” and there are more opportunities than anywhere else? MURICA.

I step off my final plane after a 65 hour journey to a comforting “g’day”, and even though it’s no “hola”, it’s probably the next best thing.

Plane food and puffy eyes,

PT

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Brazil

Hey goobers,

Awfully sorry I’ve been off the grid the past couple of weeks, I’ve been whirled away by the kaleidescopic tornado of sights, smells and sounds that is Brazil.

I’m bitterly disappointed that I only had two weeks in this immense country, really it’s as sinful as eating a magnum here that is not dulce de leche flavour that I didn’t get enough time to get into the funk of Brazil. I think if we’d had a couple more weeks to get to know each other it could be my favourite country so far. Despite my total lack of Portuguese (it’s nothing like Spanish, don’t listen to anyone who tells you so), whenever I was in need of directions somebody would help me out with a smile and a wave and a pointer and a little bum pinch. Sexism is still as common as fezzy facial hair here, but it’s done with more of a playful grin than a rapey leer so it’s (kind of?) okay.

In order to avoid minimising Brazil more than I already am with my schedule, I’ll split this bloggle into sections by city. First up: São Paulo.

São Paulo
We’d been warned by guidebooks and gringos alike that São Paulo is gargantuan. The biggest city in the Southern Hemisphere, we flew in from a stopover in Paraguay and it took about 20 minutes to fly over half the city. Teamed up with a surprisingly non-douchey Wild Rover bartender, it took 2.5 hours to navigate the sprawling shuttle/metro/bus system to get to our steamy hostel in bohemian paradise Vila Madalena where we collapsed in a sweaty, midnight snacked haze. Carnival was beginning and Brazil was buzzing, which meant buses were booked and we were bummed to learn we had to leave São Paulo that night for a dumb amount of buses to get to Paraty, where we were hoping to spend carnival. This meant we only had one day in São Paulo to explore the city centre, wander Batman Alley admiring the psychedelic street art, and eat eat eat. Big shoutout to helpful Carlos who gave us directions and bought us a bag of mystery fruit, and Julia our guardian angel who gave us samples of every ice cream flavour on earth and also drove us home. Despite being an unnavigable mammoth metropolis, São Paulo has this amazing small town friendliness to it which was totally astonishing and also a gorgeous refreshment from Bolivia’s somewhat colder shoulders.

Paraty
Many fitful naps on bus terminal floors later, we made it to Paraty to Party for the week of Carnival! First a side note on this world famous festival: I know nothing at all about it and neither does anybody else. It’s essentially a week long street party centred around extravagant samba performances, loud loud loud music, and displays of drinking, debauchery and disorder. I dunno, it’s fun. The craziest spots are Rio and Salvador, but I’m actually really glad we were in a smaller beach town for the week because it meant carnival was less about scoring smooches and more about boogieing with children and grandmas. We met so many awesome people that week, I want to talk about them all but you would be bored – if you ever read this, you know who you are and you rock. Every night we donned our most ridiculous clothes (Winning Outfit I’m proud to say goes to me with my floor length purple rain poncho, trekking boots, Jesus socks and sparkly 420 hat) and hit the main square for street food and endless dancing before following insanely loud live parades through the streets so cobbled it hurts to walk on them. Every night was the ultimate in hedonism and holiday attitude – middle aged fat men laugh with girls in sexy outfits and their buff boyfriends alike, kids set off fireworks, grandmas flash their knickers in drunken yolo moments, British schoolboys match Brazilian break dancers in DF battles, everyone gets proposed to and nobody sits down. We felt one hundred percent safe and happy the whole time, so what happened next was absolutely out of the ordinary and unexpected: there was a shooting in the middle of the party a couple of metres away from us when two men broke into argument. At first we were just confused and thought the running and screaming was part of the carnival mood, but when we saw crying men, screaming women, friends carrying bleeding bodies and blood stains on the floor we followed the crowd and ran for it. It would have been much more scary if we could understand Portuguese; we didn’t find out until the morning that 10 people had been injured, one of whom died – and to think that we were less than 10 people away from the shooter was not a comfortable moment. I want to stress that this was really weird, though – we weren’t in a dangerous area at all and it was a one off fluke accident. People in hostels tell horror stories about travelling in South America all the time and if you tried to take a lesson from them all you’d never leave your couch. I learned from this one that guns are bad and you can’t see the future; take from that whatever pearls of wisdom you will.

Rio de Janeiro
For the last night of carnival, and Mia’s last night in #americabutsouth, we lucked out big time and leeched off the wonderful Joel’s generosity, crashing with him and some of his mates in a penthouse apartment right on Copacabana beach. After a sketchy bus which we lurched onto at 3am still full of our lethal vodka/water mixture and 5 dinners (legit), we spent our first morning in Rio stumbling around the atmospheric Copacabana being offered zipper bags and prostitutes. That afternoon and evening we Rio-lly celebrated Carnival at several street dance parties where Mia and I both affirmed our white chick status when trying to keep up with the bouncing behinds of every Brazilian babe in sight. Stuffing a still-sparkly Mia into a cab to the airport at 3am was bad (miss you my girl) but the rest of Rio was GOOD. My newly adopted mates cooked me yummy things, took me to Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer for panoramic views of Rio and the sea of accompanying selfie sticks at each of these tourist hotspots, and actively participated in consistent childlike behaviour during intense games of ‘the floor is lava’ and ‘get down mr president’. Between late night reggaeton dance parties at the apartment, having caipirinhas delivered on the beach, and deciding the latest hunger games movie is a dud, we bonded in Rio. And I’d say we bonded with Rio as well, I rate it erotic (5 stars). Convenient and functioning public transport system, friendly people, good variety of food, very gorgeous, could be a little cheaper but on the whole I thoroughly approve.

Trindade
For the last few days of my trip I have been determinedly holidaying in the little beachside gem of Trindade. It’s a teeny town with a street and lots of sand and very little else which suited me just fine. I was staying at the superb Kaissara hostel which made me feel at home before I flew home and hung out with the usual suspects of beyond interesting people who all made me pre-emptively bored of Sydney and jealous of their future travels. I happily spent my last morning overseas having a solo dance party on the deserted beach at sunrise, which seemed a more fitting way of working out my emotions than a tantrum.

Should wrap this thesis now and go get on my triple bus, triple flight, 60+ hour journey home. Basically if you like happiness, variety, nice people, natural beauty, and fun, get over to Brazil.

Nuts and actually not so many nits,

PT

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Sucre & Santa Cruz

Hey fans, another double blog coming your way, you guys are just nailing the hot deals this week.

In terms of Tourist Activities both Sucre and Santa Cruz have been a deserved break, but we’ve accidentally had some of the weirdest experiences here of the whole trip.

First off, Sucre – we arrived at 4am, two hours earlier than promised to a city still catching the Z’s we had not been able to get on our night bus there. After several dodgy empty alleys and ringing on too many doorbells to be considered considerate, we lucked out on a cheap motel to crash in for a few hours before “attacking the day”.
Turns out the attack was unnecessary, Sucre surrendered as soon as the sun came up and we were thrilled and surprised by people SMILING at us as we walked around! We got service in a restaurant, somebody accepted my 100 boliviano note without grumbling about having to get change and a policeman even gave us useful directions and wished us a good day. My opinion of Bolivia was transformed after an hour of wandering Sucre’s UNESCO Heritage-listed cobbled streets. Bolivians in Copacabana, Isla del Sol, La Paz and Uyuni have thus far been full of total grumpy grinches but Sucre pretty consistently produced Cindy Lou sweethearts.

Allowing ourselves a holiday amidst this holiday, and also because there’s not heaps to see except dinosaur footprints in Sucre, we mainly ate. Highlights include a salad made from real vegetables at Condor, a ridiculous pile of fruit topped with otherworldly coconut cream for $2 from the market, and Mogul who makes gluten free lollies of Haribo standard and Coles brand cost! We buddied up with new Dutch mates (again) and tried making friends with the most socially awkward kiwis we’d ever met in our room, but failed because all they wanted to do was watch Lord of the Rings and snuggle.

The other main event of Sucre would have to be the apparently famous waterfight that takes place here in the lead up to Carnival. The biggest in the world, it takes over the whole city and as we learned the hard way, viable targets include anyone, anytime, but especially if they’re blonde chicks wearing white t shirts. Sounds kind of fun but actually it was like ducking through a war zone, you never knew when some giggling youth would bomb you from a balcony and on every street huge jeeps with loaded teams of kids (and adults!) armed with water guns, buckets and balloons could drive past and soak you. Most people seemed to be having a laugh and it was all in the name of good fun, but we were very unprepared for this form of ‘celebration’ and to be honest, spent a lot of time squealing like a year seven who’s just met Harry Styles. One incident in particular has unfortunately stuck in my mind, where a group of teenage schoolboys bombarded us despite our desperate pleas, shouting “this is Bolivia!” and “gringo go home!” Of course, I cannot compare this to the disgusting racism that tourists, travellers and immigrants experience in good old STRAYA (“get out me country”) but it was horrible to feel to unwelcome and vulnerable. It’s okay though, that afternoon we ate a huge bowl of guac and chips, a packet of bonbons, a block of chocolate, a packet of gummy sharks and two rolls of fruit pastilles each before dinner so it’s alllllll good.

We had a super brief stop in Santa Cruz basically just to connect our way to Brazil. Nothing happened here except that I learnt the meaning of pain. Feeling competent and bored of pollo con arroz, Mia and I decided to cook ourselves a nice healthy dinner in our slightly fezzy but still existent hostel kitchen. We bought some cute looking baby capsicums to fry up and I battled a blunt knife to dice them up. About five minutes later I happened to notice that my face and hands seemed to have spontaneously combusted. Turns out one of the baby capsicums was actually a weapon of torture/the hottest chilli in existence, and I had rubbed the lethal juice from it all over my fingers and face. Obviously a tantrum was thrown and if it wasn’t so painful it would have been hilarious to watch me bawling my eyes out while Mia frantically tried googling remedies and the Swiss owner uselessly shouted “VERY HOT VERY HOT”. Turns out there was nothing we could do, and after numbing myself with a lot of ice we ate the (now capsicum-free) dinner, assuming the pain would stop after a few minutes as it usually does.

Fast forward TEN hours and I still can’t keep my fingers out of an ice bucket for more than a few seconds, it’s 4am and I’m sitting alone in the hostel lobby unable to move or stop whimpering… Sounds kind of funny now but legit it was the most painful experience I’ve ever had, worse than bluebottle stings and burns and hand cramps all at once, 0/10 for fun. I finally knocked myself out with sleeping pills and got about two hours of fitful shuteye, waking up to find the owner tentatively setting up breakfast around me passed out on a table with both hands in buckets.

So that was the main Santa Cruz adventure, can’t comment on anything about this city except not to trust food labels in supermarkets (LIES).

On the plane to boogie in Brazil!

Sugar and spice,

PT

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La Paz and Uyuni

Countdowns have started sending our phones notifications and we have realised how little time we have left of our adventure, so our stay in La Paz was scandalously short. Having heard rave reviews from countless viajeros both en route and back on Strayan soil, not to mention the prestigious multiple positions it filled in trilbystravels.wordpress.com, I write this from our night bus out with slightly sheepish (and very shaky) fingers… Sorry, La Paz, for arriving too late and leaving too soon.

Upon arrival we jumped into the huggly and happy arms of Sydney mates Brendan and Emily, and continued the “YOLO” tour they had just finished for a day and a half of drinking in some of what La Paz is about, and I don’t just mean more bloodbombs (although they were an important part).

Morning one saw us waiting in another Saint-something plaza for a walking tour guide who never showed up, so we collected some stray Germans who were similarly stranded and toured ourselves through contemporary art museums, manic traffic jams and more overlarge lunches. We haggled hard in the weird witches’ markets for souvenirs – had to justify buying a new duffel bag so we could transport our new purchases outside our bursting backpacks. We passed on buying dried llama foetuses and Venezuelan cutlery bracelets but over catered on woolly garments and postcards which we can’t afford to send until we’re home. I have to say I enjoyed putting some sass into my spanish while splitting hairs over prices a little too much, but arguing with people here is so much more fun because they argue back!

On the topic of arguing, an unexpected highlight of La Paz was the spirited but actually engaging discussion we had with some smart Chileans about feminism and reggaeton culture, which could be a whole blog post in itself. Brendan and I were proper wanky USYD students and pulled out big words and cited ‘Blurred Lines’, Franco and Simón tried explaining the delicate dynamics involved in what we would describe as dry humping, and we settled our differences by trading drinking songs and singing the Grease soundtrack. I don’t know whose playlist was behind the bar that night but I’m prepared to bet it was the wonderfully excitable, tight-T shirt-wearing, very pierced and incredibly camp Maurizio judging by the amount of musical theatre numbers and Beyoncé songs in there.

A few snack-attacks (chocporn or chocolate coated giant balls of popped corn is something Bolivia has got right) and greasy piles of glob from the local market later and Mia and I had boarded the cheapest night bus to Uyuni we could find, to tick off Bolivia’s top attractions, the Salt Flats. We’re 9 out of 12 hours in, it’s 5:30am and neither of us have slept yet due to the roller coaster-like quality of this ride, both objects and people are regularly flying through the air as the bus driver appears to thrill over every pothole in the “road”, and as us gringos are stuck up the very back in the bitch seats we can really appreciate how good the suspension is on this 25+ year old bus.

6am and sleepless sisters wander chilly dawny Uyuni looking for power points (nup) and truthful tour guides (no chance). The fact that we hadn’t slept for the previous two nights and were existing mainly on a diet of snickers and banana chips probably didn’t put us in the most logical state of mind but I think we did the right thing and shopped around, asking all the right questions and haggling prices like pros. In the end we were so lucky with our tour (lies), finding the cheapest available (true) which would be leaving at 10:30am (lies) with a gang of other Aussies (lies) in a top-condition (lies), totally safe (lies) Toyota Landcruiser, where there would be absolutely no problems providing plenty (lies) of gluten free (lies) food (also lies). We were also promised we wouldn’t spend more than an hour in the cramped back seat we were assigned at a time (off by 11 hours) and that accommodations would include more than enough blankets (lies), so we definitely didn’t need a sleeping bag (lies).
Long story short “LIES” is still word of the day and we got absolutely mucked around by Janet Just-The-Worst who is arguably even less good than Marco the Mean and manipulated us with her very good English skills and innocent bucket hat. Many aspects of the three day tour had room for improvement, such as being continually served bread/pasta/cereal despite explaining again and again what gluten is, our car breaking down for an hour in the middle of the desert and eventually having to be towed to safety, and the fact that our driver only had three songs which he played over and over and over again – all reggaeton of course.

HOWEVER similarly to our Jungle Trek debacle there were many more awesome things about the past few days. Our tour buddies, though not the promised fluent-spanish-speaking Aussies, were four adorable Chilean chicas and literally the nicest people in the world. They were extremely forgiving of my terrible Spanish and continually entertaining with their endless posing and selfie-sticking.

Also the salt flats really are as cool as everybody says, they do look exactly like the photos you’ve seen in National Geographic. It’s wet season so we were lucky enough to have a view of the perfect reflection of the sky stretching out for miles in every direction, like walking on a mirror – very hard to capture in snaps but trippy/10. We touristed hard on the first day on the salt flats themselves, and were similarly impressed (but heaps colder!) at gorgeous elevated lagoons, flamingos and rock cemeteries included along the way on day two. I’ve been fangirling slightly more than usual lately about nature – the desert of Huacachina and the mountains of the sacred valley featuring highly – and excitement peaked (ha) yesterday with a ridiculous high altitude desert that looks like Central Australia until your eyes reach the horizon where snow-called peaks remind you more of Switzerland than Alice Springs. Mother Nature is a sexy freak and I’m glad because otherwise the incessant reggaeton would probably have caused me to gnaw my fingers off.

After a rough 4am start on our final day and a healthy, flour filled breakfast of puffed wheat and pancakes (had to resort to my secret oats stash), we actually landed on Mars. Seriously, wasn’t sure if I had fallen asleep in the car and been zapped into outer space. Our Chilean mates assured us it was just a casual active volcano but the weird red landscape, odd random white clay, extremely steamy geysers, sulphuric eggy smell and LAVA pointed to… Okay they pointed to a volcano but it looks lots like Mars pls believe me. After debates on Shark Boy vs. Lava Girl and sticking my finger in a bubbling crater (still got all 10 digits mum don’t stress) we fully submerged our bodies in water for the first time in I don’t even know how long. Bolivia has been rather on the awful side in terms of showers so some properly hot hot springs were EXTREMELY welcome, despite the fripply entry/exit moments and the fact that I haven’t seen a razor since Christmas.

Anyway, Uyuni was sick, nature rock and rolls and rips, we’re off on another night bus to Sucre now armed with fresh snacks and hair dirty enough to ward off any keen seat-sharers.

Flamingoes and fanny packs,

PT

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Lake Titicaca

Ella’s dodgy passport survived another border crossing and after a nasty night bus which made a noise like one of those wind-up kinetic energy torches crossed with a foghorn every time we went to a hill, we made it into Bolivia and crash landed in Copacabana, a little town on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

For #americabutsouth newbies, don’t feel bad if you don’t know where I mean – I actually thought Lake Titicaca was a place made up for tongue-twisting vocal exercises until I started researching this trip. Turns out it’s the world’s largest high-elevation lake, and at 3,880 metres above sea level, it’s definitely high. Also it’s definitely a lake, so so far the story checks out. Most other stuff related to lake Titicaca, however, is myth… “LIES” has become the word of the day because we can’t seem to get solid information out of ANYBODY.

List of lies:
1. Copacabana is a beach town, smelling of coconuts and full of bikini lines, rum and sand castles. FALSE. Due to the aforementioned elevation, temperatures here are closer to Winterfell than the OTHER Copacabana (the sexy beach in Rio, the thought of which keeps me going through the subzero nights). Not sure who the town planners are here but they’ve really got it wrong, lining the ‘beach’ with hundreds of paddleboats, parasols and ice cream stalls which are all just totally inappropriate when can’t feel your fingers, let alone contemplate using them to undo ANY buttons.
2. Copacabana is a party destination for gringos to lay off steam and revel in the streets all night. FALSE. Before 9am and after 8:30pm there is nobody else in Copacabana. During daylight hours precious few people wander the alleys without obvious purpose, mumbling stuff and sometimes peeing. The markets have more people there is definitely no such thing as a party here. This was extra confusing to us because we had heard that South America’s second largest festival (after Carnivale) was here on February 2 so we expected… I dunno, something more than the nothingville that we found ourselves in.
3. Copacabana’s main industry is tourism and therefore locals are hungry for tourists money. FALSE. It’s impossible to get service in any restaurant or cafe, and if you don’t have the right change, forget it – they’re not bothered. This I am SO confused by because surely our purchases of water/snickers/beanies/breakfast is sustaining their businesses, particularly since there are so few other tourists around? Often you have to legitimately beg vendors to sell you stuff which just doesn’t seem to fit with basic economic models of supply/demand. I dunno.
4. Little lies such as the time of boat departures, whether the shower has hot water, if the restaurant is open, whether all items on the menu actually exist, if the bathroom that you can see with your own eyes actually exists, how long it takes to get places, what day this festival starts, if rooms are available, you get the picture.

So maybe you picked up that Copacabana sucks? Gets points for location because Lake Titicaca is quite awesome but really nothing else is good there. I was quite keen to hop on a bus to la Paz and get straight out of there but we agreed to spend a night on Isla del Sol, the biggest island in Lake Titicaca, to check out the offshore vibe before vamosing.

This turned out to be the best call ever because Isla del Sol is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever been. Green gooey agricultural terraces blanket formidable hills with little stony paths winding between them, and every time you turn your head you’re re-impressed by how stunning the lake is. The sky over Copa is grey and smelly but on Isla del Sol everything is cobalt (and I do mean that literal colour that came in acrylic paint sets in primary school). Mia kept commenting on how weird the clouds in the distance were and it’s because we’re actually nearly 4km closer to them than usual – the sky is more immediate and the horizon is sort of higher (? sea-level Ella is unsure how to explain this altitude business. Get on a plane over here and see for yourself). The lake’s so big that I kept forgetting it’s not ocean – if you strain your eyes you can see land, including snow-capped mountains that look like they’re out of a bottled water ad. And because the lake is heaps deep but not ocean deep and also probably for some other more legitimate geographical reasons, it’s all these weird different shades of blue. So hard to describe or even to capture in photos but it’s kind of mesmerising, honestly every five minutes it’s a different shade of blue that I feel like I’ve only ever seen in Pixar movies.

So yep, was sad to only end up staying one night on Isla del Sol. We had a terrible dinner (food here so far is even worse than the rest of #americabutsouth and that’s saying something) and then got up early to do the 3 hour hike across the island and catch our return ferry to the mainland. This return journey itself was hilarious because of (once again) how bad Bolivians are at efficiency (took them 30 minutes to load a 25 person boat), also at driving boats (how on earth do you manage to make half the passengers seasick on a completely flat waveless lake?), and thanks to the five shirtless Argentinian boys with metre long dreads and earrings who made “music” for the whole two hour ride with their drum, egg shaker and battered guitar.

Upon return to CopacaBUMMER we were accosted by a wall of impenetrable noise. Turns out the aforementioned festival had arrived during our absence and had well and truly taken hold of the town. Men and women in huge, sparkly colourful dresses and what look like dragon costumes ‘danced’ (meaning did the cross-step over and over again) up and down the streets while a 100-strong brass band accompanied by too many drummers played the same eight bars of music over and over and over again. Everybody has little toy trucks that make scratchy noises when they swing them around and they all scratch in time with each other while spinning their huge skirts around and somehow still manage to balance bowler hats on their heads. Also random fireworks happen, day and night, and everybody drinks beer from little plastic cups that they kept pressing on us. It was hilarious and confusing and impressive and aggressive and LOUD, we didn’t get any sleep because the band never (never) stops. Ever. I have asked so many people and I still don’t know what they’re celebrating but everybody is dressed up and eating and drinking and dancing badly and playing instruments badly and not really smiling much except sometimes if they’re super drunk and I have NO comprehension of what’s going on. We ended up dancing to more quite bad music with some crazy old ladies for a few hours late last night, and they were all chuffed that we were there but couldn’t tell us anything about WHY. The control freak in me has struggled with this but I think at the end of the day it doesn’t matter why they’re celebrating, it just matters that they are, so we just enjoyed it.

Sorry for the essay!! Can’t decide if I love or really don’t love this place. First stop in Bolivia has raised many questions and there will certainly be more confusion to come.

Fish and fireworks,

PT

P.S. I know I use too many parentheses but I have a lot of witty side notes and I think it adds to my flow so haters hate away xoxo grammar goat

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Sacred Valley

The Inca capital of Cuzco gets HDs for character, charm and chocolate bars (1 sol sublimes, anyone?) but we were a little tired of climbing the hill to Loki, fending off overeager bachelors in Loki, and arguing with the grumpy staff in Loki so we collected our newest siblings Kristian and Casey and hopped in a collectivo to the Sacred Valley. Before we left honourable Cuzco moments have to include numerous $2 feeds at San Pedro market, squished up against dwarfish grandparents and women with two-metre long plaits amid whistling buskers, shouting vendors, squealing children and sizzling huevos fritos and platano. Also Luiz’s information-packed walking tour, thanks for the musical demos in hipster paradise San Blas and sorry for crashing your tour with hangovers worthy of Saint Patrick.

SO, the Sacred Valley! Dimwitted gringos that we are, we realised we’ve actually already driven through this gorgeous little segment of Peru with Marco the Malevolent en route to Machu Picchu – it’s an underpopulated, green, crinkly bit of the world spotted with teeny towns and Incan ruins. In the three days/two nights we spent in the valley we managed to make the most of our overpriced tourist tickets and see three of the main archeological sites: Písac, Ollantaytambo and Moray, as well as some sick salt terraces just outside Marás. All of the above were funky looking and cool because they’re HEAPS old and still more or less standing, (impressive when you consider what a bitch it is to finish building a house today… the PT palace is still not done #firstworldproblems). The big problem I have found with Incan paraphernalia is that nobody knows squat about it. The Incas were by all means total champs but I’m really not a fan of their ‘let’s not write stuff down’ attitude. Cool, very alternative of you to not have a writing system and all, and I admire your Burning Man-commitment to not using money, and I could understand the whole no-numbers thing, not being a maths person myself, but guys! Evolve! Leave a note!

Apart from frustratingly mysterious ancient civilisations, though, the Sacred Valley is a bomb-diggety beautiful place to spend some time. I’ve been spoilt by 2024 views of Bronte beach my whole life but never been fed many mountains, and I LURVE them they’re just as good as the desert! Who would have thought city-chick “I’d prefer to sit inside” Ella would be so turned on by nature? We did a LOT of hill climbing in our few days here due to the whole not-flat nature of a valley and although my “dainty” calves (I know I’ve made this joke before but it still applies, ‘athletic’ and ‘Ella’ don’t come in the same sentence) weren’t super thrilled with the necessity of so many steep inclines, the views from the top are good for the eyes, the smiles and probs the souls too.

Weird stuff in the sacred valley: weather that changes from sweaty to frozen stiff in ten minutes and which has subsequently sent me a little sick, the fact that I accidentally ate three veggie omelettes for three subsequent meals and also half a kilo of rice in one day, why on earth there was a Kwik-E-Mart in a town of 500 people, every restaurant/taxi’s obsession with Adele, wearing the same outfit (undies/socks included) four days in a row because opening my backpack is too much of an effort #notsorry, how Kristian wins president every single time when it is mainly a game of luck, the disgusting reality that my nits infestation has progressed to the stage where Mia plucked a live crawling insect from my face at dinner.

Heading back to Cuzco this arvo to catch a night bus over to Bolivia. Hopefully the sketchy border officials don’t charge per passenger because me and my 10,000 six-legged pets are running veeeery low on funds.

Hills and hot sauce,

PT

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Ollantaytambo town from the top

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Machu Picchu

So, we did it – the big one: Machu Picchu. Often the only reason many tourists make it to #americabutsouth, a wonder of the world, it’s the Pyramids/Colosseum/Angkor Wat of Peru. Here’s how it went…

The gang now consists of PT, mini-PT and Louis the stuffed llama, the luckiest cuddly toy in the world getting a round the world tour for free. We did a bunch of asking around in terms of the best way to see the big old Picchu and decided that if we were this unhappy in Cuzco’s cool climate we would not be able to handle snow-capped mountains and outdoor accommodation at altitude on the beautiful but challenging Salkantay trek, so we opted for the Jungle Trek, more popular with gringos who can’t afford the legit Inca Trail.

This was a mistake. On this “jungle trek” there was neither jungle nor trekking, and we were unlucky enough to have the Worst Guide in History, Marco the Malicious. From intentionally feeding us the world’s hottest chillies and laughing as we cried, to calling me fat and ‘forgetting’ about my gluten issues every single meal, Marco was JUST THE WORST. Luckily our crew made up for it in fun points – shoutouts to our Scandinavian roomies, Francisco, Francisco and Alejandro the sweetest Chileans in Peru, big sister Casey and the AMAZING father-son Korean duo who couldn’t speak a word of English but seemed to have an unending stream of devices with which to take limitless selfies. You guys are an inspiration to Generation Y-ers all over the world.

The four day ‘trek’ included various activities along the way: on day one we experienced a new level of pain while riding mountain bikes through rain/sleet with fingers frozen on the brakes… So glad I opted out of your chilly family holiday mum and dad, there is NOTHING worse than having cold hands I thought they were going to fall off! Luckily we had adequate chocolate supplies to regenerate ourselves and get ready for the afternoon of walking – which was then skipped because Marco didn’t feel like it. Day two was better as we traipsed through tropical heat and plucked fresh fruit from the trees around us for most of the day – Marco wanted to cancel the morning hike but luckily his evil plans were foiled by a landslide so we got to do some actual hiking! On the third day we were lucky enough to go zip lining between two huge mountains over a gorgeous gorge which was SPECTACULAR, safety briefings were not a thing so we swung upside down, went tandem with harnesses on backwards like superwoman and my helmet only came off once! We were exhausted that night after a full afternoon of following the train tracks to get to Aguas Calientes, the ‘Machu Picchu pueblo’ pretty much just built for tourists to access the big money early the next morning.

Now I know I’ve given the jungle trek a bad rep up til now and it does sound like I’m writing with grumpy hindsight, but be not alarmed: Machu Picchu did not even slightly disappoint. The one thing that every tour agency/website/guide told us was that we were crazy to go at this time of year. The weather is never good enough for anybody to get a look at Machu Picchu without clouds covering the whole thing, and few tourists last more than a couple of hours at the top of the mountain because there’s no shelter from Pachamama’s wrath. On day four, we got up to stand in line for the opening of the gates at 4am, and climbed 1500 stairs in dawny haze to be the first camera-clickers on site… And it was PERFECT. The view was absolutely incredible, exactly as amazing as everyone has hyped it up to be. The city of Machu Picchu itself is weirdly symmetrical and gorgeous and impressive but the scenery surrounding it is what rips hardest… 360 degrees of Andy rises and falls around you and off into the distance and it’s prettier than me after a good hair wash (rare nowadays as all toiletries are running v low).

Eyes ogled and mouths wowed we flew on our ‘we made it!’ adrenaline up Machu Picchu mountain to get a better vantage point… Another couple of hours’ climb later and we were literally and figuratively on top of the world. The whole day was amazing, even though it involved over 12 hours of walking and roughly 11,000 stairs (seriously SCEGGS has nothing on Machu Picchu) and we were so smelly and tired at the end of the day we couldn’t even speak, the snaps were well worth four days of Marco being a shithead. I’m super grateful we had enough time to spend the whole day there and actually witness a few moments of quiet – Machu Picchu is amazing but 2500 tourists swarm over it like locusts every day of the year and plague out its awesomeness.

We returned to Cuzco for a rowdy STRAYA DAY, beginning with a ‘tour’ of a ‘pisco museum’, meaning shots, shots shots shots shots, and rocking out on Wild Rover and Loki bartops to the hottest 100. Shoutouts to everyone who had a tactical vom and whoever ate our Doritos (Mia assures me it was me but come oonn I would remember Doritos).

Chet Faker and chicken with chips,

PT

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South of Peru

Free from my visa requirements I stuffed my face with ceviche and vamosed outta Lima stat, joining up to a hop on/hop off bus service that would get me to Cuzco with a few stops along the way.

First up, I hopped off with a new bus buddy Molly in Paracas where our Peruvian pied piper Nilo hooked us up with fancy food and rooftop pisco sours for less than $10… Connections y’all (sorry I’ve just watched This Is The End on the bus and now I can’t stop talking like a hollywood black person). Another early start took us out to the Ballestas Islands or ‘poor man’s Galápagos’, a very appropriate name for both my disheartening bank statement status and the awesome wildlife out there. I swear I think I saw over 200 sea lions from otter-sized babies to hefty hippo daddies, just flopping around on pebbly beaches, sunbathing and, from what it sounded like, speaking whale á la Dori. Also an estimated 800,000 birds including some adorable waddling penguins and a proportional amount of bird shit – cooler than it sounds, all aspects of this place were impressive including the metre-deep piles of excrement.

Next stop was Huacachina, a teeny oasis around a dirty lagoon in the middle of enormous rolling sand dunes. We would literally look out of our room’s window and wonder why the sky was yellow before realising that was just the sand blocking out the sky. I was peer-pressured into swallowing my ‘little bitch’ attitude and strapped myself in for an afternoon of dune buggy racing and sandboarding which was actually RADICAL, the little bitch in me has been squashed because adventure rules. Our driver was a nutcase who would laugh like The Joker every time we zoomed/fell (all four wheels were frequently off the ground) down a cliff-sized dune in our buggy and he taught us how to slide down them on snowboards penguin-style. I got tummy rash and tummy rush but everyone came away grinning.

As it was a Saturday, we had been promised that night that Huacachina would be going OFF – apparently locals and tourists from the whole surrounding area flocked to the tiny town on weekends to party, and our hostel was built sharing a wall with the ‘most famous club in South Peru’, with capacity for 1200 people and a VIP area for hostel patrons. At 1am we decided it was probably time to head in and check out the vibe… I want to say it was interesting but legit, worst club I’ve ever been to, actually to the point of hilarity. The floor was so slippery the moonwalk was sort of compulsory, there was so much space everybody could spin around with their arms out without touching, I think maybe 45 people were in there but the music was so loud talking was not an option, and the DJ was playing alternative-reggaeton that nobody in the crowd seemed to know. We messed around walking the Egyptian, partyboying couples who clearly wanted to be left alone and impersonating trees in the middle of the DF until we decided it would actually be a better idea to just go home and polish off a couple of packets of chocotejas (nuts dipped in caramel wrapped in chocolate, like a thumb-sized snickers orgasm for $2/packet… amazing) #noregrets.

The next day I started the loooooong (29 hour) journey from Huacachina to Cuzco. I really thought this would be worse than it was, every time you look out the window there is something else GORGEOUS to admire and good old Nilo proudly displayed his collection of bootleg movies. For the record, I don’t care how politically incorrect The Interview is, I will marry the shit out of James Franco. But even more beautiful than him was the scenery outside… I am a full on nature fan now, and I have to say I’m adding deserts to my list of favourite natural phenomena. Deserts kick arse! They’re scorching and freezing, huge and scary and pretty and they change colour every hour, they are more hardcore than honey badgers. Pretty much every other thing on the earth needs water and deserts are like ‘nah’. There were several moments when Molly and I would look at each other like, ‘is this a dream?’ For a while I think we were on the set of Star Wars. At one point we drove across this ‘Rio Grande’ (big river) which was actually a trickle of water underneath a full on highway that inexplicably had like 8 families having a splash in it and one of them had brought their tractor and also disco music was playing. What is life?!

Other short stops on the road included a pisco-tasting ceremony (I prefer Australia’s national beverage of goon) and a rickety viewing tower from which you can see two of the mysterious Nazca lines. There are over 12,000 of these inexplicable drawings in the desert, 38 of which are official heritage sites, and they’re best viewed from a private plane which unfortunately doesn’t feature in my budget. They’re essentially enormous diagrams scratched into the desert floor, can be up to kilometres long and are pretty much invisible from ground level – odd because they’re over 1300 years old, a little before the Wright Brothers, and there aren’t any natural vantage points around from which the Nazca people could have seen, or even planned the lines. Theories about aliens and sun worship were thrown around but at the end of the day Molly and I were so confused we were more interested in the mystery of the lone portaloo on the side of the highway.

The South of Peru is weird, it’s beautiful and there’s stuff to see and do but you can’t drive through it without thinking ‘how and why do people live here?’ It’s dry and barren and uninviting and, to be honest, it takes waaaay too long to get in and out of it. But I had time and I’m really glad I’ve seen something more of Peru than the walls of Loki and the skyscrapers of Lima.

Just pulled up in Cuzco where I will be reunited with MIA tomorrow (!!!!!).

Pisco and pecans,

PT

Lima & Catching Up

Fans, I know I left you in the lurch with my last post – I’m sure most of you have gone bald with worry that I am still having a literal whale of a time in beach paradise Montañita, with my four hours of Spanish school every day being the absolute maximum brainpower exerted and a minimum of 2 sprums per afternoon. For everyone (and I know it’s everyone) who’s been stressing about my lack of stress for the past couple of weeks: fear not! I’ve escaped Ecuador’s version of The Beach without being killed by Tilda Swinton and with several boyfriends nearly as dreamy as Leonardo DiCaprio (you know who you are… Eugenio). My last week in Montañita involved opening the grooviest new bar in town, La Jazzy Burqa, one or two games of Egg Throw (it’s all in the name), and gatecrashing a crazy street party for someone’s 15th birthday and becoming the MC.
Long night bus later and I’ve crossed another border, this time at 3am and with another skeptical stare at my soggy passport. I flashed the dude a cheesy grin and a ‘G’DAY MATE’ and you could see him weighing up whether it was worth arguing with an obnoxious gringo at this hour. Luckily laziness won and I was through. A couple of hours later I was deposited at world-famous Loki del Mar in Máncora on Peru’s north Coast… The Loki stories from Trilby alone were enough to get me excited for this place, let alone the recommendations/warnings (not always mutually exclusive) from other travellers. Let’s just say Loki lived up to its reputation… I only left those ivy tower walls twice, to jump in the very cold Pacific Ocean and literally high five a few casual giant turtles swimming off a fishing pier at a nearby beach. What happens at Loki stays at Loki (yeah right I’ll tell you every story several times next time I see you), but unfortunately, or maybe very fortunately, I had to checkout/escape to Lima after just two days of Máncora madness in order to sort out my visa for Brazil in the capital. A real bummer that bureaucracy beats convenience here and I had been told several times that despite having a British passport, because I’m travelling on my soggy Aussie one I need to enter Brazil as a true blue, thus requiring the overpriced and lengthy process of getting a visa from Lima.
22 hours on a bus with nothing glutard friendly to eat later, I’ve made it to the capital too late to get to the embassy that day. I busybodied around printing forms and bank statements and flight schedules and making copies of credit cards and insurance and getting passport photos and everything else necessary for this bloody document, and got an early night so I could be first in line in the AM and hopefully minimise the recommended five business days necessary for processing.
> 7am outside embassy gates
> sign now says embassy opens at 8am
> return at 8am, gates open at 8:15
> first person in #winning
> 8:30 someone shows up and I advance…
> “no that’s totally fine you can use your British passport going into Brazil”
> celebratory ice cream
Long story short I could have skipped several hours of hungry travel and, indeed, Lima altogether if the Internet was a more helpful place, but THAT’S JUST LIFE HEY
Elsewise in Lima: appropriately in the food capital of South America I have averaged five meals a day and claiming all of them to be for ‘cultural purposes’. Tried out my homegrown #protip of putting leftover moisturiser in your old (and smaller) soap bottle to save washbag space – just ended up smelling stale and feeling sticky and had to go for another shower an hour later. Not fun especially when your towel is smaller than a pillowcase and smelling slightly rotten and therefore should never be used while wet. I’m currently re-reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and feeling very unsafe knowing my towel would be no help whatsoever in an interstellar voyage.
Painting a picture of Lima would leave you with a sticky mixed-media mess and would belong on the fridge of an overactive four year old. It’s big. Old and new, safe and sketchy, McDonald’s sits next to cevicherias and cab drivers have university degrees. I held my breath in stuffy catacombs full of skeletons arranged in patterns (?) underneath Franciscan cathedrals, slurped at ice cream in bohemian parks, stumbled along pebbly “beaches” (the Bronte girl in me was unimpressed), gave and received fashion advice from my camp Argentinian dorm mates, and sorted out the next leg of the adventure, starting tomorrow… I’m off at 6am for the south Coast of Peru! Haven’t done much research so I’ll let you know how it is after.
Corn and too many crocs,
PT
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La Jazzy Burqa

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swimming with turtles

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Lima

Montañita

I’ve spent the past two weeks shoeless, careless and sandy in the little beachside town of Montañita on Ecuador’s south coast. It’s a bit of a cross between Bangkok and Bali on a way smaller scale – cocktail stands line the smelly streets and the beach is the most popular club. By day tourists surf and indulge in foreign food that’s supposed to remind us of home but really just affirms the fact that this is #americabutsouth, not #americabuteast – oriental cuisine is far from Sydney-standard.

The intention here was to do more Spanish classes and little else, but for the first two weeks most days were weekends or public holidays so, of course, I jumped into the festive fiestas by way of Eugenio’s delicious maracuya mojitos and plenty of poolside sprum (sprite+rum).

Christmas Day was properly Australian including a group-cooked feast off the barbie and a beach expeditions. Contrary to my usual traditions we finished the night at 6am after several clubs and thrice as many daiquiris, in my opinion the best way to celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Hopefully mum and dad will be down with incorporating this into our family Christmas next year?

New Year’s Eve was another memorable event – we began with drinking games en español in our afternoon classes, and once again didn’t get home until breakfast time.
At midnight I swam in the ocean while hundreds of locals surfed the first wave of 2015 as homegrown fireworks exploded overhead. It was incredible seeing so many people in the sea or on the beach surrounding bonfires and barbecues and bottles, bottles, bottles.

This time of year always has three big events for me, and this summer the best was saved for last: I had the most amazing birthday in the history of Ella’s birthdays thus far, I’m so lucky to have been surrounded by awesome people who made the day totally perfect. A morning run on the beach, two breakfasts, 11am sprums, my first pad thai in two months, more poolside rounds of Kings Cup before hopping in some random cars to get us to FTC Music Festival in nearby Salinas. Given we didn’t know what time the headline was starting we danced for several (as in seven) hours to some quite groovy tunes from international DJs before finally going mental as the one and only deadmau5 ripped shit up. He actually began his set with such heavy bass that he blew out the power after ten minutes (#americabutsouth strikes again) but after an awkward pause for the technical difficulties had us all totally under his spell once again. I can’t tell you how long he played for or even if my feet were on the ground, all you could see or smell or taste was the music… I will be calling Mr. Mau5 in nine months because I think that set made me pregnant. Halfway through a neighbouring party set off the most beautiful fireworks display ever which was so fortunate for us, I really was the luckiest girl in the world that night. I ended the night watching the sun rise on the beach and trundled home in the cruel daylight a very happy birthday queen. As a bonus the next morning I was surprised by a Sydney mate Joel wandering into my hostel which was AWESOME, only added to how great 2015 is already.

What else? I’ve been in the sea every day, I’ve stood up on a surfboard, I’ve done a few sunrise/sunset yoga sessions, eaten my weight in pan de yuca and made too many new mates to count. There have been a few expeditions to neighbouring quieter beaches and even a trek through the jungle to get to some rockpools for a dip, but mainly we have been aggressively hanging out and being happy. Special mentions must go to my silly coeliac sister Nicole, Tess the name changing and forever wise surfista, waltzing Mathilde, Lucy and Christy my American angels, the muy alto VAN LOOOOOONs and Sydneysiding Victor who can do any accent you can name and who unfairly resisted my flirtations. Call me for a bed in Bronte, any of you.

I’ve got another week of school and sun before continuing South to Peru next weekend – hopefully I will graduate at the end of the week with an ‘I survived Montañita’ t shirt and no new diseases. Given the state of the post-NYE streets, I would not be surprised if I contract some sort of STD through my feet.

Cuba libre and candlelit dinners,

PT

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