Letter to Home – Month 1: December

Well, by now you know that I’m very prompt when it comes to updating you on my travels!
Joking aside, I’ve been hit with the plague of slow, bad wifi everywhere I went in Patagonia. I considered myself very lucky to have a phone call with vocal delay, and to send a few texts to family – meanwhile yelling “come on!!” and almost throwing the phone across the room! To send or upload a picture onto Facebook was a rarity and got me to practice the virtue of patience.

That all vented off my chest, I had such a wonderful month!! This is what I have been up to chronologically:

The month that was December, started with my last couple of days working, and then on the 3rd it was my farewell tour. Alice Springs had been my homebase for the past year and a bit, and I throughly, throughly loved it there! So it was incredibly hard to tear myself away, even with all the exciting stuff to come. I made some friends who I treasure, and I knew it would be a fair while before I see them again. *..sob, sob..*
Anyway, later that day, my mum and I took off for Sydney to meet my sister who was flying in from NZ, and at arrivals it was just like an airport greeting scene you would see in a movie, but it was better being real life, and seeing my sister who I hadn’t seen for ages.

The 5 days in Sydney blew past fast, and was such a treat, and a good prep before diving into the unknown.
Highlights included; desserts at Guylian, Boost Juices, QVB, Bridgeclimb (again), Jenolan Caves, Fireworks at Darling Harbour, sunrise at Milsons Point (again), Coogee to Bondi walk, catching up with Jane who I hadn’t seen for yonks!!, and spending time with the animals at awesome Taronga Zoo! We got in so much more as well, but as most of you have probably been to Sydney, I will move on to the unknown part:

Dec 8: Sydney to Auckland, NZ (2hour transit) then to Santiago, Chile!

Well on the day I was a bit nervous to say the least! To go through the actions that I planned months ago seemed a bit surreal. Because I had been planning, researching and dreaming of actually getting here, and what it would be like made me a bit anxious, but do you know what, once you start walking, and doing it becomes so much easier, that you had no idea why you were so worried! The flight itself was pretty boring and standard, as it is when flying over ocean for 16 hours, until we saw land, and then everyone was diving for a window, as the sight of the Andes is remarkable.

A bewildered Laurenne, and a collective shuttle ride later, I’m at the hostel, feeling tired as and sorry for myself, as I suffered from puffy feet and ankles from the planes air pressure. I then slept for a solid 14 hours.
The next day arrives, and I’ve only started exploring when I happened to be where a walking tour was (free but for tips, so therefore not free), I joined them, and saw sights of Santiago, which I wouldn’t have seen if by myself.
Some of my faves: Bella Artes museum and neighbourhood, La Vega market, Estacion Mapocho, and Plaza de Armas.
I actually made a video about my time in Santiago, check it out here:


It was a great city to discover, with many other fantastic sights, and I quickly realised how challenged I felt at times, as I thought more people would speak English, but nope!! Nonetheless, I’ve throughly enjoyed interacting with many people, and the creative ways we communicated with each other.

After 3 days in Santiago, I flew to Lima, Peru. Ok, so I’ve got to say as much I love getting my passport stamped, the lines at the airports are horrendous! I don’t mind the day or two on a bus, when the alternative is 2 hours slowly slowly moving forward! It does my head in, and I feel like doing a very adultlike tantrum in the middle of the line!!
Moving on, flying in I got see the beautiful oceanside, and very picturesque …slumland. A while ago, I had googled where to spend more time, Santiago or Lima. I am immensely happy I chose Santiago. To sum it up; it takes ages to get anywhere, it’s dangerous, traffic is crazy (Rome is pleasant after what I experienced! ie diving in between a car and bus who were going horizontal to us!), and there is lots of graffiti and rubbish. I got to experience one good thing while being there: Circuito Magica del Agua – a wonderland of fountains that change colour and interactive displays.

After only 1 night there, I then flew to Puerto Maldonado aka Peruvian Amazon.
AMAZING, AMAZING, AMAZING! I had such a wonderful time here. Such an eye opener, in the way of seeing animals that I normally see restricted in zoos, living it up freely in the jungle. I stayed in Lake Sandoval Lodge for 3 nights and it was the best, great food, hosts, tours and cabins. Each day was filled up exploring a different area, and I was grateful that I chose a longer amount of time to stay there as opposed to some others. The canoe rides were eventful, and we were fortunate to see caimans! (similar to alligators eek!), giant river otters, cappucian monkeys, macaws, amongst many others.

After the great stay in the Amazon, I was off on a 9 hour bus to Cusco, Peru. Cusco is an elevation of 3,399 m, and I had read that many people suffer from altitude sickness, so I thought it was a great idea to catch a bus up, so that I could slowly get used to it – I was fine the whole time! No reason for me to have spent the $50 on altitude pills!
Cusco was a lovely town in the Andes, but I must admit, I wasn’t so proactive in the sightseeing here, as I wasn’t that fond of the staff at the BnB I was staying at, and during the time of booking it (in May!!) and turning up, they had made all the rooms from dorms to private rooms. So while I agree it’s great to get nicer rooms than dorms, where you can relax more in etc, I met hardly anyone!! Also my SLR suddenly stopped working in the Amazon (motor failure), and I spent A LOT of time at the camera shop trying to get it repaired.

Thankfully, I had a 2 day tour lined up at Lake Titicaca, where every shot you take looks like a National Geographic shot! First day there was pretty moody, but still enjoyed the Uros Islands we visited, and the family I stayed with on Amantani Island. I hate to sound cliche, but it was humbling to stay with a family that didnt have much.
So I’ll put it like this: while they didn’t have much materially, their house was in a wonderful location with a gorgeous backdrop, a lovely well kept farm with plenty of vegies, which they then cook with, in a community that all look out for each other, and have strong friendships (where fiestas are plenty!), and they had a wealth of family closeness – with a gorgeous, happy (box bound in the living area) 1yr old boy named Juan!
With the sun out on the next day, we were off to Taquile Island with all the stunning stone arches you see on Peru travel books. Then it was off back to Cusco.

After another day of not doing much: eating and resting (Inca trail was the next day!). I had to chase up on how my camera was doing at 7pm. By this stage they had, had my camera for 5 entire days, and I found out they couldn’t fix it. 1 hour later with lots of hesitation, procrastination and a wallet-bashing later, I brought a new SLR (ouch!).
As tempting as it was to go with a reasonly cheaper priced compact camera, you can’t beat an SLR, and while I had to downgrade a little, I am happy that I did this.

Onto the Inca Trail!  4 days of trekking… hmmm… not sure if I will like this..

“Come on Laurenne Fleur” I could hear my Pop say.
My Pop (Grandad) had done this very trail a couple of decades ago, and I was doing this in part memory of him. While it would’ve been exciting to do the Jungle adventure option with biking, ziplining etc..
The thought of walking on the same rocks, and seeing the same sights pulled at my heart strings, and I had to stop myself crying sometimes – but then, that could’ve been from the physically exhausting uphill parts! lol..
But seriously, I loved to think I was walking in his footsteps.

What a journey. I was 1 of 7 plus our guide Mario, while it is kind of small for a group, I considered myself lucky so that you don’t need to battle for the guides attention – in this case, I wouldn’t have, as he barely knew English!
So while I didn’t get to know very much history on the area, the sights and experiences were unbelievable – pathway straddled streams, heavily laden porters running/jogging past us, 4 seasons in a day weather, cloud forests, crumbling fantasy-looking archaeological sites, cascading waterfalls, looking down at green valleys that you’ve just walked up, rickety wooden bridges (that you quietly say a prayer when walking on!), colourful flowers, reflective lagunas, selfies with llamas, not to mention my favourite – the Inca tunnels.

I’m sure I’ve now gotten you all to book tickets to Peru haha! If not, I really urge you to put it on your bucket lists.
To finally reach Machu Picchu is the craziest feeling. After blood (from stubbing my toe too many times), sweat (from tough uphill climbs) and tears (from tough uphill climbs!!), ..oh and sunburn (around my index finger and thumb from holding a trekking pole too long in the sun in between suncream latherings), to get to the Sun Gate where you behold the ancient site from above, feels so surreal – I teared up majorly. It was a real pleasure to walk around in, learn about, take photos of, and to get in another llama selfie!
It was also Christmas Eve there, Christmas Day in NZ and Oz, so was a great feeling to wish Merry Christmas to my loved ones from that infamous ancient site. After descending down to the town below, Aguas Calientes, it was time for a treat, in the form of Baileys, and a soak in a mineral pool and another treat in the forementioned!

Christmas Day in Cusco was a mellow affair for me – surprise, surprise – but I got a lovely massage at Ajna (my second time there to be honest), for $25 AUD for 1.5hrs – they seem to always give extra time to the hour. But then it was off to La Paz, Bolivia.

Ok again – what is it with the long queues!! This time I was on a bus for about 14 hours. But two of those were dedicated to border crossing. I understand it does take time. I think 1 hour could be mastered if they got their act together, and made the process easy to understand. Peru was 20 mins to leave, to enter Bolivia took 1.5 hours of the slowest, not even the longest, queue I’ve been in. And to discover you needed the green sheet, as well as the white that I was holding, at the halfway mark was insane – no signs or anything! – thankfully the family behind me let me back in after grabbing it. So if your in my shoes in the future, be sure you have a book to read as you move ever sp slowly.

Enough with the venting, once I arrived in La Paz, I discovered it to be a delight, despite all the bad reports I heard.
A tourist trap, Calle Jean, I particularly enjoyed, and thought it lived up to the hype. It’s a street with colourful houses, and I was lucky to have it not busy. Also worth exploring; Plaza Murillo, witches market and the many churches.
Also had a great shopping district, and I basically skipped down the street when I saw the sign for Subway!!

I was only in La Paz for around 5 hours, before catching a night bus to Uyuni for the 3 day tour, that I had booked for the next day. The tour got off to a slow start, as I wasn’t interested in seeing a rusted train cemetery, but the time passed, and then it was off to Uyuni Salt plains. So my first thought was that it wasn’t as white as I had seen/pictured, but that aside, it was specularly large. To see it spread out to the horizon was awesome – and to do the perspective shots definitely was my highlight – again a touristy thing to do, but hey, they are touristy for a reason – so much fun!
Other highlights were; the Mars lookalike Antiplano, flamingos a couple of feet away, lagunas of different colours swirled by the wind to have a marble like appearance, the smells, and geysers that reminded me strongly of Rotorua, NZ. The lowlight: so very windy and salty that my hair constantly tangled and felt weird! Plus it was really cold!!

On the final day, the 29th, after another border crossing, thankfully a lot faster, I had a brief stop at San Pedro de Atacama. I originally planned on staying a night, but as I wanted to spend New Years in Valparaiso/Vina del Mar, I had to get down there before then obviously, and the bus seats filled up fast and then sold out on the 30th, I had to go that night instead. Next time San Pedro, I’m with you for longer!

After 22 hours on the bus down this time, where I got to see beautiful landscapes and seascapes, I arrived in Valparaiso. I thought it was great. Sunny, glorious weather, beaches that reminded me of Eastern suburb beaches of Wellington in NZ, the touristy, happy vibe of Vina del Mar, and the edgy and colourfulness of Valparaiso.
I also met some great girls in my dorm, and we greeted in the New Year on the rooftop where we could see fireworks galore (they go along 5 bays and last for 20 minutes).

So that finally wraps up my first month of travelling in this longer termed holiday of mine.

As a summary of sorts, here are my highlights:

Countries visited: 4
Australia, Chile, Peru and Bolivia

Highlights:
1. Machu Picchu takes the cake, worth the hype, and you’ll love it when you take your own postcard picture of it.
2. Peruvian Amazon was incredible to see animals so up close you could touch them.
3. Family time in Sydney. Great for prepping for my big journey and seeing my sister after quite a while.

Lowlights:
1. My camera failing and having to buy a new one! *currently crying softly* lol.
2. Makeup melting humidity in the Amazon – had to redo it 3 times a day!
3. The ouches: Falling over a pavement tile in Santiago and skinning me knee, and major sunburn from holding trekking poles in the sun too long, in between suncream latherings.

A Funny:
Entering a taxi on the wrong side, only once putting down my handbag did I realise I was looking at the drivers wheel, and the taxi driver laughing at me outside, and then asking if I wanted to drive!

A Challenge:
Well it is one that is still enduring: Language.
When I first landed, and heard people asking me things, I could barely distinguish what I heard on Duolingo to real life people talking to me! Now at least I can swap a couple of sentences before saying “Hable Ingles?!”
Take care, and talk next month, while I’ll keep exploRen x


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