Touring Peru

Right towards the end of my exchange in Chile, my parents arranged for us to meet in Peru. We’d been wanting to travel there for a while and it was convenient for me to meet them halfway before I went back to Mexico.

They booked a 10-day trip trough the main and most touristic cities of Peru. I’ve never been a fan of the all-inclusive traveling method, and given the fact that I was in the midst of my last days of my exchange I didn’t really do any research regarding the places and cities we were going to visit. I left it all to my parents’ criteria and just went along with it (which was kind of a really big mistake since I missed out on actually investigating and being informed about the places I was going to be seeing).

As with most of the people’s travel bucket lists, Peru has always been a dream destination of mine, primarily because of Machu Picchu. There’s a reason why The Wonders of the World have earned that title and, in my experience, they usually are a really big deal (even if, on the downside, they’re so crowded you can have a hard time actually enjoying them). Machu Picchu appealed to me specially because since I was a little girl I’ve always been a fan of visiting and admiring every archeological site around Mexico (we have a fair share of them) and I have always had a fascination of learning everything related to ancient cultures. Still, there was a part of me that was kind of nervous that this extremely famous and world wide known Inca city was not going to live to my expectations. I’d heard all kinds of opinions of people that had already been there and I was extremely eager about it.

I flew directly form Santiago to Lima, where I met my parents after almost six months of being away from home. The first few days were kind of weird for me, as I had just said goodbye to some of my very close friends and some really important people I’d met in Chile. My exchange had just ended so my feelings were all over the place. This, and the fact that the first few sites we visited in Peru were, in my opinion, some of the least impressive ones, made my first few days in this country not so formidable or amazing. From Lima we flew and started our trip in Juliaca, we visited there some archeological sites that didn’t really impress me much because I though I’d seen prettier and better similar spots back in Mexico (again, I wasn’t in the best of moods). Thankfully, both my attitude and the magnitude of the next few stops escalated in beauty in a very quick way, so that I ended up being in total awe with some of these Peruvian places.

The first remarkable excursion was our day trip to Puno. We visited Lake Titicaca (I was surprised to find out that this was actually a real place and not just a made-up lyric to a Latin kids’ song) where we got to see all the floating islands of the Uros, which are a set of artificially created islands were some of the Quechua people still live in. It was really amazing and impressive to see how all these native people live, besides the fact that it was an absolutely beautiful and very peaceful place. The lake is an astounding shade of blue and the whole landscape is just really wonderful. This was definitely one of my favourite places to visit.

We left the city of Puno to go by bus to Cusco. I’m usually not a fan of bus rides but this one was completely worth it only because of a 10 minute stop we made at “La Raya”, which is a spot in the frontier of these two cities and it’s completely magical. The scenery of this place is of a stunning range of mountains with the bluest of skies and just nature all around. Pure and wonderful nature.

We finally arrived to Cusco and visited the main plaza and cathedral and all the touristic spots of the city but, even though it’s a very cute town, these places weren’t really that appealing to me. Also, I was already getting super impatient of getting to Machu Picchu, so I couldn’t really focus on anything else.

It’s important to be aware that from the moment you arrive to Peru everyone advices you to take it easy and beware of the altitude sickness. I already knew I’d probably had trouble with this since I’d already experienced it in the past. Unsurprisingly, I got it since the second or third day we arrived to this country. I especially had trouble with it in Cusco (which is located at an altitude of 3400 metres or 11200ft). Fortunately, the worst day was probably the first one and I managed to feel not so terrible by drinking coca tea religiously and by not making any kind of big efforts. For the lucky people who have never experienced altitude sickness it basically feels as if all your strength was taken away because you were hit by a bus, or someone hit you on the head with a baseball bat… or both. All of this pain is combined with nausea, so yeah, not fun at all. I think besides the coca tea I took some medicine and I still felt kind of uneasy and really tired, but fortunately the day we visited Machu Picchu I had no symptoms at all.

We didn’t do the Inca Trail or any of those typical fit-backpacker trips to get to the top of this World Wonder, which really bummed me out. By this time, I’d already figured out that my kind of favourite traveling was done in the low-budget, high intensity way, and I also love nature and exercising, so the Inca Trail seemed like a dream. Since I was traveling with my parents, we weren’t really fit to do things the hard and tiring way, we were going to visit Machu Picchu in the travel-agency arranged kind of way, which was still cool but not the whole experience I’d longed so much to have.

Long story short we got to the top by train (to the Aguas Calientes station), and then to the entrance of the site by bus. We also had a tour guide trip included to explain everything about Machu Picchu while we were inside, which I absolutely hated. We were told we only had around 3 hours inside this majestic place and around an hour and a half was wasted listening and following our guide around. I remember I was so mad I told my parents I wanted to ditch our guided tour since the beginning, but we stuck out till the end and my anger was only appeased because once we started walking around on our own, I was completely mind blown. Machu Picchu was everything I’d imagined and more.

This magical wonder is of course filled with a crazy amount of people, which kind of makes the experience less unique, but still, once you are free to wander around you can manage to find a few spots where you can just admire the grandeur of it all almost by your complete self. And this are the moments that I live for. My God being able to just sit in this amazing place and imagine how people used to live there so many years ago…. There are just not enough words for me to describe it. It really is an incredible place. Besides the ruins and the city, you are surrounded by the most extraordinary landscape, ever. You get to feel so humbled and surprised by nature, and by how the people that lived there were so much more connected to it than we ever will. I was bursting with a feeling of peace and happiness, it genuinely left me speechless and I felt like I could’ve stayed there forever.

*I usually relate songs to events or periods of my life, and I clearly remember that in this time Ed Sheeran’s “X” album had just come out and I was obsessed with it and throughout most of my Peru trip I had Tenerife Sea’s “Should this be the last thing I see, I want you to know it’s enough for me” lyrics playing over and over in my head, I felt like they just truly mirrored my thoughts.

My experience in Machu Picchu filled me with happiness but at the same time it was kind of bittersweet. I felt so lucky, delighted, and just thankful with the universe to be able to admire such beauty, and at the same time so frustrated and sad because I was just given around 4 hours in this gorgeous place. Like so many times before, I decided I just had to come back someday.

The day after Machu Picchu we visited Valle Sagrado, Pisaq and the Fortress of Ollantaytambo, which were some other really cool and interesting archeological sites, but nothing compared to what I’d already seen. I think this is probably a very unfortunate fact for all the spots of Peru, having to compete with Machu Picchu is impossible. Maybe that’s why you never really get to hear a lot of all the other magical places they have; at least I never had before and they have some pretty amazing sites.

After Cusco we went back to Lima and took a tour around the city, again, nothing out of the ordinary, and then we headed to Paracas. This last stop of our trip was a complete surprise to me. We came here to do the Nazca Lines excursion. I’d somewhat heard about this “lines” before in like alien related movies, or articles, but I didn’t even know in which part of the world they were located, or if they were actually real. Turns out they were in Peru and I was about to fly over them. If, like me, you have no idea what I’m talking about, the Nazca Lines are a series of large ancient geoglyphs (large designs produced on the ground) in the Nazca Desert, in southern Peru. They were designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994 and scholars believe they were created by the Nazca culture between 500 BC and 500 AD. Hundreds are simple lines and geometric shapes but more than 70 are designs of animals, such as birds, fish, and monkeys or human figures. Other designs include shapes, such as trees and flowers. These lines were created in the ground by removing the reddish pebbles and uncovering the whitish/grayish ground beneath.1 To put it in a simpler way, they are HUGE drawings and figures on the desert that can only be seen from the sky, or from very high spots, and there isn’t really an actual explanation to the actual purpose of their creation (so cool and mysterious). They’re pretty unique.

We arrived at a small airport in Pisco and boarded a really small plane that flew over the main lines and it was amazing. My mom got extremely airsick because this little plane had to actually dive and turn and twist and do all kinds of extreme maneuvers in order for us to be able to appreciate the lines, but there they were, in the middle of the desert, huge and so clear… it was astonishing.

The ride was not that long, and it really was crazy but I was so surprised of it all that I think my body just forgot to get nauseous, cause I usually and really easily do. I left this place feeling so confused as to why not more people had mentioned it before, and that I’d never heard or read about it anywhere, because I really loved the rareness of it. It left me wondering and thinking about the mystery that surrounded it all, it was just wow.

The Nazca Lines were definitely a surprise and huge plus for me in this trip, and I realized I really should have done way more research before visiting this beautiful country.

Our final excursion was to the Ballestas Islands, we took a boat ride through them and got to see some penguins, sea lions, different kinds of birds and another Nazca line (the Chandelier). It was the best way to finish our trip because it was so relaxing and peaceful to just enjoy the beautiful weather, and the nature that surrounded us.

We flew back to Mexico the next day and I was just completely overwhelmed, thankful and perplexed by everything I had just experienced and lived. I just couldn’t believe it all. I just kept on thinking and singing in my head that, even if it were all the last thing I’d seen, it truly had been enough for me.


Brazil 2014: backpacking through the WorldCup

Mexico, as most countries in Latin America, is well known for its soccer crazed population. People here, specially men, choose a team and they are loyal to it until the day they die. Mexicans cry, laugh and root for their teams as if their victories were the single most important achievement of life. People sacrifice plans and social gatherings just to watch their favourite teams play. Some of the worst fights I’ve seen are caused by rivalry between different national teams and claiming your favourite soccer club out loud to a group of strangers can either get you a bunch of new friends or a couple of life-long enemies. That’s how strong is the Mexican love for fútbol.

Even so, I was raised in a household free of all this typical soccer enthusiasm. My brother has always been very sporty, but he never really got into soccer and all the fanaticism that surrounds it. He is actually a rock climber and has the most pacific personality that usually accompanies this specific outdoorsy activity. He has never understood the obsession that most guys here get over their soccer teams and he has always preferred to stay out of any type of conflict created because of two colliding teams. My dad, on the other side, does get a strong type of sport hype, but this one comes directly from a game that is not even played much in Mexico. He loves football, American football.

The only real influence I ever got to even pick a soccer Mexican team that I could say I somehow preferred comes from my grandpa on my father’s side. He loves Chivas, the second most famous and important team in Mexico, and he actually watches the games and gets excited for them. I love my grandpa, and watching him get excited every time they played convinced me completely to grant him my soccer support, so whenever either my dad, brother, or I get asked the very important question of who do we root for we always say Chivas.

If there ever is a sport playing in the TV of my household is American football. I believe none of the members of my family would have ever even watched a whole soccer game if it weren’t for the WorldCup. All of the soccer alienation in my home completely cancels for the WorldCup. The beautiful WorldCup.

Ever since I can remember, my less than soccer loving family has woken up at ungodly hours of the night whenever needed, to watch Mexico play in the World Cup. The fact that my first World Championships were in live-time of countries like France and South Korea meant that we had to be available at times when no one should even be awake. This, in the mind of a 6 and later 10-year-old, created a really big impression, so I have the most vivid memories of watching and actually loving every World Cup game Mexico ever played. This is where I finally started to understand all the enthusiasm that surrounded the sport. I was fascinated by the illusion that the whole world got together to root for their teams. I guess all the marketing and the fact that everything from songs on the radio to toys in my cereal celebrated the event helped to create an even bigger fan in me.

As I grew up, I only got more and more surprised and amazed by this whole event. I know a lot of people are sceptic about it, but in my head, anything that got the world together for something as pure and passionate as a sport was worthy of my love. This worship only got multiplied when I got to experience a World Cup with people from all over the world.

When I travelled to Australia in 2010, for my first academic exchange experience, the South Africa 2010 Worlcup happened. By the time it started, around July, I was already more than happy in my new environment and I had so many new friends from different nationalities (mostly Brazilian and German) that the World Cup experience was now better than ever. I got to root not only for Mexico, but for every other country my best friends were from with almost the same amount of enthusiasm, which was even more amazing. In past World Cups I mainly only watched the Mexican games, and we never really got that far, so this time, having other favourite teams like Brazil and Germany was like getting even closer to the win. By the time the World Cup was over I was already back home, and I remember that I was the last member of my family who was still watching almost every game in remembrance of all the friends I loved and missed so much. It was around this time that I decided to make going to a World Cup a bucket list item of mine.

Four years later, when I decided to do my second exchange to Chile, I always had the World Cup in the back of my mind. I knew there was a strong possibility for me to actually make it to Brazil but I was also aware of the fact that there was a really big chance I might not get there either, and that was okay too. Weeks passed and either fate or destiny or the universe, call it whatever you like, arranged itself for me to be able to travel to Brazil for around 12 days with my two Mexican best friends.

Long story short, towards the end of April, just as I was starting to loose hope that I might actually travel to the World Cup, one of my Mexican guy friends who was really into soccer and without whom I would have never made this dream of mine come true, found crazy cheap flights to Brazil. It didn’t take longer than an hour to get me convinced and talk to my parents, and we bought the tickets. We didn’t have absolutely anything else figured out, only the dates and the tickets, and I felt happier than ever. We were completely aware that Brazil, and specially Rio (where our flight landed), in those dates would be the most expensive place on earth. Probably all of the hotels and hostels would have been booked by then and we didn’t even care. We were willing to sleep in street benches if it was necessary. We believed we still had enough time to plan everything.

Throughout the next weeks we were able to buy the local plane tickets, create a route and decide the cities we were going to visit. *Unfortunately, Mexico lost its last match a day before we were supposed to leave (the really hurtful, and legendary #NOERAPENAL game against The Netherlands), so we were not able to follow them, or get to see them play*. The cities we decided to visit were Rio, Brasilia and Sao Paulo, and once we had the dates and everything kind of figured out we started looking for cheap, or any available, accommodations.

The trickiest part was figuring out where we were going to sleep in Rio, because even the cheapest hostels were around 50-80 USD per night, which was way over our budget. It was through couchsurfing that I found a guy that was offering a camping site for 40 reales per night per person (around 10-12 USD) so we decided to book that because it happened to be our last resort. We bought a pretty inexpensive tent and didn’t even bother to buy sleeping bags because we figured it’d be too hot and we could just use some blankets as a sort of mattress.

Finding accommodation in Brasilia and Sao Paulo turned out to be way easier. I contacted around 50 people (seriously) through couchsurfing as well, and managed to find some hosts for the three of us during our stay in each of those cities. We had everything ready and figured out a couple of days before our trip and I was beyond excited about it.

The first city we arrived to was Rio, and it was as amazing as I remembered it. The last time I was there I wasn’t able to see Christ the Redeemer (the Corcovado) from up close because of the cloudy weather and I was really bummed about it. I remember my mom telling me that you always had to leave something unresolved, a reason to go back, to the cities you loved that forced you to return. When I looked at Christ the Redeemer from up close I remembered her words and felt such a rush of emotion because it was true, in the end I was able to look at it up close and it was even more meaningful to me. I felt happier than ever.

It turned out that our camping site was around 1 hour away form the main beaches, still, we were able to visit most of the main touristic spots of the city, and some more random ones (like a museum of the history of Brazilian paediatrics, for real). After Rio we went to Brasilia, by plane, and we actually ended up cancelling our couchsurfing host and staying with a friend of mine, who I’d met in my first exchange in Australia. It turned out that, even though he was studying/working in a different city, he was going to be spending some days at his house, back in Brasilia, and he was nice enough host me and my friends.

We arrived to Brasilia and my friend went to pick us up at the airport. What was so special about this city, besides the fact that I felt so happy to see my friend again after so many years, was that from that moment on we stopped being tourists and became locals. We felt so welcomed by my friend and his family, everyone was so friendly and extremely nice to us that we felt right at home. The days we spent there were some of the most amazing ones.

We got to attend a really local and really massive Brazilian college party, we ate a bunch of delicious food, we were driven and shown around the city by locals; everything was oh so amazing. Along with all the eating and partying we did we also got to rest and relax so much during these days, we stopped worrying about the usual backpackers’ stuff. As if all these things weren’t enough, it turned out that one of Brazil’s matches was being played during our stay in Brasilia (against Colombia) so we actually got to be part of a true Brazilian World Cup local’s party. My friend had a sort of massive patio where all of his friends and family were invited to watch the game. Everyone brought food, music, and the best vibes and light-heartedness that Brazilians are well known to have. We cheered, sang and had the best time with them. Of course Brazil won.

We left Brasilia reluctantly and flew directly to Sao Paulo… which brought us back to the backpacking reality. We arrived to this huge city and looked for our couchsurfing host’s address. It turned out he wasn’t actually home at that time but he had left his apartment keys at the reception for us, which seemed so strange. We couldn’t believe someone would trust three strangers so much as to actually leave them the keys to his home right there, without haven’t ever met us before, but we went right in and decided to rest for awhile since there was no one else around. Our host, Dennis, turned out to be truly one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He actually had a two-bedroom apartment, with bunk beds in each one so he hosted as many couchsurfers as he could, all the time. He was really so nice and selfless, he didn’t ask for anything in return from any of the couchsurfers and he actually sometimes slept in the living room or in a friend’s house himself in order to be able to host more people, he was amazing.

Unfortunately, Dennis wasn’t around a lot to be able to show us or let us know any of the touristic spots, he was very busy with work so we barely even saw him. We made our way as usual tourists, searching online for the main places to visit and walking around as much as we could. We found that Sao Paulo was actually very similar to Mexico City, or any big city in Latin America really. Huge crowded streets, lots of pollution and traffic and a bunch of interesting museums, churches and open spaces to visit. We went around the city as much as we could and we enjoyed it, but it definitely turned out to be our least favourite city between the three we got to visit. The fact that we got some rainy days and that we were actually starting to get tired of all the traveling I think also had a sort of negative impact on our stay in Sao Paulo. Furthermore, it was during those days that the infamous 1-7 Brazil vs Germany game was played, so it was safe to say there was a gloomy (to say the least) atmosphere in the city.

After around 3 or 4 days in Sao Paulo we travelled back to Rio, this time in an overnight bus (surrounded mostly by Argentinians), and we got back to the city for my last couple of days. This time we got to the experience the city in a completely different way because we were actually hosted by a friend’s family again. This time we arrived to the house of one of my Mexican friend’s classmates back in Santiago. It was so random and so nice of her but this also goes to show just how nice Brazilians are. She wasn’t even home yet, as she was also still doing her exchange in Santiago, but she asked her family to host us while we were there and they agreed. I felt so embarrassed to arrive at her house, it was so beautiful and she lived practically by the beach so we had an awesome location. Those last couple of days we just walked around by the seaside streets. We took it pretty chill because we also got some rainy days, so we couldn’t really do much, and we had already seen most of the main spots.

After two days it was finally time for me to go back to Santiago, and this turned out to be a whole ordeal. I barely made it in time for my flight because of the crazy traffic in Rio. It took me almost three hours to get to the airport, I arrived last minute only to find out my flight had actually been delayed and then cancelled. They sent me in a flight to Sao Paulo, and after getting there they sent me by bus to another airport (there’s two in SP) and there they finally put me in a plane to Santiago. I got to Chile around 5 or 6 in the morning, when I was supposed to get there the night before, at 11pm, but when I finally got home I was just glad to be back.

Traveling to the World Cup was definitely a dream come true, even if I didn’t get to go to any of the live matches. Watching the games in the fan fests, with the locals as well as with so many other people of different nationalities was more than enough for me. In the end, this trip didn’t end up to be just about the World Cup, it meant being able to travel with two of my best friends in a country that I so much adored. We had so much fun and got to experience a million different and random things that we’ll always remember. Brazil brought us so much closer together, it welcomed us and showed us the warmness of its people and the beauty of its cities. 2014’s World Cup is now so much more than just a check mark on this travel bucket list of mine.

Semester Exchange in Santiago, Chile

After coming back from my first abroad exchange experience in Australia I had two things clear: the first was that it had been the first of my, hopefully, many to come international experiences, and the second, that whenever my next exchange happened, it was going to be in a Latin American country.

After spending time with so many people from all over the world I discovered how like-minded and similar we Latin people are. I got to meet and love a lot of other people from other places of the globe, but I just noticed how we Mexicans mostly had the the same sense of humor, the same taste in music, same ideas and very similar behaviour as the other Central and South Americans.

This realisation, along with the fact that in Mexico it is very common for young people or students to look for and do exchanges mainly in European or “first world” countries, helped me decide to look in another direction. In my country, or at least in the schools I’ve attended, there seems to be a general belief that Europe or North America are the “best” places to live and travel to, that we will improve and learn more there than if we go anywhere else. But I already knew that an exchange was so much more than just achieving or getting an academic level or recognition, that your growth is way more personal. I wanted to try and prove myself, and anyone, that any country you choose is the correct one and this time I just knew I wanted to discover, experience and learn more about South America.

Four years since my first exchange passed and I was now in college and ready to travel abroad again. I mainly wanted to go to Brazil, because the 2014 world cup was happening there, and that was a really big Bucket List item of mine. Long story short I couldn’t do Brazil because my school demanded that I spoke fluent Portuguese and I didn’t. I needed to choose another country and it turned out that two of my college friends were also looking into doing an exchange, so we decided to travel together and look into the best available options. In the end we were torn between either Chile or Colombia. Personally I had no idea what I could find in either of those but they sounded cool, so I didn’t even really mind where I got sent off too as this was part of my decision to travel to a South American country; to force me to learn more about it in general. In the end our school decided we could go to Chile and it was set.

I didn’t really do a lot of research of the country before getting there, which was completely reckless of me, but I knew that whether I wanted or not, I was going to learn so much about this place, that it was going to be like a second home.

My whole planning experience this time was completely different from the first one because this time the school just managed our inscription in the Chilean university, but we were all on our own regarding pretty much everything else. I had to look into flights, currency, apartments, transportation and everything else you have to figure out before moving to another city. It was really helpful to have gone with my two other girlfriends, because this way we were all doing the research and making decisions together. We knew whatever happened we wouldn’t be completely alone in a totally unknown country, and would always have each other’s back.

We ended up renting an apartment in Providencia, which was one of the nicest living areas in Santiago. We closed the deal before arriving there in February so we actually had a place to stay since day one. We attended the Universidad del Pacifico in Las Condes and we had a smooth transition because we arrived several days before school started so we were able to figure almost everything out before our first day there.

The first months were basically getting used to everything; our new apartment, new surroundings, new school, people, places, transportation methods. We learned as fast as we could everything about Santiago and Chile in general. I also remember in this first few weeks, before school started, we were kind of lonely and bored most of the time because, even as much as we tried to visit the touristic places, we still ended up with a lot of free time in our hands.

Once school started it wasn’t that demanding either. We were advised not to take a full load of semester classes so we didn’t even have to go every day of the week. I think this amount of free time was the reason we were always so eager to meet new people, places and to go out and just explore the city in any or every opportunity we got.

We got a hang of things pretty quickly, and I think we were actually very lucky because by the second or third week of our stay there we got to meet two Mexican boys who were also doing an exchange in Santiago, in a different university but who were also from Guadalajara and with whom we had some friends in common back home. We ended up being like a family with them, and we planned and did the most amazing trips throughout our exchange. We stopped being bored alone and the five of us would just hang out practically everyday (when the boys didn’t have to study for their actually demanding classes) either in the city or actually traveling around the country in the most incredible journeys. First, we did a road trip to the south of Chile; we started out in Santiago and drove all the way to Pucon and back, which was as liberating and fun as road trips are assumed to be. Then we all flew to the Chilean Patagonia together and spent some crazy cold days couchsurfing with a local family who took us in, and finally I was actually able to fulfill my dream of going to the World Cup with both of them in the last few days of our exchange.

Needles to say, by around the second or third month of our six-month stay our lives were better than ever. It’s funny because I remember my girlfriends and me just casually riding our daily bus to school and suddenly, one of us would just randomly blurt out “I feel so happy right now”, and we knew that it was a collective feeling, we were genuinely joyful there. It seemed everything in our lives was right. We had amazing friends, a really cool routine, we loved each other as roomies, we adored the food, the people, all the traveling we were doing. It sounds too good to be true but it actually was. It was also around this time that the three of us travelled alone for the first time, without the boys, to San Pedro de Atacama. This trip was literally magical for me, and it brought us even closer. We experienced the most beautiful landscapes in the oddest, coolest journey that by the time we got back to Santiago, we were just in an ever state of bliss. By the fifth month we were starting to dread our comeback to Mexico. Our old lives seemed so far behind, I knew if we could have done it we would have traded everything to be able to extend our stay in Chile.

By the last days of our stay it was time for goodbyes, and I can’t say I didn’t already have experience in this type of things but it still hurt to the bottom of my soul. I cried so much, several times. It was like I knew it was bound to end and I accepted it, I actually sometimes tried not to get too attached to the people or my lifestyle there but I still failed terribly. Saying goodbye, and accepting experiences like this are over has such a bittersweet feeling to it. You know that no matter how hard you try or how much you want them to; they will never repeat themselves or come back. I was so glad I had had such an amazing stay that saying goodbye was so hard, but at the same time I just wanted to throw a fit to the universe and cry until it allowed me to stay longer. Of course this didn’t work and so, once again, this was the hardest part of the whole six months there.

Going back home was good and bad. I’ve always been pretty good at adapting to any kind of place or situation I’m in. I’m also very lucky to say I have really good friends and family always there for me, waiting for me, so it wasn’t like I was depressed all the time. But still, I always get that feeling that every amazing thing I experienced was not true. It’s very weird but you actually feel like you borrowed time from a different life. When I did my first exchange I said it had felt like I took a little glance of how my life would have been if I’d been born in Australia, and this time it was the same. It just feels like a window to a different reality, in a different lifetime, I don’t know, it’s very weird but once you go back home it’s literally like nothing changed. I know it obviously did, I mean at least I know it changed me, but the people and the places you left behind they all stayed the same. I think this is what I love most about leaving, you experience so much in so little time, that in a way it feels like you are stealing it.

Living in Chile was as wonderful as I thought and hoped it would be, even more. Again, ironically, I didn’t end up with a lot of local close friends, but by now I’ve figured out that when you are in an “exchange student” or “traveler” set of mind, life is different, so you mainly just make friends with that same mindset, which are usually not local, so I got to be close to a bunch of other Latin and European lovely and kind hearted people. Also, even if I didn’t get to be really close to its locals, I got to know Chile, mighty and astonishing. I got to know its culture, its food, its music, its magical places, its amazing wine, its parties, its traditions and its very distinctive (sometimes very incomprehensible!) Spanish. It welcomed me and my friends in the most incredible way and I cherish the time I got to spend there with my whole heart.

San Pedro de Atacama: The Most Magical Place on Earth

Traveling to San Pedro de Atacama was one of the most surprising, astonishing and magical trips I’ve ever made. Before arriving to Chile, I had never really heard a lot of this place. Actually, 2 years before, when I visited Chile with my family for the first time nobody even mentioned it as a main touristic spot. People always told us about places like Valparaiso, Viña del Mar, Puerto Mont, Puerto Varas and the Chilean Patagonia but never about the northern part of this country. It was until I started planning my exchange that me and my friends started doing a little more thorough research with people who had spend a little more time in Chile or who had actually lived there that we started to hear of this place more frequently.

It was because of this reason that we left this trip to be the last one; we didn’t really consider it as a “must”. A group of other international girls had actually visited Atacama first and told us all sorts of amazing things about it. That it was beautiful and the most amazing place they had ever been, still, with all this comments and reviews I was still skeptical of how incredible it actually could be. Naively, I considered I had been to and seen a lot of remarkable places, and looking at some of their pictures I didn’t really think it was that special after all… boy was I wrong.

Me and my other 2 Mexican girlfriends started to plan our trip without really knowing much of the place. We booked the plane to Calama and we knew it was a little way from there to Atacama. We started talking to couchsurfing people and we actually contacted one guy who lived sort of in the outskirts of Atacama, but we thought it wouldn’t be that bad to walk for around 15-20 minutes to get there everyday if that meant we could save some money; again, we didn’t know how wrong we were.

We got there in the late afternoon, and for the first time it was just us girls traveling (we usually traveled with 2 other boys) but we were confident and weren’t really worried we were going to stay with some guy we had contacted on the web. When we got to Atacama, after taking a 2-hour bus from Calama, this actually really nice guy went to pick us up with his bike and we walked back to his home from the tiny bus station. It was around 20 – 30 minutes of walking, in an almost complete darkness because Atacama is a really, really small town; there aren’t any type of buildings or big houses or lots of people or really anything there, so the start of our trip wasn’t really surprising or exciting. The only thing we could really appreciate were the stars in the sky. Because there are almost no city lights or any lights for that matter, the sky is absolutely amazing. I had heard that one of the main space observatories, the ALMA, was placed in Atacama, and I could definitely see why.

Long story short, the guy we had contacted lived in a 2 room concrete square, in the middle of a practically deserted town. One room had his bed, a computer and what seemed to our paranoid minds as a portable mini drug lab and the other room, “our” room, a set of drums and a carton like bitten mattress, which was our accommodation for the night. Without getting into much detail we obviously tried to be as friendly as we could with this young man who had offered to share his tiny living quarters with us. We also pretended we were absolutely cool with him inviting some friends over to what we though would be a gathering to get either drunk or high but politely excused ourselves as being very tired and proceeded to lock ourselves in the tiny concrete room in complete silence; each one of us not wanting to say a single word about our fears of being surrounded by unknown, probably drunk, guys. We were completely sleepless, scared, and ready to attack anyone who even tried to enter our room. Of course nothing bad happened, but after managing to get 2, probably 3 hours of sleep we literally escaped running the next morning at around 6 am, leaving a note saying that we decided to start our tours early, which also gave us enough time to afterwards make up an excuse that wouldn’t sound too mean to explain why we never got back… So yeah our start in Atacama wasn’t really an ideal one.

That morning, after waking up at 6am we probably arrived to the center of town, or its main 3 blocks, at around 7am. We walked around for a little while until we found a hostel that seemed good enough and was still cheap. When the lady in the entrance told us we could actually access our room since that early hour we went in running. We paid around 15 dollars per night, which seemed like a great deal after the terrible experience we had just had. We decided to rest for a while, and then walk around town asking and comparing prices of the different tours we could take.

Basically all the touristic offices offer the same excursions, and they have either an early morning or a mid afternoon schedule. We realized it was too late to take a morning tour, since they all departed very early, but we could still take an afternoon tour to the Laguna Cejar, in which we were told to bring our bathing suits, even if it was winter there, because the main attraction was arriving to a lagoon that was so salty you floated, like in the dead sea.

We got back to the hostel and packed our things for the visit and from that moment on this trip turned out to be indescribably breathtaking. I couldn’t imagine that just by driving for around 20 minutes away from the cute-but-simple little town you could get to see these absolutely mind-blowing landscapes. I don’t know if it was because I was so not expecting it, but I seriously felt like I had never seen such wonderful and beautiful colors in my life. Everything seemed like a dream. Seriously I could not believe my eyes, the sky and the water mixed and reflected into one and created the most fairylike places ever.

This first tour was my favourite by far, we did go into the floating lagoon, even if it was totally freezing, but we just couldn’t go without getting to say we had swam, or rather floated in the saltiest of waters. This, by the way, is not refreshing or cool at all, I mean it is great to float without an effort, but because of the amount of salt you cannot actually swim or get your head wet unless you want to experience extreme discomfort and allover dryness in your skin and eyes. After that we went to another place nearby and waited for the most beautiful sunset ever, by dawn I knew I was completely in love with this place.

We were in Atacama for a total of 5 days (from Friday to Tuesday) so more like 3 if you leave out the traveling hours of the first and last days. Still, this was just enough time for us to do most of the must-do tours. After the Laguna Cejar we got to visit the Laguna Tebenquiche, the Lagunas Altiplanicas, the Piedras Rojas, el Salar del Talar, el Valle de la Muerte, the Valle de la Luna and the last day we went to the night tour to see the stars through telescopes (which by the way was one of the coldest nights of my life so if you come here in winter please be prepared to freeze).

The only thing we didn’t do which we later kind of regret was visit the Geiser del Tatio, still, instead of doing that one we decided to rent some bikes and sand boards and went on our own to the sand dunes and it was absolutely amazing. Riding my bike through the highway in the dessert, with the most beautiful landscape around me felt like the most liberating, peaceful and thrilling thing ever. I was as happy as I could be. I have always loved doing sportive activities so for me this was ideal. Being able to bike around town, at our own pace, and just enjoying everything was fantastic.

We turned out to be not so skilled in the actual sandboarding, but just the whole experience was worth everything to me. We ended up exhausted of course, we slept like babies every night but I was just so happy, I even considered coming back and staying there for a longer period of time. The guy who we rented the bikes and sandboards from actually invited us to work for him and I had never been so tempted to stay anywhere else in my life.

I could write a million words just to try to describe the beauty of San Pedro de Atacama, but as a personal experience I just know you have to be there to actually take it all in. You can also take infinite pictures, which we did, to try and share or remember the beauty, but these are not even half of the magnificence of being there. I had never been so astonished by any place in my life. Seriously I could go on forever on the splendor of this place, but I don’t want to set the highest of standards either, because after us, we convinced some of our friends to visit this place and they weren’t even half as amazed as we were, so I guess its a matter of perception.

For me, this trip is definitely one of the best ones of my life, through and through. Atacama is a place for nature lovers, people who enjoy a beautiful landscape or just a peaceful place. After being here I’m glad its actually not so known or popular, its part of its magic. If you want to enjoy the beauty of the earth, far from buildings, cities or crowds please come here, you won’t regret it, I know I never will.

Backpacking to The End of the World

Chilean Patagonia

Ever since we got to Chile one of our main longings was being able to travel to the Chilean Patagonia. We new we just had to go to the “End of the World” because we had heard wonders of Torres del Paine and it just seemed so cool to get to know the last piece of land all the way to the south of our continent. We figured out the available dates we had to be able to go with our 2 Mexican boyfriends who studied at a different university than us, and with whom we had already been traveling and got along super well, so the moment we knew we had a long weekend we started looking for flights. We probably bought our flight to Punta Arenas around a month before we left, so we had some time to plan our stay of about 5 days there. We decided we were going to do couchsurfing so I started to send requests to the approximately 30 people who lived there. I found a guy in Punta Arenas who was willing to accommodate the four of us for around 2 nights, and a family in Puerto Natales that worked as a tour agency and who just asked you to buy the tours from them as an exchange for letting you stay in their house. We had everything already set but it was a while later, right before we were supposed to leave when we figured out that it was better to arrive to Punta Arenas by plane and go directly to Puerto Natales by bus because that’s were all the touristic spots and tours left from, so we cancelled our stay in Punta Arenas.

The bus ride from Punta Arenas to Puerto Natales turned out to be around 4 hours, when we got there we walked around for a bit but there is really not much to see. Puerto Natales is a very little and calm town so we just walked around and took some pictures and then went right to our couchsurfing home. The house were we stayed at was of a Chilean family, conformed by a couple, their 13 year old daughter and a son who we just saw once. They dedicated their life to hosting backpackers so they had a pretty different family dynamic. Each night they had dinner with whichever group of travelers was visiting the place. At the same time as this was interesting and different we noticed it was difficult for their children because it was so unstable. Their daughter was so used to people leaving that she told everything so straightforward, she was not shy at all and she could seem a little mean, but it was understandable since she had to get used to strangers all over her house and in her bathroom and sharing all the common areas. The house was one of the dirtiest places we’ve ever been to. It was insane. The lend us a room with 2 bunk beds and a sofa, that had probably never been cleaned, and the whole house had a carpet but they had a dog who did whatever she wanted and I’m not sure they even cleaned after her. Still, it was free, so we didn’t complain; we got so many funny stories out of that house that it ended up being kind of cool at the end. We just had to contribute by preparing and buying one dish at dinner and help cook and clean the dishes, but this was not a problem at all for us.

We ended up buying two tours, one to one of the main glaciers, the Balmaceda, and the other to Torres del Paine. The first day we took the Balmaceda one, it left early in the morning and we went by boat to see it. It was so beautiful, we just saw it by boat though, because there was no way to get out and walk around end. After the boat we went to visit another glacier, the Serrano one, in which we actually had to hike for around a half hour until we got to take a closer look to it. After this the tour included a Chilean meal at a local restaurant and we got to meet some of the people that were in our tour. The tour was just half a day long so we got back to Puerto Natales around 5. We showered and changed and walked for a while in the town. The next day we had to get ready for the Torres del Paine tour and we were so excited because this was so famous and it was the one we had heard the most about. We visited La Cueva del Milodón first and did some other stops along the way until we got to the park. Unfortunately the weather was so bad, we had chosen the last day for this tour on the hopes on having nicer weather, but it ended up being worse so when we got to the Torres del Paine park there was so much mist and clouds that we couldn’t actually take any of the trademark Torres del Paine pictures. Still, we had a lot of fun, and we walked around the park and saw some of the ice broken from the glaciers and it was such an amazing place. I decided that I would love to go back and actually stay and camp in the park like a lot of people did, it was so beautiful and so untouched by men, I thought it was amazing.

When we got back to the house we were so tired, we just showered and had dinner and spent some time with the host family and talked to them about our day. We went to bed early again that day because we wanted to have some time to visit Punta Arenas the next day, because our flight left at night so we had the whole day to walk around. We got there around 11 in the morning and it turned out there was not much to see. We asked for the main landmarks and places to visit and we just went to a cemetery that was supposed to be famous because of a statue of “El Indiecito” but it was nothing special. The weather was also terrible, we walked and carried our bags through the cold and the rain so by the afternoon we just asked for a mall were we could eat something and walked there and stayed there for the rest of the day. We then decided to leave for the airport where we had to wait also for around 3 or 4 hours until our flight left. The airport was so small we didn’t have a lot to do either, but we had Internet so it was enough for us. We got back to Santiago so tired and very late at night.

This trip was definitely an awesome experience because it was the first time we did couchsurfing and we got to visit amazing places, but our expectations were so high that I think we didn’t enjoy it as much as we should have. Definitely the bad weather was a big factor in not being able to appreciate it to the fullest, but still, we tried to make the best of it. Looking back I loved all the places we visited but I think we should have researched a little bit more about the best tours and places to go, because we had no idea of all the things we could do and we just went along with whatever was in the way.

Patagonia is such an incredible region, I’m sure the Argentinian side is just as amazing as the Chilean. I loved the fact that its still so isolated, life is so simple and peaceful there and the natural landscapes are astounding. We got incredible pictures and I can just imagine how it would look with the sun shining. I would love to be able to go back and get to spend more time in the Torres del Paine natural park. You can just get so in touch with nature that I’m sure it must be amazing.

Road Tripping Through South Chile

“No road is long, with good company” 🚘❤️ (en Laguna De Laja)

As an exchange student in Chile, me and my 2 girlfriends and roomies decided to go on a road trip with two Mexican boys who we had met barely a month before, and it was the best and most rewarding decision ever. We almost didn’t have any money, but we decided this was the cheapest way to travel because we could sleep in the car, take food, clothes and everything we needed to survive with us. We took advantage of a long weekend from school and took a 5, almost 4-day trip to the south of Chile.

We lived in Santiago, and I wanted to get all the way down to Puerto Mont and Puerto Varas because I had already been there and I knew how beautiful it was. Unfortunately we discussed it and decided not to get that far south because we would have spent more of our limited time driving than we would actually experiencing the places we wanted to go, so we decided to travel as far south as Valdivia, and Pucón. We each took it as our mission to investigate the coolest places to stop in the way and with the help of some Chilean friends we kind of created a route.

We decided we would drive almost for a complete day, with a few stops, all the way down to Valdivia and then make the required and touristic stops on the way back. We had everything planned except for the rental of the car. Long story short we almost didn’t do this trip because all the car rental agencies we had heard about were very expensive and nobody had the initiative to look for any other places. Luckily, one of my roommates, approximately 3 or 2 days before we were supposed to leave, decided to take it upon herself to google rental agencies in Santiago, blessed be her organized soul. After finding crazy cheap prices compared to the ones of the well-known agencies, we chose one and even doubted the credibility of it. When we got to the rental place nobody wanted to give their credit card as insurance so I decided it was my turn to step in and finally make this trip possible. We rented the cheapest car and just registered one driver cause they charged extra for every other person and we wanted to spare every penny that we could.

Packing for our trip we prepared ourselves to sleep, eat and live in the car. We took food, blankets, pillows and everything we thought we could need.
The day we finally left for our road trip we started driving as early as we could and our first stop was at a vineyard in Santa Cruz. This was one of my favorite places of our trip because we just drove inside, wandered around in this beautiful place and no one even bothered to ask us why or what were we doing there. We had lunch and took a ton of pictures and got to know the whole place without paying a single dime. After that, we decided to drive without stopping until we got to our destination, Valdivia. I’m not exactly sure how many hours we drove but we got there in the early hours of the AM, around 3 maybe, it was rainy and foggy and nothing was opened so we just slept and froze in the car until the sun came out.
We wandered around, took more pictures and followed our road. We arrived in Pucón in the afternoon and we walked through the little town, which was super pretty and touristic.

For the sleeping arrangements, again, my organized friend had requested a place to crash to different people in couchsurfing, but being that we were 5 people it wasn’t so easy to find any takers. Still, being as lucky as we always were, she contacted someone who rented a huge cabin in the woods, with 2 rooms, a fire, kitchen and hot showers for around $8 dollars per person, per night and we stayed there for two nights. When we got to the cabin we thought we had reached heaven because we were so cold, so dirty and so tired of no sleeping and driving the whole day.

The next day my guy friends went on an excursion to climb the volcano and me and the girls went to walk in the Huerquehue National Park, we walked about 14 km so when we got back to the cabin, all of us, we were exhausted.
The next day we started our driving back, stopping anywhere we wanted. We got to stop in the most beautiful little towns, they were so beautiful to see because, being autumn, all the leaves looked golden and filled the floor and the trees and the road and it just looked like a postcard. We also saw many lakes and even a rainbow. Our final most important stop was in Laguna de Laja, we had lunch there and took our time to walk around and enjoy the lake view. On the way back we even stopped in the middle of the road to take the most amazing road pictures, with the volcano behind us, it was all so cliché.

We arrived back in Santiago again in the early morning, around 5 am and we were so beaten but so happy. We took the car back later that day and everything went fine with the deposit.

Looking back now I know how crazy and rushed our trip sounds like, but in the moment it was perfect. This trip lasted only 5 days but those were 5 of the better-lived days of my life. We were so free to do absolutely whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted in the most carefree way, it was amazing. Everything that could have gotten wrong didn’t, actually everything was the best-case scenario. Even if we sometimes froze to death, slept in a car or didn’t sleep at all, we enjoyed all of the rides and the places so much. It is so true when they say that traveling is not the destination, but the journey itself. Doing my first road trip with this other 4 people who are now my family I learned so much. I realized that you literally just have to take the initiative and do it. Leave. Rent a car, buy a ticket, take a train. Just get up and trace a route and leave with whoever is willing to go with you.