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.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazca_Lines

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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.

Summer Trip: Backpacking through Europe

 

“I would definitely live out of a backpack, if it meant I could see the world.”

🎒 Backpacking was definitely one of my best traveling experiences. Even if it wasn’t an easy one, I learned so much throughout the whole process.

Starting out with not-so-simple steps as planning and booking all of our transportation, I found out it is not as easy as people would think. It gets even more complicated when you travel in a group. I traveled with 3 other people so since the beginning we had to agree on dates, countries, cities, and towns we would visit, which was nearly impossible. Everyone wanted to visit a certain specific place, so we had to do our best to design a plan in which everyone got to visit their dream countries, as well as the typical and most famous tourist attractions in a 25 day-span. Not to mention also getting in touch with our European friends and try to accomplish a plan in which we could visit their home cities and get them to accept to host 4 semi-strangers in their house.

When you manage to get this figured out you still have to pack and prepare for it. Find the right backpack, pack enough but not too much, fitting everything inside your bag, prepare for all types of weather and still consider some extra space for souvenirs is definitely not easy when you know you will have to carry everything you need literally on your back.

Even as it is difficult, I found this process exciting, not the planning part, but the packing one. Deciding which clothes to take, which shoes will make you more comfortable, what shirts you want to remain forever in your pictures and which ones are the easiest ones to coordinate with all your shorts/jeans/leggings, as well as preparing for any random situations gets you all shaky and excited for the unknown in the good way. I love the idea of traveling only with what you can carry, because this way you realize how much you can live without. You start in a simpler way, a free and carefree way. Also, afterwards, you realize you will not travel to the end of the world, so pretty much anything you forget, you can buy it wherever you are going.

Throughout our trip I learned how much all our planning was helpful to keep us from being stranded in only one country. Of course not everything went as planned. We ended up in random towns, and either extending or shortening our stays in different cities because of fully booked trains and hostels. Even so, we were lucky enough to visit Europe before the actual summer vacation days started, so even if a lot of our planned trains were already full, we managed to find similar ones and still get to the places we wanted, even if not in the actual hour or date planned. Traveling by the cheapest way we could find was crazy; we slept at train stations in the freezing cold, spent 16 hours in a boat without a seat, shared an all night-train cabin with two ladies and a crying baby in the hottest night of our lives, showered in bathrooms at stations or not showered at all for days at a time… Kebabs and Milka became my go to diet plan, which I don’t regret for a single moment, even if it cost me some extra kilos and hours at the gym on my way back. McDonalds turned into our second home, the free WIFI and cheap meals beat the hatred you may have for globalized food chains; it certainly did for me and my friends never had a problem with their euro burgers (plus they sell the cheapest and best macaroons in France).

Also, being the young and cool but also smart and cultivated people we decided we were, we took it as our mission to manage to visit all the cultural, important places, as well as the best recommended clubs, and pub-crawls, or even any pubs or clubs that we could find. We spent a whole night in the freezing streets of Amsterdam, pub-crawling because we couldn’t find a hostel to stay in, visited the biggest club in Prague and managing to walk back to our hostel in the middle of the night, even after one of my friends got lost in the way, tried the best pizza of our lives in one of the most expensive organized pub crawls in Rome, experienced the night beach life in Barcelona and found a club out of the blue, far far away of the city by taking a random bus filled with other crazy students in Florence; all of this at the same time as we were waking up at 9:00am in the morning to manage to have enough time to visit all the necessary museums, landmarks, castles, buildings, parks and statues we were told we just had to visit. Looking back I don’t even know how we managed to get it done, it was insane, but oh-so perfect.

After this trip the people I travelled with, we were family; we laughed, we cried, we fought, we fell apart and got together again, we drank, we danced, we ate like crazy, we took care of each other… Everything was so intense; I would not change it for the world.
For me backpacking was one of the best experiences of my life. This journey throughout Europe was the first time I travelled so far, to so many places, with people who weren’t my family, in the cheapest way possible, and I fell in love with it. I found that this is the right way to travel, to try to experience as much as you can out of a place is the best way to do it. I don’t care if I have never been as tired as I was after that trip, it was definitely the one that convinced me that this is the way that I want to live my life, backpacking, as far as I can, with whoever is willing to go with me. Because even if you go with people who are not so close to you, you end up sharing so much that you create closer ties with them than with anyone else before.

 

Spain

Spain was the last country we visited in our backpacking trip. We were first in Barcelona and then in Madrid.

I think Barcelona is an amazing city, it is true when they say it’s a city for the young. It has a lot of night life and places to go. I also really liked all the Gaudí designed places; for me it was really cool how culture and art mixed with modern life.

In an unfortunate way, Madrid, as our last city, was the one we experienced the least. By this time, after almost a month of traveling, we were so beaten up. We could barely manage to visit any of the touristic places and actually enjoy them. We were so absolutely tired that I don’t even remember clearly what we did there. I remember liking it, and thinking that Spain had so much museums and cultural places, but we didn’t get to visit them. I would have loved to spend a little more time there to be able to actually get to know this cities.

Italy

🇮🇹 Italy is a country full of beautiful and different cities. It’s so filled with art and history that you learn so much from any of the places you decide to visit. Weather wise I spent some of the hottest days of my life there, summer days are insane; I felt I was literally melting, but still it was so worthy.

Rome is so crazy, as capitals are known to be. There are so many places to visit and so much history inside of it. In my opinion its a beautiful city but too hectic to live in. There are people all day, locals and tourists alike, filling the streets. In my opinion its a little too “fast”, you get extra tired of trying to visit every place it has to offer. As a tourist it leaves you exhausted, even as it teaches you so much. Places like the coliseum, and the Fontana di Trevi are breathtaking, but I would prefer to spend more time in some other of its more peaceful cities.

Florence was my absolute favourite one. Since the fist time I visited it, I fell in love with the amount of art it contains. There are painters, artists, and artisans filling all of its streets, its amazing. Its an all over beautiful city, I loved the vibe of it, and every inch of it. Being there I wished I could live in it some day, and one of my backpacking friends actually did. She returned a year after to spend 6 months living there and she told me she fell even more in love with it.

What I loved about Italy is that we got to visit not so touristic places like Verona, which were enchanting in their own way. This little towns all over Italy all have their charm, so I think this is a country definitely worth visiting for a long period of time. I didn’t really get to spend any time with locals, which I regret, but overall its a beautiful artistic country.

France

I’ve been to Paris twice in my life. It’s the only city in France i know and the first european city I ever visited.

As cliched as it may sound I was in love with Paris since my first visit. It was so different from any other city I had ever been to. Everything was so classy, so artistic, so pretty. The first time I went there I didn’t have time to take all the Eiffel Tower/Louvre Museum/Pont des Artes pictures I wanted because I visited it in a guided tour trip with my whole family. Even so, I was so in awe by all its beauty I knew I had to go back.

The second time I didn’t make the same mistake and I planned for my trip to paris to be as long as it could, within the limits of my month-long backpacking Europe trip. I was there for around 5 or 6 days in which I woke up at 9 and slept at around 11 at a far away and kind of dangerous hostal. I got to visit so many beautiful places I hadn’t before. The Orsay museum was by far one of my favourites, I never did like the Louvre that much. I got to take a million pictures of the Eiffel tower in every possible angle. I even had some spare time to visit not so touristic places like Beautes Chaumont park and I got to spend the most wonderful afternoon just looking at people pass by at the Luxembourg park. I loved feeling like I wasn’t that much of a tourist by being able to travel by subway, every day, and getting to know not so popular places in a carefree way. Paris is filled with so many beautiful spots, you can never get tired of it.

The only place we visited that was not technically inside of Paris, but a must in every guide, was the Versailles Castle. This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. Its so amazing you can cry, literally. I don’t know if its just for me but every inch of this palace screamed beauty. I don’t think im exaggerating because even now, as I remember it, I cannot think of enough words to describe how amazed i was by it. I loved it. Maybe because I was so young the first time I went there, and it didn’t resemble anything I had ever seen, or because of its immense gardens and my love for nature, i don’t know, i just know since the first moment I saw it, it became officially one of my favourite places in France, in Europe, in the world.

These 6 days were some of the most tiring of my trip, but at the same time they were some of the best. I got to show my friends around a city I had already visited, but that I already loved, and visit whole new beautiful and new places for me in a different light. I would love to visit other cities in France, just to make sure I am not missing out on anything as magical as Paris is.

My First Exchange Experience in Sunshine Coast, Australia

“All glory comes from daring to begin.”

The first time I traveled by myself, I went 14,359 km away from home. I spent a semester as an exchange student in Sunshine Coast, Australia and I chose this country because I thought I’d never travel so far any other way. I was also very drawn to the whole relaxed surfing, first world-high quality of life vibe that this country was known for.

I was seventeen years old and decided to join the exchange program my high school, back in Mexico, offered me. I traveled with a group of 13 Mexicans whom I’d actually never met before (we were all from different states) and one teacher who was in charge of us during the whole trip. Our school arranged for all of us to arrive with local host families, and I was lucky enough to live in one of the nicest and better located homes. Besides my host parents, who were originally from New Zealand, I got to live with another exchange student, a 15-year old German girl who was also doing a six-month program, and who turned out to be one of the sweetest and nicest girls. She and I had a lot in common and we actually became really close friends. We still keep in touch even to this day.

This first traveling experience was definitely hard and challenging at first. I was so nervous about leaving my whole life behind, it seemed to me like the biggest deal. I was going to be missing so many family events, friend’s birthdays and important dates; trading it all for the complete unknown. I actually cried at the airport when I said goodbye to my parents and felt extremely nervous during the whole four-hour flight to Los Angeles, the 16-hour flight to Brisbane and the 45-minute drive to Sunshine Coast, where my new Australian home was. I didn’t know what would be expected of me, how I was going to get by, if I was going to get along with these new bunch of people I’d just met, it was all really overwhelming.

The first few weeks were definitely the toughest. Getting used to a whole new life can definitely be overwhelming. Also, I’ve always been kind of a shy, quiet person, so it represented a huge challenge for me to actually try and force myself to make new friends.  I had to convince myself a lot of times that it was all going to be fine, even if six months seemed like a lifetime, and even if I felt completely alone and lost at first. Fortunately, I eluded that dreaded homesick feeling most of the other foreign exchange students got in the first few days.

It would take ages for me to write everything I experienced, so here are some of the basics and highlights:

  • I attended the 12th grade in Mountain Creek State High School.
  • I rode a bike everyday (as best as I could, falling down only twice) from my home to my school and lived at walking distance to the beach.
  • I only took ONE surfing lesson in my whole exchange.
  • I gained approximately 5kg (11 pounds) in my six month stay. This seemed like the end of the world then but I consider myself lucky now that I deliberate on just how many Tim Tams, arroz con leche, cookies, muffins, nutella, brigadeiro and crazy amount of delicious cereal and muesli I ate. Also, most of my other exchange girl friends gained around twice as much as I did; turns out this is a very common inconvenience of going abroad.
  • I became a sweet chilli addict.
  • I tried vegemite and didn’t like it.
  • I learned to take off my shoes when I went into my house, and that it is strangely, country-wide permitted in Australia to be barefoot anytime, and anywhere you want. I thought this was really, really cool.
  • I got to see my favorite musician of all time, John Mayer, live for the first time, with 4th row tickets in his Brisbane gig of the Battle Studies tour. This almost brought me to tears and complete shock and disbelief and I still get excited just remembering it. Dream come true, bucket list item, best day of my life.
  • I got to travel to Fiji with some of my Mexican friends in a really peculiar, last minute unplanned trip. The type of trip where you just go to a travel agency and ask for the cheapest plane tickets/vacation deal you can get, and buy it right there and then. Even quirkier when we got to Fiji penniless because of all the money we had already spent on the plane and accommodations so we ended up eating noodle soup every day for dinner, in some totally luxurious hotel.
  • I realized how little you can do in Australia as a minor (under 17) and after celebrating my 18th birthday there, realized that being legal is not that much fun either if all of your friends are still minors.
  • Saw one too many bags of Goon and still managed to stay sober during my whole stay.
  • Realized that Latino people, we have so much in common and do have the party within us.
  • Within Australia, I got to visit the Great Barrier Reef (beyond beautiful), Sydney, Brisbane and Surfers Paradise.

Funnily enough, after living for a while in Australia I realized that the relaxed vibe I was searching so much for wasn’t exactly what I wanted out of my life. At least not at that time. People in Australia, at least in Sunshine Coast, are really and truly calm and chill people. Surf is what’s going on in most of those places and its so nice to see that everyone has a peaceful life. Still, I decided that I missed the hectic, crazy pace of my country.

By the last few months of my exchange I was already so happy there. I had everything I needed: best friends, a sister, a boyfriend, a family, a routine, a beautiful home by the beach. I had this whole new life, and I’d already grown so accustomed to it. Consequently, when it was time to leave I went crashing down. Unfortunately for me I was the one who got to say goodbye to every last one of the exchange students. My flight was one of the last ones to leave so I cried as hard as I hadn’t cried before in a very long time. I said goodbye to my best friend, to my sister, to my Mexican new family, to my boyfriend and to my host parents, not knowing if I was ever going to see them again. To this day, this is still one of the strangest and saddest feelings I’ve ever experienced. People you love still existing, but so far away from you that they stop seeming real. It’s really surreal and tragic.

I think I was lucky enough to stay behind in Australia long enough to realize that what had made my stay there wasn’t really the country, or the city itself, it was the people I had met. As I went around Sunshine Coast in my last few days, when I was already alone, I felt so ready to leave. Not one of the places I visited meant anything to me if I didn’t have my friends to share them with. The Australia I had so close to my heart was restricted to a time frame, and a people-frame. I was ready to go back home.

My exchange to Sunshine Coast definitely turned out to be one of the most wonderful experiences. It went far and beyond everything I had hoped for. While I was still living there, I actually thought that it was all too good to be true, that I didn’t deserve so much; looking back at it I kind of still do.

This first long trip of mine taught me so many things. It taught me to conquer my fears, to try my best to settle into a completely foreign space. To be open to meeting so many new and different types of people. To respect and love other countries and nationalities. It showed me my personality and gave me a whole new sense of nationalism. It gave me character and a new sense of independence. It brought me friends and people I love that, even though at the time we said goodbye it seemed like I’d never see again, I have actually met several times after, and its like we never were apart.

Coming back to Mexico after my exchange was also kind of disorienting and unreal. When I left I had the idea that so many things were going to change while I wasn’t home, and it actually turned out that everything stayed the same. It was as if I’d never left. This was both good and bad because it wasn’t hard for me to go back to my routine. I still had high school to attend to, I hung out with my same best friends and our friendship was still as great as before I left. Still, this all still felt kind of wrong. I was beginning to forget my life back in Australia and I hated that. I still tried to keep in touch with all of my friends but we were all back to our homes in every corner of Mexico, of the planet.

Little by little I just had to accept the fact that it was all over, that whenever I saw my friends from Sunshine Coast we’d all reminisce the time we spent there, but that our lives were now different. It all sounds so tragic and dramatic but for me it really was, still is. Now that I’m older I’ve learned to grow accustomed and accept this type of feelings, but at that time if was definitely very weird and hurtful to me. Still, it was because of this experience that I decided that I wanted to keep experiencing new places and meeting new people.

My exchanged in Australia definitely marked my life because after it, I fell in love with this new way of travel. In staying a longer period of time in a different place, in challenging yourself and discovering new cultures. Into getting closer with new cities and people, even if this meant that you’d miss it all deeply afterwards. This trip changed me because, even if after I’d gotten back home it all seemed like a dream, it definitely was the best one I had ever had.