Yes, I did make it home alive, and the 36-hour journey went surprisingly smoothly all things considered – “all things” including the fact that I had to cross three different airports in three different countries before reaching Heathrow; the fact that I hadn’t come prepared for the usual airport security paranoia about liquids not in a resealable plastic bag (luckily this didn’t matter, oh South America I love you); and the fact that I had inadvertently left a set of cutlery in my hand luggage, knife included (again airport security didn’t bat an eyelid, and I didn’t even pick up on this fact til I got home).
I was pleasantly surprised with all 3 of my flights; even the short one provided us with snacks (always a bonus) so I barely even needed my pre-prepared ham sandwiches (better safe than sorry, though), and I finally had the time to watch Skyfall on the flight from Lima to Sao Paolo, which almost made it worth having the kerfuffle of having to make all those changes. I arrived at Heathrow at 3pm English time, not even all that exhausted, just happy that mum was there on time this time (when I arrived back from India she was half an hour late and I thought she’d forgotten to pick me up, bad parenting) and in a general transient state where I had no real idea what the time or day was.
We drove home, quickly stopping to drop off my contract at the Carisma offices for my forthcoming job in France (only 10 days now until I’m off again), and the rest is a boring haze of doing washing (well, mum doing the washing) and unpacking (not that I’ve really unpacked).
I’ve been back a few days now and had a bit of time to reflect on the trip, as you do, and I think now more than ever I’m so so happy that I made the decision in the first place. Yes it was a bit last minute, and yes at the time it was a big and scary and the whole thing seemed a bit insurmountable, but ultimately I’ve come out the other side so much more independent and confident and able to do pretty much anything, it feels like. I couldn’t speak Spanish, I’d never organised my own trip before (we had Matt to do that for us when we went to Europe in the Summer); I’d never got a taxi on my own let alone an aeroplane; I’d never checked into a hostel alone before or had to navigate a new city on my own – I could go on for hours listing things that I did for the first time in the last seven weeks, and I seriously think it’s been the most valuable aspect of my gap year so far in terms of my own personal development (now there’s a corny phrase).
Basically I’m massively proud of myself for doing it and living to tell the tale, and I think more so because I didn’t organise it through a tour company or an agency – yes, because it was cheaper by and large, but also because I feel like it’s much more of an achievement to have been forced to organise things under my own steam, seek out my own plans and have to meet new people everywhere I went. I’m also really happy about the budget that I managed to stick to – roughly £1700 for the entire trip including flights – because it meant that it was a lot more of a challenge than it would have been had I had money to burn. I was forced to look into alternative ideas as to accommodation and entertainment – I might never have gone to the farm in Ecuador had I not been doing it on such a shoestring; I might never have stayed in the hostels I did and met the people I did. It was definitely a good thing for me, and good for my bank balance too (I still have a bit left to change into some Euros for France, result!)
A lot of people ask the question, does it feel weird to be home, and the answer is surprisingly no. I’m really glad that I’ve come back precisely at the time when everybody has been back from uni, so I’ve had that to distract me from the fact that no, I’m no longer on this fantastic other continent; but actually for once it has been nice to come back and relax and not be constantly on the move (I say “for once” because every other time I’ve returned from doing something else it’s always been a bit of a let down to be home after about a day, I suppose just because home is so very different). However I’m definitely glad that I’ve got France to look forward to because I think without that on the (very near) horizon I would definitely be in danger of sinking into some sort of rut of inactivity, especially after everyone goes back for their third term of university – it’s always hard not to after feeling like you’ve been packing so much into every day for such a long time that you need a break from it.
Even so I’ve got plenty to do before I head off to France: make scrapbooks or photo albums of both my time in India and South America; start packing and buying things for a summer in France; decorate my room with South American miscellany, the list goes on…
For now though, I’ll just put a selection of the best photos up on here for you to browse at your leisure.
|on the farm: before photo|
|on the farm: after photo|
|At the equator|
|The adorable calf… which we later ate|
|The Pailon del Diablo waterfall|
|Cycling to the hot springs in Banos|
|Flower market in Cuenca|
|Hiking round Cajas national park|
|First look at Lobitos, Peru|
|Helping Alexander make his jewellery|
|Unwitting and excited, at the start of the Inca trail|
|Highest point of the Inca Trail|
|Incredible view from the campsite on day 2|
|The final Inca site before Machu Picchu|
|Showering in a waterfall|
|At the Kuelap ruins, Chachapoyas|
|The aftermath of the paint party in Huanchaco|
|In the “Extreme Fun Pub”, Uyuni|
|Bolivian salt flats|
|Our perspective photos weren’t that great…|
|On the Isla del Pescado (salt flat island with many many cactuses)|
|…many many cactuses|
|Famous “tree rock”|
|Laguna Colorada, famous red lake|
|The awesome train graveyard|
|Llama foetuses in the witches market, La Paz|
|View from our balcony on the Isla del Sol|
|Sunbathing on the Isla del Sol|
|Rowing to the island|
|Sunset on the lake|
|Walking up the hill to catch the sunset|
|Dynamite and alcohol in Potosi|
|Much easier to get in than to get out|
|Holding some dynamite in the mine|
|The group pre-Death Road, Bolivia|
|All kitted up|
|Apparently Death Road’s most dangerous corner|
|The end, all still alive, with our snazzy new “I survived Death Road” tshirts|