Tag Archives: Venezuela

The Dollar Challenge: What will a buck get you in every Latin American country?

Bee Says: Before we went travelling, we got a few nice farewell gifts. For example, Nick’s dad gave us two identical emergency blankets, which luckily we could return to him unused at the end of our trip. Meg got me a nifty pink Leatherman and a super strength head torch. My favourite gift of all was from my good friend (and now member of Team Bridesmaid) Kerry. She works in a bureau de change, and knows ever-y-thing about currency and foreign moneys. She had the genius idea of presenting us with 15 dollar notes before we left; one for each country we would be visiting and she set us the great dollar challenge. We were to report back on what we felt was the best purchase we made for a dollar in each country. Not only was this just a really interesting project to keep us out of trouble, but it also really helps to highlight the strength of the dollar in different countries and the comparative wealth between them. So thank you Kerry for being such a smart cookie – check out her lovely Leeds foodie blog here, and we hope you (and everyone else) enjoy the results.

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1. VENEZUELA – GUARAPITA OVERLOAD

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Bee Says: Ah Venezuela, the first country we visited and which remains right in the top spots of our all-time favourite destinations. Whilst we were there, the exchange rate wobbled massively in our favour and meant it was the richest we were in any country. While the official rate was 10 bolivars to the pound, and 7 to the dollar, the black market had exploded and gave us rates of 50 bolivars to the pound and 35 to the dollar. To put this in context, a beloved bottle Polar beer cost around 30p! But our first winner for the great Dollar Challenge had to be our discovery of guarapita. Whilst flicking nervously through our South America on a Shoestring guide book on the flight to Caracas, my magpie eyes spotted a recommendation for a local Venezuelan cocktail; a combination of rum with passion fruit. On our last night in Puerto Colombia, we decided we had to go seek out this mysterious drink and see what all the fuss was about. I marched up to a van selling booze on the street and ordered two guarapitas (in my fumbling just-off-the-flight Spanish) and the guy behind the bar lifted out TWO huge litre bottles of orange stuff. Realising my mistake I quickly explained I only wanted two CUPS of guarapita. This was still misunderstood as I was passed a litre bottle with two empty plastic beakers! I was about to explain further, when the chap told me the price and the litre bottle cost… yup! About 75cents.

As you can see from the very legitimate old Russian Vodka bottle it came in, guarapita is brewed in someone’s back garden and certainly tasted as you’d expect. Heavy on the rum, less so on the fruit. We sat on a low wall next to the harbour, watching the sunset and the birds swoop and the locals coming out to dance on the street to music that an old car was playing from a huge sound system. One glassful had our cheeks rosey. Two glassfuls had our hearts thudding and by glass number three we both swore we could feel our hangovers already creeping in; so we donated the rest to some people next to us and staggered back to our hostel.

2. BRAZIL – HOT SAUCE SAVIOUR

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Nick Says: While the World Cup may be coming to an end, it’s been great to see images of Brazil on TV and all over the place for the last few weeks. Particularly Manaus, where we got to spend a week or so whilst waiting for our boat down the mighty Amazon. But we found Brazil a fair bit more expensive than Venezuela, thanks to the fact it isn’t in such dire economic and political turmoil as its neighbour… However, most things were a bit more than a dollar here, until we shopped for last minute supplies for the boat ride at a supermarket  (Carrefour!) and found some bargain hot sauce. While the 4 day boat trip through the Amazon was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the entire trip for us, it was the hot sauce that got us through it. A meal of bland beans, rice, and either chicken or beef twice a day quickly becomes tiresome, unless you just happen to have a bottle of fiery pepper sauce lying around. Then you suddenly become everybody’s best friend – which isn’t a bad thing on a boat where robbery isn’t entirely unknown… But 4 days of hot sauce changed me as a man. Before I was a bit bemused to watch Bee slather every meal with it. Now I’m right there with her, drowning any carefully prepared culinary delight in hot sauce (habanero preferably).

3. BOLIVIA – MICRO 4, THE ENDLESS BUS RIDE TO DINOSAURS

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Bee Says: Bolivia took us from Sugar, to Salt, to Stars and then up to the witch markets of La Paz and the epic Incan terrain of Isla del Sol. Our money certainly went furthest in Bolivia, and we reached the end of our month in the country under budget. It occasionally felt like it was actually hard to spend money, and this is probably demonstrated best by our adventure on the micro 4! Before we left for our travels we had been given a few “Top things to see before you die”, “50 Best bits of the world” type travel books and it was in one of these that we learnt we could walk with dinosaurs in Sucre, Bolivia at El Parque Cretácico (Dinosaur Park!!!) In most of Bolivia one mode of transport is a “micro” – a small mini bus that drives a circuit of the town but that can drop passengers at other spots on route for a few extra Boliviano. The micro’s are varying in quality, we saw one with a hole in the floor through which you could watch the road zoom underfoot (!) but they are generally a cheap, safe(ish) and easy way to navigate the city. We knew the number 4 micro would take us to the Dinos, so hopped on and asked the driver, who nodded. Twenty minutes later, we pulled in to a millitary zone and it was clear this was the end of the line. The driver waved us off up a dirt path with no dinosaurs in sight. Eventually we stumbled across a beautiful palace like building, and as we entered we were told we were at The Castillo de la Glorieta. NO DINOSAURS HERE! I think maybe the driver had different ideas about the Bolivian culture we should be soaking up so had basically forced us to his favourite tourist spot? Either way we had a look around, meeting a group of school kids in there who ALL wanted their photos taken with the weird muy blanco foreigners! But, we really wanted dinosaurs, so we walked back to where our driver had dumped us and were told that yes, the parque was on the micro 4 route, but the opposite end of the line! We boarded a new 4 and 45 minutes later we had basically seen the whole of Sucre for about 60p and were finally at our desired destination.

4. CHILE – HAIRY LITTLE LLAMA MAGNET

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Nick Says: Chile has stated aspirations to be a ‘first world country’ in the next few years. It already feels like it’s there to be honest. It is the strongest economy in South America, and easily felt the most prosperous of all the places we visited. But as a result, it was also the most expensive of all the Latin American nations we went to. Making it even more expensive was the fact we had pitched up in San Pedro de Atacama – the major tourist destination in all of Chile. So while we managed to live as cheaply as possible (street food served in cage, delicious red wine from origin) it was pretty tricky trying to find something that matched the dollar challenge. But then we saw it, eyeing us up inside a tourist tat/artisan craft shop. It wanted to be bought. And it got its wish, and now lives on our fridge – becoming the Chile instalment of our other challenge, buying a fridge magnet from every country we visited.

5. PERU – HUANCHACO PIER (DAY OFF FROM BEING SICK…)

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Bee Says: Whilst we had some of our trip high points at Machu Picchu and Ollantaytambo, Peru wasn’t great to us for many reasons particularly Puno and the fact it will always be remembered as Poo-ru rather than Peru. When we weren’t frantically tag-teaming a toilet, we struggled to find much to write home about that cost less than a dollar. Tourism has hit Peru in a big way (its basically the new Thailand) and as such, prices reflect this. We had a nice day out in the sunshine in Huanchaco though, and we handed over a dollar for both of us to stroll around the creaky wooden pier. From here we stood for hours watching local lads fishing with bits of wire glued to a square of wood; which seemed to be working well for them judging from the splish-splashing buckets full of fish we saw.

 6. ECUADOR – PINK CATERPILLAR RIDE OF JOY (THE WINNER!!!!)

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Nick Says: We’d just taken a last minute decision to fly out to the Galapagos Islands, paid out a not-insubstantial amount of money to a tour agency (which we had no idea would be legit or not – but turned out to be amazing) for a 7 night cruise around the islands, and were now sitting eating a slice of pizza and drinking a beer while trying to get our heads round the fact we no longer had the money. Was it a good idea or not? Had we made a mistake? One beer led to another, and then we heard a rumbling along the road. Not much traffic goes past on the Galapagos, so we were pretty curious. But this curiosity turned to first disbelief, then incredible excitement once we saw the source of the rumbling –  a giant motorised pink caterpillar on massive wheels came zooming past. We looked at each other and nodded. We quickly grabbed our stuff and shouted, ‘let’s chase it!’ Which wasn’t the best plan as it was really quick. Finally we caught up with it as the next bunch of excited people (mainly children if I’m being honest) got on-board. We leapt on, ready to hand over any amount of money to ride the pink caterpillar (a phrase I never thought I’d write) and laughed with joy as the man asked for a dollar each for the privilege. We knew we had a winner before the ride even started, but the journey confirmed it. Putting peddle to the metal, we roared off on a whistle stop tour of Puerto Ayora. No stopping for you pedestrian! Out of my way giant tortoise! We rode on for what seemed to be miles, careering around corners like a bat out of hell. But then came the surprise ending. Pulling up at what we thought to be the finish, the driver then proceeded to doughnut the pink caterpillar in high-speed circles. We whooped at him to keep going. He obliged. What a dollar. A few days later as our cruise stopped by Puerto Ayora we talked most of our fellow passengers to hop and ride with us again. They loved it.

7. COLOMBIA – SECRET JUNGLE PAN AU CHOCOLAT

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234adc4c6a9c11e3838a1219189c01ee_8Bee Says: From our Galapagos adventuring where we spotted giant tortoises, swam with sharks and scampered about with blue footed boobys  (and pink caterpillars..!) next we hiked into the wilds of Colombia, spending some time camping in Tayrona National Park before celebrating Christmas in  40 degree hot hot hot Cartagena. Not being a natural adventurer, the one thing that tempted me into this remote jungle was the TRAVEL LEGEND that somewhere… deep beneath the canopies… was apparently the best pan au chocolate in South America. It’s hinted at in Lonely Planet and people who have visited Tayrona whisper hished directions to the bakery as they pass in hostels and bars. We ended up hitting jackpot with our campsite, as it was a mere 2 minute stroll (follow the irrisitable smell that starts wafting to your tent at 4.30am!) to pick up these giant chocolate loafy beauties, which fill you up all day for hiking and swimming. You could easily walk past the small shack serving up these unexpected delights, so to find them we had to follow the eau de chocolat with our nose; cartoon style. Forget yoga, stuffing my face with these was my number 1 happy place!

8. PANAMA – SOAP AT LAST

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Bee Says: By the time we hit Peru, our supplies of British shower gel had well and truly run out. We weren’t worried; after all we had managed to stock up on sun cream, shampoo and pretty much every other essential we needed whilst on the road. However, shower gel and soap were another matter entirely. For three long countries trekking, we just could not find anything! The odd shower gel we stumbled over would be imported from USA and cost about $20 a pop, so we had to sadly return it to the shelf and carry on our stinky sticky way. Panama was almost a dollar challenge bust; firstly because after our real-life-horror-story crossing the Darian gap, and Nick’s nasty back injury, we spent the majority of our time in a hotel room where nothing cost less than a dollar! Then one night I snuck out to purchase a few make-your-own-mini-bar snacks from a shop over the road and on the shelves were… SOAP! A real life bar of soap! And better yet, it cost $1. This beaut gave us a great deal of joy and lasted us all the way to Mexico, even if by then it was a scraggly slither of joy rather than in its original glorious form.

 9. COSTA RICA – SWEATY BORDER CROSSING COCONUTS

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Bee Says: Costa Rica heralded sloths, snakes, night hikes, the best Mexican food we would ever eat and… the WORST border crossing of the entire trip. We went through the main Panama/Costa Rica border crossing, at Paso Canoas. First we were herded into a little room where our names were ticked off and sniffer dogs smelt our bags (and cheekily pulled out some of my underwear!) before being herded back out again and into a massively long queue for an exit stamp. After a breezy hour or so, we were finally let out of Panama and allowed to queue up for Costa Rica entry/searches/waiting around for no real reason. That wait went on… and on… and on… and in total the border crossing took over 4 excruciating hours of standing around. As Nick said in our original post about Costa Rica: For those of you thinking backpacking is all beers on the beach, try standing around a sweaty border crossing for a few hours while men with guns ask you questions! When we had finally been allowed to enter Costa Rica officially, we were both feeling weary, wiped and woeful. And just then, a man approached us selling coconuts… 2 for a dollar! Suddenly travel life was on the up again.

10. NICARAGUA – BASEBALL ON BIG CORN

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Nick Says: Ah Nicaragua. Probably our favourite country on the entire trip. Whether it’s a visit to the gorgeous colonial city of Granada, going to the world’s weirdest museum in Leon, riding on a boat with pigs and meeting the incredible Ike on Big Corn, and of course getting engaged on the tropical island paradise Little Corn, this was a country full of adventures and stories. It was also fertile ground for the dollar challenge. Beer was a buck, lobster not much more, bus rides and museums were a dollar, but the winner had to be the baseball game we went to on Big Corn. One tiny island, four competitive teams all battling it out for the championship. Saturday night was baseball night. The standard is high – one Big Corn local had made it to the Major League in recent years. The atmosphere was amazing, all beers and reggae music blasting out. We paid our dollar equivalent entry and walked in. We saw 5 balls before the tropical storm that had plagued us for days strike one last time, and rain off the whole thing. Days later, once we were back from Little Corn and catching up with Ike once again, he told us about the rearranged game the night before – and that he had tried to get hold of us over on Little Corn in order to ship us back, put us up for free at his, and take us to the game as he knew how much we wanted to see it! What a guy. But luck was on our side, as the last game of the championship had been brought forward. I could go. Sadly for Bee she was laid low with illness (/engagement boozing hangover), so I dashed across the airfield, got into the stadium, grabbed some fried chicken and watched a classic. My team (North End) may have been beaten in the last innings, but the game had it all. The crowd had even more. Sign me up to next year’s games.

11. EL SALVADOR – DESPERATE TIMES MCDONALDS

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Bee Says: There’s not much to say about El Salvador as sadly we were so squeezed for time that we only passed through San Salvador and the only money we spent was on… McDs! We tried to avoid the golden arches on the majority of our trip, but on this occasion we’d been in a bus since 3am for over 10 hours with no food, and being forced to watch a really weird almost-porno movie in a tiny sticky mini bus going over pot holes… we just could not bring ourselves to travel far to scavenge for food. McDonalds winked at us as we pulled into San Salvador and we were powerless to resist. Luckily it made for a handy (predictable) dollar challenge winner, as it turns out they have the pound-saver menu everywhere and our cheeseburgers were $1. Fun fact; in McDonalds in Latin America they put jalapenos in the burgers instead of pickles.

12. HONDURAS – MARKET PLACE EARRINGS

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Nick Says: My solo trip to Honduras was pretty eventful. When not scampering about Mayan ruins, or drinking delicious German beer in a micro-brewery, I was trying to dodge fiery protests  and bribery requests at the border. In between all that though, I was able to take time to do a little bit of shopping in Copan Ruinas. A beautiful, if somewhat heavily patrolled by soldiers, town the market offered loads of goods for great prices. I managed to pick up these earrings with a dollar after buying a few other pieces from the friendly market stall trader, and got to treat Bee with them on my return. I think she liked them!

13. GUATEMALA – ONLY A BLOOMIN’ ENGAGEMENT RING!

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Bee Says: After rocking my finest biro-bling for the journey to Guatemala, we thought it was time to upgrade to something a lil snazzier (but still unlikely to make me a target of crime). I found this beautiful hand-carved two tone wooden ring in a trinket treasure trove in Flores, and yep – it was $1 exactly. Obviously the real deal once we got back cost a wee bit more but if it hadn’t been for the fact that by the time we returned to England this wooden number was pretty much rotting off my finger and smelling pretty funky… I might not have been so hasty to upgrade to diamond and sapphires!

14. BELIZE – THE ORIGINAL CINNABON

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Nick Says: Caye Caulker was one of the most photogenic parts of the trip. A Caribbean getaway, we kicked back here for a week before heading onto Mexico and the end of our time in Latin America. The big thing in Belize was the food. We’d been a whole heap of different things ‘you just gotta try’, and they certainly lived up to the hype. Eating in restaurants may have been a bit pricey on the island, but street eats were plentiful and bargainous. We had cakes a-go-go from a big friendly chef guy, fried fish, breakfast burrittos to die for, and ice cold Belikin beer to wash it down. But the number one food we were told to try by everyone was cinnamon rolls from one specific bakery on the back-streets. Open only for a few hours twice a day, the cinnamon rolls would normally be sold out in about 30mins. So we turned up a dutiful 15 mins early, camped out by the door, and rushed through a soon as the sign was turned round to ‘open’. Did we want frosting on them? the baker asked. We sure did. I can still taste them now, simply some of the finest cinnamon rolls I’ve ever eaten, and two of the for a dollar!

15. MEXICO – CHEESY CHURROS IS WRONG

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Nick Says: I can’t say we really saw a whole lot of Mexico, but we did see a mariachi band playing in a food court and drink tequila with Mexican businessmen in a hotel lobby. We also went to the mall a lot, and were tempted daily by churros – delicious deep fried doughnut treats loaded with chocolate, caramel, or cheese. Wait, what? Yep, who doesn’t want hot liquid cheese on the sugary snack? It looked wrong, and potentially illegal. And at $2 sadly out of the budget for the dollar challenge, so the cheesy tempter remained uneaten, and we satisfied ourselves with 2 regular churros for the same price – making them a dollar each.

The dollar really is the currency of the world, and it was amazing to see what  we could, and couldn’t, get with a buck. It added a fun game to the times when we had to tighten our budget, and I can’t thank Kerry enough for setting us up with the greenbacks. So, if you guys have found anything amazing for a dollar on your trips, please let us know!

 

South America Awards: 3 Month Review

    • Time: Three Months
    • Countries Visited: Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador & Colombia
    • Distance Travelled (total from UK): 25,781 km
    • Distance Travelled (in South America): 18,289 km
    • Time Spent On Buses: 7 Days
    • Time Spent On Boats: 10.5 Days
    • Time Spent On Aeroplanes: 1.5 Days
    • Items Lost/Broken/Stolen (Bee): The saddest was a beautiful “guiding star” brooch my sister gave me got pinched when I stupidly left it pinned to a hoody that got packed off for a rare laundry. I also lost my sunglasses (that lasted 10 weeks!) in Galapagos, replaced them, and lost the replacement pair within a day. I also somehow lost a pair of bikini bottoms, a pair of hiking socks and my conditioner.
    • Items Lost/Broken/Stolen (Nick): Still my poor watch, but I’ve also destroyed a second pair of sunglasses. Luckily a man walked up to me in the street in Cusco the following day and sold me a pair of genuine Ray-Bans at an unbelievable price. What do you mean they’re not real? He swore they were… Other than that pretty good so far, just the usual shampoos and shower gels left in hostels.
    • Injuries/Illnesses: 1 long Peru/Poo-ru fest of a nasty sickness that seemed never ending, ruining Nick’s birthday and ending with Bee in A&E in Ecuador. It turns out that everyone we have met since who has been to Peru got poorly at some point there so we are in good company.
    • Changes to Itinerary: 3 – Seeing Chile, taking the plunge and doing the Galapagos and then cutting down our time in Colombia from a month to 2 weeks due to sickness slowing us down.

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Q&A With Bee

Three Months In, How Do You Feel? By this point of the trip I have the best of both worlds. I have hit my stride with the travelling, the language and the accumulated confidence that I can do this and surprise myself with how far I can push my comfort zone. I don’t have any of the anxiety jitters that I still suffered a month in, mainly because we are travelling cautiously and so far have had pretty much entirely positive experiences in every country. It also feels like there is so much left to see, and I definitely am not getting jaded or overloaded by new experiences. Instead I wake up every morning with my mind whirring at what incredible things I will see or do or eat or drink! I guess the only change as we shift from having more time ahead, to more time behind us (sniff!) is that I can’t help but start to cast my mind forwards to how life will change once I get home. Travelling has given me such a precious opportunity to look at how I lived previously with a ton of distance and perspective. I feel like my brain has undergone a major re-shuffle and that I’ll now live differently and with slightly altered goals once I am back in the UK and plunging into the big bad what next. I also have a huge list in my notebook of ideas and plans and projects I hope to embark on once I am back. I think travelling gives you a giddy sense of grabbing the world with both hands and really shaking life up, which in turn makes me believe (whether its true or not) that once I am home... I can have more of an impact in life rather than just living day to day in a rat racey haze. The main concern is how will I cope when I don’t get to hang out with my best friend 24/7?

Biggest Lessons Learnt: That there are pigeons in every country and that more often than not, if you are told a hostel has Aguas Caliente (hot water) it will be an absolute lie. I think hostel owners know its a buzz-word with tourists and bound to lure you in, they then act super surprised when the hose with electric cables stuck to it doesn’t run warm. This happens to us ALL the time!

Best New Skills Aquired: Snorkelling… and the ultimate skill any backpacker needs: how to fit massive objects into tiny packages. Mozzie nets, sleep sheets etc all become huge when unrolled and then somehow need to be fitted back into a bag the size of a postage stamp.

Best Moment: This is such an impossible questions, so I don’t know why I’ve just written it. I will probably go with the snorkelling with a turtle experience. It’s closely rivalled by the hot springs on the salt flats, the amazon boat thunderstorm and crossing the equator on the Galapagos.

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Worst Moment: I think it says alot about the Ecudorian healthcare system that it wasn’t being in A&E! My worst moment was definitely our boat crossing back from Isla Isabela to Puerto Ayora on the Galapagos. The trip over to Isabela had been reasonably choppy (when they hand out sick bags to everyone, including locals, before you set off… it’s never a good sign) but I coped okay and managed to keep my breakfast in my belly. The return journey made the previous trip look like a jaunt on the swans at Alton Towers! From the second we hit the water, the waves were black and crashing over the sides of the boat. As we got deeper out to sea, the ocean only grew fiercer and I have never seen water look so hateful… churning and swirling and tipping our little boat side to side so much that the windows kissed the foam. By halfway, everyone except Nick who has the sea-legs of a pirate, was green. Then the puking started. Then the moaning. Every time the boat was spat out and slapped back down onto the waves, I felt my spine cracking. The only glimmer of good was when a huge wave crashed over the back, taking with it two huge sharks who avoided landing in our laps and leapt over. It was two hours that felt like two days. Back on dry land, I had to take a moment to kiss the ground. On the bright side, we had heard the Galapagos crossings can get choppy, as so many currents meet there, and maybe we wouldn’t have had quite the full experience if we hadn’t braved it for ourselves!

Best Place Stayed: For me it was Hostel Manaus. The atmosphere was just the right amount of boozy, social, inclusive and helpful. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was here we would meet some of the best friends of our trip and people on the most fascinating journeys. We met Eduard, a wonderful Dutch man who’d relocated from setting up a successful business in Rotterdam to move to the middle of the Amazon jungle and build a farm and eco hostel from scratch. We also met Gareth, who was making a documentary about kayaking 9000km around Brazil. We met a French journalist who was in Manuas to cover the progress of the world cup stadium (and whom I imagine life has just got very chaotic for given this weeks tragedy).  Everyone, without exception, was so friendly that all our evenings naturally followed the same routine: a huge cook-out in the communal kitchen with everyone offering up ingredients, followed by a rowdy roam down the road to share giant beers and travel tales. Something that I love about hostel life, and happened in Manaus, is that you can slope up somewhere in the morning, sleepy and unsure what to expect. By nightfall you can be socialising with 2 Brazilians, a French, Dutch, German and Canadian, making friends for life.

Worst Place Stayed: The shed in Galapagos that has no name. We were given the recommendation by our cruise guide when we mentioned we wanted a cheap night somewhere central. We wandered up to a garden gate, with a scrap of paper and the name of a woman. We don’t think we ever actually found her… but ended up sleeping in a shed, with no roof (but a huge plasma tv that didnt work…) that absolutely stank of pickles. Skyler fondly named it “the big mac shack” for us. The weirdest part was that there was an en suite bathroom, but every item such as the mirror, sink and toothbrush holder was CELLOTAPED to the wall. Oh and there were two guard dogs that took an instant dislike to us and terrorised us everytime we attempted to leave or arrive.

Best “Travelator” Moment: We don’t often mock fellow travellers but you do meet the odd person who has fallen down a black hole of dreadlocks, henna tattoos, happy pants and chatting a lot of guff about energy. The KING of the travelators was a man who was staying in Huanchaco at the same time as us. He had all the usual trappings, but also insisted on constantly carrying round a giant conch shell at ALL times… occasionally petting it as if it were a baby. It took a day or so for us both to click that he wasn’t just moving it the conch from one place to another, but that it was a permanent feature. At night he would join a gang of people jamming around a bonfire, and we liked to imagine that he played along on his mournful conch.

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Best Purchase: My alpaca wool jumper in Cusco that has marching alpaca knitted around the collar.

Best Beer: Bogota Brewery Craft Beer: Honey Ale Flavour

Best Pizza: Bodega164 in Cusco. It was blue cheese, mushroom and bacon; and after months of disappointing pizza experiences it was completely mindblowing. Also, Nick chose this night to drink a beer at altitude and have a funny sick moment mid pizza, so I got all his slices too. What a champ!

Best Book Read: The Devil in The White City – Erik Larson (I cannot recommend enough, and instantly downloaded everything else he has written to my kindle and Nick & I have both consumed them at a crazy pace and enjoyed nattering about them after. He is such a talent and writes in a truly unique style)

Soundtrack to the trip: It’s funny how one song becomes a stand out. For me its “Wasting My Young Years” by London Grammar. This song blurs from my old life into the trip, as in my previous job the company I worked for was doing the visual effects on the video and its where I first heard to track. It’s a song that seems to come on my ipod at every big travel moment: arriving on the alien salt flats, flying over the Andes, rocking side to side during a night on the Galapagos cruise or zooming through Colombian coastline at 100km p h. Also, the lyrics are more than a little relevant:

I’m wasting my young years
It doesn’t matter
I’m chasing old ideas
It doesn’t matter

Don’t you know that it’s only fear
I wouldn’t worry, you have all your life
I’ve heard it takes some time to get it right

Things I Miss The Most: Baths, peanut butter, cups of tea, clean clothes, knitting by the TV… wow I sound like a little old lady, so I better add in getting drunk on happy hour with my friends in Soho.

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Q&A With Nick

Best Journey: We’ve taken some truly amazing once-in-a-lifetime trips while we’ve been here, and while sailing across the Equator, busing over the Andes, and hiking through the jungles of Tayrona would win at any other time, for me it’s still the 4-day Amazon river-boat. If someone ever offered the chance to do it again I’d accept in a heartbeat.

Friendliest Local: We’ve had amazing fortune with all the people we’ve met so far. In fact, I’ve only being randomly sworn at once, by a bus driver in Peru. But the king of the friendly locals was the owner of our hostel on Isabela (in the Galapagos), who was completely convinced we could understand his hyper-fast lisping Spanish, and whose answer to any of our queries (including ‘is there a safe?’) was to tell us not to worry, and relax.

Best Beer: I’ve heroically sampled the local beer in every country so far, one of my favourite things about backpacking. All have merits, but for the perfect refreshment to taste ratio, it will have to be Venezuela’s Polar.

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Best Ice-Cream: I’ve also been trying to put back all the weight I lost during my illness by eating ice-cream every day. Although I was doing that before, so not sure what my future excuse will be. Bee likes to say to me she’s finally seeing my unrestrained eating habits. For awhile the pick of the ice-cream litter was the Oreo sundae from Bolivia, but now Colombia has provided the reigning champ – a Mars Bar flavoured scoop covered in dark chocolate sauce (which also fills the cone underneath providing you with a frenzied eating mission at the end to stop it pouring over you).

Worst Meal: We’ve had a few shockers in our time here, but the worst surely has to be sopa del res from Santa Elena’s hungry street. Translating as soup of the beast, it was a disgusting broth of stomach lining and other mystery parts (maybe some sort of jelly marrow?) washed down with a horrible juice. Ugh.

Three Months in? I always think travelling for an extended period distorts time. I feel like the last three months have lasted forever, and happened instantly. We’ve done so much, and are in the middle of doing so much that I have yet to comprehend it all and mentally sort through it. It’s been tough at times definitely, but no more than the other times I’ve been away. On top of that though is the knowledge that me & Bee will probably never get to spend this much extended time in each other’s exclusive company, and that makes every moment really special. Even when I have to ask her to wash her socks in the sink as they’re so disgustingly smelly I can’t even be in the same room as them.

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LIST THE COUNTRIES YOU’VE VISITED IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE! DO IT NOW!!! Ok, ok… It’s a tough one, and with the caveat that we’ve still got a fair bit of Colombia to do, and our Ecuador time was spent mostly on one of the most magical places on Earth… Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile………………………………….Peru.

Bee Says:

My order of preference is a tiny bit different:

Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile…….. Peru too.

Touch-Down Venezuela

(Apologies for the typos, rogue punctuation like this ¡¡ and the pixelated images. We are on the worlds slowest Wifi and also paying for every minute and hopefully you will understand that we want to spend more time adventuring and less writing in here!)

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Bee Says: It feels like a hundred years ago now, but on Wednesday morning we woke up at 5.30am and creaked out of Nick´s parents house to Gatwick. By this point I think I was virtually paralyzed with fear and having a little bit of a last minute WHAT AM I DOING?! meltdown… but only on the inside. On the outside I just swooshed through security as if I was going on holiday… not leaving my whole life behind. We had a quick flight to Madrid before boarding our Air Europa flight to Caracas, Venezuela. The words ´budget¨and ¨longhaul¨ together don´t make a happy pair but actually the journey was not so bad, we even had the choice of two movies in English! The only woeful bit was the food which was so inedible that at one point Nick turned to me and said “just pretend we are in prison” although I´m not sure how that made it any better. Who knows if the pastry below was fish, meat, cheese. In the Lonely Planet books they bang on about three things- avoid turning up at a new place at night, in the dark or in bad weather. We surfaced from our flight… at night, in pitch black and to a tropical rainstorm. What could possibly go wrong..?

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Nick Says: The phrase ´airport transfers available´ conjures up images of being picked up in a luxury executive car by a suited and booted driver and whisked effortlessly to your destination. This actually does happen sometimes – in Bee´s previous life as a marketing mega-cheese we were once picked up from her swanky Lower East Side hotel in New York by a fancy car (complete with your own personal iPad) and driven to JFK. However, the more common reality is something like we experienced upon arrival to Caracas, As we wanted to get to the coast as quickly as possible, we had opted for the airport transfer service from our Posada. Greeted by a slightly overweight Venezuelan guy with a limp, we were taken to his beaten up car outside, complete with mystery writing on the back window and religious icons on the front dashboard. He then set off. A few idle notes about driving over here. They love weaving into every single lane of traffic. They also love having full beams on at all possible times. The result was blinding. What was undeniable though was how beautiful Caracas looked at night. Set on several mountain sides, the city glittered at night and looked positvely inviting. But only from a distance. Stopping at a garage to grab some water our driver came in with us to stand guard as we shuffled in bleary eyed. We didn’t understand the money, and had no idea what anything should cost. Nor did we understand what the guys over the road were shouting at us as we got back in the car…

But we soon left Caracas behind, and quickly zoomed towards our destination. Or rather, to his home instead. The owner of our guesthouse had called once we had arrived to welcome us to Venezuela, and also let us know that the driver would be going home to pick his wife up first, and for us not to be scared when we got there. Which was pretty lovely. And so there we found ourselves – in a suburb of an unknown Venezuelan city outside our driver’s house picking up a middle aged woman wearing pyjamas. This is the reality of most airport pick-ups. From there myself and Bee could barely keep our eyes open, 24 hours awake had done for us. But as we surfaced from time to time, we saw we were plunging through a rainforest. First up one side of a mountain and then down the other with the noises of the jungle filtering into our brains. The hairpin turns flashed by and then finally we had made it. We were at our Caribbean home for the next few days.

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Bee Says: I can only compare Puerto Colombia to a real life tropical world. The smells, the humidity that whacks you the second you leave a car or your room, and the noises that buzz contantly. It´s possibly the most beautiful place I have ever seen, and certainly setting a high bar for the rest of our trip. We sloped through the first couple of days getting our bearings and acclimatising. We explored the Grande Playa (beach), nearly melted into puddles hiking to an old lighthouse towering over the harbour and spent our evenings watcing the sun set over the malecon (harbour) and drinking cerveza in the rowdy local bar. We had an amazing dinner at a restaraunt that was… well… a candle-lit table in someones backyard. Dido played on repeat and the waitor spoke enough English to tell us of his love for Rowan Atkinson! Luckily since we are both hungry horses who eat basically everything, so far we have opted for asking our waitors what they would recommend and eating whatever shows up. Most of the time we have NO idea what´s coming, it´s like teatime roullette but so far it´s paying off and we´ve mainly ended up with delicious fresh fried local fish, such as Bonefish (which oddly had no bones).

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Yesterday was our first big ventura of the trip! A seven hour trek through the dense jungle, to put our hiking boots through their paces. We met our guide Emmanual at 7am and spent an hour waiting for the local bus, we are NOT in London anymore! With most tours our guide won´t speak English, which is what we expected in this case, so it was a huge treat to find Emmanual spoke fantastic English having lived in the states for a decade. That said, it didn´t stop him still needing Nick to translate my Northern accent! He is a real force of nature and at 73, has lived a million lives. His stories were worth the trek fee alone and it´s a travesty that someone hasn´t made a film or a book out of his life story – in short his father was a spy in Belgium during the war, and the SS came for him and beat his mother and trashed the house, and so they fled to Morocco. From Morocco the Venzuelan embassy was the first place to offer his father protection, and so they took a boat for three months and settled here. He´s lived in the USA, been married more than twice (at the same time!), had children, seen the world and now lives in a self-designed house in the middle of the jungle and running a truffle-making factory in his backroom. It was truly a priviledge to get to spend the day with someone so awe-inspiring. Even if he did start the day by making us walk over the top of a dam – our stomachs churning as we gingerly stepped over the 30 metre high fast flowing water.

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The photos probably do more explaining than I can in words, but the jungle was incredible. Vast canopies, giant bamboo (bought over from China to protect the trails), rare butterflies that only appear at this time of year – bright blue and the size of dinner plates, We got to one point on the walk and Emmanual told us that we could here take a detour down to the most famous water hole in Venezuela BUT…. it had been raining heavily and the near verticle slope was slippy and a bit dangerous. I think Nick expected me to say no but by this point I was so sodden with sweat that a wild swim in a private tropical jungle pool seemed worth risking a few bones for. We took big woodens Hobbit-sticks and headed down the mountain. Our climbing experience came into it´s own as we focused more on where our next foothold was and less on the mud giving way around our boots. The main thing driving us on was that if a 73 year old man could make it look easy, then we could at least half walk-half fall down behind him. And it was worth it, we took a dip in a beautiful pool and dried off on the rocks surrounded only by nature and noises and another world. Every now and then something slimy would touch my feet and I´d have to repeat the mantra “it´s just a leaf… it´s just a leaf”

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Cacao is the PRIDE of Venezuela so our trek had a distinctly chcolate theme. We visited an abandoned Sugar Cane Plantation and walked through endless forests of Cacao trees. Cacao is basically plant that cocoa comes from, and Venezuela produces the highest quality in the world. Any worries we may have had about creepy crawlies had to go out of the window as we marched headfirst through dense thickets towards our ultimate destination, a local Cacao plantation. Saying that, Nick did disturb his first snake of the trip but luckily it darted off out of the path. We walked round inspecting the fermentation process, the drying rooms and how much effort goes into something we take so easily for granted. The final stop was possibly the best bit of the day – we went to Emmanuals exotic jungle house for hot cacao! We drank from metal prison style mugs and chatted about his life and our lives and lizards skittered around on the floor. At one point he lept up and dug around in his bedroom before putting on a DVD of his  “favourite English man” – it´s Peter Gabriel he shouted! (It wasn´t, it was Phil Collins, but we didn´t have the heart to correct him and sat listening to the whole live show with him!). He offered us a second mug of chocolate and we spent another hour there before his friend drove us back through the jungle into a raging Saturday night in Puerto Colombia.

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Nick Says: On a final note, I¡d just like to mention how good the exchange rate here is at the moment. While the offical rate is 10 bolivars to the pound, and 7 to the dollar, the black market has recently gone crazy – giving you rates of 50 bolivars to the pound and 35 to the dollar. Any good guest-house owner will exchange for you, meaning you don’t have to go in the street and do it yourself, and more importantly it also meant we walked out of our first meeting with the posada owner five times richer. To put this in context, the breakfast we had just eaten and thought cost us 8 quid each was actually just over 3 pounds in total, while a beer is now around 30p! Yeah! It means that right at this moment, Venezuela is the best valu and most affordable Caribbean destination on the planet. You could probably do a two week holiday with flights included for around 1500 pounds, and that’s not skimping on eating etc.

Anyway, that¡s it for now – next stop is a 20 hour bus ride to the south of Venezuela and onwards to Brazil!

Leaving & Feelings

Bee Says: With mere days to go until we begin our trip, I’ve had a fortnight of jobless limbo visiting Yorkshire and Norfolk (which you can read about here) to say goodbyes to friends and family. Both counties put on an incredible performance of blissful weather and incredible walks, wildlife and views; on more than one occasion I’ve thought what a tough act South & Central America have to follow. I’ve also been taking as many baths as physically possible without turning into a prune. They are certainly one of the things I am going to miss the most whilst being away; as I’m half mermaid and if I had my way would spend hours sloshing around in the soak every day. It’s been a strange time and I’ve had a fact that I already feared completely confirmed; I am awful at goodbyes. I just haven’t felt emotional at all, but I think that’s because the fact I’m leaving still hasn’t quite sunk in. I get the odd flutter of butterflies or cold sweat of panic but mostly it still feels absolutely surreal. I wonder how many weeks it will take into the process before I am writing in here “ok, it feels real now!”.

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I’m spending most of my time completely pre-occupied by daydreaming of what we are going to be doing and seeing, but also I’ve had a few twinges of disappointment of things I will be missing here. Firstly – the end of Great British Bake Off. This is the only programme I tune in to on a weekly basis and disallow anyone to so much as open their mouths to breathe whilst I watch! I’m sad that I won’t see if my favourites Kimberly or Ruby mix to victory. Also I am missing my favourite band The National play AND the premier of the documentary about them Mistaken For Strangers at the London Film Festival. I got as far as having tickets in my basket for the latter before realising, ah yes! I’ll be on the other side of the planet, not lurking in London. I have the distinct impression that I will care a LOT less about these things once I am out of the country (and off Twitter.)

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Something that I have to mention here, as it’s been driving me slowly beetroot… is the fear-mongering I’ve experienced over the past few months, which has taken me completely by surprise. It’s been person after person after person who I have met up with, filled with excitement, who then thinks it’s appropriate to say things such as (and these are genuine quotes):
“You’re crazy, it’s SO dangerous in x, y, z”
“You’re going to get drugs planted on you/kidnapped/robbed”
“In that country terrible things always happen to tourists”
“You’ll regret it when you catch a tropical disease…”
The list goes on and on. My main issue is that the first question I ask these people is, “Have you actually been to the country you’re talking about?” And the answer every single time is NO. What then, makes people think it is ok to basically slander that country, that culture and community? It is so offensive to the people who live there and are trying to open their part of the world to tourists and visitors. Secondly, it’s offensive to me! Obviously I have booked my ticket, I am well and truly going, so why would I want to hear someone dooming my fate and trying to whip me into a terrified frenzy? As the person going, I can guarantee I have done more research and know more about the security and safety elements of each individual country and am planning my trip according to my boundaries and comfort levels. Mainly, because I am not stupid! And I don’t want to risk any part of my trip of a life-time being unpleasant.

/Rant over! If you are a reader who is planning a trip, my advice is to ignore all these nay-sayers and don’t let them even get started on their a-friend-of-a-friend or I-read-on-the-internet helpful advice. If you are a friend of someone planning a trip, then of course I understand that sometimes the comments come from genuine concern and are mostly a misplaced demonstration of showing how much they care. Rather than pile on the mounting stories of gloom and doom, do something practical like check the Government warning websites for genuine concerns, log onto the Lonely Planet forums and run your questions past people who actually live in the country OR buy your friend the Rough Guide to Travel Survival and wish them all the best. Luckily I’ve had all of this before, as when I travelled to both South Africa and Namibia I got the same wide-eyed, horror story reactions from certain people and very much enjoyed coming home and telling them how wrong they were. All of this is part of my motivation to keep this blog actually, as I want to provide honest responses and reviews of everywhere we visit and a big part of that will be how comfortable I feel there. I’m a natural scaredy-cat and control-freak, but if I succumbed to those parts of my personality I would never leave my duvet. In a way I think I get more out of travelling due to these characteristics, because I’m always proud to push my comfort zone and the sense of achievement once I’ve done it is huge. I’m not naïve, and I am sure there will be some tough days and hairy experiences over the next six months. I live in London, I have a scary experience of some kind at least every six months just staying put there! I also think as a traveller safety should always be at the forefront of your mind, but that’s my responsibility and no one elses!

Nicks Says: You think I’d be used to this by now – about to step into unknown (for me) territory armed with nothing but my trusty backpack and a tiny compass pendant I wear around my neck. You think I wouldn’t even give the trip a second thought and that it would just be another exotic land to tick off the list. But you would be very wrong.

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Before every trip I go through several stages. Firstly there’s an incredible excitement about actually deciding to go. Then the rush of planning, and thinking about everything I need to take. I’m one of those people who actually likes the excuse to basically just wear flip-flops and boardies all day every day, and only alternate it with combats and trekking shoes. I have a suspicion that underneath my average urban media exterior, there’s a clichéd surfer bum or hard-core middle-aged rambler trying to break free.

Next on the emotional journey is the absolute bind panic about what the hell I’m doing. This happens every-time, whether it is going on a nice holiday to Italy, or deciding to overland it to Albania without even consulting a guidebook. This time, it is the fear of flying to a place where I don’t speak the language and initially into a country which isn’t on the Gringo Trail. But then this panic is a good thing I think. It shows you’re actually doing something different and unusual, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Why do we go and travel after all? Well for me it’s to expand my life experience, gain perspective and get to see how other people live, as well as have a brilliant time in places I never even knew existed let alone thought I’d spend 12 hours on a bus towards.

Once the panic has subsided, a calm reality sinks in. On the one hand, I’m super excited to get out there and start adventuring, on the other I know how tough some of it is going to potentially be. People often forget that it is hard work to independently travel. While a lot of the time your main decision will be ‘what beach am I going to today?’, some of it is horrendous early starts to catch buses that may or may not go where you need them too, dealing with a completely unfamiliar way of doing things, roughing it when required, and constantly being responsible for looking after your own well-being. It’s absolute freedom from every little role and routine we’ve put ourselves in during everyday life, and at the same time it’s liberating and terrifying.

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Then finally, in the last few weeks the actual process of packing up your life and getting ready to go takes over. The excitement is still there, bubbling away, but it won’t come out unfettered until I’m on the plane. I think that’s the main difference to the first backpacking I did. Last minute excitement compared to last minute terror. I remember that when I went away on my first big trip my Mum said I didn’t look nervous at all until they saw me walk away by myself through airport security. I sat in the waiting lounge absolutely overwhelmed until my friend Mark arrived, and then we were gibbering like monkeys with joy at what we were about to do. It still didn’t stop me from getting insomnia for the first week away though! And even now, I have the same three worries – how will I know where to go when I’m there? How will I get to places? What do I do about money? Then I realise, all of this will become easy once I’m there. So now I’m ready. Psyched up for the trip and raring to go. Ready for all the stories which we’ll share right here.

The Backstory

WELCOME! Have a look around, be sure to read all about who we are and what we are doingmeet Nick, meet Bee and swat up on where our South & Central American travels will take us. With a month to go until we head up, up and away, we thought we’d start by filling you in on when the plans for this adventure first began…

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Bee says: Ever since we met, Nick & I have been committed to taking a huge adventure. Nick has done quite a bit of backpacking before, and is certainly bitten by the bug. I love visiting foreign lands, but have never had that opportunity to skip out on real life and leave the country for any extended amount of time. For this reason… it would probably surprise all of our friends and family to learn that it was ME who first suggested this trip.

Nick & I first met two years ago (almost exactly) at Media Guardia Edinburgh International Television Festival. We were both a few years into careers in the media, and applied for a scheme called “Ones to Watch” which gives you the training, exposure and access to big TV cheeses to in theory “fast track” your career.  From hundreds of applicants we were both selected to attend. Part of the application had been to pitch an idea for a strand in BBC2’s The Culture Show and out of the 40 delegates, four of us were chosen to then pitch the idea LIVE to a panel of industry experts/commissioners and in front of an audience of 200 wider television festival attendees. So, kind of like Dragon’s Den, but live, and with our entire future media careers and reputations on the line. No pressure! You can probably guess where this is leading… Both Nick & I were selected and had to go head to head, in this super daunting and pressured environment. We love to think about the geeky maths and statistics involved in us meeting – both being selected from 500+, to 40, to 4. It’s strange to the think how many people and processes played a part in our relationship. Rather than becoming sworn rival enemies, we actually helped each other practice and prepare and over post-its, power points and cue cards…  Neither of us won the pitch, but we did win each others hearts (way better than five minutes of fame) and that night we celebrated our blossoming love in that classiest of ways; tequila!

In a Jose Cuervo fuelled haze, at 2am, I asked Nick if he wanted to run away? It’s the first and only time I will ever ask someone this question, and despite only knowing me for about 36 hours at this stage, luckily for me he said yes. It may have taken two years of scrimping, saving (discovering Friday Night Lights and swiftly consuming all five seasons really helped with this part) and then the perfect opportunity landing in our laps to get that one-way flight booked, but here we are teetering on the edge of a month to go and we’ve finally come good on that drunken promise. I can’t wait to drink tequila IN Tequila, Mexico to celebrate…

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Nick says: Bee’s pretty much summed it up right there. Well, at least the reality of how this trip is happening. The truth is that for me, I’ve wanted to go to South America since I was 18. I always knew that I would go back-packing after Uni. With my friend Mark, I planned a grand trip to Australia, South-East Asia and then through Asia, a quick stop back in the UK to say hello, then onto South America. Except it didn’t quite work out like that. Not knowing the world’s greatest recession was just around the corner, I blindly leapt into the unknown in late November 2006, visiting Oz and South-East Asia and returning 9 months later after detouring to South Korea for a month to help teach/have a quick look in North Korea. Broken both financially and physically (thank-you Thai boxer), I needed to get a job.

So I moved to London. And there I struggled to earn a living, pay rent, and have a life. I tried to save, I really did. But my token travel fund never really got above £1000. Then I spent that clearing my credit card debt. All the while, people I knew always asked me if I’d made it to South America, then expressed surprise when I said I hadn’t., ‘Oh, I thought that’s what you told everyone?’. Then they started going over there themselves. While I lived in an over-priced box room in East London. I told myself I only wanted to go there if I could go for months on end, otherwise what was the point? Then I started going to other places instead – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Serbia, Albania, Italy, India, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany. Short trips, but trips all the same. But was I scratching an itch or feeding the beast? South America began to sound like a pipe dream, something you tell yourself, ‘I’ll do that one day for sure’, and then never do.

Then I met Bee. Then we had a tequila fuelled conversation. Then I knew I was going to make it to South America after all.  I’d always planned a solo trip, but truthfully I probably would never have made it without her. We got organised, motivated, and dedicated to saving. I changed career path in order to become freelance and give myself the flexibility to take this trip – and then that paid off when an absolutely brilliant work opportunity came along which enabled us to go ahead of schedule and live the dream (and claim we’re busy dammit!) Now here we are – about to finally reach South and Central America.

// Before we leave the UK, we’ll be blogging about our experience in preparing for something like this – particularly focusing on saving and budget tips, the medical implications (no one can prime you for the news that you need 15 vaccinations!) and packing; given that we have opted for the smallest 35 litre option backpacks, packing for six months will certainly require some sort of miracle.