15 best under-the-radar moments in 15 weeks of travel in South America with Oasis Overland

So, in the last post I talked about the BIG highlights – the epic destinations/activities that get the most airtime on the blog or on Instagram. But the real beauty of 15 weeks of travel isn’t always in the big stuff… but in the under-the-radar wonders that get under your skin and stick with you for a long time. The stuff that people don’t talk about as much, that changes you in more subtle ways. There aren’t as many WOW photographs for this section, but trust me when I say the were epic in their own right. Andddd also, most of them are food-related. We love food, okay?!

Here are my 15 best under-the-radar moments from 15 weeks of travel in South America with Oasis Overland:

1 – Discovering acai (with granola and bananas especially) in Brazil… and never eating anything else. Shoutout also to the sellers of ‘Skol Beats’ on Sambadrome night – their constant cries became the refrain to our evening

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Doesn’t look like much… but this was the nectar of the gods

2 – Buying my personalized South America journal in San Telmo market, Buenos Aires. The man who owned the stall customized it just for me, and I love it. Sometims I am reluctant to buy things (especially as we have to lug them home!) but this was the perfect souvenir.

3 – Swimming under an Iguazu Falls waterfall at the end of the Macuco trail – while the main falls were, of course, the big attraction, it was nice to get a bit off the beaten tourist path and to refresh in the lovely water

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4 – Cooking our own steak in Argentina directly on the coals in the hostel in Puerto Iguazu, Argentina. Going out for dinner is nice and all, but sometimes nothing beats a bit of homecooking. And the steak from the supermarket was so cheap and absolutely delicious.


5 – Coming up with our own ‘truck songs’ around a campfire with our resident former-rock-star, and singing them loudly at every opportunity (confusing anyone who happened to hear). Favourites included ‘Dos Banos con Hobos’ (inspired by some… interesting campsites with special residents), ‘Why don’t you come on over, Pascaline’ (to the tune of Valerie) and ‘Andy’s Full of Meat Again’ (an ode to our closest near-death experience)


6 – Llamas. Llamas everywhere. Baby llamas in the arms of cholitas. Big llamas on Machu Picchu, minding their own business. With such big beautiful eyes, they totally made my heart melt.

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7 – Random karaoke nights in El Calafate, Argentina and Otavalo, Ecuador which led to singing and dancing with locals


8 – Campsite pets – peccaries (Pantanal) and doggies (everywhere). South America is not the place to travel if you dislike dogs. At some point they were like our personal bodyguards, accompanying us to and from our campsites!

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9 – Designing our own truck T-shirt. This was great fun, and a great memory too! We were able to put together a design for a truck T-shirt (Eat, Sleep, Truck, Repeat) which was properly drawn by our resident costume designer, the incredible Pascaline (who was also the oldest traveller on board – overlanding not just for the young’uns!). Not pictured: the back, which is a ‘word map’ of our destinations in South America designed by Lofty!

Me wearing the truck t-shirt on the equator

10 – Chilling out, watching some amazing sunsets with a beer or pisco sour – over Rio and Arequipa especially

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11 – The awe-inspiring frescos of the Huaca de la Luna/ Temple of the Moon, Peru – The Mochi culture was one I hadn’t heard of (much more under the radar than inca) and it was fascinating

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12 – Truck BBQs on bush camp days – even in a quarry in the middle of nowhere, we still managed to eat incredibly well – thanks to the BBQ skills of our driver, Gareth and tour leader, Kim!

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13 – An unexpectedly beautiful fountain show in Lima – a bit of Disney-like Magic to spice up our evening


 14 – CANCHA, the unpopped popcorn snack of Bolivia/Peru/Ecuador. Gluten-free and salty… it became the ultimate snack

  
15 – Lack of wifi on drive days… which led to LOTS of reading, games of Mafia, Uno and looong euchre tournaments – my favourite card game – I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed playing silly boardgames with people

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Okay, okay – I bet you’re all so bored of the good times… what about the bad times?

“Top” 3 lowlights of the trip:

1- THE BUGS. It’s to be expected when visiting the Amazon, but Lofty got properly eaten alive. I think we counted 70 bites on one lower leg alone. And they were ITCHY.

2- Bush pooing. Nuff said.

3- Traveller belly on drive days. Rather inevitable, and this is probably ’nuff said’ as well, but it wasn’t pleasant!

But considering all the amazing times… it was nothing we couldn’t handle!

Thanks for everything, Oasis. You were swell ūüôā

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15 highlights from 15 weeks in South America – Oasis Overland Kingdoms & Carnivals

It’s almost impossible to believe, but fifteen weeks travelling with Oasis Overland¬†are now over! We have arrived in Quito, Ecuador¬†and are settling in to life off the big yellow truck. It’s a bittersweet¬†moment – we know we have some great times ahead, but leaving the group behind¬†is going to be really tough.¬†If there was any room in our backpacks, we would tuck them in and take them with us for the next stage of the adventure!

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(If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll have guessed that I’m several weeks behind on the itinerary but I wanted to write this post while it was still fresh in my mind!)

For new blog readers, I’ve been¬†travelling with Oasis Overland on their Kingdoms and Carnivals route from Rio-Quito. Visiting six countries and driving over 21,496km, it was one heck of a trip!¬†There were definitely ups and downs (mostly because of the number of times we¬†needed to cross the Andes!), plenty of extreme highs and some gut-wrenching lows but that’s what this kind of travel is all about – and I¬†wouldn’t change it for moment.¬†We’ve faced thefts, a (minor) stabbing, a disappearance, several near-death experiences (choking, seizures, falling down glaciers, face-planting on bicycles),¬†a few incidents of dengue fever, a fractured elbow,¬†a bridge collapse and been stuck in the sand… but we’ve also had too many perfect moments to count: camped night after night under a crystal clear Milky Way, watched stunning sunsets by the dozen,¬†visited cultural and historical sites way off the beaten¬†path,¬†eaten fresh fish straight from the sea, skinny-dipped in¬†fjords, hiked to¬†thundering waterfalls,¬†seen lava bubbling and glaciers¬†collapsing and condors flying and poison dart frogs jumping… it’s been amazing.

I’ve struggled to choose but here are just fifteen highlights of the fifteen week tour:

1) Paragliding over Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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As a city, Rio at Carnival was everything I expected: hot, crazy, colourful, loud, chaotic. But even though we had loads of fun in Rio – at Sambadrome and touring Cristo Redentor – my favourite moment was¬†paragliding high above its stunning beaches. From the air, it was so peaceful and I could really appreciate Rio’s deep connection with the mountains and the sea.

2) Snorkelling down Rio da Prata in Bonito, Brazil

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Some experiences you have no idea about, and so when they happen, they absolutely blow you away. For me, this was snorkelling in Rio da Prata in Bonito. The river has absolutely crystal clear water and myriad fish with absolutely no fear. It was mesmerizing.

3) Fuerza Bruta and Tango in Buenos Aires, Argentina

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I don’t want to post too many pictures of the Fuerza Bruta show in Buenos Aires because the surprise was part of the fun. It’s a touring show so we were lucky to see it – and for $12 a ticket it was an absolute bargain. This might be the best live theatre experience I’ve ever had. I won’t say more but if it visits your city, GO. The tango show was also brilliant, but in a different way – it was eye-opening seeing the acrobatic skill of the dancers, legs flying everywhere, and learning about the history of the dance. Add an amazing steak dinner and free wine on top, and you have a winner!

4) ANTARCTICA

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I wrote a series of four posts explaining just HOW amazing this whole experience was – if you want to find out more about my last minute trip to the seventh continent with G Adventures Expedition, I suggest having a read!

5) Completing the W-trek, Torres del Paine, Chile

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The whole W-trek was amazing, but there was nothing like celebrating in the posh Hotel Las Torres at the very end with a HUGE pizza and amazing cocktails. We were pretty merry by the end, but it felt like a huge accomplishment.

6) Turning 30 in Futaleufu, Chile – the white water capital of South America

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I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday, and Futaleufu was the perfect destination! A campsite with beautiful cabin upgrades (of course we had to upgrade from the tent for my birthday), a fire pit, sauna and some amazing white water rafting… it was pretty perfect.

7) Seeing lava in Pucon, Chile

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Hiking the Villarica Volcano was always on the top of my ‘to-do’ list, especially after watching it explode on the news last year. It was one of the hardest hikes I’ve ever done, but thankfully we were rewarded at the top with boiling, bubbling, bursting lava. EPIC.

8) Wine Tasting and Wine Ice-cream in Cafayate, Argentina

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I’m not the biggest wine drinker in the world, but¬†even I can get on board with a bit of wine ice cream! Cafayate in Argentina was a beautiful stop on the itinerary, home to dozens of bodegas (wine cellars) and heladarias. Their speciality is ice cream made from Torrentes (a delicious form of white wine) and Merlot (red wine) grapes. Very refreshing on a hot day! The Torrentes wine itself isn’t bad either… in fact, we may have picked up a bottle or two (or eight) to drink during the rest of the trip! The Nanni Torrentes (pictured above) was my fave.

9) Uyuni, Bolivia Salt flats day trip

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What can I say? This was another expected highlight that more than lived up to those expectations. This was so much fun!

10) Cycling Death Road in La Paz, Bolivia

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This activity? I was actually quite scared about. I’m not exactly the world’s best cyclist and I was nervous about how I would handle the challenges of the infamous Death Road. But it turned out to be so much more fun than I thought! Yes, there were scary bits (and some people did hurt themselves…) but if you allowed yourself to trust the bikes then it was not too bad at all. Huge thanks to Mo at Gravity for making it a great day out! I also enjoyed that at the very end, we were taken to an animal sanctuary where we saw an ocelot – so cute!

11) Finishing the hike to Machu Picchu, Peru

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Hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was bloody hard work – but once again, finishing was the best reward! This was another one of those ‘classic’ destinations that fulfilled its promise. You can’t help but feel the mystical powers of this wondrous place – and combined with later trips to the Nazca line and the Chan Chan ruins, it really gave me an appreciation of South America civilizations that I never knew about before.

12) Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru

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Adrenaline, bbq, unlimited pisco and a night sleeping out under the stars? Amazing. This was one of those perfect days which made the whole trip feel worthwhile.

13) Perfect beaches in Punta Sal, Peru

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After leaving Lima, we spent almost a week camping along the Peruvian coastline. With condors soaring overhead, wild surf and beautiful sand, it was an idyllic place to relax after the adrenaline packed activities of the weeks before.

14) Zip-lining, swinging over the end of the world and bridge jumping in Banos, Ecuador

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Okay, let’s face it – I love the adrenaline! My proper ‘daredevil’ moment was a bridge jump in Banos (it didn’t hurt, but I looked like a broken rag doll!). Ziplining on the other hand was just pure fun – and I even got to do it upside down and as a couple!

15) Spotting a poison dart frog in the Amazon, Ecuador

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Finally, the Amazon jungle! My sole request to the universe was to see a poison dart frog and, to my surprise, the universe pulled through! The whole trip to the Amazon basin was wonderful – we went tubing down the river and did several night walks through the jungle to see snakes, spiders and other weird and wonderful creatures. Word to the wise: watch where you put your hands! You do not want a bite from a bullet ant.

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Potosi and Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia – bold, beautiful and strange

Leaving Argentina and Chile was bitter sweet – waving goodbye to great steak, great wine and huge, sweeping vistas. Almost immediately Bolivia felt different – and it wasn’t just the cholitas carrying bundles of baby llamas over the border. Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador have a totally different feel to their Southern neighbours, and they require¬†a different style of travel. But you know what? This is the kind of travel I absolutely love… and they did not disappoint.

We only had a short week in Bolivia but – wow – what a place. It was more than long enough to make me fall absolutely in love with the country, and definitely wanting to go back for more.

This is going to be a picture-heavy post, because even my best words can’t quite convey the weird and wonderful scenery that we encountered here. It often felt like visiting another planet – perfect, of course, for this sci-fi lover.

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Spot the truck! Bushcamping on a river bed in southern Bolivia

Our first stop in Bolivia was the mining town of Potosi, once the biggest and richest city in all the Americas. The reason? Cero Ricco or ‘rich mountain’ – a mountain that basically funded the Spanish empire with the wealth of silver buried within its rocky depths. A really informative mint museum in the centre of Potosi put¬†it into context – the Potosi symbol (a jumbled PTSI) stamped on silver pieces of eight became the dollar sign we all know today $.¬†Unfortunately, the mountain has been so over-mined there’s almost no silver left and the mountain is collapsing from the top down. Even so, miners continue to work there every day, in treacherous conditions. As tourists, we were able to go and visit the mines and witness their way of life. It was an experience that made me deeply uncomfortable – both claustrophobic (which is rare for me, but I really felt the weight of the mountain) and to see the hardship that the men and women there endure. We were able to bring in soda and coca leaves for the workers, but I still left feeling shaken.

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View of Potosi from Cerro Rico

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Entering the mines

From Potosi, we travelled to Uyuni, the launching point of tours to the Salar de Uyuni¬†or Uyuni salt flats¬†– probably Bolivia’s most famous tourist destination. This was always destined to be a highlight of our trip but it REALLY lived up to our expectations! In this case, it was all because of our awesome guide, Luis. He was an absolute pro at helping us take epic perspective photos and gave us some real insight into the history of the salt flats.

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Contorting into strange positions to take the photos

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Of course I had to take a picture with The Potion Diaries!

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Probably the coolest thing for me was Cactus Island, an awesome ‘oasis’ in the middle of the salt flats that clearly demonstrate its once underwater origins. We were essentially clambering over an ancient coral reef – with evidence of the coral all around. Of course, the thousands of cacti everywhere made for a totally unique landscape and great photos!

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Our last stop was a train graveyard as the sun was setting. So cool!

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Lakes and Volcanoes – Argentina & Chile’s epic scenery

Every time I come to write this blog, I feel like I’m falling further behind! Mind you, the internet has been pretty bad throughout most of South America so far – but more to the point, we’ve just been so busy there’s been no time to worry about the blog! But I know how much I’ll appreciate it at the end, and the internet in La Paz is slightly better. We’ve now crossed the halfway point of our journey… so I’m going to try and catch up as quickly as I can.

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Stunning views of Bariloche’s Lake Gutierrez

For almost three weeks (encompassing the post below), we’ve been criss-crossing between Chile and Argentina – I now have more stamps in my passport than I can count! But it’s been incredible to see the differences between the two countries and cultures, and how all the miles we’ve done on the truck have brought us to some pretty incredible places.

Take Bariloche, Argentina. In the middle of the ‘Lake District’ of Argentina, this is where Obama paid a visit not too long ago! It’s a strange town, with a real Swiss/German influence – likely from the influx of immigrants post-WW2. There are log cabins and fondue restaurants, along with chocolate shops galore! Since we arrived on Easter Sunday, we found the chocolate shops packed to the brim. Yum.

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I also took the opportunity to do a bit of horseback riding in Bariloche. While originally we had planned to go to a real estancia, they were too full and we had to switch to a more scenic (but less authentic) ride out by Lake Gutierrez. I did a full day’s riding and we saw some truly spectacular scenery. I can see why the Argentinians chose to bring the POTUS out here!

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Also, the steak… the steak in Bariloche was the best I’ve had in Argentina. We loved the parrilla El Boliche de Alberto – where the focus is solely on the meat. We maybe ordered a token salad… but didn’t eat much of it!

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A more traditional Patagonia parrilla, with roast lamb!

From Bariloche, we crossed over to Pucon, Chile. This little town had an entirely different vibe – dominated, of course, by the giant volcano Villaricca in the near-distance. This was a town devoted to adventure, and we knew we were in for a big one from the moment we heard the warning sirens blaring throughout town – signalling the volcano was active.

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Stunning volcanic sunrise before the long trek ahead

Now, if you’ve been following my blog adventures, you’ll know that we did a really hard trek in southern Chile called the W-trek. But even that didn’t quite prepare us for the volcano hike! The volcano was four hours of strictly UP hill. We did get to cut an hour off our journey by taking a chairlift, but it still wasn’t enough to make the journey easy! About half-way up the volcano, we strapped on crampons and used ice-picks to climb the permanent glacier that coats the top (and, in the winter time, it gets turned into a ski resort!) This made walking even more difficult.

When we were about twenty minutes from the top, we stopped to take off the crampons and switch to our gas masks. Now, I’m not going to lie… I almost didn’t make those last twenty minutes. It was HARD going. But I pushed through… and was rewarded with one of the most amazing views. Seeing a volcano bubbling with red-hot¬†molten lava, magma swirling and bursting in front of us, leaping easily 100 feet into the air¬†– it was the definition of EPIC.

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It was also tough to be up there. The air stank of sulphur – thank goodness for those gas masks – and breathing was difficult enough at that high altitude. The wind howled around us, threatening to push us over the edge. But the volcano had only started being that active two days before our arrival, so we were incredibly lucky with our timing. I can’t imagine getting to the top and only being greeted with that sulphurous wind!

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The way down… I wish I could say it was easier than going up, but it definitely wasn’t! Much harder on the joints. Most of the time, you’re able to sledge down the glaciers, but there wasn’t enough soft snow for us to do that safely. We were able to sort of slide down the gravel, but it threw up so much dust that it became difficult to see.

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Gas mask chic… but we made it

Still, it was one of the most rewarding days of the trip so far, and I wouldn’t have changed the experience for the world – even the next two days of aching legs!

 

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Exploring Patagonia – Argentina & Chile

The W-trek (see previous post!) was our baptism of fire into Patagonia, and over the course of the two weeks we’ve really come to know this region well.¬†We’ve criss-crossed the Chilean-Argentinian borders more times than I can count, with each destination offering something new and beautiful to explore.

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Take the Perito Moreno glacier, which we visited from El Calafate. This enormous valley glacier is renowned for giving visitors great spectacles of ‘calvings’ – where the ice crumbles from the front of the glacier. I’d seen a version of this already in Antarctica, but I was looking forward to seeing it from even closer up. We’d actually missed the biggest calving (where an entire ice bridge collapses and the glaciers starts receding again for a bit) by only a week – bad timing that seemed to haunt us all the way to Pucon.

Luckily, Perito Moreno didn’t disappoint. We started out with a boat trip, which enabled us to get really up close and personal with the ice. We saw a couple of small calvings from the boat, but what was most impressive was how blue the ice was. I’m not sure that we expected such a rich colour.

Off the boat, we walked some of the catwalks on land that offered several view points of the glacier. We stood and watched in anticipation, our eyes scanning the huge wall of ice. It’s not enough to wait until¬†you hear¬†the thunderous ice cracking – by then, it’s too late. But after a few minutes, there was a little crumble of¬†ice that seemed¬†to open up a waterfall – like the glacier had sprung a leak.¬†We trained our cameras on the place: something was definitely afoot. The ice creaked and groaned. Then, finally, a piece the equivalent to a three storey-building¬†broke off and plunged into the water, directly in front of us. Epic, epic, epic.

From El Calafate, we moved to El Chalten, home of Mount Fitzroy at the top of Los Glaciares National Park. This was where we could get even closer to the ice, but unfortunately for me, my knee was playing up after the W-trek and I didn’t want to aggravate it any further. Still, Lofty got to go ice-climbing on Argentina’s largest glacier – Viedma –¬†abseiling down into crevasses and picking his way out. Me? I wasn’t jealous at all. Of course not.

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Lofty climbing a crevasse in Viedma glacier

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I mean, please don’t feel too bad for me. While in El Chalten, I did a small walk to a viewpoint of Mount Fitzroy, ate an enormous banana-and-chocolate covered waffle and spent two hours in an amazing spa having four different types of treatments. Not too shabby whatsoever!

Mt Fitzroy viewpoint

 

 

 

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