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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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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Surviving (and thriving) at the Sambadrome

I can’t believe how quickly our time in Rio has disappeared already! Tomorrow we leave on the Oasis Overland truck ‘Dingo’ for pastures new, and I have little idea what to expect. I’m getting ready to take each day as it comes and to be open to whatever adventures are ahead.

But in the meantime – what a time we’ve had! Sambadrome loomed before us with the prospect of eight hours of partying through the night. Would I be able to handle it? Would it live up to the hype?

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Half party, half city – the two sides of Rio

For me, the answer was ABSOLUTELY. Sambadrome doesn’t just live up to the hype… it is the hype. I’ve never experienced anything like the electric energy that rocketed around the concrete stadium when the floats were in view. Everyone got into the spirit, dressing up in headbands and glitter – and some in full body paint and very little else! While I wasn’t one of those people who could dance all night, I did stay right up until the last float passed through the stands and the sun rose in the sky. It was an epic night/morning to say the least.

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We were in Sector 13, which is right at the end of the parade. There were many benefits to Sector 13 – it was a lot of fun to watch the dancers finish at the end and the chaos as they rushed to take their costumes off and join the party. You could easily find discarded costumes (they made for great pictures and cool – if¬†unwieldy –¬†souvenirs! I think there’s a purple alien head still in the hallway of our hotel) and you felt like part of the local scene. The downside is that we were quite far away from the main action itself and we didn’t feel like we could completely grasp the magnitude of the floats. The binoculars I had just offered a tantalising glimpse of the immense effort that went into every single detail of the parades. It would have been better to experience them in their full glory.

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Throwing away the costumes at the end… so sad!

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6am snoozes… when’s the next Samba school on?

It was definitely an immense way to kick off the trip – and something I will never forget.

Rio has been unforgettable in lots of ways. We went paragliding from Pedra Bonita – an incredible flight over the stunning beaches and coastline of the city. We wiled away an afternoon on Ipanema beach. We watched sunset from the base of Sugarloaf and drank beers on a seawall with the locals. We bought ridiculously cheap Havaianas in Copacabana (and promptly left them in a beachside bar… sigh). Lofty partied in Lapa and I wrote in the corner of an Irish pub.

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Finally, we toured the largest favela in South America – Rocinha – which over 70,000 people call home. We umm-ed and ahh-ed about doing this tour, but in the end we decided that it was the only way to get close to understanding the flipside of this capricious city. Of course, with bus-loads of tourists walking through it every day, Rocinha is one of the ‘safer’ favelas – but it was still eye-opening to see the conditions that still exist for over 3 million residents of Rio de Janeiro. The company that we used takes all the money for the tour and uses it to fund a day care and school inside the favela. While of course it felt uncomfortable to be essentially gawking at people’s lives (and all in the knowledge that we were leaving at the end), we were greeted with warm and open arms by the people we met there – and not just the ones who were taking money from us. I am glad that I went, if only to feel like I’m coming away with a more balanced view of this city and the country I’m about to explore even further.

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The view from the top of Rocinha favela

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All in all, Rio has lived up to its reputation. It’s incredibly beautiful, but it also has a dark side. On the same day that Lofty and I commented on how safe we’d felt the entire time we were here (and we did – we took money out of ATMs without issue, we took the metro at all hours, we partied at the blocos), some other members of our group were not so lucky. It just goes to show that both the raves and the warnings about Rio are true. If you are ever able to find yourself here, practice vigilance and be safe – but feel comfortable that even the bad is not enough to dim the good.

Rio just shines too brightly.

And if you need any further convincing, here’s our time in video form:

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Travel round-up… and all that fantasy authors have to live up to.

Well, the trip is over and I’m finally home after a quick pitstop in Vienna. Already I’ve had one day at work and it hardly feels like I’ve been gone at all!¬†Oh yes, except when I came back after work and sorted through all 1,500 photos (just that many?)… it’s been an unbelievable experience, and I can’t recommend Oasis Overland highly enough. We saw loads but barely had to make a single decision – which made it incredibly relaxing too. The pace was great, and we never felt rushed through a site (or, for that matter, bored of one!)

Highlights?

  • Camel ride to the Pyramids of Giza
  • Abu Simbel
  • Haggling the markets of Aswan
  • Hot-air ballooning over Luxor
  • Tomb of Rameses VI in the Valley of the Kings
  • My quattro stagioni birthday cake in Hurghada
  • Breakfast at Shams in Dahab
  • Night Dive bioluminesence
  • Wadi Rum scenery
  • That first glimpse of the Treasury in Petra

Egypt and Jordan are both destinations that have been high on the ‘to visit’ list for quite some time, but that desire became even more heightened after selling The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. I’ve got a few videos coming up (probably over next week) that will tell you exactly why these far-flung destinations mean so much to the book.

But even more than being just ‘inspiration’, being privileged enough to actually visit these sights and not just stare wistfully at other people’s travel blogs has been a humbling experience. As an avid reader of fantasy, I’m used to being swept away to exotic locations that I can never hope to visit. But the more I travel, the more I’ve come to realize that, as fantasy authors have our work cut out for us trying to imagine anything more weird and wonderful than some of the locations that already exist on this planet.

But boy, do we have fun trying.

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