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Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Day 18 – June 11th, 2012

Today was one of the trip’s most expensive days. We were in Nazca and since I probably would never return, I decided to treat myself to an aerial view of the world-famous Nazca lines. Those are the mysterious line, found in the middle of the desert, that form giant trees and animals which can only be seen from the sky. For $100 USD, I bought a ticket to see these lines for myself. From the sky.

Picture from the plane over the Nazca lines

Another wonderful example of how jaw-dropping the Peruvian landscape can be. This time from the air.

There’s not much I can write about the Nazca lines that hasn’t already been said, but seeing such an ancient and strange sight first hand is truly wonderful. If you can handle being in a small plane that buzzes around like a mosquito, I highly recommend it. Even if it’s a bit expensive, it’s one of those things that I don’t regret just for the sheer fact that it highlights the wonder and ingenuity of humanity.

A wonderful example of the Nazca lines.

Day 19 – June 12th, 2012

When traveling, we often forget that we are still capable of getting hurt. Sure, we buy insurance, just in case, but we never figure we’ll need it. At least, I don’t. Today was a day when I got reminded how real danger can be while traveling. On our way from Nazca to Paracas, I saw an overturned tourist bus on the side of the road. It put me in a melancholic sense of self-reflection. We travel to experience new things, often putting ourselves in situations that we never would in the safety of our homes. In a sense, that’s the whole point of traveling, getting out of our comfort zones, but we can’t forget that even if we don’t live our normal lives on the road, we’re still as vulnerable as if we were at home. Sadly, the overturned bus wasn’t as close as I was going to be to tragedy that day.

Sand buggy in Peru

A few minutes before strapping in and going down a sand dune on a wooden plank.

We stopped at Huacachina for lunch and the option to do some sand buggying and sandboarding. I missed out on the chance to do sand buggying in Abu Dhabi, so I certainly wasn’t going to miss out again (the chance to do some sand boarding was an added bonus!). We set off on our roller-coaster-like sand buggy ride in the desert with some sandboards in the trunk. If you ever have the chance to go on a buggy on sand dunes, do it. It’s so much fun! We first stopped on top of what I thought was a high dune to practice our sandboarding. If you’ve never tried that, take my word that sandboarding is both terrifying and super hard, but also exhilarating. Your feet are strapped in on a wooden board and you slide down a steep sand slope while trying not to fall and eat loads of sand. That being said, it’s lots of fun. After that “starter” hill, we tried a second, higher hill. Many people gave up on trying to go down the hill standing up and simply rode it lying down on the board. Ironically, one girl really ate sand while going on down this way. You know how sand is, it gets everywhere.

The Peruvian desert

Another incredible scene from Peru.

After this second hill, we went to an even higher sand dune for our third and last ride. I managed to more or less ride the dune, but I wouldn’t say I did it expertly. It was more of a manage-not-to-fall-and-control-my-speed success. I’ll take what I can though. Our last rider wasn’t so lucky. About halfway down the hill, the edge of his board caught on the sand and in an instant, he was flung forward, face first, in the sand. Thinking about his whole body slamming on his face still makes me shiver. We rushed over to see if he was ok. His glasses were a meter behind him, bent, and he had a slight cut below his right eye. His knee was hurting too. It could have been much worst though, sand doesn’t really absorb impact, and he had just hurled his body, face first, into it. While we were making sure he felt fine, uneasily joking, and waiting for the sand buggy to arrive (we figured we should call it a day and head back to town after that), we heard the last thing you want to hear after such an accident. “Guys, I can’t see anything.”

Oh no.

An instant later, his face was white and he collapsed. My father had done the same thing in different circumstances a few years ago, and he made it out unscathed, so I had an idea of what happening, but it was still terrifying. We were in the desert with one of our friends unconscious. No matter how calm you are, it’s not a situation in which you ever want to find yourself. To his credit, our guide handled the situation perfectly. After what seemed like an eternity, the buggy arrived. Our friend returned to us and after a few long minutes, we returned to the city. After a bit of rest, he felt better, but it’s very likely (from my untrained opinion) that he suffered a concussion.

Later that night, I dropped my camera and it broke. But I rather drop and break 1 000 cameras than have my friends go through what happened in the desert.

Day 20 – June 13th, 2012

On our last full day of the trip, we made our way to Lima, the capital of Peru. Like every other capital city, Lima is teeming with American chain restaurants and giant supermarkets. We had our final goodbye supper and decided we should go out for drinks together as a group one last time.

Together with my roommate and the Belgian guy, we decided to have a tequila night after supper since nothing else was happening (9pm on a Wednesday night in Latin America, who would have thought otherwise). We found a reasonable bar and took turns at buying rounds after rounds of tequila for 5 soles per shot (around $2). I remember Alex, my roommate, estimating we finished about 3 bottles of tequila, or about 16 shots each. It is one of the few things I remember clearly from that night. It was a big finish to big vacation.

Day 21 – June 14th, 2012

This was it. My last day in Peru. Though it wasn’t really a day as much as a few hours in the morning. My flight left at 7:30, so I had to leave the hotel at around 5am to make it at the airport before 6am. However, because I decided to party quite hard on my last night, I ended up sleeping through my watch alarm and the wake up call. I finally came to around 5:45am. This couldn’t be good. Because sober Simon had the foresight to get everything ready for drunk Simon, I got dressed and ready in record time (like 2 minutes). Luckily, the taxi driver had been waiting for me for the better part of the hour and he was ready to go when I emerged from my room, still drunk. I’m honestly not sure how I managed to get all my stuff together and board the airplane without too much trouble. In fact, when I unpacked, I discovered that the only thing I forgot during my rushed departure was my deodorant. Not bad!

I found my seat on the flight (a nice window seat) and next thing I know I’m waking up 5 hours later, somewhere over Central America. The rest of the return home was, as these things typically are, uneventful. But after three weeks of fun and excitement, some time to relax was exactly what I needed.

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Day 15 – June 8th, 2012

For me, the worst thing about Peru are the “continental breakfasts”. They are basically just crusty bread with a little side of hard butter and jam, and some tea. Sometimes, like in Cusco, you get eggs and ham and puffed cereals too, which are really nice. But generally speaking, it’s not the best way to start your day. Today, I had an even worst “continental breakfast”. I sat down at a table with some friends, where one had just left, and waited for a few minutes to get my portion of bread and tea (and from what I could see one the other people’s plates, egg). The lady never came. When I finally asked her for some food, she ignored me. Eventually, I was able to get one triangular piece of bread out of her with the help of one guy who speaks Spanish, but she refused to give me a slice of cheese (and forget about the egg and juice!). I think she mistook me for this Australian guy with spiky hair and a good 30lbs on me who had just left. Since we are rationed at one slice of cheese at this place, she probably figured I was just a greedy pig who decided to lose 30lbs and a fair bit of hair to get a bit more cheese and bread. I never did end up getting more than one bread. After that disappointing breakfast, we left Arequipa to head to our next hotel an hour from Colca Canyon, where we hopefully will get to see some condors in the morning.

Day 16 – June 9th, 2012

We woke up early to reach Colca Canyon on time to watch some condors in the morning. It was really beautiful. At first, we were skeptical that there actually were any condors, but all at once, 6 condors emerged from the canyon and started majestically gliding around! Some must have soared some 10 or 15 meters from us. It was really exciting. Colca Canyon is apparently twice as deep as the Grand Canyon. Again, I’m constantly surprised by how rugged the Peruvian landscape is. If I was a Spaniard back in the conquering days and I came across this insane canyon, I would have probably would have let whoever lived on the other side of that deep rift keep practicing their heretic traditions. It apparently takes like 4 days to get from one side to another. No way would I have the motivation to that. There weren’t even paths back then! Geez.

A condor and a sunrise

Condors soared above us as a new day began.

Day 17- June 10th, 2012

Today is more of a transportation/waste some time day. We left Colca Canyon at around 10am and returned to Arequipa by 1:30pm. We have another night bus leaving at 9pm, so we’re all just trying to waste time until that departure. We’re also trying to mentally prepare from what has been universally hailed as the worst night’s sleep ever part 2. At least the bus ride back to Arequipa had some pretty rad 80s music playing. Yes, I am getting lousy with the details of this trip, but honestly, it feels like these days we just do a lot of transportation to see a notable sight for a few hours. I guess it’s good in that we’re being quite thorough with our Peru sightseeing. Also, I can’t wait to get home and have a hot shower. It’s been like 3 mornings in a row that we don’t have any. Reminds me of my first few weeks in Montreal when the hot water didn’t work, only without a bucket to pour boiling water from a kettle.

Terraced landscape in Peru

The road may be long, but the view is always beautiful.

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Day 12 – June 5th, 2012

Our first night back after Machu Pichu turned out to be a big party night (Day 11). Day 12 was pretty much a write-off. It got so nuts that one of the guys woke up at 3:30pm and thought the reason why no one was in the dinning room was because it was around 6am and therefore before breakfast. That same guy fell from the bar (one which he was standing) and hurt his knee. He woke up with no memory of the night worried he had gotten into a fight. I didn’t have as big a night as he did, but I still didn’t feel top shape until I relaxed in my room for some tv and a long 3 hour nap.  Though I did watch part of a show called Dr. TV (think Spanish Dr. Oz) where, from what I understood, the doctor was warning the audience of the dangers of alcohol consumption. The irony didn’t escape me.

Day 13 – June 6th, 2012

This was our last day in Cusco. My roommate and I decided to try some of the area’s famous white water rafting. If ever you’re in Cusco, you really need to try the rafting. It’s so much fun! The river started about 2 hours out of Cusco and ran for about 13 km. We were four in our raft (my roommate, some Swedish guy, our guide, and me) and the whole thing was amazing. The third guy in our team, the Swedish guy, told us a few stories from his 6 month exchange to Peru. One of those stories, where a friend of his took a 10 hour night bus bus from Cusco to Arequipa and 4 dudes with machetes came and ransacked the place made us a bit uneasy because we were taking that same night bus that very evening. No jokes.

Day 14 – June 7th, 2012

The 10 hour night bus wasn’t as bad as I expected. There were no machete wielding thugs, so that was good. Plus I was able to sleep! My day in Arequipa consisted mostly of wandering around and eating. It’s a pretty nice place, but it’s much warmer and more spread out that Cusco. Actually, it’s quite beautiful. The city is surrounded but mountain. From the top of the hotel, on the rooftop balcony, you have a terrific view of a few snow-capped mountains. For breakfast, we ate at some restaurant at the market where I had a very filling soup called adobo (basically meat with some thick broth and onion), for lunch I had a bunch of fresh fruits and a fruit juice because I was still full from the adobo, and for supper I had a local specialty, guinea pig! I’m glad I tried guinea pig, but I won’t be having it again anytime soon. It’s a very fatty meat and the meat is, as you’d expect for something the size of a rat, very sparse. Oh! I also experienced an earthquake today! When I first felt it, I thought I was sitting over a metro or something, then I remembered there is no metro system here and I noticed that people were rushing out of their buildings. It was a neat experience, though I’m glad I was outside for it.

A mountain from the top of our hotel in Arequipa

A mountain from the top of our hotel in Arequipa. Beautiful scenery like this abounds in Peru.

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Day 7 – May 31th, 2012

The day started a bit rough. I woke up with a slight headache from what I assume is a coca hangover\withdrawl. Weird. Besides that slightly rough start, it was a fairly low-key day. I guess the main highlight was the ride to the city that preceded my trek towards Machu Pichu. It’s just so scenic here!

A gentle lunch before the Lares Trek

Roughing it for lunch before we set off on the Lares Trek.

Days 8 through 10 – June 1st through June 3th, 2012

G Adventure offers two trek before Machu Pichu: the Lares Trek and the Inca Trail. The Lares Trek takes you through mountains and local villages, ends up in some Peruvian village and is a day shorter, while the more historical and famous Inca Trail goes through Incan ruins and ends up at Machu Pichu. Because the Inca trail only accommodates 250 tourists per day, it tends to sell out fairly quickly. Because of this, I did the Lares Trek, though I’m glad I did. Also, I heard the Inca Trail has loads of stairs. I hate hiking stairs.

Beautiful day on the Lares Trek

A beautiful day for a hike on the Lares Trek

The Lares Trek is an easy 3 day 2 night hike (I’m convinced you could do it in two moderate days or one super hardcore day) through some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever been surrounded by. Giant mountains, deep cliffs, distant snow-capped mountains, wildlife, it was all there. The trek is obviously fully supported by two guides, porters and cooks, so it’s not the most hardcore hike, but there is no way to deny that climbing to 4 600 meters on the second day is a good challenge. For me, it was more of an experience than a true hike. Being in nature, having that fresh air, seeing nature’s awesomeness, that’s what it was about for me. Unlike the Inca Trail, the Lares Trek can allow you lots of solitude, if that’s what you seek. We only crossed one other group during the whole thing. It was so serene. Though I would have enjoyed something a bit longer through the same type of terrain, I have no complaints with the experience. Surprisingly, the food was delicious for something prepared in the middle of mountains. The few treks I’ve done during my travels always have the best food. I think it was even some of the best food I had during the whole trip. Having your private cook while traveling has its benefits.

Feeling small surrounded by such awesome scenery

Feeling small surrounded by such awesome scenery.

The only downside was that the nights were frigid, even in a winter sleeping bag with three layers. Thankfully we only slept outside for two nights. On the second night, we woke up to our tents covered with frost. Just thinking about it makes me shiver!

Tents covered in frost

Warmer than sleeping outside, but not by much.

Day 11 – June 4th, 2012

This was the big day for this trip. Machu Pichu! The advantage of doing the Lares Trek is that you get to have a shower before going to Machu Pichu. You arrive feeling clean and reasonable well rested. People who did the Inca Trail arrived directly from hiking to the historical site, while we had a night in a hotel to wash and rest a bit, though the marching band that paraded in front of our hotel all night didn’t help me fall asleep. Still, it certainly is an advantage of the Lares Trek!

A first sunbeam hits Machu Pichu

A first sunbeam hits Machu Pichu.

Machu Pichu is a spectacular place. It’s practically located in the clouds and it is surrounded by jagged mountains. The skill it must have taken to build that place is mind-blowing. Though for me, the true highlight of the visit was the chance to hike the mountain behind Machu Pichu, Huayna Pichu. Though it’s mostly steps, the view from the peak is breathtaking. I really need to upload some pictures…

Machu Pichu from Huaynapichu

Machu Pichu from Huaynapichu and to the left, the road up to Machu Pichu.

Oh! I haven’t had any coca leaves since the second day on the hike and I haven’t had any 4am headaches! Hurray for not being a coca loaf addict!

We spent about 7 hours at Machu Pichu before making the journey back to Cusco. On the way back, we were treated by a stunning full moon on the horizon over the mountains. I love mountains so much, they make everything seem so much more dramatic.

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This is a day-by-day account of G Adventure’s Andean Adventure tour (tour JLM). Instead of stretching out my posts over a few days after my return, I decided to simply post in chunks when I have access to the internet. Here are the past 5 days. Next time I update will probably be after Machu Pichu in 4 or 5 days. I’ll try to add some pictures too at that point.

Day 2 – May 26th, 2012

We left La Paz for Peru today. To get from La Paz to where we were going, we had to take a long bus ride and a short ferry boat ride across lake Titicaca. Despite it’s grade 2 hilarious name, Lake Titicaca is seriously legit. This is a giant lake, like, massive. If it were a country, it would be the 171st largest (out of 249). It’s bigger than Luxembourg and Hong Kong. Not only that, but it’s 3 800 meters above sea level! Pretty crazy spot. Luckily we crossed it at a point where the distance between the shores is only about 800 meters.After crossing the lake we got back on our bus towards Copacabana (not the famous one though, that one’s in Brasil).  We were warned by our guide that we should pretend to not know him in Bolivia for work visa reasons. Kinda sketchy, but not really. Apparently much sketchier things happen in regards to immigration in Bolivia (the people who were on the previous tour that crossed into Bolivia had to bribe a border agent with rhum and money, though he apparently would have prefered a chicken). We  got off the bus in time for lunch in Copacabana and as people were asking our guide for good spots to eat and visit, the police showed up. Our guide started acting distant and we got the hint that we should pretend not to know him. After lunch, we all returned to the bus, but our guide was nowhere to be found. I won’t use the word crisis, but people started worrying. After all, he was the one with our bus tickets and our hotel confirmation (and the only one who really knew what we were doing for the next few weeks). We figured the best thing to do was to take the bus, like it everything was ok, and cross the Peruvian border. We’d figure it out in Peru. The 3 hour bus ride was full of conjecture and slight agitation. The problem with traveling with a tour is that you’re not really in charge of what goes on since everything is organised for you, it can feel like you’re just along for the ride. We got to our final destination in Puno, Peru. Who was there waiting for us? BAM! Our guide! Apparently the Bolivian police asked him if he knew us/was working with the tour, he said no, and then told him that if that was the case he should get out of Bolivia immediately. So he boarded the next bus to Puno and waited for us to arrive. All’s well that ends well!

A picture from lake Titicaca

A lake as beautiful as it’s name is hilarious (for elementary school kids [and me]).

Day 3 – May 27th, 2012

Today we went to check out some floating islands and indigenous villages on lake Titicaca. The floating village, while cool, had the typical tourist trap vibe to it. We went to see some houses, but while there, we were presented some things to buy. I hate awkward situations like that so much, but at the same time I understand that tourism allows communities that would otherwise not have any resources to continue existing. It’s a frustrating dichotomy. After that, we took the boat for another few hours to an island where we took a little hike up to a restaurant. Altitude hiking rewards you with pretty stunning scenery, but it’s so exhausting. Thankfully a delicious meal was waiting for us in the village on top of the mountain (hill?). Some fresh quinoa soup followed by a delicious fish and rice meal. So good! Afterwards, we went to another island where we go to meet our homestay family with whom we’d spend the night and morning. My roommate Alex and I don’t really speak Spanish, and the family was a bit awkward (to be fair, not as much as we were), so it was a pretty rough start to our stay. We ended up playing marbles with the 8-year-old boy while we waited for supper in the kitchen. There was a celebration of sorts later that night, but I felt a bit run down, so I figured I should be responsible and go to bed early. I think Alex didn’t want to go out in the cold. We both crashed at around 9pm. I’d hate to be sick for Machu Pichu!

Sleeping under 4 heavy blankets to ward off the cold.

Sleeping under 4 heavy blankets to ward off the cold.

Day 4 – May 28th, 2012

Winter (because it’s winter here right now) nights in Peru are cold. So cold that Alex and I slept under 4 heavy wool blankets. Our room wasn’t heated, or insulated, but still. Despite sleeping under 30 or 40 lbs of sheets, I woke up rested and healthy (thank goodness!). Alex didn’t sleep as well, but that’s probably because he had some coca tea after supper. That stuff’ll wake you up. After a nice, and  once again awkward, breakfast, Alex and I went with the father to harvest some barley on his plot of land. The hike up was about an hour, but we took the scenic route. Alex, the father, the son, and I harvested barley for about 45 minutes and then we rolled it up in 60 lbs (I’m guessing) bundles and walked it down to their house using a more direct route. It still took us like an hour though because carrying a giant load of barley on your back using only a blanket and some rope takes some practice. Despite how tough it was, it made for a very enjoyable morning. It was nice to see what daily life islike for members of such a community. After a nice lunch, we were on our merry way back to the mainland. I spent a good hour on the boat ride back removing tiny barley twigs from my shirt, those little guys are prickly!

A picture of a picture of two gringos harvesting barley

I didn’t have my camera, so this picture of a picture taken on a camera phone is the only proof I have that I actually harvested some barley.

Day 5 – May 29th, 2012

Today was mostly a travel day. We went from Puno to Cusco, the main touristic city in Peru. It took us about 6 hours, but the view along the way was stunning. It’s hard to describe, but it looked like we were surrounded by giant mountains of green velvet. I know it sounds really tacky, but it was a stunning view. Having those green mountains, interspersed with distant glaciers, made me feel like I was back in the time of dinosaurs. Lke, it wouldn’t have surprised me if the road was blocked by a brontosauraus gently crossing the road or something. The ruggedness and scale of the Peruvian mountains is something I don’t think I’ve ever experienced. Once we got there, I got to walk about Cusco a bit. I have to say, Cusco’s a really cool city. It has a really relax vibe to it. I think staying here for a few weeks while learning Spanish would be a great experience. Perhaps influencing me on this is that I went for supper to a place called Nuna Raymi with another person from the tour and had the most delicious meal. The menu describes lomo saltado as Tender juicy thin slices of beef sirloin sautéed and seasoned with pisco, garlic, coriander, soy sauce and complemented with crispy onion, yellow chili, fresh tomato, served with french fries and white rice (the version I had added this) plus mushrooms, peppers, chives and beer, all this DELICIOUSLY sautéed. I wish I had taken a picture, but it wouldn’t do it justice. Later that night, we met up with the other people at what is billed as the world’s highest Irish pub for a few drinks. It was a good end to a relatively dull day.

A Peruvian house is dwarfed by a mountain

I love how tiny the house seems next to the mountain.

Day 6 – May 30th, 2012

Today was much more relaxed than any day before. We had a guided tour of Cusco with our tour leader in the morning. For me, the highlight was the local market. It was loaded with clothes and food, and had a really nice feeling. Like Jean Talon market if they got ride of all health concerns and started selling clothes and sundries. I like to imagine that if I stayed in Cusco for a few weeks, I’d go to the same merchants on a daily basis and have nice conversations in Spanish about the quality of the fruit or the weather or something. I ended up going to lunch at the market with someone from the group. I wasn’t fancy (it was a wooden bench in front of a table behind which they prepared some food), but it was good, fast and cheap. In the afternoon, our guide brought a few of us to the top of a hill overlooking Cusco. It was a bit rough it make it up, but it was beautiful up there. It was also a great opportunity to break in my hiking books before the Lares Trek to Machu Pichu. It was also a nice opportunity to try the local hiking suppliment, coca leaves…

Cusco from the mountain

A view of Cusco from the top of one of the mountains that surrounds it.

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A few months ago, I entered and won a trip with G Adventures through Student Cuts. I decided to take a 3 week tour through Peru (Andean Advenutre trip code JLM. I figure it’s similar to the JML, only backwards). I will update the blog as frequently as I can with our daily activities. I´ll add some pictures when I get back home.

Day 1 – May 25th, 2012

I arrived in Bolivia at 5:30am. Luckily, I was able to get a few hours of sleep on the flight over, thought I was still extremely tired. I like to think that when I´m awake, my mind is constantly super sharp, but the lack of sleep combined with the reduced oxygen (the La Paz airport is the highest in the world) probably made me a bit slower than usual. I went through immigration with no problem (a constant fear of mine) and managed to a get a cab to the hotel. The drive from the airport to La Paz is all downhill. I figure it would make for a pretty spectacular view, but since it was dark, I didn´t get to see much of it. I do enjoy seeing a city wake up though. Seeing the residents doing their morning routine. There’s something intimate about that process that I enjoy witnessing.

A snow peaked mountain in as seen in La Paz

A snow peaked mountain seen from La Paz

After checking in at the hotel, I had a small breakfast with some other traveller who were on the same flight. Because my room was only to be ready at 1pm, I left my bag at the hostel and went for a little walk. I found a nice square near a beautiful church (San Fransisco church) and I sat there looking at the city go to work. Because of the altitude, I would´t walk around too much. Not that I felt sick or anything, I just became exhausted after walking for too long. I walked around some more, once I caught my breath. La Paz is a strange city. It doesn´t really have a downtown as I’ve experienced them. It reminded me a bit of Rangoon in that it has a sort of desolate feel to it, like it was built, and then people remembered that they couldn’t afford it.

La Paz from the hostel window

La Paz as seen from the hostel window

I checked into my room around 1pm and decided to take a nap. I napped for 3 hours. At 5pm, I got woken up by a knock at my door. I had locked the door, and since I had they key, my roommate couldn´t get in. I probably made the worst first impression ever: in my boxers, face puffy, a bit out of it. Whatever. My roommate (Alex) is a Brit who just completed a 3 week tour of Bolivia with G Adventures (the travel outfit). Out of the 15 group members, turns out 10 of them have been together for the past 3 weeks. At our first group meeting, I got to meet everyone and I was surprised to find out that fair bit of them of out of high school. They all seem really nice and our guide seems like a really legit guy. Most of them are also doing an extended trip (traveling for a few months). Hearing their stories made me yearn for those days. Maybe later.

I studied Spanish for a semester in high school. Needless to say, my Spanish is super rusty. Somehow though, I manage to get by. It’s interesting because people here don´t speak as much English as in South-East Asia. Probably because Spanish is spoken by most of the continent and it´s a relatively easy language to pick up (the basics, at least).

We´re crossing to Peru tomorrow. I think this trip will be a good time.

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