Three Months in South America Wrapped Up in San Pedro de Atacama

My tour of Salar de Uyuni finished up in San Pedro de Atacama, a small desert town in the north of Chile. With the altitude of the salt flats having an adverse effect on my cold I opted to find another doctor and was able to receive more medication which would hopefully help me recover.

The town had a friendly vibe about it and was home to many tour agencies, each competing for your business as you walked down the main street. People strolled down, enjoying the sun without a cloud in the sky. It was the perfect place to relax and the perfect place for me to look back on my three months in South America, something I realised was nowhere near enough time.

I’ll be honest and admit my exhaustion, I think my declining health is proof of that. Despite the incredible experience that it has been and the strong competition against the 9-5 I don’t think I can play down the effects that long term travel can have on a person. There is more planning involved than realised, more effort going into making friends and the effects of another culture so different from your own. The lack of English here didn’t help my situation and while I have loved learning Spanish it has added to the list of traveling difficulties. However, that has been the only downside to this year, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything nor would I prefer to be living the easier life by sitting at my desk job.

South America is full of more varied natural beauty than I realised. For someone who struggles to keep quiet I have been made speechless by too many mountains, deserts, and certainly cannot forget the jungle. The culture shocked me, offering more generosity than I expected, particularly when I could barely speak the language. The people want to take care of each other and of tourists, always ensuring I have what I need and know where I’m going, using hand gestures when I stare at them dumbfounded, wondering how I could still know so little Spanish after spending so much time here.

I’m happy with the countries I visited: Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia and while I don’t feel as though I rushed through them, I strongly believe more time could be dedicated to them all as I only managed to skim the surface of each. My experience in South America is certainly not over and I expect to be coming back in the future, sooner rather than later, this time with a bit more Spanish preparation if I can help it.

I’ll miss the ease of transport to wherever you need to go, something that was very different to that of my time in Africa, a place that hasn’t experienced enough tourism to cater to their needs in the way that South America has. The presence of fast food stores replaced by fresh street food; anything from empanadas to burgers, sandwiches to churros or freshly cut fruit or squeezed juice. Carts on every street corner containing the exact snack you need, something I’ll miss but my health certainly won’t. More importantly, I’ll miss the dogs. I probably averaged a good pat with at least one dog per day, ignoring those who worry about rabies and enjoying my presence in a place where dogs aren’t used as protection and instead are loved for who they are.

South America is another travel destination that gets a bad wrap for its ‘lack of safety’. I can only speak for the three countries I visited but can stand for the fact that I never once felt unsafe and again feel upset that limited stories of danger have been exaggerated and circulated thus giving an unfair reputation to the places. I urge you to push South American countries further up your travel list and to push aside the worries of safety. It is a place where a little common sense can go a long way and keep you safe, just like in many cities around the world that people don’t fear.

The colours, the music, the constant havoc and sheer lack of understanding of whatever is going on has made for an incredible experience made better by the spontaneity of the decision to leave Africa early and try something different. It has been the perfect ending to part one of my trip and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to add it to my adventure.