The End of my South American Journey

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
Trip End Jun 01, 2012

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Flag of Brazil  , State of Sao Paulo,
Sunday, February 26, 2012

Right – well that was the South America bit of my trip. So i thought I'd do a bit of a epilogue/plenary type thing (yes I know – Iike I’ve ever done a proper plenary in my life – as a teacher you are meant to do them at the end of every lesson – doesn’t 'right kids pack away then’ count? ). However, all the top travellers do this bit so the plan was to give it a go. I did have visions that this would be like a cross between some moving words from Mark Twain , Paul Theroux, Bill Bryson, Michael Palin and that bloke who did the equator programme, however it’s more like’ An Idiot Abroad’. In fact I might rename this all ‘A Complete Idiot Aborad’.

Anyway before I left I had this vision that travelling would elevate me to a higher level of conciousness and that by backpacking around South America, I’d absorb great wisdom – that my mind would dilate with everything I was taking in- and then I would be able to churn out amazing reflections on my surroundings  filled with great insight and observation like the great philosphers. 

So the insight - I did hope that I’d gain a real insight into South America and be able to write something stunning  about it but I’m not too sure how much I really got to grips with it all (it probably would have helped if I’d actually read the couple of books on South America’s history before I left).I  had a lovely time but as for truly experiencing it all - First of all I didn’t really learn any Spanish or Portuguese (except for the basics – wine, beer, how you want your steak cooked, secondly  I can’t samba or Argentine Tango and I didn’t spend any time in the Amazon jungle with the indigenous population or meet any gaucho’s.  However,  I have leant about cairpirinas and pisco sours and I’m now a bit of a South American wine expert – well I’ve got so far as being able to tell the difference between a cabernet sauvignon, a merlot and and a malbec (yes I know it’s on the label).

As well as my lack of insight into the continent, unfortunately there has been nothing remotely philosophical about my posts either– but then again what do I know about philosopy. I know there is some bloke called Plato and that there is this thing called existentialism (I thought it was what they did on Star Trek to get beamed up), but other than that I’m completely clueless. So far in the blog I have just wittered on at length about what  I have done and  then the only other things I have managed is to add in some geographical facts (pretty much completely plagiarised from wikilipedia) and then add in a few song lyrics which have had no value whatsoever except to further confirm the fact that they I know far too many cheesy tunes.  So apologies now – the following will not be infused with philosophical insights, however I do have some words of wisdom to share with you -  well to be fair they are actually just some top tips.

Anyway a few pieces of advice that will be going in my book - "Gap years for people who are bordering on being anal, have obviously created a spreadsheet for the trip and with a perchant for putting things in zip Lock bags and money bags".

1. When you are doing that final pack, don’t put in the pair of beige chino’s,  as you really won’t be wearing them. I have no idea what made me think I would need them. When was I going to wear them? And seriously the compass  – no you aren’t going to need one of those either !! (map reading one – I didn’t take one to draw circles with, cos that would have been really silly and you can have someone’s eye out with one as well)

2. What you will need though is

i) A Universal Sink Plug. The L.P. has it in a special box in the introduction to the section on what you MUST take to Brazil – just hadn’t bothered to read that bit before I left.  I only came across one hotel with a plug and that was for the bath and not for the wash basin (is that one word or two?). Anyway if you are a total muppet and didn’t bring one and have paid the price by spending half a weeks wages on a few items of washing in a Buenos Aires hotel and are now washing everything by hand then you can use the Helen Devine method (Yes the suggestion has been sent off to ‘Take a Break’, I know the suggestion of ‘Put a pair of socks over your hands when you go to sleep to stop you scratching insect bites’ didn’t make it in back in 1999 but we are hopeful with this on) of stuffing the plug hole with a pair of pants.

ii) Ensure your swiss army knife has a bottle opener – very few bottles of wine in South America have screw tops – you don’t want to be settled ready for a night in with Strictly Come Dancing and not be able to get into that bottle

3. Make sure you get your cashpoint card back out the machine. It saves a lot of time and effort trying to get a new one.  

4. Taxis and planes – they were invented to save time and make life easier. Taxis are there so that if you do have heavy bags and need to get to a hotel then you can it without nearly having a seizure.  Aeroplanes – cut down massively on travelling time (unless an ash cloud closes the airport), far quicker than buses.

5. No matter how lovely they are, never go to the beach with a couple of blonde, attractive, size 8-10 Aussies. It will only dent your conidence.

6. And finally – the reason you are told when you are young to get a good education and get yourself a good job earning lots of money is not really about ensuring you have a pension or can provide for your own children’s education. It’s because when you do have that mid-life crisis and you do decide to jack in everything and go off travelling round the world to ‘find yourself’ that you have enough money to ensure that you do not need to stay in hostels.

So apart from my lack of insight and  philiosophical reflections - have I found the answers to all of life’s big questions – was this the therapy it was meant to be? No of course not, however  I have learnt so much from it all and in ways that I never really imagined.

First of all I’ve had a lot of posts and emails from all of you lovely people about all of the incredible experiences that I have had, and the wonderful things I have seen but actually the biggest thing for me was what it took for me to create those experiences. First of all I took a huge leap by heading off in the first place. I still am quite shocked that I actually have seen the whole lot through so far. But as well as this every single day I had to take other smaller leaps as well. I know my blog might sound like a lot of the trip was a breeze but what it doesn’t mention is that every single time I had to put myself out there – to try something new, and in particular to meet new people that there was always a voice in my head (the opposite of the naughty bears Cez) saying no Liz you can’t do it – don’t book that, don’t speak to them, don’t send that email etc. One of the things I am really good at (yes there is something) is being on my own. I’m quite happy in my own company and I can cope with being by myself for days on end (I do talk to myself quite a bit though). I remember talking to Morag (we were sat in the office having one of our chats) months ago about the trip and I was saying that for me the most important thing about it all was for me to do it by myself but then not. I needed to head off on my own but it was so important that I ensured I did make an effort to meet people.  So that for me has been my biggest accomplishment of it all – the fact that I have managed that, that I did ignore that voice in my head telling me not to talk to someone as they’ll think you are a complete muppet. The voice that meant I nearly didn’t email Jim about Rio after we had met in Ecuador or the one that said don’t email the Aussie girls after we’d met for one night.

The other thing is that in many ways travelling can be quite brutal (just ask those who’ve ever flown with Iberia long-haul). It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of all that is familiar and the comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things. Travelling takes you away from everything familiar to you, your life is stripped bare. All I had was one red bag with my belongings in (yes I know – it must have had quite a few as the bag was pretty heavy). So you do have to learn to cope with constant change and everything being different and uncertain. Please bear with me on this one (Bear with bear with – genius) ... I know your heart is bleeding and you are just on the phone to the Queen right now requesting my knighthood (dame thingy) for my hardship of having to go off travelling to South America and have such amazing experiences when you’ve just had to teach 9C2 for the third time this week after you were up half the time as baby Jonny is teething – I am going somewhere with this .... So my point is that when there is nothing from your old life  it’s when you realise what you miss from it. It enables you to gain a new perspective on it all and really see what is important . I read (Actually I probably it off ‘Being Erica’) a quote that says ‘Sometimes you need the journey (isn’t it always about the journey!! – just Don’t Stop Believing) in order to see something that was right in front of you the whole time’ It enables you to gain a new perspective on it all and really see what is important. So by stepping away from my old life it’s made me see what  I  have missed the most since I’ve been here – so apart from the bacon sandwiches, mcvities dark chocolate digestives, curry and salad cream – I’ve always realised what is most important in my life and some ideas for the direction I need to take. And without being away I don’t think I would have ever got close to realising it all. I also know quite how much I love mountains. I’m sure at this point my Mum is saying ‘did you really need to go all the way to South America to realise that one. Couldn’t you have just gone and spent 5 months staying at  Butlins in Skegness. They have wine and beer there too. They even do dance classes and probably you could even learn Spanish. And as for the actual travel bit – National Express do a London to Aberdeen coach – you could have just gone on that a few times’.

The final thing I need to mention (for someone who at the start of this said they didn’t do epliogues you aren’t half going on a bit) is all the wonderful people I have had the opportunity to spend time with. First of all, I have had chance to spend time with Helen and do some travelling together (always an experience !!). Then in the US I have also had chance to see Tracy, Paul and Kara as well (although baby two decided she wasn’t quite ready to make an appearance). I have also met a lot of wonderful people. Some for a couple of weeks like those on the Cotapaxi, Galapagos and Patagonia trips and my Aussie friends, and some for just a few hours. But all have had a really big impact on me and will always be remembered and treasured. So I’m going to end with another quote;

 “A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill (The American travel writer – not the Australian bloke who plays for Everton – although I’m sure he has said some very meaningful words as well). If that’s the case then this has been a pretty darned good journey.
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Lesley on

What a colourful end to your amazing 4 months in South America!
I have enjoyed following you (from my sofa in northern Scotland!) through this wonderful continent - your reports have been hilarious and fabulous!
I can't wait to hear what you get up to in Nepal - enjoy your time at home and being reunited with friends and family x

Morag Wall on

Just sat down and read your entire blog from start to end - a fascinating read Liz - wouldnt expect anything else from you. I'm glad that your travels have proved to be everything you wanted to be (and more) - you deserve it.
Adrain Mole has got nothing on yor diary.... just teying to work out who will play you??? Looking fowrdwrd to seeing you soon. Safe travels. LOLxxx

Mum on

I am pleased you think that you have achieved something from your South American trip. Skegness is probably one of the flattest places in GB,so you certainly wouldn't have found any mountains there. Can't wait till the 22nd when you are home. Thank goodness you have posted all your photos on your Blog. I wouldn't have left the house for a week looking at them. XXX

Jim on

Nicely done, Liz, we'll make a philosopher of you yet. I'm really glad you did email me back about Rio because it was lovely to see you again and catch up with everything since Ecuador.

But you really ought to put in a caveat about Rio taxis being the worst in the world!

William Ramsay Chalmers on


Good on you. We are looking forward to seeing you on Thursday. Enjoy your last few days in the USA. Well be waiting.
All my love Bill xxxx

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