To quote Sir Paul, it was a "long and winding road" on the way from Buenos Aires back to Santiago. We could have easily stayed another year in South America, and kept heading south into the Patagonia region and further still to the Antarctic, but money was running low, family was beaconing, and we had a wedding to attend - OURS!
We had an extra couple of weeks to spend in Santiago before our flight was scheduled to take us home. Luckily for us, Amelia, one of the most generous and trusting people I've ever known, continued to open up her home for us to stay! Without Amelia's help, we truly wouldn't have been able to afford the bottom leg of our trip. Although we were using the current year (2011) Lonely Planet, there was a massive economic shift in Chile and Argentina after the time the book was published, resulting in a price inflation of up to 3 times what was published in our book (especially for bus travel). This blew our budget right out of the water for the southern countries; however, we had a secret weapon in Amelia. Amelia provided us with companionship in the Galapagos, an amazing experience at the observatory outside of Antofagasta, a place to stay in Santiago (I think we stayed at her house for over a month in total), and pure and true friendship that we will keep for a lifetime! We still keep in touch with Amelia and hope that one day soon, our paths will cross again (we're itching to return the generosity that she showed to us).
After our time in Santiago (spent drinking ourselves silly off of Chilean wine, shopping at the night-cat market, and maybe one or two more cafes con piernas) we caught our flight home. Our adventure didn't end there; however, as our connecting flight ended up getting cancelled, stranding us in Cancun of all places! There, we had to endure the hardship of having the airlines put us up at a resort for one last night of fun before real life started again. It was a tough break :)
Over the course of 10 months, we travelled to exotic lands and saw amazing sights. I still vividly remember landing in Cartagena, not knowing what to expect - hearing all the horror stories about the dangers of South America (Colombia in particular). Going in with an open mind and an open heart, we found nothing joy, friendship, generosity, and an adventure of a lifetime. Other than some of the crazy roads, I never once felt in danger during our travels!
I've been asked a number of times, "what was your favourite place?" and I honestly can't say. Each leg of the trip was an incredible experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. The beaches, festivals, and friendly people of Cartagena; our chance to play Indiana Jones and visit the Lost City, deep inside a Colombian jungle; getting fat off of pies and eating a 5 star meal with a spiritual leader in Otavalo; going to a Christmas concert in Quito; exploring the natural paradise that is the Galapagos; living with a family and experiencing life on a Chocolate farm in Puerto Quito; playing Evel Knievel in Banos; becoming beach bums in Huanchaco and mountaineers in Huarez; shopping in Lima; ridding sand buggies in Huacachina; eating in Cusco; fulfilling my dream of proposing to my wife atop of Machu Picchu (that was a particularly good one); making a wedding dress with Lydia in La Paz; exploring deep into the Amazon jungle; taking a road trip with new friends through the Salar; seeing the stars in Antofagasta and then Paul McCartney in Santiago; drinking the Malbecs of Mendoza; seeing the waterfalls of Iguazu, the dancers of Buenos Aires, and the sunset in Colonia. These are adventures I will hold next to my heart for the rest of my life.
Even with all the adventures and exotic lands, it will be the people and the shared experiences that I will remember the most! Above all else, I will remember my time spent with Lydia. For close to 1 year, we were joined at the hip; literally spending every minute of every day together! Of course we had a few spats here and there, but we never went to bed angry and we were always there for each other. It doesn't get better than sharing a once in a lifetime trip with the one you love, and I was lucky enough to be able to make it the trip of trips with the woman of my dreams!
I cannot recommend travel enough. See the world, eat the food, drink the wine, experience life (you only get one). I remember when we were planning for this trip, most people thought that we had won the lottery. How else could we afford such a trip?!?!? We would always hear things like, "I wish I could do something like that" or "I could never afford something like that" and the fact of the matter is, YOU CAN! Lydia and I saved for this trip with part-time jobs, while going to (and paying for) school, and that's it! The only thing left to do after watching your budget for a while is to take that first step and leave everything else behind. All it takes is planning and commitment! If you pick the right country, you can live for just dollars a day and live like kings or queens!
If there's one thing I hope people take from this blog, it's to not be afraid to get out and see the world. I guarantee you will have the experience of a lifetime!
Thanks to everyone for sharing this experience with us! Until our next journey!
- Tydia (Tyrone and Lydia Austen)