An Enduring Travel Friendship

We just got back from what was my fourth visit to Argentina in 10 years, to celebrate the wedding of the friend I met and travelled with from Quito, Ecuador to the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia in mid 2004.

It’s funny how travel friendships are solidified. Emily and I met sharing a hostel dorm in Quito after I’d spent a week studying Spanish there. She was at the very beginning of her 18 month South America, New Zealand, Australia and South-East Asia trip and I had already spent four months travelling in the US, Brazil, Northern Peru and Ecuador. We both had the same vague plan and decided to travel together for as long as we could stick it out. Two and a bit months and the addition of another travel buddy later, we parted ways with sad hugs and promises to keep in touch as she went to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile and I went back into Bolivia to make my way to Paraguay.

Little did we know that that was just the beginning of a long-standing friendship as when I returned to Australia I met up with Emily twice and then she came to live with me in my hometown for a bit. Five years passed before we saw each other again when I took my mum on a trip to Latin America which included visiting Emily as she had moved to Buenos Aires with her Argentinian boyfriend.

Another two years later, mi novio and I stopped in to visit them in Buenos Aires on our way back to Colombia. Leaving our two boyfriends to speak Spanish together, we laughed and joked about how we never would have imagined that we would both end up living in South America with Latino boyfriends. It was just too many stars aligned.

We are now just two months away from the 10 year anniversary of when Emily and I met and I know we’ll be friends forever. That meeting at the Posada del Maple in Quito and that first daytrip to the Otavalo markets was the beginning of this long-standing friendship that has withstood a lot of distance and dozens of home bases.

As I am a travel buddy from far-off lands, I hadn’t met any of Emily’s family or friends and her wedding was the perfect opportunity to meet them. Her family greeted me like some kind of adopted daughter they’d never met and her friends were all so fun and friendly and also eager to meet her South American travel buddy they’d heard about. It was the most perfect experience and we got to spend a few days together with her family and friends where they became my friends too.

It got me thinking about what is the secret of travel friendship longevity. I have quite a few friends on Facebook from that year of travel in 2004 and I love to see what they’re up to and how their lives have changed in the past decade. Those that I’m not in touch with via Facebook, I still think about as I recall my travels and the many wonderful experiences I had. So much so that one of them could contact me out of the blue saying they will be in Colombia and I would go out of my way to help them or offer them a place to stay.

If I had to explain what makes a travel friendship work in the long-term I guess it’s similar to my thoughts on making a long-distance relationship work – you have to plan to meet up again. Once you see a travel buddy outside of your trips, you are more likely to maintain closer contact with them. If they visit you or you visit them, you have additional shared experiences together in a more homely, real-world setting, and your stories span multiple time periods and give you more of a platform for the friendship.

It’s also important the amount of time you spent travelling with someone. The more time you spend together on the road, the better you get to know someone, and the more you know about a person, the greater the connection and the friendship will start to bloom as the connection is more emotional and less geographic. If you only have a short amount of time travelling together, but you maintain that friendship with numerous visits or phone calls, that will also help preserve the friendship beyond the life of your passport.

There’s something about travel that helps you to open up and share things with people that you might not normally do. Perhaps this is because we may never have to see them again, or perhaps it’s the conviviality of a mish-mash of people all just trying to get by in a foreign country where they feel at sea in a small lifeboat. Sharing the experience is what bonds you, but sharing more of you is what helps bind you to others.

One of the things I’ve found has helped cement my friendship with Emily and others that I’ve met on the road, in addition to the above-mentioned, is that we don’t live in the past. While we have wonderful shared experiences of the road and of course those stories come up regularly, that’s not all we have because we are interested in what our friends are doing now. These friendships live in the present and we have the expectation that they will continue into the future regardless of if we communicate frequently or not. Like any good, true friendship, time nor distance do not diminish the friendship.

Do you have any long-standing travel friendships? How have you kept these friendships alive post travel?

The Photo Vault: The Birthday Tradition


The interactive and informative museum on the equator
The interactive and informative museum on the equator

Quito, Ecuador, May 2004

As my 25th birthday approached, I started coming up with ideas of where I would be to spend my quarter of a century. As I was travelling, the options were pretty much endless. I´m not sure where the idea came from, but I decided that visiting the equator and jumping backwards and forwards from Southern Hemisphere to Northern Hemisphere and doing a tip-toe balancing act on the equator would be an awesome way to celebrate my day.

I was travelling on my own and hadn´t met anyone else at that stage who wanted to tag along to the various equator attractions in Ecuador, so I went on my own. I visited the small, interactive site which is on the actual equator and did all the cool things like balance an egg on a nail head and watch water swirl down the plugholes clockwise, anti-clockwise, and straight down (over the equator). I tried my hand at shooting a blowdart into a cactus leaf and generally had a great time.

I then went to the official equatorial monument, a large and bland site, that is just slightly off calculation and therefore not on the actual equator.

Back at the hostel I went out to dinner with some others and when they found out it was my birthday they ordered me a cake and a sparkler. It was a great day.

Ever since this birthday, I´ve always done something interesting, different, or just gotten away from it all so that I could spend my birthday doing something that would make me happy because in my early twenties, I realised that my birthday is only special to me, so rather than rely on others to make it a great day for me, I had to take it into my own hands. Since then I´ve hiked in national parks, gone parasailing and kitesurfing, rafted through the Grand Canyon, visited Angkor Wat, biked around Rottnest Island, climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and hit the beach in Mexico.

This year, I´m back in South America for my birthday, just over the mountains a bit from Ecuador where the birthday tradition started. So today, for my first birthday in Colombia I went tubing in the rapids of the river in Minca, not far from Santa Marta. I never really expected to start such a tradition as I stood on the equator, but I love it and I´m keen to see what exciting things I do and interesting places I go for the birthdays to come.

* If you are interested in more information about the museum at the equator, The Souls of My Shoes blogged about her recent visit and more fun activities that can be found at the equator.

The Photo Vault is where I will be sharing my favourite photos (and their stories) that deserve better than being lost in the depths of my iPhoto never to be shared.

The Photo Vault: Bogotá Street Art


Street art in Bogota, Colombia

Bogotá, Colombia, September 2011

Having just come back from a quick trip to Bogotá where there was no time to sight-see in amongst the errands we had to run, a striking piece of street art took me back to the 4 weeks I spent in Bogotá in 2011 before travelling to Santa Marta and meeting mi novio.

One of the things the most notable things in Bogotá is the street art. I saw it everywhere as I wandered the streets of La Candelaria and I wanted to find out more. The street art in Bogotá is particularly striking because it is more design and imagery and less simple tagging. To me this is art.

I stumbled across a flyer on the pinboard at my Spanish school for a graffiti tour and managed to talk two classmates, including a girl who has also produced her own street art in Switzerland, into going on the tour with me.

We met with Christian, an Australian expat and the man behind Bogota Graffiti Tours, at the Parque de los Periodistas for the tour and learned that they were in their first few weeks of operating the tours. Christian took us around La Candelaria and then further afield to see major street art pieces by well-known local and international artists and explained the many techniques and signature styles of the work. It was fascinating.

Seeing walls like the one in this photo make me happy. It feeds my soul. All of Bogotá is a gallery and these pieces have their place in time. From the moment they are completed the murals begin to change and evolve with weather and other factors. But this also is accessible art where you can get up close to, touch and photograph the pieces without a security guard telling you off.

For me, the street art in Bogotá was the first sign of a cultural smorgasbord waiting to be discovered in the city. I can´t wait to keep discovering more.

The Photo Vault is where I will be sharing my favourite photos (and their stories) that deserve better than being lost in the depths of my iPhoto never to be shared.

The Photo Vault: Brazilian Coastline


A slice of Brazilian paradise
A slice of Brazilian paradise

Itacaré, Brazil, 2004

The small town of Itacaré between Porto Seguro and Salvador wasn´t listed in my Lonely Planet Shoestring Guide to South America. I ended up here tagging onto a group of travelling Brazilians and one Swiss guy who had joined up to form a sizeable group of eight people. Nine including me. One of the Brazilians spoke good English, and of course the Swiss guy, but I communicated with the rest of my new friends with exchanges of smiles, laughs and gestures and just followed them like a little lamb. It was fun!

Brazilians are great travellers in their own country, especially at Carnaval time when they will take a month off and travel. I loved this attitude and vowed to take this idea back home, where we usually plan out our domestic trips carefully and save the random wanderings for other countries.

I never would have discovered a string of breathtaking beaches and this coastline had it not been for my Brazilian friends adopting a little lost Aussie. I also wouldn´t have learned how to wear a Brazilian bikini, confidence most definitely required but any show of butt crack is unacceptable so instead you should forget about trying to modestly cover your butt cheeks and allow your bikini bottoms to creep into a wedgie.

This photo served as my screensaver on my old computer for many years. It is a beautiful coastline and it always makes me think about the friends I´ve now lost touch with, but who I will always remember for their openness, sharing and vivacity.

The Photo Vault is where I will be sharing my favourite photos (and their stories) that deserve better than being lost in the depths of my iPhoto never to be shared.

Ducking next door to Venezuela

Arriving in Venezuela to collect D after his summer holidays with his mum I was struck by two figures hogging the limelight. Hugo Chavez and Simon Bolivar. One is dead and the other is potentially on his deathbed if the conspiracies prove true.

Simon Bolivar, plastered larger than life on a building wall

Simon Bolivar is an important figure in Latin American history leading the revolution and liberating Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador and Bolivia from Spanish rule. He is forever linked with Santa Marta because he died here 182 years ago but he lives on in Venezuela with incredible monuments, museums, pictures and in Venezuela’s official name of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, changed by Chavez in 2000. Just about everything seems to be Bolivar this and Bolivarian that.

Inflatable Chavez

Hugo Chavez, the much-loved and much hated president of Venezuela, is omnipresent. From the giant inflatable Chavez in the centre of Caracas to everyday conversations and the “I am Chavez” billboards you see evidence of him everywhere except in person as he’s currently convalescing from complications due to cancer surgery in Cuba. We arrived on the day of his supposed inauguration as President for the sixth time, but given that he hasn’t been seen publicly since before Christmas, the ceremony has been delayed until he is recovered.

I felt uncomfortable in Venezuela, and not just because we had to borrow money of D’s mum because we hadn’t changed enough at the border and didn’t know it was so difficult to change inside the country. I got a sense of great disorganisation. I looked around and saw election propaganda from the elections last year, but felt as though nothing flowed through to benefit those living around the painted walls. We were told that it’s not safe to venture out in Caracas in the dark of night or early in the morning and this was verified by people arriving by bus in Caracas pulling up seats in the terminal to wait for the sun to rise when they would start making a mass exodus to the taxi ranks. We bought skinny empanadas from a lady who told us that flour was being rationed and they could only buy 2 bags of flour. We endured more than 5 army and police checkpoints on the way in and out of the country, compared to just one on the way in to Colombia. I froze on the overnight buses that have the air conditioning locked onto a temperature even colder than Colombia’s overnight bus.

I might still be suffering from memory burn of our 11 day bus trip in October, but the 3 nights out of 4 we spent sleeping on buses and the good 16 hours spent in bus terminals were extremely uncomfortable. Thankfully we did have a lovely day at the beach near Caracas with D’s maternal grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousins who were so welcoming and hospitable up to the point where D’s cousins started calling me tia which means aunt.

Neither mi novio or I am keen to return to Venezuela any time soon. I still want to go to Angel Falls and do the Simon Bolivar history trail in Caracas, but I think that can wait until I’m ready to tackle the challenges Venezuela throws up. Right now, I’m super happy to be back in Colombia. It’s like a breath of fresh air.

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Back in Colombia

We’d kept it a surprise. No one in Colombia knew we were coming back earlier. They were all awaiting our arrival on the 21st of October.

The decision to come back sooner came from an intersection of a few thoughts and feelings. Mi novio missed his family. He’d been away from them for 4 months and he was keen to see them again. The travels we were doing in Argentina and Chile just exacerbated his desire to go  get back on home soil. We also realised we were spending far more than we had budgeted. I had underestimated how expensive it was for two people to travel.

Unfortunately to change our flights was also super expensive. We virtually had to forfeit our flight and buy new ones. So we looked at travelling to Colombia by bus. Money can be a strong motivator and in a move away from my normal logic, mi novio convinced me that taking the bus was a sensible financial option and that it wouldn’t be the nightmare of my imagination.

After 11 days en route from Argentina, 4 border crossings and 7 nights sleeping in buses, we arrived to the tropical heat of Santa Marta.

Loading bags in Chile
Loading bags in Santiago. Even an excess baggage charge doesn’t compel people to travel lightly.

Laden with 2 suitcases, 2 large backpacks, 2 small backpacks and a carry-on bag we walked the narrow street to mi novio‘s house and opened the gate. From inside the house there the was a flurry of excitement and shouts as the realisation of our early arrival dawned.

Almost two weeks after arriving and with the flights we have booked set to fly tomorrow, I can look back and say it was a good decision to come back earlier than planned. What we’ve accomplished in this time here and the money we’ve saved are just two small benefits when compared alongside the reunion of family and the happiness I saw on his son and mother’s faces.

Although the 11 days of travel and 7 nights in buses faded into a distant memory as soon as we left the bus terminal in Santa Marta, it is an experience I am not keen to repeat and I still think we are slightly crazy for giving up the airfares that would have got us here in 8 hours.


Are you also looking to do an international bus trip in South America?

Here’s some details of our trip to help you out.

Buenos Aires, Argentina to Santiago, Chile > approx 19 hours. Most companies offering this route stop in Mendoza. Cata Internacional has a daily direct bus. We took Pullman Bus which leaves Sundays and Wednesdays and was $450 Argentinian Pesos each (other companies quoted $500 pesos). This was probably the most attentive service we received on the buses. We were plied with coffee and soft drink, given a snack sack, dinner was provided in a restaurant and a ham and cheese sandwich provided for breakfast and there were good, new release movies shown. The seats weren’t as comfortable as some of the others but we were provided with a pillow and blanket. Our tickets said we could take 20kg of luggage each, but this was not weighed. Note: We went to Santiago to pick up luggage we’d stored and there are direct buses to Lima from Buenos Aires.

Cruz del Sur bus
Crossing the Chile/Peru border.

Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru > approx 52 hours. There are a few companies (Cruz del Sur, Ormeno, Andesmar and more) that offer this service, although they all operate on different days. We went with Cruz del Sur and paid $40,000 Chilean Pesos each. We chose Cruz del Sur for the departure day and also because they provided service on board the bus and most meals and also for the baggage allowance of 30kg. The bus companies seemed to be stricter on overweight baggage than airlines, and we had to pay 800 Chilean pesos for each kilo overweight. I would definitely recommend Cruz del Sur as we received very good service from the dedicated waiter who always advised us 10 minutes before we were to stop and told us how long we were stopping for. He also kept the movies going back to back during the trip and showed a good variety of new-release films (ie not just action films!) and he was also helpful at putting on the English sub-titles when I asked. Blankets were provided. Cruz del Sur have a connecting service to Guayaquil, Ecuador if you are heading further north.

Onboard Ormeno
Enjoying the space on the bus after most passengers got off in Cali.

Lima, Peru to Bogota, Colombia > approx 76 hours. There weren’t as many operators as we had expected, and since Lima doesn’t have a central bus terminal, it’s even harder to find them. In the end we had to go with Ormeno despite having read bad reviews online and hearing that it is just a bus trip, there is no service included. We paid US$180 each (you can withdraw US dollars from ATMs in Lima and there is an ATM inside the terminal. This did not include any meals. The bus stops at various places for you get off, go to the toilet for number 2’s and eat. Two drivers completed the entire distance and they were drivers only. They didn’t advise anything about how long each stop was for and were rather surly when asked anything. The seats were the most comfortable of all the trip with a pillow top cushion. However there are no blankets or pillows provided for a journey of 3 nights (this bus also stops in Guayquil and Quito, Ecuador and Cali in Colombia and some days has an onwards service to Venezuela). We were also only allowed 20kg of stowed luggage and 6kg hand luggage. Each extra kilo was charged at US$1, however they were slightly less precise about the weighing process and didn’t charge us for the full overweight baggage we had. Ormeno definitely wasn’t as good as other companies and the movies were sporadic and seemingly of the one genre, but also it wasn’t completely horrible.

Travels in 2010

 Somewhat (un)inspired by watching The Tourist yesterday I want to celebrate a year of travels to places new and exciting, old and inviting. (I know, it’s a very weak link I’m making between the film The Tourist and travelling, but I’m making it anyway.
Recoleta in Buenos Aires
Admiring the dead at Recoleta Cemetery
in Buenos Aires

I saw the new year, 2010, arrive in Rotorua, New Zealand, amid the stinky geo-thermal gases and with a somewhat chilly and of course jaw-dropping fireworks display on the lakeshore.

A big 6 week trip in April and May with my mother took me to Argentina to visit Emily and Pablo, Peru to marvel at Machu Picchu for a second time, Mexico to eat grasshoppers and visit ruins, Guatemala to see a Mayan Shaman and a quick stop in LA to meet my email penfriend of 4 years, the man who puts the A in LA.

On the domestic front, I’ve also managed to visit some thus far unexplored corners of Australia and revisit some favourites:

  • Two weeks traversing the Kimberley from Broome to Darwin on a magnificent and indescribably beautiful camping tour
  • Bunbury and Margaret River to see my friend Travieso who I met at Iguazu Falls 6 years ago
  • Darwin to do some serious dancefloor carving
  • Three trips to Sydney for a conference and shopping,  a flight to Buenos Aires, some xoxo, and to see some German buddies from my Kimberley tour along with a good friend from school
  • Gold Coast to visit my little bro and do big sisterly things like buy him kitchen utensils and shoes
    Machu Picchu
    Thumbs up for making it up to Machu Picchu
  •  Melbourne goodness knows how many times to see friends, shop, go to parties, watch Mary Poppins the musical, go to exhibitions, meet my fellow LA adventurers and soak up that gorgeous city vibe
  • Adelaide to see my friends, go to a baby shower and meet the new baby
  • Falls Creek to ski with a friend, visit her family and catch up with other friends in Wodonga
Eating chapulines, grasshoppers, in Oaxaca, Mexico

So it’s been a pretty travelsome year. Especially when I list it all down like that. It’s a wonder I had any weekends at home!

New places always thrill me. I can’t wait to move to LA where I will no doubt get an overload of new experiences, places and people.

That said, the alternative to moving to LA was a year (or more) of travel. That’s a pretty big ‘sacrifice’ to make, but I’m confident I’m going to have one hell of a 2011, even if it isn’t living out of  a backpack but rather out of a backpack, rolling duffel and suitcase with a brand new suite of Apple gadgets in my possession.

Even though the big travel adventure is but a former plan, can I please, please, puh-lease share with you my travel wishlist for 2011… I promise you can share yours via comments on this post!

  • America, duh. Like, all over you know. I totally want to see it all.
  • Europe –  has remained elusive of my travel map thus far and if I REALLY have to select just a few places it would be Spain para hablar espanol (to speak Spanish), France and Germany to visit friends in each of those countries. I’d also like to add the Greek Islands, Italy, Russia and Croatia but that would just be greedy.
    Manning Gorge
    My wicked backflip into Manning Gorge
    in the Kimberley
  • Shanghai – to visit my old housemate who’s also making a big overseas move in 2011. But only if she sends her driver to pick me up from the airport with a sign that says “Chickety China the Chinese chicken wants a little cameo” and is in the shape of a love heart with pink feathers on it.
  • Australia – to visit the doctor and assure the family that I haven’t gained an American accent.
  • Mexico – to cross the border to TJ and go to Cabo darhling. Though I think the Copper Canyon, San Miguel de Allende and a return visit to Taxco are more my scene.
  • Canada – Vancouver anyone?
  • Colombia – simply because if I didn’t have it on my list I would be LYING. Desperada, that’s what I am to get there. Hmmm, maybe I need to think up a good doco, TV show or film we can film on loco location in Colombia…