I was lucky enough to talk to a Kenyan last year who had once backpacked through South America. She is the one who convinced me that this was a great idea, and that it could be done easily and affordably even by someone who has little if any experience in the region. She also saved me from making one major mistake I made when planning the 2012 Eurotrip - being overambitious. In the 6 weeks we spent in Europe, we went to 14 cities in 12 countries. It was madness. Sometimes I would wake up so exhausted and have to remember what country I was in. Is this Czech Republic? Hungary? We would get off trains, rush into the city to see the main attractions, eat as we walked, head back to the hostels to quickly shower and change - go out and party like maniacs, and very likely go straight from the club via the hostel to catch our next train. Madness, I tell you.
I feel like my South American trip will be slightly less chaotic from a time standpoint, but probably more chaotic from an everything else standpoint given that I have traveled quite a bit through Europe, speak English and German, but have never been to South America, and I know only a few words and phrases in Spanish.
So what does my itinerary look like? I leave Nairobi for Rio via Dubai this Monday. I get to Rio on Tuesday afternoon. I will thankfully be staying with a friend, which is pretty great given I don't know any portuguese.......at all. I will be in Rio for 8 nights experiencing the sights and sounds, and more importantly going for Carnival:-) I have no words to explain how excited I feel when I say "I am going for Carnival." I instantly hear music playing, see people in exciting costumes and imagine all the fun we are going to have. Sigh...After that I somehow get to Salvador in Bahia - which is way on the other end of the country. When I am in Brazil, I will figure out whether the best option is to take a really long bus there or to fly. I heard I can get some pretty cheap flights if I look in the right places. You are probably wondering where Bahia is and why it is in my itinerary. Before 2004, I had no idea about Bahia.One day I was listening to my friend's Anjelique Kidjo CD "Black Ivory Soul" and the first song was titled "Bahia." It fascinated me and I started reading up on Bahia.
Bahia is the most African state in Brazil. It was the center of the early Brazilian slave trade and close to 80% of its current population has black ancestry. Yoruba derived traditional religions are still followed in some parts. It is the home of capoeira - a unique dance that consists of martial arts and minimal body contact (someone recently told me that the reason the dancers don't touch is because historically slaves could do capoeira only on Sundays and they wore white on Sundays. One had to avoid getting dirty..) Bahia is also the home of Samba and is also said to have one of the best cuisines in Brazil.
After Bahia, I will travel to Peru. This is the part I have little clarity on. I am sure the journey will entail something along the lines of a 24-48 hour bus ride and a 2-3 day boat ride on the Amazon river. I love traveling and I can sleep anywhere so I am not particularly worried about it. I am sure I will figure it all out once in Brazil. In Peru, I am most excited about going to Machu Picchu. I will be in the country for 8 nights so I am sure I will get to see loads. I have not booked any housing in Peru as I can't really predict when I will get there and what exact places I will be. I am toying with the idea of couchsurfing rather than staying in hostels when there.
After Peru, I will go to Ecuador. There is lots to see in Ecuador, but I am most fascinated with going to the Galapagos Islands where Darwin conducted quite a bit of his research on evolutionary theory.
That covers the first half of the trip, but I am sure reality will be more exciting than the plan. The one thing I keep reminding myself is that the best laid plans of mice of and men often go awry, but as long as I am enjoying the journey it doesn't really matter to me if I am not sticking to my itinerary.