Charlotte Dyson on snow blizzards, star gazing and lassoing cows.
“If you look back in 20 years it is the things you haven’t done that you regret rather than the things you have.”
Where have you travelled before?
In 2011 I went to Africa for 4 months and did some travel and voluntary work. It was an amazing experience. I fell in love with it really. It’s one of those places that gets under your skin. I knew as soon as I came back that I would go travelling again. It was a question of when rather than if. A couple of years later I had the opportunity, so thought, why not?
Had you been to South America before?
No but I had met quite a few people when I had been travelling before who said they had been and loved it. Some friends had been so I knew a little bit about it. It was somewhere I had always been interested in going. It seems so different with all the different cultures. Each country seems quite different to each other.
Is there something about our culture you wish to compare with other countries?
I enjoy the feeling of being a fish out of water. When I have been travelling before I go with companies, as part of a group with tour leaders. You can go to places you might not know about rather than just doing the standard route like the Gringo trail in South America. I enjoy most experiencing a completely different way of life.
Who did you meet and what did you do on your travels?
I started with a week on the Galapagos with a firm I had travelled with before so I was confident. Galapagos was like one of those Bucket List items. I love animals. It was better than I expected because of the group I was with and the guides who were born and grew up there. They took us out to restaurants and taught us Salsa. It was a really fun experience.
Then I booked a separate trip, also in Ecuador, which was an Amazon local living week. Another company helped set up a home stay village in the edges of the Amazon. The local family show you how they live, you go on jungle walks, find out about medicinal qualities of plants, make chocolate. That was a really lovely experience. I would recommend that.
From there I flew to Lima, where I picked up the over landing tour. You have purpose built trucks with the back for passengers. It is a 2 month itinerary travelling through Peru into Bolivia, the very top of Chile, Argentina and Brazil. We travelled with 2 leaders who were responsible for getting us from A to B. Peru was really jam packed. We did the Inca trail in a blizzard. Our guide said he perhaps does one trek a year in the snow. That was a bit crazy. We were completely underprepared. It was like the coldest I have ever been in my life. But it was one of those situations where you think, oh my God, this is horrendous, but I know that as soon as it is over we will look back on it and say it was pretty amazing.
Our day at Machu Picchu was really clear which is quite unusual.
In Peru there is still a lot of evidence of Andean culture. It feels very different culturally. You see people wearing traditional dress in the towns. I really liked Peru. The food was very different. Everything felt like you were somewhere else interesting. There were lots of nice little towns along the way. We did one of our homestays in Rachi. The host family did a traditional ceremony with us, offering cocoa leaves and dancing to Pachamama, Mother Earth. That was good fun.
We did all the salt flats in Bolivia. There is some amazing scenery. We went up to our highest point on the Bolivian Altiplano. It’s 5200 metres, I think. That was pretty cold! But really good. We did an additional activity of death road; the world’s most dangerous road. It is right on the edge of these cliffs with massive drops. It is pretty good fun. You can cycle it, all downhill! That was one of the best days.
In La Paz there is the witches market. It is all the traditional offerings to Gods so when they build new houses you are supposed to bury a Llama foetus under the front door which is supposed to offer protection. All that side of things was really cool.
We went to Cholita wrestling which was one of the weirdest experiences of my life. It’s like a crazy, slightly bad version of WWF. That was pretty fun too! It was quite a good combination of the rural and experiences in town.
We only saw a tiny bit of Chile. We went to the Atacama desert for a few days, Moon Valley up there. We were lucky enough to get a clear night so could go on the star gazing night. They have a huge observatory in the Atacama. They have built all these massive new telescopes recently. You can look at all different kinds of star formations. That was amazing! One of the best evenings probably on the trip. One of those things that feels very specific to there. That is what I like about going away; experiencing and doing things you would never do anywhere else.
Argentina and Brazil feel far more western in many ways. There is a lot of Spanish and colonial influences in the cities. We went to Salta which was a lovely city; quite Spanish feeling. One of the main things we did in Argentina which was memorable for me was staying on Estancia, kind of a traditional farm with all the Gauchos. We went horse riding which I had never done before. They taught us how to lasso cows. I managed to lasso two, completely out of luck rather than judgment! I won the prize for that. We stayed in Cafayate which is a town in one of the wine regions and cycled around Bodegas which was good fun.
Buenos Aires was a really cosmopolitan city. It was a bit rainy whilst we were there! All the tango was really interesting. From there we went up north, up the coast of Argentina to Iguassu falls, the next major point, and then up through Brazil, a few towns and coastal areas and finishing in Rio which was one of my favourite cities. It is weird. It has always in the past had a reputation for crime and actually one of our group did get pickpocketed. But, I think that with the World Cup and Olympics, it seems like there is quite a lot of development going on. I get the sense things are moving in the city. We went hand gliding over the city on my final day which was really cool! I would like to have stayed a bit longer and seen some of the favelas and the other side of the city. I only really saw the developed bit; Sugarloaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer statue.
That was it in a nutshell!
What are you future travelling plans?
There are so many things. Once you start travelling you decide you want to go and see loads of other places. I am semi considering Australia and New Zealand. I might look at living a year and working in Australia. I am also keen to go to Asia. Japan appeals so does Burma, before it gets too touristy. I have really enjoyed the South America vibe so I would like to go back. I have heard really good things about Columbia. Cuba may be the next short holiday. Depends what life holds…
(Originally published on Journalism Now on January 10th 2014 for my MA Journalism)