Posted in South America on December 29, 2013
There are some years where you feel like you’ve done nothing with your life and others where you feel like you’ve packed so much into them, that all the incredible moments and milestones compacted within are sometimes hard to believe. For me 2013 has fortunately been a case of the latter. Here’s why;
(Please note; whilst this is a top 10 list the following are in no particular order!)
Trekking for 3 days in the Amazon Rainforest alone with just a tribesman as my guide and his machete!
Visiting the Amazon Rainforest has been something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. It started over a year or so ago when I took a trip to the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Blown away by the natural landscape I knew immediately after I returned home that I wanted to visit all of the world’s most diverse and unique natural landscapes. The Amazon naturally made it into the top of that unwritten list I’d inscribed in my head, knowing that South America was next on my travel agenda.
What I didn’t plan though when I decided to visit the Amazon was that I would do it alone with a local tribesman who happened to be carrying a machete with him throughout the entirety of our treks! The machete of course was needed to cut down the branches and trees in our way (thankfully he wasn’t the mass murdering type ha ha), but in fact he was so skilled with it he even carved me a headband and bangle out of wood he cut down with it on the route!
In all seriousness though, staying overnight in the jungle has been one of the best moments of my life let alone my year, and I’m so glad 2013 gave me the opportunity to do that.
Overcoming my fear of flying to get to South America
One of the reasons I took so long to get to South America (where I am now) was because of my great fear of flying. It’s something I think that started when I was around 12, and when I hit the age of 21 it seemed to spiral out of control. It got to the point where I could only feasibly travel around Europe (where I live) regularly because it was the only place I could get to easily without taking a flight.
I’ve spoke about it numerous times on this blog, and in particular I detailed the not-so-pretty side affects I used to get caused by the severe anxiety I was previously faced with every time I even thought seriously about getting on a plane. I’m pleased to say, whilst I do still get the flutter of fear before take-off, and I can be a little bit nervy a few hours before a flight, I have hugely improved these last few years after literally forcing myself onto several flights. I started small in Europe with just 1 hour and 2 hour journeys, and eventually I made my way up to 14 hour flight from Amsterdam to Buenos Aires within around 12 months of really trying.
Whilst I doubt I’ll ever fully get over my fear, to get to the point where I am this year where I can cross an ocean and be ok has been a huge personal achievement for me this year and so I had to include it on the list.
Visiting the Salt Flats of Uyuni (Salar de Uyuni)
Salar de Uyuni (in Bolivia) is honestly the most beautiful/photogenic place I have ever visited in my life. It is for that reason I had to enter it into this list after visiting for the first time around 6 weeks ago. The Salt Flats of Uyuni were in actual fact something of a surprise to me if I’m being honest. Salar de Uyuni, whilst a popular tourist spot on the backpacker trail in Bolivia, is not often mentioned as much as say other popular South American destinations like Machu Picchu or the waterfalls of Iguassu for example? And whilst I’m not saying those other places aren’t incredible places to visit too, it astounds me that Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni is not mentioned up there alongside them in every single list too. I honestly couldn’t stop uttering the word “wow” every day that I spent there and as a bonus it was also incredibly cheap to visit at just 700 Bolivianos for 3 days (£62 / $101 / €74) including all accommodation, food, and transport.
Becoming Conversational in Spanish
There’s a thrill to talking to someone in a foreign language that I hadn’t yet experienced until this year when I took a 4 week intensive Spanish language course with Expanish, a private language school in Buenos Aires. Whilst at first I doubted how much I would be able to learn in just 4 weeks, that period of learning plus some private lessons in Bolivia, my previous online course, and all the practice I’ve been able to get in Latin America since (I’ve been here 3.5 months now), have gotten me to a point where I can at least converse now with people and understand (most of) what they say. Sure, sometimes I’ll get my tenses muddled up, I’ll forget a word I should already know, or I’ll find the accents and speed at which the locals speak difficult at first when I move to a new country. However, the simple act of being able to talk to people in Spanish has been an incredible thrill that I did not anticipate. It’s been one of those achievements that was gradual over the course of the last year, rather than something that happened immediately like some of my other highlights this year.
Istanbul is a city that took me by great surprise when I visited for the first time during the summer in 2013. You see, I’ve been looking secretly for a while now for a city in Europe (or in this case Europe AND Asia) that I could really see myself living in. Not just travelling in or visiting, but actually setting up some sort of base for me to then hop around from. Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no intention nor want of ever making travel a thing of the past for me, but as I’ve touched upon in the odd post in the past, finding a place to settle (just a little bit) has been something that has been on my mind somewhat in recent years. The truth is I’m 25, and whilst I’m someone who has never felt the need nor want to be in stop gap relationships (I really just don’t see the point in them), the truth is eventually I would like to have a real and loving long term relationship. Eventually. And whilst I haven’t found that person yet who I want to settle down with, the truth is continuous travel is not conducive to any sort of long term relationship. The only way I’m going to find it is if I stop at least some of the time, and for the first time ever the visceral atmosphere, cross of cultures, food, people, and sheer beauty of Istanbul actually made me feel like I could maybe find that there. I mean, in most likelihood I’ll get there, love it for the first month and then my itchy travel feet will have me screaming GET ME OUTTA HERE, but you know, the fact I’m even rounding down locations at this point is a step forward for me!!
Getting to see more of home country
Way back at the beginning of 2013 I brought in the New Year (or Hogmanay as we call it in Scotland) with some of my best blogger pals in a unique campaign and trip organised by the travel blogger network iAmbassador and my buddy Kash Bhattacharya over at BudgetTraveller.org. After the New Year I headed out on a tour of Scotland right at the beginning of January with Haggis Adventures to see a bit of my home country – something which I usually don’t have the opportunity to do as I’m most often travelling abroad! It definitely instilled a lot of Scottish pride in my veins and reminded me of just how amazing my home country is. I think it’s always important to remember where you come from, and having this trip back in January at the beginning of the year certainly set me up to continue with the rest of year in such a positive frame of mind. It has also inspired me to put a tour of the Scottish isles on my list of priorities for 2014!
Skiing in Spain during April and my first helicopter ride
I never thought it’d be possible to ski in the south of Spain during April, especially not only 1 hour’s drive from the beach! In fact, I’d never previously thought of skiing in Spain at all until early this year when I was invited by Minube to come join in the hills of Sierra Nevada near Granada for 5 days while they filmed me, Dylan Lowe, and Oneika Raymond getting to grips with what the local area had to offer. It was also during this time that I got to take my first every trip in a helicopter. Definitely one of those life goal check moments. The helicopter ride might only have been for 10 minutes but the views and experience were incredible! That and we got to play around on ski bikes and ride a bob-sled style rollercoaster. It was as awesome as it sounds. Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing the video of our trip you can view it above!
Going inside a Bolivian mine for 3 hours
Touring the mines of Potosi in Bolivia was not something on my original itinerary or plan, but once I arrived in the country it became apparent to me that this was something important that I needed to do. In case you don’t know, the mines in Bolivia are often described as at least 60 years behind the rest of the world. They are dangerous. Miners here usually only live until they’re around 35 to 40 years of age because most die from various diseases of the lungs, caused by the vast amounts of dust they inhale. I saw kids as young as 10 years old in there. It was both a challenging and scary experience, one of those “I’m not sure I would do it again but I’m glad I did it” sort of things. I think it’s an important thing to do if you want to understand the poverty that exists in Bolivian and why the country is the way it is currently.
Visiting the Iguazu Waterfalls
I’ll be honest with you. I thought Iguazu was going to be one of those hugely over-rated tourist attractions, but it has (so far) been one of the best places I’ve visited in South America. Positioned on the border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, there is a point in Puerto Iguazu where you can stand and see all 3 countries split by the natural river border. However, what was more impressive were the waterfalls themselves. I’ve yet to visit Niagara, but I imagine it’s going to take a lot to beat its neighbour Iguazu further down south in the Americas. Particularly the Argentinian side, where there was so much more to view and you could get right on top of the waterfall and look right down over the top of this huge gigantic natural formation. It’s one of those moments where it might have been touristy but you still couldn’t deny it was breath-taking (and fun!)
Becoming an Aunty
I became an Aunty this year for the first time to my beautiful baby nephew. I don’t talk a lot about this aspect of my personal life here on this blog so that’s all I’m going to say on this one, but I just couldn’t leave it off the list! It’s definitely been number 1 for me in terms of awesome things that have happened in 2013 and I can’t wait to see him when I eventually return to Scotland!
– So these are the top 10 things that happened for me in 2013. I hope you had as a good a year as I did but if you didn’t I hope that 2014 proves to be good for you instead!