Enthralled by the Inca Trail
@devlincolle Holidays come in many forms - they can be as simple as sitting on a beach watching the waves roll in, or they can be an elaborate multi-destination trip to an exotic location. Three well- travelled Southland Times journalists share the highlights . . . and lowlights from some of their holidays. Today Irish reporter Collette Devlin , who has travelled to more than 50 countries and considers herself a bit of a globetrotter, recalls some of her highlights and disappointments.
Before coming to New Zealand, I spent about six months backpacking around South America. Although Brazil and Argentina have become my favourite places in the world, the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was one of the highlights of my trip. It was the hardest but most rewarding thing I have ever done in my life - four days of climbing 4000 metres above sea level, seven hours every day in the pouring rain. Camping in wet clothes and getting up at the crack of dawn to start again. It was all worth it when I caught my first glimpse of Machu Picchu through the morning mist.
Best traveller experience
I explored most of Argentina by bus - long arduous journeys for days on end. One such trip was to the southern-most place in Argentina - Ushuaia - known as "the end of the world". Here I met two ladies, Sofia Irene and Mafalda Alonso, the same age as my mother. My Argentinian mothers took me under their wing and we became good friends. So much so, that I took a bit of a detour from my plans to travel the 3118 kilometres to their home in Tucuman so I could spend a few weeks with them. We still keep in touch.
During my last week in South America I got robbed while staying in a small hostel in the Chilean coastal town of Valparaiso. One night I went to the kitchen with another backpacker to cook dinner. The only other people in the hostel were the manager, his friend and another couple in the room next to the kitchen, whom I could see.
After dinner I went to get my phone, which was in the locker in my room and realised my phone, camera, wallet full of money and credit cards had been taken.
The manager was no help, so I called the police, who were less help.
I have no idea what the manager told the police, they spoke no English and my Spanish was minimal and neither cared that I was upset.
I was lucky enough to work as a travel, wine and food writer in Ireland, which took me on some exciting European trips. In France I feasted on pastries and guzzled coffee and red wines. Juicy lamb chops, paired with wine, cooked by the wife of a winery owner in Chablis was a favourite. My love affair with Italian food began during a trip to Rome, where I discovered the true art of simple delicious food. These were a far cry from the deep fried scorpion and scorpion snake wine I attempted in Vietnam or guinea pig on a stick in Peru. Although, I did eat the most delicious rice, cooked in a banana leaf, in the Amazon.
Least Exotic Place
One of the most memorable places I have been, for all the wrong reasons, was Belarus.
My first trip there was in 2002 as a volunteer with a student charity. We raised funds to make a difference in post-Chernobyl Belarus hospitals, orphanages, hospices and homes for abandoned babies. I subsequently got a job with the charity and travelled a few more times to the radiation-filled pockets of the country. Each time, I was transported back in time to what felt like the 1980s.
But it was the haunting faces of those sick and abandoned children I remember most and the abandoned villages where bikes and toys lay strewn on the road and the remains of meals in the untouched homes. My trips to Belarus were some of the most meaningful of my life.
In 2007, a memorable eight-day journey through Cambodia and Vietnam took me off the beaten track to discover new people and cultures. At the time I was a "green" traveller and this whirlwind trip introduced me to the joy of travel. My journey began in Bangkok, Thailand, where I caught a minibus to Cambodia along a bumpy dirt track for 12 hours and continued into Vietnam by bus and boat.
The reality of Cambodia's genocide history shocked me and moved me to tears but the beauty of the ancient temples of Angkor (built between the 8th and 13th century, covering 64km) blew me away.
I arrived in Vietnam via the Mekong River and continued to Ho Chi Minh City, traversed the scenic Hai Van Pass, headed to Hue, took an overnight train to the bustling city of Hanoi then set sail on an overnight boat on Halong Bay.
Here I spent my last day of my journey unwinding among the thousands of limestone islands, stalagmite-filled caves and floating villages of this mystical bay.
- © Fairfax NZ News