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Everything looks in order.
New passports, check. Travel insurance, check. A dozen holes in my arms from a plethora of vaccinations, double-check.
It seems like just yesterday that we were sitting in the sun with mates, drinks in hand, formulating a plan for a big OE with a difference. Throwing in the security of a great job in exchange for a backpack and a ticket to Santiago seems like a bold move in hindsight.
Yet, after six months in the planning and the departure date on our doorstep, I have yet to feel any regrets. Ancient ruins, natural wonders of the world, exotic places, fun people, nightlife, treks, cityscapes, beaches and the Amazon Jungle.
For an ideal destination, South America is a no-brainer right? Well apparently not so much.
Whenever we reveal our plan the same question will consistently follow. ‘‘Why are you going there?’’
For whatever reason, South America just isn’t on the radar for a lot of Kiwis. We flock to Asia, North America, the Islands and the UK in our tens-of-thousands, but only a select few make the flights to Santiago and beyond.
Even fewer will stray from the tried and true gringo trail that hits tourist hotspots like Buenos Aires, Lake Titicaca and Machu Picchu. We, on the other hand, will be going deep.
Be it a hair-raising bus ride to the ruins of Kuelap, an eight day trek to the lost city in Colombia or a canoe down the Amazon to meet a jungle Shaman, we will do it tough to visit some extraordinary places. It won’t all be hard work however. We also plan to drink our way around the wine country of Northern Chile, lay back on the beaches of Ecuador, and party with the locals in La Paz. What’s more, we will do it all on a realistic budget.
So what is the plan exactly?
In a nutshell: 12 months, 13 countries and $50-a-day… We have 12 nights’ accommodation booked, leaving around 350 to freestyle as we go. Each with a budget of $50-a-day (this has to cover food, drinks, transport and accommodation – in order of priority) we will be testing the limits of our comfort zones on a regular basis.
Flying into Santiago Chile, the first two nights’ accommodation is sorted. From there we have a few months to make our way to Cusco where three nights conquering the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu awaits. The last spot locked down is a seven night stint in a Rio de Janeiro favela over the wild party that is Carnival. We will have the better part of six months to get there by way of Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and the Guyanas.
So everything else is up in the air? Well, we have a few more things penciled into the agenda. Volunteering with animals in Bolivia is a near certainty. Blowing the budget on trip to the Galapagos Islands is also atop the ‘to do’ list. The salt flats, Amazon adventures, the lost city, Angel Falls … all of these and more are on the radar.
If, how and when they happen on the other hand? That ought to sort itself out over the next 12 months or so.
*Disclaimer: $50-a-day does not include some big budget, pre-planned excursions – including the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, a cruise around the Galapagos Islands and accommodation during Rio De Janeiro’s Carnival.
Follow Ash Palmer and Genelle Slack on their website 50bucksabroad.