Jan 13 12

Best of 2011

by Emily Benjamin

In every way, 2011 was an amazing year. Jamie Talbot and I travelled the world, visited 15 countries, and met countless inspiring people. We spent time with our families and friends in Australia and England, and made new friends everywhere else. Eight months on the road was revitalising yet tiring, but we’ll never forget the opportunity we had to take the such a huge chunk of time off work, pack up our lives and travel, free of worry, debt and responsibility. The trip brought us even closer together, too – so we got married at the end of it! And now, we start 2012 with a new home in San Francisco – overjoyed at what 2011 brought us and excited to see what’s ahead in 2012. Here are my favourite memories from the year on the road.

Filed Under → Travel
Jul 23 11

Peruvian Perfection, and other South America Highlights

by Emily Benjamin

We’re almost finished in South America, for this trip anyway. We’ve had a chilled 9 days in Brazil, an exciting and fast visit in Chile and Easter Island, four days in Bolivia to recover and almost 3 weeks in Peru. We haven’t even scratched the surface of the continent but all has been excellent.

I haven’t done much writing in the past few weeks, so I though I would make up for it now. Right now I’m on a bus driving from Arequipa to Nazca. It’s not the typical 12 hour drive though – we’re in fully reclining leather chairs, with on-board entertainment, power sockets and Wi-Fi. Oh, and lunch is included. Sounds pretty luxurious, doesn’t it? Although it’s not as comfortable as a king size pillow top bed, or a cushioned sun bed with swimming pool and cocktails, it’s pretty darn good. And it’s giving me a day to catch up on photos and updates from the trip so far. So, let’s recap!

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Nine days, most of that spent eating delicious red meat, drinking caiprihianas, and avoiding muggings. We saw all the main spots, met great people, had lots of fun, but we didn’t get to see much of the city. We also missed out on the rest of Brazil, so we’ll just have to go back sometime. Maybe with a better understanding of Portuguese, and in 2014 for the world cup!

Santiago – The city was gorgeous, the people warm, the food delicious. I’m not usually a fan of soups but I now love cazuelas. I’m not usually a fan of sweet drinks but the terramoto’s have got my vote. And we were told hot dogs were the ‘national dish’ – it may not be an official statement, but they are inexpensive, everywhere and truly delicious.

Easter Island – One place that I can be almost certain I will never see again. That feels like a very sad thing to say, but most people will never get to see it even once. It was a breathtaking island, in the middle of nowhere, with fresh air, beautiful landscapes, tasty food and warm people. It’s not easy to get to, but so so worth it.

La Paz – I’m sure I’ve said it already, but La Paz will take your breath away. We stayed very still here for 3 days, to avoid altitude sickness. But with excellent japanese food, blue skies, a comfy bed and a few diamox to keep the altitude sickness at bay, we were content to chill out after action packed Chile. Unfortunately we missed all Bolivia has to offer, so we will be back to visit the salt flats, death road and the Witches Markets.

Puno, Lake Titicaca, Cusco and Arequipa – All excellent, with the perfect weather while we were there. Cool nights, warm days and blue skies – bliss! The food has been excellent, the sights amazing, the people lovely. I should have learned Spanish, though – it would have been helpful! Will definitely return to Peru, to see some more of these cities and the north, as well.

Machu Picchu – Wow, wow, wow. We did a one day Inca Trail, from 104km, about an hours train ride from Ollantaytambo. It was tough but amazing, with such stunning views the whole way. And that was before we even reached the Sun Gate! We did it in perfect timing, as well – hiking from 8am, we reached the Sungate a little after lunch, when all the 4 day hikers had already cleared out and Machu Picchu looked empty (at least from a far). Although I know what to expect from it now (pure awesomeness) I’d potentially return, maybe next time with a helicopter!

In Peru, we’ve spent most of our time under the care and guidance of Adios Adventure Travels – http://www.adiosadventuretravel.com/.  They picked us up from Copacabana and took us over the border into Peru, and from there we’ve been expertly guided from Puno, through Cusco, Sacred Valley and Machu Picchu, Arequipa and Colca Canyon, and now Nazca and Lima. After reading about them on a forum, where we had been researching the pros/cons of using Gap or Intrepid, we saw a few excellent reviews of Adios, a local company. And I hope to now add to those reviews – they have been simply stunning. Adios is owned and run by Vidal, based in Cusco. We met Vidal on day 3 and he is lovely, a gentleman, and an absolute star. He is not only well known in Cusco, he is loved by all, and we can see why. And it was such a pleasant surprise to meet the owner, which I am sure would never, ever happen with a bigger, international group. Jacquie, his trusty side kick based in the US, was a godsend. She arranged everything for us, from pick up to drop off, on the dates we chose, the times we chose, all to our specifications. And they were cheaper and 100% more flexible that some of the big names. Take that, industry! And imagine our surprise when we discovered that we were travelling on our own, with no big-group-hassles, and that our accommodation was absolutely luxury. Wow wow wow. I would recommend them 200%, and absolutely, definitely travel with them again. Outstanding!

Enough gushing from me though – we’ve got just another 3 days in Peru to enjoy before the final country on the trip – USA! And just to make sure I’m well rested after all the fun in Peru, we’ve got some comfort lined up… a cushioned sun bed with swimming pool and cocktails for five days! Heya Miami!

— Cheers, Em 🙂


Filed Under → Words
Jul 3 11

Risks in Rio

by Emily Benjamin

Rio was big on my list. I was so excited to see the harbour, Sugar Loaf, Christ the Redeemer, and see if I could capture some of the colourful city in the nine days we were there. But as soon as we arrived at our B&B in Ipanema, our host spotted my camera bag and suggested I leave it at home. What? Leave my camera here? What would be the point of that?? Not getting it stolen apparently – even in broad daylight, on a weekday, at the Botanic Gardens. I’d read Rio was bad, but I was surprised.

We later realised that Ipanema was tame compared to where we stayed next, in Lapa. We met a couple that had been mugged just two days earlier and had their money, camera and even their Lonely Planet stolen. In daylight, in Lapa. So we now had to be even more cautious. But if you go straight to the tourist spots, by cab, you’re apparently safer. It’s walking around that will get you. On the third day, the weather had cleared and we were off to see Christo Redentor atop Corcovado… along with ever other tourist and caroica in Rio. We didn’t realise our visit coincided with Corpus Christi, and were met with huge delays and lines to get to the top. Eventually we made it JUST in time for sunset, and slowly wedged ourselves between hundreds of others to get views before the light faded. All the while squeezing my camera bag around me, of course.

The view itself was pretty amazing. I do wish we’d been in one of the helicopters buzzing around, because there were certainly way too many people visiting that day. I now consider myself an expert of people management at touristic sights, because I’ve seen a few. Angkor Wat, Alhambra, Stonehenge and Petra are all very well managed – restrictions on numbers or even having enough space to cope for people is a big part of it. Some of the sights in Barcelona, and certainly Corcovado here in Brazil, however, require a bit of re-thinking. But that won’t happen, because the private drivers that charge a little more than average to whisk you up the mountain will lose their business, and I don’t think any Brazilian will take that lying down. Unless they’re already lying down atop Corcovado to take a photo, like the 20+ people we saw doing it that afternoon, being trod on by everyone else.

The other big sight we were looking forward to was Sugar Loaf Mountain. Or as a young French girl might say, Sweet Bread Mountain – her translation from Pane Sucre. Sugar Loaf did not disappoint – a prime position in the bay, it has 360degree views of Rio de Janeiro but without the hoards of tourists at Corcovado. And the view is just as spectacular, if not more so. Sticking with my theory that certain sights are better from below or afar (the list includes Eiffel Tower, waterfalls and lighthouses to date) the view of Christ the Redeemer from Sugar loaf is potentially better than vice versa. Sugar Loaf isn’t as high, but the view is still great. And maybe the most important advantage of Sugar Loaf over Corcovado? Monkeys!

We explored Lapa a bit more in the next few days, but also caught up on some reading and resting. Oh, and eating of meat. I have loved the return to red meat here in Brazil, after the cold cured meats of Spain. Here you can get every meat, on huge skewers, just lightly rubbed in salt and then BBQ’ed. Absolutely delicious, and even better once we found a restaurant that prices meals by the weight. One night we paid R$120 for dinner, the next we had the same meal but for R$25. Bargain!

Overall, Rio wasn’t the party paradise I expected it to be. But feeling unsafe is certainly not an aphrodisiac for a country. Being the photo-nut that I am, I was too scared to head out with my camera, for fear of losing it. It’s insured, and we’re covered for theft and mugging, but it would be a huge inconvenience to have my camera taken, right before Machu Picchu. A day at the police station to lodge the paperwork, days to sort it with insurers back in Australia, and no real certainty over getting a replacement – not much fun. So I went the cautious route, and as such I have the same tourist-y photos as most people. Maybe next time in Rio, I’ll learn enough Portuguese to tell potential muggers where to stick it if they try to get me.

Now we’re out of Brazil and in Chile, getting ready to board a plane to Easter Island! And if it’s as good as they say it is, I’m extra glad my camera wasn’t stolen 🙂


Filed Under → Words
Jul 1 11

Rio de Janeiro

by Emily Benjamin

I had high expectations for Rio de Janeiro (surely I’ve said that about somewhere else before?!). I remember planning our time here over a year ago, and begging for more than a week to explore the city famous for Christ the Redeemer, Sugar Loaf Mountain, a spectacular coast line, all your can eat meat restaurants and, well, Brazilian women. But within 12 hours of arriving, I suffered a real set back. Our hostel owner took one look at my camera bag, and suggested I leave it at home. I was shattered. Sure, I have heard stories of mugging and theft in Rio – it’s the Barcelona of South America, after all – but the part of me that likes risk-aversion immediately kicked in and I was camera-less. For nine days in Rio, I only took the camera out twice – once to Sugar Loaf and once to Corcovado. And it should be mentioned that on the bus home from Corcovado, we were told of a couple mugged just 2 days ago in broad daylight, in Lapa. Lapa, where we were staying. Needless to say, when we hoped off the bus after sunset, we sprinted from the stop to our hostel to protect my precious cargo. But more on my camera and safety concerns on my Words post – this post is meant to be all about the 2 days of featured photography from Rio de Janeiro.

And it should be noted, Rio de Janeiro really is gorgeous. Colourful, warm, lively and full of genuinely lovely people. As long as you don’t get mugged!


Filed Under → Travel