We spent a long Christmas break in New York, staying in an amazing AirBnb apartment in the city’s West Village. Jamie had been there before, about 10 years ago, but it was my first visit. And predictably, it was love at first sight! Though the weather was refreshingly crisp (read: bitterly cold) the city had everything we wanted and more. We were truly spoiled for choice in the West Village when it came to choosing restaurants and bars to try. Museums, attractions and everything else we needed was just a short subway ride away. Among the highlights of our two weeks in New York were a performance of the youth orchestra at Carnegie Hall, cocktails at the awesome Little Branch, whiskey tastings at Highlands and a touristy-but-still-awesome horse and carriage ride through Central Park. It was such a fabulous, indulgent holiday, and I can’t wait to go back again soon!
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.
We were almost over the red rocks by the time we made it to Bryce Canyon, but quickly realised this was a site quite different to the others. Thousands of red, orange and white needles of rock poke up from the canyon, giving a ripple effect as the sun passes over in the afternoon. And even better than standing at the top looking down, you can follow a few well worn paths into the canyon, and get lost at the bottom. I’d love to go back to see Bryce Canyon in winter, because the snow fall would really light the place up!
Monument Valley is the ultimate movie set – for John-Wayne-style westerns, at least. The famous red rock monuments all line up on the horizon and change colour and size throughout the day, depending on where you’re standing. We did a one day trip through the main valley and the one next to it, Mystery Valley. It was hot, red and dusty, as you would expect – but with some amazing sights along the way. As usual the best times for photos were morning and evening but with such a long day in the sun, I unfortunately I didn’t make either! But these pictures will have to do – enjoy!
Our second stop in Moab was to Canyonlands National Park, which, as the name suggests, is full of canyons. About an hour from Moab, the park is massive. There are a number of different viewing points, loads of trails and even one canyon rim that would take two days to drive around. But in the absence of a 4WD, we stuck to the viewpoints of Mesa Arch, Green River, Grand View, Needles and Wooden Shoe. The sights were beautiful but in the middle of summer, the best bet is to visit early morning or late afternoon. We were rewarded with the best light in the afternoon at Grand View Viewpoint, which is my favourite photo from the set. Between all of that and Arches, I am almost convinced that Utah is made entirely of National Parks.
And so the official road trip begins! Today’s trip was to Arches National Park in Moab, Utah, for sunrise. We made it just in time to see the sun hit the Northern Window, and light up Turret Arch. Absolutely beautiful. After that, we made it through the park quite quickly, hoping to beat the heat and the crowds. But still we were there for almost seven hours, checking out a few different sites. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to Delicate Arch, which is probably the most famous site in the park. But with the desert heat, I think I’ll come back in winter sometime instead!
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
Colca Canyon is the deepest canyon in the world – more than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, apparently – and is about 150km outside of Arequipa in Peru. We made a two day trip there, taking in a few sights, walks, local performances and buffet lunches along the way. Although the bus was cramped and bumpy, the view was pretty good – the canyon is up to 4000m deep at some points!
I knew nothing of Machu Picchu until about 5 years ago, when a friend of a friend mentioned a holiday there. I remained completely ignorant of this mysterious Incan empire amongst the mountains until planning this trip, but quickly realised this may be paradise for a photographer. When the sun shines you can see for miles, with the sun hitting the terraced edges and creating dark mysterious shadows. Or get up early and see the mountains in mist, with early morning sunshine trying desperately to pierce the thick cloud. Sigh. Sounds so dramatic, doesn’t it? It was. Absolutely gorgeous, and so worth the long walk and early starts. Oh, and a hint to anyone intending to visit – ask your guide to have you at the Sun Gate by the afternoon, and Machu Picchu itself for the following morning – it was a real treat to avoid the crowds!