My South American Adventure | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

My South American Adventure

Tashaa Naidoo describes her experience in South America

That’s not to say it’s the safest country in the world, petty crime is an issue, drugs and the like too just as anywhere you go and you do have to be careful, but you don’t have to be so alert and suspicious of everyone you meet!
This summer I jetsetted off to South America to spend 2 months volunteering and travelling around Ecuador and Peru. Being an avid traveller, I was thrilled at the thought of volunteering deep within the Amazonian jungle and being thrown into a completely unfamiliar place and discovering what it has to offer. When I told friends and family I would be off the whole summer in South America, the first things that pops into everyone’s minds were “don’t get mugged!” or “strap your bag to yourself and never let it out of your sight!” which naturally makes you paranoid. After a trip to Cotswolds I left with a collection of gadgets and handy tools like a money belt and padlocks. Reality? I never even used the padlock, I hardly wore my money belt, and nothing of mine got stolen. That’s not to say it’s the safest country in the world, petty crime is an issue, drugs and the like too just as anywhere you go and you do have to be careful, but you don’t have to be so alert and suspicious of everyone you meet!

Welcome to the Jungle

Surrounded by greenery and trees galore, I called this place home for about a month.
One of the main reasons I went out to Ecuador was to volunteer abroad, something that’s becoming increasingly popular amongst students. When I first researched volunteering abroad, these huge organisations ask for a lot of money on top of your flights and you’ve got no idea where it all goes. The trips they plan appeared to me more like a glorified holiday. Intervol, a society at the uni which is free to join, are really committed to the volunteering side of things which is why I’d recommend them to anyone who wants go.

My happy group of travellers and I volunteered at an animal refuge called Merazonia whose primary concern is the welfare & rehabilitation of trafficked, abused & injured animals. To achieve this, the organisation relies heavily on volunteer help to clean and feed the animals three times a day. They are one of the only centres in Ecuador to not have any parasites due to the diligent care they give to the animals. The work is hard and can be physically draining but the people who work there are motivated and dedicated to the cause. If working with animals is something of interest to you, I’d definitely recommend contacting Merazonia, they’re an extremely worthwhile organisation who genuinely put their money they get to good use.

Surrounded by greenery and trees galore, I called this place home for about a month. We had no electricity and had to cook and eat by candlelight which was definitely an experience in itself. Some of the people I met there actually preferred an electricity free lifestyle, they found it more peaceful living without the constant sound of phones pinging which I very much admired. Being completely immersed in the jungle life was both challenging yet rewarding. Merazonia had a real sense of community and spirit, nothing was ever done half heartedly and everything was done for the good of the animals.

Ecuador

The work is hard and can be physically draining but the people who work there are motivated and dedicated to the cause.
After leaving Merazonia we travelled around Ecuador venturing to the capital city, Quito and a few smaller towns Banos, Mindo, Papallacta, Otavalo and Quilotoa some of which were very remote. The one that I definitely fell in love with was Mindo, which is increasingly becoming a backpacker hotspot but isn’t so laiden with touristy attractions like Banos is. With a beautiful cloud forest to explore, bird watching tours, butterfly farms, extreme sports and most importantly a chocolate factory! We spent three nights here as there was so much to do and I would definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Ecuador, it’s really underrated! Everything is pretty cheap in these countries too, hostels we stayed in averaged about $6-10 per night which included wi-fi, breakfast and our own bathroom. We pretty much ate out most of the time because food out there is so cheap, occasionally cooking in hostels and we also did a lot of shopping!

Peru

the real highlight of Peru would have to be the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu.
Peru we visited a number of places; Lima, Arequipa, Cusco, and some more off the beaten track. My personal favourite would have to be Arequipa, a great town with a buzzing night life, good selection of food and some interesting cultural sites, like Juanita the famous ice mummy and beautiful cathedrals. However, the real highlight of Peru would have to be the Inca Trail and Machu Picchu. To me, it’s one of those things that you just say “oh I’d love to do that!” but you never think you actually would and whilst I enjoy hiking, you don’t have to be an athlete to complete it. The scenery is unforgettable and the way you’re looked after is really quite amazing. You have guides who give you histories of the archaeological sites along the way and the porters are extremely humble; they definitely are worth a mention here because they are truly superhuman in my eyes. The porters who carry 25kg on their backs (a mixture of your bags, food, tents, supplies and also their own belongings)carry these bags up the Inca trail, and do it faster than any of the hikers, over take you and then set up camp for you and cook your food. We had alpaca, chicken and fish incorporated into our meals, even pancakes for breakfast one morning and I’ll never forget when the chefs made a cake for us, without an oven!

My top tips for anyone travelling to South America:

  • You won’t be able to see everything - enjoy what you’re able to do and don’t tire yourself out trying to visit anything and everything.
  • Learn some Spanish – it makes you feel so much more comfortable and confident too.
  • Try the street & market food – it’s totally safe, really cheap and so good.
  • Haggle – learn those Spanish numbers, they come in handy.
  • Try guinea pig – it tastes just like chicken!

final year Ancient History student & travel junkie. (@tashaalikescake)



Published

2nd November 2014 at 4:37 pm

Last Updated

2nd November 2014 at 4:47 pm



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