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How I Traversed a Continent in 7 Weeks

2010 April 29

Step 1: Bought a ticket into Quito, Ecuador.

Step 2: Bought a ticket out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Step 3: Rode in lots and lots and lots of buses.

The end result:

View South America in a larger map

Oh South America, how I miss you so…

Never have I been to a place that is so wild and rugged yet is also so beautiful and elegant. From the craggy highlands of the Andes, through the barren deserts of Bolivia and Chile, to the pulsing beaches of Rio, South America had it all.

Unlike any other place I’ve visited, South America is a truly massive place. I didn’t appreciate the magnitude of its size until I started working my way through. For perspective, South America is about twice the size of the US. As a result, motion was a constant theme throughout my 7 weeks and no where have I found the phrase “it’s not the destination but the journey” to be more true than South America.

The hike from 4,100m to 4,600m at the top of Quito, Ecuador

The hike from 4,100m to 4,600m atop the Teleferico in Quito, Ecuador

Flights, unlike Asia or Europe, are very expensive. I only took one flight and that was on the tail-end of two nights and a day of continuous travel. Trains are unreliable and have very poor connections. Thus, the most popular method of travel are buses.

Bus trips in South America are the stuff of legends. You put any grizzled backpacker on a 12 hour bus trip and they won’t even bat an eye. Overnight bus trips become a piece of cake and a 3-4 hr ride is child’s play. The longest bus ride I took was from Iguazu Falls to Rio, a respectable 24 hours but not even close to the real marathons. Some of the longest I’ve seen include 50-60 hours into the heart of the Amazon from Brazil and a 3-day hell ride from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Lima, Peru.

Cusco, Peru at night

I estimate that the total amount of time I spent on the road is somewhere around 150-160 hours, or nearly an entire week consisting of numerous overnights, hours spent looking at the forever changing landscape, thinking, pondering and sleeping. I’ve seen the sunrise and I’ve seen the sunset from a bus. I’ve been on hot, dirty, smelly buses where I had to wake up and move my bag every few hours throughout the night. I’ve also been on buses where uniformed waiters served champagne and wine after a hot meal. I’ve seen crazy drivers who think their bus is a race car and come across inspection points where policemen armed with automatic weapons board the bus. And of course, you can’t ever forget the food vendors who hop on board (and you wonder if they’ll ever get off) whenever the bus makes a pit-stop.

In all, I covered over 4,500 miles from sea level all the way up to 13,000 feet. Sure it could be very painful at times but bus rides became a way of life, almost a badge of honor amongst backpackers in South America. And I’d argue that the journey, and the stories about traveling from point A to B in South America are as much a part of the experience as the rivers, mountains, deserts and beaches.

A couple more shots taken by me:

Looking back at Cusco, Peru

On the road to Machu Picchu

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Till next time.

11 Responses leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010

    7 weeks? Wow, you must have been hoofing it! I was there for a year and I feel as if I only just scratched the surface.

    Your photos are ace.

    • May 13, 2010

      It was a bit of a mad scramble šŸ˜‰ Glad you liked them!

  2. June 11, 2010

    Thanks for the write up. I am heading over there in a month and will do a similar route from BsAs to Bogota. and in a similar time frame.
    Your photos are great.


  3. January 7, 2013

    That photo glancing back at Cusco is amazing. When I was there all my photos were taken from within and were overwhelmingly orange. It is such a different picture seeing it sitting amongst the green.

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