My third and final month on the continent ended up being by far the most enjoyable. Having finally come to terms with my decision to quit Colombia and head home, I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. It was also the month I made it back into the heart of the Andes: from San Pedro de Atacama through to Bolivia then onto Peru, this was part the South America I had in mind all along…

I headed to San Pedro for no reason other than it was on the way to Bolivia. Having technically already been living in the Atacama desert for a month, I can’t say the prospect of more deadly dry landscapes was making me giddy. Then the bus started to drive into the Lunar Valley and I thought “ohhhhh, I get it now” – there was good reason behind the hype and I decided to extend my stay by another night.

Amphitheatre, Valle de la Luna

Having spent the last month well and truly off the Gringo Trail, landing back on was a shock to the system: San Pedro is tiny and dominated by tour agencies and tanned gringos popping in and out of them looking for the best deal. It was a cute town for sure, but no one goes there for the town itself. Like everyone else I spent a day walking to different agencies, checking their rates, haggling down prices, then eventually going to book one: I was offered a discount for booking the Salar de Uyuni and Valle de la Luna tours together, and headed off later that day to explore the surrounding area and watch the sunset. It was on this tour that I remembered why I hate and usually avoid organised tours, and I wished I’d just rented a bike a cycled around by myself.

Sunset, Valle de la Luna

Because of this, I wasn’t totally optimistic for my Salar de Uyuni tour the next day – I suspected the sites would be spectacular but driving around and jumping off to take selfies would ruin it a little. Then I jumped in a white minivan and met Anthony, Claudia, Rachel, and later Paul (our guide). I had high expectations of this tour and they were exceeded, so I owe it to write the full low down in its own dedicated review. There were lots of flamingos, and Michael Jackson, and red wine, and it was wonderful.

A Team

After the tour, I paired up with Rachel and we headed to Postosí and Sucre together. In Postosí began my obsession with Menus del Dia: 3 to 4-course meals with a drink for UNDER A FIVER. I also cuddled with a kitten and was disturbed by the hostel workers having extremely vocal sex in a room that opened up into the main common area (I think they were they owners of the kitten so I forgive them for making a Brit incredibly uncomfortable). In Sucre I ate like a queen, alternating daily between Condor and El Germen restaurants. I also decided that I, Megan Wright, absolutely deserved a brownie with ice cream every other day. I took up Spanish classes at the Sucre Spanish School and continued my mental battle with the Subjunctivo, and I happened to run into two Irish men from Westport who knew and studied with my older brother – what a coincidink!

Sucre was lovely, laid black, and very white – both in that there were many Gringos around town and the architecture was literally all white. Stories of runs ins with police and getting smashed off cocaine made me shudder so apart from a very small handful of people I tended to avoid the usual hostel crowds I would normally be drawn to. At this point in the trip I was tired of the same old conversations and reserved my energy for folk who I had a good feeling about. I really missed my friends, and finally bit the bullet and booked a flight home for the 30th December.

After 20 hours of Spanish classes, I was on the road again, this time in a luxury 180 degree full cama (so worth it). I’d originally intended to stop off in La Paz, but upon arrival I though nah – not for me. As much as I really believe there are fascinating sides to every big city, I no longer had time to dilly dally so headed straight for a gigantic beautiful lake instead. I used for the first time and found myself a sweet double bedroom overlooking the lago, owned by the cutest family. It was here that I met Nikoya – the most fascinating lady I have ever met. On the second day, I hiked la Isla del Sol, left my bank card in an ATM, and realised the pain beneath my ribs as not due to posture but more likely parasites.

My first day back in Cusco, therefore, involved a teary-eyed trip to a traveller’s clinic. I think I had buried up the bad memories of projectile vomiting the last time I was there… The extremely domineering Doctor sent me on my way with antibiotics which helped but apparently this continued discomfort is something of a medical mystery at the moment. After that minor distraction, reality set in. I was in Cusco: the city that had tested and pushed me to realise my true strength. It was where this entire dream trip was conjured up in the first place, and it was where I decided to end it.

I had toyed with the idea of visiting Arequipa or Huacachina, but I had seen enough. I knew that wouldn’t be my last time in Peru and so added them to the ever-growing list of “Reasons to come back”. Instead, I danced the night away with Rachel, chatted with strangers in vegan restaurants, went for dodgy back-alley massages with said strangers, and ate Sushi. Christmas eve was spent giving out presents to the campisonos that had flocked to the city, visiting the square to check out the fireworks, and later being hit in the face by one. I checked into a private suite for Christmas day (thanks Ma and Pa) and relished in the luxury of having my own space. My final days in the Incan capital involved buying knitted Christmas gifts, more sushi, and more enlightening chats with strangers in Green Point.

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Christmas day in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco

I got my last 20-hour bus to Lima and spent my final night in a questionable airport hostel, before embarking on the crazy 30 something hour journey back to London via Mexico City. Leaving South America was bittersweet because I knew I’d inevitably miss it, but overall I was happy and boarded my flight with not a single regret.

Have you ever decided to cut a trip short to go home? Let me know about your experience in the comments!

– MW.

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