My three weeks in South America have come to an end, and boy, am I really feeling it. This trip has taken more of a physical toll on me than any trip I’ve taken before in my life. As I left my hostel in downtown La Paz yesterday morning at 5am in the pitch black cold, my bones literally ached.
1- For one, the cold there was more extreme and penetrating than anything I imagined. My Uniqlo Ultra Light Down jacket miraculously did the trick (these jackets are literally magical and everyone should buy one!), but just barely. Except for a few warm days early on in Peru, I was bundled from head to toe at every point–and my toes were often sore from coldness on a daily basis!
2- Secondly, Sarah, Rachele, and I exerted ourselves in ways we never have before, and proved to ourselves just how strong we are and can be. Whether it was trekking Rainbow Mountain in a record time at extreme altitudes, exploring Machu Picchu, sleeping on overnight buses, or spending three days in Uyuni without heat in below freezing temperatures, we did it all and had fun doing it.
3-Third, our sleep schedules on this trip have been unreal. Almost every day, we have woken up before the hour of 6am, with the earliest wake up call being 1:45am for Rainbow Mountain. This trip has not been about luxury and relaxation–it’s been about pushing ourselves to new personal limits.
4- Fourth, I fell down the staircase in our hostel in La Paz on our second night there. No, I had not had anything to drink! The staircase did not have a light and was pitch black, and I fell about 5 steps down hard on my right knee. Some of you may know I already have some issues with my knees when it comes to long distance running, so I am hoping it holds up for my 5k with Michael in Dublin this weekend! As for now, it is still very sore and adding to the overall feeling of being beatdown.
5- Fifth, my hands are severely wind-chapped from our time in the wild the last few days, to the point that they are bleeding (gross, I know…sorry!). I even wore gloves the whole time! One of the immigration officers even asked me if I was ok! Again…feeling beatdown.
I apologize if it sounds like I am “whinging” (another term I adopted from my favorite Brit, which means “to complain”!). However, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t content to see this portion of the trip come to an end. I am flat out exhausted and in need of recovery! Also, I am incredibly excited to see several friends in Europe across the next few weeks, all while enjoying the warmer weather! Peru and Bolivia definitely hold a special place in my heart, but it wasn’t hard to say goodbye in the same way it was hard for me to say goodbye (for now) to southeast Asia.
My cab driver dropped me off at the airport around 5:30am yesterday in La Paz. He originally said 70 bolivianos when I got in, and then changed his mind to 90 bolivianos at the end. As I was all by myself before dawn in the cab, who was I to argue?! So I paid the higher price, begrudgingly, while saying “no justo.” While I wrote earlier about being happy to bargain lightly and pay up on goods to support the local economy, I do not agree with this style of “negotiation,” which in my mind is clearly not fair negotiation but rather an indication of a driver taking advantage of certain situations.
After a brief delay, I was on the plane from La Paz to Santa Cruz, where I went through Bolivian immigration to board my flight to Madrid. This was an intense experience, to say the least. I spoke with no less than 4 people, had my bag emptied, searched and sniffed, and was body scanned before I was stamped out of the country. They are definitely cracking down hard on what leaves the country in Bolivia!
The 11 hour flight on Air Europa from Santa Cruz to Madrid had no TV (!), so I finished my current book (Blink by Malcolm Gladwell) and then tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep. We arrived in Madrid just before 5am Madrid time. I had an 8 hour layover in Madrid, and given my current physical condition, thought long and hard about just napping somewhere in the airport. However, I learned my lesson about jet lag the hard way, so I left the airport and explored the city center for a few hours before heading back for my connection to Dublin. The subway system was easy to navigate, and it made me homesick for NYC!
The most exciting part of my day in Madrid was finding a post office to send some items home and lighten my pack a bit. I also ate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and enjoyed indulging without fear of getting sick for the first time in 1.5 months. Madrid seems to be a relatively cheap European city, as I purchased a large bowl of strawberries, a large fresh salad, a coffee, and a bottle of water for all under 9 euros!
Instead of just 4 nights as I originally planned, I will now be spending a week and a half in Ireland. Why? Two simple reasons: 1- I feel very drawn to Ireland for some subconscious reason, and 2- My good friend and native Irishman Michael is an excellent salesman of the country, and highly recommended a few tours for me to see the countryside after our weekend in Dublin! Michael and I became good friends when we were on the same tour in Africa last December, and I feel like we are kindred spirits when it comes to traveling. He has been generous enough to offer to host me in Dublin this weekend! I cut down my time in Paris by about a week so I could spend more time in Ireland, and I feel very excited about this decision.
Although I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, I am looking forward to exploring all that Ireland has to offer, and hopefully piecing myself back together from my time in South America along the way!