By now it was late October 2016. Not much progress had been made on my TEFL course and despite me now having a semblance of a plan, and had reserved my place on the trek and the volunteering placement, I hadn’t costed the whole thing out. Could I even afford it?! Soon my boss would be wanting to know whether I was staying or going and I didn’t want to tell him I was still prevaricating, so I set myself a deadline of 30 November to create an itinerary and secure the flights.
While it was perfectly possible for me to continue arranging everything by myself, travel agents exist for a reason and I knew that they would be able to sort my flights much more quickly and efficiently than I could. So I went to see my friends at STA Travel, who have been really helpful over the last few years. It was with some trepidation I visited the local branch and sat down to explain my ideas and work out some of the logistics.
One thing I had not finalised was the last part of the trip. I had been fascinated by the idea of visiting Iguassu Falls for a while. It is the largest waterfall system in the world, spanning the border between Argentina and Brazil, so why not go and see it and explore Argentina and Brazil in the process!
Part of me wanted to do this independently as over the last five years (since I’ve been single) most of my bigger trips have been on G Adventure group tours. I’ve loved every one of them, but I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it on my own. I did go backpacking in the ‘90s but if I’m honest I found it a struggle at times. Prior that trip I had never really been abroad for any length of time, eaten anything other than ‘British’ food, or gone anywhere further than the Spanish coast, however the backpacking was an ambitious undertaking, visiting Hong Kong, Bali, Lombok, Java, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and India.
It was a complete culture shock and looking back I think I was too young and inexperienced to deal with visiting places where everything was totally unfamiliar, and we were literally the only Westerners in town. In the end I found even the smallest of tasks challenging. I was mentally and physically drained when I got back and for a few years I really couldn’t face traveling anywhere because the thought of it made me feel anxious. In some ways this experience, hard as it was at the time, now makes me feel that I can handle anything that is thrown at me. And while sometimes the idea of this trip scares me, I know that as the plane taxis onto the runway and we take off I will be fine.
So, how do you do South America solo? It turns out that it is probably not the best of places to do this, one factor of course is safety, another is the sheer size of the countries and the main thing is that travel e.g. flights are really expensive. The most economical way is on a tour, and if I’m honest the tours can take you places and offer you activities that you probably wouldn’t be able to do on your own. STA suggested a trip run by Intrepid that starts in Buenos Aires, crosses the border into Uruguay, spends two days in Iguassu, and then onto Brazil to finish in Rio. Of course it is not a bog standard trip, we get to spend 3 days working on a Uruguayan farm where hot water and electricity are only available for a couple of hours a day and chores start at 7.30 am … ah well, you only live once!