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South America Adventure in Lists

Posted on Jan 19, 2015 in Travel



When I travel, I keep a little notebook. For some reason on this trip I started keeping odd lists. I like to notice patterns, and don’t really believe in accidents anymore, it is much more interesting to find meaning in things. Here are my lists and my observations about them.

Travel days on this trip: 25

I could have stayed longer, no I was not lonely (a few stretches here and there, but not more than at home), and no it does not scare me to travel alone.

Countries visited (passport stamped): 4


I traveled to South America in December 2014-  week in Brazil, 15 days in Peru and 3 days in Panama City. I went alone, but met up with my good friend Martha in Brazil, and traveled with a group and guides in Peru.

It is not easy to get a Visa for Brazil, it took some effort and many in-person trips to the Brazilian Consulate. If you are going there anytime soon, my advice is to be sure to apply for your Visa at least two months in advance. You can start the process here.

One of the fun things along the Inca Trail in Peru is that there are checkpoints you need to clear and they will stamp your passport, including at Machupicchu. Getting my passport stamped is like an instant happiness hit- it’s the only thing (besides the rare smiling, friendly customs agent that looks you in the eye and says welcome) that makes going through customs easier. (Oh! Also – the Global Entry U.S. helps a ton when coming home.)

I could have skipped Panama and stayed a few more days in Lima, Peru instead.

Martha’s list of things to do in Rio: 9 things

While visiting Igaucu Falls we met a family from the Netherlands, and they were headed to Rio next, where we had just come from. Martha jotted down this quick list for them of top things to do in Rio other than the obvious (like Christ the Redeemer). It’s our version of the NYT 36 hours in Rio:


Bodies of water: 7 

River (Tambopata River in Amazon)
Lake Titicaca
Atlantic Ocean
Pacific Ocean
Mountain lakes and streams
Igaussu Falls waterfalls
Panama Canal

I love water!

Variety of topography: 6


One of the things about this trip that was like no other was the incredible range of weather! Peru has 90 distinct microclimates, and is among the 10 most biologically diverse countries in the world. There were days I was in full on winter gear- wool hat, mittens, scarf, down coat – and days (sometimes the same day) in a tank top and shorts.

Books Read on Vacation: 6

Still Life with Bread Crumbs-Anna Quindlen
The Signature of All Things- Elizabeth Gilbert
Drunkard- Neil Steinberg
A Movable Feast- -Hemingway
State of Wonder- Ann Patchett
The Pearl – John Steinbeck

I bought The Signature of all Things in Rio, it was one of the few random books in English the store sold. It is now on my list of favorite books. It’s a gorgeous novel about life, specifically the life of an independent female botanist. The book uses plants as metaphors, and in particular mosses. Part of the book is set in Peru. It helped me appreciate and be inspired by things I would not have otherwise noticed on the Inca Trail, including the moss and the orchids. This book helped me stay present and notice the beauty around me. The way things conspired, it just felt like I was supposed to read that book at that time, and for that reason, it will always be special to me.

Hemingway was perfect for the Inca hike, not too heavy to carry. Plus when your trail guide asks you read to him so he can hear the English, well, it’s nice have Hemingway on hand.

Podcasts: 12

The complete NPR Serial series. I had to go to South America to learn about this podcast produced by Chicago Public Radio. I have no idea if Adnon did it, but pondering this question to Sarah Koenig’s cadence made some downhill stretches of the Inca Trail easier and some bus trips more interesting.

Topics Martha and I discussed during the course of our week in Brazil: 25+

This list is not exhaustive, but somewhere along the line I started to observe the range of topics. You know how children seem able to entertain themselves and each other with scarce external stimulation? How they play with empty boxes or pots and pans for hours? The ability to be amused for hours with simple conversation is, in my view, the adult version of this.

 Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.  –Eleanor Roosevelt

Sex Shops
Our mothers
U.S. Cuba policy (this conversation about why US policy was silly occurred before the President announced the change. Coincidence?)
Wedding plans (Martha’s!)
Birding- Martha’s new hobby. These conversations and lessons proved super helpful during my successive trips to the Amazon and the Andes. See bird pictures here.
Language, including the etymology of language
Places we still want to visit
Plane boarding customs of various airlines
Food in Brazil, Chile and Peru
Imports and Exports, Havana’s Flip Flops
Brazilian politics and the recent election
Why there are so many female heads of state in Latin America
Brazilia, and what it is like to live there
Not having children
Approaching 50
History of Brazil, why there are so many Italian restaurants
Things and events we realized we don’t quite remember. Case in point, who went to Julia’s wedding in Montana with us? Suzanne? Debbie?
Sibling relationships
Living abroad
Saving money, or not.
Old times and old friends and old boyfriends (we are kinda old)



Wonders of the World: 6

There are lots of lists of “wonders” now; they are great inspiration for bucket lists!

Igaussu Falls
Macchu Picchu
Christ the Redeemer
Panama Canal
Harbor of Rio
Amazon Rainforest



Modes of Transportation: 12

Planes (8)
Tuk Tuk
Stand up Paddle Board (ok, so I did not really “transport” so much as go in circles. fun!)
Running – ah some great runs! Along Copacabana and Ipanema Beach in Rio, along the beach in Lima, and along the Panama Canal…  the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Canal – in one vacation trip!
Hiking (lots and lots!)
Boats (a few kinds)

Special thanks to Martha for insisting on public tran in Rio. Tackling public transportation is rarely something I regret, if I think about it like an adventure. Big fan of the women only car on the subway at rush hour. We should do that in Chicago.

Also Rio shuts down it’s version of Lake Shore Drive every Sunday to cars, and it is AMAZING. We should do that in Chicago too, at least in the summer.


Boat trip to the floating Uros Islands, Lake Titicaca


Types of accommodations: 5

Hotels: 5 hotels
Sweet Penthouse Condo right on Ipanema Beach in Rio
Tent: 3 nights. I love camping. I especially love camping when someone wakes me up at my tent with a steaming cup of hot coffee and a bowl of warm water and soap J.
Straw covered hut
Local family home
Playa Bonita Intercontinental Resort in Panama

Best: hut in Amazon, tent, Rio Condo, Radisson in Lima (too hard to pick one)

Worst: the resort (a mess of a place and waste of money)


My lodging in the Amazon

The 1 most valuable item on the entire trip: wet wipes

Number of photos I took: more than 1,000.

You can find them here, organized and culled a bit. Describing them is a work in progress. Comments welcome.







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