In my backpacker days I had been known to turn up at the airport with a wad of traveller’s cheques, can do attitude and a change of smalls. As I grew older and getting away became a privilege and passion, I began to understand that travel demands a bit of respect, and a well-planned itinerary. High altitude sickness didn’t sound like a good way to go and being the slowest link in a fast moving group is never a good idea, so while a travel buddy did days of self-analysis with Dr Google discovering all sorts of dangerous, undiagnosed medical conditions, I opted instead for 5 minutes with an actual health professional.

Bags packed, Spanish translation app loaded, a couple of days travel and we arrived in Cuzco, Peru. This is a beautiful city. Built on the foundations of the Inca Palaces, and my first introduction to the breathlessness and sense of surreal that accompanies living at high altitude. My respect for mountain climbers is now enormous. With narrow, cobbled streets, wooden balconies and some very cool shops & restaurants surrounding its beautiful square, Cuzco was a real treat. It also is a great place to tempt the taste buds with something different – alpaca, quinoa, ceviche or if you fancy, guinea pig, which comes complete with paws and teeth. Wash it down with a pisco sour cocktail and all is right with the world. Peru also boasts around 4000 varieties of potato. Who knew?!

 

Sacred Valley in Peru’s Andean highlands, provided us with a very clear cold night so an astronomy lesson was hugely enjoyed. Next day was a massive tick off the bucket list with Machu Picchu. This is, as has often been written, far and away one of the high points of world tourism. Beautiful, majestic, magical. To have lived in the clouds and woken to such natural beauty evoked a world well and truly passed, but the sense of space and time left a lasting impression. At the foot of the mountain is the great little town of Aguas Calientes. A strange cross between a relaxed backpacker stop & an old fashioned gold rush town, it provides an excellent place to dust off the bargaining skills – but just exactly how many alpaca beanies does a girl need? I tried to blame the coca tea and was disturbed to find that it wasn’t its fault.

La Paz, Bolivia. Due to festival celebrations closing access to us, we had to approach one of the world’s highest city’s by alternative route. It seemed hours that we drove through the dusty, dark, ugly, deserted mud brick wasteland that was the ‘burbs before we popped over the hilltop and gazed down at the mecca below us. I find a city laid out before you at night is always pretty special but La Paz was exciting right from the get go. The steep narrow hairpin bends as we zigzagged our way slowly down the mountain face made me appreciate a good driver like never before and a quick stop at the foot to check the (surely smoking) brakes was absolutely essential. I found this city beautiful in an unexpected way. Not a blade of grass or natural green to be seen. No room for ponies or cows in this world, but it does have the most amazing aerial cable car transit system. Opened in 2014 the city is crisscrossed currently by three lines with five more to come. Each line capable of moving 6000 people per hour. Brilliant, clean and from the tourist point of view pretty damn cool. When you are on the back doorstep of some of the world’s best (read dangerous) mountain biking roads, and ski fields that have shut (read global warming), La Paz offers up a city that, from its bowl-like location, gazes on the surrounding, striking views with a commonplace attitude you can only get from seeing something remarkable very day.

Santiago, Chile fairly hums with things to do and see. Climb Saint Lucia hill, evening drinks in the colourful bohemian district of Bellavista, and lunch at Mercado Central. Or you could start the day with a touch of the grape. Of course Chilean wine is excellent and its estates are marvellous so it would have been a shame to leave without partaking just a little. The seaside town of Valparaiso where the colourful houses, astonishing centuries old funiculars and amazing street artist graffiti, I highly recommend including in any itinerary that visits this superb part of the world.

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.