The eagle-eyed amongst you may have noticed that the end of February came and went without so much as a word from either of us about what we had been up to that month. You see, the thing is, we were a little busy - busy doing nothing at all on the beaches of Brazil and enjoying the last few weeks of this adventure.
Yep, that's two years of Latin American travel over. What seemed like forever at the beginning went by in a flash and whilst we're both more than ready to experience a slightly different culture, we can't deny that it makes us a little sad.
Thankfully, the last two months were just as great as the first. From the rainforests and lowlands of Bolivia, the beaches of Brazil, the bright lights of Rio de Janeiro and all the way back to the UK - here's our final life on the road for this adventure.
learning why you should never make plans in Bolivia
In a country with as many issues as Bolivia, it is hardly surprising that things have a tendency to go wrong - and in some cases, things can go wrong for a very long time. A great example? The Bolivian protest.
After returning to La Paz to get some work done (one of the few places in the country where you can find excellent internet!), it wasn't long before we needed to make our way to Cochabamba. Unfortunately however, a simple 10 hour bus journey just wasn't going to happen - the roads out of all the major cities had been blocked by protesting truck drivers and stories of backpackers having to walk the last few miles into towns or of buses being attacked were everywhere.
Thankfully, we managed to get on a flight out of La Paz, but still ended up being stranded in Cochabamba once the road blocks moved inside the city limits. At least we weren't the only ones - there were at least 10 people in our hostel that had been stuck there for more than a week, and whilst Cochabamba is a nice enough place, when they've only got three weeks in Bolivia, it's pretty frustrating. Accurate information about the strikes and when they would end was extremely difficult to come by, so we all had no option but to sit and wait.
Inti Wara Yassi
There are many reasons why having Along Dusty Roads is great, but one of the big ones is the opportunities it throws up. This month, it gave us a big one.
Inti Wara Yassi is doing remarkable things for the animals in Bolivia. The organisation rescues monkeys, pumas, jaguars and more from heart-breaking conditions and human cruelty, giving them a second chance at life. However, they are doing this on a shoe-string budget, relying almost exclusively on donations and volunteers.
As much as we would have loved to, we just couldn't afford the time to volunteer there ourselves, so we did what we hope is the next best thing - we decided to write an article about them. For three days we shadowed volunteers, learnt the animals' stories and took hundreds of photos. It was an incredibly emotional and insightful experience.
If we can convince just one extra volunteer to give up a couple of months to improve the lives of these animals, it was all worth it, so make sure to check out our feature on them in the next few weeks.
We knew very little of Samaipata when we first arrived in Bolivia, but after reading a beautiful magazine article, we just knew we had to visit. Expat heaven, but done well, this peaceful town in the lowlands is surrounded by some of the most beautiful countryside Bolivia has to offer.
Having missed the condors in Peru, we were delighted to be invited along to witness them in their natural habitat. Without a doubt, having these majestic birds soar just above our heads - with no other humans around for miles - will go down as one of our most remarkable Latin American experiences.
We also hiked to El Fuerte which, unfortunately, we cannot recommend so wholeheartedly. We've never been huge fans of ruins, but ask us to pay £10 to view what appears to be little more than a big rock in the ground, and we'll inevitably be a little disappointed. The silver lining was the we decided to walk the 9 kms there instead of taking an overpriced taxi, and that was actually pretty great.
The rest of our time was spent eating. Given the abundance of expats in town, it's hardly surprising that you can get a little more than standard Bolivian fare in the local restaurants, but we certainly didn't expect to find the best falafel in South America in the eastern side of Bolivia!
Trying to prove the critics wrong in Santa Cruz
The east of Bolivia has actually got a bad rep on the travel circuit; all people seem to talk about is how there's not really much to do.
So, after much research, we headed off to Santa Cruz intending to prove everybody wrong. Unfortunately, it didn't really work out that way. Whilst there are a number of beautiful nature based activities you can undertake less than 100km away, they pretty much all require a guide and a day or two out of your trip (not great for the budget backpacker!) and the city itself, although pretty nice, is a little dull.
However, we were thankfully staying in an AWESOME hostel with a big pool, excellent happy hour cocktails and a healthy mix of Latinos and gringo backpackers looking to have some fun.
The worst border crossing in all of latin america
Given the length of time we have been travelling, the budget we have and the number of borders we have crossed on foot, you can trust that when we say 'the worst', we're not exaggerating. But nine hours standing in queues that refuse to shorten (mainly because Bolivians believe that queues are a negotiable option) in the blistering heat when we have a five hour bus to reach a multi-hour flight to the other side of Brazil pretty much pisses on every other experience in the last couple of years.
We wrote a facebook post on it when the rage was still fresh - that will explain it better than anything we write here!
Enjoying Bahian culture in Salvador
So, after two full days of travel which included the worst border crossing ever, two taxis, two flights, three buses and a lot of waiting around, we finally made it to Salvador - a world away from Bolivia in just about every single way.
We've heard it said that Brazil has a special kind of energy to it, and we completely agree. This is a country of colour, of music and of celebration - there's a reason the world's largest carnivals are celebrated here!
Staying a couple of days longer than intended in Salvador, we spent a most of our days sampling the local foods and we were very happy to see that seafood was very much back on the menu.
And when we weren't eating, we were exploring the beautiful old town, the famous Bonfim church and taking in some spectacular sunsets over the ocean. Yeah, we kind of fell a little bit in love with Salvador (although we've never actually felt as unsafe wandering off the tourist trail as we have here, until we reached another bit of Brazil that is!)
Chilling out on Brazilian beaches
Months ago, when we decided to finish of this trip on the beaches of Brazil because of a cheap flight back to the UK, we had grand plans to tick off a number of small towns and villages. We wanted to experience everything, in part, so we could tell you guys all about it.
However, as it turned out, we visited just one.
By this point, we had been back on the road full-time for more than three months, with our last 'break' back in December (when we holed up in Florianapolis waiting for the sun to come out). We were sick of packing up our backpack every few days and wanted nothing more than to find a beautiful beach, and lie on it for the next two weeks - we wanted a holiday!
When we arrived in Itacaré, we knew we wouldn't be leaving for a while; we had found our happy place!
Whilst in high season we could imagine this small town, with its cobbled streets, great restaurants, relaxed vibe and beautiful beaches would be heaving, in late February it was a beach bum's paradise. We rented a studio apartment, sunbathed, ate fresh seafood, swam in the ocean, drank out of fresh coconuts and had more than a few caipirinhas.
It was exactly what we needed.
the final stop on an amazing adventure
If you were to pick the final destination of your Latin American adventure, you could do much worse than Rio de Janeiro - in fact, we met a number of people hanging out exclusively in this beast of an city.
However, it was an odd experience.
Primarily, this was because every day which passed brought cries of "we've only got X days left - I can't believe it" and our heads were in a bit of an odd place as home and the end of two years was so close. Also, parts of Rio were difficult to enjoy because, and we say this honestly, we haven't been anywhere in Latin America where urban poverty was so omnipresent and we genuinely felt a little unsafe in sections which are popular with tourists. Given that we've been in lots of dodgy places, we were both pretty surprised at how Rio made us feel (even a Charlie Chaplin impersonator told Andrew to "f*ck off"). Lastly, the weather was so unpredictable that rain and overcast skies were just as common as periods of sunshine.
Nevertheless, we had some incredible experiences. We cycled 30 kms on a bike tour, we dined out on some delicious traditional dishes and joined a cooking class to make our own versions, we devoured caipirinhas in Copacabana and we spent a wonderful afternoon in the hipster district of Santa Teresa. Christ the Redeemer? Well, we couldn't actually visit him because on both days which we tried, the weather was against us, meaning he was completed obscured.
Next time Rio, next time!
the long way home
And then, the moment which we thought would never arrive....arrived.
We were flying back from Sao Paolo because, way back when we were in Buenos Aires, we had found a flight from there to London (via Casablanca) for the bargain bucket price of $280 USD each. However, we didn't have any interest in seeing the city itself (it's simply too big for one or two days), so opted to take a bus there from Rio on the day of our flight.
Our mammoth backpacks - at one point collectively weighing 52kgs (minus our day bags) - had thankfully shed some of their cargo in the last few months of the trip and, with no fanfare or leaving party, we said goodbye to Latin America after making it our home and our inspiration for so long.
A quick house sit in London
After two years of being literally inseparable, it would have been very difficult to say goodbye at the airport, and have gone our separate ways. So, we decided to hang around London for a little while. What made it even better was that we got to hang out with this little guy!
Yep, after Andrew's friend generously put us up for a few nights, we found a house sit for three days in our old neck of the woods. Cue an insanely large amount of not so healthy meals, huge pots of tea, good old British TV shows and long walks out with Mr Huxley. We may not have gotten much work done, but it was a great re-introduction to home!
The last ten days of the month passed by in a blur of food over-indulgence, several pints of cider and too many gin and tonics, and a lot of catching up with family in our respective homes. We realised that flushing toilets are really quite remarkable, there is no such thing as too many cups of tea, that carpets and duvets are downright luxurious and that at the heart of it, very little has changed back here in the UK.
Already, the things that infuriated us about Latin America, are things we are beginning to miss - the constant noise, the ever-present dogs, life and people on the street, the markets.
Sure, this adventure may be over, but we'll always have a little Latino in our hearts.
So, is Along Dusty Roads finished?
Not a bloody chance! We never started Along Dusty Roads as something just to record our Latin American journey - it was always our plan to have it as a beautiful online journal to help and inspire travellers, wherever they may roam. And, as well as being something we both love doing, happily, it's grown into something that is pretty popular and valued.
As well as catching up on so many guides, articles and photos on Latin American travel, we're already planning our adventures for 2016, so stick around!