Ignoring the scary advice, blogger and journalist, Amy Baker set out alone for a Great Big Adventure
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
I’m a cliché. I’m aware of it. Despite my job in publishing (as assistant editor on an ex-pat advice publication) and my home in Clapham, at the age of 30 I was single and disenchanted with life and so like many before me, I quit my job in a flurry of hand gestures and booked a ticket to South America. I knew if I wanted to achieve my dream of writing about travel, I needed to take a leap of faith.
Of course, advice came from all corners – colleagues, relatives, friends – all listing things that could go wrong. I was outraged. Following instructions had got me nowhere. It was time to close my ears, ignore all advice, and go in search of my own answers.
A baptism of fire
The first sign my plan might backfire came as I was sailing down Bolivia’s Beni River heading for the Amazon. The sounds of the rainforest were deafening, even over the chugging of the boat’s engine. I could have been entering Jurassic Park for the trepidation I felt. Those around me were equipped for the challenge – jungle-strength Deet, linen trousers, questions about what creatures might be lurking beneath our bed. I, on the other hand, was decked out in the shorts and t-shirt of a typical Brit.
Despite being eaten alive and constantly ducking to the ground to protect my jugular at the slightest rustle in the bushes, the experience showed me what South America could offer me if I let it. And thanks to two encounters with wild animals, I now had something to write about...
To new heights
The icy climes of Huayna Potosi
When jacked up on possibilities, it’s tricky not to make decisions that completely overestimate your capabilities. After sweating for three days straight, I didn’t think any challenge could be too big. That was until I found myself hanging off the side of Huayna Potosi, a 6,088m mountain outside of La Paz. I hadn’t even realised there’d be snow, let alone dangers like crevasses or ice walls. It took climbing a mountain to see that although you can’t listen to all advice, it’s a good idea to extrapolate essential facts before brushing the rest aside like dry crusts.
Did I find my answers?
My subsequent months were spent on the beaches of Peru and Ecuador. Besides encounters with ‘unusual’ dorm mates and an unfortunate incident born from playing fast and loose with my dietary habits, I thought I had solo travel nailed.
Of course, it’s the minute you let your guard down that the real lessons happen. I understand the reputation that precedes backpackers, but what’s not often reported is how much you can learn beyond the ability to consume cocktails.
After run-ins with drug dealers, over-zealous yogis, and lessons in interacting with men, I took to a mountain to take stock of what travel had taught me. It was here I finally realised it wasn’t other people’s advice holding me back all these years, it was myself.
“Amy, could you please put together some thoughts on that article and circulate for me. Oh, and while I’ve got you, did you hear that women get kidnapped in Colombia almost every month? Rumour has it they cut their breasts off. By Monday please!” Alarmed colleague.
“Over here you know who looks dangerous. Over there you’re going to have to relearn who’s safe and who might slit your throat… and quickly.” Martin, IT dept
“Don’t ingest anything given to you by a stranger. People don’t tend to give things away unless they’re trying to incapacitate you.” NHS nurse.
“Watch out for men with too much wooden jewellery, Amy. I know what you’re like, you’ll let them sucker you in with their yoga chat, but essentially, they’re unwashed… and you don’t want to put your face anywhere near an unwashed penis, let me tell you.” Carol, reception.
“Do me a favour, Amy, try not to fall in love with everyone you meet. I can see it now, bone through your nose, baby on each breast.” Vinnie, line manager.
“Don’t you go getting holed up anywhere with a bunch of hippies. You know what happens in a place like that? I do… orgies!” Mikey, Post room.
“I hear they eat rat over there! Did I hear that right, Derek? It’s South America they eat rat, isn’t it? You don’t want to eat rat, Amy, no one does.” Diane, family friend.
- We have five copies of Amy Baker’s humorous travel memoir Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking around South America to give away. Click here to enter.
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