Dhaka, Bangladesh
Travellers' tales: Four very different backpacking trips

Travellers' tales: Four very different backpacking trips

The family Rachel Holmes, 36, and family spent five months travelling round South America Two weeks after my husband, Danny, was made redundant, we decided to literally take the money and run - to South America, a region neither of us had been to, with our two young children. It was our last chance to travel before Evie, three, started school and Frankie, seven months, became, well … heavier and less portable. We looked at the weather (thunderstorms in Rio, sun in Lima) and booked a one-way flight to Peru with the vague aim of doing a U-shaped journey, ending in Brazil and taking in Bolivia, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Our only must-sees were Machu Picchu and Iguazú Falls. We travelled light, filling two 70-litre rucksacks with clothes for us all. We hoped Evie would walk lots - which she did - but took a buggy, which frequently doubled as a luggage trolley. In mountainous Peru, the ladies in their beautiful embroidered waistcoats and skirts would shyly approach to look at the blonde oddities that were Frankie and Evie. I bought a length of cotton and played a one-sided game of charades to learn how to fold, tie and secure Frankie to my back (he ascended to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu in this regal style). We ditched the idea of the Inca Trail, a four-day trek through the jungle, and instead took a scenic train ride and stayed in the nearest town, Aguas Calientes, queuing for a bus at 4am to get to the ancient site. The early start meant we saw the sun rise over the mountain, a humbling, unforgettable experience, and less crowded than we'd thought possible. In Copacabana, Bolivia, we got a taste of political unrest, with buses to La Paz cancelled because of road blockades. Rushing to get to a bus we'd heard was leaving, we got stuck in a procession of indigenous people shouting anti-government slogans and dragging a straw man, which they then strung up from a post in the street. Despite the high tension, every protestor had a smile and a few words for the kids. Things that worked well were walking tours - we did excellent ones in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo Buenos Aires has lots for families. We found ride-on robots in the Parque Tres de Febrero, and at the Museo de Los Niños, Evie tried out a variety of adult occupations - including plumber, with a giant toilet she could climb into to discover the journey of a poo. We took it fairly easy, doing only one or two things a day, and having long lunches and siestas where possible. Things that worked well were walking tours - we did excellent ones in Santiago, Buenos Aires and Montevideo - trips to see natural wonders, lakes, forests, mountains, Inca ruins, deserts. We went to a few museums and galleries, and discovered that some hotels in Peru let you use their pool and facilities for a small daily fee. We stayed in hostels, B&Bs (such as Casa Ko Cinco Robles, in Frutillar, Chile, where we ate breakfast overlooking an aquamarine lake, with an active volcano smoking in the distance), weird empty golf resorts (Hotel del Lago Golf & Art Resort, Punta del Este, Uruguay), and finally Airbnbs, which were always the most difficult because of arranging to hand over the keys. We took the odd flight, and sometimes hired a car if we were staying in one area for a while (we did this in northern Argentina, driving through desert landscapes that felt like being on Mars; in Chile for the Island of Chiloé; and in Bariloche, the lake district of Argentina), but mostly we took buses everywhere. We even tried overnight journeys - hello fully reclining chairs - but they were difficult with a baby breastfeeding through the night. Neither Evie nor Frankie is a fussy eater, so food was never a problem. Restaurants opened late, so we had to adjust our routine for the kids, letting them nap late and stay up late most nights. There would always be something on a menu they'd eat, or sometimes we'd cook in a hostel. Frankie was weaning, so tried all manner of things off my plate - alpaca steak, guinea pig, ceviche (he hated it) and dulce de leche ice-cream (he loved it). Daily budget Around £70 for the family. One thing we would have done differently We'd have saved Bolivia for when the children were older and more capable of dealing with the altitude - they both got mildly sick and didn't sleep well. The older traveller John Kirkaldy, 70, travelled around the world for a year I had a terrible gap year at 18, and it has haunted me ever since. And so, after a 45-year career as a university and college lecturer, I decided to try again in my retirement. I had £5,000 in savings, plus a state and various other pensions that would sustain frugal living. The year provided me with so many good experiences. As a historian, I was very moved by walking the battlefields of Gallipoli, Troy, the Spanish civil war and Vietnam. The French left the village of Oradour-sur-Glane, in west-central France, as it was when the Nazis killed nearly everybody living there in June 1944. I joined WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms)and worked on farms in France, Australia and the US. I did things I never thought I would: selling clothes in a boutique in India (I have zero fashion sense) while volunteering for the Sambhali Trust, a women's sewing project in Jodphur; and fronting a cacti stall in an Australian market as part of my wwoofing placement in Queensland's Atherton Tablelands. Perhaps most surprising of all was becoming the world's least-likely bungee jumper: overweight, risk- averse and a lifelong sufferer from vertigo, I jumped from the Kawarau Gorge suspension bridge in Queenstown, New Zealand. I was petrified, but I did it, and as the bus took us back to Queenstown and a celebratory beer, I felt that I had at last laid my gap year ghosts to rest. I encountered nothing but friendliness on my travels. People did not just point out directions, but often walked with me to show the way. Two people stand out: Chum Mey, one of only a dozen survivors of the notorious Khmer Rouge's Tuol Sleng prison, where I met and talked to him through an interpreter - by the end of our 20-minute conversation, we were both in tears; and Erwin, the Queensland smallholder I worked for, with whom I used to have heated discussions on philosophy while weeding. (To be continued)

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