Sunset on Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia.

Volunteer and see the world!

Throughout 2012 we followed engineering volunteer Priya Khetarpal’s experiences of living and working in Peru. After her placement ended she went travelling across South America and shares her experiences with us here…

Two and a half months after I finished my placement in Peru, I found myself in the capital of Colombia, Bogota ready for my flight home – if you read my last blog, you may wonder how I ended up here given that my flight was initially from Buenos Aires! All I can say is that I fell in love with the Andean countries Peru and Bolivia, and I decided that I wanted to explore the rest of them; Ecuador and Colombia. So as with my work, my travels led me in a very different direction to where I originally intended, and I ended up changing my flight to leave from Bogota.

So let me tell you about my adventures since I last wrote – I left my work in Cusco at the end of 2012, and began the new year on the edge of the country on the breathtakingly blue Lake Titicaca, the world’s highest altitude navigable lake. From here, I travelled to La Paz, the capital of Bolivia and en route I met an Australian-Canadian couple that I would travel with for the following ten days.

Together we went to the beautiful city of Sucre, where we saw some of the longest trails of dinosaur footprints ever discovered, before heading to Potosi.  Here, I toured the silver mines, squatting through narrow low tunnels, and scrambling up ladders until I reached a chamber where a tribute to the miners’ underground God sat – the devil.

Scenery straight out of the Wild West

From Potosi, we travelled to Tupiza – with scenery that appeared as if it had come straight out of the Wild West. This was followed by a four-day trip to the famous salt flats of Uyuni. Here, we saw beautiful lagoons filled with flamingos, desert landscapes followed by snow and some bubbling geysers.  

From Uyuni, I travelled alone once more, passing through the bustling polluted cities of Oruru and Cochabamba, before making my way to the boiling Santa Cruz – the metropolitan city lived up to its reputation of appearing to be Brazilian, with uptown cafés and shopping malls.  

Saying farewell to my host family

I returned to Cusco and said my last farewells to my host parents, before my friend arrived and we began our Peruvian journey together – we started with the classic Inca Trail trek to Machu Picchu, which was both a challenging and rewarding experience. Then we followed the road to Lima via Nazca – where we took a rocky flight over the mysterious Nazca lines.  

We stopped at Huacachina for sand-boarding and buggying, before passing through Lima and heading north to the famous sand city of Chan Chan in Trujillo. Nearby, Chiclayo gave us views of some of the most well-preserved archaeological finds in existence.

Risky business: cliff edges and jungles

From here, we decided to risk the potential mudslides and headed back into the mountains along winding, cliff-clinging roads to Chachapoyas where the ancient city of Kuelap lay – a less visited but huge pre-Incan site that challenges Machu Picchu in size.

We had a brief taste of the jungle (and the mosquitoes) and did some waterfall treks before flying back to Lima where my British friend left me.  

I spent a few days in Lima catching up with my host sisters who were studying there and meeting some Peruvian friends I had met during my travels, before deciding where I wanted to go next.  I headed north once again to the mountainous city of Huaraz, known as the Peruvian Switzerland. Here, I trekked to a glacial lake, which was the bluest lake I had ever seen.  

Spontaneous adventures!

During this trek, I met an Irish girl, who I would meet again in Huanchaco a day later – and we would spontaneously decide to take a trip of a lifetime to the Galapagos together.

The Galapagos islands are known for the density and boldness of their wildlife, but the unique beauty of the landscape should not be underestimated – formed by volcanic activity, the barren rocky land overlooking clear blue sea is a sight in itself.

We spent a week hopping from island to island, the most economical way to see their natural beauty. Along the way, we saw a variety of animals in close proximity – giant tortoises, sea turtles, iguanas, dolphins, sea lions, penguins, sharks and blue-footed boobies to name a few.

Having provided a beach, activity, trekking, and wildlife-spotting holiday all in one, it was time to leave the nearest place I’ll probably ever get to paradise.

Canoeing through the Amazon

Having become a wildlife enthusiast, my next stop was the Amazonian jungle – where I spent four days in a wooden canoe spotting various animals which were very different to those in the Galapagos – snakes, tarantulas, caiman, frogs and monkeys were some of the most abundant.

From here I spent only a few days in mainland Ecuador, exploring the capital city of Quito, before flying to Medellin in Colombia. Medellin used to be the heart of the drugs trade in the country, but has since become one of the most developed cities in South America with a metro system which triumphs that of London.  

From here I flew to Cartagena, a pretty colonial town on the Caribbean coast, which was once a large port for slave trading. The soaring heat and a dodgy stomach meant I didn’t stay long, and soon returned south to the coffee region where I took a tour of a coffee farm that showed the entire coffee production process along the whole supply chain, reminding me why I became a manufacturing engineer.

The amazing adventure comes to an end

Eventually I made my way to Bogota where I jumped on the plane home. It’s been an amazing adventure, and I’ve met some amazing people – both locals and travelers, discovered many new cultures, and seen some of the most beautiful sights that exist on this planet. I’m not sure what can possibly compare in future but I plan to live life trying to find out – I’m ready for the next chapter back in the UK!


Now settled back in the UK, Priya is currently working on a short-term charity project through Engineers Without Borders UK and funded by the Vodafone World for Difference Foundation. We wish her the best of luck with her career and thank her for sharing her experiences with us.

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