Through stunning imagery, Anna Borisenko takes us on a journey through South America – from Colombia in the north to Argentina in the south; from Chile in the west to Brazil in the east.
Last year, you worked with Passion Passport on a photo essay about your travels in the continental USA and you were just starting out on your South America trip at that point. What drew you to South America?
Backpacking through South America has always been one of my biggest dreams. I understood it to be so different from any place I had ever seen or been, having grown up in Russia, traveled in Europe, and lived in New York City. One day, I realized that I didn’t want to wait for that dream to come true – I wanted to make it come true. In that vain, I decided to book a one-way ticket to Peru. I just knew that it was time for me to step out of my comfort zone and embrace a new experience.
What expectations or assumptions did you hold about traveling through South America, and how were those met or subverted?
For some reason, I thought that English would be more widely spoken across the continent, but I was wrong. When my boyfriend and I arrived in Peru, we knew about ten words in Spanish, the mostly widely spoken language, and it was definitely challenging for us to get around. The people we met were so friendly, though, and always tried to help and understand us.
I also assumed that things would be inexpensive in South America. Although that was true for some places, it was quite untrue in others. The continent as a whole – the landscapes, the people and the economics – is very diverse.
Can you describe some of that diversity? Where specifically did you go and how were those places different from one another?
We started our trip in Peru and stayed there for almost one month. Most of our time was spent in the Sacred Valley in the Andes, close to the capital city of Cuscu and the remarkable sight of Machu Picchu. It’s such a magical, breathtaking place. From there, we traveled to Chile and noticed the differences between countries almost immediately as we crossed the border. Chile is much more modern than Peru, and very expensive compared to most countries in Latin America. Like its neighbor, though, it was remarkably beautiful. I was mesmerized by the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth, and often compared it to the lush greenery we had seen in Peru. I also loved Valparaiso, a small, artistic city on the Pacific coast which reminded me a lot of San Francisco.
We then spent a couple of weeks in Argentina and I fell right in love with Buenos Aires, a big, bustling city that reminded me of both Paris and New York. Every neighborhood we explored was unique: Palermo was trendy and modern with western style bars and restaurants; Recoleta was architechturally stunning, reminiscent of Europe; and San Telmo was romantic and bohemian, with an amazing Sunday flea market that was so much fun to walk through. The food in Buenos Aires was amazing too, and despite the country being famous for wine and steak, I did manage to find a great vegan restaurant called “Buenos Aires Verde”.
From Argentina, we were off to Bolivia, a county that ought to be on every backpacker’s bucket list. It’s quite cheap, and despite it being a small country in comparison to some of its neighbors, there are still so many interesting places to see. My favorite spots were Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, Lake Titicaca on the border of Bolivia, and the cities of Sucre and La Paz. I also loved the Bolivian markets! They had some the best fruit I had ever tasted and were great for people-watching.
In Brazil, we spent time in the major cities of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and saw the breathtaking Iguasu Falls. I was initially a bit worried about going to Rio after reading that it can be dangerous in some parts, but I felt quite safe. I immediately noticed how close families seem to be there, and loved how much time they seemed to spend with one another. People had great energy.
Finally, we traveled to Colombia and Ecuador – countries I didn’t know much about in advance of arriving there. I was particularly enthralled by Colombia’s Caribbean coast, especially Tayrona National Park. There, miles of secluded white sand beaches are surrounded by tropical jungle. What an amazing place, and so very different from the other landscapes and cityscapes we had visited on our trip.
If you had to name your three most favorite moments or places, what would they be?
Bolivian Altiplano/Salar de Uyuni. We usually avoid organized tours when traveling, but in Bolivia there were no other options. In three short days we got to see the most beautiful lagunas, geysers, deserts, and the largest salt flats in the world. We stayed in a hotel made of salt and took tons of photos with llamas. It is without a doubt the most beautiful place I’ve been to so far.
Machu Picchu was on my bucket list for years and I was beyond excited to finally visit it. Despite the crowds of tourists, it is a very peaceful place. We woke up early that day to hike up and see the sunrise – it was absolutely worth it.
In Ecuador we got to stay in the Amazon rainforest with local tribes for a few days. We slept in a traditional hut, went hiking in the jungle, and saw alligators, monkeys, snakes and other animals. It was a very unique experience, though at times it did feel a bit too ‘set up’ for tourists.
You are notorious for trying to maintain a raw vegan diet while on the road. Are you very strict, or do you allow yourself more flexibility when you’re in transit? How does the way you eat change or influence the way you travel?
I usually manage to maintain my raw vegan diet while traveling. It just requires a little more planning – for example, when we went on a 3-day tour in Bolivia we knew there won’t be any supermarkets there so we packed our food with us. People were usually very curious about our diet and asked us a bunch of questions. It wasn’t very difficult to maintain, though, because of all the fruit they have in South America. We found a vegan restaurant in almost all major cities, too, so that’s a fun and different way to explore local dishes in an accessible way.