Most solo travellers backpack across South East Asia, Europe, USA, a few in true Africa but rarely in South and Central America. Solo Traveller Varun Suchday (unique surname) has travelled to offbeat places and islands in a very offbeat continent. Know his journeys of South America, but don’t forget to sit with a Google Map to search those places.
Tell us something about yourself and your background
I come from Bhuj, a small town in Gujarat. When I grew up in the 90s, knowledge & information about the world beyond Gujarat was limited in Bhuj. While in school, I had great curiosities about our great planet. I quenched them by reading books about different countries & cultures. After high school, I followed the standard pattern – Bachelors in Computer Science, Software Developer at an IT firm. Then two years into my job, the curiosity to know more about our planet resurfaced. In June 2015, I quit it all and left.
On August 13th 2015, I landed in Quito, Ecuador. I had no plans. I didn’t even know the name of any other city of Ecuador. The very first day I just roamed the streets of Quito with the enthusiasm of a kid in a candy store. I sensed a unique kind of freedom. I was truly free and I could do absolutely anything I wish or even do absolutely nothing. I kept roaming the streets of Quito looking for nothing in particular. This was one of the best feelings of my life. I stayed 2.5 months in Ecuador. Then, I flew to Brazil and spent 3 weeks there. The winds of travel took me to Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay.
Highlights included visiting 3 Modern Wonders of the World: Christ the Redeemer (Brazil), Machu Picchu (Peru), & Chichen Itza (Mexico), 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and hitchhiking (traveled taking lifts) 4400 kilometers for 2 months (January & February 2016) in Argentina and Chile, also stayed in tent on side of highways, beaches, forests etc while hitchhiking.
It’s been 2.5 years and I am still living life on the road.
How many countries and Indian states have you traveled?
15 Countries: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Serbia, USA, Uruguay
16 States: Gujarat, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Puducherry (UT), UP, Delhi, J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Assam, West Bengal
Any interesting travel moment or incidence
Lots of interesting travel moments, incidences & coincidences. Hard to rate them.
I was trying to get to Isla de la Luna (Island of the Moon) in Bolivia. It is lesser known sibling of the more popular Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun). I was waiting on the banks of Titicaca lake for a passenger boat. None arrived, none was going to. A mother with her two kids asked me if I wanted a ride to the island. Of course, I said. Little did I know that it would be her 16-year old son who will be captaining the boat through choppy waters. It was a fearful adventurous ride.
When we reached Isla de la Luna, I asked her for guest house or hotel. She promptly said, “Go knock on different houses, someone will surely welcome you in. There are no hotels on this island.”
I asked, “What about restaurants?”
“None. You can come to my house for dinner”, she smiled.
Isla de la Luna has 50-odd houses & only 5 of them have electricity. In the night, the island seems like a blip in the world. Pin-drop silence and pitch-black darkness only broken by the occasional bark of the stray dogs. I felt so far away from modern world. The people were simple, playing football, chatting under trees, herding their llamas, staring at the waters, and just being content. The night was lit by the stars as the moon was busy doing salsa with the waters of Lake Titicaca. Isla de la Luna was a truly incredible travel moment.
⦁ Most popular places to visit at these destinations
⦁ Ecuador: Galapagos Islands, Quito, Quilotoa Lake, and Banos
⦁ Brazil: Rio de Janeiro, Amazon, Pantanal, Iguazu Falls, and Chapada Diamantina National Park in Bahia
⦁ Bolivia: La Paz, Salar de Uyuni, Isla del Sol and Isla de la Luna
⦁ Paraguay: It is sad that very few travelers ever make it to Paraguay. This is one hidden gem waiting to be explored by the hardcore explorers. People are supremely friendly and highly curious about the world. Attractions rarely see tourists and the landscape is romantic. Time is well spent sipping terere with locals.
⦁ Uruguay: Cabo Polonio & Montevideo
⦁ Argentina: Ah! Messi, Maradona, Mate, Tango, Fernet and mile after endless mile of Patagonia. What is there to not like about Argentina. I hitchhiked 2000+ miles in Argentina. People were extremely friendly and intelligent. They educated me about the local landscape, economy, and culture. Even took me to their houses. And, the beauty of Patagonia is serene & pristine
⦁ Chile: Chilean beauty and hospitality is as good as Argentinean. I absolutely enjoyed Carretera Austral. It has to be one of the best road-trip destination in South America. I sold sandwiches in Santiago de Chile to earn some money. That was a great experience as well.
⦁ Peru: Hands down my favorite country in South America. Delicious vegetarian food, sweet smiling people, natural & man-made wonders a plenty, and just the positive vibes and spiritual energy in the air. Peru holds a special place in my heart. Lest I forget, Machu Picchu
⦁ Mexico: The people of Mexico will win you over no matter what. I enjoyed spending time with the locals, visiting Mayan ruins, eating spicy vegetarian food, drinking tequila, and those blue waters. And, Chichen Itza, probably the least known wonder of the world is in Mexico
⦁ Guatemala: Guatemalan forests, colonial towns, pristine lakes, fury-bound volcanoes, and Mayan ruins magnetized me to this beautiful country. People are friendly and the cuisine delicious.
⦁ Belize: In a region dominated by Spanish-speaking countries, Belize is an oddity. A former British colony with all the flavors and energy of the Caribbean. Hanging out with locals is very different compared to the same in nearby countries. Snorkeling here is world class. Saw sharks, rays, and manatees.
⦁ Cuba: Cuba, Oh Cuba, mi amor. Cuba is an ode to the 60s. It is like entering a time machine and going back to the past. Not just the cars and buildings, but even the people are old school. Which translates to timeless chats with neighbors, impromptu salsa on the street, kids kicking a ragtag football and other beauties that our internet-crazy world has long forgotten. I can write a book on the beauties of Cuba.
⦁ Tell us about your fears and anxieties when traversing solo. How you keep them at bay?
I am always anxious about missing out on authentic experiences. I arrest it by talking with locals and finding out about the locality to ensure I don’t miss out on any authentic experiences. I also fear places with too many tourists. Crowded places suck out the energy of the place. As a result, I prefer traveling to little-known off-the-beaten-path places or visiting touristy places in off-season
What’s the strangest thing you tried on your travelling days?
Chicha in a Chicha House in Ollyantaytambo, Peru. Chicha is an ancient Inca alcoholic drink made from corn. Why is it strange? The corn is ripped by tribal Peruvian women using their mouths and then the corn is spit into boiling water. Saliva of the women is the fermenting agent. It is what gives this drink its alcohol content.
And, drinking Chicha in a Chicha house is strange & incredible. Chicha houses are, well houses of locals. So, you actually drink in the living rooms of locals. They have no signs or names. You just see a half-open door and people with frothy-white beverage in their glasses. Not everyone is welcome at these houses, especially not tourists.
But, I was happily accepted at one of the Chicha houses up on a hill in Ollyamtaytambo. And, it was a surreal experience. Cloudy white chicha poured from mugs into your 1-Liter glass. You sip it listening to people speak in the ancient language, Aymara. Guinea pigs run around your feet playing their own game. It was like going back in time and reliving a previous life.
Any travel tips for the readers?
Travel is becoming a trend. Don’t follow the trend. Create your own style of travel, seek out original experiences, go to unheard places, learn languages, understand the culture, read local history, and if possible do give back to the community in form service or education. Make sure travel educates you. Keep a diary and note down things you learned. Evolve as a traveler.
While traveling we often find it is easy to bond with fellow travelers. I see that as a Catch-22 situation. By bonding with fellow travelers you are not really stepping out of comfort zone. I personally prefer bonding with locals over fellow travelers. You will learn more about land by conversing with locals.
Disconnect! When traveling, put the Instagram away, sign off Facebook, and put that camera down. Breathe in the location, hear the sounds, look for any peculiarities, meditate on the surroundings, and if you want to document it then write it down. I only reserve 10% of my time for photography that too at the end.
Also, invest in workshops and classes. Culinary lessons, dance, music, local sport, martial arts or any other local art form.
Where are you off to next?
Georgia, Serbia & Azerbaijan