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Confessions of a reformed list ticker

Pothole article list ticker

I saw an advert the other day for a ‘multi-centre holiday to Chile’. Aside from the clunky, mechanical language employed, it is a list-ticker’s dream – the chance to dip your toe in the Atacama, Santiago, a vineyard or two, the Lake District and Torres del Paine. See the whole of Chile in one go, without really seeing any of it. Unless you love a good internal flight, it’s not a holiday, nor an adventure. It’s a mad dash, hopping from one photo opportunity to the next, from one scheduled tour to the next around the fringes of a country which rewards deeper exploration.

I’ve been there myself, in my pre-Pura days.

If anyone asks me if I’ve been to Brazil, I can confidently reply in the affirmative. But have I really been to Brazil? I’ve spent three nights in Rio scaling Corcovado and Sugar Loaf Mountain, watching Botafogo at the Maracanã and having a brief wander around the historic centre. Then I flew to Iguassu and overnighted on the Brazilian side, crossing into Argentina to see the falls. Then I left for Buenos Aires. I haven’t experienced the unique Afro-Portuguese culture of Salvador, nor the Atlantic forests of Paraty, nor the ancient table top mountains of Chapada Diamantina.

I’ve dipped my toe into Brazil, when I should have jumped in and got wet.

View across table top mountains of Chapada DiamantinaTime to breathe and soak in the views in Brazil's Chapada Diamantina

I spent two nights in the Atacama Desert on my three week adventure from Cusco to Santiago. This is an area of extraordinary beauty, of epic landscapes, of diverse natural phenomena, the result of unique metrological forces. A region where the Aymara culture has thrived, where Incas once trod and where Chile, Bolivia and Argentina converge amid conical volcanoes, flamingo-filled lagoons and vast salt flats.

Nowadays it’s also a packaged up travel destination. Necessarily so yes, we need somewhere to stay and places to go. Tour operators require predictability and consistency in order to be able to share these special places with a wider audience, not just the wildly intrepid or wildly wealthy. But the point stands, because how you (and us tour operators) approach your time here will define your experience and your appreciation of it.

In the past, I've been guilty of cramming too much in. I've been terrible at letting somewhere go, saving it for next time. I've had the privilege of visiting so many extraordinary places, but I didn't always give them the time to breathe that they deserve. Some holidays were rushed because there was always somewhere else I needed to be next - more packing to be done, more airport transfers, more departure lounges, more flights, more queuing, more arrival transfers, more unpacking.

Precious time can evaporate quickly.

Staying in fewer places for longer is hard when there’s so much to see. But relinquishing an extra ‘centre’ repays you with more enriching, vivid experiences. In the Atacama, for example, it is the difference between stopping to photograph that salt flat and cycling straight across it. It adds layers to your memories – you’re not going to forget following that old Inca path through cacti-filled scrubland in glorious isolation or scaling that volcano so that you can peer into two neighbouring countries.

Don’t want to do that? Do something else. Staying for longer gives you the flexibility to follow your nose when you’re there. List ticking invites standardisation. It gives you the same memories as everyone else.

I've learned to never underestimate the joy of being surprised, of discovering somewhere that hasn’t been photographed to death or buried under a mass of hyperbole. That can only happen when we take our time, do the less obvious.

View from Toco Volcano in the AtacamaA couple of extra nights opens up opportunities like this in the Atacama Desert

One last example. Next week I have the privilege of visiting Ecuador for the first time. On my itinerary is a couple of nights in the Mindo Cloud Forest, just outside Quito.

Consider how special this environment is. How rare, how precious it is. Consider the exotic trees and plants found within, the colourful birds which you will encounter here. How remarkable to be able to go deep into the amazing eco-system and stay in relevative comfort. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the people who make their homes here. The early afternoon rain thundering down, the dawn bird chorus and the fleeting sight of a cock of the rock. The sheer joy of it all.

Now consider ‘doing’ the cloud forest on a day trip from Quito. Envisage it on a menu of excursions from the capital – a dip of the toe, a flash of a camera shutter and a wave goodbye. Back in your city centre hotel for dinner. Blink and you’ll miss it.

That might have been me a year or two ago.

The very fact that it can be reached from Quito in a day is amazing. The Ecuadorian capital is nestled in the high peaks of the Andes. Its physical appearance, its culture and its way of life are all defined by its lofty perch. The surrounding landscape has a rawness to it, but does little to check the urban sprawl. Yet all we have to do is drive out of town and we’re among delicate hummingbirds and butterflies in pristine cloud forest.

Convenient day trip or a new world to be discovered?

I'm never going take something like this for granted again. I won't reduce it to a flash in the pan. I'm going to linger for longer. Long enough to listen to the rain, to smell the flowers and enjoy the engaging company of Tom and Mariela in our favourite lodge.

Ecuador's Mindo Cloud ForestWhy wouldn't you want to linger for longer in the cloud forests of Ecuador?

Ultimately, I've learned that planning your travels should be so much more than an exercise in filling up a shopping basket or populating an online wishlist and sending it off for a quote. What about you? What you like doing, what you don't like doing, where you've been in the past and what hopes and fears you have.

I now know that it’s ok to go to Chile and dedicate my time exclusively to driving down the Carretera Austral. It’s ok to give its ‘top 5’ sights a miss. It’s ok to emphasise the journey or the experience over the destination. Tough though it may be, relinquishing a bucket list is incredibly rewarding.

Our travellers repeatedly tell us just how rewarding it is to get off the tourist trail and bounce around Patagonia or Costa Rica in a 4x4. They see first-hand the simple pleasure of putting one foot in front of another on our inn to inn walking holidays in Spain and Portugal. And how staying an extra couple of nights in the Atacama or the Sacred Valley transforms your experience.

Spend a week in Torres del Paine – it’s worth it. The Galápagos is worthy of more than a three or four night cruise. There’s enough to do and see on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula for a whole holiday. If you really want to do something or go somewhere, we can help you do it properly. The best holidays are often when you're not limited by the pressures of a tick list, but only by your own sense of adventure or curiosity.

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The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

The Pothole is Pura Aventura's popular monthly email. We share what we love, what interests us and what we find challenging. And we don't Photoshop out the bits everyone else does. We like to think our considered opinions provide food for thought, and will sometimes put a smile on your face. They've even been known to make people cry. You can click here to subscribe and, naturally, unsubscribe at any time.

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