Big Little Trip: A Mother and Daughter Travel Adventure

Part 3 – The North of Argentina and Chile

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Lisa has spent almost a decade juggling her career as a television producer with single motherhood, she is now taking a year out to go backpacking around Latin America with her nine-year-old daughter, Lily. You can read more of her posts here, and this post was written by Lily.


Lily was the first to vomit.  As I was attempting to comfort her and clean-up at the same time, a familiar mouth-watering sensation let me know that I was about to suffer the same fate.  I will draw a veil over the next 48 hours of our travelling adventure as it doesn’t paint a pretty picture but, for the first time since we’d left London, I felt a really long way from home.

We’ve finished our five-week placement with the family in Buenos Aires and are now staying with my friends Nick and Alicia just outside Salta in Northern Argentina.  Nick and Alicia are true friends, the kind that will be there for you not only to share the good times but also when the chips are down.  I’d known them both for a long time but, as happens when people move to a different country, I hadn’t seen them or even spoken to them on the phone for many years relying on social media to catch the headlines of their lives and exchange best wishes at Christmas.

When bereavement, redundancy and other destructions collided to devastate my life, I contacted them with my vague travel plans and an idea to visit them and their son, Calixto.  They said they’d be delighted to see us and offered to organise a place for Lily at Calixto’s school so we could extend our stay for six weeks.  Their hand of friendship helped to pull us from the wreckage of the previous year but, when they’d made their generous offer, they probably hadn’t bargained for the pair of us being violently ill in their guest bedroom.

– My friends Nick and Alicia with their son Calixto –
– Lily outside the Valle-de-la-Luna in Northern-Chile – 

Eye of newt and toe of frog

The cause of our illness was something of a mystery, the previous evening Lily and I had eaten the same food as Nick, Alicia and Calixto and they were all completely fine.  I’ve always fancied myself as something of a detective and now, in my stricken state, I had time on my hands to test my powers of deduction.  I mentally collected the facts, combed through the evidence and tested various theories as to what could have made us so ill – like every good detective, I began to get a gut instinct about what might have upset our gut instincts.  For the past week, there had been a couple of what I had thought “really cute” frogs hopping around our bathroom.  Lily was somewhat freaked out by them but I was happy to let them stay as kind of exotic pets.  Just hours before illness struck, Lily had seen one of the frogs jump on her bed in the middle of the night and I promised to catch them both the following morning and kick them back outside.

Between bouts of projectile vomiting I googled ‘frog disease’ and was alarmed to read that many frogs are the carriers of Salmonella.  Oh my God!  I might as well have let a couple of bits of raw chicken hop around by our toothbrushes.

This wasn’t just a parenting fail, this was an adulting fail – if those little bug-eyed amphibians were the cause of our current sorry state then I really was a walking disaster zone.  In the same way that the thought of the food that has poisoned you makes you nauseous, every time I thought about those sticky-toed creatures I felt queasy.  Case solved Miss Marple.

World of wonder

We didn’t bounce back quickly and I was concerned not only for our health but also for our travel plans as Nick and Alicia’s house was providing the base from which we were vent uring out on several other trips.  There was only a few days before Lily and I were supposed to be making a flying visit to the Iguazú waterfalls on the border of Argentina and Brazil.  These huge waterfalls are said to be one of the seven natural wonders of the world and visiting them was an opportunity that I really didn’t want to miss.

We weren’t 100% right by the time of our trip to Iguazú, but it was only an hour-long flight and I’d booked a luxurious hotel for us to recuperate in once we got there so I thought we’d make it OK with a few strategic ‘comfort breaks’ along the way.  My judgement seemed to have returned, we arrived at our hotel without further drama and the following day were well enough to explore the Argentinian side of the falls.  Although the viewing platform was crowded with selfie sticks and their owners, Iguazú was incredible and didn’t disappoint.

– Lily on the train to Iguazú Waterfall, and our swanky hotel  –

Visiting these spectacular falls will be one of the highlights of my life, not just this trip and I am so glad that I was able to take Lily to see something so astonishing.

The waterfall straddles two countries so the following day we took a return taxi to Brazil to visit the other side.  We set off with our bellies full of buffet breakfast, and had just crossed the border into Brazil when our travel bug returned with a vengeance.  As Iguazú attracts over a million visitors each year, luckily for us it had plenty of ‘facilities’ and over the next couple of hours we managed to visit pretty much all of them.

The waterfalls were tantalisingly close but as soon as we thought we were well enough to take the short walk down to the viewing platforms one or the other of us had to make an emergency dash for the baños which weren’t quite as wondrous as the falls.  If there was a Guinness world record for least amount of time spent in a country with the most amount of time spent on the loo, then Lily and I would have been record-breaking champions for sure.

On our return to Nick and Alicia’s house, I told them of my fears that we wouldn’t shake the illness in time to make our next trip – a twelve-hour bus journey over the Andes mountains from Argentina to San Pedro de Atacama in Chile.  In further services above and beyond the call of friendship, Alicia took us to her GP and translated all of our bowel movements into Spanish for the benefit of the doctor who prescribed us the chemical equivalent of a cork and some friendly bacteria before wishing us a pleasant trip.

Missing the bus

I had made this bus journey once before when I had come to Argentina fifteen years ago for Nick and Alicia’s wedding with my boyfriend of the time, Stan.  Stan used to live with Nick so the four of us hung out a lot and when Nick married his Argentinian bride, we joined them not only for the wedding but also travelled around bits of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile with the two of them on what was effectively their honeymoon.

I have fond memories of the trip and was looking forward to seeing San Pedro de Atacama for a second time.  When I had visited previously, I was young and in love but returning in my forties and as a single mother there was an edge of melancholy mixed in with my excitement.  This is not quite how I imagined my life was going to turn out as, like most people, I had envisaged a happily ever after not unlike Nick and Alicia’s.

– An Andean Fox in the Atacama Desert – 

Their love story has always been one of my favourites: Nick is from England, Alicia is from Argentina and they were both travelling in Peru when she took the seat next to him on the bus.  The handsome stranger had caught her eye and she thought chatting him up might provide a good opportunity to practice her English.  In that indefinable way that is part magic, part chemical reaction – a spark was instantly and undeniably there between them and although it was only a fleeting encounter, they exchanged contact details and later both declared their feelings.  In a gesture that was as bizarre as it was romantic, Nick refused to shave or cut his hair until Alicia arrived in England.  She was surprised by the hairy mess that greeted her in London, but love blossomed and thankfully Nick was able to trim his locks and restore his clean-shaven good looks once more.  The rest, as they say, is history.

I love their love story but it also haunts me as they could so easily not have met.  What would have happened if Nick had missed the bus or if some old guy had sat down beside him?  If they had taken different buses then their gorgeous son Calixto would never have been born and both their lives would be unrecognisable.  As a single forty-something, perhaps the reality is that I have missed my own bus, or simply got on the wrong one.  Did some cosmic accident occur that has prevented me from meeting my soulmate or is he still out there just waiting for our paths to cross?

– Lily playing with my friends Nick and Alicia’s son, Calixto – 

In sickness and in health

In Chile, I had booked a couple of tours so Lily and I could see some of the incredible otherworldly landscape that surrounds San Pedro de Atacama.  The tour guide that picked us up on our first day was just gorgeous – twinkly-eyed, rugged and outdoorsy – swoon.

All of a sudden, the possibility that my own handsome stranger might one day walk into my life was reignited.  My eyes lit up, my heart beat slightly faster and in my mind the seduction began.  I’m not going to lie to you, this was not a Nick and Alicia moment but the thought of a passionate night in the company of a hot Chilean was an incredibly appealing one!  We went to the Valle de la Luna and hiked up to several viewing points where we could best appreciate the strange moonscape around us – as Lily and I watched the sunset over the Atacama desert I really couldn’t have been happier and pushed thoughts of our handsome host to the back of my mind knowing he would vanish as quickly as the sun.

 Our tour guide and Lily in Valle de la Luna  – 

But the next day, quite by chance, the same guy turned up again to take us on our second tour – was the universe telling me to pay more attention?  Lily loved seeing the flamingos at the Laguna Chaxa and I listened closely to our guide telling us about their feeding habits.  It was then a long and bumpy minibus ride to the Piedras Rojas and an even longer and bumpier road to two high altitude lakes, Lagunas Miscanti and Miñiques, which were fringed by snow-capped volcanoes.

– Flamingos at the Laguna Chaxaflamingos at the Laguna Chaxa –
– Piedras-Rojas – an otherworldly landscape in the far North of Chile –

We’d been on the go since 6am and it was now nearly 4pm, Lily had felt carsick, she was now feeling the altitude and we hadn’t yet stopped for lunch.  Against this stunning backdrop, she had her own volcanic eruption and my fantasy seduction evaporated quickly as I dealt with the reality of a ‘hangry’ 9-year-old.

This wasn’t destined to be my life-changing moment or even my holiday fling but it did give me hope that both of those things might not be too far out of reach.  As a single mother, the absence of a life partner means I must continue to throw myself on the mercy of my friends to fill the void.  I hope Nick and Alicia don’t think us the houseguests from hell – I am truly thankful to have them and other good friends in my life for they are the ones I am currently relying on to be there for me and Lily in sickness and in health.

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  • Gosh Lisa you are so brave! I would never have the courage to do that trip on my own with my son (even though I’d love to!) inspiring!

    • Hi Emily! To be honest, it is all quite straightforward though it does require quite a bit of time on the road and in the air to get to all those places. If you ever fancied it then Nick and Alicia run bespoke tours all over that part of the world. I used to backpack around quite a lot before I became a mother, after Lily was born I started by travelling in places like France and Holland with her before taking the plunge on this longer trip in Latin America so perhaps you might build your confidence with a trip to the continent with your son. Thanks for following the journey, it is great for me to have the company! Lisa xx

  • I love following your photos on Instagram and now I’ve subscribed to your blog. We are on a family gap year and will be in Argentina in February. Really enjoyed reading this and your realism. Thank you.

    • Thanks so much for taking the trouble to say so! I hope you are enjoying your gap year (are you the head teacher?) and I’d really recommend Iguazu if you can get up there. Lisa x

  • I only discovered this blog today. I searched Osa Peninsula on Instagram and discovered your page which led me to this great blog. I am also a single mom who travels with her kiddos. I’m enjoying your blog. Across the world so many of us share parallel experience. It’s always encouraging to know I’m not the only ‘one’ with these feelings and experiences. May Most High continue to bless you and your daughter.
    Btw- I dm’d you on Instagram.

    • Hi Donna
      Nice to meet another single travel mum. I’m glad you’re liking the blog – I’ve found social media so useful for the latest travel info and yes, its good to know others share the same experiences and feelings and that you are not alone! Wishing you and you kids all the very best with your adventures.
      Lisa xx

  • Hi to you both, hoping you are both safe and not close to the volcano .truly very sad.Lots of love to you both

  • Thanks Margaret – we are both fine and now in the north of Guatemala. A terrible tragedy for all those directly affected. Back in London in the summer and hope to catch up with you then. Lots of love Lisa and Lily xx

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