We catch up with Journey Latin America client Steph Barnes to hear about her trip with us in 1990 and the recent 25th anniversary reunion with fellow passengers.
There’s something rejuvenating about catching up with old friends: reminiscing about good times, laughing at long-forgotten memories and reconnecting with people can make the years melt away in an instant.
Journey Latin America client Steph Barnes travelled with us on a Group Tour called the Colibri in 1990. The Colibri was a 35-day overland trip from Rio de Janeiro
using public transport — a mix of bus, boat, train and 4WD truck. Five of the other 10 people in the group were, like Steph, single females travelling alone - a vet, BBC producer, medic, town planner and market researcher.
Now, 25 years later, they still keep in touch and organise reunions that absolutely must
include pisco sours! We met up with Steph to talk about their most recent reunion in Madrid to celebrate the 25th anniversary of that Colibri tour and the adventures they had back then!
Why did you decide to join the Colibri tour?
My original plan for a 3-week holiday somewhere in South America gradually expanded into a 6-month round-the-world trip, which meant leaving my job as a pharmacist, renting out the house and learning some basic Spanish. I’m still not sure whether this jaunt was a belated gap year, a mid-life crisis, or both! Although I planned to mainly travel alone, Peru was not the safest place in 1990 as the Shining Path had not yet collapsed, so joining a group tour when in Peru seemed sensible - hence the budget-priced Colibri. I arrived in Rio a few weeks before the tour started and saw a great deal of Brazil
travelling by air, bus and on a 5-day trip down the Amazon
from Manaus to Belem on a government ferry - sleeping in a hammock! After the Colibri tour ended, I got various buses down to Santiago
via the Atacama Desert
. After spending Christmas and New Year staying with old friends I joined JLA’s Nandu Group Tour
which took me from Santiago to Buenos Aires
via Tierra del Fuego
. After that, I moved on to Sydney and Hong Kong for a few weeks and then made my way to India where again I mainly travelled around by train.
Wow! What a trip — it sounds like a fantastic experience! What stood out to you about the Colibri tour?
It was really great that us six ‘girls’ all got on so well and there’s nothing like slightly hairy experiences to cement friendships - and, of course, we visited some incredible places together.
What was your favourite place that you visited?
Spending a couple of days at the Iguazú Falls
was awesome and I very much enjoyed Sucre
and La Paz
in Bolivia plus the markets of Chinchero and Pisac
in the Sacred Valley
. I found them to be very authentic
places with lots of interesting culture and history.
Any hairy moments?
Well, we had some fun and games in the Pantanal
! Our guide suggested he take us on an impromptu visit to an acquaintance’s family farm - we were all up for it and so we set off in a decrepit 4x4. We had our first puncture after about five minutes... and the second puncture after lunch... so with no spare tyre, it was a pretty uncomfortable and bumpy 5-hour journey after that! Once we got there we found the farmhouse was deserted, there were no loos or washing facilities (apart from the nearby lake) and we had to put up hammocks in a cowshed - but only after we’d shifted most of the dung! We had fun though and made some ‘glasses’ out of cut-in-half water bottles so that we could concoct makeshift cocktails. It was a crazy one-night trip but definitely an experience to remember! The so-called ‘death train’ to Santa Cruz
in Bolivia was also an unforgettable experience - a 12-hour overnight trip with no electricity in our carriage, no refreshments and so bumpy that derailment at any moment seemed highly probable!
Thankfully that doesn’t sound like something that would happen nowadays! But you got to Peru in the end - did you visit Machu Picchu
Yes, we all made it to Machu Picchu but only one of us did the Inca Trail
to get there. The rest of us stayed a couple of miles away in Aguas Calientes and got up at 4:30am to walk along the railway line to Machu Picchu scrambling up the hill to arrive for sunrise at about 7am. This effort meant that we arrived long before the day-trippers and we had the site virtually to ourselves for a few hours. We clambered up (and down) Huayna Picchu
and at the end of the day we recuperated in the hot baths back at Aguas Calientes with some well deserved pisco sours to hand!
Were pisco sours an important part of your trip?
Oh yes, and they’ve sort of become a feature of our reunions! We had to concoct our own when we met up in Amsterdam and Dublin but for our recent 25th anniversary in Madrid finding a Peruvian restaurant (helpfully named Pisco 45) wasn’t a problem.
And how was your 25th anniversary reunion?
It was great! We always have a wonderful time catching up and we also managed to pack a fair amount of sight-seeing into a couple of days!
Do you have any more travel plans coming up?
Well, a friend and I would really like to go to Colombia
- we’re in the early stages of planning a trip for next year. This will probably be a ‘bespoke’ tour, so we can tweak the itinerary to suit our interests (and budget!).
That’s great to hear! We’d definitely love to be the ones to take you there!
Steph and her friends travelled on what was then called the Colibri tour. We no longer operate this particular trip but we’ve replaced it with two similar Group Tours:
Jacana: Crossing the continent
Hummingbird: Ocean to ocean