Looking Back On: South America
Since a sporadic late trip to Lisbon and Istanbul in 2020, it has been a while since I traveled internationally. The month of September I spent in South America hoping to change that. Going into South America, I had three goals:
Accommodate a full-time remote work schedule with zero interruptions
Pay $0 cash out of pocket on taxes, fees, and accommodation
Step out of my comfort zone and meet people
This post will act as a trip report of sorts and a reflection post, meant to focus on what I learned and the things I did.
I spent 16 days away from home, exploring Bogota, Quito, and Fort Lauderdale. For a complete itinerary, please see it here.
After getting off an Air Canada 787 Business Class flight exhausted, I forgot I didn't book a hotel for my 3 AM arrival time. There would be no chance the W Bogota that I booked for the following two nights would allow me that early check-in, so I booked a few hours at the Hilton Garden Inn Bogota Airport while I walked through customs. After a warm introduction in the form of a cab ride that cost nearly ten times that of regular pricing, something I failed to realize due to my sleep-deprived state, I was checked in and sent on my way to catch up on some sleep.
A quick stay would be all I needed, as I was off to W Bogota for an early check-in at noon. Bogota’s traffic is terrible. Real bad. A 15km drive from the airport to the W took well over an hour, something that would become a theme throughout my time in Bogota.
The W was welcoming, friendly and timely - the team worked hard to prepare my Marvelous suite at noon for early check-in.
The hotel did seem full, and the front desk agent would confirm a higher than average capacity due to restrictions lifting. I sat down in the W Lounge to get some work done before my room was ready.
At 12:30, my room was ready. I used two SNAs to snag an upgrade to the Marvelous Suite, a 600 square-foot two-tiers below the Wow level suites.
The room was spacious, clean, and the bathroom extended well into the bedroom in typical W fashion.
While not a "suite", W Hotels market this junior suite (due to the lack of a partition between living rooms and bedrooms) as a suite Even their top-end suites are junior suites in many W locations and do not have a separate bedroom.
After a very quick nap, I jumped in the hotel taxi to join a bike tour of Bogota. We took a more mountainous pass, and the taxi ride itself would provide unbelievable views of Bogota beneath us.
The bike tour would allow me to see the main tourist sights of Bogota. We’d start at Bolivar Square, tour the historical center before visiting a coffee roastery, and a sporadic trip through the Santa Fe neighbourhood later into the night. Santa Fe is one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the city, and even in a group of twelve, I was glad to be our of the area fast!
The nightlife topped my expectations - my goal to meet people was already starting. Along with others on the bike tour and local local Bogota residents, we were off for dinner and to explore Bogota nightlife in the Zona T - a very gentrified and secure downtown club area in the city.
Sunday began with an early morning hike up Monserrate, Bogota’s version of the Grouse Grind.
It's a very busy staircase of over 700 meters in elevation, covering a distance of 1.8 km. Many locals climb up in the morning wearing no shoes. The trail leads you to the peak of Monserrate at 3152 meters. Along the way, vendors set up shop, enticing you with food and drinks along the side.
It was an early trip back to the hotel for dinner as an early Avianca flight would take me from Bogota to Quito at 8 AM on labour day morning.
Quito would be my home for two weeks and the place where I would work virtually. My Airbnb was located just north of the heart of Quito, in the eastern Parque La Carolina neighbourhood. Shops and cafes lined the street, Republica del Salvador and a supermarket would be my stop for all things breakfast and lunch.
I joined the Facebook group Expats in Quito, Ecuador, and made a post asking if anyone would be up for a couple of hikes in the area. I was blown away with responses, private messages, and invites to a WhatsApp group chat - in it, almost 100 expats were meeting up for drinks, hosting language exchanges, offering swing dance classes, and even hikes on the weekend.
While I waited for my Airbnb to be ready, I was shown around my La Carolina neighbourhood and even invited in for lunch by a fellow group member, Sebastian - the welcoming South American hospitality began early, and this trend continued throughout the trip.
Nights were spent at houses cooking and playing games, enjoying the laid-back Ecuadorian life. The entire Friday night was spent exploring the historic city center, climbing up historical basilicas.
Climbing up mountains and hiking around active volcanoes became commonplace on the weekends. The expat group toured around Lake Cuicocha, an inactive volcano two hours north of Quito, west of neighbouring Otavalo for my first weekend in Quito.
The six-hour-long hike took us around the lake, offering dynamic views of the Ecuadorian countryside. On the way home, we spent an hour exploring Otavalo. Ecuador’s famous markets are located here, and I was sure to pick up some trinkets.
I would climb Rucu Pichincha on Sunday - a 4696m peak, accessible after taking the TeleferiQo, Quito’s aerial tram, to the terminus station.
While nothing too out of the ordinary in terms of difficulty, the altitude got to me. This peak marked the highest height I have been to in my life, and I could certainly feel a little lightheaded.
The hike spiraled around the mountain and the peak required some rock scrambling.
The top made it all worth it. While the view wasn't the best on the day I did it, the sense of spirit and diversity of people at the top made quite an impression.
After a few more days working in Quito, it was now off to Fort Lauderdale.
Impressions: Fort Lauderdale
I planned to spend my Friday night in Fort Lauderdale. Unfortunately, a cancelled JetBlue flight delayed my departure by exactly one day, limiting my stay to only an eight hour layover. All passengers were compensated $250 as outlined in JetBlue's tariffs. I plan to use this credit to fly to New York in June.
Walking around Florida showed me how bustling of a state it is. I forgot to pack shorts and t-shirts in my carry on, and was forced to suffer in nearly 30 degree heat. Despite this, I enjoyed my time here. After a good morning walking around, it was off to the airport to fly a familiar Air Canada business class home to Vancouver, connecting in Montreal.
Working From Home: Met
There’s no doubt that 2020 will change the way people think about work. Most people now have the ultimate luxury to work either from a hybrid or fully remote approach. My company is no different - we can work from home, and with most of my team permanently living far from our home office in Toronto, it looks like it might stay that way for many months to come.
South America would be the perfect place to spend working remotely. The whole continent follows either CST or EST, and in Ecuador, my working day would start at 8 AM local time.
Apart from acclimatizing to Quito’s 2800 meter altitude, which wiped me out for labour day and much of Tuesday, I found working from abroad very manageable. I purposely booked an Airbnb with high-speed internet and separate office space. The internet was fast and stable, and the premium paid for the office would be well worth it.
If (let’s be honest, It’s a matter of when. I plan for a March visit to Chile and Buenos Aires), I will stay much longer. Given my visit was my first time in South America, I thought staying for a short time would be better. Now that I have confirmed this is a beautiful continent, I plan to stay for a longer time soon.
Two weeks was just a bit too short to settle in, especially when I hopped from Bogota to Quito.
Cutting Costs: Met
I made it my goal to minimize as many costs that I could.
I planned to stack Great Canadian Rebates (GCR) with Scotiabank’s all-time high welcome bonuses on their Passport and Gold cards and apply these points directly to my travel expenses. Scotiabank is unique amongst the Big 5 Canadian banks because their credit card rewards can be used for any travel booking and redeemed at one cent per point. There is no need to book through a particular travel portal that frequently has marked up prices.
Taking advantage of both the five times back welcome bonus on the Passport, and the complete minimum spend requirement on the Gold, I pocketed just over a hundred thousand Scotia points from these two cards. Combining that with a first-year free offer and $200 back from GCR, I exceeded $1200 in cashback from one credit hit, helping fund my trip.
Meeting People and Doing Things: Exceeded
A few of my friends mentioned the South American hospitality I would experience on my trip. The people in South America were some of the most welcoming people I have ever met in my life. Before coming, I thought my visit to Turkey couldn’t be topped, but South American people made a strong impression.
I met with locals in Colombia, enjoyed a great dinner near Plaza Bolivar before heading to Zona T to experience Colombian nightlife, and topped it off with drinks back at W Bogota.
Quito continued this welcoming and friendly trend. The expats and locals I met in the Facebook group would accelerate this stay to another level altogether.
Everyone was always doing something. Every day a dinner, hike, or party was planned, and everyone was welcome.
The people I met made this trip memorable.
Easily one of my most favourite trips so far is to South America. Many people I met have lived in the continent for years, only hopping back home to the US or Canada to renew passports and satisfy minimum stay requirements. I now understand why. I fully intend to come back to Argentina and Chile in the New Year for a month minimum. If I experience half the hospitality and fun, I will be living the dream as I did during this trip.