Okay- so I've been trying to plan this trip for quite a while now, and I've read so many forums, websites, travel guides, etc, that I am possibly hitting a little bit of information overload and having a hard time actually nailing down details at this point. So if it seems like I'm asking a pretty broad question here- don't think it's just me being lazy and not wanting to do research on my own, it is just a genuine request for knowledge and opinion from someone looking for more direct input. I might even be jumping the gun on this, but I stumbled on this message board, and I've yet to ask anyone else's input, and it just struck me to do so. So I am. I appreciate it.
So anyway, here's the background- In novemeber(2010), I will finally be finishing the job I have had since graduating uni, which has very much monopolized my life for the last 5 years. I'll be going back to school for my masters the following fall. So I've got roughly 6 months to travel S. America as I please, with a budget of somewhere around 1500 per month with a bit of flex. Here is my still very barebones plan-
I will start travel around 01 December 2010. I speak no spanish, despite having taken a couple of years in HS that I don't remember, so to start I want/need to do about 2 months of spanish lessons/homestay. Right now I am unsure as to whether or not to do this in Guatemala or Ecuador. Guatemala looks like it's cheaper, barely, but Ecuador isn't much more and looks like there is more to do/see in terms of the geography. So after two months of lessons/homestay, that will put me at the start of February 2011, and I want to get down to Patagonia at this point to do some trekking there while it is still the tail end of summer. I definitely want to do Torres del Paine in Chile, and El Calafate in Argentina, but I think I can skip the Ushuaia. ***My main concern right now is what is the best(read: cheapest) way to get down from either Ecuador(or Guatemala), to Puerto Natales? Fly to Santiago, then fly to Punta Arenas? I realize jumping south from Ecuador all the way to Patagonia isn't the most efficient method of travel, but don't want to miss the weather. After doing Patagonia, my plan is to just work overland through Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, then finish back in Ecuador to blow whatever money I have left diving the Galapogos. Is it feasible to work back north this way overland? Essential stops at this point are wine country, Iguazu Falls, salt flats, Cordillera Blanca, Machu Pichu. I'm also wondering if I should bring some camping gear for this, since I'm planning on doing trekking at Torres Del Paine, Cordillera Blanca, and possibly elsewhere if it looks worthwhile. Should I invest in a one person bivy sack/tent for a couple hundred, and get a mat? I'll be travelling with a 75L backpack, but I didn't plan on filling it as again, I am hoping to do a decent amount of trekking. Other info- I'll be 27, single male, in pretty good shape, not a lot of experience camping/trekking solo, but have done it in groups plenty before. Planning to stay in pretty barebones accomodations, and most likely will utilize couchsurfing.com when possible, since I've had good experiences hosting people in Savannah, GA, USA.
So, is this all feasible? Am I nuts? So, to recap on an already too long posts, here are my questions, summed up:
1. Spanish Lessons/homestay- Ecuador, or Guatemala?
2. Best way to jump down to Puerto Natales from Ecuador or possibly Guatemala? If it is a REALLY terrible idea, should I just take the time to dive Galapogos while in Ecuador, and then work south overland instead? But would it be possible to reach Patagonia still within trekking season?
3. Possible to go overland from El Calafate up through Argentina,Bolivia,Peru and Ecuador? Is this a bad idea?
4. Should I bring gear? I.E.- Bivy sack, sleeping bag, pad? Or rent it? If a mix, what should I bring, what should I rent?
5. 1500 a month for 6 months for this trip a feasible budget?
Thanks already if you read such a long post, and I appreciate any feedback you might have, even if it's only on one or two things!