Some months have passed now since we returned from our nine-month adventure to South America. That slight hollowness of emotion that settles in at the end of a long and different style of living is over and the mix of banalities and pleasant comforts of normal life have kicked back in to replace the regular adrenalin rush from discovering the unknown and the unexpected in an exotic land. Exactly one year ago we were climbing out of a deep canyon up to a 4000m pass in the ancient Incan heartlands of Peru, today we sit and sip a cup of coffee in the warm winter sunshine in our suburban backyard, watching multicoloured parrots and cockatoos feed from a seed tray - worlds apart but connected by the thread of incredible memories to the land of the condor.

Those memories take us along the length of the continent, following the incredible chain of the Andes Mountains north to where it intersects with the equator and back down again to where it disappears beneath the sea at the southern tip of Tierra del Fuego. They lead us through a diversity of landscapes; the breath-taking (literally) high deserts of the Altiplano with their salt lakes and barren volcanic peaks, the fertile valleys and forest-clad slopes of inland Peru, wedged between the coastal desert, bone-dry and riven by deep canyons, on the one side and the endless green tapestry of the Amazonian rainforest on the other. Further north, the jagged snow-capped 6000m peaks of northern Peru rival the Himalayas for sheer spectacle and the rich and varied forests of Ecuador form one of the earth's biodiversity hotspots. However, our nostalgia is particularly piqued when our memories take us back to the southern beech forests, pristine lakes, dramatic rocky peaks and perfect snow-capped volcanic cones of Patagonia.

The Andean chain is immense - to see even the small part we did, we spent over two weeks of our lives on buses travelling 14,000 km up and down the length of South America. That was an experience in itself, ranging from the luxury of the cama buses where you can sleep almost horizontally as they cruise through the long desert night to the clapped out Bolivian clanger, full of locals, produce, livestock and the smell of burning brakes as it creaked down the winding dirt road into a ravine.

We also travelled 2400km by car, 60km by train and 1500km by ship to get to and from places. When we reached our destinations we sailed 500km in a yacht, 200km on a riverboat, 20 km in a zodiac and 10km by kayak, rode 50km on mountain bikes and 30km on horseback, not to forget short positional changes by chairlift, tiroleser, swimming or simply sliding on our backsides down the snowdrifts of a volcano using an icepick for a brake.

Nonetheless the main purpose of this trip was to walk - for us the best way to experience new landscapes with their fascinating flora and fauna, slowly and intimately. Our feet took us over 850km of paths from the waves breaking on the rocky coastline to passes over 5000m surrounded by glacier-topped peaks, sometimes on our own carrying our backpacks, other times with our gear packed on to mules in the company of local guides, always friendly, always knowledgable. Either way, the trekking here was simply superb.

Not everything was planned in advance. There are of course the must-dos for everyone - the trek into Machu Picchu, the arid beauty of the Altiplano, the jagged snow-capped peaks of the Cordillera Blanca, the impossible formations and settings of Torres del Paine and Fitzroy - but some of the best was unplanned - the spontaneity of heading off to the Galapagos when we realised how close we were during our two months voluntary work in coastal Ecuador, and the hidden gems we visited on the advice of locals - Isla Mocha and Villa Pehuenia leaping to mind. Every trip should leave scope for the unplanned.

Long trips are not just about scenery, they are also about people and our memories also take us back to these, to old friends and colleagues in Argentina and to new friends that we made along the way, locals and wanderers from afar like ourselves. Be it ever so small, we now have an appreciation of the cultural diversity of South America as well, both the old - Mapuche, Quechua, Aymara - and the new - Spanish, Italian, German.

The regional differences in spoken Spanish were both a source of fascination and frustration to a pair of gringos trying to fit in. Yet despite our linguistic struggles, we were able to share in the day-to-day life of South Americans during our three weeks learning Spanish in a small town in southern Chile and our two months of voluntary work, living with a wonderful family in a fishing village of coastal Ecuador.

It certainly was a wonderful trip ........ a strange creaking sound snaps me out of my daydreams. A pair of gang-gangs, their brilliant red crests glowing in the morning sunshine, have joined the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the tree and are calling.

I finish my coffee, get up and give them the seed they want. We are back home again in the world of parrots not that of condors. We have our memories, life is good ... and the first ideas for our next adventure are starting to form in my head.