Location: Rurrenbaque, Bolivia
Or, I promise to add the rest soonish. I think.
It´s been a whirlwind few weeks, and as time is running out, I find myself planning more, and vaguely reconsidering the "rest days" I took along the way.
I am very proud of myself for navigating the border on my own, and making it from Cusco to La Paz with visa stops in between on public transport (as opposed to the hold your hand tourist busses). Go me. Probably still on a high that I made it with no worries, I booked a flight immediately from La Paz to come and check out some of the jungle in Bolivia.
So now I sit in a place that is starting to look like the most beautiful I have seen. Thick, huge, lush jungle surrounds this little village, and tomorrow I head into the Pampas for 3 days to swim with dolphins and look for anacondas. Oh my.
The jungle adventure started at the airport when we got into the tiniest plane I have ever been in. You had to crawl to your seat. Really. I was surprised they didn´t weigh the passengers for the weight distribution. It was a 40 minute flight (and the mountains in Bolivia are very big when you can face looking out of the window of your tiny plane), and we landed on a very grassy airstrip. I am quite proud to say that I feel like I am in the middle of nowhere. Brilliant.
Okay - that´s me for now, because middle of nowhere internet costs 12 times as much as middle of everywhere internet.
Or, I promise to catch up soon....
Okay - I am in Peru, and will hopefully be back in Boliva this afternoon. I have seen Salt Flats and Inca Festivals and stones with 32 corners and Machu Picchu and hopefully some jungle soon.
Location: San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
Or, 8 hours on a horse is not a good idea. Take note.
Ohmigosh San Pedro is cold as soon as the sun dips its head below the horizon! San Pedro is dusty town where it seems that all chefs in Chile go to train and outdo each other, but where hot water is decidedly difficult to locate.
Being wa-ay too cold to cook in the open kitchens in the hostels, it was easy to persuade ourselves to eat out every meal. Oops. Food was good though!
San Pedro is famed for its "Lunar Valley" - a landscape said to resemble that of the moon. The obligatory tour here takes you to the top of the valley for sunset, where the colours are spectacular across red rocks, white salt flats and distant volcanoes. We thought we would do things differently by taking this tour on horseback, and did not really believe the tour agency that the trek would involve 8 hours in a saddle.
I would like to say I am a hardened traveller and I stuck it all out, but after 4 hours and the sunset, I was close to tears and unable to move my legs without a great deal of pain. We desaddled and hitched a lift back to San Pedro, sending the horses back with our guide. I like to think a sign of strength is knowing when to quit. Or something like that.
Um, to continue with my heroic feats, the next day was spent in bed after changing hostels (and what an upgrade - hot water! clean beds!). Rock on world traveller.
We did, however, get to the Lunar Valley for sunset the next day, and yes, it was spectacular. The landscape is so barren and bizarre - so harsh and yet beautiful in its harshness.
Right, time to see another country - so it´s the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia next.
Location: La Serena, Chile
Or, so THAT´S what Saturn looks like.
La Serena is sort of on the coast, and on the way to Vicuña where the nights are clear 320 days of the year. Or thereabouts.
Thanks to my stellar "get up and go" attitude (it makes itself available on the rare occasion), we were booked immediately for a night time visit to the public observatory outside of Vicuña. Admin out the way, PJ and me set out to explore the, erm, delights of La Serena.
Well, there was an appearance of sunshine, which we celebrated with shaved legs and skirts (the only people in La Serena not in jackets). Maybe it was owing to our fab pins that the gardeners at the Japanese gardens sneaked us in the back entrance for a free little wander around this oriental park. Or perhaps we just looked sufficiently lost, and clearly too poor to own jackets, let alone afford entry to the gardens. Well, it was a peaceful way to pass the afternoon.
The highlight of our time there was the tour to the observatory, where we got to look through telescopes and see:
- Saturn and its rings (just the way you would draw it)
- Jupiter and some of its moons (oh my!)
- some other planets that looked like stars
- the moon up close, craters and all. and we took photos through the telescope!
- star pair of Alpha Centauri!
- star clusters
Wow! Wow! Wow! It truly was superb, and we were lucky to catch the only mostly cloudless night of our time there.
We continued with the educational them with a trip to Piso Elqui where Pisco Sours is made to make a tour of a winery, with tasting of course. Pisco is basically young brandy. And, oh my, you don´t need much at altitude! Good times.
With all this education, we took a day off at the beach. And we saw a Pelican! Pelican! He was coooooool.
Okay, Pacific Ocean seen and touched, it was time to head north for my last stop with Penny, San Pedro de Atacama.
Location: Valparaiso, Chile
Or, I guess this is why I said I got on the plane.
Choosing to give Santiago a miss, and with two Americans that we had bumped into in Bariloche and then again in Pucon, and then again on our bus out of Pucon, we arrived in a grey Valparaiso, ready to check out two of the Neruda museums.
Valparaiso is fantastic to visit because the city itself is just so different. It has a small city bowl, and then thousands of houses tumbling on top of each other up the very steep hills that surround the city. There are acsensores - funiculars - to save your legs. And amazing hot chocolate when you hit the top. Set amongst parts that feel very slummy is a distinctly bohemian cafe culture, with lots of little coffee shops combined with bookshops to lose yourself in up on the hills. Head back down, and it´s like you are in a different city with navymen dashing about (with elastic under their chins to hold their hats on).
After dumping our bags in the first of "passable" hostels in Chile, we (Penny, Matt, Nathan and I) took a wander, and then headed to San Sebastiana - one of Neruda´s houses and now a museum. It was amazing for me to wander around this brilliantly eclectic spot, and made me even more excited to check out Isla Negra - the house he spent the most time at.
So, Valparaiso day 2... Penny and I headed to the coastal resort of Viña del Mar to then take a bus to Isla Negra. And to my disappointment, we found that the Museum was closed for annual repairs. GUTTED!!!!!
Erm, so we had a brief wander in the pouring rain, and got ourselves very very wet, and headed off for more hot chocolate.
But, all was not lost. At Penny´s insistence (thank you SO much), we took a bus down (with our brand new umbrellas) on day 3, and went to see the place anyways. Even though we couldn´t go into the place, there was so much to see and be stilled by on the outside, including a well-timed rainbow as we hit the beach (and a friendly stray labrador who stuck with us throughout the day).
Isla Negra really is a spectacular place, with the wild Pacific Ocean and harsh beaches - a very beautiful place and one that I am so glad to have seen. Thanks again Pen.
So, with that out the way, we go North, to find some observatories and some Pisco sours. Oh my.
Location: Pucon, Chile
Or, it rained. A lot.
Erm, and that´s it. Sorry. But the soup was great.
Location: Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche, in the Lakes District in Argentina, really is very very pretty. And really does have very very good chocolate. The whole place had the feeling of pre-snow excitement, and we really found ourselves caught between the two busy seasons here. No worries, we drowned our sorrows in chocolate.
Going south meant heating in our rooms, and red wine to keep you warm at night. I also discovered that cooking steaks yourself in n way detracts from the excellence and the cheapness! There were plenty of good times: ice-skating, a little hike, an almost other hike, and more chocolate.
However, lovely as Bariloche is (and I would certainly love to return here for some skiing), we were itching to move on, and took a very early bus to Pucon (Chile - a new country!), hoping to climb a volcano.
Location: Mendoza, Argentina
Or, wine, steak and spa... I could get used to this.
Mendoza is the capital of the winegrowing region, and proud of it. Every trip to a winery for tasting includes an obligatory tour around the working winery, so I have learnt many times that every vineyard juices the grape in pretty much the same way. Still, you don't pay to taste, so the education is not all bad really.
I arrived in Mendoza after 32 hours of bus travel (that is two nights not sleeping on a bus, and no shower), and was very relieved to be staying in a fairly new hostel with actual spring matresses, fluffy white towels, and as it turned out later, a lot of people all there to live it up in Mendoza.
I booked a wine tour straight away, and then persuaded some more people to join me (two Irish and one English guy who had been in Mendoza for three days and still not seen any of the so called sights). So, we went wine tasting, then continued back at the hostel with the afternoon^s purchases, then it was out for more steak and wine and then to the Irish bar which was actually rather good and then to this other club, and then I was tired so it was taxi home for me, and finally to a bed.
Mendoza is a very genteel feeling city - all wide tree-lined streets, low zen-looking buildings and a huge and very beautiful park in which to sit and read a book. It really does lend itself to wondering around and discovering delightful coffee shops, and it was lovely to chill out for a day.
Mendoza is also very close to the border with Chile, and hence the Andes, and so I took a day trip out to see the sights. I saw mountains hiding behind clouds, an old Inca bridge, and the weirdest museum I have ever been into.
However, I was really looking forward to Sunday when I made the switch over from "viajo solo" to catching up with Penny, as she arrived to join me for a couple of weeks. It has been so so wonderful to catch up, and time seemed to run away with our words (we stopped for some wine on Sunday afternoon in a little cafe / bar - when I thought it was about 10pm and time for dinner, it was actually half past midnight. Of course, we could still find steak at this hour).
So, what do two girls do when they meet up in Mendoza? They go to a spa of course. We had a brilliant day at Therma Cachuete, hot springs about an hour out of Mendoza in a beautiful old colonial hotel. Hot baths, hot saunas, mud and thermal pools outside on a crisp clear on the bank of a river. Exquisite. Throw in a massage and a very very fine buffet (with steak, of course) and the day is quite perfect.
After a little longer in Mendoza than expected, our bags were packed and it was onto an overnight bus to Bariloche, in the Lake District of Argentina.
Same same. But different
I have been struck many times that all cities are the same. All roads are the same. There is so much in Argentina that reminds me of South Africa, and aside from the whole Spanish thing, the countries are quite similar.
Roadmarkings here appear to be for decorative purposes only. Everyone drives the long distance as though they were meant to be at there destination 20 minutes ago. A difference on these long hauls is that where we would expect slow moving traffic to shift over onto the shoulder if the road is single lane, here the speeding vehicle just zips past on the shoulder side. That, or drive pretty much directly into oncoming traffic. Top floor front of bus can be an interesting experience.
There are people everywhere scraping together to make a living, whether it be window washers at the traffic lights, or the people trying to sell you tat as you sit at outdoor cafe tables. Children are beggars, and come right up into your face to beg for money (or dig their nails into an arm as they demand dinero in my most scary experience so far).
Beadwork bracelets and necklaces follow the same patterns as the ones in Thailand, and in the ones in South Africa. Perhaps they are all made in China?
People from foreign countries dash around declaring how cheap everything is, while the locals cannot afford the same things.
But there is a lot, of course, that is really different. The shops, asides from supermarkets, are local, and you are served personally. Yes it takes longer, but if you live there, I think it is nice. Oh, and there is safe, fast public transport. And you are served steak and champagne on long distance busses. Really, I have the pictures to prove it!
Location: Cordoba, Argentina
Or, it´s all about the atmosphere.
I decided to break a 32 hour bus journey with a 10 hour look-see at Cordoba, the second busiest city in Argentina. According to my guidebook, this city is all about atmosphere, with a cluster of monuments all concentrated around a central plaza (and all conveniently quite firmly closed between 1pm and 4pm).
So, I proudly (and, um, almost confidently) checked in my luggage and booked bus tickets ON MY OWN IN SPANISH, and then proceeded with my tourist map for the centre of town. I only had to circumnavigate the bus station three times while getting directions many times in Spanish before eventually sort of locating the road I should be on.
I admit that I was fairly nervous to be putting in such a long day solo, especially while feeling ugh after 22 hours on a bus. But I like to think I tackled it with a smile of sorts, and I was so lucky to find that Cordoba really is all about the atmosphere.
A quick cafe con leche and some pastries (oh, I forgot to mention the Panaderia in Iguazu the most divine shortcrust pastry cones filled with dulce de leche, oh my!), and I stumbled my way along to the Plaza, and quickly into another coffee shop for some tea to fortify myself. And then over to the plaza, where I saw a crowd and heard a band, so I went on over to check it all out.
25 May is a holiday in Argentina, celebrating the first government separate to Spain (though not yet independence), and the celebrations had begun a day earlier. In front of the civil buildings was a military parade, complete with shots being fired (sorry pigeons), much marching, anthem singing and flag waving. When it was over, everyone dispersed pretty quickly, I presume to dodge the speech from the group that was using the opportunity for some protest (protests are quite popular and frequent in Argentina).
I wondered some shops, and discovered the Best Lunch Place Ever (quite far from the centre of everything). I ducked into an art musuem, and discovered how to really stretch the time looking at pictures. I almost made it into Jesuit museum, but was distracted by the student who got egged, floured, and then stripped by his friends as he exited the university opposite the church. Yes, I have a photo of his naked bum.
I saw men playing chess in the plaze behind a church; I saw a band performing in the plaza in the dusk of evening as the church was lit up behind them.
And then I headed back to the bus station, pleased that I had survived the day on my scant Spanish, and steeled for a second night sleeping on a bus (and very much looking forward to a shower after two days without).