Location: Santiago, Chile
Back in the land of the Spanish-speaking so I can keep practising what I´ve studied!
Santiago is gorgeous. Very European. Feels a lot like Madrid, although I am staying in one of the nicer areas, Providencia. The hotel I booked is this cute little boutique hotel, a converted mansion with only 28 rooms and, um 'tastefully' decorated. Well, all the senior citizens staying here seem suitably impressed! Good job Mez! The hotel room feels like a country retreat. A cottage out in the Dandenongs, clean and homely. No smelly backpacker accomodation for me! Woo hoo!!! And, for the first time in ages, wait for it... English speaking staff!! Ok, not exactly immersing myself in Chilian culture, but it´s so nice to have somewhere nice to stay for a change :-)
Arrived at 7am after a 5 hour flight from Rio. The view of the Andes as we were descending was absolutely spectacular, snow-capped mountains were gorgeous. I´d almost recommend taking the flight over just for the view :-)
Chile is exceptionally safe which is a really, really nice break after travelling around for so long, and especially coming in from somewhere like Rio.
Based on my swish hotel and the chic area I was staying in, I decided to keep all sightseeing activities to a minimum. From what I`ve seen already, I would definitely love to come back to Chile and explore the entire country as well as Argentina, so maybe the next time there will be more adventures. However I did do the basic city tourist route for a whole day which was exhausting. Walking through the streets reminded me so much of Melbourne inner-city; tree-lined streets, loads of parks scattered all over the city, outdoor cafes - felt like I was back home, had a Carltony or Richmondy kinda feel. Providencia itself reminds me a lot of Hardware lane, so needless to say, I spent most of my time there. Reading whatever trashy romance novels I could get my hands on, sipping lattes (yes, they have them here!) and in the evenings sampling all the local wines. The wine is devine, I must say. Nothing like the poison we were being served all throughout the rest of South America even though they did claim it was Chilian. Its not expensive here either, loads cheaper than the equivalent in Melbourne. Was sooooo awesome taking the time out to relax right at the end of my trip. Am so glad I did this.
Have also taken my trashy novels to the nearby parks and just lay out in the sun reading. So nice, I know there will be no time for any of that when I finally get back home and re-connect with the ´real´ world and (aaarrrggghhhh!!!!) responsibilities :-)
Its been so hard to come by any form of quality literature whilst travelling that in the end I had no choice but to settle. I veered towards romance novels, and low and behold, I actually have been enjoying them. They warm and fuzzy up that little spot in your heart. Ok, not literary works of art, but I have had moments of sheer exhileration when ´they´ finally kiss, and have also wept quite a bit during ´their´ turmoil and tragedy, and I think perhaps this whole new reading experience may have made me slightly more dramatic... or romantic! Either or. hehe
The city has heaps of historical sites, although didn´t read up on them, just took loads of pics. There is also a laneway in the middle of the CBD that´s a lot like Bourke Street mall but heaps longer; heaps of shops, street performers and even some people holding up signs offering free hugs. It had been a while for me, so I treated myself to a hug from a stranger! The mall leads out to the Plaza de Armas, or the city square where they had a gorgeous cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) and heaps of old buildings. Continuing on, the lane takes you to Mercado Central, almost the equivalent of Vic market, but without the produce. En-route, I also saw the National Library, Cerro Santa Lucia, a museum (Museo Precolombino), Palacio de Bellas Artes and Parque Forestal.
Santiago is also gearing up to Christmas, so as you can imagine, loads of frantic Christmas shoppers, loads of specials and crammed stores, so no shopping for me. Which was actually a really good thing considering the amount of debt I racked up in Rio... :-)
I fly out tonight for my journey back to Oz. Its Sunday afternoon right now and I get home Tuesday morning (time difference / International dateline, blah blah). I can`t believe this trip is over, I´m a little sad :-( BUT, the adventures don´t end here! This time next week I´ll be sunning myself on the beaches of Palm Cove in far north Queensland with Nicko and the family! Sooo excited to see them all and really excited to see my boy. Nicko, I´m coming home!!!!!!
Location: Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
After my very, very last overnight bus trip (yaaaaayyyyyyy!!!!) I arrived in beautiful, sunny Rio! Have spent a lot of time on the beach, mainly Copacabana and Ipanema. All of the locals here have spectacular bodies, have not seen so many beautiful people on a beach before. Boys, get over here pronto. The women are AMAZING! Am not game enough to take pics of the locals on the beach to post them for you, so just take my word for it! Really, really hot women with hot bods. Plenty of eye-candy for you ladies out there too :-)
Went on a favela your which is pretty much a tour of one of the slum areas. The one we went to had about 200,000 people living there, no town planning or anything. People just pretty much gather whatever they can find and build homes wherever they like. It´s totally crammed with people. Also, the drug lords are there and crime is terribly high. Walking through the streets I saw one woman holding onto a syringe while she was arguing with someone else, and even a dude casually strolling around with an AK-47! A little different from the poor areas I´ve seen so far! I know what you´re all thinking, ´why the hell would you even go there?´ but apparently it´s really safe for tourists in a group because the drug dealers don´t want police there so everyone pretty much leaves you alone. It actually felt safer there than walking along Copacabana beach on my own at night! I wouldn´t go to the favela on my own though.
The area I´m staying in is called Copacabana. It´s pretty cool here, loads of shopping and the beach is right around the corner from the hotel. The only problem here is you can´t leave your hotel with any valuables AT ALL. Nothing. Muggings are really high here, especially if you´re on your own and at night. But that´s cool because you don´t really need to take much with you to go to the beach.
We went on a tour to Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado which was built in 1931 to guard the city and also as a tourist attraction. Can see most of the bays from up there, including Copacabana and Ipanema. Was pretty spectacular but I´m not too sure about it being one of the modern 7 wonders of the world. Just a huge statue, worth a look but not sure how happy the Incas that built Macchu Pichu would feel about it being rated on the same scale :-)
Also went to Sugarloaf Mountain. Took a cable car ride up the two mountains for some awesome views of the whole of Rio. Really nice, although because we were so high, there was lots of cloud cover in my pics. Problem was solved though, I bought some postcards for my scrapbook :-) hehe
The group tour finished 2 days after we got to Rio, and then I still had 7 more days here. A whole week to work on my tan and shop until I drop! Was sad to say goodbye to the group, have spent over 2 months with some of these guys and have made some really good friends. Will see a few back home, some of them live in Melbourne, Sydney & Adelaide.
Went on a snorkelling tour on Ilha Grande, about 3 hours south of Rio. Was really good, although it was overcast the day I went. They took us to some really pretty places. We firstly stopped off on this tiny little island for some swimming and then off to Blue Lagoon, which was gorgeous. About 20 metres deep and you could see right to the bottom! Tropical fish swimming around, and they would come and feed right off your hand. We dropped watermelon into the water and watched them all come to the surface. Was so cool.
Gotta say, you MUST come to Rio. This is one place I´m definitely coming back to sooner rather than later and I´m dragging my boy with me too. Nicko would love it here, such a party atmosphere, beach, surf and great restaurants, cafes and bars. Great shopping too with loads of little designer stores, although the prices are pretty much what you would pay back home. Has been soooo awesome, wish I didn´t have to leave :-)
The other thing worth a mention is the traffic here is chaos! Its almost as though cars are trying to run people down! And catching a cab is like a roller-coaster ride or some kind of thrill seeking ride at a theme park. I´m almost expecting to see cars overtake on two wheels :-)
Just heard that a couple of days after we left Bolivia there were huge rallies and protests and all of the roads out of the country were blocked off. Travellers have been stranded at the borders for over a week. Our timing was perfect, we just missed it all. It happens all the time in Bolivia, a lot of civil unrest. Its all over the papers here.
Next is Chile :-)
Location: Rainforest & Honey Island, Brazil
Brazil so far has proved itself quite expensive. I have not seen any beggars or homeless people since I have crossed the border, have not seen the poverty of the other countries in particular Bolivia and we by no means stay in any of the ritzy areas. Brazil, much like the rest of South America is obssessed with soccer - or as they call it Futbal. And Brazil is a meat lover´s paradise. Steak with freakin everything. It´s also a vegetarian´s nightmare. Many a meal has consisted of pretty much lettuce and a tomato. Am soooo hungry!
Another overnight bus (aarrrgghhh!!!!!! only 1 more to go!) brought us to Curitiba where we boarded a train which took us through the Atlantic Rainforest to Marumbi State Park railway station. Loaded with our packs we had a 3 hour trek through the forest along the Rainforest Trail to Rochedinho Peak. The rainforest is gorgeous although trudging through with our packs in 35 degree heat is somewhat less than an amazing experience. The trail leads us to our Rainforest lodge or ´pasoda´ in the village Morretes, which literally translates to ´Little Hills´. Our lodge is, yep you guessed it - gorgeous! There are small rooftop cabins, a pool and the lodge is based right next to the river. Although, because of the pool, I didn´t venture out to the river. All of my time was spent by the pool. It was lovely being able to hear the river flowing though. Would have loved to have had another tubing experience, but because it´s now summer the river was too shallow.
We all piled into a Volkswagon van and drove out to the town of Porto de Cima for dinner. Had a walk through the town and it was sooo beautiful. Guess I´d have to say one of my favourite places in Brazil so far. Tiny little cobblestone streets, beautiful, warm weather and they even had a little Christmas village set up complete with their own Santa! Got really clucky watching all the very cute little kiddies line up to sit on his knee. Perhaps my eyes even glistened a tiny little bit :-) The orphanages have changed me I think.
The next day we caught a local bus to the town of Paranagua where we hopped on a boat and sailed across to Pescas Island, or as the locals call it ´Ilha de Pecas´. We hopped off the boat and into canoes and rowed around the island watching all the dolphins swim around us. Was pretty cool, there were loads of them. Lots of food for them around the island, and was extremely happy to note that nobody on the tour took up the option of swimming with (or as I like to call it ´chasing´) the dolphins. Am also getting pretty good at the whole rowing thing, or just exercise in general I think. Who would have thought!
We stopped off at a part of the island which was full of mangroves and then trudged around in the mud for a while, they called it a ´forest walk´. Got bitten by about a million sand flies as they were attracted to the mud and then back into the canoes for lots of scratching and rowing, some time for a quick dip in the ocean and back to the boat.
A couple of hours later we embarked at Honey Island - Ilha do Mel. OH MY GOD - Giligan´s Island eat your heart out! Sooo awesome here. I know I say that about every single place I go to, but FINALLY a beach, loads of tiny little huts, HAMMOCKS! and just loads and loads of spare time :-) Was in HEAVEN :-) This quickly became my favourite place in Brazil!
The only activity I did was a walk to the lighthouse from which you can see most of the Island. Was pretty cool, you could see most of the beaches from there. Was hoping for a sunset too, but there was way too much cloud cover.
Spent the 2 days here just sitting on the beach working on my tan with my Gin & Tonic, swimming, and reading my book in my HAMMOCK!! Gotta get one for back home, sooooo comfortable, so relaxing :-) Its was sooo good. Now THIS is a holiday :-)
Honey Island was really hot during the day 35-40 degrees (the seasons here are the same as Melbourne) and then the temperature drops in the evening with cool, comfortable sea breezes, perfect for a great night´s sleep. There is a party atmosphere here, loads of Brazilian´s come to Honey Island for their holidays. There are heaps of bars and restaurants dotted all around the Island which kick off at about 10pm and stay open until the wee hours of the morning. But I wasn´t letting anything get in the way of my beach time, so I was promptly in bed by 1am! Just getting my base tan ready in preparation for my 8 days on the beach in Rio!
Loads of shopping here, and cool stuff - not all the handicraft shite they have all over South America. If this is any indication of what they have in Brazil, am looking forward to a spot of shopping in Rio too. Everything is so over-priced on the Island, and considering Brazil isn´t all that cheap I think I´ll hold out until I get back to the mainland.
All of the beaches are surf beaches so lots and lots of surfer dudes here. The water is warm and crystal clear and there is a huge surf culture. Almost every store offers surfing lessons and hires out boards. There are no banks here, really, really low key. But they do have a painfully slow internet café / book exchange where you can either test your patience on the net, or relax in one of their hammocks, leafing through their selection of pre-loved novels while sipping a latté. Ok, ok, not so Giligan´s Island anymore, but it still has that feel about it.
The only bad thing about Honey Island is that you have to wear shoes or thongs while you´re walking around. There are these nasty little microscopic parasites which live in the sand. They burrow into your flesh and lay eggs which produces a disgusting infection. Apparently you don´t find out about this until a few days later when the itching starts and lumps appear in your feet. These then have to be cut out of your skin. Yuck! So thongs all the way. The beaches are safe though, only need to worry when wondering around inland where the cafés and restaurants are.
Needless to say, my stay here was simply devine. Truly relaxing. Loved it!
Location: Iguazu Falls, Brazil
OMG! The falls are spectacular. So HUGE, so amazing, one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The pics just don´t do it justice.
Arrived in the town of Foz do Iguacu in the morning after a gruelling overnight bus journey (not my favourite mode of transportation) and after dropping off our bags it was off to the Iguazu Falls on the Brazilian border. There are 275 seperate waterfalls, apparently only about 25% are on the Brazilian side of the border (with Argentina), but it was spectacular nonetheless. Spent the entire day walking through the nature reserve where the falls were located and saw some awesome views of the falls. Took about a million photos.
Next it was the Argentinian side of the border (happy to say I got yet another stamp on my passport!) where 75% of the falls are located. Once again, there were magnificent views of the falls, least of all the Devils Mouth which is the biggest fall of them all! A massive amount of water cascading into one of the biggest falls ever. You can see the Devils Mouth from Brazil, but you stand right over it in Argentina!! Was sooooo freakin awesome!!!!
Caught a speedboat into some of the falls, got soaked and got some cool pics. Sooooo much fun! Then, after wandering around in the heat for what seemed like ages for loads more pics, we boarded a little raft and drifted along some of the rivers that made up these spectacular falls we were so fortunate to see. There are about 275 seperate falls, all of which were truly gorgeous. So amazing, a must-see for anyone. I met a woman who had been to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe who said that Vic Falls just didn´t compare. Glad to hear seeing as I didn´t have a chance to make my way there when I was in Africa :-)
Soooooo freakin awesome!!!!! Soooo beautiful, and it was all surrounded by National Parks so its all being properly protected and will be as spectacular in years to come.
Wished I could have seen more of Argentina, maybe next time I make my way down to South America.