A Travellerspoint blog

Problems and Playtime in Peru

H and I were excited to be leaving Cuzco and making our way to the coast, we were on such a high. We were waiting in reception for a person from the tour (the 4 days tour stopping at a few places on the way to Lima we were about to begin) when I spotted this daypack in the lost property box which H had spotted almost 10 days earlier and kept an eye on as her bag was ripping around the zips. We have stayed at a few places where there are boxes of lost items you can take, with courtesy of leaving something behind. We had left a really good sleeping bag. So I grabbed it for her, she slung it over her shoulder and we carried on waiting, laughing and jumping around dancing like idiots celebrating being on the move again. We got picked up, got a taxi to the bus and while in the taxi H was checking out the bag and one of the zippers was broken which was the issue with hers anyway so we just left it in the taxi. We were sitting waiting to leave when one of the tour guides got on and came up to us and told us he had been told we had stolen a bag before leaving the hostel. We were baffled and when he asked if that was true strongly denied it, not even THINKING properly just panicking we were being accused of theft…it turns out it was NOT in fact the lost property box (a cardboard box next to the front door) but the box where the door man keeps his belongings and it was HIS bag OMG which is why it had been there for 10 days hahah NOT 10 days without being removed but obviously while he was on duty it would be there and that is when we would see it. AGH I am cringing just thinking about all of this. The bag felt empty because it only had his wallet in it. We tried to explain this, but in so much shock and mortified at the situation said so many things that looking back we can completely see how we would look guilty (such as when I gave her the bag I was then dancing around hyperactive).

Anyway, we left with the bus while trying to sort things out with the tour leader, getting phone calls back and forth seeing if maybe the taxi driver would hand it in but BAH this is PERU! The WORST 24 hours of my life I think as we then didn’t really want to mix in with other people on the bus thinking they would all think we were crims, then we were told the police would be meeting us the next night when we arrived at our next desitnation. I thought for sure we were going to be in an episode of Banged up Abroad…we were a mess! After a night on the bus with NO sleep the next afternoon we managed to work out with them that we would give the tour guide money to cover the security guards costs of replacing his ID`s etc so she could take it to him on her return to Cuzco. Thankfully he accepted. Life as a duo - strike 1.

What a mess, so our 4 day tour which was supposed to be a mini Contiki style break did not quite work out this way. We stopped at the Nazca lines to see them from a viewing point…this was ok but you would have to do the flight to really get a good look at them, we could only see part of a couple as were not high up. The lines date back to 400BC, carved only 4-5cm deep into the earth but have remained because of the lack of rain in the area. They are thought to have been a way of communicating with the Gods. Pretty amazing they have lasted all this time. Then we arrived in Huacachina – minus the police – the only desert oasis in South America. We had a day by the pool and then in the afternoon went sand boarding and dune buggying which was SOOOOO much fun. One of those times you are having so much fun you laugh uncontrollably. The scenery here of the dunes as far as the eye can see was spectacular, not to mention the colours changing throughout the afternoon and then at sunset when the orange becomes red and then somehow purple.

We then went to Paracas on the coast, filling up on ceviche and then going out on a boat to see sea lions and penguins….hmmm…since we had already seen them in a reeeally nice environment this wasn’t the best as the rock islands they are on here are where Guano – the poo of this type of bird – is harvested here every 8 years so it absolutely STINKS. I have a strong stomach but I was even gagging. Heading further towards Lima we stopped at a hacienda (an estate) where there are loads of underground tunnels used to smuggle slaves from Africa without paying taxes in the 17th Century. Very interesting hearing about this one, starting from a few slaves to thousands and the tunnels join several estates in the area, stretching over many kilometres as they were also used to hide from the common pirate invasions.

We arrived in Lima in the night, dodging through the traffic in one of the most dangerous cities in the world to drive in - you feel it even more in a taxi! Here, most public transport is illegal and the cities poorest people sit on a goldmine as the property prices soar and the people living in the shanty towns covering the hills (with the views) legally own the property after 10 years due to Peru`s laws so it is untouchable to developers. Nice huh. We arrived on the 5th of May (Cinco de Mayo, a big Mexican holiday which H loves to celebrate) and we were lucky when we wandered down the street from the hostel and found a small Mexican restaurant run by a Mexican man…thought we would have a Corona and go to bed, next thing he is bringing out rounds of tequila shots, big sombreros and getting us to be in a bunch of photos with him and then his staff. We woke to look through our phones at photos of us in the hostel bar with some more Mexicans, with more sombreros on and drawn on moustaches...one of THOSE nights. We didn’t do too much in Lima, had good food which is what it is mostly known for, I met up with my Peruvian friend who I worked with in QLD, got my roots coloured, walked through fancy shopping centres gazing longingly into the windows, that's about it.

We then went up the coast to Mancora to continue our flourishing careers as bartenders at another hostel. We had 10 days there first to chill out on the beach. Mancora is a bit of a crappy town, loads of tuk tuks, beach bums and crime. It was basically built around the growing backpacker population passing through but is also sadly one of those places where many people do not appreciate the business this has brought and people are pretty hostile towards travelers. Basically, if you go out at night with any belongings, you will most likely not come home with them. If you are a male you may get bashed. Nice place. Luckily there is not much reason to leave – besides the all you can eat sushi – as the hostel is really nice, with a resort style pool and you can access the beach from here. So 2 months of sunbaking around the pool, lying on the beach – only when with other people otherwise you cannot get a moment to yourself to relax, taking up the free yoga on offer at the hostel (ok, once) and telling the surf instructors `tomorrow` every day. We originally thought we would try to fly under the radar at work so maybe the bar manager would forget to put us on the roster but when a couple of weeks in he was telling us we were his sisters and he would do anything for family we realized we had failed. Some of the rules in our introduction info sheets were A) Always wear footwear and a shirt - unless no shirt is a part of your costume, B) Your discount is for you, don’t take the pi%s and only use it for yourself. Exceptions: if you are trying to pick up a lovely lady of man. Our farewell speech from the newer bar manager was `To H and N, you are not the best workers, but you are good people`. Anyway it was a fun couple of months, good way to extend the trip and live on the cheap. I am a terrible bartender it is true and my Spanish continued to get worse.

Mancora is So dodgy. I got a tuk tuk one day to the medical centre to get my ear flushed out (oh the glamorous life) as I had been slightly deaf for about a month. In the end all the nurses in the centre had surrounded the lady doing it to see what would come out haha it was fun in a weird way. But the tuk tuk drivers ask you three questions. 1) Cocaine? 2) Marijuana? 3) Ok then, where to? as if THAT is a strange request. We went up to the lighthouse to watch the sunset one afternoon and a couple of Peruvian girls that we worked with left to return to town 20 minutes after us and got held up at gunpoint and robbed. The late night burger man down the road, although making absolutely amazing burgers, we later found out is also the big drug king pin in town. And then the fake money ahhh.

H and I went to the local market instead of the tourist shops one day to buy these really nice think cool pants our friend had bought. The ladies in the shop were really nice, H had been there before, and we paid her with a 100 sole note which she checked and nodded then put away and gave us our change. We carried on looking around the shops and 15 minutes late she came and found us and in Spanish was holding the note up and telling us it was fake. I knew straight away it was not my note as it was too new looking, plus we had been taught how to check notes at work and I knew all mine were fine and also I watch a LOT of tv and have seen this on Scam City (thanks Discovery channel). So I just kept saying no no no it is not mine in Spanglish and we started hurrying off. We have also been told not to mess with locals here mind you. We started walking faster as she followed us so we could get back to the main road and away from this back street, I kept yelling NO, telling her it was not mine. She mentioned the policia and by now my Spanish was out the door and I was just yelling `FINE, GO TO THE POLICE: F OFF!!!` and then tried my Spanish and asked `Entiende el scamo? I DO!`…so I from time to time try to add an `o `onto any word to make it Spanish, sometimes it works, in this case scamo is not Spanish for scam haha. Also unfortunately we had to walk by a police station to get back to the hostel and she zipped in there and as we turned a corner to try running to the beach we turned and saw she had an officer so stopped, he took me in and H went to the hostel to get help. You would think this was good, the police could help. Not in Peru and especially not in Mancora. The police chief came into the little room and he was the worlds` biggest … well I will leave out the rude words. They kept trying to get me to answer questions in Spanish, nudging me in the way of yes no matter how many times I told them I don’t understand Spanish and would not answer anything in Spanish. Then he went through my handbag and everything in it, looked through my money (luckily we had gone to go to the ATM before the market and there were some dodgy people hanging around so we didn’t stop), then he opened my phone and tried unlocking it – this was my breaking point and in my bad Spanish I was asking what he was looking for and that there was nothing in there he would need. Next it was my travel journals as I was also out to write an email and he was flicking through that so I had to slam that closed and tell him enough was enough. So he was never going to be on our side. H eventually came back with G, our Italian friend who would be `Bad Lawyer` and O, a Peruvian friend who would be `nice lawyer`. They both immediately looked at the note and laughed, saying that ANY person let alone Peruvian would know that was fake without sunlight – her excuse for not noticing straight away. In the end, the chiefs only defence that it must have been my note was that its folds matched how you may fold a note to fit my wallet. The woman from the store wanted to go to court which we were fine with until told they would remove our passports and we couldn’t leave the country until it was final. So we went with the call the embassy threat until H twigged and got out the change the woman had given us and the folds matched the 100 sole note, which meant that it could have been her note also. That cow got up, snatched the pants and said don’t worry about giving her the rest of the money back and left. So we won but also lost the pants and 60 soles, about $20. We were so glad to be leaving as O was worried about the whole `messing with the locals` thing and we were just starting to hate Peru thanks to the experiences we had there.

Really sadly it was at this time that beautiful Nanna passed away. H and I had a mini-ceremony one sunset on the beach, having picked flowers from all over this desert town to send off into the ocean. She will be soooooo missed. It's always hard to be around loved ones at times like these but luckily had a beautiful photo of Nanna and some cards.

We really met some amazing people during our time here, as throughout the entire trip. So lucky that we can travel the world and meet like-minded people, sad to say goodbye to the ones we may never see again but exciting to plan future reunions with others. We had a little family here at the hostel, I absolutely loved it.

We JUST made it onto our bus to Ecuador, thanks to the hostel tradition of getting people really drunk when they are meant to leave. Not that we needed any help as we spent the whole day at the bar enjoying our last slushies. We were a little nervous after all the stories we had heard about the border crossings and bus robberies but it was all worth it in the end.

Posted by neerg_08 06:39 Archived in Peru Tagged peru lima paracas huacachina mancora chincha sand_buggy_peru Comments (0)

Return to La Paz and Magical Machu Picchu

It took 3 full days and nights of buses and trains to get from Rio back to La Paz for our new bartending careers. It was pretty hassle free except the border where we were dumped off the bus - we thought we were meant to be taken all the way to Puerto Suarez but this was not the case. It was so humid, then it started raining as we were running back and forth between the 2 borders soaking us but finally we found out where we were and how to get to Santa Cruz. The taxi driver was soooo helpful and as we had 15 minutes before the train departed he flew along those streets and then ran ahead to sort our tickets as we unloaded our bags. The train was apparently the safer option as the roads wind through jungles and farms and it is common for animals to jump out onto the road and cause accidents. As soon as we heard it was $16 for a 19 hour air conditioned train ride we were happy to be back in Bolivia and happy to understand people again. We were lucky to get our bus from Santa Cruz to La Paz after somehow we all 'heard' the man say 3pm (it was about 8:30am when we arrived) so we settled in for a long day at the terminal until 8:50am the ticket man, very panicked, managed to find us and tell us the bus was waiting for us....so apparently our Spanish is not all that we had hoped.

The main rule during the job intro was 'Everyone gets 1 chance at being sent to bed early'. I...I mean, 'Madonna', would later find out more about this. So for this month we had plenty of fun, toga nights, anything bus clothes, mexican nights, jenga tournaments, beer pong, zombie nights, karaoke, St Patricks Day, Rock Star night...kind of just a month long Halloween. It was pretty much as fun working as not. Staff meetings were very serious and involved discussing bar dancing - remove glasses and if someone looks too drunk get them down. Having been on the receiving end of a person falling off the bar onto me, I know that hurts. When the daily nosebleeds and crusty eyes healed (I think as the air can be so dry in La Paz), it was then a throat and tonsil infection, fever then a chest infection and so a trip to the medical clinic - which has an entire sign in book for this hostel's staff - was needed for me and one of my roomates. It was a nice bonding experience for us as after being sent around to a bunch of pharmacies and clinics having to byo medicine we were actually begging for the needle in the butt in the end. The worst part was them testing if you are allergic to the medicine and testing it on your EYEBALL!

We went to a soccer game between La Paz Strongest (the Tigres) and a Brazilian team. La Paz needed to win by 1 point to make it to the finals for the first time in 20 years so it was very exciting. We went with a couple of friends and her Dad. We bought 5cent polystyrene squares to take in as 'seats' and then entered through a path of very heavily armed police feeling like we were walking ourselves into a maximum security jail. It was a sell out of 35,000 and the crowd was a sea of black and gold. There were about 10 supporters of the Brazilian team in a top corner section surrounded by security. We didn't go to the fan club section as stabbings are regular, of course. The crowd was a constant chorus of songs and waves and flags the size of half the stadium. La Paz won and the dad - by day a politican - went crazy and honked his horn through crowds the whole way home, hanging a scarf out the window, cranked the replay of the game up on the radio and yelled at the police 'I KNOW MY RIGHTS' when they tried to stop him driving down a certain road full of crowds. It was great fun! We were happy to be accepted as fans of the Tigres as apparently the fans of the other La Paz team are widely know to be ugly.

The hostel was tipped off that police were raiding all the hostels in La Paz. On 'gender bender' night we watched from the bar windows as police swarmed the streets below and expected this was the night and god it would have been funny as every manager in the hostel was wearing a dress and make up. Well, at least the boys were.

A few of us went quadbiking one day to Valle de la Luna and Valle de la Sol about 30 minutes out of the city and this area was so beautiful. For me it was more like a sightseeing tour as I felt in no condition to operate my own vehicle. After the previous nights' antics, it was a miracle we all made it. We hadn't brought licenses so had to pay the police off at each checkpoint. About $1 a pop. We had already paid for the tour so when we pulled up along the main street a bit late and had quadbikes racing along beside us calling out to us we assumed this was the company we had booked with so got out of the taxi and followed them to an office. All 4 of us equally as terrible at Spanish it took us about 10 minutes to realise this was another company who now wanted us to pay for their tour...we managed to get out of this and about 20m away was our company. We were FILTHY by the end of the day. I loved La Paz just as much this time around, it's grittyness, smells, and noises. Many mornings we would be woken by a parade marching by, or a wedding along the streets, or a car alarm...there is dress-up lane where a whole street is lined by shops full of bizarre outfits and 'sexy'alley as we called it, the traffic zebras, the merry-go-round which was a round platform with some plastic cars stuck on top that a someone would stand there and spin by hand, the homeless man who would always yell at us and we never knew why, and then really nice people who would just stop us and invite us to a party or gathering of some sort. And then Prince, the taxi driver who upon finding out it was our last night gave us his card for any 'party' needs. A proud moment in my life is a girl having my name tattoo'd on her butt cheek...best $10 ever spent.

We actually managed to leave La Paz - despite many predicting we wouldn't as is often the case here - and headed to Cuzco in Peru. Cuzco or Cusco (never did find out the difference or which name to use) is a really pretty city. It is pretty laid back, gorgeous at night, many plazas and parks and has a chocolate museum which we frequented. Every 2nd building is a laundromat. We met H's friend J who had flown from the USA to do the trek to Machu Picchu with us. We chose the 5 day Salkantay trek, being the avid hikers we are, but it was not a good idea to spend the night before the trek with a bunch of friends we had met at other points on our trip and get to bed at 2:30 before the 4:30 pick up at the hostel. Note to self: redbull does not give you wings the day after drinking it with vodka.

We started the trek at the small town of Mollepata a couple of hours from the city, walking up a muddy track for about an hour I was already on struggle street. Then we entered the luscious green mountainous region and the track wound around hills and down into valleys, it was beautiful. We walked 21km over 7 hours this day and as we rounded the last bend and snowy Salkantay appeared between 2 other mountains it was really something special. Our camp was in the shadow of these mountains on a farm and we arrived just in time for hot chocolates as the sun set. We sat around camp for a while comparing blisters and checking out the billions of stars and then rugged up for an early nights' sleep.

4:30am each morning we heard tapping on our tent flaps and 'Coca tea amigas, Amigas, coca tea' (by day 3 we were turning down the coca tea for an extra 30 minutes sleep. Day 2 is the hardest day of the trek as it is very steep and gets up to 4600m asl...so I took the option of riding a horse for the most difficult part as I wasn't 100% whether the struggle of the day before was due to my lack of fitness or the hangover. Better to be safe than sorry. It was really nice, starting the day off through the rocky valley following rivers and then beginning the incline to Salkantay. My horse, Hermiosa, was at the front of the group being led by one of the farmers, Elvis (I suspect a fake name as many people over here tell foreigners to make it easier) so I was quite comfortable with that until he gave me the reins and when I asked why her ears were covered with a bandana and was told it is because she is a nervous horse, I became a nervous human. They are taught to walk on the edge of the mountain so hikers can pass mountain-side so that was relaxing with all those steep cliff edges! After 4 hours we were finally at the 4600m point next to Salkantay just in time to witness an avalanche, the crackling thunderous sound awesome. We were told that Quechua people would cry at this as it was a part of the mountain dying - the mountains are worshipped by them as they provide everything they need in life. We had a ceremony for Pachamama (Mother Earth) up there and offered rocks we had brought from down the bottom of the mountain and coca leaves - only the best ones. By this point the horses turned back and the remaining 3 hours were pretty flat and downhill, through rocky, burnt yellow terrain, cloudforests, forests, rivers and then it started pouring as we huddled under a tiny shelter for lunch in a one family village and an hour was spent trying to balance going down steep hills of mud and poo. It was hard to dress appropriately as throughout each day we would climb or decline so much that it would go from being freezing to hot and humid. My ears blistered. Camp night 2 was on the property of a small community of 4-6 families - but had a hot shower for 10 soles.

Day 3 was through the lower rainforests, stopping and having lunch surrounded by pigs, chickens and dogs. We had the option to walk along a road for a shorter, easier trek or through the rainforest which we chose as it woud be a prettier walk. It was tough but well worth it, trying new fruits like granadinas along the way, sometimes walking on the rivers edge other times deep into the forest, swatting away bugs. This day covered 14km over 5 hours as we finished along the river to soak our feet in the coooool water and then got a van to the town of Santa Teresa where we would camp on the grounds of a hostel. We were there early enough to go to the local hot springs, surrounded by green mountains it was very relaxing and we felt a lot cleaner afterwards. We had a bonfire night at the hostel which was really fun, ended up just H and I dancing around the fire with Edwin, our guide, and a few other guides who were waaaaasted! It started absolutely pouring and so Edwin offered us the spare bed in their room which was nice for about 20 minutes knowing the others were suffering in the damp tents until one drunk guide was a little bit too annoying and we decided to join the rest of the plebs in the damp tents.

We went zipling the next morning across valleys - those who didn't would have to hike an extra few hours. No thanks. It was scary at first as we were in charge of breaking ourselves whereas last time there was someone else who would stop you at the end. Much prefer having no responsibility over my own safety. But it was fun by the 5th line and then the hanging bridge over the forest at the end. We then spend 4 hours walking another 14km along the train tracks through rainforest and finally spotted Machu Picchu mountain from behind and could just see the tips of some of the walls of the ruins at the very top and the original Inca path winding around the mountain. I can't explain the excitement upon sighting this for the first time, it really hit that we were about to see something so magical. This was a really nice day, very pretty walk and pretty relaxing especially since I splurged and threw my pack on the train to give my back a rest. We arrived at Aguas Calientes town at night, exhausted and at the sight of our beds barely wanted to go out for the group dinner.

At 4am on day 5 we began the final part of the trek - 1700 stairs remained between us and Machu Picchu. Through the morning fog and then rain we hiked up, the only thing that kept me moving faster than a snail was wanting it all to be over! It was bloody hard work! As the sun came up the surrounding mountains appeared through the forest and it was very very beautiful. We met up with the rest of the group at the entrance once we had made it and then stepped out to the ruin and......SAW NOTHING! The fog was soooo thick, it was rainy, and I won't lie - there was a tinge of disappointment thinking it may not clear. Edwin took us around the ruins and explained some facts to us but still we couldn't get the full view of it. 75% is in original condition which is quite amazing considering it is from the 15th Century...until the Spanish came and killed the poor Inca's. The ruins, some still covered by thick vegetation, include built-in observatories to see the seasons for particular crops, sundials, ceremonial sites, plazas, homes and palaces. The architecture is unbelievable considering it is from so long ago, all buildings are in a slight trapzium shape as the area commonly experiences earthquakes. The stones are fit so perfectly together that without any mortar having been used a knife still could not penetrate the cracks.

After the tour we all said farewells and continued walking around before it started raining. In the end, only 6 of us stayed around for about 5 or 6 hours until the rain stopped. No way I was leaving without a proper view. 4 of us huddled under a rock and jumped out whenever the clouds lifted to take a few photos, but when they finally lifted for good - WOW! My heart missed a beat, I couldn't believe I was there! It is like being IN a postcard. There are more than 700 terraces covered in bright green grass (and llamas) growing on soil transported here by the Inca's...I don't even know how to describe it all so I will just attach photos. All I can say is that it has to be on everyone's bucket list to visit Machu Picchu (hey, take the bus and train - those people at least looked really nice for their photos). The weather actually turned out to be in our favour as it did eventually clear and only meant there were way less people as many had gone back to Aguas Calientes earlier in the day. So we were able to sit completely alone in corner of the ruins overlooking the mountains and the river and traintracks we had followed to get there, 600m below. A still unbelievable experience, and I'm sure one day it will really sink in. After a few hours taking in the views, we got the bus back to Aguas (no need to take the stairs DOWN too) and then the train back to Cusco for a good nights sleep!

Back in Cusco for a few more days, we had some really nice dinners - plenty of cocktails, seafood and some alpaca and then tried cuy...guinea pig. We did this at a really nice restaurant rather than picking our own from a cage and having it roasted on a spit like at the markets so ours came with just one little stub leg as a reminder of what it once was. Still, it was not easy for me to get down as I just thought of my beloved Honey I had growing up. Awww. :(

H and I headed out for a day in the city, discussing how much we were looking forward to a day walking about until we were handed a brochure for an open top bus tour and before we knew it were riding around on that...really how we prefer to sightsee. Rapido. It took us up to Cristo Blanco - a smaller version of the Rio statue - overlooking the city, the Saqsaywaman Ruins (yep, pronounced 'sexy woman' which was a little bit confusing for us hearing about it over and over for the first half of the tour until we got there and saw the sign) also from the Machu Picchu era and a few other nice viewpoints. We did plenty of shopping and basically just enjoyed walking around such a pleasant town.

Posted by neerg_08 05:54 Archived in Peru Tagged peru machu_picchu cusco salkantay la_paz cuzco valle_de_la_luna incas aguas_calientes valle_de_la_sol quadbike_la_paz Comments (0)

We go to RIO...de Janeiroooo

at the copa...copacabaaaana

Entering Brazil was so exciting, I didn’t realise before this how much I was looking forward to it. Especially when the bus stopped at buffets along the way where you pay for food by the kilo and the main food is RICE and BEANS! My favourite, woohoo. And I think I got back at all those travelling families mentioned in the previous email. When we finally arrived at our apartment – 150m from Copacabana Beach – J, our agent from the rental company, checked us in and offered a very good personal service giving us his work email for any problems and his personal email to keep up to date with parties etc. The apartment was really nice and we still pat ourselves on the back for the bargain we got in comparison to what people paid for hostels during Carnaval. We celebrated with some bottles of bubbly and face masks. I won’t say I was not singing Barry Manilow ‘Copacabana’ and Peter Allen ‘I go to Rio’ so much that by the time we left, the man in the apartment next to us was walking around whistling the tunes.

Copacabana Beach is everything you imagine. Long and lined with palm trees, kiosks selling cocktails and seafood and people with their souvenirs for sale sprawled along Copacabana’s famous wave pattern promenade. The ultimate people-watching place. There is the gay section, attractive section, family section etc. We actually felt self conscious on the beach wearing full coverage bikini bottoms, this is how we could spot the (surprisingly) few foreigners. There is really no age or size limit to the G-banger bikini; from 5 to 75 those cheeks are bared! We went shopping one day and all wanted new bikinis but couldn’t find anything apart from the G’s and I think that would take a lifetime of tanning if we wanted to avoid blinding anyone. But enough about butts…

Lying on the beach, with Jesus watching over from Corcovado peak, people walk along selling skewers of prawns, bikinis and sarongs hanging from umbrellas being toted around and delicious cocktails delivered right to you on your towel (or your new Rio sarong)! As the beach is so wide, there are hoses spraying out water all along the sand and guys practically yell at you to walk along the wet trail to save your feet from the scorching sand. I really think it is one of those ‘anything you want, I can find and bring it to you’ kinds of places.

Brazilian Portuguese … oh man. I didn’t even try to improve to be honest. After trying for the first day when I thought there was hope I’d pick up the basics I soon realized it would be impossible. Everyone seems to pronounce the same word differently, and nothing is as it is written…or I just had terrible pronunciation when trying to read out from my phrasebook and not many people ever responded to me. So we were the terrible tourists who got through 2 weeks in Brazil with ‘Hello’ (which is the same as in Spanish so no achievement there) and ‘thank you’. We didn’t think it would be a problem as being Carnaval had heard that Copacabana would be full of tourists and the locals would probably avoid the area but nope, in the end we were desperately searching for other gringos, spotting the backpackers beards and stalking whenever we could.

Our first night out was at a bar J suggested and we met him in line, all kisses hello and everything and chatted to him for about 10 minutes, entered together and he pushed me past the line to the front of the bar ... and then the real J turned up and said hi, haha apparently we didn’t know him well enough to recognize from a stranger yet. The club was great, a mix of Latin, Brazilian and western music but the practice of having to buy drink tickets before going to the bar kept getting us. The Brazilian boys were quick to inform us that their girlfriends always give them Carnaval time ‘off’ from the relationship, a ‘free pass’. Hmmm, ok. Sunrise from Copacabana beach was beautiful. We always planned another one, but that's the reason when travelling you just gotta do it now...you may never get back there.

Our habit of sleeping in, waking for a few hours on the beach in the afternoon (generally too hot for any longer) and going out until the weeee hours began. We met up with Q, a guy we met in Buenos Aires, and his Argentinian friend A who had come with litres of pre-prepared caipirinhas, bags of ice and a hammer to go to Ipanema and see the Ipanema Street Band perform. This was so much fun as you are encouraged to join in with the parade surrounding the band on the back of a truck and end up just drinking and dancing through the streets to this rhythmic music. You even get given hats to support the band you are dancing with. Luckily Q, dressed in a shiny silver outfit and hat for the entire Carnaval week, and A, dressed as Zorro, are two of the tallest people in the world so this really helped us if we ever got separated on any of these nights out. The street parties and band parades are the way to do Carnaval. Clubs were expensive for drinks but here you either take whatever you want from home or buy them on the streets for a few dollars. Some people stand along the street and just hand out cans of beer for free in the spirit of Carnaval. Once again, as in Asia, Subway was what broke my so called 'stomach of steel'. It's always worth it.

The entire city is absolutely crazy! Public buses fly by, overcrowded with people dressed up – there is never a theme – and hanging out the window singing and chanting. The subway station is like a big party, a whale might enter the train or someone else in a particularly amusing outfit and the whole train will start chanting and cheering for them. Someone will come up to you and try to start dancing with you on the train or you may be chanted at until you do a little dance by yourself…yep, this happened to me. It is madness and impossible not to be swept up in the excitement. We went to a really nice shopping centre for party outfits and even here people are dressed up. I wore my best rainbow flowered lei for the occasion of course. A family of Where’s Wally or bumble bees walk by, dogs even look happy to be dressed up for once and if you decide 10 minutes before heading out you need a wig, that’s ok, just walk 10 metres from the apartment and someone will have a stall or a blanket laid out with every colour and style you can imagine. Dogs are really pampered in Copacabana. One rainy day we saw one go by with little boots and a raincoat. Another man we saw getting saturated by the rain but he was bending down to hold his umbrella over his dog haha.

Picking up our tickets for Sunday nights’ Sambadrome Parade was soooo exciting. The major groups supposedly performed on the Sunday and Monday nights before the final a week later. We were supposed to meet the boys at a train station near the Sambadrome but as usual what seemed like an easy plan wasn’t for us as we were on the wrong train line. Brazilians are REALLY friendly and helpful. So helpful! On the train a man told his wife to tell us to really hide our tickets and then later in the trip when we probably started looking a little confused at each stop they asked where we needed to get to. When we told them and they realized we were on the wrong line, they found a couple of older ladies standing nearby with their families and asked where they were going. It turned out they were going to a stop that we could get to where we needed to be from and they walked us out, found someone who spoke English to explain the way and this English speaking lady was even going to pay to go out and reenter the station again to take us there! This way was scenic anyway as we passed the backstreet where all of the floats were having finishing touches added. Spectacular! Turning off from here towards the Sambadrome turned out to be quite the ghetto and just by absolute chance we walked by a shop the boys were in after waiting for us for a long time at the proper meeting spot. They said even with our masks on they could see the panic in our eyes before we spotted them. This area is Centro and is basically the remnants of what were once nice buildings, long since forgotten by the government in favour of areas like Copa and Ipanema. You can see why there are issues regarding this. The street cleaners were on strike during Carnaval, very noticeable after the parades…

The Sambadrome, 700m long, seats over 90,000 people on a mixture of concrete steps and some VIP seating areas. On entering we were handed a bunch of pamphlets about the parade and schools and several condoms each. I became paranoid about my choice of outfit when I was given 9 instead of the 3 they gave everyone else. Then the parade lane became visible and my heart fluttered with excitement! We got a great spot and the French/Colombian man next to us was HILARIOUS and kept us very entertained throughout the night, not that we needed it. There were 6 schools parading this night, about 3,000 people in each. There were only breaks of 20 minutes between each and still the parade started at 9pm and finished at 6am! Talk about value for money. I was absolutely entertained the entire time, it never gets boring as the floats as truly spectacular, the outfits of each and every person dancing are so elaborate and the songs are so catchy. So much work must have gone into each float and so many rehearsals for the people involved so I can understand why there were several VERY heavily pregnant women dancing on floats. After all that work you would not want to miss out. A pirate was SHOT OUT OF A CANON! There was a water fountain on top of another float! Sorry Sydney Mardi Gras but there is some work to do. There is a queen of each school who dances at the front of each group in a FABULOUS outfit and pumps up the crowd. The groups who obviously manage to collect the most donations hand out flags and banners to the crowd to show support. You worry when bartenders at a 90,000 people venue soon know you.

Attending a Sambadrome parade should be on everyone’s bucket list. Absolutely amazing and surreal to be there, H and I grabbed each other and screamed so many times throughout the night, trying to believe we were actually experiencing this. We all Samba’d the night away (to the best of our abilities) watching all of the amazing performances and left on such a high when the crowds cleared and the sun rose, the night had flown by. The streets were already littered with the parade costumes by the time we made it out – a great souvenir if you had the space – so much work just dumped in gutters. The rubbish was by now piled metres high due to the strike, and later in the week on the way to the bus station there were these amazing floats literally dumped on sidewalks and medium strips. All through the week of Carnaval, there was an indescribable atmosphere and energy throughout all of Rio, all day every day. We didn’t even bother to wash the glitter off from one day to the next. I found a speckle of glitter on my eyebrow a week after Carnaval was over.

For the final night we met a new Brazilian friend in Ipanema where there was meant to be a big street party. He left early on and for the first time it was just us 3 girls to fend for ourselves. We managed for about an hour before we got ourselves into trouble. Well, it turned out to be a gay street party and usually I would be in my element except this meant boys AND girls trying to lunge at our faces because ‘during Carnaval everyone kisses everyone’, so we tried to escape and find a gringo bar, got caught up in a huge packed crowd and – this is where we missed the 2 tall boys and shiny hats – I turned around for one second and H who had been behind me was gone. Long story short, her phone she uses as camera which she brought out for first time ever and all money was gone, she is the shortest person in the world so we all spent a couple of hours searching, I was pulled aside and had a guy make his friend perform a wedding ceremony so I would kiss him - did not work, we went to the apartment in case she came home, called tourist police and told to wait until morning, she made it back at 8am as we were leaving to go to the police - H luckily found some people to help her, we made future emergency separation plans (had not updated since Santiago).

A week into our 10 day stay and we still had not done any sightseeing and wanted a few days on top of that to work on our tans, so we extended to 2 weeks. We did a day trip to the islands of Angra dos Reis and Ilha Grande a few hours away and then on a boat which reminded me just a bit of an asylum seeker boat, not the yacht we saw in photos. It was a bit rainy but our guide Tanya was great, very ‘fabulous’, she had the personality and energy of a drag queen and pumped everyone up all day, singing, chanting and talking crap. Only problem was passing the band on the boat to get to the bar and being forced to samba or salsa or whatever dance – I can’t do any of them – in front of the entire boat and see how ‘low can you go’...not very low, thanks Tanya. We stopped at a few islands to swim, or just off the side of the boat with noodles, had seafood for lunch, met a really nice Argentinian family who adopted us and had a really fun day.

Then, as we like to speed sightsee, we had a full day city tour the next day which would take us to all of the major attractions that alone would probably take US hopeless lot a few days to manage. We started driving through the favela (what the many slums of Rio de Janerio are called) which was used in Fast and the Furious 5 – a completely different world to that we were living it up in Copacabana. One third of people in Rio live in favelas which is quite shocking. Then we drove up through Tijuca Forest – the largest urban forest in the world – to Corcovado (hunchback) peak which looms over Rio to see the iconic Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) statue, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. The views from up there over the city and the coastline we awesome and it sunk in that we were in RIO DE JANEIRO! #715 of 1000 things to do to make the most of your time on earth ‘Show no restraint in Rio’ DONE. Next on the tour we passed by Maracanã Stadium (football fans will know), Catedral San Sebastian which was beautiful inside with it’s dome shape stained glass walls and then a drive by the Sambadrome. Police wouldn’t let the bus stop to let us out for the tour which was fine with us because they added a new destination not usually included – the Escadaria Selarón. This staircase in the very edgy Santa Teresa area of the city is the legacy of Chilean artist Selarón who tiled the 250 steps using 2000 tiles from 120 countries – people would send them to him and yes Australia has a couple. He worked on this from 1990 until allegedly dousing himself and setting himself on fire here under ‘mysterious’ circumstances in 2012. I could have spent hours here looking at all the individual tiles, some quotes he had written and listening to the street performers here. Such intricate details – fact : used in U2’s Walk On clip as well as ones by Alicia Keys and Snoop Dogg. Last stop of the tour was Pão de Açúcar, Sugarloaf Mountain which will be featured in any image of Rio or Copa or Ipanema. We reached the top by cable car where you can walk around and see views of all sides of the city and coastline. Sightseeing – check.

We ended up in a favela one day when we tried to get to the main bus terminal. So there is another bus terminal, which looks nothing like the main one but we panicked when we saw the name and jumped off the bus. Woh, G.H.E.T.T.O! Typical us. Our final days were spent on the beach, sipping caipirinhas (sounds idyllic but only one of these, not a fan) and indulging in my sarong and Havaiana addiction. Last morning breakfast was at a beachside restaurant where we could watch the prostitutes and leftover partiers from the previous night ‘romance’ (even the menu mentions this and apologises for the ‘shady characters’ which are out of their control) and play ‘spot the pimp, our new game. We then had 3 full days and nights of travel ahead of us to reach La Paz.

Posted by neerg_08 05:29 Archived in Brazil Tagged carnaval carnival brazil rio ipanema rio_de_janeiro copacabana ilha_grande sugarloaf christ_the_redeemer pão_de_açúcar sambadrome cristo_redentor escadaria_selaron angra_dos_reis Comments (0)

Tango, Futbol and Biking in Buenos Aires

And DO 'go chasin waterfalls'

Leaving Puerto Madryn for Buenos Aires was such a beautiful bus trip. There was one of the most stunning sunsets I´ve seen as the clouds almost met the horizon so the vast, sprawling plains of inland Patagonia were framed by this vivid pink-orange strip of sky. This was almost enough to distract me from the smell of toilet, pooey pants and child-vomit in the aisle next to me.

We arrived in Buenos Aires and went in search of ´cambio´(cash) along Calle Florida which is lined with men calling out ´CAMBIO, CAMBIO´as you walk by, despite the many police about. We chose one, who of course became our friend over the next week, and he whisked us away to one of the many magazine stands, through a side door to a tiny back ´storage´room to continue the transaction and check for fake notes. It´s like what you would imagine an undercover police operation to be working out of. Calle Florida is lined with shops and cafes and it is common to see musicians, artists, cello players and tango dancers performing on the paths. By the first evening, I was already in love with BA. There always seems to be something going on (except during siesta time) and after dinner we heard music (& smelled meat) up the road and found an outdoor dance competition and of course a BBQ with choripan (beef & pork sausage) & chimichurri. Sadly there were also LOTS of kids running around with silly-string (equals new phobia) so I had to run through the crowd away from them all after I was sprayed in the face, then the hair ... I was scared to lose my choripan!

A lot of the time we spent in Buenos Aires did involve partying, but we hear that´s what it is all about so I don't feel too guilty. It was best when we became accustomed to the times in Argentina, as many afternoons we would wander around for a bar or something (and we know there are MANY about) but this is the time everyone lays low before the night. It is common to eat dinner at 10 or 11, then hit the clubs at 1 or later. This is how we got to know the man at the cafe near our hostel as we would come home from nights out at 9am and he would know to sneak us an end of 'night' beer – as long as we hid it. Then it is time for bed until about 2pm when it becomes unbearably hot and you wish you paid an extra $1 for a room with air con. We also thought someone in our hostel was constantly having REALLY inappropriately loud sex for a couple of days until we found out about the adult movie cinema sharing a wall. Although after 10 days at the hostel we became aware it would have been just as likely to be backpackers in the hostel bathrooms.

One night we went to see La Bomba del Tiempo (The Time Bomb) perform one of their regular shows. There are 15 or more percussionists on stage, all really enjoying themselves and following hand signals of the leader to improvise based on the crowds' reaction. That was awesome and a true reminder that I have no rhythm. We did some shopping and found BA-worthy dresses for Tango night, also invested in a straightener to share between the 3 of us...very un-backpackerish. The night started off with a BEAUTIFUL dinner at the intimate venue, all you can drink wine – to help with your lessons which are next – (I suck but we had a lot of fun). I assume everyone who pays gets the tango lesson certificate and it is not a very selective process. After lessons, the Tango Show began. A Tony Bennett like character sang and entertained us throughout and the show was dancers performing tango styles throughout the centuries. It was beautiful, such a romantic dance (when done right of course).

H and I did a bike tour of Buenos Aires, which was great. Our guide wasn´t lying when she said ¨Here in Argentina we have road rules...but there are also no rules¨. Scary! We saw government house at Plaza de Mayo which is where Evita would famously address the crowds on the balcony. Of course we did NOT sing ´don´t cry for me Argentina´at this point...sure. There is also a memorial in the square for the ´disappeared children´of the communist era who were taken from jailed parents and given to other families or who were ´missing´youth suspected to be involved in movements. It´s quite a sad story; older ladies still gather here once a week to pay their respects and some are still being reunited with their families. Evita is a huge figure here, very controversial. There are artworks of her face on buildings throughout the city – it is of a smiling face towards the poor areas and a scowl towards the wealthier areas. Near the main BA bus terminal people don´t even live in houses, you would think they are demolished buildings until you see some clothes hanging from a line amongst the rubble. A real city of contrasts as we then passed through to wealthiest area where many multi-million dollar apartment blocks are left empty as investments for South America´s 'dodgier side'. We were a group of about 20 blondes and maybe 2 brunettes, so it was funny riding past guys and hearing lines such as ´hey Barbie, I want to be your Ken¨, or simply ¨Argentinian boyfriend?¨. I have to say, all the lookers of South America seem to congregate in BA.

Next it was on to La Boca area, one of the poorest, and Caminito and so we tightened any belongings well on to our bikes. Caminito is an outdoor museum and tourist strip lined with bars and restaurants and waiters asking ¨Would you like some lunch señorita?¨- ¨No gracias¨- ¨Get drunk with me?¨ haha. It has a very cool, vibrant atmosphere. This is where you will come face to face with the common image of BA, the row of colourfully painted houses and likely a couple in Tango pose in front. Artists line the old cobblestone streets, musicians perform and dancers pose. Even the trees are decorated in colourful crochet covers. The painted houses represent how the area used to look when Europeans escaping the war came to live in filthy, cramped conditions and wanted to make their houses a little nicer however couldn´t afford paint. They would go down to the shipping wharf and steal leftover boat paint which often wouldn’t cover the entire front of a building, thus creating the colourful patchwork effect. On the way home we passed La Boca soccer stadium – La Boca is worshipped in Argentina, particularly BA where many buildings in the area are painted the blue and yellow team colours. It is a truly beautiful city.

One Saturday night we went to watch one of BA´s local teams San Lorenzo play against Racing Club. WHAT an experience – a highlight of the trip! A bunch of us got the bus from the hostel, sipping as many beers as we could when everyone freaked out upon hearing no alcohol is served in the stadium. Each seat is given a piece of white, navy or maroon cardboard (San Lorenzo´s colours). We tried to learn some chants but ended up just picking up on the swear words we already knew – why are these so much easier to remember than useful phrases? The atmosphere was wild, the crowd was up and singing and banging on any noisy item throughout the entire game, sometimes getting so excited they just had to take their shirts off (to which we had mixed feelings, depending on the person) and swing it around. I wish I could love ANYTHING as much as these guys love football. A dog wandered onto the field. San Lorenzo won. The party rolled out into the carpark and then the street. Amazing!

Sad to leave Buenos Aires but certain we´d be back, we then headed north to Rosario where Che Guevara was born. We actually came hoping to find some beaches along the river (having read good things) but I think our hostel owner Juan was the most entertaining thing about Rosario. He sounds like Borat, calls everyone ¨motherF...er¨ and teases everyone´s nationality. He was a character. The river was again nothing special (supposed to be the place to see), but we did get to have a photo out the front of Che´s family home – very La Dee da – and I had one of the best empanada´s I´ve tried – finally managed to get a snack without dulce de leche, the sweet sweet caramel Argentinians love with almost everything.

´Sadly´ the only bus option to the next destination, Puerto Iguazu, was Cama class (luxury) for the 20 hour trip. Well, this trip raised our expectations to an unsustainably high level as we were first offered red wine with dinner. The bus was pretty empty, so we asked for a top up and he brought us back the whole bottle. After dinner, sparkling wine was offered and this time we didn´t even have to ask – he just poured us a glass each and left the bottle along with some cookies his wife had baked.

Puerto Iguazu was HOT! you can feel the sun pinching your skin within minutes. The town is nothing too exciting – some great food – but is the place to stay to visit Iguazu Falls. Iguazu are the 2nd largests falls in the world – considered higher than Niagra and longer than Victoria Falls. We spent a day on the Argentinian side and wow, these waterfalls are spectacular! They are surrounded by tropical jungle and it is huuuumid! Luckily a lot of the paths take you so close you get plenty of spray so I could disguise the sweat as water. From this side you get to walk over falls, 1m from where they drop off, walk under them and see them from a distance. The many rainbows finish the view off perfectly, especially at ´Devil´s Throat´ where the wide river compacts into a narrow fall and the water pounds down so heavily you get absolutely saturated on the viewing platform above. You would think an entire day looking at the same falls would be enough, but we were back the next day – this time from the Brazilian side. Here you get more of a panoramic view and it really puts into perspective how many falls there are and how much area they cover. This side was even hotter and had less waterfall spray so we were speed sightseers. And dear people - there is an etiquette when having our photos taken at major tourist sights: get in there, get the shot and get the heck out! Do NOT stay in position flicking through 20 photos to see if you got it - you got it! And don't then nudge US to please move out of your shot. This is clearly not an issue we had ;)

The following day we hopped on the bus bound for Rio De Janeiro, bursting with excitement that in 24 hours we would arrive at our apartment in Copacabana and get ready for Carnaval!!!!

Posted by neerg_08 05:05 Archived in Argentina Tagged argentina tango buenos_aires rosario iguazu_falls caminito la_boca puerto_iguazu calle_florida choripan la_bomba_del_tiempo foz_de_iguazu Comments (0)

Lakes District and Patagonia

Zig-zag through Chile / Argentina

So after leaving the thieves behind in Santiago, we headed to Pucón and were lucky enough to meet an Aussie guy on the bus who was living and working at a small guesthouse there so he called ahead to book for us and the owner came and picked us up from the terminal. Pucón is in what is known as the Lakes District in Chile and is so so lovely. It is what you imagine thinking of American snowy mountain towns, with the timber lodge-style buildings and smell of firewood. The black-volcanic-sand lake is really pretty and full of activity, as is the harbour which is lined with beautiful gardens and the active Volcan Villaricca looms over town. Coming to South America, we did not know we wanted to climb a volcano…

The guesthouse was really nice and family run so they invited us to have breakfast with them and then as it rained all day took us with them to the Los Pozones hot springs that evening, apparently best in the rain. A few lazy days in Pucón as we kept forgetting to book the volcano trek actually worked out perfectly as by the time we did it, it wasn’t so icy and our sicknesses were on the mend. This remains one of our favourite places so far, and up there with the most awesome experiences.

Hailey, me and 3 others of the group chose – against the guides´ advice – to trek the first part of the mountain while the others took the chairlift. It is meant to be most difficult as the gravel here is loose but of course, being seasoned hikers (not) we wanted to do the entire mountain. We didn’t realize that this meant once we got to the next section, we would have to play catch ups with the rest of the group. We were literally jogging up the volcano slopes at times. This is when the first thoughts of ´WHY do we do this? We hate hiking!´ entered our minds. Then as we reached the snow, Gianni, our lacking-people-skills-guide, started yelling at us ´CRAMPONS! CRAMPONS!...PUT ON YOUR CRAMPONS´ and we eventually had to yell back ´WHAT THE HELL ARE CRAMPONS????´ so he dug through all of our packs and pretty much threw them at us. This didn’t help, as Hailey and I still had no idea what to do with them so he huffed and puffed and strapped them on for us. He became even more pleasant when he yelled at us for taking photos (does he KNOW who he´s talking to??) and then for stepping out of line. Eventually he gave up on us and intercepted another guide, Ricardo, palming Hailey, me and another girl off to him while he carried on with the other 2 running up the steep climb. We cheered. Ricardo was awesome, couldn’t understand the hurry and no photos rule and literally held our hands as we made our way up. The views over the area were beautiful, lakes, forests and distant volcanoes and we were lucky it was the perfect clear day. As we zig-zagged our way to the top, the air becomes painful to breath and it tasted and felt like we were swallowing sharp metal flakes.

Then WE MADE IT to the top, which is freeeeezing and so windy, you can only really enjoy looking into the mouth of the volcano for a second before it becomes unbearable, and then it was time for the most fun part of the day – sliding down the slopes! Half of the time it´s in carved out snow shoots (like a water slide) and you may or may not use the plastic seat in your pack, the other times one of the guides will just slide down to clear some snow and you are on your way. It is the kind of fun where you are screaming hysterically laughing. You get some speed too, actually getting airborne (bruised bums were worth it). What a blast, you forget the pains in your legs, the blisters, the sunburn, the exhaustion for 2 hours of childlike fun. Pucón, we love you.

Next was Bariloche, crossing back into Argentina but still in the Lakes District. Another beautiful area but as we had just done Pucón and were in a hurry to complete Patagonia before Carnival we just had one night there and the most amazing steak before the 28 hour bus to El Calafate. When the sealed roads ended and the gravel began, we were happy we hadn’t hired a car ourselves. Plus, the bus was Cama class again which meant too much food and English movies. The people by now were getting friendlier too.

Time for our first destination in Patagonia! El Calafate was freezing, but a pretty town. We did a day trip to Parque Nacional de Los Glaciars and even the drive there was stunning as the lakes in the area are the colour of the Great Barrier Reef. Entering the National Park, the road winds around the milky blue lake and then we spotted our first iceberg! At the last bend the Perito Moreno Glacier appears between two mountains as though it is a frozen tsunami. The icey blue colour of it is spectacular. We spent a couple of hours viewing it from different angles along the boardwalks – you would think hours spent looking at the same glacier is too much but no way – and everyone scrambles for their cameras when you hear the thunderous cracking of huge chunks of ice falling off and crashing into the water. We then boarded a boat to take us to the glacier to trek on for an hour, after being strapped up with our crampons….now aware what they are. While on the glacier, the colours take on an almost fluorescent tone when the sun highlights it. It is the height of a 20 storey building and while most glaciers in the world are shrinking, Perito Moreno is stable and even advancing. At 2575 sq kms it is the worlds´3rd largest icefield. Facts! As we turned the final corner, we were met with a table set up with whiskey to have over glacial ice. This place is so beautiful!!!

We then got the bus back into Chile to Puerto Natales, the base for Torres del Paine National Park. Most people come here to do a famous 3 or 4 day hike through the park, however having decided we don’t actually ENJOY the act of hiking only the destination, we settled for a one day bus trip to the main viewpoints of the park. But first I took the bus to the park by myself for an 8 hour day hike to the Base del Torres viewpoint. Easy, right? Not if you´re me. The bus stopped seemingly in the middle of nowhere but for a few buildings, so I thought this may be the park entrance where the shuttle buses come to take you further into the park. I started to get my things ready and once the guy next to me moved for me to get up and only 3 other people on the bus got off I was for some reason too embarrassed to stop even though I had a feeling it may be the wrong stop and continued to exit the bus. I tried to convince myself that maybe the rest of the bus were doing the 4 day hike and there could be another stop for them. Nope…and the long line of people at the ´information office´ were in fact lining up for a border crossing. What. An. Idiota. I found a café and tried to ask the lady where I was in my limited Spanish. A bit later another bus showed up – the same company as I had taken – and a ranger got out. He kind of understood me and told the driver where I was supposed to be going so he let me on. Arriving at the REAL park (about an hour further away) the driver tried to take my ticket but it was the one I needed for my return. Then LUCKILY the 2 men that had been working on my original bus walked past and being able to point to them along with ´estoy ESTUPIDA!´ was just enough for the driver to understand and laugh at me for being sleepy.

As I was now running late to start my trek I was jogging for the first part and really had to rush, having 1x5 minute break on the way up, 10 minutes at the top and then a bit more of a relaxing return. It was a really nice day, being alone for the first time in a while was peaceful and the hike took me through a variety of landscapes. It started off in hilly grasslands, then wound between 2 mountains until after a couple of turns the snowy mountains appear through the valley. The day started cloudy and rainy but just in time cleared for this view. Stumbling across rocky rivers with crystal clear water, balancing over rickety bridges, then heading back up through the forest where when it rains it is hard to tell whether you are on track or walking up a stream. Then it started snowing and I just felt ecstatic at my luck. Each time I considered turning back as I was struggling and the clouds rolled in it would clear up and some other fantastic view would appear. The last hour was rough but by then the 3 towers (The Torres del Paine) appeared and finally I reached the striking blue lagoon at their base. On the way back down I was happy to have people stop me in desperation asking how much longer until the top, reassuring me I was not the only one struggling.

After enjoying too many banana and nutella crepes in the cold weather of Puerto Natales and too many Chorillanas (hot chips over beef, chicken, chorizo, eggs and veggies) this had been my day to cut down on food (poor timing)….so by the time I returned to the starting point, a nice lodge in the park, I was exhausted. And freezing. And early as I had rushed so much panicking I would miss my bus. I asked a driver of a tour company who was sitting in his van where my return shuttle would pick me up from and then curled up on a bench trying to warm myself after finding the kiosk for food closed. He must have seen. About an hour later his tour group loaded into the van and started to drive off then he must have spotted me still huddled there looking hopeless and a lady jumped out of the van and came over to me and said the driver had seen me there for a while with nothing to eat and he didn’t need his lunch pack and wanted me to have it. Scores! Chocolates, chicken and avocado sandwich (still warm!), cokes and biscuits. I just love people!

The next day the 3 of us headed back to the park in the safety of an organized tour getting us there without a hitch. The mountains in the park are so imposing, although we have seen higher I think these ones seem larger as they are dark granite and almost eerie looming over spectacularly coloured lakes. There are 4 seasons in one day here so again we were lucky the day always cleared when it needed to.

Our final stop in Patagonia was Puerto Madryn, back in Argentina on the southern coast. This was a last minute decision as it looked like a good halfway point to shorten the 40 hour journey from Puerto Natales to Buenos Aires. Once again, the unexpected are some of the best places we find ourselves. The main reason to visit is for the Reserva Faunistica Peninsula Valdes as the area is a major whale watching point at certain times of the year. We got to arranging our activities here straight away and our possibly-involved-in-illegal-businesses-as-well-as-his-day-job seal tour guy Peter – or his ´friend´- sorted us out with some money, dropping it off at our hostel for us after stopping by his ´friend´ after work. We then became known as ´Peter´s Angels´. Another thing I didn’t realize I wanted to do in life was to snorkel with sea lions. But I´d better add that on to my bucket list and tick it off because it was awesome. Even better that they don’t encourage them to come to us with food, they are just so playful they approach you by themselves. As soon as we jumped in the water they were all around, and for 45 minutes we swam with them, patted them, high-fived them and had our arms ´playfully but firmly´ bitten by them. Oh my gosh soooo much fun and probably the only time I´ve been kept entertained the entire time snorkeling.

We had another non-backpacker style meal of Patagonian lamb and of course more Argentinian wine before our Peninsula Valdes tour the next day. Juan, our guide, was one of those amazing guides that you can tell is actually so passionate about the area and Orca´s – the big hope for the day – and in turn the whole bus gets really excited. He shared his mate (aka yerba mate, the caffeine rich drink Argentinians are constantly sipping on) with us all as we went from one point to the next. First Punta Norte, the beach lined with thousands of sea lions and the odd elephant seal. The pups are born in January so there were so many in their little daycare sections. In March, the Orca´s stalk this beach as the pups enter the water for the first time but we were a few weeks early for this. Along the dry coastal scrublands we saw plenty of Ria´s (the emu of Patagonia) and Guanacos (the Patagonian llama with the most expensive wool in the world). Then we stopped at Punta Cantor to see more elephant seals slumped on the shore, looking too heavy to move on land. Then Juan yelled for us all to run to another point on the cliff – he had spotted orca´s!!! we were all sooo excited and bolted to get to the front of the crowd to see the 2 adults and one calf swimming along the shore. We ran alongside them, viewpoint to viewpoint as we realized they were headed for where the seals were beached. I have never wanted a seal to be killed before…haha. We were so lucky, in February you only have a 10-20% chance to spot them and we watched them catching the waves to shore metres from the seals teaching the young one ´intentional stranding´, the hunting technique only practiced here, nowhere else in the world! So lucky. We then watched as they continued along the coast out of sight, and then we carried on to another point to get within metres of Magellanic penguins. What an amazing day! Patagonia was so spectacular and I can´t believe how many amazing things we saw in a few weeks.

Posted by neerg_08 19:03 Archived in Argentina Tagged lake_district chile argentina patagonia perito_moreno pucón el_calafate península_valdés puerto_madryn torres_del_paine puerto_natales los_pozones volcan_villaricca parque_nacional_de_los_glaciars Comments (0)

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